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dimanche, 29 octobre 2017

Yves Blot: LA POLITIQUE D'ARISTOTE

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LA POLITIQUE D'ARISTOTE

Visitez le site du Cercle de l’Aréopage : http://cercleareopage.org
 
Conférence au Cercle de l'Aréopage:
LA POLITIQUE D'ARISTOTE
Par Yvan Blot
 
Retrouvez les évènements du Cercle : http://cercleareopage.org/conf%C3%A9r...

jeudi, 05 octobre 2017

Aristote en politique: bien commun, cité heureuse et autarcie

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Pierre Le Vigan:

Aristote en politique: bien commun, cité heureuse et autarcie

      Les leçons d’Aristote, philosophe moral et politique (laissons de côté ici l3e naturaliste) ne sont pas caduques. Elles doivent bien entendu être lues et comprises dans leur contexte. Mais leurs principes restent en bonne part actuels. Rappels d’une doctrine.

      La notion de cité est déterminante dans la philosophie politique d’Aristote. Quelle forme prend cette détermination ?  Pour Aristote l’appartenance à la cité précède et en même temps influe de manière décisive sur la définition de sa philosophie politique, c’est-à-dire du bien en politique. En d’autres termes, l’hypothèse préalable d’Aristote à l’élaboration même de sa pensée politique, c’est que l’existence d’un monde commun, un monde qui s’incarne dans la cité,  précède la définition du bien commun et le conditionne. Pour comprendre ce cheminement, nous verrons d’abord ce que veut dire « la cité » pour Aristote (I). Nous examinerons quelle conception il en a.  Nous verrons ensuite (II) comment la pensée politique d’Aristote prend place dans son analyse de la pratique (praxis).

     La philosophie pratique est pour Aristote la « philosophie des choses humaines ». C’est donc la philosophie de la politique. La pensée aristotélicienne suppose un monde commun, la notion de cité et d’appartenance à la cité. Politikon vient de polis. L’étymologie de politique renvoie à la cité. La pensée d’Aristote n’est jamais une pensée hors sol. Elle part de la cité pour chercher le bien de la cité.

Une communauté d’hommes libres

     I - La cité (en grec polis) est un Etat avant d’être une ville. Mais c’est aussi une communauté d’hommes libres avant d’être un Etat. C’est une communauté de citoyens libres qui partagent la même histoire, les mêmes héros, les mêmes dieux, les mêmes rites et les mêmes lois. Fustel de Coulanges a souligné l’importance de la religion dans la fondation des cités (La cité antique, 1864). Ainsi, chaque cité grecque a un panthéon différent. La cité en tant que polis n’est pas d’abord une donnée spatiale. Mais il se trouve que (a fortiori dans un paysage accidenté comme celui de la Grèce, ou de la Grande Grèce [Sicile]), la cité correspond aussi à un lieu déterminé, à une géographie particulière. Cette communauté de citoyens dans un lieu particulier, c’est une communauté politique souveraine au côté d’autres communautés politiques, rivales, alliées ou ennemis.

AR-L-1.jpg   « Il est donc manifeste que la cité n'est pas une communauté de lieu, établie en vue de s'éviter les injustices mutuelles et de permettre les échanges. Certes, ce sont là des conditions qu'il faut nécessairement réaliser si l'on veut qu'une cité existe, mais quand elles sont toutes réalisées, cela ne fait pas une cité, car [une cité] est la communauté de la vie heureuse, c'est-à-dire dont la fin est une vie parfaite et autarcique pour les familles et les lignages » (Politiques, III, 9, 6-15).  

     Dans Politiques (nous nous référerons à la traduction de Pierre Pellegrin, Garnier Flammarion, 1990), Aristote s’attache à déterminer quels doivent être les rapports des hommes entre eux. C’est là le cœur de la politique. Cela ne concerne que les hommes qui vivent dans un cadre politique, c’est-à-dire dans une cité. Les Barbares sont donc exclus et, à l’intérieur même de la cité, les esclaves et les femmes. Les Barbares sont certes, tout comme les esclaves et les femmes, des êtres rationnels, mais ce ne sont pas des êtres politiques.

     Que sont les êtres politiques au sens grec ? Si l’homme possède le langage, et pas seulement la voix, c’est qu’il est destiné à vivre en société. Par le langage, l’homme peut se livrer au discours et à la délibération. Aristote explique cela ainsi : «  § 10. […] la parole est faite pour exprimer le bien et le mal, et, par suite aussi, le juste et l'injuste ; et l'homme a ceci de spécial, parmi tous les animaux, que seul il conçoit le bien et le mal, le juste et l'injuste, et tous les sentiments de même ordre, qui en s'associant constituent précisément la famille et l'État. § 11. On ne peut douter que l'État ne soit naturellement au-dessus de la famille et de chaque individu ; car le tout l'emporte nécessairement sur la partie, puisque, le tout une fois détruit, il n'y a plus de parties, plus de pieds, plus de mains, si ce n'est par une pure analogie de mots, comme on dit une main de pierre ; car la main, séparée du corps, est tout aussi peu une main réelle. […] § 12. Ce qui prouve bien la nécessité naturelle de l'État et sa supériorité sur l'individu, c'est que, si on ne l'admet pas, l'individu peut alors se suffire à lui-même dans l'isolement du tout, ainsi que du reste des parties ; or, celui qui ne peut vivre en société, et dont l'indépendance n'a pas de besoins, celui-là ne saurait jamais être membre de l'État. C'est une brute ou un dieu.  » Or chacun comprendra que les brutes sont plus courantes que les dieux.

    Aristote poursuit : « § 13. La nature pousse donc instinctivement tous les hommes à l'association politique. Le premier qui l'institua rendit un immense service ; car, si l'homme, parvenu à toute sa perfection, est le premier des animaux, il en est bien aussi le dernier quand il vit sans lois et sans justice. […]. Sans la vertu, c'est l'être le plus pervers et le plus féroce ; il n'a que les emportements brutaux de l'amour et de la faim. La justice est une nécessité sociale ; car le droit est la règle de l'association politique, et la décision du juste est ce qui constitue le droit » (Politiques I, 1253a).

      Mais, comment vivre bien en société, c’est-à-dire en fonction du bien ? Comment faire ce qu’ordonne la vertu ? « Comment atteindre à ce noble degré de la vertu de faire tout ce qu’elle ordonne » (Politiques, IV, 1, 6).

     Comment s’incarne cette recherche de la vertu ? Aristote voyait pour la cité trois types de constitutions possibles : la monarchie, l’aristocratie, le gouvernement constitutionnel (politeia) ou république. Le premier type, la monarchie, est le gouvernement d’un seul, qui est censé veiller au bien commun. Le deuxième type, l’aristocratie est censée être le gouvernement des meilleurs. Le troisième type, le gouvernement constitutionnel, ou encore la république, est censé être le gouvernement de tous.

     Ces trois régimes ont leur pendant négatif, qui représente leur dévoiement. Il s’agit de la tyrannie, perversion de la monarchie, de l’oligarchie (gouvernement de quelques-uns) comme dévoiement de l’aristocratie, de la démocratie comme perversion du gouvernement constitutionnel (Politiques, III, 7, 1279a 25). « Aucune de ces formes ne vise l’avantage commun » conclut Aristote.

 AR-L-2.jpg   Notons que la démocratie est, pour Aristote, le gouvernement des plus pauvres, à la fois contre les riches et contre les classes moyennes. Le terme « démocratie » est ainsi pour Aristote quasiment synonyme de démagogie. (Cela peut choquer mais nos élites n’ont-elles pas la même démarche en assimilant toute expression des attentes du peuple en matière de sécurité et de stabilité culturelle à du « populisme », terme aussi diabolisateur que polysémique, comme l’a montré Vincent Coussedière dans Eloge du populisme et Le retour du peuple. An I ?) 

    Pour Aristote, la politique est un savoir pratique. Il s’agit de faire le bien. Dans la conception aristotélicienne de la cité, tout le monde est nécessaire mais tout le monde ne peut être citoyen. Seul peut être citoyen celui qui n’est pas trop pris par des tâches utiles. « Le trait éminemment distinctif du vrai citoyen, c’est la jouissance des fonctions de juge et de magistrat » (Politiques, II, 5, 1257a22). Le paysan et l’artisan ne peuvent être citoyens, pas plus que le commerçant.

      L’esclavage, qui n’était pourtant pas très ancien dans la Grèce antique, est justifié par Aristote. Il permet aux citoyens de s’élever au-dessus de certaines tâches matérielles. « Le maître doit autant que possible laisser à un intendant le soin de commander à ses esclaves, afin de pouvoir se livrer à la vie politique ou à la philosophie, seules activités vraiment dignes d'un citoyen » (Politiques, I, 2, 23). La vision qu’a Aristote de la société est incontestablement hiérarchique.  

     Toutefois, l’inégalitarisme d’Aristote n’empêche pas qu’il défende l’idée d’un minimum à vivre pour tous. « Aucun des citoyens ne doit manquer des moyens de subsistance » (Politiques, VII, 10, 1329a). Ce point de vue est logique car Aristote définit le but de la communauté comme « la vie heureuse » : « Une cité est la communauté des lignages et des villages menant la vie heureuse c’est-à-dire dont la fin est une vie parfaite et autarcique. Il faut donc poser que c'est en vue des belles actions qu'existe la communauté politique, et non en vue de vivre ensemble ». (Politiques, III, 9, 6-15).

        Le bonheur de la cité et l’autarcie sont donc liés. L’autarcie est l’une des conditions du bonheur, et un signe du bonheur. Cela, qui est notre cité, est limité et cela est bien, justement parce que ce qui est bien tient dans des limites. Que nous disent les limites ? Que le bien a trouvé sa place. Qu’il est à sa place. Cette notion d’autosuffisance ou encore d’autarcie s’oppose à un trop grand pouvoir des commerçants, c’est-à-dire de la fonction marchande. C’est aussi une vision hiérarchique où sont respectées les diversités et les inégalités, car si toutes les diversités ne sont pas des inégalités, beaucoup le sont.

     La question de la taille de la cité n’est pas un détail dans la pensée d’Aristote. Elle fait partie du politique, comme le remarque Olivier Rey (dans Une question de taille, Stock, 2014). « Une cité première, note Aristote, est nécessairement celle qui est formée d’un nombre de gens qui est le nombre minimum pour atteindre l’autarcie en vue de la vie heureuse qui convient à la communauté politique [...]. Dès lors, il est évident que la meilleure limite pour une cité, c’est le nombre maximum de citoyens propre à assurer une vie autarcique et qu’on peut saisir d’un seul coup d’œil. » (Politiques, VII). En d’autres termes, dès que l’autarcie est possible, la cité doit cesser de grandir.

       Ni trop petite ni trop grande, telle doit donc être la cité. C’est le concept de médiété que l’on retrouve ici. La cité doit être comprise entre 10 et 100 000 habitants, précise Aristote (Ethique à Nicomaque, IX, 9, 1170 b 31). Il est évident que 10 est un chiffre que l’on ne doit pas prendre au premier degré. Aristote veut dire que la population de la cité doit au moins excéder une famille, qu’elle est toujours autre chose et plus qu’une famille. L’idée d’un maximum d’habitants est la plus importante à retenir. Etre citoyen n’est plus possible pour Aristote dans une cité trop grande, trop peuplée. Et il semble bien que le chiffre de 100 000 habitants soit l’ordre d’idée à retenir. (On notera que les circonscriptions françaises pour les députés étaient à l’origine de la IIIe République de 100 000 habitants. Un vestige des conceptions d’Aristote ?). En résumé, Aristote rejette le gigantisme.

