A. It is, without question, the business of the state to educate the youth. Aristotle thinks this is obvious, and it is, given everything that has preceded. That the legislator must, therefore, make the education of the young his object above all would be disputed by no one. This education must be devised according to what sort of regime the legislator intends to reproduce, since a regime’s survival depends on it being “in the heart” of its citizens, so to speak. It should also be devised with a view to the various arts and sciences, which require different kinds of education and habituation. And the superintendence of it should be common and not on a private basis. No homeschooling for Aristotle, I imagine - or at least it would have to be strictly supervised, probably with a uniform content. I suppose he would like the Department of Education (except that it supervises too much, has too many people, of too many kinds, spread out over too large a territory).
A. As the last chapter proposed regulations for procreation, or at least the importance of regulating it (that is what a modern reader takes away), so this chapter proposes regulation for the education of the very young, from the age of birth up until about seven years. Again, the specifics do not matter so much as the care with which they are provided, and the fact that they are included in a treatise about politics. The barrier between public and private moves and shifts in different times and places, though of course the placement of the barrier is in all times and places a public activity. Here, the city has a deep interest in things like the strengthening of young bodies (he cites approvingly the Celtic ways of toughening their citizens against the cold, which involve plunging newborns into the snow), and the censorship of entertainment and speech (Generally, then, the legislator should banish foul speech from the city more than anything else) (227). The principle that drives these recommendations is the idea that in regard both to relations with human beings and to those with objects[,] we are fonder of the first things [we encounter]. (228)
B. There is also the principle, at the heart of all education moral or otherwise, for all ages (I presume), that one should follow the distinction of nature, for all art and education wish to supply the element that is lacking in nature. (228) The content of education, the laws that shape it, should be determined by what is not supplied by the nature of the educated. Presumably this can vary, though not so much that each person must receive a completely individualized schooling.
A. This is a creepy chapter about generation for public purposes (226) which recommends that one should legislate so that the bodies of offspring in the process of generation become available [in a way that answers] to the will of the legislator. (224) The specific regulations about the proper age of marriage, what to do with deformed babies, and population control policies, are less important than the general idea, which is that it is the business of the public to create and enforce such regulations. I say this chapter is creepy, but only against the prejudices of modern ears, which buck at anything that smacks of Nazi eugenics and Chinese one-child policies. Yet our own history, all of history, is full of these regulations, or at least of informal cultural norms that are strictly enforced. If a woman does not have a child, or if a couple is childless, that is not considered “there own business.” Others involve themselves, and eventually studies about falling birth rates are cited with fear or celebration, depending on your point of view. And of course, concern with “generation for public purposes” is not a conservative or liberal predilection. Liberals who decry the large families of uneducated traditionalists are just as concerned with the issue as conservatives who decry out-of-wedlock births. I think this chapter, as an example of something perennial and obvious, rather than as an offering of real insight, is fascinating. But why does it not offer any “real insight”? Because of the advance of natural science, which makes Aristotle’s discussion of which habits to legally regulate look like sheer superstition. The real takeaway is precisely this fact: that the advance of knowledge about the natural world has political consequences. Aristotle says that not only the legislators but also the citizens themselves should, for the sake of the public good, study what is said by doctors and experts in natural science in relation to procreation. (225) We have raging culture wars over proper parenting, and these are deeply political exchanges that often proceed on the backs of competing studies about what kind of kids turn out from what kinds of families. The controversy over gay marriage is at least as much about these issues as it is about ick-factors and homophobias.
A. There were some things I missed in this chapter, but two main points are clear. First, a city blessed with wealth and peace has special need for training in virtue, which is the art of being at leisure. This is a sort of truism, that success produces decadence which squanders the fruits of success. But coming as it does at the end of Aristotle’s complex argument about political authority, it takes on a deeper and more satisfying note than it otherwise would. Second, having said that the purpose of the laws is for the citizens to be educated … to be capable of being at leisure (222, ch. 14), the question arises how the laws operate, given the earlier distinctions made between nature, habit, and reason. Obviously, the laws do not affect nature, and Aristotle has already said that there are certain natural preconditions for the good life, which cannot be acquired by habit or reason (I suppose this is part of why he believes there are natural slaves, though this belief is certainly not necessary, and could be removed without damage to his larger argument, I think). So it is a question whether the laws should work by building habits or by developing reason, and Aristotle answers that education should begin with habits. This, he thinks, is the natural order of things, since our reason develops last, while we can be habituated early in life. How the training of our reason proceeds seems here to be unnecessarily complicated, and I do not feel like going into his distinctions between body and soul, between reason and appetite within the soul, and the relation of will or spirit to the whole schema.
