Tuesday, June 15, 2004

An Aristotelean View of the New Iraq

What makes a state what it is? Aristotle called the state the 'final natural political association,' coming after and flowing from the smaller natural associations of community or town, family, and the association within each individual man. The state is the final natural association because the people have shared common values and in those a shared telos or end. This is what gives the state its cohesiveness and allows it to move forward and grow with a sense of purpose and place in the larger international community. For diverse society like America, that 'glue' is our shared belief in ordered liberty, religious tolerance, and republican governance. For a country like England or France, the 'glue' is more related to ethnicity and a long, shared cultural tradition. Without such shared values and ends, a state cannot long survive at peace with itself.

Hence, the problems in the Middle East. Not passing judgment on motives, the Middle East and the Iraq we know were created by fiat where no shared values existed. In their absence, the soil was fertile for tyranny, as where there is chaos, the demand for order makes strict rule more palatable, and that rule will grow and corrupt itself. In any such situation, pretenders to the status of 'national telos' also sprout up, providing ideological ammunition for radicals desiring to take advantage of the unstable situation. Thus, in the Middle East and in Iraq in particular, we saw radical Islamism, the lowest common denominator between the radicals in each Islamic faction, claiming to be a shared system of values with the end of a tyrannical ideological superstate, pitted against would-be fascist dictators interested in power pure and simple.

Such a situation proved to be explosive, a threat to itself, its neighbors, and its ideological enemies. For our own self-defense, America had to intervene. And to fix the situation, we must attempt to supply the lacking element that created the situation in the first place: some sort of framework of shared values and beliefs, namely, our own values of ordered liberty, religious tolerance, and republican, federal government.

We Americans believe, and quite rightly, that the set of values we cherish, those things that bind our nation together and make it a more or less 'natural' pseudo-Aristotelean state, are absolutely just and praiseworthy, moreso than those of many other states. We believe that our values of liberty and religious tolerance appeal to man's desire to be free, while democracy and republican government appeal to man's desire to have a hand in the direction and formation of his greater political community, and thus they have real, transformative power. Not only that, but as all men have these inclinations, our values, at their most basic level, can bring that transformative power to bare in any society, so long as it is made up of men and women. As Julius Caesar noted in book three of his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, "[A]ll men, by nature love liberty and hate the condition of slavery." Thus a new Iraqi government and a new creed of freedom and democracy may be able to eventually take root and similarly provide the Aristotelean 'glue' for that diverse society just as they do our own.

Liberals, unfortunately, seem not to believe that liberty and freedom have universal applicability, they do not seem to take pride in the exultation of the ideas America stands for, and they deny that our ways have cross-cultural appeal. Day in and day out, the press seems almost to hope for America's failure, to hope that America's values cannot transform the Middle East into a peaceful place. This should not surprise us, of course, as it is an echo of liberals' historic theme. It is Jimmy Carter and his call for America to be content with having past its peak, its 'malaise.' It is the notion that to strive for the best is somehow offensive to those who do not similarly strive, or who come up a little bit shorter. It is the idea that mediocrity is acceptable and even desireable. It is the same reason that liberals sought reconciliation with Soviet Communism.

Luckily for America, we have as President a man who, like Ronald Reagan, does not settle for the mediocre and will continue to champion our values as absolutely good and prasieworthy. We have a President who, like Ronald Reagan, is optimistic about America, its way of life, and the power of our values to change the Middle East and the world. In George W. Bush, we have a true, Aristotelean, American leader.


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