Philosophy and Literature / The Forum

THE ENTICING SPECTACLE OF “DEMOCRACY”: A SOCRATIC CRITIQUE!!!

13.3 Zilu asked, “If the Duke of Wei were to employ you to serve in the government of his state, what would be your first priority?” The Master answered, “It would, of course, be the rectification of names (zhengming ).” Zilu said, “Could you, Master, really be so far off the mark? Why worry about rectifying names?” The Master replied, “How boorish you are, Zilu! When it comes to matters that he does not understand, the gentleman should remain silent…

“If names are not rectified, speech will not accord with reality; when speech does not accord with reality, things will not be successfully accomplished. When things are not successfully accomplished, ritual practice and music will fail to flourish; when ritual and music fail to flourish, punishments and penalties will miss the mark. And when punishments and penalties miss the mark, the common people will be at a loss as to what to do with themselves. This is why the gentleman only applies names that can be properly spoken and assures that what he says can be properly put into action. The gentleman simply guards against arbitrariness in his speech. That is all there is to it.”[1] CONFUCIUS

and

The people who would escape the smoke which is the slavery of freemen, has fallen into the fire which is the tyranny of slaves.[2]– Socrates

 

In a somewhat celebratory tone, Francis Fukuyama openly declares that “…liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,and as such constituted the “end of history.”[3]The ideals of liberal democracy do rest on the two theoretically claimed principles of liberty and equality. As though Socrates had anticipated the likes of Fukuyama, he remarks that such a state (a democratic one) would appear the fairest indeed.

But there are the problems of: the excesses of liberty to be reckoned with, the illusion of liberty and its consequent illegitimate equation with an understanding of what “Freedom” really entails in the strictest sense, and of course the lure of moral/material extravagances unchecked by prudence (a part of Justice) which has largelycommoditized Justice as though it were a private property. Such a parochial understanding of what liberty and equality entails, which are prevalent in democratic states, run counter to Socrates cogent analyses of what the natures of Justice and Freedom could be.

Unlike Socrates, the common lot (myself included) tends to see ‘Justice’ as an end in itself. But in the Socratic sense, even Justice seems to serve a functionary role for yet another even higher knowledge, the child of good, which further falls short of the Absolute GOOD who is the author of all known knowledge, their being and their essences. But perhaps it is best if we first attempt an elucidation of Socrates understanding of Justice before we turn to a critique of the notion of liberty through Socrates lens as is evident and esteemed highly in the tenets of Democracy.

In a strain similar to the Confucian sage, who had argued “Virtue is never solitary; it always has neighbors.”[4], Socrates also conceptualizes Justice in the whole and not just in differentiated cases. In a snapshot, Socratic Justice is a consummation of both beauty and order, while injustice a kind of deformity of two qualities. Justice then seems to be the governing power that regulates all relations of in a State and in an individual while exemplifying a unified aesthetic. As Socrates would contend, Justice therefore requires the aid of Reason (Intellect) to cement its regulatory power. But is often the case than not, Opinion(s) usually usurps the role which Intellect would have properly played.

Opinion in Socratic sense is immersed in mere beliefs and perceptions of shadows (temporal empirical data) and hence only involved with becoming as opposed to true being and not-being. But true Intellect is determined in investigating being with aid of the power of the Dialectic; “knowledge which reason herself attains by the power of dialectic, using the hypotheses not as first principles, but only as hypotheses–that is to say, as steps and points of departure into a world which is above hypotheses, in order that she may soar beyond them to the first principle of the whole; and clinging to this and then to that which depends on this, by successive steps she descends again without the aid of any sensible object, from ideas, through ideas, and in ideas she ends.”[5]The origin of Opinion is in the minds’ fixity in the world of becoming. “The many ideas which the multitude entertain about the beautiful and about all other things are tossing about in some region which is half-way between pure being and pure not-being…[6]

Before we investigate further how opinion originates from the shadows of pleasures and pains as illustrated by Socrates and Glaucon, the latter (Glaucon) helps to name three classes of goods. The first class, as Glaucon points out, is“the harmless pleasures and enjoyments, which delight us at the time, although nothing follows from them…[7]The second class is the goods desired not only for their own sake but also because of theirconsequencestoo,for instance knowledge and sight. The third class of goodsiscalled the troublesome goods since they are only desired primarily because of the results they produce otherwise many would find them disagreeable as Glaucon says; these are especially the travails gymnastic exercises conducive for health.

Glaucon suspected that perhaps Justice would be found in the troublesome class since he invariably maintained these two theses about Justice; “all men who practice justice do so against their will, of necessity, but not as a good.[8]And that “when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just.”[9]To Glaucon, the practice of justice seemed to tell of the deficiency of a power in the masses to retaliate wrongs done to them and hence justice becomes be a product of what Nietzsche might term as ressentiment. “The slaves’ revolt in morals begins with this, that ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those who are denied the real reaction, that of the deed, and who compensate with an imaginary revenge.[10]Glaucon thus sees justice as a forced compromise that the masses of no or little consequences have forced on themselves with a view of their own ‘good’ and though they might universally praise, they are not really interested in Justice itself.

