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Privacy's Background

Abstract

The article examines the setting, in the broadest terms historically, for our contemporary sense of privacy. Given our obvious preoccupation with privacy, there is no need to recite why such an examination might pay dividends. The article has three parts, a consideration of the ancient perspective on privacy by way mostly of Plato and Aristotle, a shorter consideration of the Old Testament perspective, and a consideration of the New Testament and Christian perspective, which is taken to be the primary impulse to our present viewpoint. I conclude with a brief suggestion about a contemporary political problem inherent in this viewpoint.

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An earlier version of this paper was presented at a panel sponsored by The Claremont Institute at the 1992 APSA Convention.

1. Mindle Grant, in “Liberalism, Privacy, and Autonomy,” Journal of Politics 3, no. 51 (1989): 575–98, gives an excellent account of the contemporary situation, where claims to privacy not only protect one from outside scrutiny and interference with individual activity, but also support claims to autonomy or demands that the requirements for private development be obeyed. For a still more recent statement that bears on the subject, see Macedo's Stephen review essay, “Justice, Sex, and Doing the Dishes,” in Polity 24, no. 3 (Spring 1992): 521 and passim.

2. Mindle , “Privacy,” 575–76, n. 2; Gavison Ruth, “Privacy and the Limits of Law,” Yale Law Journal 89 (1980): 465.

3. Harvard Law Review 4 (1890): 193220.

4. See, e.g., Prosser William L., “Privacy,” California Law Review 48: 338423, reprinted in Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy, ed. Ferdinand Schoeman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 104–155; Edward Bloustein, “Privacy as an Aspect of Human Dignity,” Ibid., pp. 156–202; Mindle , “Privacy,” p. 594.

5. Moore Barrington, Privacy: Studies in Social and Cultural History (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1984), chap. 1; Westin Alan, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1968), p. 7: “the modern claim to privacy derives first from man's animal origins and is shared, in quite real terms, by men and women living in primitive societies”; Hixson Richard, Privacy in a Public Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. xiii: “Privacy is akin to the tried-and-true forces that irresistibly impel individuals towards association: hunger, love, vanity and fear”; Murphy Robert, “Social Distance and the Veil,” in Schoeman , Dimensions of Privacy, pp. 3455; Jeffrey H. Reiman, “Privacy, Intimacy, and Personhood,” Ibid., pp. 300–316; Stanley Benn, “Privacy, Freedom, and Respect for Persons,” Ibid., pp. 223–44; Beardsley Elizabeth, “Privacy: Autonomy and Selective Disclosure,” in Nomos XIII: Privacy, ed. Pennock J. Roland and Chapman John (New York: Atherton Press, 1971), pp. 5670.

6. There is recognition, although muted, that a concern for privacy becomes more emphatic from the period of the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance. Hixson , Privacy, pp. 58, economically condenses much of the available literature. He begins with a biblical sense of privacy as “simple solitude,” and moves on to note that in the fourteenth century private was applied to withdrawn religious orders and from the fifteenth century was increasingly used in the sense of “private soldier” and “private member” in Parliament. From there, he speaks of how private acquired the sense of “secret and concealed” and, on the other side, of “independence” and “intimacy,” how it became applicable to family and friends in the sense of “private life,” and how it became identified in a favorable way with “personal.”

7. Hixson , Privacy, pp. 56. Other than noting that privacy could not be a “dominant value” in the pagan and non-Christian worlds, Hixson does not dwell upon the tension between the older and newer conceptions and seems more interested in finding the seeds of contemporary attempts to balance private and public in the earlier views.

8. Moore , Privacy, pp. 120,156,157: “the notion of an identity or even very close connection between private ethics and political morality was… far from dominant in Greek political thinking” (pp. 168,190–91,283). In general, one may say of Moore that he looks at the ancients from a modern point of view, seeks in them supports for modem attitudes, and becomes cranky when such are not to be found. This is not to minimize the extraordinary amount of valuable and interesting material he assembles on privacy.

9. Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958). For the most recent response to Arendt, see Swanson Judith, The Public and the Private in Aristotle's Political Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).

