Aristotle and the Christmas Dinner

I am glad that I can inform you about the publication of the proceedings of the

2011 ICA Global Research Conference

edited by

Johanna Heiskanen, Pekka Hytinkoski, Tapani Köppä and Hagen Henrÿ.

The proceedings are now electronically and also as hardcopy available.

The contributions – with their various orientations – show one of the fundamental tensions of what is called “social policy” – and the volume shows especially the problematique of a solely value-based approach, treating economy as a distinct area rather than seeing economic processes as fundamentally social.

Of course, first and foremost values play a role in social policy – and this is not about a peripheral role but they stand very much at the centre. Moreover, actually social policy and economic policy can be seen as two elements (i.e. elementary forms) of the social and societal living together. But this perspective means at the very same time that it is a major shortcoming of  simply transferring Aristotelean thinking into modern societies. Even at his time, Aristotle’s thinking had been obviously hugely burdened by an inherent trap: Talking about a strictly closed economy (as it will be well known, Aristotle had been as much ‘economist’ as he had been philosopher, and as such he had been talking abut the economy of a household) allowed him to base his entire social understanding on two perspectives:

  • the management of closed systems which had been more or less autarkic (the oikos)
  • the good-doing, based on moral standards of the rich – and now doubts: as sure as it is that a well treated slave is in a much better position than a slave that is condemned to suffer from maltreatment as sure is, that both are slaves.

Initially I felt tempted to write

condemned to suffer from injustices

but than I had been getting well aware of the fact that this term is extremely limited in expressing something meaningful. Exactly at this point it is getting obvious that such understanding is essentially limited, has only little real meaning.

Imagine today: People in academic positions (and actually in nominally high positions) being paid an annual income of about 15,000.00 Euro, people doing “good jobs” being left in the loop of insecure contracts, “possibly” prolonged, the conditionality not so much the availability of money but the good-will of an Aristotelian head of an institution that is trapped in managerialist assessment, self- censured, loosing the ability to think by way of opening boxes …, like a wounded fox in the grip of the strangulating clutch.

Today academic departments are frequently called schools – and even to imagine that such Aristotelean-idealist approach to society, (surely involuntarily, unwanted) levelling the way for a new slavery, makes school-making of this kind a horrifying path. Such schools being a disgrace, well going hand in hand with those political stances for which it claims offering redress. I discussed several of related issues already in the three volumes.

As said, values play a role – but we have to localise them in a concise way. And Aristotle as reference can surely be meaningfully rethought. Though we do not agree with each other, I appreciate Amartya Sen’s position as surely considerable contribution to such a debate. What he actually does – in my reading – is exactly this: aiming on rethinking issues in such a way that allows working on a “new economy”. Going further in this argument, we may also say (alluding to Polanyi’s Great Transformation): he tries to think a market economy (his Smithian reference) without a market society (his humanitarian ambition). It is surely a huge difference between such a position and the position of Fred Powell – who may just stand as one of many examples of today’s limited approaches towards social policy: striving with reference to Aristotelean thinking for a smart society, thus allowing the continuation of a devastating capitalist society and shaking the head over the prevailing neoliberalism – precarity.

But sure, we have to be good to the slaves: the slaves of the old regimes and those living and working in precarity today. What had been “animalisation” and complete “objectification” of the slaves in ancient, is today the privatisation and charitybilisation – and it does not make much of a difference if it comes along under the papal gown of catholicism (or any other religious colour ) or the gown of leftist academics that hide the lack of readiness to engage with analytical complexities.

– Well, you may say an annual Christmas dinner may give all of us the feeling of being just a citizen of a smart society, all being good to each other, preparing for celebrating the feast of peace (leaving those pieces of society outside who cannot pay for joining the gathering of joy).

Coming back than to the proceedings, in all their variety that provide surely valuable thinking, issues for further debate and contestation – not streamlined for BBC-broadcasts, not worth being quoted by a president, but surely valuable for research that wants to go beyond tagging of the current crisis (e.g. neoliberslism, austerity …) and surely valuable in looking at possible perspectives.