28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Plato

Is “democracy” democratic?

with 2 comments

Plato, from The Republic, as quoted in a prior post:

And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.

From Wikipedia (here):

In politics, sortition (also known as allotment or the drawing of lots) is the selection of decision makers by lottery. The decision-makers are chosen as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates.

In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the primary method for appointing officials, and its use was widely regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy.

The Athenian reasoning for lottery in democracy was that it more accurately acknowledged the equality of men. An election, on the other hand, was by nature oligarchic or aristocratic because it consciously selected someone “better” from the population of free and equal men. Not to mention that the kind of people who seek to sell themselves for election are probably bad representatives of the population. So, by casting lots, the Athenians actualized their beliefs in equality.

Understandably, people (including Plato) have frowned upon this form of government—as formulated by the Athenians—for the vast majority of history.

Here’s the problem: Absent an understanding of the tradition of democracy, people explain and justify modern phenomena by making comparisons between modern “democracy,” of which elections are a keystone, and Athenian democracy, which would unequivocally shun the idea.

In the original sense of democracy, then, our idea of democracy is not really democratic at all. Most would still posit, of course, that this is not a bad thing, as democracy in Plato’s sense appeared to be—in actuality—a government borne out by a mindless sort of class warfare.

I would like to suggest that this understanding of democracy’s pedigree may dampen, in some contexts, the supposed intellectual impact of the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions. People didn’t really change. Democracy changed.

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Written by M. James

September 29, 2012 at 8:27 am

Against democracy

with one comment

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

If brazen narcissism like the above quotation, a pithy Churchill-ism, is the most critical view on democracy that you are accustomed to; or if you respond with disbelief when you read that most Libyans aren’t too keen on democracy, then you should—for the sake of sobriety—peruse this substantial collection of anti-democratic sentiments from the desk of the inimitable “Julian Felsenburgh, Esq.”

I particularly recommend a thorough reading of section XXVIII from Carl Schmitt, which very ably characterizes some historical challenges to Turkish democracy.

Here is a (comparatively brief) sampling of the quoted authors:

I. PLATO

{The Republic}

And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.

Yes, he said, that is the nature of democracy, whether the revolution has been effected by arms, or whether fear has caused the opposite party to withdraw.

Consider now, I said, what manner of man the individual is, or rather consider, as in the case of the State, how he comes into being.

Neither does he receive or let pass into the fortress any true word of advice; if any one says to him that some pleasures are the satisfactions of good and noble desires, and others of evil desires, and that he ought to use and honour some and chastise and master the others –whenever this is repeated to him he shakes his head and says that they are all alike, and that one is as good as another.

Yes, he said; that is the way with him.

Yes, I said, he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he-is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.

III. EDMUND BURKE

{Reflections on the Revolution in France}

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Written by M. James

March 21, 2012 at 12:57 am