Monday, December 20, 2004



In a recent article, Mark Shields contrasted the production of armaments by the United States during the first three years of World War II with our seeming inability now to protect Humvees and trucks in Iraq with sufficient armor.

Part of it is simple lack of will. We aren't half the men our fathers were. Those of us on the home front just don't have the spirit of sacrifice our forebears exhibited sixty years ago.

Some of it can perhaps also be explained by the intentional gutting and eroding of the manufacturing expertise and capacity of the United States by the enthusiastic proponents of globalization and outsourcing. We can't produce enough flu vaccine for our own citizens, and we can't equip our own soldiers properly.

The ancient Greeks had a useful word, autarkeia, usually transliterated in English as autarky. It means self-sufficiency. Pericles in his funeral oration praised Athens for its possession of this quality (Thucydides 2.36.3, tr. Benjamin Jowett):
And we ourselves assembled here to-day, who are still most of us in the vigour of life, have carried the work of improvement further, and have richly endowed our city with all things, so that she is sufficient for herself both in peace and war.
Aristotle (Politics 1.2, tr. Benjamin Jowett) goes further and says that self-sufficiency should be the goal or end of the state:
When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.
Autarky is an ideal and can never be fully attained. But it is an ideal worth striving for.

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