The human power brokers in our American republic aggressively promote and defiantly defend the tri-cameral structure of our constitutional democracy, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” To most of us living in the present polarized political situation, the democratic decision-making process that supposedly implements the wishes of the citizens appears broken. However, this legal organism is not broken, it was born dead 2,400 years ago in Athens if we are to believe the on-site evaluations of the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Our modern copy of the much simpler form of democracy which failed in that Greek city-state cannot be resuscitated despite what all our political leaders expect us to believe.
In his famous work, The Republic, Plato described the pros and cons of the five familiar forms of “constitutional” republics of his time and the types of leaders likely to be spawned by each state: 1.) Aristocracy (a state ruled by the most competent, virtuous, and just citizens carefully selected and educated to become rulers); 2.) Timocracy (a military city-state like ancient Sparta based on honor), 3.) Oligarchy (a state ruled by a few wealthy individuals which we now refer to as a Plutocracy); 4.) Democracy, and 5.) Tyranny. Starting with what he considered to be the most perfect state, an aristocracy led by wise “philosopher kings,” Plato examines and evaluates each of the five forms based on the effectiveness of caring for the needs of the state and its people.
In Plato’s opinion Democracy is slightly better than Tyranny, the least beneficial form of governance. He explains at length how a democratically ruled state disintegrates into anarchy and then morphs into a tyranny, mainly because of the polarization of political groups and their civil disobedience. Within a deteriorating democracy a charismatic leader arises and promises to cure the problems annoying the people. Plato attributed the root cause of the failure of a democracy to the acts of the uneducated, unruly underclass whose human nature is to strive for independence and defy the political leaders. These surly insurrectionists seek more liberty and more power for themselves. The unhappy masses misruled in a democracy unify and strike out against the elected officials in power.
The consequences of the anarchy that ensues create a situation where the proletariat seeks a champion to promote their interests. Where there is an excess of liberty, a desire for more equality based upon some commonly shared dissatisfaction with the rulers, and an ambitious demagogue, a democracy is ripe for a take-over like Hugo Chavez’ ascendancy to power in Venezuela. The quest to obtain power seems to be in-born in aggressive humans who thrive in a dog-eat-dog competitive society where “the fittest” and most vicious survive.
Any astute observer can see that the quest for independence precedes the quest for power. Before the spirit of a child is curbed by discipline and subdued by punishment, a baby challenges his mother every day to find a way to corral the baby’s curiosity and limit his dangerous attempts to explore the unknown in moments of unobserved liberty. Gradually a child learns that authority restrains him and frustrates his desire for freedom. The tyranny of spoiled little children in a family is readily apparent to outsiders, and this wantonness festers in the maturing personalities of many greedy and ambitious humans until they discover the legal or illegal means to become authority figures. The common measure of human power is the amount of control one person has over another.
Our primitive human despotic tendencies have evolved into the “me-first” generation in America, where the individual comes to believe that the world revolves around him instead of the sun. Egotistical human desires to be respected as an authority about something are normal in those humans who are well informed, educated, and experienced. However, the expertise in one small area of life shouldn’t qualify a person to consider himself or herself as an expert about other subjects where he or she is lacking in knowledge, skill, and hands-on familiarity. Self-effacing humility is a rare trait in those humans who become powerful authority figures. This virtue was missing in the proletariat of Athens and is missing in the politicians of America today.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the behavior of an autocrat, a dictator, or a tyrant knows that they want absolute authority and the ultimate responsibility for making the most important decisions. No one dares to argue or dispute those decisions and actively resist the edicts of the tyrant. As notorious and despicable as the actions of the tyrant seem to be to the impotent serfs under his jurisdiction, he is seldom crossed by those underlings close to him because he is master of their fate.
Rarely does any ordinary citizen vocally advocate the overthrow of a tyrant or this nation’s leaders. Assassins may make an attempt to silence them once in awhile, but that is a risk that very few courageous peons would undertake. No one who relishes the freedoms supposedly guaranteed by the American constitution would actively promote a tyrant to run a democracy.
