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Demystifying Democracy: A Critical Look at Democracy and Ideology

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Throughout history the many have always been ruled by the elite few. David Hume, in The First Principles of Government, highlights this fact as one of the great philosophical mysteries since “Force is always on the side of the governed,” and finds that it is “on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and popular.” (Hume, 19) The opinion that Hume refers to relies on ideology and it certainly applies to today’s most popular form of governance, democracy. Democracy has become the means for the elite to maintain power over the masses after the individualistic and natural rights philosophies delegitimized other previously common forms of governance such as monarchy; further, democracy has transcended its original role as a possible means to individual liberty and has become an ideological end and has been made sacred to the point that it is beyond debate in the minds of many. However, democracy must be objectively judged against the goals of promoting and securing individual liberty in order to make the most informed decisions in regards to foreign policy, such as the benefit of “spreading democracy,” as well as domestic policy where individual rights are most affected.

A clear definition of ideology, as it is used here, must be established in order to effectively communicate the nature of its relationship to democracy and power in general. The common usage of the term, a system of beliefs and values, is too vague and simple to fit this purpose. Robert Higgs, in Crisis and Leviathan, defines ideology this way: “ideology…[is] a somewhat coherent, rather comprehensive belief system about social relations…it is somewhat coherent…though not necessarily in a way that would satisfy a logician…it is rather comprehensive [since] it subsumes a wide variety of social categories and their interrelations…[However,] it tends to revolve about only a few central values—for instance, individual freedom, social equality, or national glory.” (Higgs, 37) This definition does describe ideology but is lacking a component necessary to explain why its variants, such as ideological (which usually implies fanaticism), usually carry a negative connotation or to fully explain why “ideologies are the crucial lever at the disposal of elites for obtaining political mobilization and for maximizing the possibilities of mass manipulation,” (Higgs, 47) that Higgs alludes to later in his book. In order to complete Higgs definition it is necessary to require individuals to subordinate themselves to their chosen ideology. This subordination of the individual is what can lead to fanaticism, which is why fanatics do not appear to be acting in their “own best interests,” and it complements Hume’s answer as to how the elite few rule the masses: the masses have subordinated their own interests to an ideology that legitimizes the current form of power held by the elite. In Western Political Though: From Socrates to the Age of Ideology, Brian Nelson writes, “ Ideologies…tend to replace the idea of personal autonomy with a higher principle of moral progress beyond the individual, a principle to which the individual is to subordinate him- or herself…ideologies tend to subordinate the individual’s moral agency rather than actualize it. (Nelson, 360) In sum, ideology is a coherent, comprehensive belief system that subordinates personal moral autonomy to some higher principle(s) that the belief system revolves around. Another implication of this definition of ideology is that the source of the belief system is external to the individual adherents and the evolution of ideologies ensures that only a limited number that attracts large numbers of adherents tend to survive or have influence. Higgs explained that “opinion leaders are the producers and distributors of (a limited number of) ideologies; the masses are mainly consumers.” (Higgs, 45) The potential for mass manipulation by the opinion leaders should be apparent and if those opinion leaders are also the ruling class with a monopoly over coercive force then their potential threat to individual liberty is exponentially greater.

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Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Oct 7, 2012

American Government: True or Perverse According to Aristotle?

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Its been over 2000 years since Aristotle provided his insights into all areas of philosophy, including politics, and yet many of his observations are still useful today. One concept that still has value is that of “true forms of government” and perversions of those forms. Aristotle explained that “true forms of government…are those in which the one, or the few, or the many , govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.” (Tilly, 2005:424). He also provided three examples of true forms of government and their perverse forms: Monarchy is the rule of one for the common good and tyranny is the perverse form where the king or dictator seeks his own interest to the detriment to the common interests; Aristocracy is the rule of rich benefactors of society while oligarchy is rule by rich exploiters of their lessers; the final example is Constitutional government is the rule of the masses through established law, again for the common good and the perversion, according to Aristotle, is democracy where the masses live parasitic lives exploiting the rich whom they outnumber and replacing established law with arbitrary decrees. (Tilly, 2005: 424) Another category not included by Aristotle that follow the rule by one, few, or many and perversion based on pursuit of common or contra common interests could be voluntary society, the rule by none with members seeking the mutual benefit of one another through market based exchange, and its perversion lawlessness, a dog eat dog world where each member seeks to gain through the coercion of his neighbors. Even with this fourth category this form of categorization is to simple to capture all of the complexities and subtleties of government types, mechanisms, and their various perversions, nor does it seem to recognize the various degrees of perversion between the “true form” and the perverse form. Also, it does not address the major controversy of discerning what is in the “common interest” or who decides what is in the common interest. There are very few, if any, issues that will have unanimous agreement and so each decision pursuing one goal over another will be against some part of the common, and yet they will be obliged to follow regardless due to the nature of the state as being a monopoly of coercive power over the geographic area they reside in.

