by Ken Holder
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Isupply a few quotations worth thinking about:
“Scrutiny. We are in the Age of Scrutiny. A public figure must withstand the scrutiny of the media,” Ogle said. “The President is the ultimate public figure and must stand up under ultimate scrutiny; he is like a man stretched out on a rack in the public square in some medieval shithole of a town, undergoing the rigors of the Inquisition. Like the medieval trial by ordeal, the Age of Scrutiny sneers at rational inquiry and debate, and presumes that mere oaths and protestations are deceptions and lies. The only way to discover the real truth is by the rite of the ordeal, which exposes the subject to such inhuman strain that any defect in his character will cause him to crack wide open, like a flawed diamond. It is a mystical procedure that skirts rationality, which is seen as the work of the Devil, instead drawing down a higher, ineffable power. Like the Roman haruspex who foretold the outcome of a battle, not by analyzing the strengths of the opposing forces but by groping through the steaming guts of a slaughtered ram, we seek to establish a candidate’s fitness for office by pinning him under the lights of a television studio and counting the number of times he blinks his eyes in a minute, deconstructing his use of eye contact, monitoring his gesticulations—whether his hands are held open or closed, toward or away from the camera, spread open forthcomingly or clenched like grasping claws.
“I paint a depressing picture here. But we, you and I, are like the literate monks who nurtured the flickering flame of Greek rationality through the Dark Ages, remaining underground, knowing each other by secret signs and code words, meeting in cellars and thickets to exchange our dangerous and subversive ideas. We do not have the strength to change the minds of the illiterate multitude. But we do have the wit to exploit their foolishness, to familiarize ourselves with their stunted thought patterns, and to use that knowledge to manipulate them toward the goals that we all know are, quote, right and true, unquote. Have you ever been on TV, Aaron?”
– Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George. Interface (New York: Bantam Dell, 1994)
Science for Aristotle requires that the words in which it is stated have definite meanings. The words of ordinary language include multiple meanings in a sort of confused whole. Aristotle in his technical treatises deals with this problem by giving restricted technical meanings to the words of ordinary language.
– Walter Watson. The Lost Second Book of Aristotle’s “Poetics”. Introduction.
The great idea which we owe to the Greeks, and to Aristotle in particular, and which has transformed the world, is Aristotle’s idea of scientific rationality. Other cultures and traditions have had ideas of rationality, but Aristotle’s idea of scientific rationality has originated in no other culture or tradition.
– Walter Watson. The Lost Second Book of Aristotle’s “Poetics”. Chapter 1.
A rational politics establishes rationality within the political community itself so that it becomes rationally self-determining.
All of this is well illustrated by the Constitution of the United States. The mix of oligarchic as well as democratic elements in the original Constitution can be seen in its assigning to the people as a whole no power whatsoever. In the election of senators and the president, the power of the people is checked by intermediate electors interposed between the people and the election. These intermediate electors were intended to insure that the Senate and the presidency would belong to the “natural aristocracy” of “people of virtue and ability” (McCullough 2001, 377), an end as desirable as it is difficult to secure. The device of intermediate electors, however, proved vulnerable to partisan appropriation and did not achieve its desired end. By 1832 all the states except South Carolina had assigned the power of choosing presidential electors directly to the people of the state, and the Seventeenth Amendment (1913) provided for the direct election of Senators by the people of each state. The constitution thus became more democratic and less oligarchic than the founders intended. But without effective checks by the natural aristocracy of people of virtue and ability, the government became more vulnerable to unwise actions by the people and to demagogic manipulation of the people by the wealth of the oligarchs.
– Walter Watson. The Lost Second Book of Aristotle’s “Poetics”. Chapter 1.7. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.
…the facts, however, have not yet been sufficiently grasped; if ever they are, then credit must be given rather to observation than to theories, and to theories only if what they affirm agrees with the observed facts.
—Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Book 3, Chapter 10.
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