Failure of Democracy

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by 777, Jul 28, 2004.

  1. 777
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    777 Member

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    In light of this article how genuine and healthy is American democracy / democracy of any other industrialized nation? Is there a crisis of democracy in the making?

    Source http://faculty.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/PlatoRep.htm. I took the liberty of editing the article to the best of my ability. Due to its original length (21 pages), I could not include all the ideas presented.

    Plato's critique of democracy is an important challenge. Plato had no faith in the rule of the rich, nor any confidence in the ability of the common people to run a state. The rich have mostly their special interests and privileges on their minds. The ordinary people, on the other hand, are incapable of running a decently functioning commonwealth because they are ill informed, and thus easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians with their usual promises, flattery, and rhetorical tricks and lying. They don't have interest in comprehensive views of things; they naturally concentrate on the small tasks at hand, while leaving the big decisions to those who may not deserve their confidence. They will always be at the mercy of forces which they do not comprehend, and thus in no position to take effective charge of their own destiny. They will be persuaded by politicians to trust them with their lives and fortunes, and they have only the vaguest ideas of where these politicians will take them, and no insurance that they will not be headed for hardships or outright disaster.
    A counterargument to Plato's views: what is essential for democratic government is not that citizens be able to understand everything, but that they be able to determine the major outcomes by appointing the officials that run the government, or to recall them, if the results of their performance seem unsatisfactory. However, it is plausible to argue that voters may be too uninformed to decide on the best means to reach a certain goal or they may not be informed enough to choose the right goals. What has to be criticized is their ideas on goals they want to reach as a commonwealth. It is not a foregone conclusion that whatever the majority decides is also the best. Decisions of an electorate may be quite thoughtless, ill-advised, illusory, dangerous, or outright insane.
    The majority of people are too attached to their narrow-minded ways, and too resentful of anyone who tries to shake them out of their complacency. They are not willing to seriously question their own situation and their basic assumptions. And that, according to Plato, is the ultimate reason why democracy is bound to fail.
    The majority of people have rarely been in control of their own destiny. They will always put too much trust in their authorities, follow too readily their leaders, leave the serious thinking to their representatives, allow themselves to be exploited, and--unless they are driven to the point of too extreme suffering--seek their happiness in "bread and circuses", the formula that the imperial Romans used to pacify their masses.

    Modern Bread and Circuses
    What would be necessary for a genuine democracy to function? Democracy will not work--will not be a democracy--unless its citizens are sufficiently educated for it. Are the citizens of today's democracies interested and informed enough to participate in the democratic process, i.e., whether today's democracies are what they pretend to be: societies where people are truly in command of their own lives.
    Take a look at today's media, the main medium of mass entertainment and communication. People spend more and more time as semi-hypnotized consumers of an endless stream of moving images. It is not far-fetched to see today's television consumers as masses of mental prisoners who get their values and their views of the world from the programs and images that powerful corporations keep feeding into their minds. Most viewers are in no position to check what they learn from the screen against the facts outside of television. The vast majority of people in industrialized societies get most of their information and values from television. Television as a pedagogical force has largely replaced the authority of parents, schools, or community organizations. In that situation growing numbers of people seem increasingly incapable of distinguishing clearly between newscasts, dramatizations, fiction, entertainment, and advertisements.
    The present is called an "age of information". That does not mean that people are better informed, even in advanced societies. The central role of television in the lives of most people has not led to a more sophisticated or better informed public discourse, but rather, to a considerable "dumming down" of it. The public is doused with a flood of facts and alleged facts. There is never enough time for critical reflection. Networks may avoid any complexity or demanding materials for fear of losing viewers. As a consequence both the media and its consumers are now much more informed and excitable about their elected leaders' hemorrhoids or scandalous sex lives than about the complex problems such as tax laws and foreign politics. Citizens get titillating sensationalism that distracts them from the matters that really shape their lives. In cahoots with the demands of the majority of viewers, television consciously and unconsciously transforms the business of information into shallow entertainment.
    It is these people who decide elections, provided they go to the polls at all, and candidates who run for office take that into consideration when they plan their electoral strategies. Election campaigns are typically not run on the basis of solid information and rational arguments, but on the basis of manipulative images, suggestive sound bites, and superficial emotional appeals. Increasing numbers of electoral commentators tend to think that due to television culture the democratic process has become a sheer travesty of what it is supposed to be.
    In stark contrast to “bread and circuses” stand the facts that determine people's actual lives. Few changes in tax laws effect massive re-distributions of national incomes. Behind-closed-doors operations wreck national healthcare plans and retirement systems for millions of people. Governments deliberately create international tensions and military situations where immense resources are channeled into military build-ups, All these things are done in the name of the people, but it would be a stretch to maintain that they are done democratically. The majority of people have hardly any knowledge of the crucial details that go into the inauguration of these measures that so crucially shape their lives. And it may well be the feeling of impotence generated by the realization of their lack of understanding that makes millions of people so desperately hungry for ever more escapist entertainment.
    Most people are too exhausted after work to do anything else except watch television programs that make no demands on them. And the ruling classes, so the argument goes, have no interest in changing this situation; they have no interest in an alert and informed citizenry. They have always had an interest in keeping the majority of the people in a state of benightedness--in the same way in which American slaveholders once kept their slaves in a state of illiteracy, ignorance, and thus helplessness. Since most of the media are controlled by the rich and privileged, it is next to impossible to enlighten the masses, to liberate them from their "false consciousness." Only in crisis situations, such as times of severe economic depressions, people wake up from their stupor and begin to inform themselves. Without such a crisis, however, the stranglehold of manipulative media on the minds of the people is too strong to be broken. The reduction of potential voters to an apathetic and confused mass of television consumers works too well for the privileged upper class.
    Interestingly enough it is not an upper class that keeps the ordinary citizens unenlightened, but it is the people's disposition that makes them eschew enlightenment, and thus dependent on some sort of rulers. If people didn’t have this disposition, other people would’t be able to mislead them the way they do. Ruling cliques do not create popular ignorance and apathy, they only use it for their own purposes.
    Democracy, according to Plato, will lead to its own demise: It will lead to tyranny. In modern times it may not be the one-man dictatorship, but it may be a tyranny nevertheless. It may not be a harsh police state with official censorship and a vast prison system, but could also be a consumer paradise of happy idiots who seemingly get whatever they want. The point is that people will not really govern themselves, that they will be manipulated by forces beyond their control and understanding. Instead of equality there will be an increasingly uneven distribution of benefits and power, and instead of liberty there will be the ever more limited choice among options that are offered by those in control. Even if there is a democracy in name, a state where the laws of a democratic constitution are enforced, the actual state of affairs may still be tyrannical if the majority of people have lost control over their collective destiny. The ideas of Plato thus survive--in the gap between an acknowledged ideal of democracy and a largely undemocratic reality.
     
