Unlike Plato, who dreamed of an authoritarian system of government ruled over by elite “guardians”, Aristotle said that there are 3 forms of government: rule by the one, rule by the few and rule by the many. But unlike today where we say one is better than the other, Aristotle said that there is a good and bad form of each. Indeed he said that the best form of government would combine all three types, which you could say representative democracy seeks to do to some extent. But the point relevant to this debate is that the ‘bad’ form of rule by the many according to Aristotle was called democracy, which he called bad because it creates a tyranny of the majority whereby the majority rules at the expense of the minority. The good form was called a polity, which would seek to include and account for all people, not just the majority.
But is such a notion – that of a polity – realistic? Or is it merely naive to think such a state of affairs truly possible?
I have to say, I’m not amazingly impressed with Plato’s Republic, now reading it for the first time. Logic is all very well. But without the more Aristotelean empiricism used by people making arguments today, they continually seem to miss key arguments, make questionable assumptions, and brush over topics that have taken entire lives of dedication as if they were children discussing what’s their favorite meal.
Now if you know Plato’s philosophies, and you know me (essentially a postmodern democratic reformist) then it may come as no surprise to you to hear me disagree with Plato, and supposedly Socrates too, since he was the subject of most dialogues in the book. Plato’s philosophies echo the Spartan constitution far more than the Athenian. And they have been said to be the ideological root of totalitarian states like fascist Italy and Germany, as well as the USSR.
However there is one area on which I agree with Plato. He argues that when everyone lives completely individual lives and we always think about ourselves rather than the group then we create unjust societies in which unhappiness is widespread. He pursues the other extreme of course. But is it not true that one of the most unquestionable bedrocks of Western society is the primacy of the individual? Especially given recent advances in group psychology and evidence about how group membership affects well being, shouldn’t we start re-questioning whether we might be going a little too far?
So I’m Sat here on my iPhone, wondering if this will be how I blog from now on. We tend to think all technological advances are inevitable. And indeed change is a fact of life inherent to all things. But so is our search for constants – parents, religion, tradition etc. So my question to you is this: do we need some constants to form a part of our lives and thus our identities? Or can we be happy with change in its entirety?
The right to self-determination has been implicit within a great deal of Western thought since the Enlightenment and the revolutions of the late eighteenth century. But do we really have such a right? Should we even have such a right? And what does such a right mean?
The Democratic Reform Party scorned the major parties’ efforts to prevent a democratic decision with regards to the Scottish referendum. All three parties openly tried to block the third choice (max-devo), as the Conservatives were able to do with the referendum over the electoral system. To me this is blatant disregard for people’s democratic right to take such a decision for themselves.
However on the other hand there is one thing on which I can agree with these parties, and also the Economist (which has recently been heavily criticised by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for declaring that it would be a bad decision for Scotland to vote for independence). I do agree that it would be a bad decision economically, and also socially, for Scotland to vote for independence. The question is whether this should negate their right to self-determination i.e. who takes the decision?
If you think the answer’s easy let’s take another example: the EU. Some people believe that there is decisive proof to say that thousands of people would lose their jobs, and thousands of lives would be ruined if the UK pulled out of the EU. These people say that the people cannot understand all the ins and outs of the labour market, and consequences of speculative forces; and they thus argue against the idea of a referendum on membership. But some of these very same people argue for the right to self-determination in other areas. Is this hypocrisy? Do we have a right to self-determination? If yes should it apply in all circumstances? If no how is it a right and not simply a principle?
Utopian visions have caught the imagination of some of the greatest minds in history, and formed a theme that has been echoed in historic libraries around the world. We have Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, an unparalleled publishing of nearly 100 utopian fantasies between 1875 and 1905, and more recently the publishing of Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, in which he says that the future will simply be managing past ideas. Most now agree that ‘the end of history’ reflected no more than a mood at the time. In fact it’s no coincidence that each utopian vision is eventually discredited. A state of universal perfection is a backward concept. It belongs with the absolutes of Newtonian physics; not with society past the teachings of Einstein. What’s perfect to one person is an abomination to another. And what is perfect to someone at age 40 may be an abomination to that same person aged 50.
So in fact there is no such thing as a true Utopia. However there are such things as ideals, and as such the closest we will ever get to utopia is a state of constant reform, adaptation and evolution.
Do you agree? Is the mood today one that will result in a death knell for the continued publishing of utopian visions?
The United States defined itself during the Cold War against the USSR, and some people believe that made the US more right wing than it might otherwise have been. Obama is today accused of being a socialist, and he has provoked a right wing ‘tea party’ movement. But is his getting into power part of a wider trend, whereby in the long run we will see America more ideologically aligned with Europe?
First watch this video: http://youtu.be/9l6VPpDublg
I promise you you’ll find it interesting if you watch to the end.
What are your thoughts on Michael Persinger’s lecture? He assumes it would be a terrific thing to have no more secrets, that it would be like a ‘second literacy’ and that it would end war and suffering. Do you agree?
>In Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published in 1818, it was foreseen that man (Frankenstein) would be able to create life (the monster). This life, though abominable to Frankenstein, is fully able to feel and think as a human does. But of course this is fiction. Would it be possible in real life to create such a ‘monster’?
In previous posts we’ve talked about new research that has meant we now seem closer than ever to acheiving this goal. But what would we be able to achieve? Would we be able to create a biological machine that did what it was told and seemed devoid of what we usually call ‘life’? Or would such a biological machine be exactly like us? Are we merely complicated machines or is there something more, a soul perhaps? And if we’re merely machines then would it be possible to recreate any figure from the past, exactly as they were at the time? Would this not be just like recreating an old robot?
>Plato said that only philosophers know what justice is, and that as such philosophers should rule. Clearly this is far from the case today. But I’ve heard people espouse the same view (ironically people who dabble in philosophy…).
Is the fact that Plato’s view is seen as silly today a mark that it is wrong? Or is the fact that it’s still talked about, and promoted by the few, a mark that there is some logic in the idea? After all if philosophers don’t know what justice is then who does?