     Rappelons ce qu’Aristote dit de la vertu majeure de médiété. « Ainsi donc, la vertu est une disposition à agir d'une façon délibérée, consistant en une médiété relative à nous, laquelle est rationnellement déterminée et comme la déterminerait l'homme prudent. Mais c'est une médiété entre deux vices, l'un par excès et l'autre par défaut ; et c'est encore une médiété en ce que certains vices sont au-dessous, et d'autres au-dessus de "ce qu'il faut" dans le domaine des affections aussi bien que des actions, tandis que la vertu, elle, découvre et choisit la position moyenne. C'est pourquoi, dans l'ordre de la substance et de la définition exprimant la quiddité, la vertu est une médiété, tandis que dans l'ordre de l'excellence et du parfait, c'est un sommet » (Ethique à Nicomaque, II, 6, 1106b7-1107a8).      Disons-le autrement : la vertu est l’absence d’excès, ni excès de prudence qui serait alors timidité peureuse ni excès de témérité, qui serait hardiesse inconsciente, et cette façon de s’écarter des excès est une excellence. Pour la cité, le principe est le même : il s’agit de suivre une ligne de crête entre les excès que serait une trop petite et une trop grande taille. En tout état de cause, la question de la bonne taille est importante. Du reste, on ne peut remédier à une trop grande taille par la fermeture des frontières. Selon Aristote, il ne suffirait pas « d’entourer de remparts » tout le Péloponnèse pour en faire une cité (Politiques, III, 1, 1276a). Il faut éviter la démesure. Après, il est trop tard.

     C’est parce qu’elle est parfaitement adaptée à elle-même que la cité tend par nature à l’autarcie. Sa finitude est sa perfection. « Cette polis représente la forme la plus haute de la communauté humaine », note Hannah Arendt (La politique a-t-elle encore un sens ? L’Herne, 2007). Néanmoins, la coopération, l’association entre cités est possible. C’est l’isopolitéia, le principe d’une convention ou encore association entre cités dont l’un des aspects était souvent le transfert de populations pour rétablir les équilibres démographiques (cf. Raoul Lonis, La cité dans le monde grec, Nathan, 1994 et Armand Colin, 2016). Exemple : Tripoli veut dire « association de trois cités ».

*

     II – Comment la politique s’inserre-t-elle dans ce qu’Aristote appelle praxis ? Et quelles conséquences peut-on en tirer sur la cité ?

    Praxis, technique et production

   AR-L-3.jpgDans la philosophie d’Aristote, on rencontre plusieurs domaines : la theoria (la spéculation intellectuelle, ou  contemplation), l’épistémé (le savoir), la praxis (la pratique) et la poiesis (la production, qui est précisément la production ou la création des œuvres). Nous avons donc quatre domaines.   La theoria c’est, à la fois, ce que nous voyons et ce que nous sommes. L’epistémé, c’est ce que nous pouvons connaitre. La poiesis, c’est ce que nous faisons. La praxis, c’est comment nous le faisons.

      Praxis et poiesis sont proches sans se confondre. La production (poiesis) est inclue dans la pratique (praxis). C’est parce que nous travaillons de telle façon que nous produisons tel type de choses. Mais tout en étant inclue, elle s’y oppose. En effet, la pratique trouve sa fin en elle-même, elle n’a pas besoin de se justifier par une production, par un objet produit, une œuvre produite. La pratique est liée à notre être propre.

    Pour le dire autrement, la production est une action, mais toute action n’est pas une production. Certaines pratiques ne sont pas des productions. Elles n’ont pas pour objet une œuvre comme produit. Un exemple est celui de la danse.

    Une production a par contre sa fin à l’extérieur d’elle-même : travailler pour construire une chaise, ou un attelage de chevaux, par exemple. En outre, ce qui relève de la production mobilise aussi la techné, l’art des techniques. Avec la poiesis, il s’agit de produire quelque chose d’extérieur à soi, ou d’obtenir un résultat extérieur à soi (par exemple, réaliser un bon chiffre d’affaire pour un commerçant). Par opposition à cela, la pratique ou praxis possède en elle-même sa propre fin. Elle est en ce sens supérieure à la production. Ainsi, bien se conduire, qui est une forme de praxis, est une activité immanente à soi.    

         L’enjeu de la praxis est toujours supérieur à celui de la poiesis. Le but ultime de la praxis, c’est le perfectionnement de soi. Ce qui trouve en soi sa propre fin est supérieur à ce qui trouve sa fin à l’extérieur de soi.

     Or, qu’est-ce qui relève de l’action hors la production ? Qu’est-ce qui relève de la praxis ? C’est notamment l’éthique et la politique. Les deux sont indissociables. Ce sont des domaines de la pratique. Là, il s’agit moins de chercher l’essence de la vertu que de savoir comment pratiquer la vertu pour produire le bien commun.  « L’Etat le plus parfait est évidemment celui où chaque citoyen, quel qu’il soit, peut, grâce aux lois, pratiquer le mieux la vertu, et s’assurer le plus de bonheur. » (Politiques, IV, 2, 1324b). L’ordre social et politique optimum est celui qui permet la pratique de la vertu, qui travaille ainsi à atteindre le bien commun. C’est ce qui permet le bonheur des hommes dans la cité.

       Si la vertu politique ne se confond pas avec la philosophie, les deux se nourrissent réciproquement. En recherchant la sagesse, l’homme arrive à la vertu, qui concerne aussi bien l’individu que l’Etat et est nécessaire dans les deux cas. En effet, la politique est « la plus haute de toutes les sciences » (Politiques, III, 7).

      Comment pratiquer la vertu ? Est-ce une question de régime politique ? Qu’il s’agisse de monarchie, d’aristocratie ou de république (régime des citoyens), tous ces régimes peuvent être bons selon Aristote selon qu’ils modèrent les désirs extrêmes et sont animés par la vertu. La politique a des conditions en matière de morale et en matière d’éducation. Dans le même temps, il n’y a pas de morale (ou d’éthique) ni d’éducation qui n’ait de conséquences politiques. Les deux se tiennent. (Platon, ici d’accord avec Aristote, avait souligné que la politique était avant tout affaire d’éducation, d’expérience et de perfectionnement de soi).

       En tout état de cause, le collectif, le commun doit primer sur l’individuel. En matière d’éducation, c’est l’Etat qui doit enseigner ce qui est commun, la famille assurant l’éducation dans le domaine privé. « C’est une grave erreur de croire que chaque citoyen est maitre de lui-même ; chacun appartient à l’Etat. » (Politiques, V, 1, 2) (Mais l’Etat n’est pas un lointain, c’est un proche car nous avons vu que les cités avec des populations de grande taille sont proscrites).

     La philosophie d’Aristote n’est pas égalitariste, avons-nous déjà noté : chacun a sa place et sa fonction. Pierre Pellegrin résume cela en expliquant que pour Aristote « chacun doit recevoir proportionnellement à son excellence ». Aristote ne pense pas que les hommes soient tous les mêmes même si « tous les hommes pensent que la vie heureuse est une vie agréable » (Ethique à Nicomaque, 1153b15), et que le bonheur est ce « qui est conforme à la vertu la plus parfaite, c'est-à-dire celle de la partie de l'homme la plus haute » (Ethique à N., X, 7).    

         La justice, c’est que chacun fasse ce qu’il doit faire en allant vers la perfection dans sa fonction.  Le bien suprême, le bonheur (eudaimonia) des  hommes consiste dans la pleine réalisation de ce qu’ils sont dans la société. Il y a chez Aristote un lien permanent entre justice et politique d’une part, morale et éducation d’autre part. Ce lien consiste à faire prévaloir en nous la partie rationnelle de notre âme sur la partie irrationnelle.

            Les idées d’Aristote sont toutes conçues par rapport à la cité. C’est à la fois leur limite et leur force. Aristote suppose un préalable à toute pensée politique. C’est l’existence d’un monde commun, une cité commune, un peuple commun. Le bien commun, c’est la justice, et la condition de la justice, c’est l’amitié (philia).  « La justice ira croissant avec l’amitié » (Ethique à Nicomaque, VII, 11).

  AR-L-4.jpg      L’amitié n’est pas le partage des subjectivités comme dans le monde moderne, c’est autre chose, c’est l’en-commun de la vertu. « La parfaite amitié est celle des hommes vertueux et qui sont semblables en vertu. » (Ethique à Nicomaque, VIII, 4, 1156 b, trad. Jules Tricot). Hannah Arendt a bien vu cela. Elle rappelle que l’amitié n’est pas l’intimité mais un discours en commun, un « parler ensemble » (Vies politiques, 1955, Gallimard, 1974). « Pour les Grecs, l’essence de l’amitié consistait dans le discours », écrit Hannah Arendt. Le monde commun créé par le partage de l’amitié implique un sens commun du monde et des choses, comme l’avait vu aussi Jan Patocka (Essais hérétiques sur la philosophie de l’histoire, Verdier, 1981). L’amitié  contribue à la solidité de la cité. « Toute association est une parcelle de la cité » (« comme des parcelles de l’association entre des concitoyens »).  Le principe de l’amitié n’est pas véritablement différent de celui de la politique. Il implique la justice et la vérité. « Chercher comment il faut se conduire avec un ami, c'est chercher une certaine justice, car en général la justice entière est en rapport avec un être ami » (Ethique à Eudème, VII, 10, 1242 a 20).

       La politique est donc affaire de contexte – ce qui est une autre façon de parler de monde commun : « il ne faut pas seulement examiner la meilleure organisation politique, mais aussi celle qui est possible » (Politiques, IV, 1, 1288b).

      Pour Aristote, l’homme n’entre jamais en politique en tant qu’homme isolé. Il porte toujours un monde, qui est celui des siens, celui de  sa cité. Après avoir expliqué que la cité vise naturellement l’autarcie, c’est à dire le fait de se suffire à soi, Aristote explique : « Il est manifeste […] que la cité fait partie des choses naturelles et que l’homme est un animal politique  et que celui qui est hors cité, naturellement bien sûr et non par le hasard des circonstances, est soit un être dégradé soit un être surhumain, et il est comme celui qui est injurié en ces termes par Homère : ’’sans lignage, sans foi, sans foyer’’ (...). Il est évident que l'homme est un animal politique plus que n'importe quelle abeille et que n'importe quel animal grégaire. Car, comme nous le disons, la nature ne fait rien en vain ; et seul parmi les animaux l'homme a un langage » (Politiques, I, 2, 1252a).

    La cité d’Aristote n’existe pas que pour satisfaire les besoins. En visant la vie heureuse, qui est un objectif collectif même s’il concerne chacun, elle condamne l’individualisme et met au premier plan l’amitié. Celle-ci n’est pas une affaire privée mais une affaire publique. La vie heureuse est l’affaire de tous et c’est un projet pour tous. Elle est ce qui anime une cité dans laquelle règne la justice.  « Il n’y a en effet qu’une chose qui soit propre aux hommes par rapport aux autres animaux : le fait que seuls ils aient la perception du bien, du mal, du juste, de l’injuste et des autres notions de ce genre. Or, avoir de telles notions en commun, c'est ce qui fait une famille et une cité. » (Politiques, I, 2, 1253a8). L’individu seul pourrait ne viser que son plaisir. La cité le pousse à dépasser sa subjectivité pour se hisser vers la recherche du bien commun.

Pierre Le Vigan.

Pierre Le Vigan est écrivain. https://www.amazon.fr/-/e/B004MZJR1M

Son dernier livre est Métamorphoses de la ville. Disponible en Format numérique ou broché

 https://www.amazon.fr/M%C3%A9tamorphoses-ville-Romulus-Co...

 

jeudi, 18 février 2016

Why Liberal Education in a Capitalist Society?

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Why Liberal Education in a Capitalist Society?

