At FPR, Patrick Deneen has posted an excellent essay contrasting classical anthropology with that of Enlightenment thinkers Locke and Hobbes.
Though Deneen doesn’t mention it, Homer himself identified the classical liberal temptation with savagery, portraying the vicious and savage Cyclopes as living in a way that many ostensible conservatives today would find quite appealing:
These people have no institutions, no meetings for counsels;
rather they make their habitations in caverns hollowed
among the peaks of the high mountains, and each one is the law
for his own wives and children, and cares nothing about the others.
While political theory is not always as exciting as current events, Deneen’s essay makes a very worthwhile and down-to-earth point: When conservatives try to combat liberalism by attacking the state as such and collectivism as such, they are “appeal[ing] to the individualistic principles of classical liberalism,” which is “the philosophical equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire.”
According to Aristotle, and later further developed by Thomas Aquinas, man is by nature a social and political animal – which is to say, that humans only become human in the context of polities and society. Shorn of such relations, the biological creature “human” was not actually a fully realized human – not able to achieve the telos of the human creature, a telos that required law and culture, cultivation and education, and hence, society and tradition.
Thus, Aristotle was able to write (and Aquinas after him essentially repeated) that “the city is prior to the family and the individual” – not, of course, temporally, but in terms of the primacy of wholes to parts. To use a metaphor common to both the ancients and in the Biblical tradition, the body as a whole “precedes” in importance any of its constitutive parts: