Around 380 BC, Plato created his ideal city state. In The Republic, he imagined a state that would uphold the just, the right, and the fair. In the book, he idealized everything; from the way kids are raised, to the city quarters, to the form of government.
In The Republic, Plato claimed that a government should consist of sages, of philosophers. He called those people guardians. They were people who would dedicate their entire lives to the state, who would have little to no material possessions, educated in all subjects, the most important being philosophy. He considered those people “men of gold” and they would be discovered during the rigorous educational system in place.
But not all men are made of gold. Not all men aspire to the Good. The same educational system put in place to find the men of gold would find other types of men. Men made of silver, of bronze, and of iron.1
Plato believed that the guardians should decide on behalf of the people. They should have no possessions of their own so as not to be influenced by personal gain. They would be deciding for the best for the state and for the best for its people, even if a decision seems contradictory at first. That, Plato called aristocracy. A government led by those who are most capable.
Within a few generations, he predicted this aristocracy to die off, becoming a timocracy. In a few more generations the state would become an oligarchy and finally, democracy, marking its downfall. At this point, Plato thought, the state should start all over again, as the final stage is the one of tyranny.
And yet nowadays we hear few if any negative comments about democracy. It’s regarded as the pinnacle of human evolution and government by many people. Complete equality is believed to bring us peace, to integrate everyone into society, to make all voices heard and give them the same weight.
The problem is that many of those voices are really fucking stupid.
I consider myself to be a well educated guy, I read a lot and try to stay up to date with the world. Even then, I don’t believe I’m fit to choose someone to represent me and the people in the elections. I know little to nothing about politics. Why should my vote weigh the same as the vote of someone whose entire life is about politics? Why should the vote of a homeless, uneducated person, be weighed the same as a PhD in politics or economics?
Democracy, like communism, has the problem of assuming that every single human being is equal when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Democracy assumes that all voices are equally smart, that all people have the same level of knowledge and that the difference lies merely within the personal opinion of each individual.
We know that this is not the case. We know that the masses are dumb and easy to manipulate. We know that most people aren’t rational decision makers and critical thinkers, but instead choose based on emotions and will generally support whomever has the best rhetoric.
An argument could be made that all people have access to the same type and amount of information and I would agree, but it’s up to each individual to do the work in accessing it, it’s up to each individual to digest and understand the information, it’s up to each individual to make an informed decision without being swayed by feelings and emotions. And when it comes to that, we know that most people don’t have that ability.
I’ve often made a case for celebrating our differences, for living in accordance to our strengths, for being humble and for knowing ourselves well enough to be able to stop and say “no, I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
It’s incredibly difficult to be humble to that point, it’s incredibly difficult to accept that maybe our strengths don’t lie within politics, within intellect, within music or sports. But it’s a necessary step we must take if we want to live in a world that has its best interest in mind. It’s a necessary step we must take if we want to approach the state that upholds the just.
And yet, as much as I write this, I don’t see a better alternative to democracy considering how our current society is shaped. For an aristocracy to be possible, we would have to reform the entirety of society in the way Plato visualized. Right now, all we can do is raise the “average voice” enough for democracy to work better, and I ask myself if that is even plausible.