Tuesday, December 6, 2016
On Society and Government: Second Installment (H1)
In my previous installment, I discussed Plato's The Republic and the "perfect" society he presented in it. In exploring this society, I sought to address what I saw as a few issues regarding what Plato had set up, particularly the issue with a lack of chance for upward mobility. To summarize what I said, I believe that all young children, regardless of which of the three classes they were born into, should be given the same education and chance to prove their skills and talents before they are placed in the hierarchy. Now that we have discussed the society as a whole, I would like to focus on one specific aspect of society, that being the government. In this installment, I would like to discuss the modern government in general as well as certain ideas that have been proposed about government.
The perfect way to begin this would be by discussing what role the government plays in The Republic. Plato creates three classes, with the elite being the "Guardians." In Plato's society, the guardians are the elite class, the best you can be born into. From birth they receive special educational and fitness training to make sure that they are always in their prime. They serve to help take care of the city above all else. Plato's idea of the perfect society is one in which everyone does their own thing and is left to it with a government that helps facilitate this lifestyle.
That's Plato's view. Let's look at that idea compared to today's politics. We can easily first highlight the difference when we understand that only one of the major political parties in America goes along with the idea of minimal governmental inclusion (Republicans). Given the outcome of the most recent election, though, in which this party is the one that won, perhaps Plato would be somewhat satisfied with that aspect.
Examining modern government, it is easier to draw comparisons to a different philosopher than Plato – Machiavelli. In his book The Prince, Machiavelli lays out a series of guidelines and rules for those who not only seek power but for those who want to keep it. We can see our current president-elect exhibiting some of the characteristics Machiavelli set forth, and it is really up to you whether or not you think this might end up being something good.
In summary of a few of the things Machiavelli said: "winning matters," "where possible use your own people and staff," "only keep your promises when it is beneficial to do so," and "change with the times." We can now see how these items fit our current government.
First of all, on the note of "winning matter," we can easily see this exemplified in the way we run our current elections and how it is much more of a reality TV show rather than a serious political affair. At the start of the campaign season, there were no less than 34 Republican nominees, one of them being Donald Trump. At the start like this, the aim is to break away from the crowd and win the primaries, which is exactly what Trump did and why we were forced to start taking him seriously. Winning has consequences, even on a small scale, it can earn you legitimacy.
The idea of using your own people to help handle your affairs is show through the election of a presidential cabinet. In an interesting move, Trump's cabinet is composed entirely of some of the wealthiest of the wealthy, people who care about money and business and who therefore Trump can relate to and will be grateful to him for granting them this power. In doing this, he is also making a man who had previously derided him – Mitt Romney – grovel for a coveted position in the cabinet as Secretary of State.
The "only keep your promises when it is beneficial to do so" rule has brought about a couple of surprises. In his campaign and to align with his party's usual ideals, Trump stood against the idea of same-sex marriage. However, after being elected, Trump decided he wasn't going to fight against the Supreme Court ruling and declared the matter "settled," implying that he was not going to deal with the issue – an issue that a rhetoric of fighting led to him being elected in the first place.
This previous retraction on a stance goes well to illustrate the next rule as well, "change with the times." Trump's own rhetoric that secured him the win is indicative of this. The idea behind changing with the times is not just always be some form of progressive as the people move that way, but means that whatever the majority wants is what you should aim for, and this is why Trump won. Trump knew how to get to the core of what the majority of Americans who would vote were feeling. While in general times may be moving forward towards a more inclusive era, there are still many stuck on the other side, and Trump knew how to use them. His rhetoric of racism and sexism, of promising to make America great again without actually pinpointing a time when it was greater, and his bravado while doing it, while scary to some, was it exactly what the rest wanted. In previous years, Trump has actually taken the stance of being pro-choice, but since the people who he wanted to vote for him were anti-choice, that is the position he took up.
So this all brings me to a comment on my previous installment, in which Dr. Oliver said, "On the other hand, the recent election has many of us wondering if Plato wasn't onto something when he proposed keeping merchants and tradesmen out of politics."
This was an idea that was brought up a lot over the course of Trump's campaign; many questioned his legitimacy and ability as a political leader as he had no previous experience and instead came from a business background. It is interesting, however, that when Ben Carson was at the head of the fold for a short time, he was heralded more than not for not being a career politician. In recent elections, career politicians have become more and more grotesque to society as a whole, which is part of the recipe for why Trump won, I believe. Plato's idea of keeping tradesmen out of politics is a good one, it is an idea that seeks to help prevent corruption in government and keep only those who are qualified in charge. Despite this, when you look at the bigger picture, you don't wonder if it might not be beneficial to run a state from the viewpoint of dealing with a business. I guess we'll just have to wait and see on that one.
In my previous installment I talked of society, and I don't wonder if I have not done that again somewhat by discussing exactly how our current president-elect came to gain his position through means that a certain philosopher would be proud of. When we look at the government, the idea in America is that it is supposed to be representative of and for the people. Instead, it has now become a contest in which the winner achieves success through duplicitous means more often than not. We are certainly a far ways away from the perfect society Plato sought after.