A. This is a longer, more complex chapter (or at least it covers a more complex idea - or perhaps I am just less motivated to take my notes on it today). It picks up where the last chapter left off, with the question how the citizens are to become excellent, which is necessary if the city is to be excellent (which is necessary if the citizens are to be excellent … ). The answer is in the moral education provided by the laws. The laws must educate people for leisure, for the noble things done not for necessity but because they are better than necessary. One of these noble things is political rule, the rule over free persons as opposed to the rule over slaves.
B. Clarity? Political rule is not the means to creating a good city. Rather, political rule is a noble thing that the good city allows us to enjoy. It is more an end than a means! This is the point that Arendt takes away.
C. Let us go through the argument step by step. First, that the rulers should differ from the ruled is indisputable. (219) The question is how, in what sense, they must be different. The difference of a god with a man is not available, which gives us the problem: there is not a clear answer to the question who should rule, because we are too similar (excepting the natural slaves). For equality is the same thing [as justice] for persons who are similar, (219) yet rulers and ruled are not equal. If they are similar, than ruling is therefore an injustice. Some politically relevant difference must be found (this is always the question in political theory: it is by answering this question in a new way that Hobbes, for example, creates his Leviathan).
D. The relevant difference is to be found, at least first, in the distinction given by age. We do not say that it is an injustice for a parent to rule a child, or for a child to “serve” the parent. In fact, a child who serves a parent is doing the same sorts of things that a slave does. Yet the child is not a slave, does not feel himself to be a slave. The difference is that the end of a child’s education, which requires submission and obedience, is freedom and a noble life: for with a view to what is noble and what not noble, actions do not differ so much in themselves as in their end and that for the sake of which [they are performed]. (220) So, the job of the legislator, the purpose of the laws, is to educate people into excellence.
E. The laws must work on the soul, which Aristotle divides into reason and (desire, I suppose), and further subdivides into practical and theoretical reason. Dividing the soul in this way is to divide it into better and worse parts, and the worse part is for the sake of the better (this is what it is to be rightly ordered). And we shall say that actions stand in a comparable relationship: those belonging to that [part] which is better by nature are more choiceworthy for those who are capable of achieving either all of them or [those belonging to] the two [lower parts]. For what is most choiceworthy for each individual is the highest it is possible for him to achieve. (220) Life, like actions, is divided in the same, the lower for the sake of the higher, so that war must be for the sake of peace, occupation for the sake of leisure, necessary and useful things for the sake of noble things. (220)
F. The work of the laws, then, is to produce people who are capable of doing the necessary things and capable of doing the noble things. The Spartans fall out of his favor because their laws educated people to be capable only of war, so that unless they are winning and ruling an empire, they are not happy, and cannot enjoy the peace they have, which is in fact the noble end of war. But now things are complicated. Let me try to work it out. Noble things are the ends we seek; noble things are those which are not necessities. Political rule over equals is a noble thing. But rule itself is a necessity, since every political partnership is constituted of rulers and ruled. (219) So political rule the noble thing “for the sake of which” rule per se is intended. Again, the Arendt insight: political rule is the end, not the means. It is the experience of freedom (not of necessity). This changes everything, it flips liberalism on its head (or rather, liberalism changed everything, and flipped the Greeks on their heads). We come finally, in the modern age, to rule as administration. Somehow, we come to think that pure necessity as the justification for authority frees us from its offense to our pride. Necessity is impersonal, unavoidable; we do not get offended by the weather, so we should not be offended by bureaucracy. But of course, mastery remains with us, while the experience of freedom that Arendt identifies has been lost. So we chafe at necessity’s mastery over us, and think the solution is in the absence of authority altogether, which is impossible. Now, Aristotle also recognizes that authority is necessary, that - to put it in de Maistre’s or Schmitt’s terms - sovereignty cannot be escaped. But because of his teleological approach, he conceives that the necessary is for the sake of something else, for the noble. So sovereignty cannot be escaped, but sovereignty is not just a necessary means, but also a worse thing that exists for the sake of a better thing.