As we shall shortly explore, Socrates is rather concerned with the faculty of man that is responsible for forming Opinion and genuine Reason since as he (Socrates) argues, “no one is willingly deceived in that which is the truest and highest part of himself, or about the truest and highest matters; there, above all, he is most afraid of a lie having possession of him.”[11]In this case therefore, whether the masses are acting justly out of sentiment or not, the issue rather rests on the Opinion or Reason which really does inform that sentiment or resentment as we shall elaborate in the coming paragraphs.

The rise and fall of pains and pleasures, which the multitudes tend to judge as either true being (that is true pleasures and pains) are juxtaposed to the true inanitions of the body and soul, which are the true beings. When a person has a pain in any part of their body, then it strikes them that the absence of that pain would be pleasurable. On the other hand, when one descends from a higher plateau of euphoria to a lower state, one would most likely assume that the loss of some pleasure (though not in-totality) constitutes pain. Mere sensation thus assumes true being. Besides the absence and the ascension or descent into upper and lower emotional states, the psychological anticipation of future pleasures (hopes) or future pains might also be experienced in the present moment as real states (true beings) of either pleasure or pain depending on the anticipated object. Thus these conflated views breed the manifold disagreements about the nature of true pain and true pleasures.“Then can you wonder that persons who are inexperienced in the truth, as they have wrong ideas about many other things, should also have wrong ideas about pleasure and pain and the intermediate state; so that when they are only being drawn towards the painful they feel pain and think the pain which they experience to be real, and in like manner, when drawn away from pain to the neutral or intermediate state, they firmly believe that they have reached the goal of satiety and pleasure; they, not knowing pleasure, err in contrasting pain with the absence of pain, which is like contrasting black with grey instead of white–can you wonder, I say, at this?”[12]

Socrates argues that Hunger, thirst and other requirements essential for a self-sufficing body constitute the true inanitions of the body. Ignorance and folly, which are responsible for constructions of the various opinions, are the true inanitions of the soul. But since Socrates believes that the improvement of the soul naturally leads to the improvement of the body, cultivation of Reason then takes an upper hand though without neglect of bodily improvements. In addition to folly and ignorance orchestrating the spewing of opinions, fixity in our habituated tendencies to view the world and pursue its phenomena, also results from Socrates analysis of what I would called the covert forces of the subconscious.

Beside the desires and needs we are cognizant of, there are habits we have internalized from tender ages and as Socrates points out, have become our second natures. The internalization of these second natures happens through the mechanisms of imitation and the gratification of the appetitive part of the soul. And then when the internalized ideals have stabilized in the person, then the internalized object forms part of the criterion of assessing/measuring values claims. “For he whose nature is amorous of anything cannot help loving all that belongs or is akin to the object of his affections.[13]

In the country of lotus-eaters (that is a democracy in which liberty has overstepped its bounds and given full rein to her flight), the citizenry become habituated to a wider scope of pleasures and are thus distracted from attending to the other parts of the soul-reason. And as “the excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery,”[14] the spirited element of the soul aligns with the appetitive part and thus tyrannizes the part capable of rational activity.And to make matters even worse, due to the aforementioned deformed opinions, which masquerades as true Reason, then the pursuits of such lotus-eaters since,as far as they are immersed in that which is neither being nor not-being, becomes a fetishism of spectacles inside the prison-house of sights (alleged democracies where libertinism has broken loose).

The point about thorough education and nurture especially in early childhood is not meant to eradicate the appetitive part, but precisely in aligning the spirited part of the soul with the rational part since people often tend to gravitate towards the overindulgence of the appetitive part of the soul.Cultivation of virtue (on the heavenly pattern) of especially the highly actionable minds of the youth is for the benefit of putting into control the subconscious wild-beasts’ insatiable pursuits of unnecessary and frivolous pleasures that would otherwise distract our delving into the search for knowledge in all spheres of life. Without attaining order (Justice as regulatory capacity) that regulates the coordination of these three parts of the soul (the spirited, the appetitive and the rational parts), one but leads a slavish and perpetually distracted life that chases nothing but mirages and shadows thinking that these peculiarities have true substances. Justice indeed is thus a regulating power that Reason bestows on the rational part of the soul – hence the State for each state is a conglomeration of multiple souls.

Perhaps it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss some manifest defects in our modern world democracies. Defects such as, unlimited accumulation of wealth and expansionism of new market zones in the name of “free market” ideology and the obsessive militarism attached to the ideology.Furthermore Fukuyama does argue that the supposed defects are not inherent in the notions of liberal democracies themselves but as he says, “…these problems were [are]ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on.”[15]And using one of Socrates examples, Fukuyama adds, “As Socrates explains in Plato’s Republic, even among a band of robbers there must be some principle of justice that permits them to divide their spoils. Legitimacy is thus crucial to even the most unjust and bloody-minded dictatorship.”[16] My point of departure from Fukuyama’s controversy and hence from his idea that democracy is the “end of history”, rests of his (Fukuyama’s) interchanging approximate justice with the term legitimacy.

