Yesterday, in the midst of doing research on other things, I ran across the following sentence:

…in most constitutional states the citizens rule and are ruled by turns, for the idea of a constitutional state implies that the natures of the citizens are equal, and do not differ at all.

Now what modern, liberal, Jacobinical Jaffaite would say such a thing?

Oh—wait—Aristotle said that in Book One Chapter XII of the Politics.

Of course, this leaves open many questions (Who is a citizen?; How, exactly, are their natures equal?; etc.) but the fact that Aristotle discusses such things is largely neglected by many conservatives, classicists, and traditionalists who like to dismiss any talk of equality among human beings as a despicable product of the “Enlightenment” and/or the French revolution. The conservative movement is unfortunately infected with many of the same cartoonish philosophical and historical-progressive notions as the modern academy. ~Matthew Peterson

Wow. Just when I thought my opinion of Mr. Peterson couldn’t get much worse, he comes up with this. Not that I would want to make snide remarks about anyone’s lack of education or the “cartoonish” notions they share with “the modern academy,” since these do not pertain to the subject at hand, but does Mr. Peterson really think he has made a telling point here? Which conservatives have been ignoring Aristotle’s Politics? Traditional conservative intellectuals have wrestled with classical and Christian accounts of equality for decades, all the while sharing a common conviction that the egalitarianism of 1789 was and remains both false and dangerous.

Even the slightest acquaintance with the Politics would tell a reader that the excerpt Mr. Peterson has cited here defines a constitutional regime by the equal nature of its citizens to distinguish that kind of regime from regimes governed by men of inferior, slavish natures (e.g., a barbarian tyranny) or from polities that possess both naturally free and slavish men. In other words, only men who are naturally equal to each other will be fellow citizens in a constitutional regime–this does not tell us anything about other, very different claims to universal equality. Aristotle grants that some men are equal to others, as he does in that excerpt, just as he affirms that all men are not equal.

Correction: While there are these distinctions in Aristotle, I should have been more careful to note that in this particular section Aristotle is distinguishing between a constitutional regime and a household. He sets the political equality of fellow citizens in a constitutional regime against the inequality of man and woman in the household as part of his discussion of the different types of rule in the household and the polity. As usual, context matters and, as usual, someone from Claremont has ignored the context of a statement to make a weak argument.

Further, Aristotle has also said:

Justice is equality, but only for equals; and justice is inequality, but only for those who are unequal.

Aristotle derived these conclusions from experience and observation; he inquired into how things really were in myriad particular examples, and then drew general conclusions from what he had discovered. This is, more or less, what scientists and historians still seek to do today. Real inquiry does not have the answers already sorted out before it begins. There is always the risk that we will draw the wrong conclusions, but at the very least they will have some basis in evidence against which we can test our assumptions and check our claims. Inventing fictions out of whole cloth (or parroting such fictions as others have told you) allows for no such rigour.

No one, so far as I know, still credits the idea that some men are naturally born fit only to be slaves, that slavishness is inherent in their nature, but even when we do not accept this it is still a far cry from embracing the even more empirically-challenged claim that “all men are created equal.” In that phrase, the Declaration was rehearsing a fairly new claim that all men are politically equal and possess (or ought to possess by right) an equal share in government. We are all equally creatures of God, all possess the image and likeness of God, and all share the same nature, but that does not make all men political equals nor does it even guarantee that political equality is a desirable goal.

As witness for the defense of modern egalitarianism, Mr. Peterson has called upon Aristotle, one of the principal philosophical exponents of natural inequality! Aristotle would be one of the many to whom the proposition that “all men are created equal,” which Mr. Peterson enjoys reciting, is not only not self-evident but plainly false. Of course, Aristotle may be wrong, but to show this would require something like a serious argument, rather than declaring one’s own position to be self-evident and casting aspersions on the rationality and education of one’s opponents.