Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Dec 28, 2009 9:29 AM PST
The teachings of these two men reveal that there is no inherent contradiction between the true essence of conservatism and progressivism. Through the Socratic method of dialogue, we can discuss our differing perspectives and see that the values of each are complementary rather than contradictory. It is simply a question of members of a society deciding what in their past is worth saving and what needs to be added or changed in order to form a more perfect union of free and equal citizens.
Finally, I dedicate this essay to Plato’s arrogant student Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the "Great," would-be conqueror of the world. Aristotle deluded himself that one could infer the principles of reality through pure reason without comparing the ideas he presented as fact to the reality others saw. It is no wonder that his student tried to conquer the known world, finally failing in Afghanistan. Modern-day Empire builders who would conquer the world but who put more faith in ideology than evidence will continue to fall victim to hubris in the same way.
To describe how we attempt to understand reality by interpreting what we can perceive through our senses, Plato used the parable of the man who chose to live in a dark cave. He had never seen things that others had experienced, so had to imagine them. The point of this parable is that there is often a great difference between the essence of a thing and how we perceive it. It is the difference between what we think we are talking about and its reality that is the source of much of our inability to understand problems and how to solve them.
Nowhere is this more important than when trying to create and preserve a government founded on ideals such as "liberty" and "justice" for all. In considering the ideal Form of government, Plato began with the assumption that democracy would only be possible in a perfect society composed of free people who accept that society and government should be organized for the benefit of all. He then considered how such an ideal might best be realized in the real world, given what he saw as the nature of men. He understood that if citizens were to choose their own leaders, they would have to understand and accept that it was their civic duty to choose representatives who would put the interests of society as a whole over their individual interests when they conflicted.
Looking around him at his fellow citizens, he concluded that they were not capable of such enlightened self-interest. This led him to the conclusion that society must be reconstructed so that those who were given the responsibility of governing would be chosen by virtue of their love of truth and would be rewarded with nothing more than respect. This was the idea of the Philosopher-King, who would be invested with the authority to rule others only having demonstrated that his only interest was in serving society.
In envisioning the ideal Republic, Plato recognized that there are some members of society who are diligent in seeking truth and applying logic to problems who would ideally become the leaders in his perfect society. He had as an example his own teacher, Socrates. Plato reasoned that only by carefully selecting such men leaders with the freedom to act without having to appeal to the whims of a self-interested public could a society have a government that acted in its best interests, regardless of what a short-sighted and unenlightened citizenry might be inclined to decide for itself.
Aristotle was the living proof of the mistake of placing faith in the good intentions of the Philosopher-King. Highly regarded as a philosopher and tutor to a boy who would be king, he was in a position to teach the Socratic method of investigating truth to a man who would change history. Instead, he entirely missed the point that Socrates never claimed to have answers but only a means to find them through dialogue with others. Believing that his education and intelligence made it possible for him to divine truth from unexamined first principles, he reinforced in the young Alexander the belief that the world is as he saw it and that it was possible to bend it to his will.
He made the same mistake so many of our so-called leaders make today of never questioning his basic assumptions, as though the mere fact that they seemed true to him made them so. His attitude toward the search for "truth" retarded science for centuries. The Aristotelian attitude that scientific truth and political wisdom can be derived from a priori assumptions not subject to verification by observation is having a resurgence today, much to the detriment of society. Science and political science are being ideologically co-opted and increasingly divorced from anything that remotely resembles objective reality.
The World Trade Organization is a nongovernmental agency composed of representatives of multinational corporate Puppet masters who manipulate the US government to further their own aims of world domination. They think that they have a divine right to rule. Left to their own devices they would together enslave the planet, molding a world society according to a sick vision based on their own unexamined assumptions about the ideal government and society. In such a world, the parody of the Philosopher-King is a cartel of economic elite who would decide for all of us what is best for each based on the assumption that they are the natural rulers of all.
In such a New World Order, the wealthy would always benefit from their self-interested machinations at the expense of the Peoples of the world. The big lie is that free trade not only exists but is the key to prosperity for the world. Having succeeded in deluding the people of America that they can realize this ideal if allowed free rein to reign, they now seek to use the power of American government to economically enslave the rest of the world in their quest for corporate Empire.
The irony is that the false ideal of free trade is embraced most enthusiastically by the very people who fear most the power of government and particularly, a one-world government. In their irrational fear that governmental restrictions on the operation of corporations represents a threat to their personal freedom, they continue to elect to represent them not leaders but followers of an ideology based on the denial of our self-evident interdependence. These acolytes of Ayn Rand are self-deluded graspers who cannot see the evidence of their own senses that unregulated “free market” does not benefit either society or the individual. They are thus unwittingly sowing the seeds of their own destruction and that of American and world society.
If the ideal of justice is to be realized in the real world, it will only be through the efforts of imperfect humans striving to create a dialogue that will allow them to come as close as possible to the ideal of democracy. History has witnessed the fall of every Empire because those who would rule others inevitably find that those who would be ruled will find common interest in fighting together for liberty and justice for all.
At a time in history when a small group of self-styled Masters of the Universe are working in parallel to control the rest of us, citizens of nations that have been historical enemies must work together to build a united international front against fascism and war. Only by understanding that the ideal of democracy can only be realized in the world by ensuring that all share in its blessings can we assure that the last, best hope for Mankind shall not perish from the Earth.
Rick Staggenborg, MD
Founder, Soldiers For Peace International