My pen cannot remain idle. Some may remember. I made the following argument.
(1) Electing Donald Trump has the consequence of seeing some of Trump’s near-fascist and racist beliefs and attitudes filtering into policy and leadership.
(2) Electing Hillary Clinton has the consequence of seeing much (if not the same) Democratic status-quo policies as Obama filtering into policy and leadership.
(3) An act is morally right if it produces more good than harm than good.
(4) EITHER (1) Electing Donald Trump has the consequence of seeing some of Trump’s near-fascist and racist beliefs and attitudes filtering into policy and leadership OR (2) Electing Hillary Clinton has the consequence of seeing much (if not the same) Democratic status-quo policies as Obama filtering into policy and leadership.
(5) It’s not the case that (1) since that outcome produces more harm than (2) and violates (3)
(6) Therefore, we should vote for Hillary Clinton accepting that (2) is more rational and reduces harm.
I know it’s still rational. Even more, I know it’s necessary. Apparently, the conclusion argument has a name, so I will borrow from a fellow philosopher’s label. I’m occupying the Less-Evilest position. I still cringe from the fact of having written it.
When it comes down to it, however, this week has been surreal. Russian hackers are trying to influence our politics? The DNC Chair took sides in the bid for the White House, and the Democratic Party is caught in a lie; it’s 50 minutes until they start their convention. They failed to be impartial when they should have been, and I’m thinking about the lack of virtue. The failure of the party leaders is that they did not achieve the mean between deficiency of a virtue and the excess of a virtue. Like Aristotle, I think there’s a happy place in between excessive socialism and excessive capitalism. If you want an example, I think regulated markets like Western Europe provide balance between these two extremes.
When I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, I agreed that some public goods should be provided to everyone. That’s a matter of living in a just society. These include things like health care, decent wages, and public education (up to and including universities). We have teetered too far to the Right. Much like the capacities approach put forward by Nussbaum, I think that some public goods should be made available to people, and once that obligation of the society is met it’s up to citizens to develop themselves. This, of course, only happens if the society in question is compassionate enough to provide the pre-conditions of such development and flourishing to occur. That’s where Bernie Sanders found resonance with many of us.
Part of the Bernie Sanders message is that a rising tide lifts all boats. This type of political message is common in the Democratic Party and even more in Western democratic states of Europe like Denmark and France. Then, I had a moment when I recalled my Aristotle.
Philosophical texts are organic wholes. They are like art or music, and parts of them inspire us into reflection even if the context of their occurrence may be lost on us. I think that Aristotle’s Politics from Book IV are extremely apt now just moments away from the DNC.
…the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant. Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy; or a tyranny may grow out of either extreme- either out of the most rampant democracy, or out of an oligarchy; but it is not so likely to arise out of the middle constitutions and those akin to them. I will explain the reason of this hereafter, when I speak of the revolutions of states. The mean condition of states is clearly best, for no other is free from faction; and where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissensions. For a similar reason large states are less liable to faction than small ones, because in them the middle class is large; whereas in small states it is easy to divide all the citizens into two classes who are either rich or poor, and to leave nothing in the middle. And democracies are safer and more permanent than oligarchies, because they have a middle class which is more numerous and has a greater share in the government; for when there is no middle class, and the poor greatly exceed in number, troubles arise, and the state soon comes to an end. A proof of the superiority of the middle dass is that the best legislators have been of a middle condition; for example, Solon, as his own verses testify; and Lycurgus, for he was not a king; and Charondas, and almost all legislators. (Book 4, Part XI)
When the Democrats invoke the American dream, they focus on the “disappearing middle class.” Social mobility has gone down, and wealth is being concentrated at the top and none at the bottom. The middle class is disappearing somewhat and felt especially hard during the 2008 Recession. Yet, beyond these structural realities you may be wondering why do Democrats focus on this aspect of our society. Well, as you can see here, it’s often been thought that the Middle Class are the best of both worlds. They, like virtue, occupy the middle position. For Aristotle, the best is always the mean between having too little of a quality and having too much of that same quality.
When you are in the middle, you do not belong to a faction of either have or have-not. Neither side can become dominant. Citizens may become open to divisions in societies that lean one way or the other, and choose their politics according to their own self-interest. I’d offer you that while Republicans tend to exploit everyone’s dreams of success and wealth, the Democrats do their fair share of pandering to the poor along similar divisive lines of have/have-not politics. If more people are in the middle, the citizens cannot be divided along have and have-not lines—what we call today “special interests.” With a greater middle-class, you will also have more social mobility between middle-class to upper-middle. The Middle Class gives the lower-class a concrete status to work towards, and a work ethic to the absolute wealthy. Most importantly, perhaps, is that Aristotle saw the greatest legislators in Athens come from the Middle Class, and that might be true even for us…if it were possible (Perhaps, you’re waiting for the Aristotelian critique of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Given the fact that half of Congress are millionaires, there’s always been a serious disconnect in Washington from the suffering of Joe-and-Betsy-Average. How better to ensure Joe-and-Betsy-Average are better off than to adopt policies that ensure a Middle Class? Or in Aristotle’s words, how do we ensure that “citizens have a moderate and sufficient property”?
However, Aristotle was unaware and could not anticipate our structural realities. Affordable college education is often out of reach of the majority of students I teach. They are borrowing on time and the hope that such investments pay off. State governments are failing to subsidize state universities despite the fact that 3 in 5 students will attend a public university in their lifetime. Health care puts those with no insurance in unrecoverable debt. Many schools are failing. Austerity budgets have threatened the most basic services and public goods people need. While the Democratic Party offers us a politics to get some of these things back, I’m not too sure that the DNC realizes how out of whack its embrace of neoliberalism is. Many, like me, supported Bernie. We saw the rising-tides-lifts-all-boats-approach as a way forward to achieve the in-between-goldie-locks-zone of virtue in politics. Now, we (Neo-Aristotelian Leftists) learn at the eve and start of this convention that everything is more or less structurally fixed to prevent such approaches from coming to pass.
Now, of course, how do you ensure a middle class? I do not know. Certainly, you don’t vote for Trump, and maybe democratic socialist policies might rectify our excessive love of free markets, yet that’s gone with Hillary Clinton. Emulating European strategies will mean higher taxes, but most people should also be aware that the two parties bicker over the fact that the tax rate should be between 35%-39%. All the energy and vitriol that energies that debate is stupid, and frankly, my ire has just been set ablaze. Thank you Russia.