However, the adult citizens who inhabit this country are convinced via the demagoguery of clever politicians that the common folks have enough education, enough intelligence, and enough common sense to choose honest and conscientious leaders for the administration of the commonweal. Most voters ignore the fact that wannabe authority figures possess the hubris to believe they alone are capable to solve the problems of managing the assets of this country in a way that benefits everyone. Election results supposedly confirm that the majority of the governed are satisfied with their leaders’ potential competence as rulers.
I don’t think that the public can deny that unhappy citizens oscillate between the two major party philosophies about how unresolved issues should be handled. “Let me take the reins,” shouts one self-confident candidate. “I know what should be done,” says another. “You’re both wrong,” objects a third. These three petulant “know-it-alls” who have never held a public office before want to carry the baton for awhile. Each is a rarely compromising wannabe tyrant. Since it is virtually impossible to build a consensus among the millions of voters who think they know what should be done by the government, the result is “a government of the favored, by the favored, for the favored.” With liberty and justice for all elected tyrants, of course!
Let’s get serious for a moment and ask ourselves why manipulated voters are entrusted with the power to elect virtually unknown and usually inexperienced contemporaries to office? Candidates seldom exhibit humility, tolerance for the opposition, knowledge of the job, and responsibility for their abuse of power when it is reported by the media. The basic assumption behind our recent presidential election was ridiculous. The public was given the opportunity to vote for two inexperienced candidates who never held an executive managerial position of importance. Our political system relies on propaganda, exaggeration, prejudice, favors to the wealthy contributors to campaign coffers, and the votes of many biased, misinformed citizens.
The majority vote of such citizens is a poor way to choose leaders who are expected to use common sense, implement what is economically feasible, and audit their “friends’ interests” objectively. The present IRS Income Tax Code is the most obvious example of unfairness, expediency, and legal favoritism. Like democracy, it may appear to be a better way of collecting revenue than other systems, but it lacks many improvements which are not part of this analysis.
The telltale signs of an ambitious person boldly lusting for power can be found in the following: fearlessness, self-confidence, defensiveness, intolerance for the ideas of others, determination, deviousness, cool mendacity, ruthlessness, unreasonableness, unscrupulousness, and imperiousness – in other words an individual most ready to adopt whatever method serves the purpose of achieving the goal of enticing others to go along with the flow that is being created by the person seeking domination.
“Control freak” politicians (an Alpha male or an Alpha female) use whatever works for them – quietly, secretly, or obviously selecting the path of least resistance and the one historically most successful in their repertoire. The objective always being to convince the weaker, less aggressive person in the room about who has the most authority, the quickest access to power, and most willingness to take advantage of both.
In the beginning, the wannabe tyrant may be suave, charming, sociable, and amenable to the suggestions of others. But sooner or later, those characteristics are abandoned for those that more directly assist the tyrant in acquiring and deploying sycophants ready to carry out his or her orders. In whatever hierarchy, a potential leader tries to take quick action to solve problems, attack those who are resisting change, and please his most loyal followers. He seeks to remove the authority figure in charge and become the obvious replacement. He has no doubts that becoming the boss will advance his agenda.
The successful tyrant exercises his “control over others” by promising them rewards and recognition for loyal service, by instilling in them fear of some enemy or unknown, unwanted consequence, by influencing them to believe what he wants them to via propaganda, and by convincing them through his rhetoric to accept the correctness of his ideas and his decisions. Once his followers are indoctrinated, he can do what he chooses and behave as he wishes.
After you have dealt extensively with brainwashed humans in various stages of accomplishing their goals of controlling others: family members, students, employees, and peers, can you believe that these humans will elect honest, sympathetic, conscientious, and capable leaders who are devoid of the lust for power? If you are so convinced, then stick with our born dead system of governance, democracy. According to Plato it’s marginally better than living under a tyrant.