Saturday, May 30, 2015

On the Polity (Or, Our Lack of One)

What kind of government do we find in the United States? Our knee-jerk answer is that we are a democracy. However, we are in fact a republic of democratically-elected  representatives. In a few cases, we are a democracy -- in those few cases where the populace votes on a law or amendment to a state constitution -- but for the most part we are a democracy only in the sense that we vote for our representatives.

And what are those representatives? Lawrence Hatab in A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy argues that they are our version of an "aristocracy." A beg to differ. The word "aristocracy" means "rule of the best," since aristos means "best." There is no evidence whatsoever that any of our elected officials are the best at anything other than pandering and lying. If they are not an aristocracy, what are they?

Rule by a small group of people is known as an oligarcy. We thus have a democratically elected oligarcy. While Aristotle argues that an oligarcy comes from the property owners and aristocracy comes from the educated (and the two are pretty much the same here in the U.S.), we can look to the values of our elected officials to determine if they are oligarchs or aristocrats. Anyone who thinks our elected officials truly support education are fooling themselves and are allowing themselves to be fooled by our elected officials. There is little question that our elected officials support the wealthy -- all of their actions and legislation is designed to protect their cronies from competition.

Aristotle also points out that "The end of democracy is freedom; of oligarchy, wealth; of aristocracy, the maintenance of education and national institutions; of tyranny, the protection of the tyrant."

Let us consider each of these in turn.

There is little question that we try, through our government, to support the creation of more and more freedom. There may be some arguments about what that freedom consists of, and there is little doubt that we have lost many freedoms -- especially economic freedoms and, especially since 9-11, many civil rights -- but we have also gained many, especially among women, minorities, and gays.

I would also argue that support of the wealthy is also very much in evidence. The actions of the government after the 2008 collapse demonstrate the government will go out of its way to protect the already-wealthy, especially direct cronies. Our regulations are all designed to protect the already-wealthy from competition, and to thus increase the accumulation of wealth among a few. Not coincidentally, those few are also the pool for our political candidates.

What we absolutely do not have is an aristocracy. Aristocrats would come from among the most educated, and there are few truly highly educated people in office (many have a great deal of schooling, and much of that schooling is from our elite schools, but schooling is hardly the same as education). This doesn't mean there aren't a few. We have had Ph.D.s in office. But they are rarer than those who are primarily wealthy. This is why we get a lot of lip-service regarding support for education, but no actual support for education (throwing money at a problem, which is an oligarchic solution, doesn't solve it -- it often makes problems worse). The support of change for the sake of change, which is literally the opposite of maintenance of national institutions, also suggests we do not have an aristocracy.

Now, as for tyranny, I think few would argue we have a tyranny. However, we should be concerned at the degree to which our government officials have created rules that are obviously designed to protect the re-election of each and every one of them.

What this suggests is that our government is in fact a democratic oligarchy with slightly tyrannical tendencies.

We should not be surprised, then, that our government, both Democrats and Republicans, seems almost exclusively concerned with the economy. And the existence of a market economy will in turn result in the support for oligarchy as well. That is a feature, not a bug. At the same time, free markets require freedom, meaning the participants in the market ought to support democracy. However, each business owner's self-interest is in the support of oligarchs who in turn support him.

Other spontaneous orders are fundamentally aristocratic in nature. The natural sciences, the social sciences, the arts, philosophy, math, technological innovation are all dependent upon education and healthy institutions. (The free market is also dependent upon healthy institutions, so there ought to be a support for an element of aristocracy as well from those in the market.) At the same time, each of these are most productive when the system has the most freedom, so again there is a need for democracy to keep them most productive. 

All of this suggests that there ought to be a government which is simultaneously democratic, oligarchic, and aristocratic. (We can do without tyranny, which is the most truly self-centered form of government.) Such a mixed government is a polity, which Aristotle saw as superior to a pure democracy. Coincidentally, the House of Representatives was meant to be oligarchic (not in the sense of working to concentrate their own wealth, but in supporting the conditions for wealth creation), while the Senate was supposed to be aristocratic. But with the direct election of Senators, that house of Congress too became an oligarchy (and have become the worst version of it, at that).

Unfortunately, it seems that more and more people are supporters of tyranny. We keep electing the same people, those same people have rigged the game to protect themselves, and we are more ruled by fear and threats than anything else. It is perhaps not coincidental that we keep moving more and more in this direction the more and more we embrace the philosophies of Rousseau and of the Germans, especially such people as Heidegger (a lifelong, unapologetic Nazi), whose ideas laid the groundwork for the Terror of the French Revolution (and the terrors of every emulator of the French Revolution) and for the rise of fascism, respectively. Here in the U.S. we have managed to combine Rousseauian leftism with Heideggerian fascism to create a kind of "liberal facism." Of course, there is absolutely nothing liberal about it, since both left and right are anti-liberal.

Thus we are moving in the wrong direction entirely. Aristotle argued that a polity is superior to a  democracy, an aristocracy is superior to an oligarchy, and a monarchy is superior to a tyranny. Yet, we are more democratic, more oligarchic, and more tyrannical than ever before. And we keep moving in this direction. We need to reverse course and become a polity again, with strong elements of democracy, oligarchy, and aristocracy (it may be too much to ask for our President to be a monarch, meaning wise and just in all decisions, but we should demand such from our Presidential candidates). But that means having a populace who actually values freedom, education, wisdom, and justice.

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