When applying these categories to modern American government, it is necessary to create another category not mentioned earlier. Aristotle mainly addressed government of direct rule, either by one, few, or many, but America is not ruled directly but through representatives. The power holders are not in the polity, per se, but use proxies to exercise their will. The true form of this government would be representative constitutional government, where the representatives act in the, so called, common interest within strict limits of established law and the perversion is corporatism, where the representatives’ actions are detrimental to the public in order to gain favor or wealth from organized interest groups or from wealthy individuals or businesses. Currently, it would seem that American government is closest to this perverse form, corporatism. The masses have very little political participation, usually limited to a portion voting once every 2-4 years, with not further recourse or actions available to them for the remaining duration of time. However, organized interest groups and wealthy members are able to lobby and influence the polity at will and they find ways to use state coercion against the masses and each other to gain a perceived advantage, as opposed to seeking mutually beneficial means to achieve advantage, though perhaps slower or lesser than what is possible to achieve by exploiting others through the state.

The very nature of any state is to move towards its perverse form of government. All of the precautions taken during its formation such as federalism, written constitution, division of powers, etc. are simply recognition of this natural degradation and are meant to act as resistance to slow the inevitable process. The only way for this process to be “reset” is for the government to become intolerable to the people, causing them to revolt and re-establish a new state so that the process can begin again. This again was recognized in the formation of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…” The only possible category that can avoid this cycle is that of the voluntary society. So long as all individuals are able to leave and/or form new government-like institutions, then each institution will be forced to act in the common interest since its members will leave, since there is no monopoly or arbitrary exertion of coercion based on geographic boundaries, if the perceived costs of being a “citizen” or member of that institution ever exceed the benefits. All members will be voluntary and their consent to the authority of their chosen institution will be explicit, as opposed to the “implied consent” that existing governments claim to have.

 

Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (423-440). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Its been over 2000 years since Aristotle provided his insights into all areas of philosophy, including politics, and yet many of his observations are still useful today. One concept that still has value is that of “true forms of government” and perversions of those forms. Aristotle explained that “true forms of government…are those in which the one, or the few, or the many , govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.” (Tilly, 2005:424). He also provided three examples of true forms of government and their perverse forms: Monarchy is the rule of one for the common good and tyranny is the perverse form where the king or dictator seeks his own interest to the detriment to the common interests; Aristocracy is the rule of rich benefactors of society while oligarchy is rule by rich exploiters of their lessers; the final example is Constitutional government is the rule of the masses through established law, again for the common good and the perversion, according to Aristotle, is democracy where the masses live parasitic lives exploiting the rich whom they outnumber and replacing established law with arbitrary decrees. (Tilly, 2005: 424) Another category not included by Aristotle that follow the rule by one, few, or many and perversion based on pursuit of common or contra common interests could be voluntary society, the rule by none with members seeking the mutual benefit of one another through market based exchange, and its perversion lawlessness, a dog eat dog world where each member seeks to gain through the coercion of his neighbors. Even with this fourth category this form of categorization is to simple to capture all of the complexities and subtleties of government types, mechanisms, and their various perversions, nor does it seem to recognize the various degrees of perversion between the “true form” and the perverse form. Also, it does not address the major controversy of discerning what is in the “common interest” or who decides what is in the common interest. There are very few, if any, issues that will have unanimous agreement and so each decision pursuing one goal over another will be against some part of the common, and yet they will be obliged to follow regardless due to the nature of the state as being a monopoly of coercive power over the geographic area they reside in.

 

When applying these categories to modern American government, it is necessary to create another category not mentioned earlier. Aristotle mainly addressed government of direct rule, either by one, few, or many, but America is not ruled directly but through representatives. The power holders are not in the polity, per se, but use proxies to exercise their will. The true form of this government would be representative constitutional government, where the representatives act in the, so called, common interest within strict limits of established law and the perversion is corporatism, where the representatives’ actions are detrimental to the public in order to gain favor or wealth from organized interest groups or from wealthy individuals or businesses. Currently, it would seem that American government is closest to this perverse form, corporatism. The masses have very little political participation, usually limited to a portion voting once every 2-4 years, with not further recourse or actions available to them for the remaining duration of time. However, organized interest groups and wealthy members are able to lobby and influence the polity at will and they find ways to use state coercion against the masses and each other to gain a perceived advantage, as opposed to seeking mutually beneficial means to achieve advantage, though perhaps slower or lesser than what is possible to achieve by exploiting others through the state.

