PlatoPlato was a citizen of the Greek city-state Athens. He lived from 429 to 347 BC. In his time the democratic Athens and the kingdom of Sparta kingdom fought "The Peloponnesian War", which lasted 27 years. The war was a disaster for the Greek world. Sparta won, but the real winner in the long run, was their northern neighbour, King Philip of Macedonia.
This part of Greek history, resembles the recent European history of the twentieth century. The European powers destroyed each other in two bitter and bloody wars, which lasted 31 years from start to finish with a lull in between. The real winner of these disastrous wars was the Europeans western neighbour, the United States of America, who afterwards conquered the world, just as King Philip of Macedonia's son, Alexander, did.
Along with Thomas Aquinas and Kant, Plato is considered to be one of the pillars of European philosophy. Historians like to quote A. N. Whitehead: "The safest general description of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
Plato is best known for his theory of the eternal perfect ideas behind the imperfect reality as it shows itself for us.
Socrates was Plato's teacher. He was executed in Athens after as a result of a popular democratic demand. Plato and his friends were present in his last hours. They looked on, when their teacher drank the poison hemlock juice.
Plato's contempt for democracy is evident numerous places in his works.
Plato believed that not the most numerous ones, but the best ones should govern. Society should consist of three classes. The ruling class, who should have a very long education in philosophy, history and politics, the guardians, who had to be brave because they would be soldiers and police. The third class was the real productive population. They should just concentrate on their jobs and their private lives.
Plato Argument I: Democracy Leads to Rule of the MobDemocracy inevitably leads to a "rule of the mob" Common people have not been trained in philosophy, and they have no knowledge of the eternal ideas of truth, beauty and justice. Therefore rule by the majority will be based on simple and popular ideas and random impulses.
It is believed that between 18,000 and 40,000 persons were beheaded by the guillotine during the democratic French Revolution. In addition come all those, who were shot, drowned or killed by other means.
Ordinary citizens have no training and experience in political science, foreign policy or military strategy and leadership. They will base their decisions on their own impulses and moral sentiments. A democratic government of the state will therefore inevitably end up making wrong decisions.
PRO DemocracyEvery individual has the right to liberty. Every citizen must have the right and freedom to be master of his own life. The Process of democratic decision-making leads this individual freedom into the public decisions.
When everybody are participating in government decisions, with equal weight, then everybody will have equal share in the governance of the joint community. Only thus can all be equals.
Plato's alternative to democracy is, that not the most numerous, but the best ones should be in charge. A carefully selected elite should have a broad education in philosophy, history and political science. They should be the leaders of society. The vast majority of the people should only take care of their jobs and their own lives.
Such an arrangement, we will never be able to accept. Every time we see such a superhuman get out of a car with tinted windows and go into a five-star hotel, we will feel a sting in our hearts. We will be reminded, that we are only second-class citizens in our own country, a kind of happy practical underlings.
The right to democratic self-determination includes also the right to make wrong decisions. In the very same way that individuals are free to decide their own destiny and learn their own experiences, the associations based on these free individuals also have the freedom to make the decisions they feel fit. They must themselves live with the consequences of their possibly wrong decisions and they cannot blame others for their sorry destiny.
We would much prefer to be equals in any unsuccessful democracy rather than to be underlings in a more efficient authoritarian state. Deep in our minds we will never accept to be reduced to slaves and serfs in our own nation.
American voters are patiently waiting to have opportunity to have their say.
CONTRA DemocracyLet us imagine that we had got an appendicitis.
Would we then allow ourselves to be operated by a man, who was not a trained surgeon? A man who was chosen for the job because of his popular attitudes to the public health service and his appealing public appearance.
No! We would prefer an experienced professional who really were trained in medicine and surgery.
Leadership of the state, foreign policy and defence are all difficult functions, just like surgery. Our prosperity, our children's future and our whole life depend on whether the leaders of the nation make the right decisions. Should we leave these difficult tasks to popular amateurs?
It is a beautiful idea to allow voters to make mistakes and thus built up their own experience with the management of the nation in war and peace, wealth and poverty. But in the real world we cannot afford to make mistakes. The merciless economic laws and our international rivals and enemies will exploit the situation long before, such experience can be utilized.
Thucydides was a contemporary of Plato. He wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War. His clear message was that Athens lost the war, because it was a democracy. The voters of Athens were too easy to be excited to launch unwise actions that led to unnecessary losses, humiliation and defeat.
Plato's proposal for a society divided in three groups reminds a lot about the kind of government, which the Socialists called democratic centralism. Members of the Socialist Party were the rulers, who have been specially selected because of their education in the "true knowledge" which in this was case the Marxism - Leninism and the dialectical materialism.
Many believe, that if the Soviet Union had been a democracy, it could never have won the great war against Nazi Germany. They would not have been able to maintain a strategy through hardship and temporary defeats.
Plato Argument II: "Democracy Causes the Stupid to Come to Power"Democracy causes "the stupid", the sophists to comes to power.
