This is as deep as I’ll ever get into politics here. And my post today isn’t an effort to endorse anyone for any public office, either overtly or implicitly. What it is, though, is a historical perspective on modern times, our opportunities, our challenges. For appropriate background, let me cite portions of a rather long passage from Plato’s perspective some 2000 years ago. This partial essay comes from Classical Wisdom Weekly, a piece entitled Plato and the Disaster of Democracy:
In book VIII of The Republic, Plato begins to describe several stages of government that are intolerable, yet unavoidable. Plato predicts a society with an enormous socioeconomic gap, where the poor remain poor and the rich become richer off the blood and sweat of others. In this instance, the people will long for freedom and liberty. They will use it as a battle cry against their oppressors, sparking a revolution.
From this revolution, blood will be spilled and many will die. During this time of violent transition, the people will rally behind one man, or a few men, whom they believe to be their savior…
…During the course of his writings Plato differentiates between necessary desires and unnecessary desires. Necessary desires are desires we can not over come, such as our desire for shelter and sustenance. Unnecessary desires are desires that we are able to overcome, yet refuse to. These desires include luxuries and lavish possessions. These types of desires are a result of a rapid influx of liberty into the population. Once we have tasted freedom we become drunk off it. Plato predicts that the people will demand freedom at every turn, fighting any form of authority and demanding more liberty. We become obsessed with our freedom and become willing to sacrifice necessary things like social order and structure to attain it.
At this point, the newly appointed leaders become very nervous. It was so easy to depose their predecessors, so why not them? These democratic leaders will realize that they are only easily supported when there is a war that the people can rally behind. And so the democratic leaders will unnecessarily become involved in violent affairs, creating wars to distract the people. To ensure their power, the leaders will create laws to bolster their position…
Plato continues in his discussion by explaining that the these leaders will eventually become unpopular, an unavoidable result. Those who once supported this ruling class begin to rebel against the would be tyrant. At this point the citizens will try to get rid of whatever man is currently in office, either by exile or impeachment. If this is not possible, the ruler will inevitably strike down any political opposition he may have.
Hated by the people, these leaders will request the presence of a body guard. And now he is a tyrant, the leader has no choice if he wishes to rule. Elected by the people, yet now he is protected from them. Plato predicts that this tyrant will appeal to the lowest form of citizen.
Clearly, Plato understood the complexities of social life in all its manifestations through the ages, even our unique form of democracy in the U.S., put into practice via a representative form we call republic. And the stages of Plato’s scenario can and will be interpreted in several ways, according to the differing belief systems of the people.
But we can avoid allowing our unique social experiment to degenerate into the form of government that Plato depicts above. How?
Government, representing the people as an entity, and the private sector of business and society, must cooperate toward the goal of providing the necessaries of life to its citizens. Whether this is done by creating work through the Puritan ethic of accumulation by hard labor, or by other means, is irrelevant. And all citizens must be educated to a point that they can collectively avoid Plato’s pitfalls and sustain a society that exists for all.
If we can’t do these two things, then we will degenerate as a society and be no better than the world societies we now endeavor to change for the better through trade practices, social arm-twisting and war. This is a pivotal time for the U.S. and the world. Choices must be made, and the persons we choose aren’t as important as what we demand from them as representatives of us, the people.