October 2010 - Aristotle for Our Times

In many of his writings, Aristotle lucidly explains that man is a rational and social animal. The animal side of our nature is so obviously – and strongly! – present in our lives that there is no need to linger on it. The facts speak by themselves and that’s enough for our purpose.

Dear friends and benefactors,

In many of his writings, Aristotle lucidly explains that man is a rational and social animal. The animal side of our nature is so obviously – and strongly! – present in our lives that there is no need to linger on it. The facts speak by themselves and that’s enough for our purpose.

On the other hand, it is difficult to assert that man is a reasonable being without causing an understandable skepticism. It is sufficient to look around to be confronted with the miserable spectacle of an ever-present sensuality shamelessly parading itself. A poet, referring to this state of decadence, said: “Even if not all died of it, all were thus wounded”. In such a state, can we still talk of man as a reasonable being? The abysmal insufficiency of public education, the loutish mediocrity of modern entertainments, the state of consciences sterilized by the constant seeking of animal pleasures… all this could stupefy us and lead us to resign ourselves and surrender our combat. On the contrary, all this imposes on us the more pressing duty to reaffirm, against all evidence, the strength of the intellect to break free from the tyranny of an ever-dominant vulgarity.

Saturated with material goods and satisfying without reserve his lowest passions – but nonetheless still unsatisfied – modern man toils under the burden of his malaise in search of a happiness that unfailingly escapes him. And this with good reason! We offer for your meditation a simple phrase of Rev. Fr. de Chivré, which expresses with rare exactness the opposition between happiness and the pursuit of pleasures: “The multiplication of pleasures is a subtraction of happiness”.

Indeed, the happiness for which man has been created cannot be reduced to an unbridled race towards pleasure – which is a powerful and normal means of attracting man, as we willingly acknowledge – making of it the end of all human activity. This deadly confusion between means and end shows that man must use his intelligence to distinguish between the end and the means, and that only his reason has the power to maintain him, far above the seductions of pleasure, in an enriching quest for happiness. The animality of a human being is completely different than that of simple beasts. The animal enjoys the pleasure of the moment, while man, by subjecting his animality to his reason, must learn to elevate himself above what is only material to attain what is immaterial, spiritual, in which his true happiness resides. Man cannot engage himself in this very demanding quest unless he is a reasonable being, that is, unless he knows the end for which he is upon this earth and unless he fights, with perseverance and intelligence, to keep his honor and his happiness far above the vulgar pleasures that unceasingly appeal to him. Man is undoubtedly a rational being, and the wandering of our contemporaries – who remain unsatisfied in spite of so many pleasures – shows it clearly.

You may say: “We already know that man is rational. It is enough to see the scientific developments of our times! But, what about his social nature? Our society, issued from the Revolution, is no more than an illusion, an appearance, in which man associates with his neighbor only out of his own individualistic interest. Then, how can you still pretend that man is a social animal?”

Marcel de Corte, an exceptional metaphysician renowned for his studies on Aristotle, has reflected profoundly on the drama of our times and proposed some ways out of the present state of affairs. He created a word to refer to this absence of social reality – “dissociety”. This neologism accurately describes our post-revolutionary society, reduced to its most rudimentary aspect, its material organization.

However, in spite of his outrageous individualism, modern man cannot, in concrete, disavow his nature and is thus constrained to live with his neighbors. Man continues living in society. But within it, he establishes only basely utilitarian ties with others, living his own life as if it were simply juxtaposed to the lives of others – and thus, he distends and divides the essential and inherent fabric of every society. Thus, the neologism “dissociety” describes well the existence of a society that survives in its material aspect, but lacks a profound reality, the “soul” or the formal principle that constitutes a society as such. Modern society only allows man to struggle along.

By reason of his nature, man cannot do completely without life in society. Even if this life exists only materially, it is indispensable for man’s survival. Man can live alone only exceptionally – either because he lives only for God, after a long quest that has led him to dispossess himself of everything, even of himself, or because he is isolated in himself, becoming a monster of pride that scarcely resembles a human being, who is, by essence, a dependent and social animal.

The Revolution has created a new society, whose creed is free trade and in which man is tied to his neighbor only by the purely material rules of profit. And this simple fact, by its mere existence, is the homage that vice renders to virtue, unwillingly acknowledging that life associated with others is indispensable for the existence of man.

Nevertheless, it would be unrealistic to proclaim that our consumerist society represents the summit of social life when, in fact, it decomposes society from within, preserving only its skeleton. In a forthcoming letter we will return to this serious question. For the time being, it is enough to have quickly and briefly defended the definition of man given by Aristotle, in spite of the terrible reality of modern man, who has become an extreme individualist.

In Christo sacerdote et Maria,

Fr. Yves le Roux