A Belated Reply to Plato: Is Democracy the Wisest Choice?

Is democracy the wisest choice, and the only fit for philosophers? Share your thoughts, links, and recommendations with us please.

Plato in his academy, painting by Swedish pain...

Plato in his academy, painting by Swedish painter Carl Johan Wahlbom, woodcut for the magazine by an unknown xylographer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (PD)

via 3 Quark Daily

Plato is among the most famous critics of democracy.  His criticism is relatively simple, but potentially devastating.  It runs as follows.  Politics aims at achieving justice, and so political policy must reflect the demands of justice.  Only those who know what justice is and have the self-control to enact what justice requires are capable of doing politics properly.  Alas, the average citizen is dumb and vicious.  Hence Plato’s conclusion is that democracy is a fundamentally corrupt form of politics; it is the rule of those who neither know nor care about justice.  In The Republic, Plato’s Socrates argues for a philosophical monarchy, the rule of the wise and virtuous.

Citizens of modern democracies naturally tend to recoil at Plato’s argument, and his positive proposal that philosophers should rule is often met with understandable ridicule.  And yet Plato’s crucial premise that the average citizen is too dumb and undisciplined for democracy is widely embraced, especially among those who find themselves on the losing side of a democratic vote.  For one example, consider a common reaction among social and fiscal conservatives to Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012; it was routinely claimed that the People had been “duped” and “mislead.”  Furthermore, it seems that a second crucial Platonic premise – namely that a proper political order must place those who have knowledge and integrity in charge – is also widely endorsed.  Consider here the popular criticisms of President Bush that fix upon his alleged lack of intelligence.

So we must ask: Could Plato be right?

We should begin by noting that many philosophers, including us, hold that democratic citizens ought to take seriously Plato’s criticisms.  There is nothing anti-democratic about earnestly confronting democracy’s critics, and arguably there’s something on the order of an imperative to engage with democracy’s smartest detractors.  As John Stuart Mill once argued, “He who knows only his own side of an argument knows little of that.”

Now, there are several responses to Plato, and we’d like to survey a few popular rejoinders before sketching our own. First, one may respond to Plato by denying that politics has anything at all to do with ideals so lofty as wisdom and justice.  Politics, the response continues, is not about discerning truths, but producing stable government.  And stability is not a matter of getting things right, but getting things done in ways that prevent revolution, and that’s what a democracy accomplishes.

Were it successful, this reply would decisively undercut the Platonic objection.  Were proper politics not a matter of truth but the effective wielding of power, there would be no sense to the worry that democracies are unwise; the case for democracy is made simply by appeal to its stability.  The trouble with this rejoinder, however, lies in its apparent strength.  The idea that proper politics is about effective power forces us to conclude that there’s nothing to criticize in dictatorship, provided it is brutal and oppressive enough to be long-lasting.  That’s unacceptable.  We should seek to preserve the commonsense distinction between power successfully exercised and power justly exercised.  In denying this distinction, the attempted rejoinder presents no case for democracy at all.

Consider a more sophisticated kind of reply to Plato.  It is alleged that Plato makes the error of comparing an ideal form of monarchy to real democracy.  Any comparison between an ideal X and a real Y will tend to punctuate the flaws of real world while extolling the pristine wholesomeness of the ideal.  The thought continues that when real monarchy and real democracy are compared, democracy actually looks pretty good; and when ideal forms of both are compared, democracy is decidedly superior.  Were Plato to have kept his philosophical categories straight, he would have been a democrat after all.

CONTINUE READING

, , , , , ,

  • Rhoid Rager

    Or perhaps the point of soliciting a reply to Plato is to give tacit credence to his definition of ‘democracy’ as being one expression of one group ruling over others. I can’t decide whether the centrists are crafty or self-deceptive in drawing the boundaries for the social issues they do. To leave unquestioned the basic assumption of whether or not it is even possible to rule over others–let alone whether it is ethical–is, to me, the most glaring gap in the ‘Western’ social narrative. Countless historical uprisings and revolutions (of which we are even aware) would seem to indicate that ‘ruling over someone’ is a non-realizable, nay nonsensical way to behave. Even more numerous ad hoc mutual aid associations would indicate that it is not necessary for human survival, and, indeed, very much a burden.

    • Damien Quinn

      You’re right, but most governments suggest that they only “rule” the few to facilitate the many. Theoretically, the things which are against the law are those things which create a good deal of harm to the majority.

      They probably aren’t necessary for the survival of the species, but they are necessary for the survival of the society as it exists. Obviously, this theoretical premise is open to manipulation but it doesn’t change the fact tat you can’t have a peaceful, integrated society without rules of conduct.

      • thunder

        rules and rulers are two very different things

        • Damien Quinn

          Obviously, but rotational leadership seems to be the most reasonable way to formulate and administrate rules in a complex society.
          If you’ve a better suggestion, I’m all eyes.

          • thunder

            representative democracy is fine, if there’s complete consent. the moment the consent of any segment of the populace must be enforced through aggression, it’s simply tyranny.

            http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_barber_why_mayors_should_rule_the_world.html

          • Damien Quinn

            No it’s not. Once consent is enforced without recourse or recompense, then it is tyranny. If you have a right to effectively defend yourself from the state and receive retribution for abuses suffered, that is not tyranny.

          • thunder

            really it’s a matter of opinion. if the state is the one initiating force, then yes it very much is a tyranny.

          • Damien Quinn

            If you break the laws to which you agree, by proximity, then you initiate the aggression. Even if the state does act aggressively, once you have the means for vindication and compensation, it isn’t tyranny.

            That’s not really an opinion, it just a reasonable understanding of the concept of tyranny.

          • thunder

            “to which you agree”. this is not a correct presumption. nor should a natural citizen of the same land be forced into exile for not agreeing. all that should occur is the exclusion of participation of that individual in related group activities. the state which mandates consent to laws, is simply a tyranny. free people obey not because of laws or threats of violence, but because of a sense of social responsibility.

          • Damien Quinn

            I’m not following your logic, how do you exclude an individual from group activities without employing coercion?

          • thunder

            you don’t. if they don’t want to participate (ie. “do not agree”), they exclude themselves. it’s called opting out and is an expression of free will, something which is sacrosanct in any society which values freedom in practice (not just propaganda).

