Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Since I'm Not a Socialist ...

... what am I?  I've been asked that, recently.  In the context of (someone) telling me that he sees me as a Socialist.  Well ...

For me, it all starts with Plato, and The Republic.  All modern western liberal political thought traces back to Plato's Republic.  The thread disappears for a while, it's true, Empire gets another good long turn, but eventually guys like Locke and Rousseau, and Paine and Jefferson start pushing those same ideas out there. 

Today's the 4th of July so we look at Jefferson, and the Declaration of Independence.  Right after the line that everyone quotes, the one that begins "We hold these truths to be self-evident," is another, equally important line.  "That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the Governed ...  "  That goes straight back to Plato, the idea that the people deserve the best possible form of government and those same people are the ones who get to decide what form that government should take.

In The Republic, the character Socrates (modeled on Plato's real-life teacher) is pulled into a discussion on 'justice.'  What is justice?  What do we mean by the word?  How do we know it if we find it, or think we do?  Who decides? 

Socrates first asks the other men present to answer the question.  One by one they try, and he shoots them down, shows them the errors in their thinking.  Eventually they insist that HE answer the question (all right, Mr. Know-It-All, YOU answer the question).  So he begins.

He asks them to consider a city, and compare it to a man.  Each has a 'soul.'  Each soul seeks perfection.  In each case, Justice is the desired end, the achievement of perfection.  The city must first have the most perfect system of government that is possible, the one that always seeks the overall good of the whole group.  But what IS that? 

Athens was the first Democracy so he begins with Democracy.  Is Democracy perfect, or nearly so?  Well, according to Socrates, no.  The people aren't equipped to know what's best for the whole.  Most of them are only semi-literate and not overly bright.  And on top of that, they're much too self-interested, as in the individual self (rather than the 'common good').  This would lead inevitably to mob rule and anarchy.

OK, an Aristocracy then.  Rule by 'the best.'  Plato presents a class system with a ruling class, a soldier class and a peasant class.  To sell it to the people he comes up with the 'noble lie'; people are endowed by the gods with gold, silver or bronze souls, corresponding with the three classes, and each must accept his place in society.  But that still won't work either, he decides.  The ruling class will soon enough 'forget' on whose behalf they are supposed to be ruling and they will corrupt the government for their own ends, and tyranny will ensue.  Plus, the aristocratic class is really not wise enough to know what is best for the group anyway.

So who DOES know what's best for the group?  Only the Philosopher, who devotes his life to the acquisition of wisdom.  Will the people consent to be ruled by the Philosophers?  NO!  Plato gives us the 'Allegory of the Cave.'  Men are kept in a cave and showed only 'shadows' of the real world.  Eventually one is released out into the world where he is at first overwhelmed.  All that light!  Eventually his eyes adjust and for the first time he sees the world as it really is.  Then he is sent back in to tell his fellow cave dwellers.  But they don't believe him!  Liar!, they say.  We see the shadows.  The shadows are real.  When he persists, telling them that they are being deceived, that he speaks the truth, they have him killed (this actually happened to the real Socrates).  

So WHAT then?  Who can rule with the wisdom of the Philosopher, and get the people to buy in.  Only a King would have the power to rule.  Only the  Philosopher knows best.  A King being advised by the Philosopher?  But will the King continue to listen, or will he begin to push his own ideas?  Better to have a Philosopher/King.   (Plato eventually 'produced' Alexander the Great, the Philosopher/King who eventually ruled the (known) world.  And then died, exposing the flaw in that system.)

But real world, democracy is what they had.  Even Plato conceded that for all its flaws, democracy was the best government that anyone had been able to put into practice; maybe always would be.  The individual pursuing perfection , trying to live for something bigger than himself.  Very close to the 'Christian' ethic, if you think about it.  'Don't be selfish, put others first.'  Think of the overall good.

Does any of this make sense?    Is there a connection between then and now?  From the preamble: "We, the People, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, TO ESTABLISH JUSTICE, to ensure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."  WE decide what Justice is, WE decide how to bring it about, WE decide how to protect it once we find it.  WE THE PEOPLE!

That's my political philosophy.  We just need to get our representative government focused back onto the task.


  1. Does any of this make sense? Is there a connection between then and now?

    Yeah, you made a hell of a lot of sense. The problem is same now as it was back then, how to keep a majority of the people living in a democracy involved in the system. A few people can sit everything out and go about their business but when most not only do not vote but have no real idea who their leaders are that democracy does not have long to exist.

    Throw in groups that want to muddy the waters with lies to gain and keep power and that makes everything worse.

    1. Thanks Beach Bum. I 'rambled' there, a bit, but I tried.

      More to come ...

    2. Ramble? Hell, I wish more people had such intelligent thoughts. I talk with some people and they think of nothing beyond the idiotic crap on the latest reality television show.