The Passover and Politics

Without doubt, the guilt of Egypt in oppressing the people of Israel was great. The Egyptians enslaved the people of Israel and even sought to wipe them out as a people. This oppression cried out for God’s judgment and redemption.

In this story, we have clear good guys and bad guys. Israel–the good guys. Egypt–the bad guys.

Only the Passover teaches us something different. When God announced the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn, He said that both the Israelites and the Egyptians were liable to judgment. Any house that did not have the blood of the lamb applied to it would be liable to the judgment of God.

The only way that Israel would avoid the plague was to apply the blood of the lamb. “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). This was the only way that Israel would avoid the plague.

This liability to judgment was so real that after Israel went into the wilderness, they had to “pay” for the redemption of their firstborn. The tribe of the Levites was dedicated to the Lord in the place of the firstborn of all Israel. When a count revealed that there were more firstborn than Levites, God did not say, “close enough.” The Israelites paid the difference.

We must remember that Israel was dealing with a political issue. It was an issue of power and oppression.

When we are dealing with political issues, nothing is easier than to divide the various sides into good guys and bad guys. This is not totally wrong. The oppressor has great guilt, and power can defend evil. When this is the case, it is our duty to stand up against oppression and evil. Continue reading “The Passover and Politics”

What Would Our Society Do with Peace and Prosperity?

If we had basic provision, leisure time, and peace, what would our society do with it? What should society do with it?

Most of our time and energy is consumed with making sure that we will have enough provision, food, clothes, housing, security, savings. This is true on an individual level, and this is true on a societal level. If we do not feel we have enough, we want to figure out how we can have enough. If we do have enough, we worry about threats that would keep us from having enough.

But what if we didn’t have to worry about that, either on a societal level or an individual level? What would we do with our lives? What is the purpose of human life beyond merely staying alive and well-fed?

That’s the question that Aristotle considers in his books on ethics and politics. He believed that the question of politics was a question of what form of state would allow the most people to realize the ideal form of life (Politics, 2.1). For, as he said, “a state exists for the sake of a good life, and not for the sake of life only . . .” (3.9). His answer was that the best form of government was one “in which every man, whoever he is, can act best and live happily” (7.2). So, politics should ask not only what is the way for people to have enough, to have mere life, but, how can they live well, how can they live the best life, and how can they live a happy life. Continue reading “What Would Our Society Do with Peace and Prosperity?”

Aristotle’s Politics: The Politics of the Golden Mean

Aristotle’s Nichomachaean Ethics is famous for its idea of the Golden Mean. Aristotle writes, “It is the nature of such things to be destroyed by defect and excess . . .” (2.2). Consequently, he argues that excellence is “a state concerned with a choice, lying in a mean relative to us” (2.6). It is important to note that not every characteristic could be understood this way. For example, “spite, shamelessness, envy” all are bad in themselves (ibid.). He also understood that it was not always easy to determine the mean. For example, in regards to giving and spending money, “to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right aim, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy . . .” (2.9). All that said, Aristotle believed that the Golden Mean was an important way to understand what an excellent or virtuous individual would look like.

After reading carefully through Aristotle’s Politics, his politics seem to me to be a politics of the Golden Mean. Aristotle quotes Phocylides: “Many things are best in the mean; I desire to be of a middle condition in my city” (4.11). The Golden Mean, according to Aristotle, could help us understand what the excellent or virtuous state would look like. In fact, this concept may be more useful in politics than in individual ethics. Here I will demonstrate this briefly from Aristotle’s Politics, applying it to a variety of political issues along the way.

The basic question Aristotle sets forth for himself in Politics is this: “Our purpose is to consider what form of political community is best of all for those who are most able to realize their ideal of life” (2.1). In other words, what is the best possible state?

Aristotle begins his discussion in the abstract. However, he recognizes that the ideal is not likely to be possible. So, he says, we ought to

inquire what is the best constitution for most states, and the best life for most men, neither assuming a standard of excellence which is above ordinary persons, nor an education which is exceptionally favoured by nature and circumstances, nor yet an ideal state which is an aspiration only, but having regard to the life in which the majority are able to share, and to the form of government which states in general can attain (4.11).

Aristotle wants us to consider what is really going to work best for most people. This is important to ask because “political writers, although they have excellent ideas, are often unpractical” (4.1). Continue reading “Aristotle’s Politics: The Politics of the Golden Mean”