12/23/2019

The Classical Alternative to Liberal Theory

"Aristotle tells us that in every political regime, we see a class of people who dominate the other classes through a combination of custom and force. The ruling class always seeks to justify this dominion, and it always gives reasons that are only partially valid (at best). No regime is then fully just. But a regime is better when the members of its ruling class are better human beings, and it is worse when they are worse human beings.

Thanks to its doctrine of popular sovereignty, liberal theory denies that such class conflict will have any political traction in a properly constructed government. But a glance at our history shows that it has always had plenty of political traction in American governments. And from Charles Murray and J.D. Vance on the center-right to Robert Putnam and Richard Reeves on the center-left, American intellectuals today have been reviving interest in the political importance of social class. An Aristotelian approach to our politics would ask more explicitly what the characteristic virtues and vices of our ruling class are. Following the lead of Vance, William Deresiewicz, and Ross Douthat, we should be examining (and finding marginal improvements for) the institutions that give that class its moral formation.

Aristotle also tells us that, thanks to these unavoidable class dynamics, every political community contains the seeds of its own destruction. The ruled classes can never be fully persuaded that the rulers deserve their privileges (in part because the rulers never entirely do). And any attempt at greater inclusivity within the ruling class will only be even more irritating to those who remain excluded from it."