13 August 2016

The First Conservative

So what about those core ideas or concepts that constitute conservatism as an ideology?

Instead of listing those core ideas that most conservatives embrace and defending them, the next several posts will unfold them following the argumentation of the first conservative: Aristotle.

(First, though, this caveat. Although I enrolled in a few philosophy classes in my university liberal arts program, I have no philosophy degree. Since graduation, I have read many of the so-called works of the Western canon. Because Aristotle worked as a very "common sense" philosopher, perhaps we can understand him with a little "common sense.")

Aristotle was born in 384 BC in the city of Stagira, located in Thrace. When he reached 17, he left to live in Athens and become a member of Plato's Academy. After Plato's death,   Aristotle left Athens. Philip, the King of Macedon, hired Aristotle to tutor his son and heir, Alexander (later known as “the Great”). Alexander eventually conquered the Greek city-states and most of the known world from Greece to western India. No one knows what, if any, influence Aristotle had on Alexander.

Aristotle returned to Athens in 335 BC and established his own school, which he called the Lyceum. For over ten years he taught in Athens, sometimes refining but more often challenging the doctrines of his own teacher Plato.

Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. Historians speculate that Aristotle anticipated that Athens and other Greek city-states would revolt against Alexander's successors and levy retribution against anyone associated with Alexander. He left Athens for the city of Chalcis. He died the following year.

Aristotle left behind writings on, metaphysics, physics, biology, zoology, logic, rhetoric, aesthetics, poetry, and--most important for my purposes—ethics and politics.

The two most accessible works, Nichomachean Ethics and Politics, are interconnected. The former serves as an introduction to the latter. In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle lays out his ideas on what constitutes “the good life.” No person, however,  can live “the good life” alone. Consequently, in Politics Aristotle explores different types of constitutional arrangements in ancient city-states and evaluates which arrangements creates the best conditions to enable citizens to live “the good life.”

Now Aristotle did not call himself a conservative in the sense of holding to some specific ideology. And his perspectives on ethics and the state are rooted in the ancient Greek city-state. Nevertheless, his sociology--for lack of a better word--and the purposes or ends of the state have served as the basis for conservatism. 
He also devoted part of  Politics to the challenge of conserving constitutions--the basic task of contemporary American conservatives. Moreover, he also described contrary ends or purposes of government that served as the foundation for errors that became known as liberalism.

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