Allison Ingrum – Period 3
In The Politics, Aristotle makes it clear that men are political animals. While “polis” directly means city or state, his statement goes to show that humans cannot live a life of reason without others in their community. Humans can survive on their own but to live beyond just the means of survival and to have a truly good life, people need the state to enable them. The benefits from this come in many different fashions and include but are not limited to innovation and resources that enable the population to benefit from leisure time. In other words, the country enables its people to not have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week just to survive and instead provides enough for its people to do live more comfortably and therefore have leisure time that they were not already able to have. This time includes anything that is not necessary to mean of survival and is therefore necessary to live a good life. The conflict in this comes with the question if states are able to do this or not due to individual wealth of the nation. In the twenty-first century, does the wealth and system of government of a country have an impact on how a society is or is not helping the population achieve their good in light of the teachings of Aristotle in his writing, The Politics?
First, look at Afghanistan, the sixteenth poorest country in the entire world1. According to a survey published by Carol Graham and Soumya Chattopadhyay of the Brookings Institution, titled “Well-Being and Public Attitudes in Afghanistan: Some Insights from the Economics of Happiness”, statistics were found that on a scale of 1 (not at all happy with your life) to 4 (very happy), Afghans scored an average of 2.62. In an area of extreme war and conflict and therefore a stereotypical unhappy society, this is not far off of other countries in Latin America, which in a 1997-2007 regional survey posted a 2.8 average, which are typically seen as good standing and stereotypically happy countries. Also, 81 percent of Afghans reported smiling at least once the previous day, similar to Latin America as a whole (82 percent) but far better than, for instance, Cuba (62 percent)2. While these are seemingly great statistics, the bad news may be the reasons that the numbers are as high as they are. Though the constitution guarantees many freedoms, in practice, freedoms of speech, association, religion, and press are not respected. Corruption, cronyism, and poor rule of law are major issues challenging the stability and functionality of the country’s government. Human resources are limited as the country’s educational institutions are poorly run and equipped. Lack of proper political mobilization has also created a system of patronage politics that is only perpetuating corruption and the inability of the government to deliver security and services. Therefore, the people of Afghanistan have only grown accustomed to the conflicts of criminal activity and bad government in their midst. “Being a victim of crime or corruption in Afghanistan does not result in a decline in reported well-being,” they write, “suggesting that individuals have come to expect such events as the norm”3. Furthermore, due to the lack of resources available and the conflicts within the country, both national and provincial governments struggle to provide basic services or control areas under their jurisdiction. According to Aristotle, the people need the government’s assistance in order to achieve their good. This can be further explained with Aristotle’s view of leisure time. This is any time that is not occupied by an action that is needed to just survive. Because of Afghanistan’s lack of services provided by the government, Afghans do not have access to education and therefore as many jobs leading to innovation or resources. The only way to achieve the full leisure time capability is with this innovation and leisure time. Therefore, the government truly is not helping the people because it is not able to provide such services, largely due to the wealth that the country has.
On the other hand, take a country such as the United States, ranked the wealthiest country by Forbes4. America is a country that values innovation, independence, industry, and integrity, and the government is one that supports and encourages this mindset. Furthermore, this gave birth to what is known as The American Dream, which means work and personal ambition can lead people to accomplish more than their economic backgrounds might suggest they can. This therefore leads to risk of failure. The wealthy can become poor, the poor can remain poor, and some elderly people are not taken care of. Interestingly enough, people in the United States do not use this to hold them back and instead they use it as motivation to chase their dreams. According to Aristotle, if a country gives its people benefits from beyond just a village, it is helping its people achieve their personal good. The United States does just this and more. They rank above the average in health status, jobs and earnings, personal security, subjective well-being, environmental quality, and civic engagement5. More specifically, the United States excels in terms of money, employment, and education. Money cannot buy happiness, or in this case, goodness, but it is important in achieving higher living standards. Being the wealthiest nation in the world only contributes to this and allows for the flow of money in its economy to be available to all people. This is largely due to the high level of employment in the United States. From people aged 15-64, 67% has a paid job which is slightly above the average of 65%5. Last but not least, the education system in America enhances the skills important for finding these jobs and 89% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education5. While these may seem to be mere statistics, it tells a lot about the country as a whole. Money, jobs, and education are all government funded programs or are at least partly and can be sustained by the government alone. These three factors are also some of the keys in living a good life in accordance to Aristotle because to him, this would be beyond the means of pure survival. If just survival was necessary in the United States, education would not exist and jobs would be unpaid and would be mainly based on what was needed to be done such as hunting for food. Without the ability to live beyond these means, The American Dream as stated earlier would not be possible. It is something that people strive for and to achieve due to the leisure time the United States provides. The United States does not only allow for a comfortable life for its people but also pushes the limits to become the number one nation in the world.
When looking at the two countries, Afghanistan and the United States, Aristotle’s meaning of men being political animals only becomes clearer. Men cannot live without the help of a community and furthermore, without the aid of a government. Comparing the countries to the other, it is obvious that the United States is helping its people achieve the good in their lives more than Afghanistan is. This may be largely to do with the expense of helping. As mentioned earlier, many of the programs allowing for Americans to have leisure time, as valued by Aristotle, can be completely government funded. Even if Afghanistan wanted to, it would not be able to do the same because by simply wealth alone, it is unable to provide the means necessary for its people. Therefore, when looking at men as political animals, by definition, they need the aid of the community and the government. Based on the findings of these two individual countries, it is necessary to have wealth to find the goodness in all people.
“World’s Poorest Countries.” Infoplease. 2011. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0908763.html.
“A Survey of Happiness in Afghanistan.” Washington Post. June 02, 2009. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/01/AR2009060102789.html.
“Afghanistan.” Countries and Their Cultures. Accessed April 22, 2016. http://www.everyculture.com/A-Bo/Afghanistan.html.
Singh, Rani. “The World’s Richest Countries.” Forbes. November 8, 2015. Accessed April 25, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ranisingh/2015/11/08/new-study-finds-a-better-way-to-measure-the-worlds-richest-countries/#1cbb43c96b82.
“United States.” OECD Better Life Index. Accessed April 21, 2016. http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/united-states/.