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Aristotle’s Politics and conflict resolution in the case of the civil war in the Ukraine
The internecine conflict that is taking place in the Ukraine indicates the existence of a civilizational clash between the Western and Eastern orthodox cultural spheres (Biersack and O’Lear, 2014: 249). The willingness of the incumbent Ukrainian government to move to a more pro-Western position and seek a close associative agreement with the European Union led to the active intervention of the Russian Federation in the conflict (Shevtsova, 2014: 80). It appears that the Putin administration is interested in maintaining a cultural and geopolitical foothold in the Ukraine in order to remain as a Eurasian power to be reckoned with (Wilson, 2014: 44). The main argument to be put forward in this essay revolves around the idea that the resolution of the conflict in the Ukraine may be brought about by the application of the Aristotelian principles described in Politics. The Greek philosopher argues that the use of reason and politics lead to the construction of viable political institutions based on the concept of the attainment of perfection and the good life for all members of the citizenry (Aristotle, 1998: 39). This work is divided into two sections. The first part of the paper will focus on the internal conflict that is taking place in the Ukraine, paying particular attention to the main points of contention between the different warring parties. The second section of the paper will concentrate on how some of the Aristotelian principles in Politics might facilitate a resolution of the conflict.
A brief history of the internal conflict taking place in the Ukraine
The conflict unfolding in the Ukraine can be understood as the push and pull of the social and political groups that cohabit in the nation. One faction advocates a closer relation with the Western world; the other segment of the population espouses a pro-Russian stance (Shevtsova, 2014: 75). The conflict between these two groups emerged in November 2013 when the incumbent president, Victor Yanukovich refused to sign an agreement of association with the European Union (Wilson, 2014: 101). The rationale behind rejecting the collaborative framework was that this action would have committed the Ukraine to severing its close cultural and geopolitical ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s actions resulted in the emergence of the Euromaidan movement, which demanded the ousting of the president and the signing of the agreement with the European Union (Biersack and O’Lear, 2014: 251). The removal of President Yanukovich in February 2014 led to mass protests in the Russian-speaking part of the country and the intervention of the Russian Federation in the conflict, with the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and much financial and military aid granted to the pro-Russian separatists in the southern part of the country (Shevtsova, 2014: 76). This state of affairs indicates the large degree of geostrategic importance given to the Ukraine by the Putin administration. The establishment of a geopolitical foothold in the Ukraine enables the Russian Federation to retain its status as a viable Eurasian power. It is possible to argue that the conflict taking place in the Ukraine is indicative of an important geopolitical rift that is emerging in a relevant geostrategic part of Europe between the Russian Federation and the Western powers.
The pro-Western elements within the Ukraine, aspiring to a wider spectrum of economic prosperity, are willing to embark on a closer associative framework with the European Union (which effectively took place under the presidency of Petro Poroshenko) (Wilson, 2014: 120). Conversely, the main concern of the Ukrainian population of Russian descent is to ensure that their cultural rights and deep bonds with the Russian Federation are preserved. This faction has reacted to the events in the context of what they consider to be the intrusive actions of the Western powers.
The ramifications of this conflict exceed the national boundaries of the Ukraine, for the country is at the forefront of the geopolitical quest for the domination of the Eurasian peninsula (Shevtsova, 2014: 77). At the very least, the Russian Federation is interested in maintaining a foothold in the Ukraine in order to retain its status as a Eurasian power. At the same time, the motivation of the Western powers (namely, the United States and the European Union) revolves around averting a situation in which Moscow threatens the geostrategic stability of central and eastern Europe (Shevtsova, 2014: 79).
In the next section, we will see how these factors can have a bearing on the Aristotelian conception of the political and how this may contribute to creating the basis of a peaceful and workable resolution to the conflict in the Ukraine.
Aristotle’s conception of the political and its application to the resolution of the civil war that is unfolding in the Ukraine
The Aristotelian concept of the political is expounded in Politics, in which the Greek philosopher outlines the existence of five interrelated principles that explain the purpose of political action. Aristotle connects the use of reason to politics, stating that the elucidation of the nature of a particular thing takes place within the framework of its ultimate purpose (Aristotle, 1998: 38). Moreover, Aristotle holds the view that the ultimate objective of the individual is to get to a stage when she or he is able to have full exercise of his or her natural functionalities. It is worth adding that according to Aristotle, the attainment of a happy life for the members of the public can only be exercised in the context of a political community. In turn, the establishment of a sound political compact depends on creating a sound relationship between the ruler and the ruled (Aristotle, 1998: 44).
