Modern politics is generally framed as a struggle between freedom and equality. But which is the greater end? Although both are important, in accepting either we’ve lowered our sights from the classical ideal of virtue. The modern mindset can be demonstrated by two examples: taxes and the minimum wage. Opponents of tax hikes often appeal to the right of individuals to keep the fruits of their own labor, while advocates argue the wealthy must “pay their fair share.”
The same applies to the minimum wage. Critics decry government criminalizing arrangements the parties involved have freely agreed to simply because it may not seem “fair” to an outsider, while supporters counter that everyone is entitled to a “living wage.” To be sure, freedom and equality are indispensable to our republic (although equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of outcome), but both fall short of the ideal of virtue.
Classical philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle recognized the importance of freedom and equality, but regarded the ultimate aim of politics, or the “best regime,” to be the pursuit of the good, or “virtuous,” life. This meant living in accordance with human nature and its needs—which consisted of courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice—and which stood as the highest ideal among political theorists for millennia.
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