Indeed Socrates acknowledged that for a band of thieves (who are just half-villains as opposed to complete villains) to cooperate together, there must be some remnants of justice still left in them, which oversees this cooperation. If this were not the case, in that they were completely unjust, then they would have been incapable of any action, but would have resorted to “a war of all against all” and the band would disintegrate no sooner than it assemble. Though I cannot pinpoint precisely what Fukuyama means by legitimacy, but his use of the term strikes me as implying something like “acceptance” or a reciprocity embedded in mutual recognition. If I am not too far mistake, then I may proceed with the critique.

A Socratic rejoinder to Fukuyama’s contention might go in the following form. First would be the question: By what faculty does one accept or deny or recognizes a duty to reciprocate? Perhaps the answer might be: Intellect (the Reasoning faculty). Then invoking the analogy of ascension and descend of the states of pleasures and pains, one can help Socrates in pointing out the following: Then “acceptance” or “legitimacy” can be an act based on mere Opinion and not really on infallible Reason. If that were not the case, Socrates would not have considered it a remnant (a piece) of Justice. Then this form of legitimacy binding together the band of thieves could, if it can, pass for a watered down version of approximate Justice and not Absolute Justice itself.

Perhaps Fukuyama is confusing an Effect for a Cause as Nietzsche might interpose. “The error of confusing cause and effect. There is no more dangerous error than that of mistaking the effect for the cause: I call it the real corruption of reason. Yet this error belongs among the most ancient and recent habits of mankind:”[17]Even if the entrenchedneed for legitimacycan be allowed as an approximate form of Justice, it still is not the driving force of history (history as a dialectical process). Instead of arguing like Fukuyama that “Recognition (legitimacy) is the central problem of politics…”[18], Socrates might contest that Reason (and lack thereof) as the driving force of history. And until Absolute Reason (The Highest Good) has been attained by everyone (perhaps), history is still in the throes of evolution and there is nothing about the “end of it” yet.

Freedom (and not just satisfaction of a random variety of desires that might arise in us) of the truly cultivated individual is therefore genuine Freedom since it is anchored in true Reason. In giving dominance to liberty and yet these libertinism has a huge potential of being guided by fallible opinions, then one in so doing enables the appetitive part of their Soulto triumph over the rational part.

A scientific community that aspires to scientific truths can be compared to ahypothetical group of libertine decadents. Achieving consensus about a particular scientific subject matter in a scientific community is difficult but it is not impossible. At least many scientists agree on some definite scientific truths and conduct their work without transgressing the limits of these truths. A serious scientific community’s conduct is not enshrined on the majoritarian rule or libertinismin affirming hypotheses that one prefers but which it finds arerather unable to demonstrate and corroborate in various procedures the claimed scientific values/truths.

The spectacle of democracy is indeed captivating since it acts like a shortcut that circumvents the tedious toil of aspiring to knowledge (which is the true legitimate parentof Freedom and Justice) by compensating the lack of knowledge with a symbolic gratification of the senses, which misleadingly passes out as true delight.

As a final inquiry, one might ask whether one who has Absolute knowledge, might always act consistently according to true Reason or might in some occasions betray it. I belief this inquiry cannot be settled a priori until one attains that Absolute Reason a posterior. Otherwise I would just be committing the error of opinionating on Absolute Reason when I myself have but immature Reason (opinion). The best I can say is that, there has been improvement both in the moral and material senses, as more knowledge in all spheres of life is attained. Justice thus should not be sacrificed as doing what one caprices seek. Reason is a true path to Freedom at least as far possible as Socrates is right and as far as I tag along.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Republic by Plato Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 31337-31338). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

Fukuyama, Francis (2006-03-01). End of History and the Last Man . Free Press. Kindle Edition.

CONFUCIUS; Slingerland, Edward (Translator) (2010-04-10). Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Translated & Annotated) (Hackett Classics Series) (p. 37). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Nietzsche, Friedrich; Kaufmann, Walter (1977-01-27). The Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library) (p. 451). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.   Plato (2012-03-19).

[1] Slingerland, Edward (Translator). Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Translated & Annotated) (Hackett Classics) (p. 139). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[2] Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 35546-35547). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[3] Fukuyama, Francis (2006-03-01). End of History and the Last Man . Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] CONFUCIUS; Slingerland, Edward (Translator) (2010-04-10). Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Translated & Annotated) (Hackett Classics Series) (p. 37). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[5] Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 34550-34554). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition

[6] Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 34043-34044). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition

[7]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 31875-31876). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[8]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 31890-31891). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[9]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 31900-31902). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[10]Nietzsche, Friedrich; Kaufmann, Walter (1977-01-27). The Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library) (p. 451). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

[11]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 32322-32323). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[12]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 35813-35815). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[13]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 34083-34084). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[14]Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Location 35441). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.

[15]Fukuyama, Francis (2006-03-01). End of History and the Last Man . Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[16]Fukuyama, Francis (2006-03-01). End of History and the Last Man (p. 16). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[17]Nietzsche, Friedrich; Kaufmann, Walter (1977-01-27). The Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library) (p. 492). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

[18]Fukuyama, Francis (2006-03-01). End of History and the Last Man . Free Press. Kindle Edition.