Plato on the process that can deliver someone like Trump
Andrew Sullivan narrates an intriguing 3-minute animated film:
I was just thinking that I’ve encountered some who really like being told what to do, if they trust the person telling them. Given that trust, these find it restful not to have to evaluate, decide, choose: it’s much more relaxing just following the orders of someone they trust. And such people are not rare.
The video is from Open Culture, where Josh Jones writes:
We stand, perhaps, at the threshold of the singularity, that great event when machine intelligence overtakes our own. The writhing of late capitalism may in fact be the death throes of Western modernity and, for both good and ill, much of its Enlightenment legacy. Institutions like the press and the polling industry have stumbled badly. No amount of denialism will stop the climate crisis. Something entirely new seems poised for its emergence into the world, though what it might be no one seems fully equipped to say. Why, then, should we look back to Plato to explain our epoch, a philosopher who had no familiarity with modern weaponry, artificial intelligence, or information systems?
Perhaps a better question is: do we and should we still value the contributions of European philosophy in contemporary life? If so, then we must allow that Plato may be perpetually relevant to learned discourse. Alfred North Whitehead famously characterized “the European philosophical tradition” as “a series of footnotes to Plato.” Suggesting his agreement with the sentiment, Massimo Pigliucci titled his regular column at The Philosopher’s Magazine, “Footnotes to Plato.” Though he did not invent his mode of inquiry, and often got it very wrong, Plato, he writes, “is a towering figure for an entire way of thinking about fundamental questions.”
There may be few questions more fundamental than those we now ask in the U.S. about tyranny, its origins and remedy—about how we arrived at where we are and what ethical and practical matters lie in the hands of the citizenry. These questions were central to the thought of Socrates, Plato’s mentor and primary character in his dialogues, who had some surprisingly contrarian ideas on the matter in The Republic. Here, as Andrew Sullivan tells us in the BBC Newsnight video above, Socrates theorizes that “Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.”
The statement shocks us, but it also ran counter to the Athenian sentiments of Plato’s day. The picture Socrates paints of democracy’s ills finds its echo in the contemporary conservative’s worldview, but we should point out that Sullivan misrepresents the text he reads as one continuous passage, when it is actually a series of excerpted quotations. And as always, we should be careful not to try and see our own partisan divides in ancient thought. Socrates also had many other things to say the modern right finds truly objectionable.
The problem with democracy, Socrates thought, was . . .