 

The very nature of any state is to move towards its perverse form of government. All of the precautions taken during its formation such as federalism, written constitution, division of powers, etc. are simply recognition of this natural degradation and are meant to act as resistance to slow the inevitable process. The only way for this process to be “reset” is for the government to become intolerable to the people, causing them to revolt and re-establish a new state so that the process can begin again. This again was recognized in the formation of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…” The only possible category that can avoid this cycle is that of the voluntary society. So long as all individuals are able to leave and/or form new government-like institutions, then each institution will be forced to act in the common interest since its members will leave, since there is no monopoly or arbitrary exertion of coercion based on geographic boundaries, if the perceived costs of being a “citizen” or member of that institution ever exceed the benefits. All members will be voluntary and their consent to the authority of their chosen institution will be explicit, as opposed to the “implied consent” that existing governments claim to have.

 

Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (423-440). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Its been over 2000 years since Aristotle provided his insights into all areas of philosophy, including politics, and yet many of his observations are still useful today. One concept that still has value is that of “true forms of government” and perversions of those forms. Aristotle explained that “true forms of government…are those in which the one, or the few, or the many , govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.” (Tilly, 2005:424). He also provided three examples of true forms of government and their perverse forms: Monarchy is the rule of one for the common good and tyranny is the perverse form where the king or dictator seeks his own interest to the detriment to the common interests; Aristocracy is the rule of rich benefactors of society while oligarchy is rule by rich exploiters of their lessers; the final example is Constitutional government is the rule of the masses through established law, again for the common good and the perversion, according to Aristotle, is democracy where the masses live parasitic lives exploiting the rich whom they outnumber and replacing established law with arbitrary decrees. (Tilly, 2005: 424) Another category not included by Aristotle that follow the rule by one, few, or many and perversion based on pursuit of common or contra common interests could be voluntary society, the rule by none with members seeking the mutual benefit of one another through market based exchange, and its perversion lawlessness, a dog eat dog world where each member seeks to gain through the coercion of his neighbors. Even with this fourth category this form of categorization is to simple to capture all of the complexities and subtleties of government types, mechanisms, and their various perversions, nor does it seem to recognize the various degrees of perversion between the “true form” and the perverse form. Also, it does not address the major controversy of discerning what is in the “common interest” or who decides what is in the common interest. There are very few, if any, issues that will have unanimous agreement and so each decision pursuing one goal over another will be against some part of the common, and yet they will be obliged to follow regardless due to the nature of the state as being a monopoly of coercive power over the geographic area they reside in.

 

When applying these categories to modern American government, it is necessary to create another category not mentioned earlier. Aristotle mainly addressed government of direct rule, either by one, few, or many, but America is not ruled directly but through representatives. The power holders are not in the polity, per se, but use proxies to exercise their will. The true form of this government would be representative constitutional government, where the representatives act in the, so called, common interest within strict limits of established law and the perversion is corporatism, where the representatives’ actions are detrimental to the public in order to gain favor or wealth from organized interest groups or from wealthy individuals or businesses. Currently, it would seem that American government is closest to this perverse form, corporatism. The masses have very little political participation, usually limited to a portion voting once every 2-4 years, with not further recourse or actions available to them for the remaining duration of time. However, organized interest groups and wealthy members are able to lobby and influence the polity at will and they find ways to use state coercion against the masses and each other to gain a perceived advantage, as opposed to seeking mutually beneficial means to achieve advantage, though perhaps slower or lesser than what is possible to achieve by exploiting others through the state.

 

The very nature of any state is to move towards its perverse form of government. All of the precautions taken during its formation such as federalism, written constitution, division of powers, etc. are simply recognition of this natural degradation and are meant to act as resistance to slow the inevitable process. The only way for this process to be “reset” is for the government to become intolerable to the people, causing them to revolt and re-establish a new state so that the process can begin again. This again was recognized in the formation of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…” The only possible category that can avoid this cycle is that of the voluntary society. So long as all individuals are able to leave and/or form new government-like institutions, then each institution will be forced to act in the common interest since its members will leave, since there is no monopoly or arbitrary exertion of coercion based on geographic boundaries, if the perceived costs of being a “citizen” or member of that institution ever exceed the benefits. All members will be voluntary and their consent to the authority of their chosen institution will be explicit, as opposed to the “implied consent” that existing governments claim to have.

 

Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (423-440). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Apr 6, 2011