One of the basic tenets of Stoicism is cosmopolitanism, the idea that all humans belong to a single community, based on shared morality. So it only seem natural that Stoics would be the most compassionate towards the issue of immigration.
I’d imagine that if the United States was populated with a significant Stoic citizenry, we’d be a lot more relaxed on our borders. Does that mean we’d let other nations take us over? No, I don’t think that follows. But we’d certainly be more willing to grant citizenship to people that were willing to embrace our culture by working for a living or who joined our military, police, firefighters, or other important civil careers.
We’d also be more willing to grant citizenship to refugees regardless of whether they were Christians, Jews, or Muslims.
How might Stoicism inform your politics? Well, Stoicism in a democracy would want you to vote for who seemed to be the most virtuous person. But what kind of policy would Stoicism want you to endorse? Sometimes I think the answer might be in the preferred indifferents: wealth, education, and health just to name a few. How would these preferred indifferents matter to Stoic public policy? Well, preferred indifferents are useful means for performing virtue, so a Stoic would want all society to excel in preferred indifferents.
So the Stoic would be for policies that help create wealth and redistribute wealth to people in need. The Stoic would be for educating the public by supporting public education. The Stoic would be for people’s health so they would support some kind of system of healthcare available for everyone from the very poor to the rich.
Security might be another preferred indifferent so the Stoic would certainly support a military specifically for the purposes for protecting the nation from external threats. Also the Stoic would support funding of police to handle internal threats.
How would Stoicism handle monopolies and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few? I’d imagine Stoics would have a problem with it if it meant that the poor were being deprived of basic requirements for health, wealth, education, and security. The Stoics would vote for policy that would break up monopolies and concentration of wealth if it turned into a zero sum game.
One particular preferred indifferent would be having a job. Most people desire a job not just for monetary reasons but for psychological reasons since having a job really helps them feel like they’re doing something productive. The Stoic would be for a policy to help create job growth and give people job security. The Stoic would also support policy to ensure everyone had a minimum fair wage.
So these are just a few areas where I imagine Stoicism would inform your politics. I’m curious to know all your thoughts and opinions.
The Stoics were realists. They stressed the importance of living in the here and now and judging our impressions as objectively as we can. Judging impressions objectively means that anything we perceive, we should perceive neither as bad nor good but indifferent. Despite their realism, they did dream and hope for things to be a certain way. The Stoics just knew better than to be attached to their wishes and hopes. Zeno of Citium had an ideal Stoic Republic in mind. Diogenes Laertius described Zeno’s Republic:
Some, indeed, among whom is Cassius the Skeptic, attack Zeno on many accounts, saying first of all that he denounced the general system of education in vogue at the time, as useless, which he did in the beginning of his Republic. And in the second place, that he used to call all who were not virtuous, adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another, parents to their children, brethren to brethren. and kinsmen to kinsmen; and again, that in his Republic, he speaks of the virtuous as the only citizens, and friends, and relations, and free men, so that in the doctrine of the Stoic, even parents and their children are enemies; for they are not wise. Also, that he lays down the principle of the community of women in his Republic, and … teaches that neither temples nor courts of law, nor gymnasia, ought to be erected in a city; moreover, that he writes thus about money: that he does not think that people ought to coin money either for purposes of trade, or of travelling. Besides all this, he enjoins men and women to wear the same dress, and to leave no part of their person completely covered.
Zeno’s Republic seems to be a place full of virtuous people (which includes women) and there are no courts or currency. Everyone lives in harmony in complete anarchy. There are no religious places of worship erected in the Republic.
It’s not clear whether Zeno ever thought this would ever really happen but he did have an ideal in mind about how a society of virtuous people would be organized. And it seemed that he had in mind some kind of virtuous anarchic commune of everyone who proved themselves good Stoics.
Fox News has a conservative bias. Stoicism doesn’t have a conservative bias. Fox News specifically runs news stories and commentaries designed to promote laissez-faire capitalism, anti-immigration policy, the military industrial complex, and a whole host of conservative issues. Stoicism just tells you to try to observe the world without morally judging it. As Shakespeare said, “nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Fox News has only been around since 1996 AD/CE. Stoicism has been around since 300 BC/BCE. Stoicism has really proven it can stand the test of time. Sure, it merged with Christianity during the Dark Ages but it came back on its own during the Renaissance. It has influenced many great thinkers during the ancient Roman times, Medieval times, Renaissance times, Age of Enlightenment, and current.
