Aristotle and the Crisis in the Middle East

aristotle and middleeastMaggie Vache P. 5- While reading Aristotle, it is sometimes difficult to relate his message to the 21st century; after all, the audience he was writing for has been dead for over two thousand years. However, much of what he wrote about can still be applicable in society today and I think it would be very interesting to see what Aristotle would have to say about some of the current world issues. An event that has captured the world’s attention over the past few years is the unrest and rebellions in the Middle East; after all, we have all heard about the horrible injustices being done and the response of the citizens to correct the wrongs committed by their governments. After reading and discussing The Politics, by Aristotle, my question is what would Aristotle have to say about the current situation in the Middle East? Would he justify the current regimes or would he support the people’s response to revolt?

In The Politics Aristotle explains his view of the different forms of government as well as its role in society. When describing the different “perversions” of government he mentions tyranny, “which has in view the interest of the monarch only.” This could describe many of the rulers found in the Middle Eastern countries that are engaged in revolts such as the former Libyan leader  Gaddafi who was known for brutally crushing any dissenters to his regime. It is plain to see that none of the governments involved in the Middle Eastern uprisings had the common good of the people in mind when adopting policies or implementing laws into society. Aristotle said in The Politics that “Those [governments] which regard only the interest of the rulers are all defective and perverted forms, for they are despotic, whereas a state is a community of freemen.” So, if citizens feel as though they are not being fairly represented or treated by their government they should have the right to change that and regain their voice in the government. I think that Aristotle would agree that it would only be natural for the citizens to revolt because he says that “if the slave perish, the rule of the master perishes with him.” This means that the government cannot rule without the support of its people; governments are like a house of cards, if you remove the base support, everything else will come crashing down. So, if the people, who are the ones who have to live with the decisions made by the government, are not satisfied then they should have the ability to make their voices heard and correct the wrongs being committed by the government.

An example of a perversion in one of the Middle Eastern governments can be seen right now in Egypt. Recently, there have been protests regarding the president, Mohamed Morsi. Many Egyptians are outraged by the proposal to temporarily extend President Morsi’s powers in the wake of the country adopting a new constitution. The bigger issue, however, is the newly drafted constitution that the government is attempting to get passed. This is causing a huge uproar because many Egyptians feel that the drafted constitution not only limits the rights of the citizens but it also only supports the views held by some members of the assembly responsible for drafting it. Aristotle would be very disappointed to learn about this newly drafted constitution because it does not express the views of the people, but only a select number, primarily conservative Islamists, most of the other members of the assembly have decided to boycott the constitution process because they feel it is not fair. When only a minority of those being ruled is contributing to the creation of laws then it is doomed to fail because it does not “have regard to the common interest” and therefore is defective.

In regards to the situation brewing in Egypt, I believe that Aristotle would have predicted that this new regime was bound for destruction. In The Politics he says “Justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.” If the citizens of Egypt already feel as though their rights are being encroached upon then they will keep fighting the government until they are satisfied. In regards to the newly drafted constitution, human rights activists claim that the proposed constitution includes certain loopholes which limit freedom of expression, especially in regards to religious expression because of the proposed clause which outlaws blasphemy of religious prophets. It is not surprising that such laws are being suggested considering the majority of lawmakers who drew up this constitution are Islamists. Not to say that the beliefs of Islam are in any way wrong, but their views should not be forced upon other who do not share the same religious beliefs. By forcing these laws onto people with different beliefs, lawmakers are preventing justice to enter into their government and according to Aristotle this would create disunity. This disunity would untimely lead to the demise of the government. Aristotle says that only “governments which have regard to the common interest are constituted in accordance with strict principles of justice, and are therefore true forms.” So, the Egyptian government would currently, according to Aristotle, be considered a perversion of government and he would not approve of it.

Even though Aristotle’s teachings lead me to believe that he would have fully supported the citizen’s of the Middle Eastern countries that decided to revolt against their tyrannical leaders, I also have to take into consideration his opinion regarding the biased reasons behind the people’s revolts. He says in Book III Chapter 9 of The Politics that the people “Are bad judges in their own affairs; and secondly, because both the parties to the argument are speaking of a limited and partial justice; but imagine themselves to be speaking of absolute justice.” If Aristotle was to decide whether or not the revolutionaries are right in revolting or not he would want to take into consideration the moral reasoning behind the people’s decision to revolt. He would question if these people were attempting to correct the wrongs in their country for the sake of all of its citizens or just themselves and I think that he would find that these people are fighting not for “absolute” justice, but instead for “limited and partial” justice. Aristotle might then argue that the citizens that are revolting could not rule in a “pure” form either; after all, they know nothing about ‘absolute” justice just like the current regime.

My thoughts regarding Aristotle’s opinion to this important world issue are only speculation. While I think that he would definitely agree that the current/former regimes in the Middle Eastern countries that are involved in turmoil and rebellion are perversions of government I have to wonder if he would not think that all current world government are in some way or another perversions. After all, no government is perfect and every one could be tweaked at least a little to ensure “absolute” justice. Even America, considered the world’s peacemaker and a model country, has uncountable deficiencies within its government. I don’t think that any government would meet Aristotle’s “pure” government status if he were to be alive today to evaluate them and because of this I cannot firmly say whether or not I think Aristotle would approve of the many rebellions and fighting occurring in the Middle East now as a result of perversions in the government. However, I am certain that he would not approve of the regimes themselves because they stifle justice and do not promote the common good of the people. After all, “The end of the state is the good life” and these governments are obviously not serving to provide the means to achieve “the good life.”

Bibliography:

“Egypt’s Islamists Rush Through New Constitution.” USA Today. Gannett, 30 Nov. 2012. Web.

05 Dec. 2012.

“Thousands Protest Morsi, Rushed Constitution.” Dallas Morning News 5 Dec. 2012: 1A+. Print.

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