Lesson 9: Education and Politics

9.1 Aquinas -- Purpose of Law to Make Men Good

At the end of the Ethics Aristotle points to law as one factor in establishing the good character, virtue, of the citizens. And he says in the Politics that virtue is one of the claims to rule and one of the purposes of political society. Aquinas thus echoes his mentor when he says in the Treatise of Law that a major effect of the law is "to make men good" (ST I-II 92.1). He cites Aristotle at Ethics II.1. He also notes that the virtue achieved by the legislator is relative to the regime, i.e. it is a form of civic virtue. But in the Treatise Aquinas also notes the limits of law to achieve virtue. It is written for the general run of men, not the best, so it must be "middling" to some degree. So he observes that law cannot repress all vice (ST I-II 96.2).

9.2 Aristotle on Liberal Education

Aristotle devotes the last two books of the Politics to the investigation of the best regime; and the best regime is primarily a matter of education for the good life. The good regime must have good citizens. He says that as long as the best way of life remains obscure, so too will the question of the best regime. So he begins with a recapitulation of the Ethics. The happy life is not primarily about wealth, reputation and honor. It is primarily a matter of the development of the soul, virtue. He distinguishes them as internal and external goods. "It is for the sake of the soul that these other things are desirable, and accordingly should be desired by every man of good sense -- not the soul for the sake of them." Accordingly the best regime must have the appropriate external goods, but its focus should be on the goods of the soul. The external goods should not be sought without limit. This is a principle of virtue. So he concludes that a city is virtuous to the degree that its citizens are virtuous (see chap. 1 and chap. 13). Now for men to become good Aristotle says we must look to three factors: natural endowment, habits, and rational principle. The natural endowment he discusses in chapter 7. He concentrates our attention now therefore on the education provided by the city -- this forms habits and instructs the reason.

In a regime where men are ruled and then rule in turn it is vitally important that all be educated to excellence. The citizen must be educated in the full sweep of excellence of body, passion, and reason -- and with reason both theoretical and practical dimensions. The great question for the city then becomes how to use leisure well. (See Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture). Work is aimed at leisure, just as war aims at peace, and all useful activity toward an intrinsic good.

Aristotle begins the final book of the Politics, VIII, with the statement that "the legislator should make the education of the young his chief and foremost concern." He notes that most regimes neglect education. But education is necessary at the very least for the perpetuation of the regime, let alone for the over-all excellence of the members and the city.

At the end of the day, citizens should have an opportunity to use their leisure well; and that means cultivating the mind. Whereas most men are not inclined toward philosophy, Aristotle recommends that poetry be encouraged -- that is, the bards who sing about the gods and heroes, the highest things. He cites Homer who says that the citizens should be "called to the bountiful banquet, and with them they call a minstrel [a bard] to pleasure all men with his music" and in another passage "They who feast in the hall lend their ears to the minstrel in silence, sitting in due order." It is liberal, good in itself, for the men to sit and listen to the bard. For the bard recalls to their minds the stories of gods and heroes. This should be the ultimate education for all.

Aristotle also discusses the need to inculcate habits in the young prior to the age of reason. And to continue teaching through the way of music, poetry, in order to attune one's whole being to the good. "Goodness consists in feeling delight where one should and loving and hating aright" (VIII. 5). Therefore the city should cultivate in the youth "right judgments on and feeling delight in fine characters and good actions." C.S Lewis has developed this aspect of ancient education in his find book The Abolition of Man. Also the essay by Leo Strauss on Liberal Education in Liberalism Ancient and Modern is worthy of consideration.

In summary let us say that education is the chief work of the regime and the legislators. This is because there is a need for citizen virtue. The citizens must be habituated and cultivated at the very least for the principle and spirit of the regime. And on the basis of decency and moderation and courage there may be the possibility for higher virtue to develop. Perfect virtue is the love of the noble for its own sake. For it is from the ranks of the best educated that a regime can draw its best leaders.

9.3 Maritain on Freedom in the Modern World; Democratic Creed and Religion

Maritain understands that freedom is the chief aspiration of modern man. But he explains that freedom must be more than freedom of choice. It means above all the freedom of virtue and education -- that is the development of the human person through self-mastery. Liberal education is the chief means for the human person to achieve this freedom of self-mastery.

Also the democratic regimes must cultivate a citizen virtue by way of a democratic creed. The dignity of man, the importance of honor and freedom, respect for others -- this requires education. It requires that various spiritual traditions be able to teach the foundations of the democratic creed in the deeper aspects. Maritain argues that the Thomistic doctrine of natural law is in fact the best foundation for teaching a respect and commitment to freedom and democracy. Ultimately he says that the regime should not be afraid of religion as an ally in the defense of freedom.

9.4. Simon and Technology

Simon ends his book on a more somber note. He fears for the republic because of the disruptive effects of technology. He understands that the modern regime has unleashed a lust for power and that technology has unhinged us from an ordered pursuit of happiness. His study of the effects of technology on human life is profound. For our purpose I shall just say a few words about the positive prospects for the "training of free men." Simon does think that the modern conditions of work can provide an opportunity for developing intellectual habits that are part of prudence and virtue. We must learn how to see the whole, the context for our projects. Labor and management can be brought along to cultivate these habits for free men and women. It is an important part of education broadly construed.


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