Fox News along with many other news networks drummed up a lot of jingoistic passion in the United States to go to war in Iraq in March of 2003. Stoicism doesn’t drum up negative passion e.g. jingoism. In fact, it tries to calm down your negative passions and increase your compassion. If Stoicism was more largely practiced in the US, we’d never rush into war. In fact, we’d try to be much more diplomatic than we are now.
Fox News has Sean Hannity. Great Stoic thinkers, ancient and modern, do not include Sean Hannity.
Finally, Fox News commentary is all about pointing out negative attributes of Democrat politicians and pointing out positive attributes of Republican politicians (unless they’re not conservative enough). Stoicism ignores partisan divide and tries help you realistically assess people’s character. So a Stoic is only going to judge politicos based on what they know of their virtues, particularly their justice and wisdom.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy has really poisoned the intellectual/philosophical well of the United States. And I don’t mean academic philosophy, I mean the philosophy of the common American. Not only, as Isaac Asimov warned, have we attached ourselves to anti-intellectualism in this country, we have managed to individualize our experiences to the point of moral solipsism. We think of ourselves as me vs me vs me. The only time we ever collectivize is when its us vs some other that we poorly understand.
It’s true that Stoicism has no political ideology but it is of course political, as it cares about justice, which means it will care about the downtrodden who are exploited by corporate sociopaths. It will care about women who still endure sexism from their employers through their unequal pay or something sinister like their male colleagues mansplaining to them how to behave or express themselves, constantly silencing their opinion through interruption.
It’s time that we care about social virtue. It’s time that we read Stoicism exactly as it was intended, to create a pluralistic society that unifies everyone in a common cosmopolis of humankind.
We need to break away from intellectual laziness and embrace wisdom in its pure and practical forms. As Socrates said before he drank the hemlock, “the unanalyzed life is not worth living.” Epictetus says that we’re all little spooks carrying around our corpses. Well, sometimes, I see no evidence of a spirit in some of these corpses that lost their soul years ago when they learned to embrace willful ignorance.
It’s time that we enlighten a few of these spiritless corpses and bring back the spirits.
When Communism has been tried, it’s killed between 85 to 100 million people. When Stoicism has been tried, it’s killed less than 85 million people.
Communism believes in the utopian vision that one day we can have a classless society of everyone contributing their fair share and receiving their fair share and there would be no more exploitation of the working class by anyone for profit. Stoicism has never made such promises. Zeno’s Republic was an idealized vision that Stoics could live in communal harmony but there’s no evidence that it made any promises that all societies would or could live in communal harmony.
Communism believes in a power struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie. Stoicism puts the power in your hands by declaring that the only thing in your power is your judgment, opinion, goal, and desire.
While some people have claimed that Communism has yet to be tried successfully, Stoicism has been tried successfully for thousands of years.
Communism, like capitalism, is about your freedom to work. It’s a philosophy that emphasizes your freedom to work. Capitalism and Communism of course have major differences in how to go about this but they care ultimately about human beings as working animals. Stoicism is much cooler than this. Stoicism believes you should have the freedom to philosophize. You are a rational animal and a social being so the emphasis is on your freedom to live an analytical life, a life worth living.
Objectivism is a pretty selfish philosophy. You spend all of your time thinking about your self interest. Sure, it’s enlightened selfishness so it’s not like you’re pure evil. But, at the end of the day, you only care about yourself. Let’s face it, it gets kind of lonely thinking only about yourself and what you get out of any relationship. Rather, why not practice Stoicism where you actually care about other human beings enough to actually sacrifice yourself for the team? You’ll feel much better thinking of yourself as part of a greater whole and people will love you for your sacrifices.
