Prospects for a Left/Right/Libertarian Tea Party Alliance

Over at Libertarian Peacenik, Thomas M. Sipos tells of the difficulties he had in trying to forge a left-right-libertarian Tea Party alliance.

The local Code Pink chapter was all for it, but the right wingers were more horrified at the prospect of joining forces with Code Pink and a bunch of Ron Paulites than they were enthused at the idea of building a more powerful and more broad-based coalition, so they backed out and the alliance collapsed.

There aren’t many issues I can think of that enthuse and inspire the American right-wing more than their mutual hatred for American liberals. American liberals can share this vice in reverse to some extent, but it seems more often secondary to their more substantial concerns. In both cases, though, it tends to lead to a stubborn refusal to reconsider ill-considered opinions (for fear such things might lead them to be mistaken for the cretins on the other team), and it divides activists in areas where they could and should unite, thus allowing those in power to fleece them more easily.

In the fifth section of the fourth book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses a virtue that concerns the appropriate response to anger.

For this one, he has an especially difficult time finding the right words for either the virtue or the vices, and, as you can see from the table below, the various translators I have been consulting also had trouble coming to any consensus on good English words for the concepts.

Various translations of the virtue and vices concerning anger
Vice of deficiency Virtue (golden mean) Vice of excess
insensibility to anger
incapacity of feeling just provocation
a phlegmatic disposition
good temper
over-aptness to anger
a choleric disposition

But even if shorthand words are hard to come by, this virtue and these vices seem fairly easy to picture. We’ve all known someone who is a hot-head and flies off the handle easily, quick to take offense and getting all bent out of shape over some little thing. And we’ve all known someone who’s a pushover, wimpy, a Caspar Milquetoast who lets people walk all over him without raising a protest. And, too, we’ve all admired someone who, at the appropriate time and in a confident manner, stood up and said “enough is enough” when an insult or injustice became too great; or, on the other hand, someone who patiently bore with minor annoyances that would have driven a lesser person to stomp their feet and pull out their hair.

Aristotle, and the translators, believed that people tend to err on the too-quick-to-anger side of the continuum, which is why most of the words suggested for the virtue suggest a tamping-down of anger: meekness, mercy, patience, gentleness, mildness. These days, I could see an argument either way. There is a lot of stupid belligerence, but on the other hand, I’m amazed at the variety and severities of insults to dignity that people routinely put up with without complaint.

Aristotle believed that the excess of anger is worse to have around than a deficiency of anger, and that this too is a good reason for setting up the opposition the way he did. Even that I’m not too sure about. If people habitually put up with gross insults to their dignity then these insults can become unexceptional. The commonplace mendacity of politicians or advertisers is such a variety of insult — accepting it without complaint has become so habitual that it looks eccentric to behave as though one took offense at being lied to. Perhaps this sort of corrosion is as bad or worse than that caused by irascible people.

The excess of anger has, in Aristotle’s view, a number of different varieties. The hot-headed person that I described is one — he or she gets angry at the wrong things, and to an excessive extent, and on too much of a hair-trigger. But someone like a “sulky” person who holds grudges can exhibit the same vice but in a different way: by being angry at (possibly) the right things and the right amount and after the right amount of consideration, but not expressing that anger in a satisfying way and so holding on to it long after its time has passed, finally expressing it as some misdirected act of revenge.

Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics