Aristotle in China
Many people in this day in age advocate for capitalism based on the benefits and freedoms that come along with having this form of government. Some of these rights include free and fair trade, freedom of speech, and freedom of property. Even China, who has a history of communism, has moved towards the more capitalistic view of their economy and government. With this change, they have become the leading exporter of goods in the world. There must be a reason behind this swing from a communistic way of life to predominately capitalistic principles. Have the thoughts of the people simply changed or is there more to this equation? Also, why has a country like China become a leader in exports through a change in government policy? Well, Aristotle believes that the answers to these questions can be found in the nature of man and his role in society.
Capitalism was established with the mentality that each and every man, if it was his desire, would have the opportunity to achieve whatever he deemed to be success. Though it was understood that not every man would take advantage of this opportunity, was important to know that each and every person has the opportunity to rise up in society and become part of a wealthier class of people.
However, this idealistic view of a capitalistic society is only in favor of those who truly believe that capitalism brings about prosperity to the individual and society as a whole. Some of the greatest thinkers disagree with the capitalistic way of life because of the possibility for greed to not only diminish the quality of life for those who are unable to take advantage of this mogul way of life, but also deny people their right to happiness. This is because as the wealthy people in society become more successful it stands to reason that they will begin to take advantage of the lower and middle class persons in order to expand their revenue for personal gain. Critics of a capitalistic economy who hold these concerns are more likely to prefer communism or hold a more utilitarian doctrine.
There are truths and faults in both arguments. However, when the Aristotelian point of view is taken, it is seen that the capitalistic society is the only form of government that truly fits man’s need to pursue his End and find true Happiness.
We first begin to answer the question of capitalism by defining the function of man. In his work, The Nicomanchean Ethics, Aristotle states that “in all he does man seeks the same good as end or mean.” That being said it is safe to assume that in a thriving civilization, no matter the structure of the society, the class the person is a part of, or the job the person holds, each man is working towards the same end goal.
Aristotle also makes it clear that the end that every man searches for is The Good. Aristotle also defines The Good: Happiness. By happiness, though, Aristotle does not mean the temporary feeling of euphoria or elation for if he did it would be difficult to make an argument for capitalism due to the fact that most people feel true happiness through acceptance and the best way to feel acceptance is through equality. Under this logic, the communistic society provides a greater deal of equality to the people in society and therefore is the more appropriate form of government in order for man to reach his ultimate good and true potential. However, Aristotle did not view the ultimate Good of Happiness as an emotion. If happiness were an emotion it would not be the end simply because it is only temporary. Aristotle defined man’s ultimate end of Happiness not as a feeling, but as a way of life. Happiness, then, is living a life of contemplation in accordance with reason. This means Happiness is more objective than subjective and that there is an end goal but no specific way to reach this end.
Knowing the function of man is only part of the puzzle when it comes to compounding ideals in order to create a perfect society. One must also know the purpose of the state in relation to the function of man.
According to Aristotle, the sole purpose of the state is to aid the individual in reaching his end of having a good life and, because every man is working towards the same end goal of The Good and happiness, every state is established with some good in mind. The organization of the state, however, is not meant to be anything more than many communities existing together in order to meet “the bare needs of life.” The politics and political positions that come in time with the organization of a state are not created in order help the state function. Instead, these policies are inevitable in the state due to the fact that, according to Aristotle, “man by nature is a political animal,” and man would not be able to reach his nature without the “polis” or political state and community in which he lives.
Now, with this knowledge we can begin to define the reasons behind the uprising of capitalism and downfall of the communist society based on the teachings of Aristotle.
In a capitalistic society, Aristotelian views are readily accepted because the society as a whole follows the basic outline for a community that Aristotle writes about in The Politics. The capitalist society is a prime example of and Aristotelian society because it is completely based on letting each man find himself and reach his goal of Happiness while limiting the government’s purpose to protecting the rights of the man. This allows for a greater, less restrictive society. In this state the Aristotelian views of a functional society can be accurately taken into account. The capitalistic society considers Aristotle’s view on both man as a “political animal” and the job of a citizen. In a capitalistic society man is allowed to establish themselves in such a way that the men who are born leaders can take office and rule over those who do not have ample leadership experience. This creates a natural pecking order in society and, in turn, allows man’s natural instincts to create hierarchical society to take place. Having a level of hierarchy among the citizens also allows for other people to take their place in office among the leaders so that they can become citizens and active members of the public. Another important part of capitalism is that it is in line with Aristotle’s views is that none of these positions should be permanent. Every man in society has a chance to acquire a political office due to the nature of capitalism. This means that no man’s right to the pursuit of happiness and reaching his final end is being hindered by the government. This can be seen first hand by the impact capitalism has had on the economy of China.
On the other hand, Communism holds the fundamental belief that in a perfect world there would be no private property and there would be a classless society because everyone would own the same amount of everything. John Stuart Mill wrote a book by the name of Utilitarianism in which he defines the idea of utility as “not solely the pursuit of happiness but the prevention and mitigation of unhappiness as well.” If Mill’s definition of utility is taken and applied to the fundamental beliefs of communism it stands to reason that communism by, definition of utility, meets Aristotle’s requirements for the state to be successful because the end goal of a communist state is to create a society in which no man is denied his right to the pursuit of happiness being that happiness is a mans end goal. By taking away the pressures of man to destroy his fellow man in order to reach his lifestyle goal and ultimate happiness, one is allowed to become his full self and reach what may be his full potential without interference from the political parties of the state.
However, there is also a negative aspect to the idea of communism. The first problem arises in Aristotle’s definition of man as a political animal. Though, from an idealistic point of view, it is safe to assume that a communist society would function for the good of its people, for this type of society to exist one must discount many of the specific teachings of Aristotle in The Politics. One key point that Aristotle makes in his writings is that a citizen is one who has held a public office or served his community in some way for as long as his health has allowed him to do so. In a society with no hierarchy or social ladders there is no need for political positions and therefore, by definition, the communist states have no citizens. Because it is the citizens that make up the society as a whole, it stands to reason that under communism there can be no society. This statement holds true for this reason: man must have a political and social order by nature and there can be no society without citizenship and no citizenship without social hierarchy.
Aristotle proved through his works that the only way to satisfy the needs of man is to place him in a community where the sole purpose of the government is to protect the right of man to reach his end and to find happiness. Any form of government that has a proactive, direct form of governing its people takes away the people’s natural ability to create a community in which man can truly find his happiness. This is why, in accordance with Aristotelian ethics, the capitalist form of government had become the most ideal. It allows man to act in accordance with his nature and his end goal in order to create a successful society, like China. This simple change in government has allowed the people of China to fulfill their purpose that had been suppressed for so long through communism and, in turn, China became the number one country for exports in the world.
- “China.” Overview. http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/overview (accessed April 29, 2014).
- Central Intelligence Agency. “Country Comparison: Exports.” Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2078rank.html (accessed May 1, 2014).
- Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue, 199.
- Murphy. Coin Plant. N.d. San Diego Creative Financing, San Diego, CA. San Diego Previews Real Estate. Web.
- “World Socialist Movement.” What is Capitalism? –. http://www.worldsocialism.org/articles/what_is_capitalism.php (accessed May 2, 2014).