Plato On Democracy’s End Game

There’s one thing I know: you democrats are in deep kimchi.
Via Nick Steves via this site, I was reminded of a passage in Plato’s Republic about what the end stages of democracy would look like.

Incidentally, an invalid response to these arguments would be to say (explicitly or implicitly) that Plato was wrong here because he was wrong on some other argument not presented here. Example, “Plato also said that all wives should be held in common. So he was wrong about the consequences of democracy. So there.” Not there at all; indeed, utterly irrelevant.

Plato’s main concern, and ours, was whether democracy inevitably leads to tyranny. The journey south, he said, would pass some notable mile-markers. How close are we? What are the signs? Consider how far off the mark is this prediction from our current state of affairs:

And these are not the only evils, I said –there are several lesser ones: In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.

Men in the public eye resort to many tricks to mimic youth: surgery, clothing, even cosmetics, an effeminate way of speaking. The old are told they must lust. The young are looked to for guidance and wisdom. Many (not the readers of this blog) have forgotten the words, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

How about this one? I’ve swapped the word employee for slave, which crudely tracks the change in definition of that word since Plato’s day.

The last extreme of popular liberty is when the employee bought with money, whether male or female, is just as free as his or her purchaser; nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other.

An employer must pay for his employee’s sexual paraphernalia because he is the employer. Employers owe employees a living. “Gender” is a “construct” and subject to whim; one’s “identity” must be accepted by others. Two men may “marry”—and all must praise the act. Women in combat. Differences between the sexes are fictional.

A little poetry.

…how much greater is the liberty which the animals who are under the dominion of man have in a democracy than in any other State: for truly, the she-dogs, as the proverb says, are as good as their she-mistresses, and the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of freemen; and they will run at anybody who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them: and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.

Perhaps a stretch, but not much: vegans wag their stick-like fingers, animal “rights” activists are on the battlements calling for “personhood” for any beast which can hold a stick or make complicated noises. All things are ready to burst with liberty.

And a sting for Yours Truly.

And above all, I said, and as the result of all, see how sensitive the citizens become; they chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, as you know, they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.

I chafe. Why? Things seem—hell, they are—materially better now than before. Nobody is disappearing in the middle of the night, the TSA and NSA notwithstanding. Still, something’s off, things are out of balance. Maybe this isn’t so, but it feels that way; sometimes, anyway. The culture is split and the divide grows. We do not hold one shared belief and have honest disagreements over uncertainties. We are in camps. I come to the answer that I do not believe that those above me have fully legitimate authority. They do not hold to Truth, so why should I hold to them? Ah, what can I do about it anyway.

If Plato’s right, then we’re close, close.

35 Comments

  1. “Ah, what can I do about it anyway.” You can only do what you can and leave the rest in the Lord’s hands and I do believe that He has a plan and everything is going according to plan.

    I know that this is only peripherally related but it brought to my mind that bit of fiction that makes its round called “Obscure Scotsman Named Tytler” I wrote a post on his which you can find here: http://carolinacowboy.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/186/

  2. There will always be camps. The real point is how do we live together knowing there will always be different views of the world held by different people. It is not about seeking Truth, that becomes a personal endeavor. To achieve this, certain approaches are better than others. Like the live and let live approach. Like minority rights to avoid the mob rule that scared Plato so much. Don’t be so intense, and just enjoy the good things around you. Merry Christmas!

  3. Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
    And the slow parade of fears without crying
    Now I want to understand
    I have done all that I could
    To see the evil and the good without hiding
    You must help me if you can
    Doctor, my eyes
    Tell me what is wrong
    Was I unwise to leave them open for so long
    ‘Cause I have wandered through this world
    And as each moment has unfurled
    I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams
    People go just where there will
    I never noticed them until I got this feeling
    That it’s later than it seems
    Doctor, my eyes
    Tell me what you see
    I hear their cries
    Just say if it’s too late for me
    Doctor, my eyes
    Cannot see the sky
    Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry

    -Jackson Browne

  4. In case I am too busy tomorrow, I wish all the visitors and commenteers of this blog a very merry Christmas. This, of course, goes double for our dear Briggs. Grandsons arrive in a few hours.

    Wm

  5. “It always takes more effort to understand the perspectives and situations of others. It’s not easy to resist the automatic and self-serving assumptions we have about others, but when you can, you will know there are other options.”

    It’s important to grow up a bit.

