A politics of virtue?

3 06 2010

It is clear from this view that the best form of government is self-government, and that such government involves the citizen in taking command of his or her own inner life, developing the personal strength to control, direct and restrain their own appetites while bringing their soul under the rule of wisdom or reason…

For Plato, democracy as described by him is a dangerous and delicate form of government amounting at its worst to little more than mob rule based on the primacy of pleasure-loving appetites in the souls of the citizens. When this becomes dominant in the majority of citizens, the very foundations of participatory forms of government are destroyed as fewer and fewer people develop in themselves the virtues necessary for the governments of themselves or of states.

-Ian Mason, in When Philosophers Rule: Ficino on Plato’s Republic, Laws, & Epinomis

As the fate of the political-economic world becomes more and more uncertain, I can stand talk of politics less and less. At least in more prosperous times, people can feign pretending to care about virtue. Now, all political talk has descended into absolute demagoguery. While pundits tend to speak about the future of the modern republic, they care little if that future is just or not. As long as the masses have what they feel is entitled to them, they could care less about other people, even if they are citizens who live in the same city or even next door.

Which is why I have said in the past that that politics is the obsession of weak minds. It is an addiction just as Internet porn or gambling is an addiction. It gives one the feeling of interaction and control where there is none; it gives one the sense of involvement even though one is merely stewing in one’s own juices, or spinning wheels in a mire of corruption. All the while, a man can barely govern his own life; he can barely navigate his way through the complexities of modern society. He makes up for this by pretending to determine the fate of the nation.

The genius of the thought cited at the beginning of this reflection is that the divine Plato forces us to turn our forces inward, to the very soul that transcends even the state in its splendor. Corruption in the state is merely a reflection of corruption in the heart: the malaise of the soul. If only people would speak of that, instead of spewing selfish rhetoric that is on par with a three year old’s cry of “gimme!” We can pretend that being selfish is the best way to take care of our neighbor, as if Adam Smith’s invisible hand was the hand of God. But that does nothing to help us in the struggle for virtue.

So I will say again with Borges that democracy is a curious abuse of statistics, and since we are stuck with it, we have to do the best we can.

Some parting words from Gomez Davila:

Democratic parliaments are not places where debate occurs but where popular absolutism registers its edicts.

An individual declares himself a member of some group or other with the goal of demanding in its name what he is ashamed to claim in his own name.

The more serious its problems, the greater the number of inept men democracy calls forth to solve them.

Found here and here