When Classical Greek philosopher Plato disparaged democracy thousands of years ago, he could’ve been talking about the US elections. Or indeed, the EU referendum.
This might be the year that the West finally falls out of love with the ancient idea of ‘democracy’. Because, as it turns out, putting important decisions into the hands of us, the ill-informed masses, might occasionally backfire.
According to this article in the New Yorker, about a third of Americans can’t name even one of the three branches of the US government. Fewer than a quarter know who their senators are.
Some people in the UK actually believed the widely-debunked ‘£350 million to the NHS’ promise.
Plato saw the problem from the get go, when he explored the potential dangers of unfettered democracy:
Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.
In one volume of his book The Republic, Plato describes unavoidable stages of government: one is a society with a huge socioeconomic gap, in which the poor remain poor while the rich grow exponentially richer. In this society, the people will revolt against the establishment, and rally around one man who they believe to be their saviour.
But, he says, the newly appointed leaders will remember how easy it was to depose their predecessors, and in order to hang on to support, they will provide wars or target enemies as common causes for people to rally behind, and label any opposition as a spy.
We refer you to another excellent quote from an ancient Greek that could sum up this year’s US elections. In his comedy The Knights, poet Aristophanes mocks the idea of Athenian democracy and the capacity of the public to be hoodwinked by lying, fawning, people-pleasing politicians.
Politics, these days, is no occupation for an educated man, a man of character. Ignorance and total lousiness are better […] A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.