  6. So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
    (By “eightieth” meaning whichever is last)
    The accumulated memories of annual emotion
    May be concentrated into a great joy
    Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
    When fear came upon every soul:
    Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
    And the first coming of the second coming. (T.S. Eliot)

    When a bird is alive it eats insects.
    When the bird is dead the insects eat the bird.
    Time and circumstances can change at any time. (unknown)

    Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight.

  7. There’s something to what Plato said.

    Democracies and Republics apparently have short lifespans. Kingdoms and whatnots seem the rule (*ahem*). The Romans rejected the idea of kingship. They created an institution which became part of their slogan, SPQR, but that institution was rather quickly (historically speaking) replaced with a leader who was king in every respect except in name. Much lip service to SPQR was paid along the way, though.

    Democracy seems fine as long as the number of participants remain low. The writers of the Constitution realized this and created a Republic instead keeping the idea of central control with a kind of democracy between states.

    But, just as with the Romans, we have leaders thumbing their noses at Congress. We even have have members of Congress thumbing their noses at Congress by changing the rules. I’d provide a link but it’s a hairy read. Much lip service to the Constitution is paid, though. ACA passed despite its non-support by the majority. We clearly don’t have a democracy.

    Plato put forth the ridiculousness of a slave having a voice. To the Greeks, slaves were smart tools. We may one day discover our smart tools demanding a voice.

    It’s likely that central control. even one man rule, is inevitable. Look at the animal kingdom. Central control evidently provides the most advantage biologically (although the anarchy of the virus world hasn’t led to their demise). Imagine, though, what it would be like if every cell in your body had a say so in your actions.

    But perhaps this may be a case of Birds Do It, Bees Do It.

  8. 1) ya, I’m bored – the kid got an ipad air for Christmas, his mother’s helping him get set up and I’m bored…

    2) meanwhile: the way you’re stretching poor old Plato here makes me think you might pronounce his name as “playdough”. Ah well, Check this out:

    —-
    In May of 1857 England’s Thomas MacAulay wrote
    a letter to Henry Randall in which he said:

    You are surprised to learn that I have not a high opinion of Mr. Jefferson, and I am a little surprised at your surprise. I am certain that I never wrote a line, and that I never, in Parliament, in conversation, or even on the hustings, – a place where it is the fashion to court the populace, – uttered a word indicating an opinion that the supreme authority in a state ought to be entrusted to the majority of citizens told by the head, in other words, to the poorest and most ignorant part of society. I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or
    civilisation, or both.

    In Europe, where the population is dense, the effect of such institutions would be almost instantaneous. What happened lately in France is an example. In 1848 a pure democracy was established there. During a short time there was reason to expect a general spoliation, a national bankruptcy, a new partition of the soil, a maximum of prices, a ruinous load of taxation laid on the rich for the purpose of supporting the poor in idleness. Such a system would, in twenty years, have made France as poor and barbarous as the France of the Carlovingians. Happily the danger was averted, and now there is a despotism, a silent tribune, an enslaved press. Liberty is gone: but civilisation has been saved.

    I have not the smallest doubt that, if we had a purely democratic government here, the effect would be the same. Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilisation would perish; or order and property would be saved by a strong military government, and liberty would perish. You may think that your country enjoys an exemption from these evils. I will frankly own to you that I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause. As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your labouring population will be far more at ease than the labouring population of the old world; and, while that is the case, the
    Jeffersonian polity may continue to exist without causing any fatal calamity. But the time will come when New England will be as thickly peopled as old England. Wages will be as low, and will fluctuate as much with you as with us. You will have your Manchesters and Birminghams; and, in those Manchesters and Birminghams, hundreds of thousands of artisans will assuredly be sometimes out of work. Then your institutions will be fairly brought to the test.

    Distress every where makes the labourer mutinous and discontented, and inclines him to listen with eagerness to agitators who tell him that it is a monstrous iniquity that one man should have a million while another cannot get a full meal. In bad years there is plenty of grumbling here, and sometimes a little rioting. But it matters little. For here the sufferers are not the rulers. The supreme power is in the hands of a class, numerous indeed, but select, of an educated class, of a class which is, and knows itself to be, deeply interested in the security of property and the maintenance of order. Accordingly, the malecontents are firmly, yet gently, restrained. The bad time is got over without robbing the wealthy to relieve the indigent. The springs of national prosperity soon begin to flow again: work is plentiful: wages rise; and all is tranquillity and cheerfulness. I have seen England pass three or four times through such critical seasons as I have described. Through such seasons the United States will have to pass, in the course of the next century, if not of this. How will you pass through them. I heartily wish you a good deliverance.

