Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Political Philosophy

Character and Cross-situational Stability

I amused myself this morning by spending a couple of hours with Aristotle's Ethics (and Politics), partly out of duty to my freshman class but also because my imperfect soul needed a bit more purpose than that revealed in my recent reading of Plato.  A good few hours.  Then I glanced at the morning news (on my Kindle, of course) and came across two op-eds talking essentially about the soul, character, and purpose, one about "Where the Wild Things Are" and the other an HBO movie about about Barack Obama.  Richard Cohen considers whether Obama is his own worst enemy, as in the perfection being the enemy of the good, while David Brooks, using "Wild Things", considers what he calls the psychologists view that "people don't have one permanent thing called character. We each have a multiplicity of tendencies inside, which are activated by this or that context."  I'll leave it to you whether or not the word character has chnaged it's meaning, as Brooks implies.  Back to Aristotle.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Cohen's observation of the problems between a man and a movement are worthwhile, too. As President Obama's personal lustre becomes less bright, a movement so singularly focused on his person begins to struggle for a true identity. If he can re-assert himself in a vision that goes beyond him and is not ecapsulated by him, he's got a chance. If it remains all about him, the hopes of the Left last November will need to take a massive, heart-wrenching correction.

What is striking to me about Cohen's article is this statement: "[H]e is not something from a political or ideological constituency."

Really? That strikes me as both true and false, if I may be permitted to begin sounding as non-committal as Cohen appears to believe Obama might be.

What I mean is that Obama may SEEM to be something apart from a political and ideological constituency (though he isn't) because that is his design. He cannot achieve his ends if he appears to be a mere representative of a "movement." Obama seems to me to be one of the most thoroughgoing and self-conscious adherents to Progressivism that we've had in the presidency . . . probably since FDR. And he may yet end up completing the work that FDR nearly did. Other Democrats (and even some Republicans) borrowed from the stuff and even, sometimes, imagined that they were backers of the project. But they were chasing shadows as often as not. It was not just that political reality crept in and forced them to compromise (e.g., Bill Clinton and welfare reform); one also gets the sense that Progressivism was, to them, a kind of means to an end . . . a tool in their sheds (though a preferred tool, certainly) used for the purpose of personal political gain or, sometimes, something even less. Obama does not need a tool for this purpose. His personal political gain and self-esteem (to use a modern term) are already set. He is already a myth . . . he does not need to create any more of them. For him, Progressivism is an end in itself . . . the crown of his pursuits. So he guards it. He is solicitous of its welfare. He is careful. He does not expose it, unnecessarily, to public scrutiny; and, he is building an intellectual case for it brick by brick (or, in his case, speech by speech) for the purpose of not merely winning a battle but, rather, for conquering in an ideological war. He will not take on the founding . . . he will consume it.

So Obama does not appear to be an ideologue. THAT would be foolish and foolhardy. He takes on the mantle of the forms with which the people are comfortable. He begins with their understanding of themselves. He praises it and, in so doing, he gently nudges it closer to his direction; his vision. Over time (and he's happy to take some time in this project) he alters it. Obama understands that perception is reality in politics. He's working on our perceptions. He is much more clever than Richard Cohen is.

I wish Mr. Obama the best of luck in his quest.

He's going to need it. As a practical matter, no matter what, he's a spent cartridge in either three or six years.

Not enough time.

Now, back to Book II of The Republic. I am personally afraid Socrates is wrong--injustice can pay out very, very handsomely...

Brooks's treatment of character is superficial, as is all his attempts to "prove" how much modern psychology has made philosophy outdated. Does anyone who's read Aristotle really think Aristotle can't explain why someone who's courageous in one circumstance is a coward in another?

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