As the president of an American college with a distinctive approach to liberal learning, I have watched from afar with great interest as curiosity has grown in Europe about liberal, as opposed to specialized, higher education. That curiosity has now culminated in this gathering, where we are sharing our thoughts about grounding an education on the study of great books and original sources.

This curiosity comes along with conflict—the conflict between liberal education and specialized education. So, instead of spending my time on a discussion of the mechanics of our program of study at St. John’s, I will address my remarks first to the conflict between liberal and specialized education and why I think the former is essential to success and happiness in the latter. I have approached my remarks as though I might be addressing skeptics of liberal education.

Modern higher education has become hyper-specialized, and the divisions among the specialties have become integrated into our habits of thinking. It is taken for granted that progress in thought is made on the front edges of specialized research. So our institutions of learning have shaped themselves into structures that foster, promote, and reward an increasingly intense focus on increasingly narrow fields of study.

Now, the mindset that assumes the dominance of specialization in higher education sees generalist education as basic and simple, perhaps even simple-minded. It relegates general education to grammar schools, as a sort of necessary training in basic facts and elementary skills. Higher education, on the other hand, is thought of as an initiation into the mysteries of advanced thinking. It must be taught by professors who, having themselves discovered paths to the forefronts of their specialties, will lead aspiring students along those same paths.

I am not here to reject this perspective. It would be foolish. The very real advances made by the continually growing number of specialties are too obvious to deny. But I do hope to persuade you that the emphasis of this perspective on cutting-edge discoveries has eclipsed another view of higher education, one that, while recognizing the value of specialization, at the same time believes there is something more important in education than specialization. That view is what I, and others like many of you who share this vision, call liberal education—education that fosters individual freedom, both in thinking and in living.

The distinction between specialized and liberal education is not new. In a way, Aristotle captured it in a brief passage from On the Parts of Animals:

Toward all study and inquiry, whether lowly or exalted, there seem to be two ways of holding oneself. Concerning every object of study and inquiry, whether low or high, there seem to be two ways to comprehend the matter. One is aptly called detailed knowledge of the subject, the other, a sort of cultivated understanding. For it is proper to an educated person to be able to judge adroitly whether a speaker is presenting an account well or not well. And indeed, we think both that someone of this sort is generally cultivated, and that this cultivation consists in the ability to do what has just been said.

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Aristotle is describing, on the one hand, specialized knowledge, and, on the other hand, what used to be called sound reasoning: namely, the combination of training in logic, interpretation, and argumentation that allows well-educated people to tell whether anyone—even an expert in a particular subject—is arguing cogently. It is by some such ability that a scientific layman, like me, can study a famous paper on quantum physics by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen and see that their reasoning is suspiciously circular, as well as laden with all sorts of metaphysical assumptions that make their conclusions dubious.

Sound reasoning is one intellectual ability that cuts across, or rises above, specialized disciplines. Let us call such things transdisciplinary. Later, I will speak about another transdisciplinary ability that is just as important as sound reasoning. But for now, let sound reasoning stand as one example of the content of a liberal, as opposed to specialized, education, and one that was recognized as long as 2,500 years ago.

If the distinction between specialized and liberal education is ancient, so too is the conflict between them. One could argue that Socrates was put to death by people whom he, a layman, demonstrated to be ignorant about the subjects in which they claimed to specialize. So it is also nothing new that we find ourselves living in the midst of this conflict.

Nor is it a new thing that some people are curious about resolving the conflict. Down through the centuries, starting perhaps in prehistoric times, schools have been founded to bridge the gap, to cultivate students generally, and to help them to see the proper relations between liberal education and specialized education. And this was precisely what happened almost eighty years ago when the founders of our program of study at St. John’s College, Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr, set in place our current curriculum. What did they come up with?

As you know, St. John’s is often called the first Great Books college. The label stuck because of the strategy Buchanan and Barr adopted to cultivate a liberal education. Their idea was to have students read and discuss the works of the foundational thinkers and artists of the Western tradition. While the readings have evolved over time, not much has changed in a fundamental way at St. John’s in the eight decades since.

Our program consists of four years of intense discussions about literary, philosophical, historical, political, mathematical, scientific, and musical masterworks. We hold our main discussions twice a week for two or more hours in the evening. We call these discussions seminars. The participants include two faculty members and sixteen to nineteen students. Supporting the work of the seminars are other classes dedicated to sharpening the logical, interpretive, and argumentative skills needed to try to understand the seminar books. These we call our tutorials, in language, mathematics, and science, and they meet three times a week during the day, usually for seventy to ninety minutes. These classes have one faculty member and about thirteen to fifteen students. We have campuses in two lovely settings: in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Annapolis, Maryland, allowing students to transfer back and forth, but also allowing for local campus innovations to keep us looking at ways to improve our program.

Why do we insist on reading original sources? First, because they are difficult. If you want people to become proficient at sound judgment, they must cut their teeth on hard objects. Second, because they are original, both in the sense of being at the beginnings of long trains of thought that flow out of them, and in the sense of having invented or uncovered new starting points for thinking. They transcend time and remain relevant because they continue to lie behind new discoveries and new thinking. And third, because they are elemental—not in the sense of being simple, but in the sense of being close to building blocks of thought. They are also often quite beautiful.

Now there are many criticisms of programs like ours. Some attack the selection of texts for being biased. Some reject the very notion of a “great” book. There are too many such critiques to treat in the short time I have today, but I would like to respond to one of them, because it goes to the heart of what this conference is trying to accomplish.

Some think that it is a fool’s errand to try to read the original texts written by authors dating back thousands of years. Some might even argue that it cannot be done by modern students. On the contrary, they argue, students need to be guided by experts in the languages of the authors, experts in the historical context of the authors, experts in the biographies of the authors—in short, by someone who has specialized knowledge to impart to the student.

This is the usual way of teaching at a university. The expert may, indeed, assign original works, or parts of them, for the students to read. Quite often, the reading assignments are from secondary sources that attempt to explain or critique or contextualize the original sources. But once the reading is done, students must attend lectures in which the works are interpreted for them by the expert lecturer. In this way, it is thought the students gain knowledge that they could never get for themselves unaided. And their reading of the original work becomes mediated by a learned expert, who, for better or worse, may act as a brake on the free exploration that the student might undertake if confronting the original work directly.

Expert teaching then, will often regard detailed knowledge as the end of learning. The facts, the ideas, the arguments that the student gleans from the expert can be tested, and then the teacher knows whether the student has learned what the teacher taught.

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Liberal education does not think about teaching in this way. Of course, facts are important. Knowing things is important. But it is possible to learn lots of facts, lots of ideas, and lots of arguments without gaining the transdisciplinary abilities that help us to approach all facts, all ideas, and all arguments with a disciplined attention to their relative importance and interconnectedness. It is, so to speak, learning without learning. The result is detailed knowledge—perhaps even spectacularly detailed knowledge—but little or no cultivation of the transdisciplinary abilities that enable sound judgment. It is the intellectual equivalent of giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish. Now, of course, it is possible to teach specialized subjects liberally—and I dare to say many or most of you try to do this in your classes—but is not easy to depart from the syllabus, testing students on expected outcomes, and so on.

Now, liberal education has no aversion to facts, ideas, and arguments. On the contrary, it recognizes them as the material of intellectual activity. And it certainly does not disparage detailed knowledge. On the contrary, it recognizes that one of the greatest satisfactions in life is mastering a specialized field of inquiry or a specialized activity. But it prefers to place its emphasis on learning how to approach knowledge generally; that is, on mastering the transdisciplinary abilities that make possible self-directed learning.

Why does liberal education emphasize self-directed learning? Because its aim is to help people become free. The purpose of liberal education is not to produce high-functioning specialists: It is to educate people who are free to search out knowledge on their own, people who are not dependent on others to tell them what they need to know, and ultimately, people who are the best judges of their own needs. As Scott Buchanan once wrote:

Liberal education has as its end the free mind, and the free mind must be its own teacher. Intellectual freedom begins when one says with Socrates that he knows nothing, and then goes on to add: I know what it is that I don’t know. My question then is: Do you know what you don’t know and therefore what you should know? If your answer is affirmative and humble, then you are your own teacher, you are making your own assignment, and you will be your own best critic.

Buchanan recognized that the spur to learning rests in the recognition of one’s own ignorance.

Today’s critics of liberal education decry such sentiments as high-toned but empty rhetoric—tattered remnants of aristocratic paternalism. In our modern, capitalist world, they say, what every individual needs most of all is exactly some sort of specialty that can be bartered for the means of survival. And what society needs most of all is workers with exactly such specialties to provide the innovation that keeps the economic engine humming. Hawking propagandistic notions like “intellectual freedom” and “cultivated understanding”—even if they are not merely antiquated fictions—they say, is cruel and fraudulent educational malpractice given the realities of the twenty-first century.

In response, I say that no view of higher education could be more enervating or debilitating. Freedom of thought and cultivated understanding are absolutely crucial for these times. Modern democratic societies are predicated on the freedom of the individual. Citizens of these democracies must think for themselves and make generally sound judgments, which is more likely if they have learned how to learn. Liberal democracies cannot survive without liberal education.

Moreover, capitalism cannot continue to flourish without liberal education. Why not? Because it needs, as its champions rightly understand, continual innovation for its survival. And liberal education grounded in original sources is a powerhouse of innovation for two reasons. First, because the original sources comprise the historical record of the most successful innovations in human history. As such, they are models to be studied for what they can reveal to us about the process of making new discoveries and creating new beginnings. And second, because they demonstrate the crucial role of imagination in human affairs.

Imagination is the second transdisciplinary ability that I mentioned earlier, the one that may be even more important in our time than sound reasoning. Both free thinking and innovation depend on having the imagination to see alternate ways of being, to envision worlds that we do not yet see before us, to reconsider what is there, and to conceive what could be there in its place.

Training the imagination proceeds through the study of metaphor, by which I mean all connections of any kind among different objects, both in the physical world and in thought. The study of metaphor rises above all distinctions among academic specialties, for the simple reason that any two things or ideas are related in some way, although it may take some ingenuity to find the points of similarity or difference. Repeated practice to develop this ingenuity results in a powerful imagination, one that reveals hidden connections and even follows the threads of merely possible connections to find, as yet, undiscovered objects. And it is liberal education that promotes the transdisciplinary ability of imagination, by investigating metaphors wherever they occur, in literature and the arts, in mathematics and science, in politics and history.

For all the undoubted progress made by modern academic disciplines, they nevertheless constrain the imagination. The specialized methodology of each discipline insulates it from others, enclosing the specialty in the safety of its currently accepted paradigm. Each discipline has to decide what it considers a proper object, what counts as evidence, what forms of argumentation are acceptable, and so on. Imagination is not so constrained. Skilled in the study of metaphor, it can easily revise the notion of its object, quickly change course, and find new connections to speed it on its journey of discovery.

Of course, specialists too can make astounding journeys of discovery. But when they do so, it is because their imagination has been sparked by recognizing a new connection. When Darwin supposed that Nature might select traits in the manner of a livestock breeder, he sailed on the winds of imagination to a new country of thought, and transformed the science of heredity forever. Or when Crick and Watson imagined that chemical substances could function as elements in a code like those developed during the war.

Imagination, indeed, is the originator of disciplines, the innovator of specialties. It is only from the universe of all connections that a discipline can select its particular connections. That is to say, the special disciplines, each and every one, were established by the power of imagination surveying the universe of connections and choosing the particular connections that would apply in each specialty.