    But my reason and my wishes are at war; and I cannot help foreboding the worst. It is quite plain that your government will never be able to restrain a distressed and discontented majority. For with you the majority is the government, and has the rich, who are always a minority, absolutely at its mercy. The day will come when, in the State of New York, a multitude of people, none of whom has had more than half a breakfast or expects to have more than half a dinner, will chuse a legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of legislature will be chosen? On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict observances of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink Champagne and to ride in a carriage, while thousands of honest folks are in want of necessaries. Which of the two candidates is likely to be preferred by a working man who hears his children cry for more bread?

    I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do things which will prevent prosperity from returning; that you will act like people who should, in a year of scarcity, devour all the seed corn, and thus make the next year a year, not of scarcity, but of absolute famine. There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will increase the distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There is nothing to stop you. Your constitution is all sail and no anchor. As I said before, when a
    society has entered on this downward progress, either civilisation or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand; or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth Century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth; – with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions.

    (Paragraph breaks added, spelling differences preserved.)

  9. Briggs,

    You should paint your white board with the famous slogan and “the end is near” and stnad on the corner.

  10. “An employer must pay for his employee’s sexual paraphernalia because he is the employer. Employers owe employees a living. “Gender” is a “construct” and subject to whim; one’s “identity” must be accepted by others. Two men may “marry”—and all must praise the act. Women in combat. Differences between the sexes are fictional.”

    There are so many untruth in these sentences.

    1) The employer is not forced to provide any sexual paraphernalia to anyone. It is the insurance company that has to cover the pill. Other contraceptive are not covered. The employer just can’t discriminate against women now.

    2) only employer with 50 or more employee have the obligation to provide health insurance or pay a fine of $2500 dollars per employee, the is less expensive than offering the coverage.

    3) a company is a moral identity, not a physical person. It is legally liable. It may have freedom of speech because it has its own interest, but it cannot have beliefs because it is a theoretical person. The belief are owned by the persons who control the company. Change the persons and you have different beliefs.

  11. “ACA passed despite its non-support by the majority.”

    The ACA passed the house in 2009 with 416 vote and 16 non vote, it passed the senate with a result of 60/39. Supermajority in both chamber.

    Any election since then that was base on the ACA (2012 presidential and recently Virginia was lost by republican). Even in the House although republican have the majority they receive the minority of vote by almost 1 million.

    Your statement is blatantly false.

  12. My previous comment was disappeared for some reason. Here’s a recent edit

    The Democrats lost their majority in the first election after 2008 because of ACA (or more properly, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA).

    Your cherry picking doesn’t impress me. Here’s the House final voting record: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2010/roll165.xml

    It passed the House by seven (count them: 7) votes. Note the number of Republican aye votes. Also note the (still grievously small) number of Democrats who came to their senses. There have been many bills that have passed the House to repeal or modify PPACA since but the Senate still controlled by the D’s has refused to consider them.

    No, the majority of Americans do not support it — and the number is growing. The backlash is going to be something to see.

    The recent Virginia election was not solely based on ACA and was lost because of other issues even though it was and also because of the large amount of Democrat money poured into it. It’s a lot closer to home for me than it is for you. Nearly every TV ad I saw was pro Democrat, I actually can’t recall a single Republican ad but there must have been some.

    You are not quite up on American politics as your socialist masters would lead you to believe.

    It passed the House by seven (count them: 7) votes. Note the number of Republican aye votes. Also note the (still grievously small) number of Democrats who came to their senses. There have been many bills that have passed the House to repeal or modify PPACA since but the Senate still controlled by the D’s has refused to consider them.

    No, the majority of Americans do not support it — and the number is growing.

    The recent Virginia election was not solely based on ACA and was lost because of other issues even though it was and also because of the large amount of Democrat money poured into it. It’s a lot closer to home for me than it is for you. Nearly every TV ad I saw was pro Democrat, I actually can’t recall a single Republican ad but there must have been some.

    You are not quite up on American politics as your socialist masters would lead you to believe.

  13. I’ve tried to repond twice but the comments are disappearing. I guess they will show up eventually. I don’t feel like trying again.

    Slyvain, you really don’t understand American politics. Cherry picking doesn’t make you right. The majority of Americans DO NOT support PPACA and when it finally passed Congress, it did so in the House by seven votes.

    Your analysis of the recent Virginia election is quite naive.

  14. DAV,

    “The Democrats lost their majority in the first election after 2008 because of ACA (or more properly, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA).”

