Professor Agnes Callard is admirable in her unwillingness to cancel Aristotle. In light of recent events, she might find his views are not so much prejudiced as they are realistic, and, on that note, timeless, unlike the egalitarian utopias which liberals are always chasing. The philosopher had a disposition toward the world around him which allowed him to see it in an exceptionally clear way.

On July 21st, The New York Times published a piece titled “Should We Cancel Aristotle?” by Agnes Callard, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. Dr. Callard’s article is a voice of reason from the liberal bloc of our society which is otherwise teeming with the most abject madness. In a surprising twist that rivals those of legendary filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, she answers her thesis in the negative and instead posits that, while the Philosopher’s views are illiberal, and therefore profoundly errant, we can still benefit from a rapprochement with his teachings. However, Dr. Callard is mistaken to assume that every reader is as good an egalitarian as she. In so doing, she neglects to explain why Aristotle is wrong regarding the natural inequality of men. Given current events, such an explanation is most certainly warranted, as this essay shall argue. Aristotle was right, and that is precisely why the mob wishes to cancel him as they did his intellectual forbearer Socrates twenty-four centuries ago.

First, it is necessary to define what is meant by “equality.” The mention of it by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence is emblematic of the confusion which engulfs the term. Liberals, like Dr. Callard, think that Jefferson discovered some unknown truth when he penned the Declaration, one that, while it could not then be fully lived out owing to the prejudices of men, could one day be brought to fruition via the restructuring of society by genderless technocrats into an egalitarian utopia. On the other hand, conservatives see the Declaration as an exceptionally good piece of political literature that primarily seeks the separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain in the late eighteenth century. As such, its mention of equality is merely a rhetorical device meant to emotionally appeal to the reader upon the grounds of shared humanity. It goes without saying that these are two radically different perspectives at complete loggerheads with each other. Nevertheless, both the liberal and conservative views on equality stem from the legacy left by Christianity upon our society.

The liberal view originates in the gospel’s eschatological promise of oneness in Christ which is foreshadowed in the eucharist. Having rejected Christ, the liberal refuses to abandon the Lord’s promise and is left attempting to bring about its fulfillment on earth, his attempt at utopia ending in dystopia. In the words of Walter M. Miller, Jr. from A Canticle for Lebowitz, “Children, too, of Eve, forever building Edens—and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same.”[1] The liberal inverts the promise of equality. Whereas the gospel promises a future of oneness in Christ as brothers and sisters for those who pursued the path of extraordinary virtue by living for Him, the liberal, having rejected Christ, seeks equality without extraordinary virtue. Dr. Callard even alludes to this in her article when she writes:

Yet I would defend Aristotle, and his place on philosophy syllabuses, by pointing to the benefits of engaging with him. He can help us identify the grounds of our own egalitarian commitments; and his ethical system may capture truths—for instance, about the importance of aiming for extraordinary excellence—that we have yet to incorporate into our own.[2]

In other words, “extraordinary excellence,” the very core of the gospel’s promise of equality, needs incorporated into the liberal system. It has not been up until now, as it has no natural place in it. This is a shockingly frank admission on the part of Dr. Callard. Given that she essentially admits her beliefs to consist of the gospel promise minus a key aspect, it meets St. John the Apostle’s criterion for antichrist.

The conservative view, on the other hand, is rooted in the medieval Christian understanding of original sin and Aristotle’s realism. In the words of Dr. Callard:

His [Aristotle’s] approach to ethics was empirical—that is, it was based on observation—and when he looked around him he saw a world of slavery and of the subjugation of women and manual laborers, a situation he then inscribed into his ethical theory.[3]

As a Greek writing centuries before the birth of Christ, Aristotle did not possess the promises of the Mosaic covenant, let alone those of the Messiah. Nor did he live long enough to succumb to the curse of the heretic, to receive the promises of Christ and reject the one who gave them, becoming an “antichrist.” Instead, he is remembered in our Faith as a worthy forerunner of the gospel, his work preparing the way for the Lord among the Gentiles as St. John the Baptist did among the children of Israel. Well might Christ say of Aristotle, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (Jn. 15:18 KJV).