          • Damien Quinn

            Sorry, I edited because I was confused and thought I should clarify. To sum up, what exactly does “opting out” entail?

          • thunder

            opt out
            vb
            1. (often foll by: of) to choose not to be involved (in) or part (of)
            n
            2. the act of opting out, esp of local-authority administration: opt-outs by hospitals and schools.

          • Damien Quinn

            Okay, by that logic, if you partake of any element of society you have opted in, consent has been given. As soon as you step on the pavement, you have consented.

            If not, why not?

          • thunder

            consented to what? walking around town? please…

          • Damien Quinn

            You have used the civic structures and therefore derived benefit from them, effectively opting in.

          • thunder

            dude. just use google. I’m not going to waste time mincing words that’ll get twisted around into nonsense. if anarchy’s not your thing … enjoy your enslavement. I’m free and will do as I choose regardless.

          • Damien Quinn

            Google doesn’t make anarchy logical. You can do as you wish, I’m just saying that anarchism is illogical and narcissistic. If you choose to do it, enjoy your stupidity.

          • thunder

            one last stab. for any intelligent readers.

            freedom is based on consent in the absence of aggressive coercion. where decisions are influenced by coercive aggression, there is an absence of freedom.

            to the extent that you agree to the dictates of government out of fear that you will be aggressed upon, you are not living in a free society. period.

            anarchy hasn’t lasted in name as such, primarily because it serves too grave a threat to the established power structures for them to allow it’s existence. that hasn’t stopped anarchist or libertarian societies from cropping up again and again.

            not only will anarchy work, it’s the only form of governance which truly honours and seeks to preserve the full rights and autonomy of the individual. by comparison everything else is simply a means for a small handful of people to reap inordinate benefit from the labours of the vast majority. all other forms of government which do not retain at the foundation the principals of anarchy, are themselves merely gilded cages, if not for the current generation, then most certainly for their progeny.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Uh, you’ll forgive us ‘intelligent readers’ if we don’t take your word over Adam Smith’s on whether government is a necessary evil.
            I’ll just add that in Smith’s vision, the politician returns home to live among the laws he created, a concept forsaken by our current system, but far more effective than anarchy in principal.
            Anarchy completely ignores the human condition, and absence of true intelligence of the masses. Sure, if all humans were enlightened, hard working, and happy, anarchy would work. But that is absolutely not the case, quite the contrary in fact.

          • thunder

            your problem then isn’t in misunderstanding anarchy (though you do), but in having far too pessimistic a view of your fellows.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            I have a balanced and realistic view. Which is why I subscribe to a balanced approach (i.e.
            Liberty/Accountability => Optimism/Individualism
            Law => Pessimism)

            The history of my posts here will show I am for extremely limited government. So I lean toward the Individual. I’m sure we’d agree on many things, I’m just not naïve enough to believe anarchy could ever work on a large scale.

          • thunder

            I too don’t believe that anarchy can be scaled beyond perhaps 100 people at best. that is because for the individual to be a meaningful participant in society, they must have equal opportunity and right to have their voice heard. beyond 100 people it becomes infeasible, especially if there’re multiple agenda items to deal with.

            however, anarchy doesn’t preclude other forms of social organisation or governance. it simply makes clear that their basis is the consent of the individual, and in the absence of aggression.

            so, an anarchist community may well be expressed as a socialist enclave, a commune, a participatory or even a representative democracy, if that’s what the citizens prefer. were that the case, then it may be possible to tier the governance of such groups so as to provide any necessary uniformity between cities in terms of decisions and planning.

            in practice though, the main purpose for adjacent communities to interact is for trade and mutual aid, and on the rare occasion, dispute resolution. to say we could not live peacefully under such an arrangement is to presume malice where it doesn’t exist. our major cities do not war upon each other, and it certainly has nothing to do with the government stopping them from doing so. they don’t do it because there’s no advantage in doing so. cooperation is far more productive than antagonism.

            while the statist will sell you obedience to authority based on the goad of fear and what if’s (ie. cry “terrorist” at every wavering shadow), the anarchist will laugh and remind you that you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer in your home town than by a terrorist anywhere in the world.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Our cities don’t war on each other because the LAW gives them pause, and because there is a clear and present enforcer of the law standing by (the govt). Your (modified) version of anarchy does not work without LAW as well. You call them rules, whatev.. The only difference in what you are suggesting is whom is responsible to enforce the rules. You say the group, I say the govt, who reps the group. The benefits of democracy over your system are obvious. A) groups do really stupid shit when the bandwagon arrives. B) Your system might provide (some) protection from govt intrusion on liberty, but it provides zero protection from the group at large, and it’s intrusions on indy freedom. Democracy (tailored as a Republic) provides both, actually, and much smarter men than you and I figured that out long ago my friend.

          • thunder

            you should look into brehon law. there’re other forms of social organisation than just the handful we’re familiar with. like I said before, anarchy is primarily philosophical in nature. it primarily mandates non-aggression and the primacy of individual consent. it really doesn’t matter what style of social organisation you favour, because if it doesn’t uphold those two things, non-aggression and consent, then it is simply a dictatorship/tyranny.

            beyond that, anarchists are free to make decisions as a group however they so choose, *including* democratically. in practice democratic decision making is the most common form, though some groups under certain circumstances will opt for unanimity. let me repeat that, anarchists often practice democratic decision making. democracy (of the non athenian variety) is not a philosophy, but simply a technique for arriving at relatively equitable group decisions. it is one of many tools of self governance usable by anarchists.

            anyway, law gives no on pause. what gives them pause is the thought of armed thugs bursting in on their family in the middle of the night. if that’s the “benefit” of having a state, I’ll pass. I don’t need threats to respect my neighbours. in fact quite the reverse.

            right after this comment I’ll be posting a link which contains several examples of real world anarchist societies. there’re more besides, but I’ll leave the rest as an exercise for the reader/google.

          • Jin The Ninja

            to call yourself an ‘intelligent reader’ whilst clutching adam smith is a bit of a farce and an insult to actual intelligent readers.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Hey Jin I can’t help the fact that you think you are somehow smarter than one of the great intellectuals of this era, Adam Smith. You are free to stroke your ego all day long here, of course. Keep up your monumental contributions to humanity. I’m sure Smith is twitching in his grave.

