Where I’m coming from

An attempt at a comprehensive “About” page is in the works. For now, here is an essay I wrote as part of an application for a summer fellowship. The prompt asked for a discussion of the one text that has had the most significant effect on the applicant’s political views. I share this essay here with the idea that it will help provide some insight into where I’m coming from, as well as a vision of where I hope to take this blog.

Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue is considered one of the most important and influential philosophical texts of the 20th century. Although primarily known for its criticism of moral philosophy since the Enlightenment, as well as its role in revitalizing Aristotelian virtue ethics, After Virtue is also a work rich in political thought. I consider this book to be one of the most important I have ever read, as it has had a profound impact on my own political beliefs and convictions.

In After Virtue, MacIntyre argues that modern political dialogue is incoherent, and therefore unable to resolve political differences. He bases this claim on the observation that, although modern political discussions utilize the same moral and political language of the ancient Greeks and medieval scholars, it is a language that has lost its meaning. This is because, beginning with the Enlightenment, this language has been detached from its original context, a context fundamentally concerned with the “good of man” and human teleology, and built upon the understanding that virtue and morality are inseparable from political life. MacIntyre goes on to challenge many of the fundamental assumptions of modern political thought, such as the existence of natural rights and the legitimacy of utilitarianism, doing so from an Aristotelian and Thomistic perspective.

I find MacIntyre’s argument just as striking today as I did two years ago, when I first encountered it. Perhaps what is most compelling about his thesis is that it is not a critique of liberalism that derives from some modern, progressive ideology, such as Marxism, but instead finds its source in classical Western thought. In all of the political theory classes I had taken previously, liberalism was presented as a natural successor of the Western tradition, a political ideology that built upon the thought of its predecessors. After Virtue forced me to consider the limitations of this narrative. As MacIntyre argues, it might instead be the case that liberalism represents a deep and serious schism from the thought of Aristotle, Aquinas, and other giants of Western civilization.

Following my first encounter with After Virtue, I engaged the world of politics with new eyes. The critical perspective gained from reading MacIntyre’s work reinvigorated my interest in political thought, and challenged many assumptions I had previously held. After Virture compelled me to engage with thinkers I had never before encountered, such as Burke and Chesterton. It also caused me to reread and reconsider authors I was already familiar with, such as Jefferson and Locke.

By challenging my unspoken assumptions about politics, After Virtue has kindled a deep desire to expand my understanding of political thought that will not be extinguished anytime soon. I am intent on pursuing an advanced degree in political theory, and contributing to academia and American politics.

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2 comments

  1. One has to ask, did you get the fellowship?

  2. To be determined… 🙂

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