Imagination, like sound judgment, transcends all specialties. It is the generator of all innovation, including the innovation so necessary to capitalism. And it is a particular concern of liberal education. So those who reject liberal education on the ground that specialized knowledge is the engine of innovation are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

I have tried to show in this short address that liberal education grounded in original sources can develop transdisciplinary abilities that are hardly to be expected from specialized disciplines, that these abilities are the foundations of intellectual freedom and creative innovation, and that twenty-first-century societies desperately need freedom of thought if they are to survive as democracies, and imagination if they are to prosper in their capitalism.

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I have not addressed many questions you may have about the specific choices we have made at St. John’s concerning our approach to liberal education, such as questions about the particular books on the Program and our choice to read them chronologically, about our way of turning the class over to the students, about our decision not to organize our studies into courses, about our reasons for requiring the faculty to teach across the curriculum, or about the openness of the Program to change as time goes on and knowledge expands. Perhaps we can take up some of them in the question period.

Let me close now by expressing the hope that over the next day or two, through our shared conversation and questioning, we can advance beyond our present state of curiosity about liberal education and begin to devise ways to resolve the conflict with specialized education.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This essay was the address to a conference in Amsterdam on the Liberal Arts and Sciences Education and Core Texts in the European Context (September 11-12, 2015) and is republished here with kind permission of the author. 

Christopher B. Nelson is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative. He is president of St. John's College in Annapolis. St. John's College, with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an independent, four-year college that is devoted to liberal education. Students and faculty engage directly -- not through textbooks and lectures but through study and discussion -- with original texts and ideas that are the foundation of Western thought.
 

jeudi, 21 janvier 2016

Aristote: Le maître de ceux qui savent

Aristote: Le maître de ceux qui savent

France Culture - Une Vie, Une Oeuvre

du 23 novembre 1995 par Catherine Paoleti
http://www.franceculture.fr

vendredi, 26 décembre 2014

Le meilleur régime: une querelle millénaire

 

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Le meilleur régime: une querelle millénaire

Proposer ou imposer un chef à sa Nation ne se fait jamais sans conséquences. Mais alors, quel système politique doit-on mettre en œuvre pour assurer la pérennité de ce (nouveau) Régime ? Et quel est le plus préférable ?

Dans son « Enquête » au sein du livre 3, Hérodote rapporte un dialogue entre trois « mages » au lendemain de la mort du roi de Perse, Smerdis, pour trouver quel serait le meilleur régime afin de gouverner le territoire. En réalité, ces « mages » ou encore appelés « servants » selon les textes, représentent les trois principaux régimes politiques.

  • Otanes, faisant l’apogée de la démocratie, commence par attaquer la monarchie par ces mots : « Je crois que l’on ne doit plus désormais confier l’administration de l’État à un seul homme, le gouvernement monarchique n’étant ni agréable ni bon ». En réalité, Otanes s’insurge sur le fait que ce « monarque » n’agirait qu’à sa guise, selon l’impulsion donnée par son caractère capricieux, tout lui étant alors permis. Otanes préconise un gouvernement choisi par le peuple ce qui régirait le « principe d’isonomie ». Ce principe consiste en une soumission à une même loi pour tous. L’isonomie est concrétisée sur l’égalité des droits civiques avec l’idée de partage effectif du pouvoir.
  • Mégabyse, favorable au système aristocratique, témoigne de son accord avec Otanes sur les dérives de la monarchie, régime tyrannique selon lui. Mais la démocratie ne vaut pas mieux en y regardant de plus près ! Mégabyse dira même que le système démocratique est bien pire que son opposant monarchique pour la simple et bonne raison que le tyran monarque sait ce qu’il fait, alors que la masse populaire ne le sait pas ! Pour lui, seul un gouvernement composé des hommes de savoir et d’éducation, peut se maintenir ! « Pour nous, faisons le choix des hommes les plus vertueux ; mettons-leur la puissance entre les mains : nous serons nous-même de ce nombre ; et, suivant toutes les apparences, des hommes sages et éclairés et ne donneront que d’excellents conseils ».
  • Darius quant à lui se positionne pour la monarchie. Prenant la parole en dernier, et ayant soigneusement écouté ses comparses, il critique immédiatement Otanes et Mégabyse : Pour lui, le meilleur gouvernement ne peut être autre que celui du meilleur homme seul ! « Il est constant qu’il n’y a rien de meilleur que le gouvernement d’un seul homme, quand il est homme de bien ». L’oligarchie n’est pour lui que l’étape précédent la monarchie, d’où sa faiblesse : « Chacun veut primer, chacun veut que son opinion prévale » de sorte que les nobles se battraient pour gouverner. Cette situation ne déboucherait que sur le recours à un roi pour rétablir l’ordre social. Mais la démocratie ne vaut pas mieux selon le « mage » ! « Quand le peuple commande, il est impossible qu’il ne s’introduise beaucoup de désordre dans un État ». Cela ne conduirait qu’à une tyrannie – justement – pour rétablir brutalement l’ordre. Pour Darius, la monarchie apparait comme seul régime valable, ou du moins comme le moins mauvais.

Cette introduction nous permet d’enchaîner sur l’étude desdits systèmes politiques, non pas pour vanter les mérites de l’un sur les autres, mais pour en comprendre leurs fondements, leurs principes et leurs idéaux.

La démocratie

aristotelessdgh.jpgL’une des meilleurs définitions a été donné par Aristote : « La liberté – ou démocratie – consiste dans le fait d’être tour à tour gouverné et gouvernant… »
La démocratie est le gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple. Idéalement, la démocratie instaure une identité entre les gouvernants et les gouvernés. Les conditions nécessaires sont les suivantes :

  • L’égalité : C’est l’idée que tous les citoyens, sans distinction d’origine, de race, de sexe ou de religion, sont égaux en droit. Les mêmes règles doivent s’appliquer aux citoyens qui sont placés dans une situation identique.
  • La légalité : C’est l’idée d’une obéissance aux règles de droit. Les rapports entre les citoyens doivent être régis par des règles de droit qui, adoptées par tous, s’appliquent à tous.
  • La liberté : C’est l’idée de la liberté de participation aux affaires publiques. Tous les citoyens sont libres de participer au gouvernement soit par la désignation des gouvernants – élection – soit par la prise directe de décision – référendum. C’est également l’idée d’une liberté d’opinion, ce qui induit le respect de plusieurs courants politiques.

Outre Otanès que nous avons évoqué en introduction, Périclès fait également l’éloge de la démocratie où l’égalité serait son fondement. Dans ce régime il ne doit y avoir aucune différence entre les citoyens ni dans leur vie publique ni dans leur vie privée. Aucune considération ne doit s’attacher à la naissance ou à la richesse, mais uniquement au mérite !

La démocratie est un régime de générosité et de fraternité, reposant sur la philanthropie (du grec ancien φίλος / phílos « amoureux » et ἄνθρωπος / ánthrôpos « homme », « genre humain ») est la philosophie ou doctrine de vie qui met l’humanité au premier plan de ses priorités. Un philanthrope cherche à améliorer le sort de ses semblables par de multiples moyens.

Cependant et après étude de ces éléments, nous sommes en droit de nous poser la question suivante : l’élection démocratique d’un dirigeant le force t-il nécessairement à être philanthrope ? À moins que la réponse ne soit déjà dans la question…

L’Oligarchie

L’oligarchie est le gouvernement d’un petit nombre de personnes, le pouvoir étant détenu par une minorité. L’oligarchie est également une catégorie générique qui recouvre plusieurs formes de gouvernement.

La forme oligarchique la plus répandue est l’aristocratie. C’est un gouvernement réservé à une classe sociale censée regrouper les meilleurs. L’aristocratie repose ainsi sur une conception élitiste du pouvoir.

Outre les institutions de la république romaine, rappelons que le système politique spartiate était bel et bien orienté vers l’oligarchie notamment avec la gérousie.
La gérousie est une assemblée composée de 28 hommes élus à vie et âgés de plus de 60 ans. Ces derniers sont choisis en fonction de leur vertu militaire mais force est de constater qu’ils appartiennent pour la plupart aux grandes familles de Sparte.

Il est intéressant de noter que dans cet exemple que seuls les membres de cette assemblée possèdent l’initiative des lois. Dans un système oligarchique on ne laisse que peu de place à l’aléatoire puisque seuls les « meilleurs » accèdent aux fonctions législatives, encore faut-il convenablement définir ce que sont « les meilleurs » dans un régime politique.

La monarchie

La monarchie est la forme de gouvernement dans laquelle le pouvoir est exercé par un seul homme (roi, empereur, dictateur).
La monarchie absolue est un courant de la monarchie qui, elle-même est un courant de la monocratie. La monarchie absolue donc, est le gouvernement d’un seul homme fondée sur l’hérédité et détenant en sa personne tous les pouvoirs (législatif, exécutif et judiciaire). La souveraineté du monarque est très souvent de droit divin.

Outre Darius, Isocrate défend cette idée de monarchie comme forme d’organisation du pouvoir. Il pense trouver le chef dans Philippe de Macédoine (père d’Alexandre le Grand), car il y voit le règne de l’efficacité et l’avènement de la modernité.

xenophon05.jpgXénophon a réellement été l’initiateur du régime monarchique. « Ce qui fait les rois ou les chefs (…) c’est la science du commandement ». Le roi est comparable au pilote qui guide le navire. Xénophon décrit un homme qui détient une supériorité sur tous les autres, car il « sait ». On ne naît pas roi, on ne l’est pas non plus par le fait, ni encore par l’élection : on le devient ! La monarchie est un art qui, comme tous les autres arts, suppose un apprentissage, la connaissance des lois et des maîtres pour les enseigner.

L’éducation fait acquérir au roi un ensemble de talents et de qualités qui le rendront véritablement apte à exercer ses fonctions. Il ne doit pas imposer son pouvoir par la force, sinon il ne serait qu’un tyran, ce que Xénophon réprouve. Le roi devra être capable de susciter le consentement du peuple en se fondant sur la justice et la raison. Le chef est donc au service de ceux qu’il commande. « Un bon chef ne diffère en rien d’un bon père de famille ». Héritage grec oblige, Xénophon n’oublie pas de mentionner que le roi ne fera régner la justice qu’en respectant la primauté de la loi.

***

À l’étude de ces différents régimes proposant une gouvernance différente du territoire, sommes-nous en capacité de répondre à l’intitulé de cet article à savoir « Quel est le meilleur Régime politique ? » Chacun se fera son avis, chacun se fera son opinion ! Tout réside naturellement dans la capacité du « chef » à gouverner, mais aussi et surtout dans sa conception du pouvoir.

Napoléon Bonaparte a été très certainement l’un des empereurs les plus prestigieux de l’Histoire. Cependant était-il d’avantage un démocrate qu’un monarque ? Ou a-t-il réussi à faire ressortir une nouvelle façon d’exercer le pouvoir ? Pour approfondir le sujet, je vous invite à lire les articles de Christopher Lings et David Saforcada aux adresses suivantes :

Christopher Destailleurs

Nous avons besoin de votre soutien pour vivre et nous développer :

mardi, 27 mai 2014

Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel

Bréviaire de "réinformation" historique: Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel 

par Jean d'Omiac

Ex: http://anti-mythes.blogspot.com

 

msg.jpgDans une société qui se réclame d’un adogmatisme absolu, le seul dogme intangible est la croyance en l’homme et à ses progrès, qui implique la fausseté du christianisme, religion traditionnelle par excellence. Pour lutter contre cet ennemi irréconciliable, la soi-disant "Renaissance" et les prétendues "Lumières" ont usé de toute une mythologie désinformatrice, devenue aujourd’hui le catéchisme de l’extrême majorité de nos contemporains.
 
