Quote of the Day - 10.29.08

| Wed Oct. 29, 2008 1:23 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From flat-taxer Andrew Sullivan, coming around to the idea that maybe progressive taxation is OK after all:

We have seen a massive shift in income inequality in the last couple of decades. Over time, that inequality can destabilize a democracy. It removes many from income tax altogether, it concentrates wealth in too few hands who can use it to corrupt the political system, and it leads to an oligarchy susceptible to populist onslaught (hello, Mr Dobbs). Aristotle's advice that polities should be concerned about the strength of the middle class, and that no democracy can long endure without one, is well worth absorbing.

A reader emailed me about this with understandable annoyance ("I give him two weeks before he quotes himself as coming up with this whole idea"), but I say: welcome to the party. Sure, Andrew's probably only saying this because he's currently in defend-Obama-at-all-costs mode, but still, Aristotle was right:

Those who have too much of the goods of fortune, strength, wealth, friends, and the like, are neither willing nor able to submit to authority....On the other hand, the very poor, who are in the opposite extreme, are too degraded....Thus arises a city, not of freemen, but of masters and slaves, the one despising, the other envying; and nothing can be more fatal to friendship and good fellowship in states than this: for good fellowship springs from friendship; when men are at enmity with one another, they would rather not even share the same path. But a city ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars; and these are generally the middle classes.

....Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant. Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy; or a tyranny may grow out of either extreme — either out of the most rampant democracy, or out of an oligarchy; but it is not so likely to arise out of the middle constitutions and those akin to them.

You'd think that if Aristotle could figure this out 2,300 years ago, modern conservatives could figure it out too. Maybe soon they will.

UPDATE: From comments: "Aristotle was a damn Socialist! How come you don't have a counter-point from Hermias the Plumber?" Indeed.