10. Arendt, Human Conditwn, pp. 35,60. Not surprisingly given this position on Christianity, Arendt cites Augustine, Ibid., n. 55, on the character of Christian political responsibility.

11. For Arendt , Human Condition, p. 28, the “decisive division (is) between the public and private realms, between the sphere of the polis and the sphere of household and family, and, finally, between activities related to a common world and those related to the maintenance of life.” Swanson , Public and Private, p. 10, takes exception to this position: “I contest the view that Aristotle equates the private with the household”, and recognizes, p. 31, n. 3, the occasional difficulty one has in deciding whether Arendt describes ancient practice or philosophic “conceptions” in her writing. However, p. 10, she joins Arendt in regarding the household as “a private place,” although she departs from Arendt in her view that it provides the opportunity for realizing virtues that reach beyond it. In this respect, Swanson wants things both ways, that is that the household be the locus both of the private in a comprehensive sense and the public: “The household is unique in satisfying our desire lotaprivate social life. The desire for marriage and the social life that accompanies it is connected with the good life, then, because, it satisfies not merely a desire for social life but also a desire for privacy,” p. 27. The difficulty of Swanson's position is demonstrated by her own emphasis on “private social life,” which might make sense from a modern perspective but, I think, would have been problematic for Aristotle: this is not to say that economic and physical privacy are foreign to the family. In general, I think Swanson errs, to borrow Leo Strauss's terms, by treating as merely difficulties what Aristotle presents as problems. See, for example, her intriguing, but ultimately unconvincing, argument for bridging the Aristotelian gap between the moral and intellectual virtues and their attendant happinesses, an argument, which for her apparently satisfies, p. 204, the “inescapable desire to find coherence between the moral and the intellectual, the practical and the theoretical, the human and the divine.” On the difference between problem and difficulty, see Peterman Larry, “Approaching Leo Strauss,” The Political Science Reviewer 16 (1986): 332-33.

12. Politics 1252a1: “every polis is some sort of koinonia”; 1252bl 3; 1252b 30, Lord Cames, trans.(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984). The need for private property in the city is demonstrated, among other places, by the requirement that we have money in order to be liberal, that is to live morally and thereby live well requires that we have possessions “since the task of liberality lies in the use of possessions” (1265bl 3).

13. For the alternation between city and private individual, the idioteis, in Plato, see, for example, Gorgias 507D, 525E; Statesman 599A-B; Laws 636E, 767B, 779C, and 952C-D, where, in the last use of idioteis in the book insofar as I can discern, we anticipate Socrates's ultimate problem and see its coincidence with the idiot's problem: the man who leaves the city and returns—that is, the cosmopolitan—making a claim to be wise should (he) obey the magistrates, he may live, as an idiot, but if not, he is to die—if, that is, he should be convicted in court for being a busybody in some way concerning the education and the laws,” Pangle Thomas L., trans.(New York: Basic Books, 1980). See, too, Republic 536a5,579c6, and especially, 441C-D, where the questions arise as to whether the city can be wise as the idiot is wise and courageous as the idiot is courageous, questions followed by the assertion that a man is just in the same manner that city too was just,” Bloom Allan, trans.(New York: Basic Books, 1968). Is there, this leads us to wonder, a kind of compatibility between the city and the idiot on the level of wisdom, courage, and the other virtues, that somehow fails at the level of the most critical political virtue, justice, hence the dropping of idiot in the last case? In short, the suspicion arises that there is a particularly emphatic tension between justice and idiocy, hence between the city and man.

14. Politics 1260b7ff.: “Concerning husband and wife and children and father and the sort of virtue that is connected with each of these, and what is and what is not fine in their relations with one another and how one should pursue what is well and avoid the bad, these things must necessarily be addressed in the (discourses) connected with the regime (politeia)… the household (oikos)] as a whole is a part of the city (polis)]… and one should look at the virtue of part in relation to the virtue of the whole.” For a modem variant of the same idea—which adopts a state and society separation foreign to the Greeks—see, e.g., Nussbaum Martha, “Justice forWomen!,” New York Review of Books 39, no. 16 (1992): 44: “Nor can the traditional patterns of family life be separated from other social norms and political institutions… the ‘private’ realm of the family, so frequently contrasted with the ‘public’ world of laws and institutions, is actually shaped by laws and institutions in countless ways directly, by the impact of divorce law, tax law, and other familyrelated laws; indirectly by the fact that the family members are deeply influenced by the societies in which they live.” I am indebted to one of my anonymous criticsfor the observation that Arendt's difficulties arise in her “valorization of politics.”

15. Politics 1261a15ff.

16. Republic 368e. For a similar perspective on the part of the ancient Hebrews, see Neumann Harry, Liberalism (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1991), pp. 192–96.

17. Swanson , Public and Private, p. 10: “the private status of the household derives from its affording an opportunity to practice unqualified virtue.” From this foundation, Swanson goes on to argue that the highest activities are realized in the household setting and that the political, or public, setting may even become an obstacle to such realization. Reversing field, for example, on Aristotle and most of his contemporary critics—particularly feminist critics—she says, p. 61, that “by assigning citizenship only to men,…Aristotle reduces their opportunity, and increases women's, to contemplate.” This, I think, could only be true if household obligations were less onerous than civic obligations, which seems questionable, or if contemplation did not demand the “deliberative element” which Aristotle says is less authoritative in women than in men (Politics 1260al 2).

18. Phaedo 60A, 118A. Rather than consider that Plato draws our attention to the problem of relating the private man to the political order by such devices, Arendt , Human Condition, p. 30, adopts the conventional view that Plato occasionally—and unaccountably?—contradicts himself, and in particular says that Plato foresees the abolition of private property and an extension of the public sphere to the point of “annihilating private life altogether,” yet “still speaks with great reverence of Zeus Herkeios, the protector of border lines, and calls the horoi, the boundaries between one estate and another, divine, without seeing any contradiction.” Cf. Laws 842.

19. Phaedo 117E-118A. For the most perfect kind of reasoning, that wherein the soul is undisturbed, there is need to remove so far as possible “the whole body”(66A), with the result that we may see things with the “eye of the soul alone”(66D). The philosophical life, in this respect, is abstracted from privacy in the sense of the body, and most private in its devotion to that to which the community as such cannot ascend. But ironically, to repeat, that to which the community as such, because it is rooted in the body, cannot ascend, the realm of thought, is also that which is capable of the most complete sharing.

20. In the closest approximation to the Republic we encounter in the Laws, we learn that the polis, politeia, and laws are best where “every device has been employed to exclude all of what is called the ‘private’ (idion) from all aspects of life… (and) insofar as possible, a way has been devised to make common (koina) somehow the things that are by nature private (ta physie idia), such as the eyes an the ears and the hands” (Laws 739C, my emphasis). This suggests how the political and the common coalesce in the best regime to provide an overall posture, a public posture, antagonistic to privacy.

21. The democratic city is licentious and “where there's license, its plain that each man would organize his life in it privately just as it pleases him” Republic 557B-C. One of the advantages of the democratic city would be that it simultaneously admits the possibility of the privacy linked to the body and that which the idiot pursues. On the other hand, the relationship between the city in speech and the democratic city reflects the difficulty of the coexistence of the two kinds of privacy.

22. Republic 540B; Politics 1266a33. See, too, Politics 1273b28ff., where Aristotle speaks of those who put forward views concerning the regime but “led entirely private lives,” vita singulari in Morebeke's Latin, ideoteutontes in Greek. St. Thomas says of the passage that Aristotle distinguishes between those who spoke of legislation but followed the vita privata and those who engaged in the vita politica. The dignity of such men, men like Plato, Phaleas, and Hippodamus, lies in what they say rather than what they do. In Libros Politicorum Aristotelis Expositio, ed. Spiazzi Raymundi (Turin: Marietti, 1951), II. xvii. 341,. On discerning the extrapolitical from the political sphere, see, e.g., Nicomachean Ethics 1177b15ff., the attempt to secure that which is “other than” what political activity secures.

23. For a thoughtful recent treatment of this balance, see Nichols Mary P., Citizens and Statesmen(Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1992).

