Saturday, 6 August 2016

Platonic Politics

While I was studying for my degree, I became fascinated by the study of ethics. I based my artefact on Plato's Republic, and have been re-reading it recently. I love Plato - I don't always agree with him (in fact, I used his arguments on art against themselves in my artefact.)

In Book Eight of the Republic, the characters of Socrates and Glaucon discuss Four Forms of Government. Now, Plato was quite critical of democracy; his teacher was the real-life Socrates, who was executed by the state for allegedly corrupting the youth of the state against the ruling elite. Plato, in turn, taught Aristotle, who classified democracy as a defective form of government (although he accepted that Polity was Utopian and that democracy was the form of government best suited to reality.)

Aristotle's Six Species of Government

Plato wrote that "When a democracy is thirsting for freedom has evil cup-bearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of the strong wine of freedom, then... she calls them to account, and says that they are cursed oligarchs."

He believed that democracy carried within it the seeds of its own destruction - that as there is more and more liberty, citizens "...chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority, and at length... they cease to care even for the laws." In Plato's depiction, he states that in the extremes of democracy, even animals would be afforded more rights than a man in another state (we have Animal Rights, yet in many countries in the world, they barely even have Human Rights). However, into this excess of freedom comes tyranny, because as we have more freedoms, anything less seems like slavery, leaving the way open for a tyrant to step into the vacuum. He wrote that, in a democracy, because everyone is considered equal, emotional views can have equal standing with those based on reason and logic.

This is what is happening now. Democracy is being destroyed in the name of upholding democracy.

Ann Sang Suu Kyi once said that "Democracy is when the people control the government." 

Plato's thoughts are resonant throughout political history.
Image Source: markmcintire.blogspot.com

I honestly feel as though this is what we're seeing in politics and society today; we live at a time of unprecedented freedom and liberty, yet, everywhere we look, walls are (literally and metaphorically) being built. Nationalism is on the rise as a backlash to freedom of movement and shared experience. Plato warned us of this thousands of years ago, yet, according to Aristotle, it is something that we are doomed to repeat ad nauseum:

Image Source: slideshare.net

It's a scary thought that we are headed into the tyrannical segment of this cycle, but I am watching it happen. Maybe it needs to happen? In order to, I don't know, re-set the clock or something? Maybe the way democracy is working now isn't actually working and it needs some sort of defibrillation to get it going again? I feel as though we're seeing the breakdown of our political structures and the disintegration of our societies. Maybe this will be for the best in the (very) long run, but it's going to suck while it's happening.

All I can say is that we need to start learning from the past, learning from our mistakes; we can't dismiss experts with the glib assertion that an opposite opinion is just as valid, even when it flies in the face of all evidence. I think things are going to get worse before they get better, and I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong...

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