Saturday, November 18, 2023

Some Things to Ponder


Some Things to Ponder

Peter Schultz


            In his book on Montesquieu, Thomas Pangle says the following about Aristotle: “Aristotle adopts the view of the citizen, who believes the fundamental thing, the thing that defines his regime and differentiates it from others, is the particular, praiseworthy way of life which appears to be the regime’s purpose and the reason for everything else.” [49]


            Now, because this is the viewpoint of the citizen, it should be questioned. How true is this viewpoint? How differentiated are human beings by their regimes? And doesn’t this view underwrite the “friend/enemy” dichotomy that seems endemic to political life? During the Cold War, US elites took the position that “neutrality” wouldn’t be tolerated, was even “immoral.” Peoples and nations could be either a friend to the US by embracing the American way of life or an enemy by not embracing that way of life and, thereby, threatening it. The “friend/enemy” dichotomy is indeed endemic to politics [Carl Schmitt], but only as that life is understood by citizens. All citizens are, in their own minds, partisans. But is this how the philosopher sees the political?


            Pangle points out that Aristotle viewed politics as a mediator and, thereby, viewed politics itself not as a rivalry, a battle even between friends and enemies, but as mediation. But to view politics as mediation and politicians and citizens as mediators, it is necessary to forego the view held by citizens that different regimes have essentially particular and praiseworthy ways of life. The American way of life is, so to speak, just one way of dealing with the human condition, one of many possibilities, all of which are manifestations of desires common to all human beings, and all of which are in some ways legitimate, even in some ways desirable. As President Kennedy said in a speech at the American University in D.C., Russians and Americans want their children to survive and prosper. In that way, there are no differences between these two peoples and their regimes, and those labeled “communists” are no threat to the US.


            Pangle wrote: “Montesquieu broke with this view.” That is, he broke with the citizen’s view of political life. He wanted to replace the citizen’s viewpoint with another viewpoint, which might be labeled for simplicities’ sake, “the bourgeois viewpoint.” From this viewpoint, “’the end of government’ is the same for all regimes.” [49] There is differentiation in the political arena, but the differences reflect different power arrangements, not different ways of life. As Alexander Pope put it: “For forms of government, let fools contest. That which is best administered is best.” All governments are, ultimately, devoted to enforcing peace. And this is the view that Carl Schmitt, for example, attacked as leading to dehumanization, to a life characterized by production and consumption, topped off with entertainment, a life without nobility or greatness. Apparently for Schmitt, et. al., a life without enemies is a life not worth living.

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