Socrates, Venice, And The Inevitable Decline Of Democracies
As America’s Independence Day approaches, social media is becoming crowded with patriotic memes. There are memes of eagles superimposed over the American flag while wearing a MAGA hat, memes of the founding fathers with MAGA hats, quotes from Voltaire and Ben Franklin wearing MAGA hats are crowding my timeline. And it’s getting a little annoying. I don’t hate what America was, but rather that America’s modern, nearly universal, and unqualified democracy has made me cynical of what the holiday means. So as we gather for family cookouts of hamburgers, hotdogs and cheap beer let’s take a moment to reflect on the consequence of the American Revolution and the key ethic of the Enlightenment from which it sprang, equality.
In 399 BC Athenian gadfly-philosopher Socrates was put on trial for corrupting the young. He was a critic of democracy and when on trial a jury of five hundred Athenians was allowed to sit in judgment. Socrates believed the fatal flaw of democracy was that one must possess wisdom to be able to vote, and yet there was no agreeable way to quantify “wise enough” to earn a vote. He viewed a city much like a ship, and one would not like a captain who had been chosen because of his popularity among the people to captain the ship.
In fact, this has been a central criticism of democracy ever since. Socrates does not seem to have been an elitist, since he viewed voting as a skill, and thus most people could acquire it through hard work, much the same way one could learn seamanship. He was narrowly convicted of corrupting the young and forced to drink hemlock thus ending his own life.
This was Democracy in action.
Socrates also argued that given the nature of the potential candidates, democracy was inherently prone to corruption. His analogy was that of a physician running against a candy shop owner. Most people would look at the doctor as the more educated, wiser, and thus potentially qualified ruler. But the candy man would have an edge up in making his case. When the franchise is extended to people who are incapable of understanding the arguments put forth by the doctor they are more likely to view the candy man as making the better argument. And indeed his argument would run something like this:
The doctor hurts you. Look at him, he causes you pain, but I will provide you with pleasure. Thus I am the better candidate to hold power over you, given that the purpose of life is individual pleasure.
Never mind that the skills of shop owner and doctor aren’t well suited to running a city, the fact is that the election would go to the man who can provide more immediate satisfaction to the people casting the vote. This is a trend we see in Western politics today. Politicians of all parties budget not according to what the government can afford, but rather to what they can borrow against future repayment. And by future repayment, I mean they borrow money for today knowing it will be their children and grandchildren who have to pay the bill. America is twenty trillion dollars in debt. It wasn’t one politician, one party, or one decade that caused it. It was a political culture fostered by the expansion of democracy and the democratic franchise.
A gibs now, think later mentality.
Presidents have at most eight years to govern. They know historians will judge them by their achievements, not by how much debt they left to future generations. In contrast, perhaps the greatest strength of the absolute monarch is that he knows his budget will be paid by his administration, or the administration of his children, no matter how far down the road he kicks the can.
Socrates understood this, but he understood the reality of temporary happiness outweighing long-term stability when it comes to election choices. He understood that a city-state which does not preserve for its posterity, that is the peoples’ biological heirs, their “natio” (a group of biologically similar people, from which the word nation comes), their values, their culture, their very existence would become meaningless and eventually die out.
Hindsight is 20/20 and Socrates’ warnings seem to have been on point.
History teaches us that no nation is destined to live forever unless it values its children and its culture. A peoples must never forget that what they pass down to future generations is more important than selfish short-term happiness.
Are you listening, Boomers?
Contrary to what your school may have taught you, Democracy did not die in Athens only to spring up again in America in 1789. In the interim, the Republic of Venice had representative government for over a thousand years. Venice had what was called a “Doge” leading their city-state. The process by which the Doge was elected was complex and was a result of several twelfth-century Doges attempting to establish a monarchy. After 1172, the Doge was selected by a committee of forty (who would eventually become 41 to break ties) who were themselves selected by four men who were chosen by the Great Council of Venice, which was itself selected annually by twelve men.
The absurd length to which the Republic of Venice went to isolate the Doge (who was elected for life) illustrates one of the central questions of Democracy. To whom should the franchise extend? It seems clear that without direct democracy the Republic of Venice was ruled by patricians, though the distance between the men who selected the Great Council and the Doge himself seems to indicate that Venetians were well aware of the problem of the franchise and that they tried to minimize the influence of powerful families, and the popoli itself, on the selection of the Doge. It is clear that they understood democracy at its core is fundamentally flawed. It isn’t unreasonable to assume, given the circus routine that preceded the election of the Doge, the ruling class of Venice understood that democracy was little more than an illusion to prevent a popular uprising followed by a Robespierre-like final act. After more than a millennia the Republic of Venice ended in 1797, just as democracy in France and the United States was becoming a reality.