24. Republic 620C, 443C-444A.

25. See, e.g., Phaedo 67E.

26. I am reminded of Harry Neumann's reminder of Nietzsche's judgment on Jesus: “In a passage suppressed by his sister, Nietzsche describes Jesus as an idiot—using the term in its ancient meaning, according to which an idiot (idioteis) is a private person, a man with no tribal or civic gods, and therefore no politics, of his own. Such people—mere human beings or persons—seemed slavish or infantile on the ancient polytheism's radically political horizon” (“Nietzsche's Interpretation of the Jewish Instinct,” in Studies in Nietzsche and the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, ed. Flaherty James O', Sellner Timothy, and Helm Robert [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985], p. 34). At the other pole, but alike pointing to the chasm between the higher aspect of private life and the community, is Leo Strauss's characterization of ancient philosophy, wherein philosophy ascends from public dogma “to essentially private knowledge,” the class interest of philosophers as philosophers “consists in being left alone”—Brandeis, in this sense, universalizes the class interest of ancient philosophers—and philosophy in an “absolutely private life, is without any question preferable to any other religion” (Natural Right and History [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953], pp. 12,143; Persecution and the Art of Writing [Glencoe, IL.: The Free Press, 1952] 117).

27. Human Condition, p. 24, n. 6. The Ancient City, trans. Small Willard (Ga City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1956), pp. 254–55. As Fustel puts it, p. 4, the family religion, “after having enlarged and extended the family, formed a still larger association, the city, and reigned in that as it had reigned in the family,” although over time it became modified: “The primitive religion, whose symbols were the immovable stone of the hearth and the ancestral tomb—a religion which had established the ancient family, and had afterwards organized the city—changed with time, and grew old,” p. 345. Larger governments, therefore, were extended versions of smaller governments, including the family, and replicated them, p. 123, “each preserv(ing) its chiefs, its judges, it right of assembling, but above all these local governments, there was the central government of the city.” By the same token, smaller units, like the household or family, share the communal character of the larger units, although they may, like the city, be home for some private individuals. On this point, Nichols , Citizens, p. 29, draws from Aristotle the point that the household, “like the city itself, in the course of its development… acquires ends not implied in its origins.” This point, which is compelling, agrees with Lord's Carnes analysis of the development of the polis in “Aristotle's Anthropology,” in Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Science, ed. Lor Carnes and O'connor David K. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

28. Fustel , Ancient City, p. 119. Cf., p. 124, “the same rules, invented and established for the family, are applied successively to the phratry, the tribe, and the city.”

29. Ibid. pp. 119–20.

30. Ibid. p. 345. As Nichols presents it, Citizens, p. 33, Fustel's religious extension of family to city receives its purely secular or political expression in Aristotle: “The political rule that originates in the family … is the natural foundation for Aristotle's politics.”

31. Politics 1252a5ff., 1277b16ff., 1278b30ff.

32. Politics 1253a27.

33. History of Private Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987).

34. Using, for consistency, concordances and indexes keyed to the Septuagint, the third century B.C. Greek translation, variants of idion appear in the following passages: Zebul sends messengers privately to Abimelech to set up a clever ambush, Jud. 9:31; David privately cuts off a part of Saul's garment, a symbolic gesture that may indicate the tearing away of Saul's kingdom from him, 1 Sam. 24:4, cf. 15:27–28; the wicked man's eyes are privately set against the poor, Ps. 10:8; the wicked privately shoot the upright in heart, Ps. 11:2; the Lord saves from snares the wicked set in private, Ps. 30:5; the enemies of the just set their snares privately, Ps. 63:6; the good king will destroy the man who slanders his neighbor in private, Ps. 100:5; the wicked privately lay a trap for the king, Ps. 141:4; the wicked lurk in private for the innocent, Prov. 1:11; the wicked lurk in private for their own lives, Prov. 1:18. In all these cases, I think, the very least that we can say is that we are taught to look with suspicion on actions taken outside public view.

