Monday, July 7, 2014

Democracy & Inequality

(From The Technology Of Good)

- Start with ancient Athens, the first democracy?
- Ok.
- In Plato democracy was the kind of government in which people didn't agree with each other about what is best, and which in any case they didn't know: they educated each other in manners and beliefs in daily life without conscious knowledge.
- People in democracy were ignorant, and indifferent to the truth.
- Exactly.
- And the beautiful idea of equality?
- The mutual power people had over each other.
- Which they learned to have unconsciously and indifferent to good and bad.
- The power they had came from a very real, material source: property ownership. Workers of the land and makers of things, as owners of property, could not be frightened into accepting conditions of slavery. They saw their civic status in terms of power not to be slaves. Inequality existed both in the home, where there was strict hierarchy, man master of women, older master of younger, and in the imperial policy of the government, exacting tribute from dominated foreign lands.
- Are you saying that democracy is the product of slavery? Not just economically, but morally? Equality is the product of inequality?
- Yes. Equality politically is mutual power. Emotionally it is common security gained by losing individuality, performing a ritual of rebirth in a group.
- Loss of individuality in acquiescing in master-slave relations in the home and in politics, and in return being rewarded by common security in sharing power, neither good nor bad, the result of unconscious learning, with "The People". That explains the terror that interrupted the French Revolution. But you don't deny, even if in democracy equality is built on inequality, that it allows better than any other government "liberty and fraternity"?
- The liberty and fraternity depend on the common power of the people. And common power depended, as we saw, on property ownership. Remove that condition, and the people must sell themselves into slavery as employees, and share with each other lives of mutual powerlessness.
- Alright. That is what the Athenians thought. What do you think?
- Nothing new, nothing not already said by Plato. Political equality is not a good in itself, and does not have good results because it does not depend on knowledge. If we want liberty and fraternity, techniques of government, of power sharing, will not get them for us.
- Knowledge, not power. We won't get anywhere until we know how to live.*

Further Reading:
Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, Doing For The Sake Of Doing
The First Culture
* Ideas as the cause of the French Revolution: Jonathan Israel's
Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, 2014