Mensonge
 
Parmi les points fondamentaux de cette mythologie figure l’apport islamique. Cette théorie est trop connue pour que l’on s’y arrête. On se contentera de la résumer d’un mot : les "ténèbres" culturelles du Moyen Âge n’ont été dissipées que grâce aux lumières d’une société musulmane brillante et cultivée, infiniment plus tolérante que nos temps féodaux, qui aurait transmis à l’Occident l’essentiel de l’héritage de la Grèce classique. C’est contre cette idée, bien évidemment fausse, que s’inscrit le salutaire ouvrage de Sylvain Gouguenheim, Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel - Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne, dans lequel il démontre, de façon très érudite, que l’héritage grec de l’Occident chrétien ne doit presque rien à l’islam.
 
Le but de la vulgate moderne étant d’amoindrir le prestige de tout ce qui occidental et chrétien, on ne pourra s’étonner des mensonges et des falsifications commises pour augmenter l’importance des traductions des auteurs de l’antiquité du grec vers l’arabe, nombreuses dans l’Espagne musulmane, traduits par la suite en latin par des clercs et des savants chrétiens. Ce qui est beaucoup plus incroyable est la haine de soi, consciente ou non, qui a pu conduire certains universitaires, tels Alain de Libéra, spécialiste d’une mystique rhénane fortement influencée par les Pères hellénophones, à souscrire à cette légende qui ne peut tenir qu’en minimisant les contacts entre l’Occident latin et l’Empire chrétien d’Orient.
 
La chrétienté médiévale connaissait la philosophie, la science et la médecine grecques grâce à un mouvement de traduction directe du grec vers le latin, « étonnant effort pluriséculaire dont la constance et l’opiniâtreté témoignent de l’intime conviction que là résidait la matrice de sa civilisation ». La langue grecque, qui fut celle de la rédaction des Évangiles, n’a jamais perdu de son prestige au cours du Moyen Âge, bien qu’elle ne fût plus parlée par le peuple, jadis bilingue. On rencontrait à Rome beaucoup d’orthodoxes hellénophones et leurs monastères étaient très nombreux, notamment en Calabre. La bibliothèque du Latran, enrichie par les papes successifs, fut un centre de redistribution des oeuvres grecs grâce à l’activité de nombreux copistes.
 
Les musulmans et le grec
 
Sylvain Gouguenheim fait de Jacques de Venise, clerc italien qui vécut longtemps à Constantinople avant de devenir moine au Mont-Saint-Michel, l’exemple archétypal de ce lien constant, bien que distendu par les différences culturelles, mais surtout théologiques, entre ce qui fut les deux parties du même empire chrétien. C’est au mont Saint-Michel que ce moine traduisit en latin, dès le début du XIIe siècle une grande partie des oeuvres d’Aristote, bien avant que celles-ci fussent traduites de l’arabe.
 
Alors que l’auteur insiste sur les "renaissances" successives de l’Occident chrétien, toujours liées avec le savoir antique, non sans que cela représente des inconvénients pour la pureté de la foi, il brosse, en revanche, un tableau sans complaisance du rapport de ce savoir avec l’Islam. Si certains musulmans furent des érudits, ils furent toujours mal perçus par les autorités religieuses, pour lesquelles le Coran était non seulement une Révélation, mais la Parole même de Dieu, ce qui rendait difficile, voire impossible, toute recherche métaphysique. Ce n’est pas un hasard si la mystique "musulmane" est pleine d’emprunts au néoplatonisme ou au christianisme, car la lettre même de cette religion rend impensable la relation avec un dieu lointain et moralement ambigu, confiné dans sa transcendance, et décidant du bien comme du mal que font des hommes privés de liberté.
 
Il est d’ailleurs intéressant de constater à quel point, toujours pour minimiser le christianisme et les chrétiens, il est rarement fait mention du fait que la plupart des musulmans ignoraient le grec et furent initiés aux auteurs antiques grâce aux Syriaques chrétiens, qui les traduisirent dans leur langue dès le IVe siècle, puis en arabe à partir du VIIe siècle, début de l’occupation musulmane de ces terres jadis romaines.
 
La livre de Sylvain Gouguenheim constitue ainsi un véritable traité de "réinformation" dont la nécessité ne fait que s’accroître à mesure que les gouvernements démocratiques se font les complices de l’islamisation de l’Occident, par intérêt et par lâcheté, mais avant tout par haine de l’Europe chrétienne et monarchique.
 
Jean D’Omiac
L’Action Française 2000 du 3 au 16 juillet 2008
 
* Sylvain Gouguenheim : Aristote au Mont-Saint-Michel – Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne. Seuil, 280 p. 21 euros

jeudi, 24 avril 2014

Aristote, « Politique ». Livre III – chap. IV

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« De même que chaque matelot est l’un des membres d’une communauté, ainsi en est-il disons-nous, du citoyen. Ces matelots ont beau différer par leur capacité (l’un est rameur, un autre pilote, un autre la vigie, un autre reçoit quelque autre dénomination du même genre), il est clair que la définition la plus exacte de la perfection de chacun n’est propre qu’à lui, mais qu’il y en aura également une qui sera commune et qui s’adaptera à tous : en effet, la sécurité de la navigation est leur tâche à tous, car c’est à cela qu’aspire chacun des matelots. Il en va donc de même des citoyens : ils ont beau être dissemblables entre eux, leur tâche, c’est le salut de la communauté. »

Aristote, « Politique ». Livre III – chap. IV.

mercredi, 04 juillet 2012

Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics

Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics
Part 1: The Aim & Elements of Politics

Posted By Greg Johnson

Part 1 of 2

Author’s Note:

The following introduction to Aristotle’s Politics focuses on the issues of freedom and popular government. It is a reworking of a more “academic” text penned in 2001.

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1. The Necessity of Politics

Aristotle is famous for holding that man is by nature a political animal. But what does this mean? Aristotle explains that,

even when human beings are not in need of each other’s help, they have no less desire to live together, though it is also true that the common advantage draws them into union insofar as noble living is something they each partake of. So this above all is the end, whether for everyone in common or for each singly (Politics 3.6, 1278b19–22).[1]

Here Aristotle contrasts two different needs of the human soul that give rise to different forms of community, one pre-political and the other political.

The first need is material. On this account, men form communities to secure the necessities of life. Because few are capable of fulfilling all their needs alone, material self-interest forces them to co-operate, each developing his particular talents and trading his products with others. The classical example of such a community is the “city of pigs” in the second book of Plato’s Republic.

The second need is spiritual. Even in the absence of material need, human beings will form communities because only through community can man satisfy his spiritual need to live nobly, i.e., to achieve eudaimonia, happiness or well-being, which Aristotle defines as a life of unimpeded virtuous activity.

Aristotle holds that the forms of association which arise from material needs are pre-political. These include the family, the master-slave relationship, the village, the market, and alliances for mutual defense. With the exception of the master-slave relationship, the pre-political realm could be organized on purely libertarian, capitalist principles. Individual rights and private property could allow individuals to associate and disassociate freely by means of persuasion and trade, according to their own determination of their interests.

But in Politics 3.9, Aristotle denies that the realm of material needs, whether organized on libertarian or non-libertarian lines, could ever fully satisfy man’s spiritual need for happiness: “It is not the case . . . that people come together for the sake of life alone, but rather for the sake of living well” (1280a31), and “the political community must be set down as existing for the sake of noble deeds and not merely for living together” (1281a2). Aristotle’s clearest repudiation of any minimalistic form of liberalism is the following passage:

Nor do people come together for the sake of an alliance to prevent themselves from being wronged by anyone, nor again for purposes of mutual exchange and mutual utility. Otherwise the Etruscans and Carthaginians and all those who have treaties with each other would be citizens of one city. . . . [But they are not] concerned about what each other’s character should be, not even with the aim of preventing anyone subject to the agreements from becoming unjust or acquiring a single depraved habit. They are concerned only that they should not do any wrong to each other. But all those who are concerned about a good state of law concentrate their attention on political virtue and vice, from which it is manifest that the city truly and not verbally so called must make virtue its care. (1280a34–b7)

Aristotle does not disdain mutual exchange and mutual protection. But he thinks that the state must do more. It must concern itself with the character of the citizen; it must encourage virtue and discourage vice.

But why does Aristotle think that the pursuit of virtue is political at all, much less the defining characteristic of the political? Why does he reject the liberal principle that whether and how men pursue virtue is an ineluctably private choice? The ultimate anthropological foundation of Aristotelian political science is man’s neoteny. Many animals can fend for themselves as soon as they are born. But man is born radically immature and incapable of living on his own. We need many years of care and education. Nature does not give us the ability to survive, much less flourish. But she gives us the ability to acquire the ability. Skills are acquired abilities to live. Virtue is the acquired ability to live well. The best way to acquire virtue is not through trial and error, but through education, which allows us to benefit from the trials and avoid the errors of others. Fortune permitting, if we act virtuously, we will live well.

Liberals often claim that freedom of choice is a necessary condition of virtue. We can receive no moral credit for a virtue which is not freely chosen but is instead forced upon us. Aristotle, however, holds that force is a necessary condition of virtue. Aristotle may have defined man as the rational animal, but unlike the Sophists of his day he did not think that rational persuasion is sufficient to instill virtue:

. . . if reasoned words were sufficient by themselves to make us decent, they would, to follow a remark of Theognis, justly carry off many and great rewards, and the thing to do would be to provide them. But, as it is, words seem to have the strength to incite and urge on those of the young who are generous and to get a well-bred character and one truly in love with the noble to be possessed by virtue; but they appear incapable of inciting the many toward becoming gentlemen. For the many naturally obey the rule of fear, not of shame, and shun what is base not because it is ugly but because it is punished. Living by passion as they do, they pursue their own pleasures and whatever will bring these pleasures about . . . ; but of the noble and truly pleasant they do not even have the notion, since they have never tasted it. How could reasoned words reform such people? For it is not possible, or nor easy, to replace by reason what has long since become fixed in the character. (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1179b4–18)

The defect of reason can, however, be corrected by force: “Reason and teaching by no means prevail in everyone’s case; instead, there is need that the hearer’s soul, like earth about to nourish the seed, be worked over in its habits beforehand so as to enjoy and hate in a noble way. . . . Passion, as a general rule, does not seem to yield to reason but to force” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1179b23–25). The behavioral substratum of virtue is habit, and habits can be inculcated by force. Aristotle describes law as “reasoned speech that proceeds from prudence and intellect” but yet “has force behind it” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180a18). Therefore, the compulsion of the appropriate laws is a great aid in acquiring virtue.

At this point, however, one might object that Aristotle has established only a case for parental, not political, force in moral education. Aristotle admits that only in Sparta and a few other cities is there public education in morals, while “In most cities these matters are neglected, and each lives as he wishes, giving sacred law, in Cyclops’ fashion, to his wife and children” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180a24–27). Aristotle grants that an education adapted to an individual is better than an education given to a group (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180b7). But this is an argument against the collective reception of education, not the collective provision. He then argues that such an education is best left to experts, not parents. Just as parents have professional doctors care for their childrens’ bodies, they should have professional educators care for their souls (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180b14–23). But this does not establish that the professionals should be employees of the state.

Two additional arguments for public education are found in Politics 8.1:

[1] Since the whole city has one end, it is manifest that everyone must also have one and the same education and that taking care of this education must be a common matter. It must not be private in the way that it is now, when everyone takes care of their own children privately and teaches them whatever private learning they think best. Of common things, the training must be common. [2] At the same time, no citizen should even think he belongs to himself but instead that each belongs to the city, for each is part of the city. The care of each part, however, naturally looks to the care of the whole, and to this extent praise might be due to the Spartans, for they devote the most serious attention to their children and do so in common. (Politics, 8.1 [5.1], 1337a21–32)

The second argument is both weak and question-begging. Although it may be useful for citizens to “think” that they belong to the city, not themselves, Aristotle offers no reason to think that this is true. Furthermore, the citizens would not think so unless they received precisely the collective education that needs to be established. The first argument, however, is quite strong. If the single, overriding aim of political life is the happiness of the citizens, and if this aim is best attained by public education, then no regime can be legitimate if it fails to provide public education.[2]

Another argument for public moral education can be constructed from the overall argument of the Politics. Since public education is more widely distributed than private education, other things being equal, the populace will become more virtuous on the whole. As we shall see, it is widespread virtue that makes popular government possible. Popular government is, moreover, one of the bulwarks of popular liberty. Compulsory public education in virtue, therefore, is a bulwark of liberty.

