Luther & Labor

By clearly differentiating the concept of spiritual faith from that of earthly works, and by making one’s faith a precondition of the goodness of one’s works, Luther deradicalized the medieval distinction between concepts of works and of toil.  Work, of either kind, belongs solely to the temporal realm.  It is a religious duty, a calling.  Good works are a function of true faith.  The faithful individual is motivated to participate in the Church, to work well and to do good in this world out of love for God and gratitude for His grace.  By so making the individual’s God-given faith the criterion of the goodness of work in a calling, Luther necessarily undermined the idea that the goodness of work derives from its contribution to a common good.  One is called by God, not by one’s society, and the believer knows that the goodness of her work derives from God, not from her self or her share in humanity.  Responsible only to her God and her self, it is up to the individual to order her own life and work rationally and methodically.  In this way, Protestantism entered decisively into a historical process of Western rationalization by introducing the absolute imperative of individual self-discipline. (67)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre

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No Solidarity Allowed

The ideology of civic aristocracy that legitimated this political transaction depoliticized the guilds.  Civic humanists theorized an anti-collectivist kind of republicanism, in which people could participate only as individuals and not as members or representatives of society’s functional parts.  To act as a worker producing material goods was to act for the private good of oneself, one’s family or one’s client, and not for the common good.  Any overtly sectional interest was condemned as a conspiracy against the harmonious public interest, an alleged source of corruption in the body politic.  To be civically virtuous was to refrain from acting with one’s fellows and to await instruction from one’s rulers.

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The modern state is supposedly separated from private capital and commerce so as to safeguard a public sphere from selfish interests.  Republicanism’s ideal described that public sphere in terms of citizenship and virtue, as though it could be constituted by one aspect of individuals and compartmentalized from another, ‘private’ and amoral aspect of those same individuals.  However, the story of the legitimation of the modern state involves the replacement of this republican ideology of civic virtue with a procedural norm of official impersonality.  Republicanism’s real legacy is the freeing of capital and commerce from any ethic of political accountability or social justice. (63)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre

Aquinas on Poverty, Virtue, and Politics

Aquinas regarded poverty as a political matter, arguing that human law should accord with natural law in trumping any right to private property with the rightness of life.

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For both Albertus and Aquinas, poverty is no bar to the attainment of a virtuous character.  As Dominicans, they denied the necessity of external goods for contemplation, even though, as Aristotelians, they recognized the instrumental value of such goods for temporal, prudential action.

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Human beings’ individual completion is deferred to another life, and their highest temporal good must therefore be reconceptualized.  Consequently, practical philosophy could be informed by an idea of the goodness of productive service.  Such service is good not only for its external beneficiaries but also in a way internal to the productive actor insofar as it is motivated by a good will and, also, insofar as it educates and habituates the actor into the virtues, especially that of charity.  So understood, the good of political order will be common to all of its mutually dependent members. (57-58)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre

Our Only Shared Morality

What is made true by this ideological success — as well as by ‘power and money’ — is not participative citizens collectively ruling themselves but subjects attributing ‘democracy’ to the state, accepting that they are morally obliged to obey its commands and, even, to participating in its electoral rituals.  Indeed, so successful has been contemporary liberalism that the idea of the good is now widely regarded as private and merely subjective whilst that of right has been detached from it and identified with the law enforced by the state, justice being equated with adherence to the state’s procedures.  Our only shared morality is that of acquiescent obedience to power, and what the powerful tells us to fear is any appeal to first principles or final ends.  A more insidiously demoralizing ideology of passivity and manipulation is hard to imagine. (176)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre