Friday, September 10, 2010

Leo Strauss, American Ethical Decline and Aristotle's Highest Hope

I was just reading Leo Strauss's magnificent Natural Right and History.  Strauss is a first rate thinker, on a par with the great libertarians, yet I disagree with a large chunk of his perspective.  I must say that the early chapter on Max Weber is of tremendous importance to the work I have been doing on business schools' teaching of justice as the core management competency and the Aristotelian and Nietzschean traditions in mangement theory.  Strauss's arguments in favor of natural right and law are profound and explicate a core insight at which I arrived in my undergraduate years. That is, that the justification of ethics is inherent in the socio-biology of humanity.  Natural right and natural law are socio-biological constructs.  Conventionalism, the notion that ethics is arbitrary, can be disproved empirically.  Strauss makes invaluable arguments along those lines.  As well, Strauss outlines the very concept I have been thinking about and am working toward: the crucial importance of decentralization to the development of the virtuous and liberal state.  I am glad I am reading Strauss now after I have outlined the project in my mind.  Although the idea is my own independent of Strauss, Strauss must be given major credit for conceptualizing the project in 1953.

I do not agree with Strauss in a number of ways. Most important among these is his emphasis on human differentials with respect to the prospects of attaining virtue.  Strauss's emphasis on this aspect of Plato and Aristotle leads to elitism which I do not share.  This elitism is very much in the Progressive and Marxist traditions.  I do not agree that there are people who have a special claim to virtue.  Anyone who thinks so can try to fix their own plumbing or their own cars.  Just because someone can go to Harvard does not make them more valuable than a plumber.  When my pipes go, I care about a plumber, not a philosopher or a politician. Sorry, Ayn Rand. What I want is a virtuous plumber.  And a virtuous plumber will not go home, drink a 12-pack of beer, and wash his hands of what has happened to the nation.  Rather, America has declined because of the elitism inherent in Progressivism.

Coincidentally Jim Crum sent me Andrew Malcolm's LA Times article that suggests that America is indeed in serious moral decline due to the Progressive and socialist policies that the Democratic and Republican Parties advocate.  The article finds that 41 Obama appointees have not paid their taxes.  As well, federal employees in general owe a billion dollars in unpaid taxes, and 638 workers on capitol hill owe $9.3 million in unpaid taxes. As Treasury Secretary, who is in charge of collecting taxes, Obama appointee Timothy Geithner owes $43,000 in unpaid taxes.  As well, within the department of homeland security  "4,856 people owe $37,012,174."

Aristotle argued that the role of the city state is to educate moral citizens.  Clearly American society has failed in this elementary task. The problem is not just with dysfunctional schools which systematically fail to teach the three 'rs along with basic morals; nor with the decaying family, harmed by the Wall Street economy that has destroyed job opportunities in general but especially for men and has fractured the family by forcing women to return to work at an early age.   It is also due to the miasma of bad ethics that imbues the casino economy; the get-rich-quick psychology of Federal Reserve Bank-financed Wall Street speculation and the carry trade; the mentality that one gets rich by sucking at the tit of the state rather than working hard.  All of this is nothing new.  For decades the Progressive state structure has systematically rewarded fast-talking corporate types with smooth interpersonal but limited productive skills and penalized those who take legitimate risks. The Federal Reserve Bank churns out easy credit made available to speculators in stocks and real estate but the government taxes work (through the income tax) and thereby inhibits small scale capital accumulation, creating a bank-dominated economy that is inherently corrupt.  All of this tends to manipulation of paper and cheating, at which Republicans like Rick Lazio as well as Democrats like Timothy Geithner excel.

A nation which allows cheats like Lazio and Geithner to attain high office has failed Aristotle's highest hope for the city state.  The nation is failing morally and the fault is Progressivism. Moral failure will lead to collapse. The Founding Fathers knew Aristotle and they were aware of this point.  So were the Mugwumps of the Gilded Age.  Because of its fascist economy, the nation has foresaken its moral foundations.


Doug Plumb said...

Thanks for posting this.

Doug Plumb said...

What should I read to precisely understand Ch 2 of this book Mitch ?

I am currently reading Critique of Pure Reason. I think this book will help with the foundations of reason and with a study of ethics in general. What is your opinion of this book ?

Anonymous said...

so, this notion of elitism that is 'inherent in Progressivism' is proven by the fact that Geithner & other appointees owe taxes?
Neither Obama nor anyone in his administration is, by any stretch, a Progressive.
I am disappointed by such a half-baked partisan remark in what is passed off as an academic and erudite blog