I read an e-mail article which listed what it claimed in its title to be “20 Quotes From Ancient Greek Philosophers That Liberals Still Don’t Understand” and four of these in particular got my brain reeling, drowning in swirling daydreams and thought perhaps it might be fun to share. I found myself gravitating to three philosophers where one was the most gifted student of the other and the other their sole peer. Below are the thoughts in decreasing order of relevance, or at least in ease of application and understanding. This dictates we tackle them in reverse order working from the sublime imperatives from which we then reach the inevitable brutal and undeniable truth.
“Republics decline into democracies and democracies
degenerate into despotisms.” – Aristotle
“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs;
when he first appears he is a protector.” – Plato
“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion,
a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” — Socrates
“The curse of me and my nation is that we always think things can be bettered
by immediate action of some sort, any sort rather than no sort.” – Plato
That places our starting point with Plato and the concept, “The curse of me and my nation is that we always think things can be bettered by immediate action of some sort, any sort rather than no sort.” This is true in every government which depends on the opinions of the people discerned through an elective process. Be the system parliamentary, republic, direct democracy or other form where the voting public consists of eligibility of the greater part of the adult electorate and where promises gains votes those promises will come fast and loose. This will inevitably lead to greater and greater promises which will become more and more immediate often inventing problems and difficulties which are designed for easy quick solutions which can be readily enacted and implemented despite there being no reality to both the invented problem and an easy answer. Everything becomes something which requires an immediate solution and this demand continues to grow and now the people soon demand that even the greatest difficulties of the world be solved with the same brilliance, alacrity and without difficulty or complications. The expectations have become unrealistic but then when the people are demanding miracles, those who desire to hold office will make promises which they know cannot be solved with promises which they know will never be solved and only lead to greater problems as the half measures designed as quick actions which are definitive, definitive failures causing more and deeper problems. The demand for immediacy by the public eventually leads to the need for a savior.
That brings us to the next quote from Socrates which states, “A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” This is where taking the false promises of charlatans who are the sole makers of empty promises selling them as definitive solutions to the most knotty and complex of problems starts us down a slippery slope. These have the ability to sell a framing of the problem in such a way that their solution appears obvious but nobody seems to think why if the solution which now appears so simple, easy and immediate that it did not appear for the last body of officials. Nobody wants to question whether the defining of the problem has been molded and crafted simply to facilitate the elevation of the individual and not done to reach a viable solution. These charlatans always play emotional weaknesses and know the desires of the people more than they understand the problems but emotionalism plays well, think Donald Trump with one difference, imagine Trump with a solution to the Middle East which is easy, immediate and apparently just hidden from view in such a way that only Trump could see it. Of course Donald Trump has not put forth such a solution and instead has simply sold that things will be great, trust Trump, great. Well, it is so completely different than Yes We Can. Both “Make America Great Again” and “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth” are empty boasts on which all problems can be put aside as the personality is sufficient to repair every problem. These set up a system of morality which is made of empty platitudes that caught the people up in an emotional defining of the world and choosing a leader purely on emotion which eventually leads to disappointment making the situation primed for the next step.
We go back to Plato where we read, “This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.” When the solutions are minimized such that false solutions become the norm, we reach a mire so deep that only a savior is believed to be the only possible solution. A person who is charismatic and has a plan, a plan that sweeps the public up with the promises, causes them to fall head over heels for the man with the plan which will heal their nation and restore it to greatness and return every glory which was once true and real. The savior and restorer of the greatness are seen as one who will revamp the government and streamline the process and accomplish that which formerly was not possible. The protector comes with promises if only you can and will trust what he knows must be executed to bring about the future promised by this protector. The promise is that once they are loosed from the restriction built into government and being freed from the tethers designed to limit and constrain government, but the savior cannot be constrained by such petty inconveniences. The releasing of the tethers and streamlining the methodology leads only one place, tyranny, and tyranny inevitably leads to one thing, despotic ruin.
