Paul Carrese reviews Leslie Rubin’s book, America, Aristotle, and the Politics of a Middle Class, and considers how her teaching can inform civic education.
Don’t Blame the Founders for Our Civic Disintegration
Is the American project doomed because the Enlightenment liberal philosophy on which it is based contains such contradictions that today’s social and political failures were inevitable? Or are we inflicting disintegration on ourselves through bad thinking and bad choices in more recent times, committing a kind of cultural suicide? These are among the happy choices offered by prominent conservative thinkers at the moment.
Leslie Rubin offers a more textured, temperate analysis of the roots of our current civic decay in America, Aristotle, and the Politics of a Middle Class. Her diagnosis also contains a plausible compass for restoring civic health. She argues that the American republic was more Aristotelian and moderate at its founding than most scholars have appreciated. Because our social and political foundations were more middling and practical than the grand theories of modern liberalism, classical republicanism, or political philosophy can see, the path to restoring political decency is hardly impossible.
Moreover, many American founders agreed with Aristotle that while humans are happiest in such a stable political community dominated by people of middling social and economic status—free to argue but committed to seeking a common good—it is not easy to build or sustain such orders. We also can rediscover their prescient counsel on the civic education needed to promote respectable virtues and to shun the vices of materialism, individualism, and sectarian fanaticism that can doom politics.
Paul Carrese is the founding Director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. For nearly two decades he was a professor of political science at the United States Air Force Academy. He is author of The Cloaking of Power: Montesquieu, Blackstone, and the Rise of Judicial Activism, and co-editor of three other books – on George Washington, constitutionalism, and American grand strategy. His most recent book is Democracy in Moderation: Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and Sustainable Liberalism. He has held fellowships at Harvard University; the University of Delhi (as a Fulbright fellow); and the James Madison Program, Politics Department, Princeton University.
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