The notion of popular voting is based on an Enlightenment-era value called universalism, more commonly today known as equality. Democratic equality is the result of a nonsequitur from Christian universalism. Namely, if all are equal under God’s law, and if God’s law is superior to man’s law, then all should be equal under man’s law. But this conclusion is not supported by either history or logic. God as conceptualized by Western European Christianity, is an impartial and fair judge of humanity. But men are not angels, and yet are expected to pass judgment. So could a jury of Jews sit in judgment of a Muslim accused of burning down their synagogue? Could a jury of women’s studies professors fairly judge a man accused of rape? Could a jury of MGTOWs fairly judge a woman accused of adultery? We all know the answers, and we know them because we know that humans harbor biases based on their experience, or lack of experience, with members of different communities.
Thus an electorate, operating like a jury, can only fairly judge people such as themselves, because that is what they have experience with, and that is what they know. How can a multiracial electorate fairly judge a candidate different than themselves? The answer is that the electorate will devolve into identity politics. Hispanics will vote for Hispanics, Blacks will vote for Blacks and so forth. The Democratic Party has come up with a solution to this to ensure a permanent majority.
Its a major plank in the Democratic strategy playbook and its called Intersectionality.
In other words, it goes like this: you vote for our guy this time, we’ll vote for your girl next time. Since the foundation of America, the franchise has slowly expanded to include virtually any American born or naturalized to the country, who is an adult and not a felon (but even felons got to vote in Virginia in 2016). As the left creates more and more subalterns (academic word for people who historically lack power) and demonizes hegemons (people who historically have had power) such as whites, males, heterosexuals, and property owners they create a country where the subaltern exploit the hegemon for resources until the hegemon decide democracy isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and war ensues.
But before that war comes, in a multicultural democratic society the hegemons will eventually find their descendants living as Eloi self-segregated in upper-middle class neighborhoods by the Morlocks. Look at Sweden, Britain and Germany and tell me the upper-class whites who vote for immigration would do so if they had to live among those they are importing as cheap labor. Just look at JK Rowling or Katy Perry’s Twitter timelines to see how ignorant and incompetent those women are at politics. Look at those societies and tell me they will not have crossed a demographic Rubicon within the next decade, making civil war and the abolition of democracy the last and only choice for native European survival…
But there is another particular challenge which all democracies must endure, which is related to shortsightedness and that is the temptation to demagoguery.
For nearly half of America’s history, our presidents have voluntarily served no more than two terms. That changed under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected four times and died in office. That president combined the worst aspects of a short-term Democratic politician with the worst aspects of a dictator. His legacy is the New Deal, but perhaps a more important yet lesser-known legacy was the 22nd Amendment, which limited the president to two elections to the Oval Office, or one election following the service of more than two years as president after ascending to the office from vice president. This amendment, much like 17th Amendment which created the popular election of the Senate, set the American republic on a crash course with demagoguery.
Whether it’s a president fighting for a Great Society and the magic words of “civil rights” or whether he is fighting against an “evil empire” or “the war on terror” American presidents, and really all politicians with the possible exception of local school board members, have become game show contestants. Democracy is a game of Nomic, and in the United States, the founder’s posterity is getting the rules changed against it with each round.
Many people blame corporate money, the media, Hollywood, or the big banks for causing corruption in America’s elections. I don’t. Because the people who run those institutions are neither Democrat nor Republican. America doesn’t have two parties. It has one party with two symbols. The Elite contributes equally to progressives and to the neocon puppets. All across the West, elections are a game of “Whose Turn Is It Now?” where liberals and classical liberals take turns publicly embracing the values of liberty, equality, and justice in a society whose racial demographics are shifting away from the people whose ancestors created those concepts. And without the preservation of their ethnic heritage as the absolute majority of Americans and Europeans, those ideas will become about as meaningful as Cicero’s Just War Doctrine in twenty-first century Fourth Generation Warfare.
America’s choices since the dawn of the Cold War have not been which president would be better, but rather which cult would we rather follow. The worship of FDR, JKF, LBJ, Reagan and Clinton stands as a testament to this, but so does the hatred the other side feels towards presidents not of their party. Few people think of Carter or Bush 41, but when they do it is usually with apathy. Bush 43 and Obama both elicit visceral hatred from the opposite camp, but that is only now. Within a few decades, no one will regard either as anything other than a “meh” president.
Though the Alt-Right does exist in part because conservative voters are moving away from George W. Bush as a good leader, and are starting to look at him as no different from any other Boomer president. Trump with his failure to build a wall and recent embrace of the Dreamers and refusal to deport them, will likely be condemned to one meaningless term. Though I’m sure once he goes back to primetime television he’ll be feted by the Bravo channel.
This dynamic is partially why I believe the American republic will fall within my lifetime. The breakup is inevitable because democracy, once the franchise has been extended to people due to the fact that they are people, has become a race to give away as much free candy as possible.
Prior to FDR, each American president had voluntarily stepped away from office after two terms and often thought of the future of the republic when making decisions. In no election since the Great Depression have we seen a Cincinnatus. And it is unlikely that we ever will again.