    You seem to be the one who is cherry picking. In 2010, the election was lost because of the economic crisis. No political party has ever been able to keep the majority following an economic crisis and 2008 was amongst the worst of all.

    Even conservative news media agreed that the economy was the main issue in 2010.

    http://usconservatives.about.com/od/2010midtermelections/tp/2010-midterm-election-issues.htm

    Healthcare was fourth on their list.

    It is Cuccinnelli that decided to make the Virginian election a referendum on the ACA. Which he lost badly. Democrats now control the 5 key posts in the state for the first time in decades.

    “It passed the House by seven (count them: 7) votes. Note the number of Republican aye votes. Also note the (still grievously small) number of Democrats who came to their senses. There have been many bills that have passed the House to repeal or modify PPACA since but the Senate still controlled by the D’s has refused to consider them.”

    And you are surprised??? That I know of 219/212 is still the majority over the senate amendment While the democrats would have voted against the repeal in the senate, on their end, the house refused to bring bills to the floor that would have pass.

    “No, the majority of Americans do not support it — and the number is growing. The backlash is going to be something to see.”

    your joy demonstrate a few oversight on your part.

    1) a majority of American are against the repeal.
    2) Among those that “oppose” the ACA there are about half that are unhappy about either the law not going far enough (i.e.: single payer or public option)

    Anyhow this blogpost is interesting in showing the dichotomy between right out repeal and implement and fix:

    http://healthcarepolls.blogspot.ca/

    Don’t forget that there is still a while before the next election, and the number of rejection is coming back to pre-October level.

    Are you seriously complaining about money in politic???? Democrat would certainly agree to limit it.

    Yes, their were other reason in the Virginia election which Cuccinelli rejected and concentrated on the referendum for the ACA. And McAuliffe was far from being an attractive candidate. And you can’t complain that the Couch wasn’t conservative enough.

  15. Sylvain,

    You said: The ACA passed the house in 2009 with 416 vote and 16 non vote, it passed the senate with a result of 60/39. Supermajority in both chamber.

    Yet in early 2010 (21-Mar-2010,10:49 PM to be exact) the house vote on PPACA degraded to 219/217. Why do you think that happened?

  16. Sylvain,

    Indeed! Think about that! It was accepted by the narrowest of margins inn less than one year after it originally passed in the House and less than three months after if passed the Senate! Where do you think those Republicans came from? The Democrats had stupidly passed a very unpopular bill — and an election year to boot — and lost close to half of their seats in the backlash only months later. There were even defecting Democrats. Why? They liked it so much only a year before but suddenly not? It isn’t even remotely possible the enormity of what had been done was dawning on them?

    It’s so popular that only 0.33% of all Americans (as of the DEC 23) have made a mad dash to sign up. And those that have can’t seem to find out where to send the premiums so they don’t really know if they really have insurance.

    The debacle is going to get much larger in the coming year as even more will have their current insurance yanked out from under them. The backlash in 2014 may even be larger than that in 2008.

    Where on Earth did you ever get the idea that the majority of Americans support this really stupid law? It’s THE stupidest law passed since Prohibition. The damage it will do may even surpass that one.

  17. Oh. And while I’m at it, the Virginia election was NOT about ACA. That was the Republican stance, yes, but not a single pro-Democratic ad mentioned it that I can recall. What was mentioned — a lot — was abortion rights. Nearly all of the votes that defeated the Republicans came from Northern Virginia which has some of the richest counties in the country. They hardly were concerned over health insurance.

  18. Dav,

    Between the first and second vote in the house on the ACA there was a single novelty that appeared i.e. the birth and growth of the tea party. If at first the tea party was a grassroots movement it was soon deviated by the Koch brothers who injected hundreds of millions of dollars into organization that claim to come from popular demand.

    What happened between the first vote in October, and the second in March is that already in early 2010 threat of primaries to elected senator and house reps forced republican to vote against the ACA.

    The problem is that tea partier can only win district not state wide election. This is why they were unable to control the senate like they should have been able to do considering the economic situation. Democrats owe a lot to Sharon Engle, Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, Murtauch (spelling), etc. Without those extremist republican would control the senate since 2010.

    About the 0.33%:

    1) the law is made to insure the 50 million uninsured, so it doesn’t affect those who already have insurance except for about the 1-2 million people who mostly had subpar insurance coverage that do not meet the standard minimum now required by the law. Some of these insurance had deductible in the tens of thousand of dollars or didn’t cover hospitalization, and they were usually dropped at first signs of any illness.

