Aristotle said it first: a reflection on ancient common sense

3 Sep

Aristotle Politics

This is long overdue, considering I finished Aristotle’s Politics over a year ago. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of wading through this classic, I am hoping to at least pique your interest with some of the ideas I found most strikingly applicable to America’s political and cultural landscape today. Written in 350 B.C.E. during ancient Greece’s classical era, Politics is Aristotle’s discussion of what form(s) of government best promote flourishing, or “the good life,” for individual citizens. I’m sure I missed some parallels, but in this post I’ll be focusing on three topics that certainly come up in the news frequently today: national boundaries, socialist policies, and violent crime.

A case for borders: Trump’s extension of the barrier between the United States and Mexico has met with a polarized response from the general public. Aristotle, however, sees the etching of clear boundaries as a practical and necessary defense strategy:

“To demand that a city should be left undefended by walls is much the same as to want to have the territory of a city left open to invasion, and to lay every elevation level with the ground. It is like refusing to have walls for the exterior of a private house, for fear they will make its inhabitants cowards. We have also to remember that a people with a city defended by walls has a choice of alternatives – to treat its city as walled, or to treat it as if it were unwalled – but a people without any walls is a people without any choice. ” (Book VII, Chapter 2)

At its core, border protection is a case for nationalism, a sentiment now considered a special type of bigotry in polite society. While the United States does not currently face threats of organized attack on our southern border, we do face the risk of dangerous, violent criminals slipping into our society. We need only to examine what happened when Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s border to one million refugees to conclude that some form of border protection is necessary. Many of these refugees were let in without any detailed background checks, and while likely most of them were merely looking to escape desperate and awful situations, the “bad apples” wreaked enough havoc for Merkel to reverse her 2015 decision three years later. Incidents of terrorism spiked, while sexual assault and murder at the hands of refugees similarly skyrocketed.

Aristotle would not have supported Bernie Sanders: very concisely, Aristotle gives a pretty solid reason for why socialist policies simply don’t work.

“What is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. People pay most attention to what is their own: they care less for what is common …even when there is no other cause for inattention, people are more prone to neglect their duty when they think that another is attending to it.” (Book II, Chapter 3)

The allure of socialism has entranced Western countries time and again throughout the 20th and now into the 21st century, beginning with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It sounds good: universal healthcare, government-funded university tuition, and an end to poverty. Unfortunately, it has never worked out that way, and never will. Under Lenin’s rule, the Bolshevik Party murdered over 4 million Russian citizens. A less vicious example that hits closer to the socialist paradise envisioned by U.S. democratic leaders such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is modern day Israel. While the Histadrut, or General Federation of Labor, control of nearly every sector of social and economic life in Israel seemed to work initially, the economy crashed and burned in the major 1965 recession. Between 1965 and 1967, unemployment tripled. The crisis peaked in 1984-1985, with government spending catapulting the inflation rate to 450%. In 1983, the U.S. government pledged to intervene with a $1.5 billion grant if the Israeli government promised to abandon its socialist policies. Not long after, a more capitalist economy resulted in a shrink in inflation to just 20% and a budget deficit down from 15 to 0%. The state-run economy was ultimately replaced by privately owned companies because Israelis slowly realized that this was the only way forward to be competitive in international markets. As former Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Moshe Shahal’s spokesman Natan Arad put it: “…Private initiative is superior in efficiency, in lowering prices through competition, and so on than government regulation… no matter how dedicated, hard-working and intelligent  government-employed or government-regulated management is – and many of our men certainly fit this category – private management will turn in better results. This philosophy has proved itself abroad in other countries which once believed in direct government intervention in every phase of business life.”

Less family = more violence: Continuing his argument against a society in which all things are shared in common, Aristotle makes a compelling observation about the effect nullifying the biological family can have:

“We may take as examples cases of assault, homicide, whether unintentional or intentional, fighting and slander. All these offenses, when they are committed against father or mother or a near relative, differ from offenses against people who are not so related, in being breaches of natural piety. Such offense must happen more frequently when men are ignorant of their relatives than when they know who they are.” (Book II, Chapter 4)

Our knee-jerk response to the thought of someone killing their grandmother is, naturally, sheer horror. But if said-person had no concept of what a grandmother or a mother or a sister is, having been raised without these very personal bonds of kinship, the crime is not understood as horrifying in the same way to the perpetrator.

The relationship between increased criminal activity and family breakdown in America was well-studied and documented during the 1980s and 1990s. In their comprehensive 1988 study of 11,000 individuals, Douglas Smith and G. Roger Jarjoura report “the percentage of single-parent households with crime between the ages of 12 and 20 is significantly associated with rates of violent crime and burglary.” In a 1994 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report, Kevin and Karen Wright examined the relationship between family life and crime, pulling from various studies. In their discussion on moral development and its relation to delinquency, the literature indicated that “parents play a critical role in moral development” and “delinquency is more likely when normative development is incomplete, where children are unable to distinguish right from wrong, feel little or no obligation toward standards of behavior, and have little respect for rights and welfare of others.”

Stepping away from the ancient Greek world and back into modern America, please enjoy this recipe for zucchini corn chowder, which is an adaptation of blogger Amanda’s recipe over at iamhomesteader.

LIGHTER ZUCCHINI CORN CHOWDER (makes approximately 7 cups)

INGREDIENTS:

1 Tbs. butter

2 strips bacon, chopped

1 yellow or sweet onion, chopped

1 Tbs. minced garlic

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

4 cups chicken broth

2 ears fresh corn

2-3 zucchini, chopped and quartered

1/2 cup 2% milk

1/2 cup half and half

1/4 cup cheddar cheese

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Melt butter in stockpot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until browns, 3-4 min.
  2. Add onion, garlic, and thyme. Cook ~5 min.
  3. Add chicken broth. Increase heat to medium high to bring soup to a simmer.
  4. Once simmering, lower heat to medium and add zucchini, corn, milk, and half and half. Season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  5. Simmer for 8-12 min., or until vegetables are cooked.

CALORIES (per 1 cup): 100

2 Responses to “Aristotle said it first: a reflection on ancient common sense”

  1. Anonymous September 3, 2020 at 1:50 pm #

    Thanks Heather! That was well written!

    • Heather September 4, 2020 at 9:18 am #

      May I ask who this is? 🙂

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