The sophists had excellent theoretical knowledge. They were outstanding speakers, demagogues, as it was called, and therefore they were masters in the art of controlling the voters. However, they did not have any "true knowledge". That is, they had no knowledge of the eternal and perfect ideas about truth, justice and beauty. Therefore, they had no fixed ideas about in which direction the country should be managed.
PRO DemocracyThe relationship between politicians and their voters are not the same as the relationship between a doctor and his patients.
A doctor has a patent on the truth. He knows, what is good for his patients. If patients want to be healthy, they must follow their doctor's recommendations.
But a politician does not have the same patent on truth. The voters decide for themselves what kind of society and which overall goals that will make them happy. Politicians just have to listen to the voters and adapt their policies accordingly.
This is Plato's fundamental mistake. In Plato's World the politicians are rulers and guardians to their subjects, because they know what is good for them. In the same way that parents are guardians to their children. But voters are free, mature people in a democratic society, and they have the right to decide themselves, what will make them happy.
The sophists were not as stupid as Plato would like to make them. They were open to voters. They respected them and responded to their wishes and needs.
Plato's idea was that the society should be headed by the most qualified and suitable, who were especially selected and trained in philosophy and governance.
But because you do not have a long theoretical education, you will not have to be stupid. To spend decades in schools and educational establishments, separated from the practical reality, does not necessarily qualify a person to be one of society's top managers. It is not an absolute advantage, having spent half ones life in a protected university environment.
Lessons from the real practical life with real people, empathy and good communication skills, often turn out to be more valuable than a large sum of theoretical knowledge about law and organisation.
CONTRA DemocracyFrom the introduction of the democratic Constitution of Denmark in 1848, the Danish have largely been ruled by democratically elected governments.
One of their very first actions was to involve Denmark in the wars over Slesvig and Holsten, which for hundred of years had been ruled by the Danish kings.
We had too few soldiers, who were armed with old breech loaders. The guns of the army were too few and too small and had too short range. The outcome of the war is well known. Nearly half of the kingdom was lost.
The new democratic politicians made themselves popular among the voters promoting a loud shouting nationalism. However it was less popular to collect the taxes, which could have given the military the ability to match the enemy in the confrontations that such aggressive national policy inevitably would bring.
But it was actually in this way, that Plato's sophists behaved. With their dazzling manipulating skills they grasped a random mood among the people, they enhanced it, and so became popular among the voters. But they did not have a long-termed, thoughtfully considered plan about, where it all should end up and why.
They lacked, so to say a beacon to aid the steering, namely the eternal and perfect ideas about the true, the just and the beautiful. Therefore Plato called the sophists "the stupid ones".
The former president of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, has stated that such disciplined states like his Singapore, South Korea and China under Deng Xiao Peng and his successors, have had a strong economic growth, precisely because they have stable governments and do not give free rein for advanced democracy and tolerance. In Singapore the rules are very strict. You must not chew gum, it is too polluting. An American teenager in Singapore was sentenced to fifty blows with a watersucked bamboo stick for vandalising the varnish on parked cars.
When Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959 the city-state was a poor malaria infested former English colony.
Today it is one of the richest countries in Asia. He resigned in 1990, but remained in government as senior minister.
Plato Argument III: "Democracy Leads to Chaos and Subsequent Tyranny"Democracy leads to disagreements and conflicts among the people, which is a fundamental evil and should be avoided.
The internal conflicts will create chaos, and therefore a democracy inevitably will be followed by a dictatorship.
PRO DemocracyToday, society is completely different from Plato's Athens. In the ancient Greek cities each citizen had a fixed position in the hierarchy, and the technological and social development was minimal. Athens was ethnically homogeneous, populated by hellenians only.
Modern society, however, are continually developing. In our time is a huge geographical and social mobility. Today's society is multicultural with many ethnic and religious groups.
If we do not give people the opportunity to express their opinions and cast their votes, they will not feel, that this society is theirs. We will risk, that the nation falls apart into different groups.
It is not necessarily bad to disagree. There will always be differences between people, and it is precisely, when these opposing views clash, the new, the right solutions will come into existence.
The principle of democratic decision making makes possible a peaceful compromise between opposing political groups and their ideas.
The rivalizing groups meet and exchange views on, what each of them considers particularly important. Based on this they set up a list of subjects for negotiation. They may eventually develop a joint action program, which includes the main points from each group, or compromises on particular points that both sides regard as important.
This principle of democratic decision-making has for many years really solved numerous disputes in a peaceful way.
The American democracy has not experienced significant unrest since the civil war ended in 1865.
The European democracies have not experienced any significant turmoil since the Second World War ended in 1945.
For several hundred years nothing has indicated that democracies should be followed by dictatorships, rather, vice versa, as witnessed in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Eastern Europe.
In Portugal, the world's longest existing dictatorship was overthrown by the military in 1974.
Also in 1974 the polytechnic students in Athens demonstrated against the Papadopulus dictatorship. Shortly after it was overthrown by the military.
The Polish shipyard workers went on strike in 1982 organised by their workers union, Solidarity, with Lech Walesa as their leader. It was the first blow to the socialist systems in Eastern Europe in modern times.
Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were arrested after a military uprising in 1989
Following a brief trial on a military base outside Bucharest, the 2. day of Christmas 1989, they were executed by a firing squad. This ended the Romanian dictatorship, and paved the way for democracy in Romania.
The Soviet Union and its socialist system fell apart in 1991.
It cannot be denied, that the peoples of the World yearn for freedom and democracy. One by one the dictatorships fall and democracy takes over.
Democracy is indeed a great success, and it certainly did not led to chaos and dictatorship, as Plato predicted.
India is the biggest democracy in the World.
Brave Iraqi women show the noble blue mark on their fingers proving they have taken part in a democratic election.
CONTRA DemocracyThat democracy causes disagreements and conflicts among the people cannot be denied.
The citizens engage emotionally in different potentiel solutions of the problems of society, different political lines. When their prefferred solutions do not prevail, they will feel frustrated and angry.
Who did not experience to have the good atmosphere at a festive gathering with friends or neighbours destroyed by political discussions about subjects, nobody really know anything about? Discussions, which became still more excited and less and less factual as the evening progressed
It can be difficult, not to send a thought to Ludvig Holberg and his comedy, "The Political Jug-maker". It's actually ridiculous, that ordinary citizens are expected to engage themselves deeply in something, they can have only superficial knowledge about.
Ordinary people are busy with their jobs and their families, and they have no access to confidential and detailed internal information about foreign policy and national economy.
We look down on the Chinese cultural revolution. Ordinary Chinese people were fanatically committed in all kinds of political issues, of which they were in no position to have any qualified view. All political problems were reduced to attitudes. Policy was deeply connected with all personal relationships, as a kind of religion.
But we can also sit in our own living rooms and carry out heated debates about whether the U.S. should be in Iraq or not, or similar remote subjects, which we know very little about. We can make our own small cultural revolutions.
That democracy leads to disagreements and conflicts is easy to spot. We can just look in the television how the politicians accuse each other, interrupting each other when they are discussing. They seem to be more interested in promoting the differences in their positions, than they are in finding common solutions to the problems of the nation.
It is a fact, that Hitler and Mussolini came to power in connection with unrest and riots and subsequent democratic elections.
The developing countries have many examples of, that chaotic conditions in democracies have created fertile ground for subsequent dictatorial regimes.
In 1985, the military regime in Sudan was replaced by a democratic government. The subsequent election led immediately to anarchy and chaos, just as Plato predicted. The turbulent democracy were quickly replaced by a new and even more brutal military dictatorship.
After pressure from Western governments the African nation of Rwanda in 1992 established a democratic multiparty system. However the new political parties were covers for ethnic groups, which established murderous militias. Contradictions between these political parties and their hinterlands created the basis for the events that led to the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994.
Today, January 2008, no objective observers can feel doubt, that only the army and President Musharef stand in the way of fundamentalism and chaos in Pakistan. A democratic election will be the beginning of the end of law and order.
In Kenya, unrest in connection with precisely a democratic election, have led to that several hundred men, women and children have been burned or chopped to death.
An unemployed Tunisian graduate said: "In Tunis, we have 25% unemployment. If we held elections under such circumstances, it would result in a fundamentalist government, violence and terror, just as in Algiers. First we must create a good economy, and then we can start thinking about elections."
A political party must have a fixed place among the voters, a foundation somewhere in the society, otherwise they will never get enough votes. Some parties address workers, civil servants and other employees in government organisations, other target pensioners and ethnic minorities, some are representing the self-employed, some parties stress their good cooperation with the big international companies, in between they can join together and target special groups like educated women or teenagers.
A democratically elected government must be loyal to its basic dedicated group of voters and stand up to at least some of the promises, they have made. Therefore no democratic government can fully represent the interest of the whole nation.
In nations with multiple ethnic identities a democratically elected government often will have its roots in a particular tribe, a specific region or in a particular ethnic religion. Governments will be loyal to their own ethnic roots and they will give privileges to their own fellow tribesmen.
It is exactly the background of the frequent riots and massacres in the African democracies.
The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni wrote: "I am one of those, who do not believe in a multi-party democracy. Actually, I am totally against it, in any case with regard to Africa today." - "If you create a multiparty system in Uganda, a party cannot win the elections, unless they find a way to split the ninety-four percent of the voters (which are peasants), and this is, where the main problem comes up, tribes, religious and regional idendities, that form the basis of intense guerrilla activity.
According to the Security company, Kroll Associates, the democratic South Africa is rated as one of the most violent places in the world, which are not war zone.
In modern times, China has enjoyed an almost explosive economic growth with double-digit growth rates. This is only possible, because the country is not a democracy. Something like the one-child policy would never have survived a democratic election. If the students on the Tiananmen Square had got their will and "Kingdom of the Middle" had introduced absolute freedom of expression and rivalizing political parties, it would long ago have been dissolved because of overpopulation, poverty, strikes, civil wars and national liberations.
See the philosophical forum at Frostburg State University:
Plato: The Failure of Democracy
See also "The International Commission on Nobility and Royalty" Criticism and Benefits of Monarchy
And see the full text of The History of the Peloponnesian War - By Thucydides translated by Richard Crawley.
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