          • Jin The Ninja

            i think adam smith was a clever theorist, but i highly doubt you realise the context in which his work was written- as a theory- not as a manual. much of it is valid critique and a lot of it has been thoroughly discredited. i hail no holy ghost of adam smith.

          • Andrew

            Nice theory, but what’s to stop individuals with more strength or intelligence from taking advantage of individuals with less? Guilt tripping?

          • thunder

            mutual aid in self defence

            but really before answering that there’re a couple other considerations. firstly, take advantage how? materially? sexually? either/both?

            anarchy prohibits “initiation” of aggression. but if you start something, you’d better be prepared to finish it. just say’n.

          • Andrew

            Okay, what’s to stop a larger or more organized group that has agreed to be aggressive upon a smaller or less organized group?

          • thunder

            right. this is precisely what got anarchists kicked out of debates with marxists. of course the marxists won the day, and henceforth, so did stalin. just say’n.

            but yeah you’re right, if a nuclear bomb hit, and the anarchist had only a little twig to defend them self, they’d get fried. no amount of philosophy can prevent a superior force unless you happen to be named sun tsu. in the face of hypothetical impossible odds, anarchy won’t hold up. of course neither will anyone outside of a marvel comic, but hey…

          • Rhoid Rager

            You misunderstand anarchy. Anarchy is not a fixed system of a particular way of organizing socially–it’s a process of social realization through resistance. Anarchy creeps up in between the cracks of our lives into the different realms of human interaction. Anarchy is not decreed or legislated or codified. It exists outside the formalistic boundaries that humans are so prone to rely on. Anarchy will continue to grow in influence as the body of human knowledge continues to mature through trial and error. Progress is real; especially if we consider social life now compared to just 50 years ago. Oppression breeds its own demise.

          • Jin The Ninja

            i cannot answer that, but i can say that codified law and ruling institutions as they are simply do nothing to abate national and international aggressive actions by states or state actors on smaller states or non-state actors.

          • Andrew

            Nothing stops power but greater power. Unfortunately.

          • Rhoid Rager

            Sorry I missed this discussion when it was happening. I think you reify power into something it is not. Power is a social effect–which is to say, it is an alignment of people towards a common goal. To not wish to participate in this alignment does not imply that the non-participating party must necessarily clash with it. James C. Scott’s work is very interesting in this regard, as it elucidates that resistance to these social currents does not have to be explicit, obvious or direct. Hidden transcripts of resistance exist within many cultures, different indigenous peoples and other oppressed groups react to violent social currents (so-called power structures) in different ways–some by confrontation, and some by retreat and nomadism. The point is that power is only powerful when granted the means to commit violence by the oppressors and the oppressed. There are always other options, but they might not always be palatable. Resistance is always ad hoc in its means, but consistent in its goals.

          • Rhoid Rager

            There are many tactics to stop aggression. Humour is often used by protestors to alter the mood of potentially oppressive or aggressive circumstances. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There is also withdrawal, retreat and avoidance. In a macho culture like our own, this is deemed ‘cowardly’, but in other cultures this is the most prudent thing to do. David Graeber wrote about the people of Madagascar doing this repeatedly to avoid conflicting with colonial authorities.
            There are many ways of dealing with human aggression and mitigating its effects. Study any colonial resistance movements and you will find the countless ingenious social innovations and contrivances that arose in response to systematic oppression. Anarchy is resistance in all its forms–it is the articulation of human agency in any and all circumstances where oppression is attempted.

          • thunder

            also, what prevents that in our current society? from what I can see it simply allows those with the badge to get away, while those without the badge get treated to more of the same.

          • Andrew

            It seems to me that nothing stops it, including “freedom.”

          • thunder

            precisely. so using this as an argument against anarchy is moot, as it applies equally well to any other form of governance also, should they happen to face a superior force of arms. anarchy isn’t a panacea against all the ills of society. it is however a panacea against all the ills of government.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            It’s factual to say Anarchy has only ever existed in a transitory state.. Even christiana has rules right, and the group enforces those rules, right? Wanna know what happens when another group the size of christiana doesn’t like their rules? They challenge them. At this point they are in the exact same predicament as societies with governments. The difference is, there’s a form of true authority (not people, but law) to help settle it justly (presumably). So you haven’t eliminated the ills of govt at all, simply less prepared to handle them. Again I refer you to Smith. It really is a quick read.

          • Andrew

            No, it isn’t, because government will be imposed upon it. Anarchy has no defense against government.

          • thunder

            tell that to egypt

          • Andrew

            They know it better than I.

          • Jin The Ninja

            i don’t know about ‘anarchy’ but ‘anarchism’ is the democratisation of all institutions (social and political)- it isn’t a lack of governance- it is a lack of gov’t and capital- and any other coercive forces. thunder’s proposition of ‘vigilante justice’ is equally as coercive as any violence perpetuated by the state.

          • Damien Quinn

            I personally don’t think this holds up entirely either, even if you democratise every institution, you are left with issues of control and coercion within the system.

            Selective administration of the governance and the positing of democratic choices remain positions from which power can be amassed. This inevitably opens these systems up to the same corruption we face. What’s the advantage?

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            you can NEVER get rid of control and coercion. You can only move it to a more acceptable, (or bringing it back to Platonic terms) Just place. If you don’t like control and coercion, then you dislike all language, all human communication, hell, all communication in general, No more animals maybe even no more brain cells firing. All you have left is a societal equivalent of an army of these little kajiggers.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z86V_ICUCD4

            Getting rid of violent control though is the more preferred goal (but I’m iffy if that is possible either)

          • Jin The Ninja

            if everyone ostensibly ‘controls’ institutions by their voluntary participation and engagement in democratic processes relevant to the community (grassroots, direct democracy is a good example here), how is one person able to amass control? you don’t maintain institutions based upon coercion. you build new ones made for democratisation of the society as a whole. administration of those institutions is democracy, not in a sole representative. even in a system using the delegate model, one could not remain in a position of speaker-delegate for long enough to amass more than temporary influence.