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  2. ajwps
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    ajwps Active Member

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    The entire post you carefully edited is simply a rehash of the democrat party platform about oppression of the masses by the upper class. Democracy has nothing to do with the premises of Plato or John Kerry's party of class envy to maintain power.

    Example:

    Plato and his beliefs have proved INCORRECT even with the Democrat party and American Socialist Party in these United States

    I guess that Plato forgot that in a Democracy, the working person ALWAYS has the possibility of moving up in society if he or she is willing to work hard and use Democratic process to improve his or her own situation.

    Plato and his ilk's theories were proven false.
     
  3. CSM
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    CSM Senior Member

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    Let us not forget that when Plato was plodding the planet pushing platitudes, the populus of which he was part perceived things differently. (sorry, couldn't resist the pun).

    The point is, the society and culture which helped form his opinions was nothing like todays democracies.
     
  4. dilloduck
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    dilloduck Diamond Member

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    I found the post to be a perfect expression of Americas' troubles. Gloomy yet unforunately so true. There is an incedibly large portion of Americans who could not even understand the meaning of the post.
     
  5. MJDuncan1982
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    MJDuncan1982 Member

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    I graduated college with a degree in Philosophy so I hope I understand what I am talking about with regard to Plato.

    Plato and Aristotle both did not believe in democracy in part because of their unwavering logistical skills.

    As a premise in logic, it is obvious that the people that should rule should be the best capable to rule. Plato and Aristotle both built their systems of government upon that idea. Plato ended up with an oligarchy of sorts ruled by philosophers while Aristotle advocated an aristocracy where the ruling class is virtuous. However, both ideas rely upon the knowledge of who is actually the wisest or most virtuous. In strict logical terms, it is obvious to say that the best should rule - but the difficulty is in determining who the best are.

    Later thinkers determined that since this was impossible to figure out - as another logical necessity based upon the basic realization that humans can be wrong - a system based upon majority rule limited by minority rights was the most practical. Democracy, as Plato says is a horrible form of government in the realm of ideal logic but the best in terms of actuality.
     
  6. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    Have to agree with you here. Not a philosophy major, rather the much more 'practical' political science, more recently some Constitutional theory courses. I remember as you, though I also thought they found that even with the rather homogeneous and relatively small number of voters, direct democracy could become oppressive, though not to the degree of oligarchy over time.

    Again, if memory serves, this was part of the reason the Framers chose the federal system of democratic republic, to mitigate some of these problems in such a large, diversified country.
     
  7. MJDuncan1982
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    MJDuncan1982 Member

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    Yea I agree with you. John Mill, possibly the philosophical foundation for our way of thinking about government, was very adamant about minority rights because of his fears about the whims of the majority. He believed that the majority would more than likely be right and should be listened to but at times would be misled as a result of any number of factors. When this occurred, Mill wanted to be sure that the will of the majority did not destroy the rights of the minority. As a result, we have something like the Constitution which allows for majority rule while protecting minority rights. It was made difficult to change to ensure that temporary emotions could not change laws dictated by reason.

    And I'm planning on getting a degree in political philosophy's cousin in reality - political science. However, as much as Philosophy is frowned upon, our system of government owes itself to the thinkers of ancient Greece. My home state of Georgia's motto: Wisdom, Justice and Moderation is pulled directly from Plato's Republic. Our founders were deeply informed about, and had respect for, the subject.
     
  8. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    I DO remember the harping on Moderation!! Lord knows we could use lessons on that!
     

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