Aristotle, Rhetoric, and Freedom

I’ve been arguing for some time through this blog that we cannot be free people if we don’t master the arts of freedom, which were known historically as the liberal arts (not the modern evasion often called “general studies”). To Aristotle, freedom depended on people’s ability to communicate freely and effectively. So he wrote a handbook on rhetoric, which begins like this:

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others.

The other day I quoted Adler to the effect that everybody is a citizen and a philosopher. I would add that to the extent we deny these roles, we are slaves.

If we do not participate in the governance of ourselves, our families, and our communities, we cannot be free people.

If we do not learn to think with our own minds, making decisions based on sound principles and seeking truth because it is good, we belong to the people who do this thinking for us.

Aristotle underscores this truth by emphasizing that rhetoric (our civic faculty) and dialectic (our philosophical faculty) are universal arts. We are all responsible for our use of them. If we neglect them, we are not free people and frankly don’t deserve to be free people.

It follows that a great way to eliminate freedom is to involve people so deeply in their work, school, or voluntary associations (that just triggered a really disturbing page I read in a book about Bolshevism – I’ll try to find and post it tomorrow) that they have no time to participate in government or philosophy.

If you love freedom, please devote yourself to the study of Greek so you can remind us about what we’ve lost. Odysseus poked out my eye and I’m afraid I’ve gone from no perspective all the way to blind.

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