          • Damien Quinn

            You have it ass backwards. Government is a panacea against the ills of anarchy.

            It’s bollox to say that anarchy has never truly existed, our species spent the vast majority of it’s existence in small co-operative groups operating under mutually agreed rules and obligations. It was shite. Because it was so shite, we decided to demarcate peoples roles and assign value to these roles based on their value and difficulty.

            We call that shit civilization. Civilisation is an absolute pain in the proverbial, and it’s unhealthy, but it is better than Anarchy.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Disagreed.. what you described is not anarchy, but a form of communism.

          • thunder

            you should read bakunin.

          • Jin The Ninja

            again proof you have no idea what you’re talking about.
            ‘anarchism’ is an umbrella term that includes various stains of mutualist and communist thought- wherein humankind works together for both the benefit of each other and the development of the individual. most historical anarchist thinkers and anachronistic anarchist societies were much closer to the communal model, than to the indivualist; however

          • Lookinfor Buford

            lol. Oh I see, I should just discard old Webster too, in favor of Jin the Blogger. Man, how big is that ego of yours?
            Anarchy means without rule denotatively, and by far the winning contemporary connotation is, without government, which is vague I agree, but doesn’t give you poetic license to call what is acutally Communism, anarchy. Sorry Jin

          • Jin The Ninja

            again, as i said, i am referring to ‘anarchism’ as a canon of literature and historical mode of thought.
            ‘anarchos’ is the greek meaning simply ‘without government.’ that is correct; however ‘anarchism’ as an academic tradition refers to the mutualist, anarcho-communist, municipalist, libertarian ideas about the nature of man and community.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism
            http://www.infoshop.org/AnAnarchistFAQ
            http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/the-anarchist-faq-editorial-collective-150-years-of-libertarian
            http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/william-morris-development-of-modern-society
            http://c4ss.org/market-anarchism-faq

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Note: you responded to me and were a jin-come-lately to this conversation. So forgive me, but your interjection does not change what WE were talking about.

          • Jin The Ninja

            cool bro, i added my 2cents nothing more. it wasn’t an attempt to impede on YOUR conversation. i simply felt a necessary and critical viewpoint was lacking from the overall discussion;)

          • echar

            Would you be so kind to recommend some books and maybe links? I am skeptical of anarchist thought, yet open to your convincing perspective on such.

          • Jin The Ninja

            what i draw from is me a matter of personal preference and taste than a traditional clear, concise and wholly canonical syllabus of ‘anarchist thought.’

            with that being said,

            “anarchism: a documentary history of libertarian ideas”
            ed. robert graham, volumes 1 and 2.

            http://libcom.org/library/anarchism-documentary-history-libertarian-ideas-volume-1-2

            murray bookchin’s, “Post-Scarcity Anarchism,”

            http://libcom.org/library/post-scarcity-anarchism-murray-bookchin

            emma goldman’s “anarchism and other essays,”
            http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/emma-goldman-anarchism-and-other-essays

            david graeber’s ‘fragments of an anarchist anthropology”
            http://libcom.org/library/fragments-anarchist-anthropology

            george woodcock’s “anarchism a history of libertarian ideas and movements” http://libcom.org/history/anarchism-history-libertarian-ideas-movements-george-woodcock

            if you start with those and find yourself interested in further reading/discussion, i am happy to help you as best i can.

            -jin-

          • echar

            Thanks. I am quite curious about this, and would like to know more than the biases I already have.

          • Jin The Ninja

            no prob. it’s also worthwhile to look into radical feminism, deep ecology, and critical theory as it relates to cinema and literature. make sure you check out the last two links, as a sci fi enthusiast i am sure you will get something out of them;). good hunting.

          • echar

            I am put off by radical feminism, due to some online encounters. Not that I am overly mysogynistic, just that I felt their perspective was not based in reality.

            One woman told me how much of an advantage I have because I am male, and then later bragged about how she feeds her left over caviar to her cat. For example.

            I get the stacked deck metaphor, but I do not fully buy into it. It’s far too simple/binary. I feel that thinking this way is prone to create a divide. I prefer bringing together.

            Deep is ecology is interesting though.

          • Jin The Ninja

            ‘radical feminism’ as the anti-capitalist mode of feminist theory.
            not ‘i hate all dudes.’ emma goldman whom i linked, as well as lucy parsons were both radical feminists. now, do they represent all purported feminist values held in contemporary feminism? no. radical feminism is very worthwhile and integral to an anarchist perspective. it allows one to discern oppression from another facet, and analyse how coercive forces work to marginalise and disassociate us from one another. it is valuable in the same way queer theory is valuable, the same way black and chicano nationalism is valuable. the same way anti-colonial history is valuable. the anarchist always sides with the oppressed, while s/he may not agree ideologically with the various strains of revolutionary thinking in many post-colonial situations, we can all appreciate the liberatory elements of the history. “we are not free until all of us are free”. something like that. it is also very useful to look into the history of the IWW and labour history of europe and the US. much of which is anarchist in nature.

          • echar

            Thanks for explaining. I can get into that.

          • echar

            Disqus seems to be eating some of my replies. Thanks for explaining that. I am open to explore this. What’s the worse that could happen?

          • Jin The Ninja

            no problem at all. disqus can be the worst sometimes.
            at worst you- disagree, at best- you understand another side of anti-capitalist rhetoric.

          • moremisinformation

            To be clear and, at the risk of this being redundant, Jin’s ‘anarchism’ isn’t the only variation. There is ‘left’ AND ‘right’ anarchism. As well, of course, as everything in between…

          • echar

            I tend to be left of center in my views.

          • Jin The Ninja

            “It was shite. Because it was so shite, we decided to demarcate peoples
            roles and assign value to these roles based on their value and
            difficulty.”

            actually anthropology and archeology tell a completely opposite story. this is a founding fathers myth, a victorian white man’s tale of civilisation. it does not stand up to academic scrutiny. i am not claiming every place and every example was perfect or balanced or some utopia; however there is no, was no, clear trajectory of civilisation in the manner you were positing. that mode of thought is simply outdated and does not reflect contemporary understanding of the history of peoples or the world.

