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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Political Animal Lives in Everyone

We are all political animals by nature. That is Aristotle's assessment, as valid today as it ever was. Though we are all political animals, you wouldn't really notice it by looking at your peers here at Dartmouth. Considering that we are now in a community of informed and educated individuals, one would think that there would be more political activism on campus than there is.

Apparently, we believe there are political types and non-political types. The non-politicos leave the politicking to the political types and relegate themselves to a passive position, amusedly snickering as the political types act like political types sometimes act.

This scenario is not the ideal Aristotle had in mind. Although Aristotle's polis limited participation in political discourse to free males who had the time to take part in governing, there is no such barrier here, or at the very least, there should not be.

Why then, is there such a division? Political involvement requires staying informed and making knowledgeable judgments. Political involvement involves voting. Did you vote this year for your local officials? Do you know who runs your town government? If not, why not?

We are in a great position to evaluate all of the Republican primary candidates as they come stomping through New Hampshire, a veritable stampede of political pachyderms. Where are the crowds of eager and enthusiastic young men and women when these candidates come through? Working on schoolwork, sleeping, practicing, attending meetings or blitzing, the opportunities that present themselves during this primary season, should not be blithely brushed off.

The image that is associated with the term "political animal" may not be a pretty one. We conjure up some sort of pasty-faced policy wonk, feisty filibusterer or seedy string-puller. Aristotle had something completely different in mind when he spoke of man as a political animal. The political animal is one who rules and is ruled in turn, a person who engages in rational discourse concerning what is just and unjust, one who possesses a perception of good and evil. All persons, and not just politicians, are political animals by nature under this definition.

We want to take part in discussions and debates of substantive issues which affect us. We are called to engage each other, to speak and be spoken with in turn. To some extent, this already happens at Dartmouth. More often than not, discussion becomes stalled on the most basic level. Growth in understanding is stunted at the soundbite level, and we remain unsatisfied.

Apathy and ignorance are the two foes to which we must face up. Neither is an excuse for non-participation; both are easily remedied. If Aristotle is right, politics should come naturally to all of us. Reasoned engagement on issues of importance such as the national debt, taxes, the role of the United States in the world, immigration or affirmative action should be a natural extension of our desire to shape the world in which we live.

So, get out to those speeches, accost the candidates and approach each other. Perhaps it might be clearer if I suggested that this is what it means to "be your own dog." Either way, assert that animal instinct.