Objectivism cares entirely too much about externals like productivity. and even makes productiveness a virtue. Sometimes in life it’s difficult to be productive. You might have a physical disability or a mental illness that makes it hard to be productive. Rather than cry yourself to sleep at night about not being productive, maybe you can try Stoicism. In Stoicism you don’t need to meet external goals to be happy, you just need to meet internal goals of trying to be a good person. In Objectivism if you can’t be productive you’re a sad human being. In Stoicism if you’re not productive, it’s completely fine.
Objectivism stresses its own virtue of independence. But let’s face it, in life, you’ll be dependent quite often. Sometimes you’ll have to ask your friend for money or get so poor you’ll need welfare. Objectivism would tell you you’re a parasite for needing help. But let’s not forget that Stoicism looked up to Diogenes who was a complete beggar. Human beings are interdependent animals. We’re not atomistic individuals who are completely self-sufficient and Stoicism says that’s perfect.
Objectivism defines justice way too selfishly to make anyone happy. An Objectivist would say justice is achieved when everyone pursues their own selfish interests and no one else interferes with their pursuits. Unfortunately, if we allowed for this to be the case, the rich would just own everything and, the majority, the poor would be living on breadcrumbs and sick and dying. Fortunately, Stoicism wants you to be your brother’s keeper and so demands that you sacrifice a lot of your own interests for the team. In a Stoic society, the rich may not be as happy as they would be in an Objectivist society, but, hey, the poor will be a lot happier and not as dead.
The most obvious reason why Stoicism beats Objectivism is that Objectivism only uses its own virtues as a mere means to happy selfishness. Unfortunately, as we have seen Objectivism requires never being dependent or always being productive and that’s just implausible in many people’s lives. Stoicism, on the other hand, just wants you to mean well. In Stoicism, you may be paralyzed from the neck down, but as long as you have a benevolent heart, you’re a good person. And for a Stoic virtue is its own reward. So being benevolent in itself will lead one towards eudaimonia (true happiness).
A lot of (but not all) right-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists believe in NAP or non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle is deontological in that it is a universal commanding principle with no exceptions that states one should never initiate aggression. Of course it’s ok to use aggression in self-defense when someone has initiated aggression against you. Some people believe the non-aggression principle is the only moral dictum you need in your life.
There’s only one problem: the non-aggression principle isn’t an all encompassing ethical theory. Suppose you’re walking home from school and you see someone drowning. Naturally, if you’re an empathetic person, you’d want to do something to help. Well according to the non-aggression principle, by itself, there is no moral obligation to help. The drowning person isn’t harming you, no one is initiating aggression against the drowning person, no one is being aggressive towards you. It wouldn’t be a form of self-defense to help the drowning person. So what do you do? Well, the non-aggression principle essentially doesn’t tell you what to do. If you believe only in the NAP, then you can either just walk on by or proceed to try to help.
But there’s something really wrong with this picture of total supremacy of NAP. It seems like you’re morally obligated to help the drowning person or try to help. You don’t want to drown along with the other person while trying to save the drowning person obviously, so you grab a long stick and you tell the person to grab on. Or maybe it’s just a kid that weighs significantly less than so it would be easy to swim to the kid and save the kid without much risk of you both drowning. Or maybe yell for help or call for help if you can’t swim and there’s hardly any feasible way for you to help the person drowning.
Stoicism explains our gut feeling of why we feel we should save someone drowning. Stoicism says we have social ethical duties to help others when they’re in need if we can help. We are obligated to help people whether or not there is an issue of violence at hand. The NAP is simply too limited of an ethical principle to explain our gut feelings about how we should help others in need. It simply only cares about the need for aggression only in self-defense against a person who wrongly initiated the aggression.
Stoicism can do a lot more for us than what the NAP can accomplish. The NAP means you only care about aggression so you don’t necessarily care about types of behaviors that aren’t aggressive but what others would find wrong like lying. Lying isn’t a clear aggressive act so it seems like it’s permitted by the NAP. But most people do not like lying liars. They understand lying to help others but they don’t understand people who lie for themselves or their reputation. And the NAP could easily be interpreted to allow for self-interested forms of lying. You’re not actually initiating aggression by telling a falsehood purposely to trick someone. It’s just semantics and syntax at play.
If you had to choose between ethical theories, you would fair much better with Stoicism than the NAP by itself.