          • Damien Quinn

            I didn’t mean to posit an entirely accurate trajectory, I meant to suggest a shift from one mode to the other in a reasonably concise way, you hardly expect a two line summation of the creation of civilizations to be perfect?

          • Jin The Ninja

            the very idea of the trajectory (point a to point zed) is entirely inaccurate. we know now, for instance (in opposition to what was previously theorised) that human societies do not in fact, move from matriarchy to patriarchy as they settle, nor do they move from polytheism to monotheism, and nor do state structures or even non-state bureaucracies spontaneously arise in prehistoric human settlements of note.

          • Damien Quinn

            No, but we almost certainly moved from diffuse to specialised roles, which is all I suggested.

          • Jin The Ninja

            division of labour does not equate hierarchy or the shift to bureaucracy or even nation-state forms. there is a lot of anthropological evidence that suggests this. nor does division of labour equate oppression, labour commodification, or ‘proto capitalist’ economic systems.

          • overdone

            It´s like trying to teach a rock to run.

          • Damien Quinn

            If a man tries to teach a rock to run, which of them is stone headed?

          • overdone

            Vigilante justice of the community. Damned are youy really that stupid?????

          • Andrew

            No, but you are.

          • Rey d’Tutto

            So, the threat of violence by the majority (Vigilante Justice) is what keeps anarchists from taking advantage of those who are unable to defend themselves?

            Coercion by threat of Violence = Totalitarianism.
            Vigilante Justice = Anarchy.
            Vigilante/Mob “Justice” = Threat of Violence
            Anarchy = Totalitarianism.
            Thanks for clearing that up for me!

          • overdone

            Go play with yourself.

          • Andrew

            Translation: “You’ve defeated my argument, but I have to make a face saving gesture of macho abusiveness.”

          • overdone

            Good at playing with words, meanings and innuendos, just supposed he liked to play with things so I thought he should go play with himself. Sounds like you are a bird of the feather, go join him.

          • Andrew

            Thanks for proving my point.

          • Damien Quinn

            The inherent flaw in anarchy is simple, and clear within your statement.

            How can any government preserve the rights of anyone without coercion and, if coercive protection exists, how can you call it anarchy.

            Anarchy is self contradictory. You need to enforce rules protecting people from rules. It’s idiotic.

          • thunder

            who said anything about a government preserving rights? I said governance, not government. people preserve their rights through voluntary horizontal cooperation. there’s nothing contradictory about it.

            what you propose in it’s place (the status quo) is better how exactly? it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our current way of doing things has lead to an ongoing world-wide revolution. lead by a growing number of anarchists…

          • Eric_D_Read

            Anarchy hasn’t lasted because it is structurally incapable of lasting.
            The inherent flaw in your argument is the presumption that ONLY governments can engage in forcible coercion.
            Anytime a true anarchy emerges, it is only a matter of time before a group emerges that has the will and the ability to impose its will on everyone else.

          • Jin The Ninja

            whether ‘anarchist’ or ‘egalitarian’ societies can compete with the inherent violence in state structures, particularly with the violence of colonialism and capitalism of the last 500 years, and the concerted effort to destroy these systems, as well as neo lib globalisation and the so-called ‘security state is certainly debatable; however egalitarian societies existed millenia before our western institutions- and to claim otherwise is vacuous and ahistorical.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            what is vacuous is to paint with a rosy egalitarian brush these societies you refer to.. You can bet there was inequity, coercion, injustice, and power struggle in all of them.

          • Jin The Ninja

            inequality- very little as the economics were ‘communal’ and ‘gift’- injustice? actually many of these societies had a very developed system of justice by the time they were displaced. coercion and power struggle? undoubtedly there was some of that; however the very nature of egalitarian tribal societies with a focus on kinship bonds and community relations meant that disputes tended to be resolved as compromise to both parties. and since democracy and ‘voting’ as direct consent was the overwhelming system of governance in the peoples to which i am referring, consent of the ‘governed’ was explicit- a leader did not arise ‘spontaneously.’

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Forgive my southern roots but that is horseshit.
            First, I said inequity: and if you think that the smartest and the strongest did not have defacto superiority in these societies you are far more naïve than I thought.
            Kinship and bonds? Compromise? Voting? Have you met many Comanches? ROTFLMAO

          • Jin The Ninja

            have you?
            i am referring to the iroquois confederacy, the cree, the ojibway, the tlingit, the navajo, hopi, and mikmaq. yes, plains cultures tended to be more conservative with a clear chief role- voted in of course by a council of elders (as opposed to direct community consent); however i strongly doubt you know anything about indigenous governance full stop.

          • Jin The Ninja

            under what processes do you think ethnogenesis occurs?
            how are societies formed? how do they stay together? is it purely an ethno-linguistic association? are there multiple groups with a shared language and culture, but who consider themselves distinct. roll on the floor all you want. kinship relations and community relations in nearly all indigenous societies are of supreme importance. your grandmother’s 1/2 uncle’s 2nd cousin’s old friend descended from a ‘commanche princess’ didn’t tell you that? you need to read an intro to anthropology, bro.

            here’s one written by and for indigenous peoples accessible to high school level students:
            http://www.amazon.ca/Peoples-Cultural-Change-Aboriginal-Studies/dp/1552206041

            so popular and well-done in fact, we teach it to aboriginal studies undergrads;)

          • Eric_D_Read

            Egalitarian does not equate to anarchy. Even those societies you refer to, and which I never claimed did not exist by the way, still had social hierarchies and rules governing individual behavior. They may have looked much different than those we see in modern societies, but they still existed.
            Totalitarian societies also existed for millenia before western institutions as well.

          • Jin The Ninja

            for me, that ‘egalitarianism does not equate anarchism’ is false, may be debatable to a point. and perhaps semantic. deep hierarchical societies did exist historically, but were very different in nature and context than what one would call ‘totalitarian’ now.

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            The funny thing is it seems through this discussion anarchy//anarchism or antarcticism or whateiver is that the people who believe in it seem to have an anarceristic way of looking at the definition, where everyone else is wrong. It ironically may require a cabal of enlightened secular sages to properly define it. which wouldnt be quite a anarastic way of doing things How do you move past this conundrum?