What Aristotle did possess was a disposition toward the world around him which allowed him to see it in an exceptionally clear way. This led him to draw the conclusion that mediocrity is common, and virtue is extraordinary. Most people would prefer a life of comfort to a life of virtue because, while rationality is the distinguishing characteristic of mankind, it is akin to a skill which one must maintain lest it be lost or diminished. In his Nicomachean Ethics, he identifies the way to go about this, namely the development of good character via habit.[4] If one fails to practice his rationality in this way, a regress into an animalistic or even plant-like lifestyle is entirely possible. As Boethius, a later student of Aristotle’s work, notes:

whatever falls away from goodness ceases to be; whence it comes to pass that the bad cease to be what they were, while only the outward aspect is still left to show they have been men. Wherefore, by their perversion to badness, they have lost their true human nature. Further, since righteousness alone can raise men above the level of humanity, it must needs be that unrighteousness degrades below man’s level those whom it has cast out of man’s estate. It results, then, that those thou canst not consider human whom thou seest transformed by vice… So, it comes to pass that he who by forsaking righteousness ceases to be a man cannot pass into a Godlike condition, but actually turns into a brute beast.[5]

Nor is Aristotle’s belief in this regard lost upon Dr. Callard. In fact, she uses it as a prime example of the Greek’s bigotry when she writes:

Aristotle thought that the value or worth of a human being—his virtue—was something that he acquired in growing up. It follows that people who can’t (women, slaves) or simply don’t (manual laborers) acquire that virtue have no grounds for demanding equal respect or recognition with those who do.[6]

To give credit where credit is due, Dr. Callard is correct to say that Aristotle excluded women and slaves from reaching the full potential of humanity. However, several things ought to be made clear. First of all, Dr. Callard’s sentiment is a Christian one. Lacking the benefit of divine revelation, Aristotle recognized that, based upon the natural order of society which he observed, free men were really the only people in a position to develop virtue by habit and exercise fully the human potential for godlikeness. Now, from a Christian perspective, practically speaking, this is essentially impossible even for free men because of sin. Instead, supernatural aid is required, namely the Incarnation, in order for men to achieve their fullest potential. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s contribution is noteworthy in that he identified the way men ought to go; he merely lacked the supernatural means. As noted above, liberalism rejects Christ as the means and Aristotle’s way. Yet, it seeks the same object through coercion and mediocrity.

Ironically, the existence and popularity of liberalism in our society proves Aristotle’s thesis regarding the nature of men. “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov provides a splendid illustration in its presentient description of the totalitarianism engendered by liberalism. The setting is a Spanish prison of the late 15th century into which the eponymous Grand Inquisitor has just placed his newest heretic, Jesus Christ himself. In their ensuing conversation, it quickly becomes apparent that the Grand Inquisitor’s faith is nothing less than the liberal perversion of Christianity. He informs Christ that the Faith once delivered to all the saints, the path of extraordinary virtue, is too difficult for the average man. Instead, the average man seeks comfort through his faith, and this is precisely what the Grand Inquisitor intends to give him. The latter will strip the former of all the freedom he had to pursue the Good and leave him in comfortable chains.[7] The Grand Inquisitor is that rare creature, an honest liberal.

The horrors of our own times bear out Aristotle’s understanding of men and the Grand Inquisitor’s admission. In America of 2020, a country known up until now as “The Land of the Free,” the populace has shown itself to be decidedly slavish. They have accepted totalitarian social controls of dubious, practical effectiveness in an effort to combat a virus that is not a dire threat to the majority of the population. They would rather have their decisions made for them and be safe than make their own in freedom, risking life and limb for a much greater reward. Moreover, there are those in this dread year engaged in insurrection and outright advocating for a Marxist revolution for complete enactment of a totalitarian society based upon “wokeness.” These miscreants are attempting to bring about a future society of more comfort and safety than ever before seen through the grossest acts of violence against the innocent. Compare these men of our times with the words of Boethius, the logical consequence of Aristotle’s thought, when he writes, “The violent despoiler of other men’s goods, enflamed with covetousness, surely resembles a wolf… The passionate man, phrenzied with rage, we might believe to be animated with the soul of a lion. The coward and runaway, afraid where no fear is, may be likened to the timid deer. He who is sunk in ignorance and stupidity lives like a dull ass.”[8]

In conclusion, though slightly less honest than the Grand Inquisitor, Agnes Callard is admirable in her unwillingness to cancel Aristotle. Given this, she would be wise to read the old Greek with a more open mind than formerly. Especially in light of recent events, she might find his views are not so much prejudiced as they are realistic, and, on that note, timeless, unlike the wackadoodle utopias which liberals are always chasing. Ultimately, the hope would be that she finds them to be redemptive, as the realism of the Philosopher points to the realest of all, namely, our Savior Christ Jesus.

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Notes:

[1] Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Lebowitz (New York: HarperCollins, 1959), 244.

[2] Agnes Callard, “Should We Cancel Aristotle?New York Times, July 21, 2020 (accessed August 14, 2020).

[3] Callard, “Should We Cancel Aristotle?” (2020).

[4] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Rev. D. P. Chase (London: George Routledge, 1910), 47.

[5] Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. H. R. James (London: George Routledge, 1897), 72.

[6] Callard, “Should We Cancel Aristotle?” (2020).

[7] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (London: Everyman’s Library, 1990), 254.

[8] Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, 72.

The featured image is “Aristotle Bust at Old Library” by Sonse and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. It has been brightened slightly and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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