AVRAMENKO, Richard and Ethan Alexander, editors. Aristocratic Souls in Democratic Times.
Modern thinking has modeled itself either on Aristotle's mixed regime or on a version of his democratic regime. The aristocratic regime, whose institutional form was a senate of the wise and experienced, was designed to keep in existence and to foster traditions and values that were not of primary interest to everyone but which were essential elements of mankind's worth. This book is not concerned with oligarchy, the deviant form of the governance of the few, usually the few rich. Rather, Avramenko and Davey's new book concentrates on genuine virtue, the kind that manifests itself in statesmanship, art, philosophy, and revelation. It is concerned with the classical forms of truth, goodness, with all those things that beautify and ennoble human life but require talent and time to achieve their objects in any reasonable measure. Edmund Burke's tradition of the value of the small platoon arose out of this spirit.
Aristocracy has often been seen as elitism while its opponents have been seen to manifest an envy that was dangerous to any society. This book seeks to repropose the thinking on political life by following classical and modern advocates of aristocracy. Thus, we have chapters on Tacitus, the eighteenth-century French nobility, Louis de Bonald, Konstantin Leontiev, Ortega y Gasset, Hobbes, Burke, Nietzsche, the Eighth Duke of Northumberland, and Richard Weaver. Ethan Alexander-Davies in his introductory chapter of this book presents a brief summary of each of the authors treated. He writes that "Aristotle has the most to say about the cultural leadership of the gentleman." It is about the abiding need of such leadership that this book seeks to examine.
The aristocrat was concerned primarily with honor, not wealth or pleasure. His relation to the philosopher and the prophet presents another aspect of the aristocratic life, a topic familiar to readers of Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin. Aristotle's theory of revolution, moreover, had to do with the failure to recognize the worth of honor in civil society. Jay Langdale, speaking of Richard Weaver's notion of aristocracy in the American South, wrote: "This elite class was limited both in numbers and in area, but this, Weaver notes, is the very nature of genuine aristocracy. An aristocracy is an aristocracy when it earns respect, no matter how small the number.... The Southern ideal of education was therefore not adapted to the masses, but rather aimed to orient the gentleman planter towards virtue and honor." Honor meant to acknowledge what was genuinely due to deeds and words that were noble.
A central issue that this book presents, one going back to the relation of modernity to the classics, is whether we can have an aristocracy without having something to be aristocratic about. Aristocracy, even more than polity and monarchy, depends on the existence and acknowledgement of an objective order to which human beings are subject. Thus in Jeffrey Church's chapter on Nietzsche, we read: "What is interesting about Nietzsche's view is that it forms community around a motivation that drives most human beings, namely, the longing to lead an excellent human life. It forms community not on the basis of abstract forms and commandments, but on the basis of concrete personalities and works of literature and art." These personalities may belong to a specific nation, but they stand for something more universal. If we deprive ourselves of abstract forms and commandments, it is difficult to see what limits the strong personalities might have. The classical aristocrat began by recognizing that the true and good were not of his own making.
All through this book, we encounter the effort to defend a more local, personal presence before a massive bureaucratic state. We read: "Randolph's [John Randolph of Virginia] perceptive observation that one cannot separate property from power, one can only transfer it has proved prophetic.... Randolph understood better than his contemporaries that freedom and limited government are a bulwark against innovation."
Writing of Le Bonald, Jerry Salyer observes: "It is worth remembering that real political activity is ultimately local and personal and as such it involves local and personal choices." This book leaves us with a realization that a case for aristocracy does exist in our times.--James V. Schall, S.J., Georgetown University
* Books received are acknowledged in this section by a brief resume, report, or criticism. Such acknowledgement does not preclude a more detailed examination in a subsequent Critical Study. From time to time, technical books dealing with such fields as mathematics, physics, anthropology, and the social sciences will be reviewed in this section, if it is thought that they might be of special interest to philosophers.
The Review of Metaphysics 72 (December 2018): 371-407. Copyright [C] 2018 by The Review of Metaphysics.
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|Author:||Schall, James V.|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2018|
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