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Gee I dunno, stick to the topic and stop trying to obfuscate it?
            Believe it or not this thread started as a simple anarchy vs democracy debate and was hijacked by a flaming anthropologist.

          • Calypso_1

            Back off.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Aww don’t be a Debbie-downvoter.. I was just playing.. Jin’s ever eccentric exaggerated egotistical elaborate embellished elucidations are always emotive and energizing.. playing still.

          • Calypso_1

            Your disposition is not such that the use of sexual slurs would be consented to as play.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Uh, wow, that one went right over my head. What.. sexual.. slur?

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            aww i missed you too calypso

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            Technically this started as a platonic philosophical debate about democracy vs monarchy. But still i find the debate interesting.

            That was a serious question. How do you enforce the concept of non-enforcement? I Think Jin’s version is at least consistant because it seems to walk away from it

          • Jin The Ninja

            whatever the discussion ‘was,’ it needed an anarchist perspective. i attempted to bring that to the discussion.

            anachronistic ‘anarchism’ is imperfect, because it attempts to view certain histories through the frame of the western anarchist tradition. however, in referring to ‘anarchism’ as representing the values of direct democracy, community consent, egalitarian, ecological, and non-capitalist, non state, non coercive model(s) of society; there are certain historical parallels both inside and outside of european history that intersect w/ modern anarchist thought (from the 17th century onward) that are far too relevant and far little utilised (or understood as you yourself demonstrate) to not be referenced.
            it is not only in the various governance models of turtle island where these parallels and intersections may be found- it also in daoist, celtic, early christian and certain african traditions that have been written about extensively. i am sure there are others- in fact i recall about something about certain panamanian and amazonian peoples, as well as pirate societies- it just so happens, i am very familiar with indigenous governance as a concept, and thus more able to draw from it than say celtic legal thought. i am also quite aware (perhaps moreso) of the many writings on anarcho-daoism and daoist political theory- if you’d prefer.
            if using historical models to describe political processes is somehow obfuscation, then i suppose history itself is an entirely useless tradition from which contemporary people can glean nothing.

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            anarcho-daoism, i might have to look into that one

          • Jin The Ninja

            if you are interested in daoism, you definitely should. it’s extremely engaging to see the parallels in political thought. it is not cut and dry, it has a lot more nuance than a simple direct word-for-word comparison.

          • Rhoid Rager

            sorry I couldn’t help in this discussion, Jin. I got really busy with work last week. I think you made some headway, though!

          • Jin The Ninja

            it doesn’t require sages. it requires one to have read and understand a definition of ‘anarchism.’ the wikipedia entry is nearly as good as any (although it includes ‘anarcho-capitalism’ within the family of articles, which is highly contentious); it is also very useful to remember ‘anarchism’ is an umbrella term, referring to a democratic tradition of radical socialism. it was originally referred to as ‘libertarian.’ in the pop cultural sphere there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what distinguishes anarchism from libertarianism. the truth is: they are the same. it is from a particularly rapid school of austrian thinkers that do not purport anything like anarchism, who called themselves ‘libertarian’ i think where the confusion stems. an anarchist is not an economist, an anarchist is an anti-economist. i also think an anarchistic definition of ‘anarchism’ (holistic, antagonistic, and contrary to traditional binary assumptions) is the most a propos way to understand and define anarchism. it speaks to the rebellious nature of it, and the anti-authoritarian ‘punk’ ethic of contemporary anarchism.

          • Eric_D_Read

            You can argue semantics if you argue the definitions of the words, sure.
            Relying on common definitions they may have considerable overlaps if you draw a Venn diagram,but they are not synonymous.

          • Jin The Ninja

            socio-political models and definitions have taken on radically new meanings in the last 50 years- particularly in the american intellectual sphere. there is also the fact that many terms have only been coined in the last 100 years. in both history and political science there is a lot of nuance and context applicable to different governance models- and the terms used to define those models. there is a lot of specificity used- i.e. ‘socialism with chinese characteristics vs capitalism with chinese characteristics’ or ‘singapore-style economy.’ one cannot simply throw terms into a sphere of discourse and hope they will apply simply on general denotation alone.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            For pete’s sake, just go read Smith’s Wealth of Nations and get on with it. The concept of anarchy is great. A ‘just’ implementation of it, however, is completely unfeasible. Yes, including Chomsky’s (et. al.) intriguing, yet unrealistic a anarcho-socialism / libertarian-socialism.

          • Jin The Ninja

            lol. libertarian-socialism is the original capital (A); adam smith is considered ‘laissez faire’ – he may have drawn from an anarchist perspective on economics (adam would know better than i), but he is not an ‘anarchist.’

          • emperorreagan

            Adam Smith drew on a lot of sources, being an unrepetent plagiarist.

          • Andrew

            > I’m free and will do as I choose regardless.

            Until someone(s) stronger or smarter or organized than you wants to stop you.

          • overdone

            If you´ve “opted in” obey the rules or face “vigilante justice”.

          • Andrew

            “Opt out” and face “vigilante justice.”

          • overdone

            Move themselves to ……Oh say…..Devils Island.

          • overdone

            Here ! here !………….You hit the nail on the head.

          • Andrew

            “Should” = that which does not exist.

          • overdone

            The system in the USA is rigged now. That is why the police use strong arm tactics freely knowing the rigged courts will vindicate them.

          • overdone

            When the system is rigged there cannot be “effective defense” from the state or the elite, or protected “friends and family”.

          • Damien Quinn

            That may be so, and tyrannical democracies may have existed, but that hardly makes tyranny the normal state of democracy.

          • overdone

            ” tyrannical democracies may have existed,”
            Makes it sound like there are none now, it is the normal state of “Democracy” in the USA right now.

          • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

            Democracies have amorphous tyrants and amorphous victims. It depends on the timescale, and widespreadedness of which victims are abused for which other potential victims to notice.

          • Damien Quinn

            So what? We’re discussing a reply to Plato and the general philosophy of governance. The fact that the US is a colonial fascist state pretending to be a Democracy is hardly important

          • thunder
        • Eric_D_Read

          One is necessary for the other to exist.
          Any rules or laws not backed by the threat of force are merely suggestions.

        • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

          ruler is the necessary evolution of rule enforcer. Would you fight evolution itself?

  • Damien Quinn

    It’s an interesting point, although it is worth saying that the potential for wisdom within democracy is not necessarily present.

    If the people are to decide a course of action, they must be offered a choice. If both choices are wise, democracy will be wise. If both choices are unwise, democracy will be unwise.

    Therefore, it is impossible to have wise democracy without preexisting wisdom and because democracy can only reinforce the wisdom which exists. There can be no aspirationally driven increase in wisdom by use of democracy,

  • Damien Quinn

    I don’t see your point.

    Any government can only enforce the law within it’s own borders. If you choose to remain within the borders then you agree to abide by those laws, at least until such time as you can change them using the legitimate functions of the state. Proximity declares consent.

    Besides, a peaceful anarchy is more difficult to establish than an honest republic, and would require more rules to function. It is counter productive to it’s own existence.

    • thunder

      you don’t see my point because you aren’t basing your argument on first principals of political philosophy, but on the indoctrination you’ve received from your state education (presumably). to understand what I’m getting at you may need to do some more research into political philosophy in general and anarchy in specific. for but one example which refutes your statement above, look at freetown christiania. then you may also want to look into libertarianism in it’s various forms. you will find the roots of american democracy there.

      • Damien Quinn

        You’re just pointing me towards a different form of indoctrination, I’d prefer if you made a logical argument.

        • thunder

          k. horse, meet water. my job is now done. cya.

          • Damien Quinn

            Hey, some people are horse trainers and some people are stable boys, who am I to judge.

          • thunder

            and some equine are horses while others are asses…

          • Damien Quinn

            Yeah, no-one cares what the stable boy thinks.

      • Lookinfor Buford

        Christiana only works in a small scale vacuum, and ‘because’ of the stability of the world around it. A world filled with a million christianas would be in a constant, neverending war for natural resources.

        • thunder

          freedom only works on a small scale. participatory democracy only works on a small scale. my opinion is that anarchy would work best on the scale of villages. large urban centres notwithstanding, it’s best conducted on the scale of cities.

          as to wars for resources, that’s debatable. for the sake of argument, let’s say it is explicitly an “anarchist” society. then the chief of all political principals is “non-aggression”. so war wouldn’t take place. disputes, disagreements, negotiations, yes. war, no.

          • Lookinfor Buford

            Ok, I’ll concede, possibly not violent conflict. Nevertheless, how much energy would be expended toward these issues. Without law, there are no guidelines other than localized, engrained belief systems. And the minute two factions agree on something, they’ll enshrine that immediately, so as to be more efficient on the next deal. And well, that ends up being a quasi-law, no? A law that possibly only serves the two, and pisses of the rest. and then what? See where I’m going?
            Some brilliant men discussed this rather endlessly in the context of democracy in the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates. It’s not simple, as anarchists seem to think it is. That’s why, as usual, a balance; a moderate dose of law, liberty/freedom, and protection is the best answer. No comment on the current state of affairs and how these core tenets have mutated.

  • Lookinfor Buford

    “The idea that proper politics is about effective power forces us to conclude that there’s nothing to criticize in dictatorship, provided it is brutal and oppressive enough to be long-lasting”

    not at all, it’s simply a choice between methods of coercion and/or incentive. It’s not only distant future stability that matters, it is the presence of that stability through the entire term. If stability is achieved with brutality and the unjust power wielding of dictators and communist regimes, well there’s a big difference between that and sustained stability through cooperation of the people (democracy). Justice in a Democracy is FAR more likely than the alternative.
    Could not be a more fallacious premise.

    • Lookinfor Buford

      I’ll just note I did not read the next P$ before posting that.. The author apparently agrees that it’s the quality comparison that’s important, not the effectiveness comparison.

  • Damien Quinn

    I gave you one back, just because they’re free.

    If their pocketbook is bigger they can hire more guns than you, and the situation remains as it stands, there’s no difference, except if you want to prey on the weak.

  • Andrew

    > Vigilanty justice works for those who cannot follow the rules.

    What if I don’t consent to the rules?

    • overdone

      Vigilanty justice works for those who cannot follow the rules.
      The many didn´t ask you to consent just obey, just like it is now. What if you don´t consent to the rules now? Your refusal to consent doesn´t exempt you from the punishment for not following the rules. (and in many cases it doesn´t help if you do follow the rules.)

      • Andrew

        Exactly. Violent coercion is an inescapable fact of existence.

        • Eric_D_Read

          An ugly truth; but a truth nonetheless.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    So this piece is an argument for the Philosophical Hero of Democracy, rather than the Philosophical King of Monarchy.

    Interesting. It seems the whole argument comes down to whether you prefer the top-down or bottom-up.

    But to be sure it seems the Philosophical King must be a brat that has all of culture poured into him: Purity of Conservatism;
    While the Philosophical Hero must decide for himself. Taste many pies, and decide how to make the best one. Of course this will always be effected by imperfect personnal preference, and due to being new rather than established, it will always be heresy to some

    Seems to be an engineering problem of power: Do we want a “perfect” and “correct” Ruler? Or do we want a “robust” yet “flawed” Leader.

    I suspect in time, the “Flaws” of a philosophical leader will be forgotton in time, and the person will be treated as a myth.

    Forgotton Imperfection is the Problem of the Philosophical Hero
    Assumed Perfection is the problem of the Philosophical King

    All is cycles.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Vigilante Justice is just an attempt to create new rule enforcers, They are merely viruses within large non-biological organisms. But of course, sometimes they win. Thus the promise of anarchy becomes revolution, becomes … well depends on who wins but a new idea seems to always be birthed in the chaos… so I don’t know

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Anarchy is a self defeating concept due to self reference. In time it always negates itself, usually before it comes to fruition nowadays. It always comes down to “well if you’re an anarchist then you’ll respect my right of to be ruled?” There will always be that one who decides he prefers others to think for him. Of course if the population density is small enough, or at least the density of (real(not internet)) human contact, it could hypothetically work, but that little detail is typically what grumbles people’s guts. It is the politics of ice. If someone decides they like to be warm(or vice versa, lets not get bogged down in semantics), Who are you to tell them what they should prefer.

