Natural slaves

In his Politics, Aristotle famously thought that some people were natural slaves.  These people are not capable of directing their own lives and households, so they need someone else to do it for them.  It’s very common among moderns to say that this was a regrettable lapse on Aristotle’s part, that his cultural conditioning overcame his usual lucidity, but we enlightened ones of the modern age, who don’t suffer from the effects of any cultural presuppositions, are able to see that every human being is equipped for freedom and has a right to its exercise.

As usual, the moderns have things exactly backwards.  Aristotle in believing in “natural slaves” was being his usual empirical, commonsensical self.  We all know people who seemingly can’t make responsible decisions, and their only hope of a decent life is that someone with a better head on their shoulders–a spouse, sibling, or friend–will be able to steer them in the right direction.  Most of us could name several such people just in our own extended families.  We don’t call them “natural slaves”; we call them nitwits.  On the other hand, it is we who are blinded by our cultural presuppositions–the dogmas of democratic ideology–from accepting the evidence before our eyes.  Perhaps the dogma is right and our senses deceive us, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s we rather than Aristotle who are being independent thinkers.

7 Responses

  1. “… we call them nitwits.”

    And some of us who care about our civilization, our culture, or at the very least, our people, sincerely wish the means to dissuaded them from reproducing.


  2. Aristotle added that not all those who were slaves by law were slaves by nature. He was discreet enough to leave it to the reflections of his readers whether the converse was not also true.

  3. However, I doubt that there is such a thing in the world as a natural slavemaster; that is, someone who will not be morally corrupted by owning slaves.

  4. Bonald, I think you on to something. Some of us are creating and submitting a comment to this thread. Any slave, even a natural slave, would never do that
    Therefore, we commenters are not any kind of slave; and it stands to reeson that there must be a huge number of actual slaves loose on interwebs — who are acting like slaves by not commenting.

  5. I doubt that actual slavery is necessary, but a judicious dose of paternalism might not be a bad idea.

  6. Perhaps, some thing on the lines of the Code Civil, Art 488 on the guardianship of adults – « Peut pareillement être protégé le majeur qui, par sa prodigalité, son intempérance ou son oisiveté, s’expose à tomber dans le besoin ou compromet l’exécution de ses obligations familiales. » [May be likewise protected an adult who, because of his prodigality, insobriety or idleness, is in danger of falling into want or compromises the fulfilment of his family obligations.]

  7. There is a somewhat common critique of libertarianism which goes “Libertarianism would be a good idea if everyone behaved as homo economicus, as a perfectly rational, forward-looking agent.” This objection actually applies to liberalism more generally.

    “What about stupid people,” or “you know, half of all people have below average IQs” is an interesting comment to throw into conversations with liberals. Other than snickering or nervous laughter, they don’t tend to have a ready response. They can’t just deny that dumb people exist, and they can’t really argue that freedom is best for them. They especially can’t argue that “Listen to your feelings, Luke” is good advice for them. To a non-trivial extent, modernity is about effecting a transfer from dumb people to smart people.

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