Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's Wrong To Steal Right...? Not In A Perfect Society

Back-to-back nights of good sleep!!! Although my high school half is telling me that that alone was the highlight of my day, my newfound college side is telling me that it was hearing about St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas’ views on politics, more specifically one point St. Aquinas made. But to jump to that would be a bit off timeline, so back to the beginning of class.

Professor Kramnick started off the day as usual (feels a bit weird to be saying that on the third day of class but it’s true) with a lecture about last night’s readings, which were written by St. Thomas and St. Augustine. Kramnick spoke with his usual passion about the conflicting teachings of the two, which was easily explained by the difference in periods of time in which they wrote. While Augustine was in general a complete pessimist about human nature, saying everyone was forever sinful because of the original sin and that only the city of God could save them, he did make a few excellent points about the need of laws to control our animalistic nature, and to keep a check on the “city of flesh,” or of earthly desires.

Aquinas on the other hand, was very positive, and even proposed one of the most interesting ideas of society I have ever read about (although I have been reading Plato tonight so that might not seem so interesting in comparison), when he proposed a society in which everyone grew and harvested or made whatever supplies they were best at making. This may sound a bit like Communism, but the truly fascinating bit about his idea was that he maintained that these specialists should own all their surpluses as their own private property, and to store it to aid the poor when they’re in need. A telling quote about this belief was shown when he quoted Ambrose from the Decretals, “It is the hungry man’s bread you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.” At first glance it may seem like St. Aquinas was a terrible person letting the poor starve and freeze to death, if you interpreted withhold to mean kept away from, rather than held onto for. Since he did mean it as held onto, he made a later point that if those who stockpiled these goods didn’t come to the aid of the poor, the poor had the right to steal what they needed to sustain themselves. This immediately drew a lot of argument from quite a few of my fellow students, who thought of stealing not in this scenario but in our normal capitalist lives today. While I agreed that in today’s society it would be wrong to steal no matter the circumstances, I argued that since the only reason those who had had what they did was to help those that had not, those that had not had the right to take what should have been held for them, since that was the original purpose of the stockpiling. I would never have come to this conclusion before this class, and can already feel my mind starting to open up to new ideas. Off to Plato!

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