Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Politics Reconsidered

"The polis presents itself as exalted far above the household and the individual. Yet this does not necessarily mean that Socrates recognized the claim of the polis to be the highest simply, or, which amounts to the same thing, to be the authoritative interpreter of the highest simply....The judgment on the status of the political will depend on the result of the analysis of the political." [p. 143, Classical Political Rationalism]

As it turns out, the political is most exalted only if and when the wisest human beings rule. "The man of highest political wisdom is a seeing law, whereas every law proper is blind to some extent. The justice of the true ruler cannot consist, then, in law-abidingness or in legal justice. He must be guided by translegal justice, by the habit of benefiting human beings, the habit of helping them to become as good as possible and to live as happily as possible." [p.144, ibid]

Hence, the polis, the political is most exalted only when and to the extent that the wise rule. And this helps to explain why all those rule or seek to rule must claim to be wise. Of course, they all cannot be wise and one can wonder whether anyone who seeks out rule is motivated by wisdom, as opposed say to pride or the "love of fame." It would also explain why those who are driven by a desire for wealth or see the desire for wealth as close to the height of virtue identify the wealthy with the wise.

And this would also help explain why "the ancients" taught that all actual political orders are, necessarily and always, defective: "it is equally impossible, considering the numerical relation of the wise and the unwise, that the wise should rule the unwise by force...." [p. 146, ibid] And because it is impossible for the wise to persuade the unwise to accept their rule, "one has to be satisfied with the very indirect rule of the wise." [p. 146]

Bottom line: There is no political solution to the problem of civilization. Or as Twain might put it: It is necessary for the most thoughtful of people, the most sensitive of people, people like Huck Finn but not like Tom Sawyer, "to light out for the territories" in order to be happy. To be happy, one should become an "outlaw."

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