How to Slice Bread

How to Slice Bread

Aristotle teaches us what is wrong with Progressivism

Aristotle taught that everything which occurs or is conceived according to natural law is for the best or will produce the best result, Therefore, whenever one is confronted with a choice, the choice that is most consistent with nature -- the natural choice -- is always the most appropriate and the most likely to produce success and happiness. This concept is valid whether dealing with one's personal affairs or affairs of state.

As an illustration, let us suppose that a man wishes to cut a loaf of bread. He goes to his kitchen drawer and find several knives and a spoon, He chooses a knife which has been designed specifically to cut bread, which of course is the natural choice (in the Aristotelian sense). From this point on whether the bread gets cut properly or not will be totally up to the man wielding the knife. If he does it skillfully, the bread is cut properly. If he uses the knife carelessly or inexpertly, the bread will be poorly cut. Or if he has not taken care to be sure that the knife is properly sharpened, then once again the bread will be improperly cut.

On the other hand, he could choose a knife better suited to cutting poultry than bread. He could do this out of ignorance or maybe because he likes the handle of that particular knife, among many other reasons. In such a case, he will have a harder time cutting the bread properly and may wind up with a badly cut piece of bread. Such a man may have some idea about what is required to cut bread, but all his expertise with that unnatural knife will not result in as good an outcome compared to cutting the bread with the proper knife.

It is also possible that he could choose the spoon. Once again he will make this choice either out of ignorance or because he favors spoons over knives. Because this choice is wholly unnatural the man will never cut the bread. But because he is devoted to the spoon he will keep trying to cut the bread which will either remain uncut or will be horribly deformed by the mauling it receives from the hands of the man using the spoon. Needless to say, all the expertise in the world with the spoon will not result in a single slice of cut bread.

Only in the one case where the man makes the natural choice and uses the knife correctly will the proper result be obtained. But failure to cut the bread in the other cases does not mean that those other utensils should not be in the drawer or do not have their own utility in other contexts. Moreover, there may even be some utensils in the drawer that are not meant to be used at all but exist purely for show or to serve as an example, such as a utensil produced as a work of art, or produced specifically in order to demonstrate to a student learning to produce or use utensils how not to design or use a utensil.

Ideas, theories, and beliefs are tools like the knives and spoon above. They will work properly only if they conform to nature and are used properly by men. The greatest success will be achieved when the system most in accord with nature is matched with adherents or practitioners whose own characteristics, culture and experiences represent the most natural fit to the most natural system of ideas. The degree that conditions depart from conforming to these two essential requirements of nature will determine how far a system of ideas will miss its mark.

For example, the principles of socialism and progressivism never deal with human nature as it actually is, but rather as the socialist wishes it to be. Since progressivism does not conform to nature, it is doomed to failure, no matter how expertly its adherents attempt to apply it. Like the spoon noted above, it always results in a mauled loaf of bread.

On the other hand, free-market principles are in accord with human nature. When these principles are applied in good faith, which is to say expertly, the result is a cleanly cut slice of bread. If the principles are corrupted by unscrupulous operators, you may get a cut piece of bread but not as cleanly as when the bread is expertly cut. Or if you use a free-market system that has been dulled by excessive government regulations, you once again may get a cut slice of bread, just not as neatly or effectively as the bread cut with a properly sharpened knife.

The same applies to political systems. However noble the statements in the Declaration of Independence and however well designed the American Constitution may be, they will only be a natural fit to people who are fully in tune with the habits and underlying principles of the English civilization that produced those noble documents. This does not mean that such people have to be of English descent, simply that they must have internalized the predominantly English-derived values and habits which underlie the American Revolution. Then all that is required is the expert application of constitutional principles, which accounted for the incredible success of our country for its first hundred fifty years.

Progressivism, on the other hand, is foreign to the classical English and American experience. It is a more natural fit to the European continent, specifically to the French Revolution with its emphasis on liberté, égalité, fraternité, to German idealistic determinism as exemplified by its prophet Marx, and to German authoritarianism and paternalism as utilized by the social welfare state's first great patron saint, Bismarck. American exceptionalism will never thrive on the continent of Europe because the people, by virtue of their culture and habits, are not a natural fit to American exceptionalism; they will apply American principles inexpertly, as indeed is sadly happening even in our own country these days, which raises the disturbing thought that the American people themselves may no longer be a natural fit to their own founding principles or, put another way, that the American people have alienated themselves from their own nature.

Unfortunately, because progressivism is fundamentally contrary to nature, despite the predilection of certain peoples for this mode of existence, it will fail in the long run or at best produce very limited benefits. It is a seriously flawed tool which no expertise in its use can overcome. On the one hand, American exceptionalism has been so successful (and exceptional) because it was founded on the principles of human nature by men and women who were in turn fully in sympathy with those natural principles, and thus most suited to apply those principles successfully.

Just as Europe is not well suited to American exceptionalism, failure will result when attempting to apply American principles to societies that only understand tribal loyalties or communal effort, as in the Middle East or much of Africa, because the fit is not natural. Not that the people are not capable of living by democratic principles, only that in the context of their present culture and habits American democratic principles have little relevance or chance for success. Holding elections in such societies does not signify that true democracy or republican government exists or that individual human rights are valued, any more than that an ancient barbarian king, just because he took on the imperial insignia, had the right to style himself a true Roman emperor.

For nearly one hundred years the ideas of progressivism have been advocated by a growing number of Americans as the definitive tool to be used for shaping American government and society. For Americans, this tool should exist solely as an example of how not to organize and govern our society. Instead, just when we most desperately need to slice the loaf of bread cleanly we are reaching for the spoon instead of the bread knife.

By William J. Meisler, April 24, 2013, The American Thinker