35. In Liberalism, p. 319, n. 23. On this point, Neumann likes to recall the seriousness for Jews of Tishah b'Ab, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple. This is not to say that the private is wholly absent in Judaism. The Talmudic tradition, with its endorsement of private study of the Bible, at least prior to the Diaspora, testifies to that. See Strauss , Persecution, p. 46. It remains, however, that Old Testament Judaism is suspicious of privacy. I am indebted to Dick Schwab for the reminder that the communal bias of the Old Testament is demonstrated by its favoritism for that most broadly shared form of imposing punishment, stoning.

36. Forms of the verb privare occur 10 times, 2x in the Inferno, 6x in the Purgatorio, and 2x in the Paradiso. If we add the two uses of the adjectival form privo, the root word occurs 3x in the Inferno, 6x in the Purgatorio, and 3x in the Paradiso. The translations, with slight emendations in the direction of literalness, and text, are from Sinclair John, ed., The Divine Comedy, 3 vols.(New York: Oxford University Press, 1961).

37. Shakespeare on privacy merits further exploration. Among a wealth of suggestive passages, Falstaff, in many ways the prototype of the modern man, thinks Henry V will save him in private(2 Henry IV5.5.77); Henry V, Shakespeare's first modern king, distinguishes kings from “private men” on the eve of Agincourt (Henry V 4.1.237–39); and, in Henry VIII—which anticipates Elizabethan England and contains more variants of “private” than any other play—Archbishop Cramner distinguishes between his “private conscience and his place” and is promised he will become a “private man again” in the tower (5.2.75, 90).

38. Fortin , Political Idealism and Christianity in the Thought of St. Augustine (Wetteren, Belgium: Villanova University, 1972), p. 17.

39. Purg. 17.85–124. On natural love, Charles Singleton glosses the passage by recalling St. Augustine—“No one hates himself”—and St. Thomas on the love which attaches man to God—“God, in so far as He is the universal good, from Whom every natural good depends, is loved by everything with natural love”— and is applied towards oneself—“A man must, of necessity, love himself; and it is impossible for a man to hate himself, properly speaking” (The Divine Comedy: Purgatory 2. Commentary [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973], pp. 392, 398-99). Beatrice's argument also recalls Aristotle's position that a man cannot be unjust to himself.

40. Par.1. 70. As the loss of life and death of Inf. 34 cannot be written, so the transhumanization of Par.1 “cannot be signified by words.”

41. See, e.g., St. Thomas, Qu. Disp. de Pot., qu. 9, ar. 9, ra. 3: “Vera autem et perfecta caritas requirit in divinis temarium numerum personae. Amor enim quoaliquis se tantum diligit, est amor privatus, et non caritas vera”; In I Sent. ds. 32, qu. 1, ar. 2, ra. 3; both in Opera Omnia, ed. Roberto Busa S.I. (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1980), vol. 3, p. 260; vol. 1, p. 84. For a quick foretaste of St. Thomas's stance, and seriousness, about privacy, one might consider the variants of privo— there are 972, not all of which are germane, of course, to our concerns—in Busa's invaluable companion to the Opera, the Index Thomisticus (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 19741980), vol. 18, p. 370.

42. Nichomachean Ethics 1096al 5, 1175b5ff. Fortin , St. Augustine, pp. 2425, summarizes the new position: “The picture[of the ultimate irreconcilability of the demands of the philosophic life with those of the political life] changes abruptly the moment we come to the parallel issue of the relation of Christianity to the city. The distinction between the philosopher and the nonphilosopher, which Plato regarded as the most fundamental distinction among men and which underlies his treatment of the problem at hand, loses its paramount importance. By the same token, the nature of the bond that unites the Christian to his fellow men undergoes a profound transformation. Between the love of truth and the requirements of a life wholly dedicated to its pursuit on the one hand and the service of one's fellows on the other, there can no longer be any final opposition. Christian wisdom or the knowledge of the divine truth is not only reconcilable with but inseparable from the love of neighbor. The responsibilities that carries with it go far beyond anything that had previously been thought possible or desirable. They extend to all men, for one cannot love God without at the same time loving those whom God wants to be saved; and God wants everyone to be saved. To reject a single man isto break the covenant of love that links the Christian to all other men regardless of natural or conventional differences, inasmuch as by sinning against any member of Christ's body one sins against Christ himself. The sign and locus par excellence of Christian love is the Church, which is not an entity distinct from the world but the world reconciled unto itself and unto God: mundus reconciliatus eccksia.” In this context, the philosopher need no longer be so restrained concerning his “essentially private knowledge” (Strauss , Natural Right and History, p.12)

43. Matt. 24.3, Mark 13.3. In the first case Jesus speaks to all the disciples, in the second to the four senior disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew.

