Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Money, Pleasure, Power

I really appreciate the comments that were posted yesterday. I would like to use today's entry to speak about the "theoretical lens" throught which I am operating. It is not Aristotle, but Plato. Aristotle is interested in classifying the mechanics of revolution. Plato is a nice introduction to Aristotle as Plato provides us with the psychology of revolution.

Plato recognized that the most formative part of a regime consisted of the leaders of the regime. The leaders are those who by their position and their character impress their way of life on the rest of society. The leaders do not necessarily do this by force of arms. They do it by example. They do it by breathing a spirit into the institutions and into the laws that in turn forms the souls of the men and women of a society. The leaders are not merely the political leaders. They are the men and women who make up the literary elite, the generals in the army, business leaders, the leaders of Hollywood, and journalists. Seen another way, the leaders are those who shape the univeristy, the news services, culture, music, business, the military, and politics. If we want to know the future of a society, all we have to do is study the souls of the leaders.

In Book VIII of the Republic Socrates outlines the character of each regime and how regimes progress, one to the next. Each regime can be understood according to the desire that dominates in that regime. To better help us understand each regime, he gives us the example of a family. In a honor-based family, the father tries to live in such a way that he never compromisos his honor. So, he resists committing injustices and doing anything that might compromise his dignity as a father and a leader of the family. Because he has this position, he does not always make the money that he could make. Also, he will sometime or many times in his life suffer injustice rather than commit one, apparently losing the respect of, or at least risking a lack of understanding from his wife and children

The wife of the honor based man, not out of malice and perhaps not always consciously, complains to her children that their family lacks things. At this moment, the seed of oligarchy is planted in the soul of the son of the honor-based man. The son becomes committed to making money so that he can buy the things his father never had and so that he can buy the respect and dignity his father did not get when his father suffered injustice. The son, rather than letting the desire for honor dominate in his soul, now turns his soul over to pursuing money. Thus, his soul becomes oligarchic.

The oligarch gives in to the passion of money-making in an unrestrained way. He also ends up living a fairly comfortable life. Now, the children of the oligarch, not at first out of malice and perhaps not fully conscious of what they are doing, look at their father and they say, “you have followed the passion for money-making in an unrestrained way. Why can we follow our other passions in an unrestrained way?” And so, the seed of democracy is planted in the souls of the children of the oligarch. These children start to explore and experience the pleasures of alcohol, the desire for procreation, to the point of becoming lotus eaters. They see that the best society would be a society that provides for equality, or that gives equal access to all the passions. The best society is one that is multi-colored. In this kind of society, or in a democracy, all the passions are given free reign. No one passion is regarded as different or better than any other passion.

Some of the children of the oligarch, though democrats when they are young, themselves become oligarchs when they are older. They want to buy honor and respect. Thus begins the war or competition between democracy and oligarchy. But this war over time favors the democrats. They have a much larger natural constituency, whereas the oligarchs greatest appeal is to the money makers. So, over time, the democratic passion takes hold of a society.

Now, among the passions, there is also the lust for cruelty and violence. And in a democratic society, that passion has equal access to the society along with all the other passions. Thus enters the demagogue. The demagogue or sophist knows how to appeal to the passions of men so as to gain power for himself. And so, in becoming elected, he can promise all sorts of things to the democrats which will appeal to their passions. In fact, one of the ways he gets elected is by promising the democrats that he will put an end to the oligarchs.

The ultimate demagogue is also a father killer. He will convince the democratic and oligarchic children that they have to kill their honor-loving father in order to be free from the rules or limits that he lives and that if they applied to their lives would make them suffer because it would require them to restrain their passions, whichever passion it is to which they currently let rule in their soul.

Once the demagogue comes to power, he starts killing off the group or groups that brought him to power. Do not forget, it is the desire for power that dominates in his soul. Eventually, he kills off the democrats, and the tyrant rules in a society. The poets, philosophers, musicians and other flatterers start to flatter the tyrant, because they depend on him now for their existence. One might say that democracy can also be tyrannical in this sense, poets and academics often end up flattering those who provide for their existence and subsistence.

This is the picture, or order of regimes, within which we can understand the progression of the French Revolution, as well as the contest that takes place between the democrats, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, and the oligarchs, such as Burke and Adams. It is also a nice way of beginning to understand what is the paradigm of modern politics, the struggle between the conservatives (oligarchs) and democrats. Neither side is fullly attached to reason and logos, and so they are immersed in a struggle between falsehoods.

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