“Democracy dies in darkness”: Actually, It Doesn’t

Plato and Hayek on how democracy turns into tyranny

Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

In Book 8 of The Republic, Plato/Socrates distinguishes between five types of government: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Plato is in favor of aristocracy, of a king, and being a philosopher [which was not a popular profession at the time: The Republic is basically “A Defense of Philosophy” and its claim to absolute truth], is in favor, naturally, of a philosopher-king.

Plato is definitely not a fan of democracy: “Democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and powers; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.” The problems with democracy are 1) that it ignores the qualities of a statemen (defined by the philosophers, of course) and promotes to honor anyone who portrays themselves as the people’s friend and 2) its qualities are “the freedom and libertinism of unnecessary pleasures.”

Not only that, but tyranny actually has its origins in democracy. Basically, democracies tend to OD on freedom: when the slave is as free as his or her purchaser and equality of the sexes exist, then this extreme liberty leads to anarchy: “The truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction…and so tyranny arises out of democracy.”

In a democracy everything is managed by drones (Plato likes bee analogies), with the drones feeding on the wealthy class, and the workers making up the largest and most powerful class. The workers, tormented by the drones, turn to revolution, “impeachments, judgements and trials of one another.”

Is this starting to sound familiar? Think of the drones as the media, academia, and the Silicon Valley corporate state, stinging the workers into a frenzy of “resistance,” ANTIFA, pussy hats, special prosecutors, Maxine Waters screaming impeachment every five minutes, and the surreal spectacle of CNN’s obsession with Russian prostitute pee-pee.

According to Plato, this is the ground out of which tyranny springs; the tyrant appears as the protector of the people. MAGA! [Of course, one could also see the drones as the cause of the very conditions that they rail against].

That’s one view. In Law, Legislation and Liberty, F.A. Hayek argues that it’s the concept of social justice that “necessarily leads to a gradual transformation of the spontaneous order of a free society into a totalitarian system conducted in the service of some coalition of organized interests.” He also argues, contra Plato, that this is not a necessary consequence of democracy, but can happen when a certain shift occurs.

For Hayek, the role of government is “not the direct satisfaction of any particular needs, but the securing of conditions in which the individuals and smaller groups will have favorable opportunities of mutually providing for their respective needs” through the preservation of the conditions of spontaneous order (a.k.a. the free market). Hayek argues that “It is also not part of the general interest that every private desire be met. A free, spontaneous society is one in which the individuals are in agreement only on means and not on ends.” Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.

When the general, universal concept of justice for all is replaced with a specific concept of social justice for a particular group of individuals only, the majority demonized as oppressors of the minority and not worthy of justice, then democracy slides into a tyranny.

Who’s right? Depends on your particular political point of view. As a liberal you’ll tend to side with Plato (ignoring all that stuff about slaves and royal rule) and see Trump as the racist, sexist white supremacist tyrant come to save “the deplorables” from the drones; or as a conservative you’ll tend to side with Hayek and see the drones (media, academic, and corporate [Silicon Valley] identity politics and social justice advocates) as the tyrants rising up to save a particular group or coalition (intersectionality), while taking away everyone else’s freedom and rights.

And so, here we are.

Writing. Literature. Philosophy. Culture. Ph.D. U of Arizona.

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