On Monday, Michael Cook wrote on the need to re-evaluate what “Economic patriotism” entails. Mr. Cook warned of “validating capitalism through its societal benefits” and encouraging corporations to commit to the well-being of society at large. Alternatively, he suggests that true economic patriotism involves pursuing one’s “dreams for their own sake and no one else’s.”
In justifying this claim, Mr. Cook misrepresents the Aristotelian idea of happiness. As Mr. Cook notes, Aristotle observes that happiness is the highest good for man. Yet happiness was understood by the Greeks as not a purely individualistic state of achievement but as an activity. Particularly for Aristotle, happiness was a social activity inextricably tied to political life as well as to the form and aim of government. Aristotelian happiness involved action in concert with political life.
Of course, this misunderstanding does not establish any reason against a re-evaluation of “economic patriotism.” But it does betray the narrow vision through which Mr. Cook considers economic action. The triumph of individual achievement is only pristine so long as Mr. Cook ignores the social and political factors that work in concert with the individual. In the United States, this coordination both provides equal benefit across society and ingrains inequality. Our judicial, electoral and financial systems are all meant to “level the playing field.” But they are imperfect processes. Even social traditions like nepotism are frowned upon yet inextricable from the reality of economic action.
This is not a socialist or egalitarian argument. It is an argument of fairness—one with which both egalitarians and Randians agree. But society does not reflect this condition of perfect fairness, and likely never will. The economic patriotism of Democrats and Republicans both offer solutions to this imperfect reality of economic systems—government intervention, charity and corporate responsibility. Whether one prefers government intervention, civic responsibility or a combination of both, it is clear that self-interest is neither a road to Aristotelian happiness nor an honest representation of how we should validate capitalism.
Ph.D. student, political science