October 12, 2016 by fredrikcoulter
First, a personal note. Due to Hurricane Matthew, I’m running a little behind this week. Power was restored on Monday, but it’s not easy to read in the dark.
The next reading was another partial work by Aristotle. This one aims to look at politics, theoretically. Why theoretically? Because this section doesn’t actually look at politics, or government, or anything of the sort. Instead, after first linking families, to villages, to countries, it focuses on family relations and individuals. Since Politics is actually much longer than just Book I, this could change if the entire work was read.
There are a couple of things I thought should be mentioned in this work. First, there’s a discussion of slavery. (Before going on, probably it should be noted that slavery in Greece was not the same as slavery in the United States. The United States managed to take a long time social institution and make it so much worse than it had been done in the past. Greek slaves were still considered human beings, with property rights, etc. There are stories of slaves who saved money, bought their own freedom, and ended up rich freeman who owned slaves of their own. In the United States, slaves couldn’t own anything, and were generally considered sub-human.)
Aristotle makes arguments both for and against slavery. He doesn’t conclude whether slavery is a good thing or a bad thing, but since the last portion of the argument is anti-slavery, the reader is left with the anti-slavery argument.
On the other hand, there are some “interesting” (by modern standards) arguments made. In terms of who is eligible to become a slave, he’s carved out a large group of people that probably would never be slaves even if they lost a war — Greeks. After all, Greeks are superior to all other people. Greeks are always noble, while barbarians can only be noble in their own lands.
And I’m reminded of the source of the word barbarian. To the Greeks, people who didn’t speak Greek just went “ba-ba-ba-ba”. In other words, all non-Greek speakers are barbarians. In some ways this reminds me of the attitude of most Americans on foreign languages. I don’t have the data, but I suspect that Americans without recent immigrant history speak a second language at a lower rate than any other educated group of people. Americans with recent immigrant history need that second language to talk to their parents and grandparents. And the attitude towards the rest of the world by Americans tends to be demeaning, at best.
After making the argument for and against slavery, Aristotle then goes on to discuss the finances. There are natural ways of becoming wealthy, and non-natural ways. He prefers the natural. Creating wealth by creating something is a natural way of becoming wealthy. But woe to the person who makes money by buying and selling. Retail trade is not a natural way of making money.
From my economics classes, there is a lot of discussion about the barriers to trade. For barter and direct trade to work, both parties must need something the other party has. If this happens, great. But if the two parties don’t have opposing wants and needs, no trade will happen.
The retailer (and money) fills in that gap. The retailer tries to buy things that someone else will want, and then sell the goods to the other person who may not even know the first party. The retailer creates huge efficiencies in the system. Given how much more efficient the system is with the retailer involved, I’m not at all convinced that their profits are un-natural. They provide a service, and are paid for it. In some ways, the division of labor described in Plato’s Republic seems to be a more sophisticated view of economics than this writing by Aristotle, Plato’s student.
Finally, I need to mention the casual sexism in Politics. Women are self-evidently inferior. There’s no real argument given or evidence provided; it’s just self evident.
Be very careful about self evident truths. Many times they’re not True at all.
This work is available on Project Gutenberg.