Monday, February 28, 2011

Aristotle: "All things in common", Dynamic laws, Elders and Revolts.

Book II of Politics is full of interesting stuff:

"And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, 'Friends,' as the proverb says, 'will have all things common.' Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further." - Politics, book II.

This compares to the passage in Acts regarding the beginning of the church in Jerusalem:

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." - Acts 2:44-45

What I have learned is that "everything in common" was some sort of well worn cliché by the time Luke used it in Acts. Should it be taken literally? Aristotle gives great consideration to the concept along with communism in this section:

"If they do not share equally enjoyments and toils, those who labor much and get little will necessarily complain of those who labor little and receive or consume much."

A great deal of misery and confusion could have been avoided if classical philosophy were properly taught.

Regarding laws:

"Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered. As in other sciences, so in politics, it is impossible that all things should be precisely set down in writing; for enactments must be universal, but actions are concerned with particulars. Hence we infer that sometimes and in certain cases laws may be changed; but when we look at the matter from another point of view, great caution would seem to be required. For the habit of lightly changing the laws is an evil,..."

I doubt that he would find much to praise in our system of both laying out laws to the point that they exceed the entire literary stock of classical Greece, yet latching onto the smallest detail to completely overthrow the intent of the law.


A great deal of ink has been spilled in the Christian church regarding Christian elders. The verse below is one that Christians often come across:

"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." - Titus 1:5

and something to tweak the curiosity:

"The elders, too, answer to the elders in Crete, who are termed by the Cretans the council." - Politics, Book II.

Aristotle has a lengthy discourse on eldership, comparing and contrasting the various states and outlining the good, the bad, and the ugly of this office. As for the Cretans, he has very little good to say about their elders:

"The same criticism may be made about the Cretan, which has been already made about the Lacedaemonian elders. Their irresponsibility and life tenure is too great a privilege, and their arbitrary power of acting upon their own judgment, and dispensing with written law, is dangerous."

At the same time, there seems to be a great deal of wisdom in this passage on how to avoid the ills of eldership that have afflicted some modern independent groups who decided to reinvent the concept of elder, working from the Bible directly, but divorced from any other context. Finally, Aristotle states his opinion on the correct manner of choosing an elder as he slaps down the Spartans:

"Further, the mode in which the Spartans elect their elders is childish; and it is improper that the person to be elected should canvass for the office; the worthiest should be appointed, whether he chooses or not."

Note that Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders, not oversee an election.


"One would have thought that it was even more necessary to limit population than property; and that the limit should be fixed by calculating the chances of mortality in the children, and of sterility in married persons. The neglect of this subject, which in existing states is so common, is a never-failing cause of poverty among the citizens; and poverty is the parent of revolution and crime." - Politics, Book II.

Something to ponder as we consider current events. The popular meta-narrative regarding the middle east revolts is that they are over a lack of democracy. They are also afflicted with a rapidly increasing population and stumbling economies. Then there is this last tidbit:

"And, besides the violation of the law, it is a bad thing that many from being rich should become poor; for men of ruined fortunes are sure to stir up revolutions."


Delirious said...

I could write a whole page of comment about the issue of "law in common". We believe that a true "Zion society" is one wherein the people have everything "in common". We believe that when the Savior returns to reign on the earth, this will be the kind of society over which He will rule. The Book of Mormon records some stories about this topic, and some in modern day tried to live this kind of life under what was called "The United Order". But the whole key to living this kind of life is that those living it must be Christlike, and can't have selfishness or greed if it is to work.

On the subject of "Elders", our male missionaries are ordained to the office of "Elder", and go by that title while serving their 2 year mission. Female missionaries just go by the title "Sister".

And aren't you proud of me that I wrote this entire comment without any dangling participle? lol

Looney said...

I also believe that having everything in common is something more for a future kingdom with Christ ruling. Human nature precludes this from working otherwise.

The first time I noticed the "elder" tags on an LDS missionary left me quite surprised. As I consider this office in various contexts, whether the old testament, the classical literature, or the new testament, I understand it to be one of a senior man in the community who is exercising a role as a leader/teacher due to long experience and acknowledged virtue. For example, from Titus 1:6, "... a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient" places some constraints on the minimum age for an elder!

As for dangling participles, I am not so sophisticated that I would notice them!