44. Mark 4:34, 6:32, 9:28, 13:3; Luke 9:10, 9:18, 10:23. Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, q.187, a. 3, ad3. I use the Blackfriars edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970).

45. If the implication is that one must speak differently according to the character of different audiences, there would be a supremely ironical resemblance to the behavior of Aristotle's magnanimous man, who in his warranted pride is otherwise antithetical to Christian dogma. Nichomachean Ethics 1224b31. “Mystery,” in the sense of “only what is known to the initiated,” occurs frequently in the Scriptures. See, e.g., Matt. 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10, Rom. 11:25, 16:25, 1 Cor. 2:7, 4:1, 13:2, 14:2, 15:51, Eph. 1:9, 3:3–4, 9, 5:9, 6:19, Col. 1:26–7, 2:2, 4:3, 2 Thess. 2:7, 1 Tim. 3:19, 16; Rev. 1:20, 10:7, 17:5, 7. I am indebted to Monte Freidig for pointing this out to me.

46. For Paul, see Gal. 2:2. On the story of Joseph and Mary, see Matt. 1:19. For the “private arrangement,” see Rienecker Fritz, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Rogers Cleon Jr. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980). For interpretations, see, e.g., Laymon Charles, ed., The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1971); Guthrie E. and Motyer J. A., eds., The New Bible Commentary Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans, 1970); Brown R., Fitzmyer J., and Murphy R.e., eds.. The Jerome Bible Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968); Nicoll W. Robertson, The Expositor's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans, 1974). For other uses of lathra, see Matt. 2:7, Acts 16:37.

47. The one cautionary note with regard to privacy that the New Testament seems to include is the polemical statement, addressed to false prophets, that no prophecy is made by “private interpretation” of 2 Pet. 1:20–21. This, however, is not understood as a denial of private action or understanding so much as it is an argument that prophecy originates with the Holy Spirit rather than with individuals and, therefore, is not a matter for private explanation or, as the Jerome Bible Commentary puts it, “unauthorized explanation.” There can, in this respect, be no severing of the private from the divine spirit or, as Beatrice says in her explication of love, Purg. 17.109–110, “no being can be understood as severed from the First Being.”

48. Purg. 32.102.

49. “Some belong to the bodily and spiritual life simultaneously, which takes place in the sacrament of matrimony where a man and woman come together to beget offspring and to rear them in divine worship.” Contra Gentiles, trans. Charles. O'Neill (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), IV.58.6; “Man in his origin was deprived of spiritual life by riginal sin… baptism, therefore, which is spiritual generation, had to have the power to take away both original sin and all the actual, committed sins” (Ibid., IV.59.1). See Qu. Disp. de Malo, qu. 4, art. 1, ra. 6: “quod caro nostra in sui natura bona est, sed secundum quod est privata originali iustitia propter peccatum primi parentis, sic causat originale peccatum"; qu. 5, art. 2, co.: “omnibus huiousmodi def ectibus: quo quidem auxilio privata est tota humana natura propter peccatum primi parentis” in Opera Omnia, vol. 3, pp. 295, 303. On man as by nature a social as well as political animal: “naturale … animal sociale et politicum,” see, for example, De Reg. Prin., Li, in Ibid. p. 595.

50. Politics 1259a40. Cf. ST la, q.92, a.2, c; Nichomachean Ethics 1162al 9. The family and the vita domestica are prior and more necessary than the polis and the vita civilis according to Aristotle, with which St. Thomas agrees, but, for Aristotle what is first in order of necessity or in time is not necessarily first in order of goods or ends. The polis may follow after the family but insofar as it is the completed form of association, it penetrates all the associations prior to it: “Every city… exists by nature, if such also are the first partnerships. For the city is their end; what each thing is… when its coming into being is complete is, we assert, the nature of that thing” (Politics 1252b30, trans. Lord).

