Rothbard on Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean Applied to Politics

I was browsing through some old Rothbard articles on LRC, and I came across an old quote that I had been meaning to discuss for a while.  It comes from “The Heresy of Prudence”:

As Mr. Meyer has himself pointed out, the Aristotelian “golden mean” bears no relation to the attempt by hawkers for “moderation” or “prudence” to weaken high principle. Aristotle’s virtues properly apply to cases where more or less of a certain act changes its qualitative merits. Thus, “too little” food and “too much” food are both bad for the individual. But politics is an entirely different matter. For here we are dealing with acts that remain qualitatively identical regardless of number: e.g., the murder of 10 people is the same type of act as the murder of 100. In neither case do we abandon principle. In one, we uphold the rational principle of “optimum food”; in the other, the rational principle of “abstaining from murder.”

I think that, contra Rothbard, the doctrine of the mean can apply to this situation.  Using the Rothbardian defintion of politics, the proper use of force, there can be a deficiency of force: pacifism, by which I mean the lack of any use of force against people or property, even when one is being aggressed agaisnt.  The golden mean would then be self-defense, the use of force in response to aggression (this isn’t to say that abstaining from using force in self-defense is necessarily wrong; it depends on the context).

Of course, Rothbard’s formulation is correct as far as it goes; aggression is bad/wrong, and non-aggression is good/right.  But I think this dialectical reformulation is better for a non-axiomatic conception of the NAP; instead of being a dualism seperated from the rest of ethics, the proper use of force is better reconciled with the other virtues.

~ by wombatron on 07/27/2009.

One Response to “Rothbard on Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean Applied to Politics”

  1. In Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Ch 6, Aristotle states: “But not every action nor every passion admits of a mean; for some have names that already imply badness, e.g. spite, shamelessness, envy, and in the case of actions adultery, theft, murder…”

    The link to the translation is HERE

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