I put my glasses down on the counter and sat down in the barber’s chair. Sometimes, it feels as though that act will preclude conversation, as though I had removed hearing aids instead of eyewear. The young woman cutting my hair in this case felt like chatting. She asked the standard question about my occupation. I answered that I teach politics at the local university. And when you say politics, they tend to get interested. Everyone has an opinion about politics.
She observed that now must be a big time for me because of the upcoming presidential election and the debates. I told her that’s true, but that most of my teaching these days has to do with political thought from another age. One of my colleagues took a job in another city. Now I find myself teaching Plato and Aristotle.
“How is that different?” she asked. As an example, I told her about Plato’s proposal for a community of wives and children for the guardians of his city. He thought it would create greater love and unity. Every boy will have many fathers. Fathers will have many sons. I followed that by explaining Aristotle’s objection to the idea. He said that a son in such a community would not really be a son, but more like 1/1000th of a son.
Most people I know react by agreeing strongly with Aristotle. But this woman surprised me. She said, “I’m a single mom with five kids. I think I like Plato’s idea where everybody takes care of each other’s children.” I didn’t stop her to clarify that nobody in Plato’s proposal really has their own children because her admission hit a nerve.
I thought about what it must be like to be a woman with five children, a job, and no husband. From where she’s standing, a society pulled in much closer by government plans and ideology seems like a good idea. I don’t blame her. She’s going to want the government daycare, the public after-school programs, the universal healthcare, and the rest of it. She feels alone and is looking for allies. Government is one answer to her vulnerability.
If you are a person who prizes liberty and who wants to keep the government limited (which is where I have always been), it is important to realize that there are a lot of people like the woman who cut my hair. The challenge she poses is a serious one.
Don’t write her off. She’s out there working and striving. The question is whether both sides have something compelling to say to her . . . or only one.