“All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal.” — Aristotle
“It’s a very different system and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader.” — Donald Trump on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 82% approval rating.
“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato,” said the twentieth century philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead. To which I suggest that Whitehead’s assertion could be largely accepted if we substitute, as far as I am personally concerned, the word Greek to that of Plato.
If we think of people such as Descartes, Spinoza, Saint Tomas, down to Hegel, Nietzsche, Locke, Croce, Hume, Kant, Sartre, Heidegger, the customary list of philosophers that crowds each traditional high school handbook — traditionally forgotten as high school ends — that list seems to defeat Whitehead’s assertion. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Whitehead the mathematician, or Bertrand Russell, with whom he shared the writing of Principia Mathematica, has a personal opinion of philosophy, that applies only to Greek philosophers, which I personal fully share and extend to Vedic philosophers, as the only ones that really tried, and succeeded, to shape the human world with the powerful creativity thought.
The human world seems to have been primarily been shaped by Caesars, Alexanders, Napoleons, Washingtons, by merchants, bankers, scientists, messiahs, that all expressed the power of army, commerce, money, science, and of course religion. But at least in two locations such as Greece and India (and for two specific brackets of time) that are largely coincident in both places for some centuries around the Fifth Century Before the Common Era, the task of shaping the human world was taken by thinkers.
Those thinkers not only molded their contemporary human world, but determined a lasting imprint on the human species, which is still on-going, because it is safe to assert that even though they did it in different directions, those Greek and Indian “Philosophers” really manufactured a human world that is still the one in which we live.
As Buddha correctly says that man is what he thinks, there is no doubt that as far as thought is concerned we are still in what Greek and Indian philosophers were able to produce in the realm of thinking. As far as the western world is concerned, other thinkers haven’t changed the human world, they just added some footnotes. As a logical consequence of this, in Athens, as well as in Varanasi, a peculiar man was born that shaped society: in Greece, the Athens Man, in India the Varanasi Man, both of who are still alive.
Of course the “Man” born in Athens is quite different from “Man” born in Varanasi, but even if this is not the proper place to discuss distinctions between them, for the sake of what we want to argue here, we must say that by and large Greek Philosophers worked in a way that the Athenians’ Man could conquer the world by gaining knowledge of the Laws of Nature, while Indian Philosophers worked in a way that the Varanasi’s Man could conquer God, gaining knowledge of Laws of Mind.
In this respect a good book — of which unfortunately I don’t remember the title — started with an excellent statement: “India has a population intoxicated by God,” to which one could confront that by saying that “Occident has a population intoxicated by science”. And that last intoxication could be much more dangerous as we can clearly derive from the fact that thanks to the West’s scientific progress human mankind is now constantly in danger of survival, which hardly could be considered a greatest achievement of mind.
With all of that introduced, it could sound a bit surprising the fact that some comments on Donald Trump’s presidency are introduced with a reference to Greek Philosophers — more such as the title of these planned seven articles refer to a confrontation with such a past personality as Aristotle (who by the way Trump might usefully remember that he educated Alexander), but it may very well be that Trump’s highest challenge is to properly manage the final step of an evolutionary progress that could detach the modern world from some of the Greek philosophy inheritance which has lasted 25 centuries.
Why? As Trump’s administration takes power on Jan 20, it looks as if the fight over his policies that actually started during the election campaign will possibly increase rather then shrink. As such, this fight will extend from the economy where he will promote the social attitudes that he will adopt, with such a powerful critical stamina in the contenders that it will be difficult to really understand what were the “polemos” — which along with Heraclitus is “the father of all human actions, and is the one that distinguishes free me from slaves” — is a constructive opposition or just a remainder of the electoral competition, which will last until the next elections.
But, to clarify the proper confrontation of Trump vs Aristotle, let’s forget for a moment those fields of competition, and let’s go back to what we call “The Man from Athens”. However as seen, even for his spectacular passing from Rome, Paris, Salamanca, London, and Bonn before attaining New York, we could say that the Man changed of course his form of dressing, spoke another language, but essentially remained as he was conceived in Athens.
And this is exactly the main point: it is now, that for the first time in centuries, that he can radically change, and become the Man of L.A., as a result of two extraordinary new events: the new role of entertainment in man’s life, and the powerful competitor of “corporations” as a new individual. These are the key dramatic changes that could make obsolete after 25 centuries the Man of Athens.
But before examining the radical changes introduced by such events, a question could be properly asked: Why should we take as a reference Athens for the birth of man?