2. Politics and Freedom

Aristotle’s emphasis on compulsory moral education puts him in the “positive” libertarian camp. For Aristotle, a free man is not merely any man who lives in a free society. A free man possesses certain traits of character which allow him to govern himself responsibly and attain happiness. These traits are, however, the product of a long process of compulsory tutelage. But such compulsion can be justified only by the production of a free and happy individual, and its scope is therefore limited by this goal. Since Aristotle ultimately accepted the Socratic principle that all men desire happiness, education merely compels us to do what we really want. It frees us from our own ignorance, folly, and irrationality and frees us for our own self-actualization. This may be the rationale for Aristotle’s claim that, “the law’s laying down of what is decent is not oppressive” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180a24). Since Aristotle thinks that freedom from the internal compulsion of the passions is more important than freedom from the external compulsion of force, and that force can quell the passions and establish virtue’s empire over them, Aristotle as much as Rousseau believes that we can be forced to be free.

But throughout the Politics, Aristotle shows that he is concerned to protect “negative” liberty as well. In Politics 2.2–5, Aristotle ingeniously defends private families, private property, and private enterprise from Plato’s communistic proposals in the Republic, thereby preserving the freedom of large spheres of human activity.

Aristotle’s concern with privacy is evident in his criticism of a proposal of Hippodamus of Miletus which would encourage spies and informers (2.8, 1268b22).

Aristotle is concerned to create a regime in which the rich do not enslave the poor and the poor do not plunder the rich (3.10, 1281a13–27).

Second Amendment enthusiasts will be gratified at Aristotle’s emphasis on the importance of a wide distribution of arms in maintaining the freedom of the populace (2.8, 1268a16-24; 3.17, 1288a12–14; 4.3 [6.3], 1289b27–40; 4.13 [6.13], 1297a12–27; 7.11 [4.11], 1330b17–20).

War and empire are great enemies of liberty, so isolationists and peace lovers will be gratified by Aristotle’s critique of warlike regimes and praise of peace. The good life requires peace and leisure. War is not an end in itself, but merely a means to ensure peace (7.14 [4.14], 1334a2–10; 2.9, 1271a41–b9).

The best regime is not oriented outward, toward dominating other peoples, but inward, towards the happiness of its own. The best regime is an earthly analogue of the Prime Mover. It is self-sufficient and turned inward upon itself (7.3 [4.3], 1325a14–31). Granted, Aristotle may not think that negative liberty is the whole of the good life, but it is an important component which needs to be safeguarded.[3]

3. The Elements of Politics and the Mixed Regime

Since the aim of political association is the good life, the best political regime is the one that best delivers the good life. Delivering the good life can be broken down into two components: production and distribution. There are two basic kinds of goods: the goods of the body and the goods of the soul.[4] Both sorts of goods can be produced and distributed privately and publicly, but Aristotle treats the production and distribution of bodily goods as primarily private whereas he treats the production and distribution of spiritual goods as primarily public. The primary goods of the soul are moral and intellectual virtue, which are best produced by public education, and honor, the public recognition of virtue, talent, and service rendered to the city.[5] The principle of distributive justice is defined as proportionate equality: equally worthy people should be equally happy and unequally worthy people should be unequally happy, commensurate with their unequal worth (Nicomachean Ethics, 5.6–7). The best regime, in short, combines happiness and justice.

But how is the best regime to be organized? Aristotle builds his account from at least three sets of elements.

First, in Politics 3.6–7, Aristotle observes that sovereignty can rest either with men or with laws. If with men, then it can rest in one man, few men, or many men. (Aristotle treats it as self-evident that it cannot rest in all men.) The rulers can exercise political power for two different ends: for the common good and for special interests. One pursues the common good by promoting the happiness of all according to justice. Special interests can be broken down into individual or factional interests. A ruler can be blamed for pursuing such goods only if he does so without regard to justice, i.e., without a just concern for the happiness of all. When a single man rules for the common good, we have kingship. When he rules for his own good, we have tyranny. When the few rule for the common good, we have aristocracy. When they rule for their factional interest, we have oligarchy. When the many rule for the common good, we have polity. When they rule for their factional interest, we have democracy. These six regimes can exist in pure forms, or they can be mixed together.

Second, Aristotle treats social classes as elemental political distinctions. In Politics 3.8 he refines his definitions of oligarchy and democracy, claiming that oligarchy is actually the rule by the rich, whether they are few or many, and democracy is rule by the poor, whether they are few or many. Similarly, in Politics 4.11 (6.1) Aristotle also defines polity as rule by the middle class. In Politics 4.4 (6.4), Aristotle argues that the social classes are irreducible political distinctions. One can be a rich, poor, or middle class juror, legislator, or office-holder. One can be a rich, poor, or middle class farmer or merchant. But one cannot be both rich and poor at the same time (1291b2–13). Class distinctions cannot be eliminated; therefore, they have to be recognized and respected, their disadvantages meliorated and their advantages harnessed for the common good.

Third, in Politics 4.14 (6.14), Aristotle divides the activities of rulership into three different functions: legislative, judicial, and executive.[6]

Because rulership can be functionally divided, it is possible to create a mixed regime by assigning different functions to different parts of the populace. One could, for instance, mix monarchy and elite rule by assigning supreme executive office to a single man and the legislative and judicial functions to the few. Or one could divide the legislative function into different houses, assigning one to the few and another to the many. Aristotle suggests giving the few the power to legislate and the many the power to veto legislation. He suggests that officers be elected by the many, but nominated from the few. The few should make expenditures, but the many should audit them (2.12, 1274a15–21; 3.11, 1281b21–33; 4.14 [6.14], 1298b26–40).

In Politics 3.10, Aristotle argues that some sort of mixed regime is preferable, since no pure regime is satisfactory: “A difficulty arises as to what should be the controlling part of the city, for it is really either the multitude or the rich or the decent or the best one of all or a tyrant? But all of them appear unsatisfactory” (1281a11–13). Democracy is bad because the poor unjustly plunder the substance of the rich; oligarchy is bad because the rich oppress and exploit the poor; tyranny is bad because the tyrant does injustice to everyone (1281a13–28). Kingship and aristocracy are unsatisfactory because they leave the many without honors and are schools for snobbery and high-handedness (1281a28–33; 4.11 [6.11], 1295b13ff). A pure polity might be unsatisfactory because it lacks a trained leadership caste and is therefore liable to make poor decisions (3.11, 1281b21–33).

4. Checks and Balances, Political Rule, and the Rule of Law

Aristotle’s mixed regime is the origin of the idea of the separation of powers and “checks and balances.” It goes hand in hand with a very modern political realism. Aristotle claims that, “all regimes that look to the common advantage turn out, according to what is simply just, to be correct ones, while those that look only to the advantage of their rulers are mistaken and are all deviations from the correct regime. For they are despotic, but the city is a community of the free” (3.6, 1279a17–21).

It is odd, then, that in Politics 4.8–9 (6.8–9) Aristotle describes the best regime as a mixture of two defective regimes, oligarchy and democracy–not of two correct regimes, aristocracy and polity. But perhaps Aristotle entertained the possibility of composing a regime that tends to the common good out of classes which pursue their own factional interests.

Perhaps Aristotle thought that the “intention” to pursue the common good can repose not in the minds of individual men, but in the institutional logic of the regime itself. This would be an enormous advantage, for it would bring about the common good without having to rely entirely upon men of virtue and good will, who are in far shorter supply than men who pursue their own individual and factional advantages.

Related to the mixed regime with its checks and balances is the notion of “political rule.” Political rule consists of ruling and being ruled in turn:

. . . there is a sort of rule exercised over those who are similar in birth and free. This rule we call political rule, and the ruler must learn it by being ruled, just as one learns to be a cavalry commander by serving under a cavalry commander . . . Hence is was nobly said that one cannot rule well without having been ruled. And while virtue in these two cases is different, the good citizen must learn and be able both to be ruled and to rule. This is in fact the virtue of the citizen, to know rule over the free from both sides. (3.4, 1277b7–15; cf. 1.13, 1259b31–34 and 2.2, 1261a32–b3)

Aristotle makes it clear that political rule can exist only where the populace consists of men who are free, i.e., sufficiently virtuous that they can rule themselves. They must also be economically middle-class, well-armed, and warlike. They must, in short, be the sort of men who can participate responsibly in government, who want to participate, and who cannot safely be excluded. A populace that is slavish, vice-ridden, poor, and unarmed can easily be disenfranchised and exploited. If power were entirely in the hands of a free populace, the regime would be a pure polity, and political rule would exist entirely between equals. If, however, a free populace were to take part in a mixed regime, then political rule would exist between different parts of the regime. The many and the few would divide power and functions between them. Not only would members of each class take turns performing the different functions allotted to them, the classes themselves would rule over others in one respect and be ruled in another. In these circumstances, then, checks and balances are merely one form of political rule.

In Politics 3.16, Aristotle connects political rule to the rule of law:

What is just is that people exercise rule no more than they are subject to it and that therefore they rule by turns. But this is already law, for the arrangement is law. Therefore, it is preferable that law rule rather than any one of the citizens. And even if, to pursue the same argument, it were better that there be some persons exercising rule, their appointment should be as guardians and servants of the laws. For though there must be some offices, that there should be this one person exercising rule is, they say, not just, at least when all are similar. (1287a15–22)

Aristotle’s point is simple. If two men govern by turns, then sovereignty does not ultimately repose in either of them, but in the rule that they govern by turns. The same can be said of checks and balances. If the few spend money and the many audit the accounts, then neither group is sovereign, the laws are. If sovereignty reposes in laws, not men, the common good is safe. As Aristotle points out, “anyone who bids the laws to rule seems to bid god and intellect alone to rule, but anyone who bids a human being to rule adds on also the wild beast. For desire is such a beast and spiritedness perverts rulers even when they are the best of men. Hence law is intellect without appetite” (1287a23–31). The greatest enemy of the common good is private interest. The laws, however, have no private interests. Thus if our laws are conducive to the common good, we need not depend entirely on the virtue and public-spiritedness of men.

Aristotle would, however, hasten to add that no regime can do without these characteristics entirely, for the laws cannot apply themselves. They must be applied by men, and their application will seldom be better than the men who apply them. Furthermore, even though a regime may function without entirely virtuous citizens, no legitimate regime can be indifferent to the virtue of the citizens, for the whole purpose of political association is to instill the virtues necessary for happiness.

Notes

1. All quotes from Aristotle are from The Politics of Aristotle, trans. and ed. Peter L. Phillips Simpson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997). Simpson’s edition has two unique features. First, The Politics is introduced by a translation of Nicomachean Ethics 10.9. Second, Simpson moves books 7 and 8 of The Politics, positioning them between the traditional books 3 and 4. I retain the traditional ordering, indicating Simpson’s renumbering parenthetically. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Politics. Quotes from the Nicomachean Ethics will be indicated as such.

2. A useful commentary on these and other Aristotelian arguments for public education is Randall R. Curren, Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).

3. For a fuller discussion of the value Aristotle puts on liberty, see Roderick T. Long, “Aristotle’s Conception of Freedom,” The Review of Metaphysics 49, no. 4 (June 1996), pp. 787–802.

