The more things change, the more they stay the same. ~Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Nothing written today hasn’t been written before, and written more eloquently. Nothing is original, so what is my point? Bare with me, because by the end of this post I may have a point.
Politics is a tangled web of self-serving duplicity at it’s best, and brazen criminality in its current state.
I haven’t channeled my ancestors in some time, so today I am back to the Greeks to see what we could have learned had we paid attention in school.
*Our Christmas card picture.👇🏼
Uncanny a resemblance, no?
Aristotle is considered “the father of political science,” He believed government should create laws, and that any exemplary citizen, the best of the majority, could take part in the governmental process. His ideal was a blend of democracy and aristocracy. But even his ideas were not original.
Aristotle’s teacher was Plato.
Plato believed government should prevent income disparities by implementing laws that forbid citizens from enriching through exploitative contracts, or from becoming poor by wasting their money and goods.
Plato’s teacher was Socrates, but that isn’t relevant to my post.
In the battle of the dead Greek philosophers, the student may have surpassed the teacher in creating an ideal political archetype, but the teacher summed up politics best, categorizing five political regimes in descending order from ideal to mob rule. These may only be one dead guy’s thoughts, but like Hillary, Plato warned us.
I’ll summarize history for the disinterested reader.
My interpretations are not meant to challenge anyone with a doctorate in philosophy or political science. But you know these are my ancestors, and that must count for something. I suppose you can correct me if I’m wrong- if you must.
Plato’s five political regimes are Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. (Okay so far?)
Aristocracy was Plato’s ideal government, a republic ruled by philosopher-kings. If you look up aristocracy, the definition has come to mean privileged nobility. Plato’s meaning is from the Greek word “aristos,” which translates to “best and most virtuous.” To be ruled by honorable men (Why not women?) of reason and wisdom would be different. His description of aristocracy is government by meritocracy- defined as “an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth.” These aristocrats did not have material wealth.
“Man is his own worst enemy.” ~Marcus Tullius Cicero
Timocracy, according to Plato, was the degenerate son of aristocracy. (He didn’t say that, I did.) When subsequent, less worthy, generations could not agree on how to govern, wars decided who would rule. Timocratic leaders prioritized victory above wisdom and virtue. These leaders were high spirited, but less intelligent, and impulsively inclined to war. Timocracy made procuring wealth relevant. Leaders were allowed to own land.
“To the victor go the spoils.” ~from the Latin “victor sont spolia.”
Oligarchy was the next step down, the separation rich and poor when material lust grew and took charge. Poverty precluded many wise and virtuous men (why not women?) from leading. Rich incompetent men came to influence public life. To participate in government you had to be a wealthy landowner. This was the wealth gap regime, pushing poverty to the extreme. The distribution of wealth mirrored that of political power. The richest ruled. As the masses become poorer, Oligarchs came to fear retaliation, rightly so. Plato predicted that people would rise up.
Democracy was next in Plato’s descending list of regimes— WHAT? He said democracy was established when the poor overpowered the rich and divided their property among themselves. Eventually the poor succumbed to the same desires for unnecessary material possessions, versus desires for what they needed to survive. People declared themselves free. Lawlessness and anarchy ensued.
Tyranny, last on Plato’s list, came from democracy. The mob ruled society was in chaos, and the world needed a champion. Along came a savior, a slick mobster to take charge. The new leader was the worst sort of man. He did not know real joy, only the pleasures of gluttony and base desires. He had none of the virtues of the aristocracy, no philosophy or superiority of mind. He spent all his money, then spent other people’s money. He became intoxicated with power, a tyrant.
Plato said the tyrant was a prisoner to “the lawless master” (Putin?) Not exactly. If the tyrant lost his power his life, and the life of his family, would have been in great danger because he made enemies.
So here we are.
Today such a man might take bribes, blackmail, ignore mass shootings, abuse women, set war criminals free, separate families for the sake of cruelty…
People would grow to despise him, and eventually try to remove him, but they’d realize they were not able to.
Nancy Pelosi, enter stage left, wielding Thor’s lost hammer. (Finally a woman!)
The point I’m trying to make is that history can help us, but only if we know it.