A lengthy profile by John Cornwell, which appears in the November issue of Prospect, examines the biography and the philosophical work of Alasdair MacIntyre, particularly in regard to the relevance of his Marx-inflected Thomism for confronting the ongoing crisis of capitalist economies in Europe and the U.S.:
MacIntyre has often given the impression of a robe-ripping Savonarola. He has lambasted the heirs to the principal western ethical schools: John Locke’s social contract, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Yet his is not a lone voice in the wilderness. He can claim connections with a trio of 20th-century intellectual heavyweights: the late Elizabeth Anscombe, her surviving husband, Peter Geach, and the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, winner in 2007 of the Templeton prize. What all four have in common is their Catholic faith, enthusiasm for Aristotle’s telos (life goals), and promotion of Thomism, the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas who married Christianity and Aristotle. Leo XIII (pope from 1878 to 1903), who revived Thomism while condemning communism and unfettered capitalism, is also an influence.
MacIntyre’s key moral and political idea is that to be human is to be an Aristotelian goal-driven, social animal. Being good, according to Aristotle, consists in a creature (whether plant, animal, or human) acting according to its nature—its telos, or purpose. The telos for human beings is to generate a communal life with others; and the good society is composed of many independent, self-reliant groups.
There are strong, albeit derivative, echoes of these ideas in the policies of Phillip Blond, David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru. In the US, policy wonk Lew Daly pays tribute to MacIntyre and papal social teaching as he advises Barack Obama on how to create a national health service without state domination. MacIntyre differs from all these influences and alliances, from Leo XIII onwards, in his residual respect for Marx’s critique of capitalism.
Read the entire article here.