It is possible to maintain that the concept of the nature of the political outlined by Aristotle is connected to the idea that rational considerations always tend to prevail over non-rational ones (Aristotle, 1998: 49). These considerations have important repercussions in creating a workable resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. Using the Aristotelian philosophical template, one may be inclined to espouse the view that the employment of rational methods may lead to the achievement of a political compact that would allow the pro-Russian and pro-Western factions to attain a modicum of conviviality for the purposes of securing a happy life for all members of the citizenry (Aristotle, 1998: 56). In addition to this, the use of rational methods in the attainment of a resolution of the conflict would avoid a situation in which both sides have to resort to the use of authoritarian practices in order to maintain a spectrum of political sovereignty (Aristotle, 1998: 59).
The concepts of teleology and perfectionism included in the Aristotelian philosophical blueprint have significant implications for understanding how the conflict in the Ukraine may be resolved. The Greek philosopher posits that reflection on the ends of political action enables the members of society to think about the actualization of the needs and interests of the citizenry as the ultimate objective of the political (Aristotle, 1998: 108). This is a useful philosophical template for appraising the manner in which the Ukrainian internal conflict may be resolved. By focusing on the needs and interests of the citizens as the ultimate aim of political practice, both factions involved in the Ukrainian conflict could bring about a situation conducive to the attainment of a workable solution for all parties involved (Biersack and O’Lear, 2014: 254). Moreover, this should be the main principle guiding the participation of the Russian Federation and the Western powers in the conflict. Ensuring the attainment of their geopolitical objectives should go hand in hand with the fulfillment of the needs of the Ukrainian people (Wilson, 2014: 162).
The Aristotelian approach to the resolution of the crisis leads to the conclusion that the pro-Russian and pro-Western factions could work together to either facilitate the formation of two self-governing areas within the Ukraine or bring about an amicable separation of the two cultural spheres, leading to the establishment of separate countries (Aristotle, 1998: 133). This is the modus operandi that was used during the partition of Germany in the late 1940s, when the Soviet and Western allies decided to establish two separate states instead of being locked into a permanent state of conflict (Wilson, 2014: 121). For all the reasons cited above, it is possible to conclude that the Aristotelian philosophical template goes some way towards establishing the basis for the possible resolution of the conflict, through the emphasis on the use of rationality and the focus on the needs and interests of the citizenry as the main purpose of political action.
In conclusion, it could be argued that the Aristotelian perspective on politics does go some way towards establishing the philosophical foundation for the resolution of the internal conflict taking place in the Ukraine (Aristotle, 1998: 66). The factors enumerated in the previous sections back up the main argument posited in this paper, as the use of reason and the application of a functional conception of the political could establish the foundation for a compromise between the factions involved in the dispute that is unfolding in the Ukraine (Wilson, 2014: 125). A teleological approach to political action, as described by Aristotle in Politics, could also facilitate the establishment of spheres of influence in the Ukraine in the same way as during the Cold War in Germany. This is an instrument that could potentially lead to the pacification of the Ukraine and the attainment of the needs and interests of the members of the citizenry in the way described by Aristotle (Aristotle, 1998: 130). It is in this context that the contribution of the Aristotelian philosophical blueprint to the possibility of resolving the Ukrainian crisis should be appraised.
Aristotle (1998) Politics, Hackett Publishing, London
Biersack, J. and O’Lear, S., The geopolitics of Russia’s annexation of Crimea: narratives, identity, silences, and energy, Eurasian Geography and Economics, Volume 55, Issue 3, 2014, pp. 247-269
Shevtsova, L., The Maidan and Beyond: The Russia Factor, Journal of Democracy, Volume 25, Number 3, 2014, pp. 74-82
Wilson A. (2014) Ukraine Crisis: What It Means for the West, Yale University Press, New Haven and London