  • Gjallarbru

    It is amusing to discuss what political system is better than the other, when they are all inherently corrupt. First, because politics is a quest for power. Second because it is simply an extention of the economic system. And the military is the extention of the political.

    In the end, economics is the source of power in all “modern” society. And as long as there is only money as the base of economies, there will be corruption. Unless we find some better form of exchange, there will be corruption and disparity between the rich and the poor. This disparity will come at the cost of the political system being highjacked by the rich and powerful.

    You can discuss the political as much as you want, you are wasting your time. Economics as it stands in the world today is the root of it all.

    • Lookinfor Buford

      Not that anything can be done about that. Our basic functioning and survival depends on association and exchange. There must be a medium or media for that exchange, and the overall situation does not change simply because you change the media.

      • Gjallarbru

        The best suggestion I have seen is that “resource based” economy. That sort of economy doesn’t allow for hoarding, like it is possible to hoard money. In any case, I stand by my original post. If you don’t change the exchange system, you can moan about politics all you wan’t, you won’t really get anywhere.

  • echar

    I am curious to know how much of anarchism is theory?

    • ÿ

      All of it?

      If I understand it right (and I don’t make that claim), it’s kind of like the Tao. “The anarchism that can be spoken is not actual Anarchy.”

      Actual mileage may vary.

      • echar

        From my perspective, some of it sounds good. Then I see how they can rationalize their actions through this ism. Perhaps many have a misguided intention? Are they just stupid, and claim this ism? I am confused by these examples.

        • ÿ

          Well, I’ll put it this way: of all the socio-political conceptual frameworks to pass their way into the halls of ivory tower academia, Anarchy (or anarchism, as you will) is the only system that doesn’t seem to intrinsically require some sort of infinite-growth pyramid scheme. This seems to have the unintended consequence of attracting many who seek “the ultimate moral high ground™” for whatever cause du jour to build their ego-gratifying crusade on. Witness the countless nitwits in Amerika that call themselves “Libertarian”, yet lack even a basic historical understanding of the word they are using (or as much as such things can be said to exist).

          As for those looking to Anarchy, -ism, or even that peculiar brand of current American Libertarianism, they all appear to miss that the modern nation state has repeatedly proved its capability to defeat any Anarchist structure, system, or organization that finds itself in the way of whatever it is the nation state desires. On this basis alone, a dogmatic adherence to an Anarchy “ideal” (itself something of a contradiction, innit?) seems misguided at best.

          Anarchy is one of those maddening/wonderful things in life that can serve as a pointer for the limitations of language and words. Perhaps that is its true power, and why so many other ISMZ fear it?

          • echar

            Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I will continue to delve deeper. It seems to me that some people that I percieve as intelligent feel that anarchism is important. Therefor I want to understand why this is so.

            Most of what I see these percieved intelligent people express, appears to be intellectual fireworks. It’s slightly impressive, but a person cannot intellectualize themselves out of a wet paper bag. However, A person can do something about it.

          • ÿ

            It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction, there. If I may extend your metaphor, then Anarchism (and perhaps most/any discussion of Anarchy in general) is the former and that which can be said to be “true” Anarchy is the latter. It seems to be a largely experiential phenomena from what I can discern.

            If I had to pick one moment/one book that’s been key to my developing understanding, I’d have to pick the Emma Goldman essay collection “Red Emma Speaks”, compiled and edited by Alix Kates Shulman. One of those rare books I can say I read cover to cover on loan from the library, then went out and bought a copy. The collection is a little more Goldman-focused than Anarchy-focused, but that was a major strength, in my opinion.

          • echar

            Thank you.

          • ÿ

            I feel confident that Emma would want me to upvote sharing that pdf.

            On the plus side: your name won’t be in a database somewhere cross-referenced with the book in echelon or what the fuck ever. Not that a disqus account is much of a security blanket either…

          • echar

            I don’t worry about. I did at one time, if they want my data, fuck it. I may J walk sometimes. They’ll have to catch me though. lol

          • ÿ

            lol

            What does it say that I live in a metropolitan area where I can get an Emma Goldman book from the local library, yet be hassled by a friendly and upstanding officer of the law for J walking.

          • echar

            Freedom is convoluted, perhaps contradictory at times. I have a better chance of finding this book at the relatively near major city library. It’s in another county though.

          • ÿ

            Inter-library loan system or something?

          • echar

            That is a possibility.

          • ÿ

            If the public infrastructure exists, might as well use it.

            I do prefer ink on paper and long walks on the beach, tho…

          • echar

            Books are preferable to a screen. A walk in the woods for me, perhaps a beach accesable through a walk in the woods.

          • Calypso_1

            The PTB also perceive the strong correlation between highly intelligent persons and interest in these theories.

          • echar

            I had to look up PTB. There’s something I learned a long time ago, but was lectured on long before that. “Careful who you associate with”.

          • ÿ

            Well, they have to recruit for their priest class somehow…

          • Calypso_1

            recruit
            blackmail

          • echar

            A tried and true technique of the dark arts.

          • ÿ

            But think of the benefits package! One can not raise a family on a revolutionary’s salary.

          • Rhoid Rager

            I hear ya!

  • Mark Fabin

    the only way democracy can begin to work is with a truly free forth estate

  • ÿ

    That has about as much to do with radical feminism as American Libertarians have to do with anything even remotely called libertarian.

    Maybe don’t freak out so much about that thing you read on the internet one time, mmm-kay?

    • moremisinformation

      I’ve learned nothing about your definition of radical feminism, “American Libertarians”, or libertarians, from your post.

      • ÿ

        Then consider that an invitation to make use of that wondrous invention that is Google and your own ability to absorb stimuli.

        Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and blah blah blah…

        • moremisinformation

          “Blah blah blah” is definitely the defining feeling and understanding one gets from your posts.

          • ÿ

            Let him who has ears hear…

21
More in Democracy, Justice, Philosophy, Plato, Politics, Republic
Why Are US Conservatives So Obsessed With Monarchies?

What do you think disinfonaughts, does America or the world need another king? via The Week Something weird is happening on the American Right. Over at Politico Magazine, Michael Auslin,...

Close