This last revelation finished the slide defined so accurately by Aristotle who stated, “Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” The Republic was seen as the finest form of governance no matter the style, be it direct elections, parliamentary or anything between or alongside where the people hold the power and the government has to respect the people’s power. With time the republic governance reaches a point where their society actually needs minimal government and definitely does not need any interventions, new laws, programs or anything else but the government has to find relevance in order to form promises around which will grant them the support of the people and result in their next election. This leads to demagoguery and populism which tend to bring an end to the slow and deliberate governance and replace it with governance which has a tendency to divide the populace into groups based on positions on issues, some real and some manufactured by the politicians themselves. Such governance works by promising larger groups of citizens benefits which will be paid for by smaller groups treasure, usually unwarranted wealth made by abusing the workers and these political riders of white horses topped with a wide brimmed white Stetson hat riding off into the sunset after collecting the votes of the masses. This results in a government which will end in bloated inefficiency where the promises have far outstripped revenue collection and has built a deficit which only grows along with the government. The collection institutions are inefficient often using half the collected wealth simply to finance their department making it obvious an impediment to balancing the budget as that cost is rarely figured into the formulas promoted by the political charlatans.
As noted above the situation reaches some critical point where the population is primed for a savior, the one who can return sanity and prosperous times. This promise keeps growing and as this savior has made some progress they start to complain how the government itself is preventing them from rescuing the society from itself. Slowly but surely they strip down the government taking over one layer after another until they no longer stand for reelection, their continued leadership has been accepted as permanent. Soon the other governing bodies are replaced with sycophants and lackeys making them simply the echoes of the dictator allowing for them to hold ultimate power and makes for efficiency in all operations which saves revenue which further permits the dictator to show success after success.
But even an all-powerful dictator runs into problems eventually as they too continue promising more and more until it becomes necessary to find new sources of revenues. This has historically led to wars which eventually make for the end of the rule of dictators as once they start to attack neighbors, the neighbors are likely to form alliances and end the spread and conquest of the dictator and after conquest the people may eventually make their way back to representative governance. The one rule is that the generation which falls and allows the rise of a demigod will not return to free governance with it more often taking many years, even centuries, before the people will be permitted to rule themselves. This is evident today as Europe and the Western world is slowly lurching its way down that well-worn path to ruin while developing nations have shown a sign of seeking to develop representative republic governance, what Aristotle, Plato and Socrates all believed was the most favorable form of governance.
Where on this merry-go-round your nation is can be figured simply by measuring the freedom each has as an individual and the size and scope of the governance. In all situations where the people are more powerful than the government and are capable of changing the entirety of their legislature and their leaders with regular elections, that would point to a society with a great deal of freedom and is a republic. With the power shared or favoring the government agencies over the people, then one is likely no longer in a republic but in a mere democracy, a good place from which an engaged population can turn things around. But if the governance is under a single person or small cabal which is unelected and not dependent on the approval of the people and rule as they wish, that is the final stop of a democracy where it dies and will not be reborn during the lifetime of any of its citizens, even any infants born during the year of the final elections, a meaningless election at that.
That is both the end of freedom and the start of the path back to liberty, freedom and the rights of man. The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of humankind has never known freedom or even truly elected governance and probably never will. For this majority of the planet will require great expenditures by the free world to instruct, educate, form and develop the basics, principles and understanding of the mechanisms required. After the entire world finds itself on the merry-go-round where we slide from freedom to despotism and finally revolution and a return to republic and the new optimism which will eventually end in disappointment until humankind learns to control their appetites and refuse to follow demigods who promise perfection and untold riches and joys, delivering none of them and few promises being realized. Perhaps that is our fate or maybe we will eventually learn to control our slide of our own personal weaknesses. Perhaps we will learn and our species finally break free of petty differences, greed and acting in a manner which eventually leads to our subjugation when our greed outpaces our good sense. Perhaps.
Beyond the Cusp