Politics III, First Section

The first part of Politics Book III treats the question of what a state exactly is, and what it means to be a citizen. Here arises questions of birthright citizenship versus other forms, including -- a little under the radar -- the issue of nationalization. Can you become an Athenian?

It's kind of an interesting point, because we discuss the advantages of America's rather unusual tradition of birthright citizenship at times when discussing the immigration debate. Since the election, a couple of pieces (most especially Mark Steyn's) have made the case that the huge upsurge in Latino citizenship is a wholly artificial power grab:
According to the Census, in 1970 the "Non-Hispanic White" population of California was 78 percent. By the 2010 census, it was 40 percent. Over the same period, the 10 percent Hispanic population quadrupled and caught up with whites.

That doesn't sound terribly "natural" does it? If one were informed that, say, the population of Nigeria had gone from 80 percent black in 1970 to 40 percent black today, one would suspect something rather odd and unnatural had been going on. Twenty years ago, Rwanda was about 14 percent Tutsi. Now it's just under 10 percent. So it takes a bunch of Hutu butchers getting out their machetes and engaging in seven-figure genocide to lower the Tutsi population by a third. But, when the white population of California falls by half, that's "natural," just the way it is, one of those things, could happen to anyone.
So let's stop with the first three sections, and talk about those things. Then we will move on to Part IV, which deals with a very interesting question: whether the virtue of the good man and the virtue of the good citizen are the same, or different.


Joseph W. said...

Interesting at the very least as a window into the thinking of Aristotle's time --

And the legislator or statesman is concerned entirely with the state; a constitution or government being an arrangement of the inhabitants of a state.

...of course the modern usages of those words are far different (and writers who distinguish between "state" and "government" actually give the latter the smaller scope), with "constitution" being the rules that "govern government" rather than some overall organization of the people. But I don't think our modern notions of a government to which the people's property, business arrangements, speech, and worship are "none of the government's business" were on the radar in his day.

But I'm afraid his notion of a state that organizes us as a community (now where did I get that phrase?) are very much on our own...I remember Bruce Babbitt giving a speech in 1988 and declaring, "The Republicans will be telling you to distrust government, but they're wrong. Government is us." That was the most naked exposition of the totalitarian idea in American language I'd heard. (I don't say he's a totalitarian, just that he thinks like one.)

I can see the later parts of this section as interesting if -- per your earlier posts -- the U.S. actually breaks into pieces; and it has to be determined which of the inhabitants get the rights of citizens. And which ones are obliged to the debts. (But I think some kind of debt repudiation is inevitable whatever we do - whether it's explicit, per Alexander Hamilton, or implicit, through inflation.)

As far as I can tell, Aristotle's writing doesn't even consider the kind of situation Steyn's talking about...the closest he gets to talking about a polyethnic nation (so far) is in talking about the Spartan helots in an earlier section, which I believe he says might be a separate race from the Spartans themselves, and they are by no means "citizens" the way he uses the term here. The question from book I about the superiority of Hellenes is an academic exercise as long as the population is 100% Hellenic; what you'd do in a state that went from 100% Hellenic to 60% Phonecian isn't something I've seen him address. (But if he did he would be unencumbered by the modern rules of polite discourse, which don't allow racial differences to be acknowledged or discussed - though I think these are crumbling fast.)

Incoherent, maybe, but these are my immediate reactions. What do you think?

Grim said...

The Republicans will be telling you to distrust government, but they're wrong. Government is us." That was the most naked exposition of the totalitarian idea in American language I'd heard. (I don't say he's a totalitarian, just that he thinks like one.)

This has become a standard liberal/progressive idea, I believe. I had it quoted to me by a dear friend in the wake of the election. It's one of those poorly examined ideas like "we mostly owe money to ourselves" -- there's a sense in which it is true, but that sense utterly masks the destructive reality of the situation.

...the closest he gets to talking about a polyethnic nation...

And yet, of course, there's a very clear example of a polyethnic nation in ancient times: the Persian empire, with which Greece had many interactions. My sense is that he folds it broadly into "tyranny," however: it has a single leader, who orders the enslaved (and wrongly enslaved, on Aristotle's terms) to his own benefit and that of his closest friends.

(By the way, I assume you are familiar with Xenophon's Anabasis -- but if there are readers following along who are not, it is extremely worthy of their attention.)

As a practical matter, I can tell you how his student answered the question of what to do with a poly-ethnic state. Alexander the Great organized it as a monarchy (on Aristotle's terms: a single leader, but one who is not a tyrant), with a Greek warrior ruling faction placed over important cities and localities. That preserved something of the reliability that comes from shared ethnicity (e.g., common assumptions), while allowing the model to be rapidly expanded to many other ethnicities. Although it quickly broke up into multiple monarchies, some of which became tyrannies, these lasted for quite some time in many places.

Joseph W. said...

"We owe it to ourselves" - oh, gawd, that's back? When Keynesian economics became the dominant policy, this was always the Left's answer to rightist carping about the national debt - "We owe it to ourselves!" In older books by Milton Friedman and Henry Hazlitt you can practically feel the authors tearing their hair out at the foolishness of this slogan...though I suppose it's no worse than the people who say, "The social security trust fund is invested in government bonds? No problem! They're a great investment for me; why aren't they a great investment for the government?"

Yep, so far the Politics isn't talking about imperialism at all -- unless you count the Spartan/helot thing, or the discussion of whether non-Hellenes are natural slaves.

Maybe Aristotle considered that sort of thing sub-political -- since the subject populations wouldn't fit within his definition of "citizen" at all.

Then again, that's not so bad for our current purposes. I suspect the main consequence of the recent election is that we're finished as a world power - whether we're finished as a unified country we shall see. Imperialism in any form - I don't see in our future for a long time if ever.

Grim said...

...we're finished as a world power...

Take heart. It's as likely as not that everyone else who was a contender for that title is finished, too. The standard for 'world power' may just be about to slip.

Joseph W. said...

It may well be so. But the local powers in other parts of the world include some brutal bad actors. They'll do some bad things to our commerce and some dreadful things to our allies and their own neighbors, and we'll be reduced to making noise.

Myself, I'm glad that we took down some of the worst tyrants and terrorists on our way out, and wish we'd gone for one or two more. It's better than it could've been for sure.

Grim said...

Yeah, we saw that already when Russia up and confiscated part of Georgia. Georgia had been a firm ally in Iraq -- the 3rd Georgian Brigade was with us when I was there with 3ID. And when they lost part of their territory, we did nothing at all.

I guess that's how it's going to be.