4. One could add a third category of instrumental goods, but these goods are instrumental to the intrinsic goods of the body, the soul, or both, and thus could be classified under those headings.

5. As for the highest good of the soul, which is attained by philosophy, Aristotle’s flight from Athens near the end of his life shows that he recognized that different political orders can be more or less open to free thought, but I suspect that he was realist enough (and Platonist enough) to recognize that even the best cities are unlikely to positively cultivate true freedom to philosophize. I would wager that Aristotle would be both surprised at the freedom of thought in the United States and receptive to Tocquevillian complaints about the American tendency toward conformism that makes such freedom unthreatening to the reigning climate of opinion. A cynic might argue that if Americans actually made use of their freedom of thought, it would be quickly taken away.

6. On the complexities of the executive role in the Politics, see Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), chs. 2–3.

Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics
Part 2: In Defense of Popular Government

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Part 2 of 2

5. The Good Man and the Good Citizen

Having now surveyed Aristotle’s thoughts on the elements and proper aim of politics, we can now examine his arguments for popular government. When I use the phrase “popular government,” it should be borne in mind that Aristotle does not advocate a pure polity, but a mixed regime with a popular element.

Aristotle’s first case for bringing the many into government can be discerned in Politics 3.4. Aristotle’s question is whether the virtues of the good man and the good citizen are the same. They are not the same, insofar as the virtue of the good citizen is defined relative to the regime, and there are many different regimes, while the virtue of the good man is defined relative to human nature, which is one. One can therefore be a good citizen but not a good man, and a good man but not a good citizen. History is replete with examples of regimes which punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices. Aristotle does, however, allow that the good man and the good citizen can be one in a regime in which the virtues required of a good citizen do not differ from the virtues of a good man.

The chief virtue of a good man is prudence. But prudence is not required of a citizen insofar as he is ruled. Only obedience is required. Prudence is, however, required of a citizen insofar as he rules. Since the best regime best encourages happiness by best cultivating virtue, a regime which allows the many to govern along with the few is better than a regime which excludes them. By including the many in ruling, a popular regime encourages the widest cultivation of prudence and gives the greatest opportunity for its exercise. The best way to bring the many into the regime is what Aristotle calls political rule: ruling and being ruled in turn, as prescribed by law.

Political rule not only teaches the virtue of prudence to the many, it teaches the virtue of being ruled to the few, who must give way in turn to the many. Since the few aspire to rule but not be ruled, Aristotle argues that they cannot rule without first having been ruled: “the ruler must learn [political rule] by being ruled, just as one learns to be a cavalry commander by serving under a cavalry commander . . . Hence is was nobly said that one cannot rule well without having been ruled. And while virtue in these two cases is different, the good citizen must learn and be able both to be ruled and to rule. This is, in fact, the virtue of a citizen, to know rule over the free from both sides. Indeed, the good man too possesses both” (3.4, 1277b7–16).

Aristotle names justice as a virtue which is learned both in ruling and being ruled. Those born to wealth and power are liable to arrogance and the love of command. By subjecting them to the rule of others, including their social inferiors, they learn to respect their freedom and justly appraise their worth.

6. Potlucks, Chimeras, Juries

Aristotle’s next case for bringing the many into the regime is found in Politics 3.11.[1] Aristotle seeks to rebut the aristocratic argument against popular participation, namely that the best political decisions are wise ones, but wisdom is found only among the few, not the many. Popular participation, therefore, would inevitably dilute the quality of the political decision-makers, increasing the number of foolish decisions. Aristotle accepts the premise that the wise should rule, but he argues that there are circumstances in which the few and the many together are wiser than the few on their own. The aristocratic principle, therefore, demands the participation of the many:

. . . the many, each of whom is not a serious man, nevertheless could, when they have come together, be better than those few best–not, indeed, individually but as a whole, just as meals furnished collectively are better than meals furnished at one person’s expense. For each of them, though many, could have a part of virtue and prudence, and just as they could, when joined together in a multitude, become one human being with many feet, hands, and senses, so also could they become one in character and thought. That is why the many are better judges of the works of music and the poets, for one of them judges one part and another another and all of them the whole. (1281a42–b10)

At first glance, this argument seems preposterous. History and everyday life are filled with examples of wise individuals opposing foolish collectives. But Aristotle does not claim that the many are always wiser than the few, simply that they can be under certain conditions (1281b15).

The analogy of the potluck supper is instructive (cf. 3.15, 1286a28–30).[2] A potluck supper can be better than one provided by a single person if it offers a greater number and variety of dishes and diffuses costs and labor. But potluck suppers are not always superior–that is the “luck” in it. Potlucks are often imbalanced. On one occasion, there may be too many desserts and no salads. On another, three people may bring chicken and no one brings beef or pork. The best potluck, therefore, is a centrally orchestrated one which mobilizes the resources of many different contributors but ensures a balanced and wholesome meal.

Likewise, the best way to include the many in political decision-making is to orchestrate their participation, giving them a delimited role that maximizes their virtues and minimizes their vices. This cannot be accomplished in a purely popular regime, particularly a lawless one, but it can be accomplished in a mixed regime in which the participation of the populace is circumscribed by law and checked by the interests of other elements of the population.

Aristotle’s second analogy–which likens the intellectual and moral unity of the many to a man with many feet, hands, and sense organs, i.e., a freak of nature–does not exactly assuage doubters. But his point is valid. While even the best of men may lack a particular virtue, it is unlikely that it will be entirely absent from a large throng. Therefore, the many are potentially as virtuous or even more virtuous than the few if their scattered virtues can be gathered together and put to work. But history records many examples of groups acting less morally than any member on his own. Thus the potential moral superiority of the many is unlikely to emerge in a lawless democracy. But it could emerge in a lawful mixed regime, which actively encourages and employs the virtues of the many while checking their vices. This process can be illustrated by adapting an analogy that Aristotle offers to illustrate another point: A painting of a man can be more beautiful than any real man, for the painter can pick out the best features of individual men and combine them into a beautiful whole (3.11, 1281b10–11).

Aristotle illustrates the potential superiority of collective judgment with another questionable assertion, that “the many are better judges of the works of music and the poets, for one of them judges one part and another another and all of them the whole.” Again, this seems preposterous. Good taste, like wisdom, is not widely distributed and is cultivated by the few, not the many. Far more people buy “rap” recordings than classical ones. But Aristotle is not claiming that the many are better judges in all cases. Aristotle is likely referring to Greek dramatic competitions. These competitions were juried by the audience, not a small number of connoisseurs.

A jury trial or competition is a genuine collective decision-making process in which each juror is morally enjoined to pay close attention the matter at hand and to render an objective judgment.[3] Although each juror has his own partial impression, when jurors deliberate they can add their partial impressions together to arrive at a more complete and adequate account. To the extent that a jury decision must approach unanimity, the jurors will be motivated to examine the issue from all sides and persuade one another to move toward a rationally motivated consensus. A jury decision can, therefore, be more rational, well-informed, and objective than an individual one.[4] The market, by contrast, is not a collective decision-making process. It does not require a consumer to compare his preferences to those of others, to persuade others of their validity or defend them from criticism, or to arrive at any sort of consensus. Instead, the market merely registers the collective effects of individual decisions.[5]

7. Freedom and Stability

Another argument for popular government in Politics 3.11 (1281b21–33) is that it is more stable. Aristotle grants the Aristocratic principle that it is not safe for the populace to share in “the greatest offices” because, “on account of their injustice and unwisdom, they would do wrong in some things and go wrong in others.” But then he goes on to argue that it would not be safe to exclude the many from rule altogether, since a city “that has many in it who lack honor and are poor must of necessity be full of enemies,” which would be a source of instability. Instability is, however, inconsistent with the proper aim of politics, for the good life requires peace. The solution is a mixed regime which ensures peace and stability by allowing the many to participate in government, but not to occupy the highest offices. In Politics 2.9, Aristotle praises the Spartan Ephorate for holding the regime together, “since, as the populace share in the greatest office, it keeps them quiet. . . . For if any regime is going to survive, all the parts of the city must want it both to exist and to remain as it is” (1270b17–22; cf. Aristotle’s discussion of the Carthaginians in 2.9, 1272b29–32; see also 4.13 [6.13], 1297b6).

In Politics 2.12, Aristotle offers another reason for including the populace in government. Solon gave the populace, “the power that was most necessary (electing to office and auditing the accounts), since without it they would have been enslaved and hostile” (1274a4–6). Here Aristotle makes it clear that he values liberty, and he values popular government because it protects the liberty of the many.

8. Expert Knowledge

In Politics 3.11 Aristotle rebuts the argument that the many should not be involved in politics because they are amateurs, and decisions in politics, as in medicine and other fields, should be left to experts. In response to this, Aristotle repeats his argument that the many, taken together, may be better judges than a few experts. He then adds that there are some arts in which the products can be appreciated by people who do not possess the art: “Appreciating a house, for example, does not just belong to the builder; the one who uses it, namely the household manager, will pass an even better judgment on it. Likewise, the pilot judges the rudder better than the carpenter and the dinner guest judges the feast better than the chef” (1282a19–22). If the art of statesmanship is like these, then the best judge of the quality of a statesman is not the few political experts, but the many political laymen who are ruled by him. The judgment of the populace should not, therefore, be disdained.

9. Resistance to Corruption

In Politics 3.15 Aristotle argues that popular regimes are more resistant to corruption. Even in a regime in which law ultimately rules, there are particular circumstances which the laws do not anticipate. Where the law cannot decide, men must do so. But this creates an opportunity for corruption. Aristotle argues that such decisions are better made by large bodies deliberating in public: “What is many is more incorruptible: the multitude, like a greater quantity of water, is harder to ruin than a few. A single person’s judgment must necessarily be corrupted when he is overcome by anger or some other such passion, but getting everyone in the other case to become angry and go wrong at the same time takes a lot of doing. Let the multitude in question, however, be the free who are acting in no way against law, except where law is necessarily deficient” (1286a33–38). Aristotle’s argument that the many may collectively possess fewer vices than the few is merely a mirror image of his earlier collective virtue argument. Here, as elsewhere, Aristotle defends popular government only under delimited circumstances. The populace must be free, not slavish, and they must decide only when the laws cannot.

10. Delegation and Diffusion of Power

Politics 3.16 is devoted to arguments against total kingship. One of these arguments can be turned into a case for popular government. Aristotle claims that total kingship is unsustainable: “It is not easy for one person to oversee many things, so there will need to be many officials appointed in subordination to him. Consequently, what is the difference between having them there right from the start and having one man in this way appoint them? . . . if a man who is serious is justly ruler because he is better, then two good men are better than one” (1287b8–12, cf. 1287b25–29).

Since total kingship is unworkable, kings must necessarily appoint superior men as “peers” to help them. But if total kingship must create an aristocracy, then why not have aristocracy from the start?

This argument could, however, be pushed further to make a case for popular government. An aristocracy cannot effectively rule the people without the active participation of some and the passive acquiescence of the rest. As we have seen above, Aristotle argues that the best way to bring this about is popular government. But if aristocracy must eventually bring the populace into the regime, then why not include them from the very beginning?

11. When Regimes Fail

In Politics 4.2 (6.2), Aristotle returns to his list of pure regime types. The three just regimes are kingship, aristocracy, and polity; the three unjust ones are tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Aristotle proceeds to rank the three just regimes in terms of the kinds of virtues they require. Thus Aristotle identifies kingship and aristocracy as the best regimes because they are both founded on “fully equipped virtue” (1289a31). Of the two, kingship is the very best, for it depends upon a virtue so superlative that it is possessed by only one man. Aristocracy is less exalted because it presupposes somewhat more broadly distributed and therefore less exalted virtue. Polity depends upon even more widespread and modest virtue. Furthermore, the populace, unlike kings and aristocrats, lacks the full complement of material equipment necessary to fully exercise such virtues as magnificence.

