Here again, I’m Stephen Dames, co-Editor-In-Chief—along with Inica Kotasthane—of the Next Gen Politics Blog. For the past several weeks I had been writing a weekly column titled “The Saturday Evening Post ” but, due to a request issued by the Saturday Evening Post archives (!), I have decided to change the format and inspiration for my weekly columns. This change is inspired by something far older, and far more influential, than a twentieth-century American magazine. It is, in fact, one of the inspirations for the very existence of America in the first place.
In ancient Greece, the “agora” was a public square where the average Greek person lived most of their public lives. The agora was the center of Greek politics, commerce, and religion. Located at the center of most Greek towns and cities, the agora was the meeting place for the “polis” and is to this day the greatest physical manifestation of the “marketplace of ideas.” In the ancient world, this square represented freedom, democracy, and community.
Inspired by this nexus of debate, and in keeping with NGP’s mission of cross-partisanship, every week this column will be dedicated to continuing the dialogue that the agora held. I will present one classically inspired topic and present two or more opposing different sides in a way that (I hope) creates further dialogue, and inspires you to consider your own beliefs. These arguments of course will not be exhaustive, so along with each side’s argument, I will put links to or descriptions of further resources on the ideology of each side. I can’t promise that I will be totally objective and non-partisan (I am neither of these things, nor are most people) but I can promise you that I will take every side seriously, and dive deeply into the arguments that I present. Without further ado, here is the first argument we will be looking at:
Democracy is the Best Form of Government
Against the Resolution: Aristocrats
Formally defined by the philosopher Aristotle, an Aristocracy is a form of government where the few—the superior few—govern in the interest of everyone. This form of government is rooted in meritocratic principles. It is the belief of most Aristocrats (at least classical ones) that the rule of the best members of a society will prove beneficial to all members of society. Although the modern conception of democracy is loosely based on “meritocratic” principles, democracy is not the best form of government as it gives power to the uninformed, the disinterested, and the untested. A system of government where the educated elite rule is one where the most prudent decisions will be made. Those who we trust most in government today are not our democratically elected politicians–they are often radical, dumb, and inexperienced–but are instead the bureaucrats, policy experts, and political savants serving in various positions throughout our government. If we give over our popular mandate to those who know what they’re doing and entrust them with the ability to fundamentally change our society, life would be better for everyone. Although democracy gives everyone power and makes us feel like the masters of our own fates, by participating in and keeping our democratic institutions, we are in fact dooming ourselves and our compatriots to a worse life.
For the Resolution: Athenian Democrats
From the Greek demos and kratia meaning “people rule”, democracy is an ideology at centers around the idea that the people must hold both the political and economic power in a nation. Athenian democracy looked quite different than the “democracies” we have today, and instead of being rooted in meritocratic principles, was instead founded upon the idea that society should be able to randomly select individuals to do jobs, or even endow groups of individuals with law-making abilities. This radical approach to law-making can serve as a blueprint for fixing our unequal, overpoliced, and unfair society. The democratic philosophy rejects the idea of merit and sees it as merely a cover that individuals use to gain and keep power. Instead of focusing on who is “smartest” or “best”, a truly democratic society would prioritize the ideas of equity, isonomy, and liberty above all others. By living in a democracy, individuals are given incredible agency over their own lives and over the society in which they live. Political issues are decided on a local level and are debated and discussed by those who the issues most affect. By giving everyone a share of the power–whether through slightly antiquated voting mechanisms, “legislative juries”, or the Athenian lot system–democratic societies ensure that communities work together and stay together. A democratic system builds solidarity, community, and the general welfare.
Though this debate may seem to be a pointless discussion of philosophical abstraction, it is in fact an important topic for all of us to consider. In the 1990s, we were told that history had “ended” and liberal democracy had won, and would conquer the earth. Today in the year 2020 we know all too well that anti-democratic forces did not disappear with the death of the USSR–they were merely hibernating. As responsible citizens, it is crucial to examine and solidify our democratic values, and to question the supposed “democracy” in which we live. Philosophy does not and should never exist in a vacuum–it instead lives at the center of everything we do.
Thoughts? Opinions? Please write any musings or takes below in the comments or, alternatively, sign up to write for NGP!