Lord Alton – Aristotle/MacIntyre/G.K.Chesterton


Taken from Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty in the Globalised World
Rome, 2012
Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool KCSG

In 350 BC, writing in the Politics, Aristotle emphasised the duty of every citizen to be a participator in the common life. He claimed that by nature every human being is a political animal and none should be like “Solitary pieces in a game of chequers.”

Rather than falling prey to a false dichotomy between the local and universal – a mistake so often the catalyst for political conflict, Aristotle’s value of interdependence should here be writ large and sought on a global scale. The “local” needs the “universal” and vice versa. Without the universal, the local may lose sight of the obligations to its fellow man, and runs the risk of relativising its moral system to its own locality and exclusive interests. Equally, the “universal” needs the “local”, without which its ontology is sterile and without appropriate practical application.

In Dependent Rational Animals (1999), MacIntyre asserts that human vulnerability and disability are the central features of human life, and that Thomistic virtues of dependency are prerequisite if individual humans and their communities are to flourish as they pass from immaturity to maturity. MacIntyre says: “It is most often to others that we owe our survival, let alone our flourishing … It will be a central thesis of this book that the virtues that we need, if we are to develop from our animal condition into that of independent rational agents, and the virtues that we need, if we are to confront and respond to vulnerability and disability both in ourselves and in others, belong to one and the same set of virtues, the distinctive virtues of dependent rational animals
(Alasdair MacIntyre Dependent Rational Animals, Why Human Beings Needs the Virtues, Duckworth, 1999 pg. 5)

Rather, a new and occasionally terrifying moral hierarchy is being promoted which sees its task to aggressively secularise and homogenise, and all under the guise of tolerance. G.K.Chesterton amusingly quipped that
“Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.”
but beyond the humour is a serious warning about the danger of pitting the admirable quality of tolerance against the repudiation of Truth.
This, I believe, is what the Holy Father is getting at when he speaks of the dictatorship of relativism.

This is the real fault-line separating Globalisation as a force for good or evil. It is a fight between absolutists. The task of local and international politics is to ascertain whether the absolute values that are being promoted are harmonious with the Common Good of all mankind. We see the gospel as public truth and that it commands our commitment, superseding all other commitments.

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