By this ranking, polity is not the best regime, but the least of the good ones. But Aristotle then offers a new, politically realistic standard for ranking the just regimes which reverses their order. Kingship may be the best regime from a morally idealistic perspective, but when it degenerates it turns into tyranny, which is the worst regime. Aristocracy may be the second best regime from a morally idealistic perspective, but when it degenerates it turns into oligarchy, which is the second worst regime. Polity may be the third choice of the moral idealist, but when it degenerates, it merely becomes democracy, which is the best of a bad lot.

Since degeneration is inevitable, the political realist ranks regimes not only in terms of their best performances, but also in terms of their worst. By this standard, polity is the best of the good regimes and kingship the worst. Kingship is best under ideal conditions, polity under real conditions. Kingship is a sleek Jaguar, polity a dowdy Volvo. On the road, the Jaguar is clearly better. But when they go in the ditch, the Volvo shows itself to be the better car overall.

12. The Middle Class Regime

Aristotle displays the same political realism in his praise of the middle class regime in Politics 4.11 (6.11): “If we judge neither by a virtue that is beyond the reach of private individuals, nor by an education requiring a nature and equipment dependent on chance, nor again a regime that is as one would pray for, but by a way of life that most can share in common together and by a regime that most cities can participate in . . . ,” then a large, politically enfranchised middle class has much to recommend it: “In the case of political community . . . the one that is based on those in the middle is best, and . . . cities capable of being well governed are those sorts where the middle is large . . .” (1295b35–36).

Since the middle class is the wealthier stratum of the common people, Aristotle’s arguments for middle class government are ipso facto arguments for popular government. Aristotle makes it clear from the beginning, however, that he is not talking about a purely popular regime, but a mixed one compounded out of a middle class populace and those elements of aristocracy which are not out of the reach of most cities (1295a30–34).

Aristotle’s first argument for the middle regime seems a sophistry: “If it was nobly said in the Ethics that the happy way of life is unimpeded life in accordance with virtue and that virtue is a mean, then necessarily the middle way of life, the life of a mean that everyone can attain, must be best. The same definitions must hold also for the virtue and vice of city and regime, since the regime is a certain way of life of a city” (1295a35–40).

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle makes it clear that the fact that virtue can be understood as a mean between two vices, one of excess and the other of defect, does not imply either that virtue is merely an arithmetic mean (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.2, 1106a26–b8), or that virtue is to be regarded as mediocrity, not as superlative (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.2, 1107a9–27). Here, however, Aristotle describes the mean not as a superlative, but as a mediocrity “that everyone can attain.” This conclusion follows only if we presuppose that the morally idealistic doctrine of the Ethics has been modified into a moral realism analogous to the political realism of Politics 4.2.

Aristotle then claims that in a regime the mean lies in the middle class: “In all cities there are in fact three parts: those who are exceedingly well-off, those who are exceedingly needy, and the third who are in the middle of these two. So, since it is agreed that the mean and middle is best, then it is manifest that a middling possession also of the goods of fortune must be best of all” (1295b1–3). Aristotle is, however, equivocating. He begins by defining the middle class as an arithmetic mean between the rich and the poor. He concludes that the middle class is a moral mean. But he does not establish that the arithmetic mean corresponds with the moral.

Aristotle does, however, go on to offer reasons for thinking that the social mean corresponds to the moral mean. But the middle class is not necessarily more virtuous because its members have been properly educated, but because their social position and class interests lead them to act as if they had been.

First, Aristotle argues that “the middle most easily obeys reason.” Those who are “excessively beautiful or strong or well-born or wealthy” find it hard to follow reason, because they tend to be “insolent and rather wicked in great things.” By contrast, those who are poor and “extremely wretched and weak, and have an exceeding lack of honor” tend to become “villains and too much involved in petty wickedness.” The middle class is, however, too humble to breed insolence and too well-off to breed villainy. Since most injustices arise from insolence and villainy, a regime with a strong middle class will be more likely to be just.

Second, Aristotle argues that the middle class is best suited to ruling and being ruled in turn. Those who enjoy, “an excess of good fortune (strength, wealth, friends, and other things of the sort)” love to rule and dislike being ruled. Both of these attitudes are harmful to the city, yet they naturally arise among the wealthy. From an early age, the wealthy are instilled with a “love of ruing and desire to rule, both of which are harmful to cities” (1295b12), and, “because of the luxury they live in, being ruled is not something they get used to, even at school” (1295b13–17). By contrast, poverty breeds vice, servility, and small-mindedness. Thus the poor are easy to push around, and if they do gain power they are incapable of exercising it virtuously. Therefore, without a middle class, “a city of slaves and masters arises, not a city of the free, and the first are full of envy while the second are full of contempt.” Such a city must be “at the furthest remove from friendship and political community” (1295b21–24). The presence of a strong middle class, however, binds the city into a whole, limiting the tendency of the rich to tyranny and the poor to slavishness, creating a “city of the free.”

Third, Aristotle argues that middle class citizens enjoy the safest and most stable lives, imbuing the regime as a whole with these characteristics. Those in the middle are, among all the citizens, the most likely to survive in times of upheaval, when the poor starve and the rich become targets. They are sufficiently content with their lot not to envy the possessions of the rich. Yet they are not so wealthy that the poor envy them. They neither plot against the rich nor are plotted against by the poor.

Fourth, a large middle class stabilizes a regime, particularly if the middle is “stronger than both extremes or, otherwise, than either one of them. For the middle will tip the balance when added to either side and prevent the emergence of an excess at the opposite extremes” (1295b36–40). Without a large and powerful middle class, “either ultimate rule of the populace arises or unmixed oligarchy does, or, because of excess on both sides, tyranny” (1296a3; cf. 6.12, 1297a6ff).

Fifth is the related point that regimes with large middle classes are relatively free of faction and therefore more concerned with the common good. This is because a large middle class makes it harder to separate everyone out into two groups (1296a7–10).

Finally, Aristotle claims that one sign of the superiority of middle class regimes is that the best legislators come from the middle class. As examples, he cites Solon, Lycurgus, and Charondas (1296a18–21).

Conclusion: Aristotle’s Polity and Our Own

If the proper aim of government is to promote the happiness of the citizen, Aristotle marshals an impressive array of arguments for giving the people, specifically the middle class, a role in government. These arguments can be grouped under five headings: virtue, rational decision-making, freedom, stability, and resistance to corruption.

Popular government both presupposes and encourages widespread virtue among the citizens, and virtue is a necessary condition of happiness. Middle class citizens are particularly likely to follow practical reason and act justly, for they are corrupted neither by wealth nor by poverty. Popular participation can improve political decision-making by mobilizing scattered information and experience, and more informed decisions are more likely to promote happiness. In particular, popular government channels the experiences of those who are actually governed back into the decision-making process.

Popular participation preserves the freedom of the people, who would otherwise be exploited if they had no say in government. By preserving the freedom of the people, popular participation unifies the regime, promoting peace and stability which in turn are conducive to the pursuit of happiness. This is particularly the case with middle class regimes, for the middle class prevents excessive and destabilizing separation and between the extremes of wealth and poverty.

Popular governments are also more resistant to corruption. It is harder to use bribery or trickery to corrupt decisions made by many people deliberating together in public than by one person or a few deciding in private. This means that popular regimes are more likely to promote the common good instead of allowing the state to become a tool for the pursuit of one special interest at the expense of another. Furthermore, if a popular regime does become corrupt, it is most likely to become a democracy, which is the least unjust of the bad regimes and the easiest to reform.

All these are good arguments for giving the people a role in government. But not just any people. And not just any role.

First, Aristotle presupposes a small city-state. He did not think that any regime could pursue the common good if it became too large. This is particularly true of a popular regime, for the larger the populace, the less room any particular citizen has for meaningful participation.

Second, he presupposes a populace which is racially and culturally homogeneous. A more diverse population is subject to faction and strife. It will either break up into distinct communities or it will have to be held together by violence and governed by an elite. A more diverse population also erodes a society’s moral consensus, making moral education even more difficult.

Third, political participation will be limited to middle-class and wealthy property-owning males, specifically men who derive their income from the ownership of productive land, not merchants and craftsmen.

Fourth, Aristotle circumscribes the role of the populace by assigning it specific legal roles, such as the election of officers and the auditing of accounts–roles which are checked and balanced by the legal roles of the aristocratic element, such as occupying leadership positions.

If Aristotle is right about the conditions of popular government, then he would probably take a dim view of its prospects in America.

First and foremost, Aristotle would deplore America’s lack of concern with moral education. Aristotle’s disagreement would go beyond the obvious fact that the American founders did not make moral education the central concern of the state. America has neglected to cultivate even the minimal moral virtues required to maintain a liberal regime, virtues such as independence, personal responsibility, and basic civility.

Second, Aristotle would predict that multiculturalism and non-white immigration will destroy the cultural preconditions of popular government.

Third, Aristotle would reject America’s ever-widening franchise–particularly the extension of the vote to women, non-property owners, and cultural aliens–as a sure prescription for lowering the quality of public decision-making in the voting booth and jury room.

Fourth, Aristotle would be alarmed by the continuing erosion of the American working and middle classes by competition from foreign workers both inside and outside America’s borders. He would deplore America’s transformation from an agrarian to an industrial-mercantile civilization and support autarky rather than free trade and economic globalization.

Fifth, Aristotle would be alarmed by ongoing attempts to disarm the populace.

Sixth, he would condemn America’s imperialistic and warlike policies toward other nations.

Finally, Aristotle would likely observe that since genuine popular government is difficult with hundreds of thousands of citizens it will be impossible with hundreds of millions.

In short, if Aristotle were alive today, he would find himself to the right of Patrick J. Buchanan, decrying America’s decline from a republic to an empire. Aristotle challenges us to show whether and how liberty and popular government are compatible with feminism, multiculturalism, and globalized capitalism.

To conclude, however, on a more positive note: Although Aristotle gives reasons to think that the future of popular government in America is unpromising, he also gives reasons for optimism about the long-term prospects of popular government in general, for his defense of popular government is based on a realistic assessment of human nature, not only in its striving for perfection, but also in its propensity for failure.

Notes

1. For useful discussions of the arguments of Politics 3.11, see Mary P. Nichols, Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle’s Politics (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992), 66–71, and Peter L. Phillips Simpson, A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 166-71.

2. On the potluck supper analogy, see Arlene W. Saxonhouse, Fear of Diversity: The Birth of Political Science in Ancient Greek Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 222–24.

3. I wish to thank M. L. C. for suggesting the model of a jury trial.

4 . For a beautiful description of the deliberative process of a jury, see John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government, in Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, ed. Ross M. Lence (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992), 49–50.

5. Friedrich A. Hayek’s classic essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in his Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), argues that the market is superior to central planning because it better mobilizes widely scattered information. The market is, of course, larger than any possible jury and thus will always command more information. However, if one were to compare a market and a jury of the same size, the jury would clearly be a more rational decision-making process, for the market registers decisions based on perspectives which are in principle entirely solipsistic, whereas the jury requires a genuine dialogue which challenges all participants to transcend their partial and subjective perspectives and work toward a rational consensus which is more objective than any individual decision because it more adequately accounts for the phenomena in question than could any individual decision. It is this crucial disanalogy that seems to vitiate attempts to justify the market in terms of Gadamerian, Popperian, or Habermasian models and communicative rationality. For the best statement of this sort of approach, see G. B. Madison, The Political Economy of Civil Society and Human Rights (New York: Routledge, 1998), esp. chs. 3–5.

 


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