51. ST 2a2ae, q.177, a.2. The point about women not speaking in Church is an expansion on 1 Cor. 14:34–5. See, too, 1 Tim. 2:8–15, for the connection between the status of men and women in this regard, and its relationship to the first sin. The common interpretation seems to be that Adam sins with his eyes open, thus acting willfully, whereas Eve, having been deceived by Satan, carries forward the deception.

52. See, e.g., Cont. Impugnantes, ps. 2, cp. 2, co.: “Similiter etiam societas privata quae est inter virum et uxorem, et dominum et servum” in Opera Omnia, vol. 3, p. 532. In context, the argument distinguishes permanent and temporary societies, private society of the character indicated being among the former.

53. Nichomachean Ethics 118a19, Commentary on the Ethics X. xiv. 2153, trans. Litzinger C. I. (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964), ST Ia2ae, q.90, a.3, ad 2, ad 3.

54. ST Ia2ae, q.97, a.4, ad3. See, 2a2ae, q.40,a.3, ad2, ad3. One may say of St. Thomas that his divergence from the ancient perspective may be measured by the frequency with which he replaces the ancient sense of political with the new sense of public.

55. ST 2a2ae, q.161, a.1, ad5. St. Thomas carefully notes that Aristotle's purpose was to treat the moral virtues as ordered ad vitam civilem, and that subordination in that area was a matter of law and legal justice. The editor notes “the tacit admission that a scheme of civic virtues, such as found in the Ethics, does not contain Christian humility.” See, too, on the persona publica and persona privata distinction, Quod. n. 10, qu. 6, ar. 3, co., in Opera Omnia, vol. 3, p. 497. St. Thomas also offers a fresh sense of “private law,” which, albeit it is of lesser status than public law, applies to individuals and to families. For the distinction, see, e.g., Commentary on the Ethics, V.xii.1021, where law is understood to be able to deal with particulars, as “when a regime or a prince grants to an individual person some privilege, which is called a lex rivata,” an example being a sacrifice in behalf of a woman who had rendered the community a great service. Cf. Prin. Bib. ps. 2: ”quod duplex est lex, scilicet, publica et privata. Privata lex est quae uni personae vel familiae imponitur observanda,” in Opera Omnia, vol. 3, p. 647. Cf. ST Ia2ae, q.90, a.2, where addressing whether law is always ordained to the common good, St. Thomas answers in the affirmative and does not mention anything resembling a lex privata.

56. Although the “essentially solitary philosopher” contrasts with the good and pious “guardian of his city,” it is possible to “live in solitude both by retiring from the world completely and by partaking of the political community of the city, be the city excellent or defective” (Strauss , Persecution, pp. 117, 139). For a thematic treatment of the subject, see, Nichols Mary, Socrates and the Political Community (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987).

57. Fustel , Ancient City, p. 387, states the matter with his customary economy and elegance: “Christianity distinguished the private from the public virtues. By giving less honor to the latter, it elevated the former; it placed God, the family, the human individual above country, the neighbor above the city.”

58. ST 3a, q.40, a.1.

59. For the meeting ground in a Christian context between public benefit and “love of truth” or the life that pursues truth, see, e.g., Dante , De Monarchia I.i.1, 6, ed. Ricci Pier G. (Verona: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1965).

60. De Mon. I.i.3. When divorced from commitment to truth, secularized, vulgarized, and given a passionate focus, this idea transforms itself into the notion that private vice equals public virtue.

61. See, Republic 327C–328B.

62. The problem is complicated by one side's privacy being identified with the body, the other's with the soul. Obscuring the division between the ancient senses of privacy—for instance, the privacy incorporated in economics and that identified with isolation or solitariness, that is, that of the idiot—does not mean that their differences do not come back to haunt us. This, I would add, is true despite our tendency to emphasize the privacy of the body at the cost of that of soul.

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The Review of Politics
  • ISSN: 0034-6705
  • EISSN: 1748-6858
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-politics
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