There is nothing that can express better that reference then the Pericles speech officially of 431 Before Common Era.
“… Our form of Government does not imitate the laws of neighboring states. On the contrary, we are rather a model to others. Our form of government is called a democracy because its administration is in the hands, not of a few, but of the whole people. In the settling of private disputes, everyone is equal before the law. Election to public office is made on the basis of ability, not on the basis of membership to a particular class. No man is kept out of public office by the obscurity of his social standing because of his poverty, as long as he wishes to be of service to the state. And not only in our public life are we free and open, but a sense of freedom regulates our day-to-day life with each other. We do not flare up in anger at our neighbor if he does what he likes. And we do not show the kind of silent disapproval that causes pain in others, even though it is not a direct accusation. In our private affairs, then, we are tolerant and avoid giving offense. But in public affairs, we take great care not to break law because of the deep respect we have for them. We give obedience to the men who hold public office from year to year. And we pay special regard to those laws that are for the protection of the oppressed and to all the unwritten laws that we know bring disgrace upon the transgressor when they are broken.”
If we move to another key speech of last century the continuity of that vision is more then evident. John F. Kennedy on June 11, 1963 delivered on TV one of his finest discourses in which the connection to the Man of Athens is totally clear.
“Good evening my fellow citizens, this afternoon the presence of Alabama National Guardsman was required on the University of Alabama to carry out final and unequivocal order .. for the admission of two clearly qualified students who happened to be born Negros that they be admitted peacefully to the campus… I hope that every American, regardless from were he lives will stop and examine his conscience… This nation was founded by men of many nations.. it was founded on principle that all men are created equal and the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man is threatened.. it ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive service in places of public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and retails. .. and it has to be possible for citizens of any color to register and vote in a free election.. this is not the case for Negros.. discrimination exists in every state, every city of the union….. Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise.. we face a moral crisis ..our task, our obligation is to make that revolution .. next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to make a commitment that race has no place in American life or law.”
Here despite XXIV centuries we can recognize the common roots, of the man from Athens to that of New York (occasionally born in Boston).
But if that is the sign of continuity, it is also from the same Pericles’s speech that we get the sign of Trump’s radical departure. Pericles says, “Let me add another point. We have had the good sense to provide for our spirits more opportunities for relaxation from hard work than other people. Throughout the year, there are dramatic and athletic contests and religious festivals.”
That entertainment, that was enunciated as a complementary part of the Athens Man, has started playing a total different role in Man’s life.
With the radio, TV, movie the role of entertainment has become a sort of dictator. It establishes values, sets emotions, defines alliances. Entertainment has become the driving force of mankind, and has immensely enhanced the importance of the birth of the “Corporate Individual”. Let us notice first that in principle there is no reason why Corporations should be recognized the same rights that have biological men. But day after day, law after law, judicial decision after judicial decision corporations have become the most powerful competitors to the biological individuals — to the point that now they can even openly finance a Presidential campaign. And given the disproportion of financial tools available to a common citizen compared to a powerful corporation, obviously in political elections now they have the final say. As a consequence the “polis” of Pericles are due to disappear, substituted by a “corporation state”.
The role of Entertainment and of the Corporations are the factors behind the change of the Athens Man into the L.A. Man.
Trump of course, is not the initiator of the process, but there are important signs that a process of a radical change that started basically in the 1950s will come to a sort of conclusion with his administration. Is this good or bad? Is this an improvement of a worsening? Is the coming of the Man from L.A. inevitable, or we can try to go back to that of Athens?
One thing is sure: we cannot discharge the innovation on the basis of past remembrance as we cannot approve it merely on basis of newness. We better make a rapid check on key pillars in course of change obviously not with the pretentious objective of exhausting the matter. As such, we will try to explore Trump’s behavior in relation to some of Aristotle’s fundamental books:
With this rapid journey in form of articles that we’ll provide every week, always viewed through the lens of the two radical changing factors, the role of Entertainment and the birth of the Corporation, we hope to possibly offer a better view of the radical departure of Trump’s vision of man, from Aristotle’s concepts. It is hoped this will make us gain a better perspective of Trump’s role in the future. And we can close with one more statement taken from Pericles’s speech defining the Man from Athens.
“In short, I assert that the city of Athens, taken all together, is a model for all Greece, and that each Athenian, as far as I can see, is more self-reliant as an individual and behaves with exceptional versatility and grace in the more varied forms of activity”.
Trump can very easily say that the USA is going to be a model, not only for Americans, but for all citizens in the world.
Next: Trump vs. Aristotle: Politics