A. This chapter, I suspect, summarizes much of the argument of Nichomachean Ethics. That makes it very useful for someone who has not read all of the Ethics, and it helps clarify much of what Aristotle has said about the ideal city and virtue - about the means and the end, which is happiness. The first and easy idea is that There are two things that [living] well consists in for all: one these is in correct positioning of the aim and end of actions; the other, discovering the actions that bear on that end. (217) People can get one or the other or both of these wrong, to the detriment of their happiness. However - and this is very important - living nobly requires a certain equipment, too (217). The very superficial reader might think, from all Aristotle’s talk about conditions and fortune, that no one person or city can be held responsible for their excellence, because being excellent depends on luck. But this passage adds, immediately, the crucial clause: noble living requires equipment, less of it for those in a better state, more for those in a worse one. Nobility is independence, but independence depends on certain things. This is the heart of things, difficult to understand, but intuitively satisfying. More independent people require less to maintain their independence. A very noble person requires less wealth to maintain their independence. However, the sort of character that needs less wealth depends itself on certain things, nature as well as habit as well as reason. To summarize: An excellent man would deal in noble fashion with poverty, disease, and other sorts of bad fortune, but blessedness is in their opposites. (217-18)
B. The theory stated briefly is that [men] become good and excellent through three thing. These three are nature, habit, and reason. The distinction between these three is what is missing from modern rationalism, where (as Oakshott says), “to form a habit is to fail.” This is such a fecund, illuminating set of categories. The example of playing the lyre is very useful: the excellent person is one of a sort for whom on account of his virtue the things that are good unqualifiedly are good; and it is clear that his uses of these [good things] must necessarily also be excellent and noble in an unqualified sense. Hence human beings consider the causes of happiness to be those good things that are external - as if the lyre rather than the art were to be held the cause of brilliant and beautiful lyre playing. (218) The lyre is what is natural, something given by fortune (in this example, I mean - presuming the lyre-player is not the lyre-maker). It is a necessity, something that cannot be dispensed with if the lyre-player wants to be a virtuoso. Yet the virtuosity does not consist in the physical object of the lyre. It is rather in the player herself. And, crucially, in the habits formed by long practice: the musician does not decide on each note before she plays it, designing the best finger positioning for the glissando each time it is to be performed, calculating consciously how to jive with the band. Her excellence is in not using her reason in the moment of performance. Yet reason revealed when she was practicing well and badly, when she needed to practice more. Reason offers a critical perspective on habit (although habit, long practice, a trained ear, are themselves critical faculties - detecting wrong or less excellent notes, distinguishing more from less talent, as a nuanced palette distinguishes flavors).
C. Now, what does this account of the good life and virtue have to do with politics. Aristotle says that the city’s being excellent is no longer the work of fortune, but of knowledge and intentional choice. (218) (I think knowledge here is distinguished from intentional choice, as habit is distinguished from reason - habit being “knowledge” in Plato’s sense, something deeply understood rather than parroted from memory.) Someone, some agent rather than some circumstance, must have the talent for this work. Thus Aristotle prioritizes individual over social excellence: Now even if it is possible for all to be excellent but not each of the citizens individually, the latter is more choiceworthy; for all [being ]excellent] follows from [all] individually [being excellent.] (218) The question, then, is how individuals become excellent - and it will have something to do with the legislator, with the education of the laws, which habituate people in the better directions illuminated (in part) by reason. So the excellence of the city is in a sense prior, in a sense anterior, to the excellence of individual citizens. The relation of politics to ethics is complex.
A. More political feng shui. A few interesting details. One is the distinction between “free” and “necessary” markets for the city. The free market is for leisure, and vulgar people are kept out. The necessary market is where the vulgar sell their “necessary” wares. This distinction between freedom and necessity, so metaphysical, goes all the way down to the arrangement of the city’s physical space.
B. for being before the eyes of officials most of all engenders respect and the fear that belongs to free persons. (216) What is this fear? How are people free who fear it? I suppose it is fear of the law, fear of rulers who rule rather than exercise mastery (masters provoking a different sort of fear, an enslaving kind). Perhaps it is similar to the “fear of the Lord” which is the beginning of wisdom. But I am at a loss to really describe it.
C. It is not difficult to understand such things, but more so do do them: speaking about [these specific urban plans] is a work of a prayer, having them come about, a work of chance. (216) The frequent description of ideals, plans - things that Plato calls cities in speech - as “prayers” is quite provocative to the modern reader (though of course I know nothing about what he actually means by the word, what the word translates from the Greek, and am probably reading things back into it: but I think I am justified). We moderns will quickly dismiss the prayers of “religious” people as distractions from the practical work of improving the world. Why are we not so cold-eyed when it comes to our utopian schemes and (inevitably bureaucratic) visions for a better world?
A. Here is more of Aristotle’s political feng shui. How to plan the urban space, with a view to health and defensibility in war. The specifics are not so important as the fact that he believes such practical considerations of necessity are important for politics. Apparently, some who believed the city should be organized around virtue opposed the construction of walls, believing them to be beneath the dignity of virtuous citizens. I think I understand this very well: the temptation of those interested in virtue is to deny necessity. One can see this in Plato’s philosopher, who is above petty concerns - even and especially or fundamentally, concern for one’s life. Magnanimity is the refusal of small helps; this is what honor is all about. One is dishonored if one has to concern oneself with necessities, and so the virtuous require leisure (and ultimately, slaves, subordinates, the vulgar crowd). Aristotle resists this, or rather complicates it. He embraces virtue as freedom from small necessities, without succumbing to the pretense that the virtuous have no needs. While some like to think that great souls don’t shit, Aristotle can recognize that everyone puts on their pants one leg at a time. Virtue is no substitute for city walls. Rather, virtue adds something to city walls. So this passage turns out, actually, to be more than incidental. It’s an instructive example of what Aristotle means, and does not mean, by the central concept of “virtue.”
A. A realistic thought on the nature of “discoveries” in political science: One should therefore consider that practically everything has been discovered on many occasions - or rather on an infinity of occasions - in the course of time… . Hence one should use what has been adequately discovered while attempting to seek out what has been passed over. (212)
B. The discovery in question is what Aristotle has been arguing for the last few chapters - that the city should be divided into (its) different kinds of people. The point of this division is to recognize that (1) not all kinds of people can be virtuous and participate in political rule, and (2) those who are virtuous depend for their leisure on the work of other people. Aristotle points out that this is not his own new insight, but has rather been practiced in many places and at many times, for a long time.
C. So, from his studies of past and present political societies, Aristotle comes to his conclusions about the ideal city. One of its qualities is that possessions should not be in common, as some have said, but rather should become common in use after the fashion of friends, and that none of the citizens should be in want of sustenance. There should also be “common messes,” which is to say, some redistribution of wealth to meet basic needs.
D. It is also necessary (for the ideal city) to divide territory into public and private, and to divide public into lands used for religion and lands use to provide for redistributed wealth, while dividing private land so that some people live close to the borders, and others live far away (so as to ensure a good mix of interest in waging and avoiding war with neighbors). This division of private land is based on a general principle, which is that no on can be a judge in their own cause (the assumption being that they are not capable of deliberating finely on account of their private interest). (213) This assumption is a good one. It also strikes me that it is precisely the assumption that Plato rejects, in the case of the philosopher: the philosopher is precisely one who can deliberate finely in his own interest. While everyone else cannot handle the truth about themselves, the philosopher can.
A. Always remember that the “ideal” is what we could construct if there were no conditions, or if we could set the conditions as we like. In the ideal city, the deliberative element - the citizenry - will not include the “vulgar” crowd, but will be restricted to the virtuous. Aristotle deals with the smaller questions of who among the virtuous will be responsible directly for deliberation, who will be soldiers, and who will be priests. This is easy: old citizens will be priests and deliberators, young citizens will be soldiers.
B. The vulgar crowd will of course be present in the city: they will provide the food and possessions that the virtuous element needs in order to be virtuous. They will support, in other words, the leisure required by “craftsmen of virtue.” (211)