    So your 0.33% represent 1 million out of 300 million. The reality is that you should count it as 1 million out of 45 million or 2.2% of the people affected by the law. Of course, the poor performance of the website at first didn’t help but things are getting a lot better. Also since, many states decided to opt-out of the Medicaid upgrade which reduces the number of people that will be covered by about 5 million.

    At the moment the speed of enrollment is faster than what was observe with Romneycare in Mass. The important date is how many people are covered in March 31, 2014.

    The only hope for republican is that implementation goes wrong and for sure they are doing anything they can to make sure that it goes wrong, including inciting people to not sign up for health care.

    You seem to want to go back the way things were before. Yet before things were really bad and expensive. A single payer system would have been much more easier to implement and would have offered better coverage. But this is the compromise they agreed on and it is very similar to Romneycare (which strangely was partly design by the heritage foundation).

    In Virginia:

    The turn out was very similar to the 2012 election. For women abortion was the first reason to vote against the Couch. If Obamacare was so unpopular, as you say, then they wouldn’t have voted for the guy that want to implement it fully.

    “It’s THE stupidest law passed since Prohibition”

    Huge credit for not comparing it to slavery =)

  19. By all means console yourself with that. Democrats lost big time immediately following the initial passage of ACA in the House and now no one is making a mad dash to sign up — not even the ones you claim it’s for — but you say Hey! Everybody loves it! You think a state election where the Democrats scrambled to find any issue other than ACA — to specifically avoid making the election a referendum on ACA — as a vindication of ACA.

    You really ARE clueless.

  20. DAV,

    Where did I say that everyone loves it. I said a majority of people are for the ACA. This means a majority of democrat and a minority of republican. There is only about 35% that hate it as much as you do. There a little less than 30% of the people that like it as it is. But there is about 20% that find that the law doesn’t go far enough (these people are include amongst those that don’t like the law). Finally, there is a group of people that don’t like the law, but didn’t like the previous system. These people don’t want a repeal of the law, they want it to be fixed.

    Not liking one thing doesn’t necessarily mean that you want that thing destroyed. Republican might have had a better chance if they had propose another idea but they can’t because this law is a republican idea passed under black President, and this cannot be accepted by them.

    A prediction in 2014 mid-term election republican will lose the house because people are tired of the childish republican games of obstructionism. The democrat will owe a big thank you to Ted Cruz who will disappear from the map in 2016 (similar to MacCarthy and Palmer). Maybe we will learn later that Cruz was really a democrat on a mission to destroy the republican haha.

    Virginia wasn’t a vindication of the ACA, but a vindication that people don’t want it repealed.

  21. There are no midnight roundups. Yet. But the logic is in place. People increasingly don’t believe in civil rights for those whose views they disagree with. NSA dragnetting, warrantless stop-and-searches, indefinite detention and TSA humiliations have all conditioned us to accept any unconstitutional excess on the part of the government in the name of safety. As long we we personally are left to pursue pleasure or play with our toys, who cares if other people’s rights are summarily violated? If you don’t like it, wait until the next election when you get to choose between two parties who go to great length to pretend there are differences between them. Democracy is already dead in the US.

  22. democracy’s fatal flaw is that it is necessarily self-referential.

    in other words, because a majority passed a law, the law must be correct, righteous, true, choose whatever high sounding, principled trait you wish.

    again, in democracy the good is established by majority vote. the good has nothing to do with right reason, history, facts or anything else. no matter how foolish and idea might be, if it receives a majority vote, all are condemned to suffer its nonsensical or unintended consequences.

  23. Eddie, we do not live in a democracy, we live in a repesentive republic, with three branches of government, that is (well it used to be) governed by a constitution which can only be changed by amendmending it through a laborious method.

    “…no matter how foolish and idea might be, if it receives a majority vote, all are condemned to suffer its nonsensical or unintended consequences.” Yes, if it can pass both houses and be signed into law by the president, and pass any contitutioal chalaglage.

  24. DAV,

    Who is clueless the one that believes that vast majority people hate the ACA so much that it is the worst law since prohibition, but yet, in 2012, still re-elected Obama for a second term. Cast 1 million more vote for democrat than for republican in the house. And increased the number of democratic senator in the senate.

    This year people have elected a democrat at five highest elected office of the state of virginia. And a governor that clearly stated is intention to expand Medicaid under the ACA for the state.

    If so many thought the law so awful you would have seen the backlash already.

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