04 February 2017

The Village and The Good Life

In this ongoing Saturday series of reflections on conservatism, an earlier post noted Aristotle's account of the origins and ends of the state.  Family, Village, and State argued that Aristotle's description is more than just a more  historically accurate account of the origins of the state than, say, contractual models. It also provides  hierarchically ascending authorities or institutions for creating the conditions for living the good life--an traditionally important element in conservative thought.

Several posts last month looked at the household--both from Aristotle's economic perspective as a means of securing the necessities of its members and from his moral perspective as a means of personality formation--the inculcation of virtue. These posts offered, too, some observations on how this applies to  the modern household.

Reflections about the village, however, are a bit more problematic. Aristotle writes very little about the village. He suggests villages consist of several households that themselves originated as "colonies" of children and grandchildren from other families. He seems to hold that the village, like the household, only provides individual members with necessities. Aristotle adds almost nothing more, as he moves on to his primary concern--the formation of the city-state. the institution required for living well.

So what can one say about "village life?" What if anything does the concept offer to modern life?

If we consider the village as the "extended family" (to employ modern usage), we can make a few obvious common sense observations.

Most of us recognize the valuable assistance provided by our extended family--loans of money or equipment, transportation, emotional support, and childcare to name just a few. And the extended family offers assistance in the way of personality formation as well--reinforcing the moral norms of the immediate family. My cousin and I received numerous valuable lessons on cooperation from my grandmother and her switch from the hibiscus hedge that she used on the back of our legs.

(In retrospect, only now do I understand why she was so "quick with the switch." Because of the early passing of her husband, she raised nine children on her own. When you have nine children, you do not have time to investigate and get to the bottom of every dispute. Just whip everybody involved. And during those couple of months that she watched my cousin and I, that was all she knew to do.)

In addition, perhaps we can include our immediate neighbors as well within the borders of the village. Good neighbors provide all kinds of assistance to each other--tools and equipment of all kinds, transportation, job recommendations, etc. My wife and I had to use a neighbor's oven when ours suddenly died on Thanksgiving Day when the turkey was only half done. And  I vaguely remember two different neighbors taking take of me, my sister, and my friend from next door for a couple of hours each day after school. And when we grow old enough to run on our own (I was a "free range" kid), neighbors serve as an additional set of eyes on behalf of the parents. I remember "looking about" for the unwanted presence of other adults when considering mischief. And when I missed them, the ominous phone call to my parents served as a reminder.

Finally, the idea of the village perhaps can be extended to other institutions as well--churches, schools, clubs, and even county parks and recreation programs. All these institutions at least possess the potential contribute to the economic and moral well-being of a household.

Now I have not read Hillary Clinton's book It Takes a Village to Raise A Child. I do not know now she framed her "African proverb."  At least one reviewer offered some thoughtful insights that comport with my general views.

On that note, I offer the conclusion that it really does take a village to raise a child.

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