Tuesday, November 01, 2005

America the Beautiful

Kyler M. Robinson

Socrates breaks governments into five distinct categories: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. Government is not a stagnate phenomenon that remains strictly to one of these categories; they move back and forth through the various types of governments as the values of one slowly digress into another. In book VIII “Socrates sketches the outlines of a political science”[1] that, while being based on a perfect model city that cannot exist, can still be applied to compare current administrations and governments to the ideal one. In the modern world perhaps there is no better government to examine as the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world.
While Socrates would best be placed in the category of an aristocratic man, having a passionate pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake, and in many ways that’s what is reflected in his perfect city: the aristocracy of the guardians. It seems clear however, from the insulation of government from the people initially that the Founding Fathers could fall into this category at times. The insulation can be seen with the creation of the constitution where all members were sworn to secrecy and the insulation of the senate to be elected not by a state’s people, but rather their elected state legislation. But it seems that even these men could balance other regimes into their creation of the United States.
Democracy “is probably the fairest of the regimes,” states Socrates, “Just like a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues, this regime, decorated with all dispositions, would also look fairest.”[2] However it is the lead by the masses thus and the “regime’s sympathy and total lack of pettiness in despising what we were so saying so solemnly when we were founding the city.”[3] This seems to be a strong component in modern politics where democracy is playing a large roll to persuade the public for support of a particular politicians agenda for either election or passing a bill. While it does look to be the best regime in that “it contains all species of regimes, and it is probably necessary for the man who wishes to organize a city.”[4]
Democracy, which dispenses “a certain equality to equals and unequals alike,” assumes that everyone has the ability to rule while indeed it is not the case. As with a ship it is necessary to have a skilled pilot to steer the rest of the sailors. Yet it seems that democracy is not the only regime that prevails today. Oligarchy has a significant influence in the world market as globalization and trade influences the decisions of governments.
Allen Bloom rightly states why oligarchy is so appealing and important. He describes the reason that it is so important as “It is no accident that in the list of regimes the central one is oligarchy, for in its pursuit of money, it incarnates the concern of the real city.”[5] Money and the economy are transcendent health indicators of a nation or market. It is therefore little surprise that in the wealthiest nation in the world we value it so greatly.
Democracy and oligarchy are the two regimes that have fused together to dictate our society. Each set of values is critical to our government and also critical to the way that the United States citizens view their world. While it is clear that neither is perfect, they seem to be a relatively stabile and beneficial model in comparison to all other current regimes that are in practice. Perhaps the best component of democracy is that it allows a broad range of ideas to be expressed that, if the leaders are capable, will guide the country.
[1] Allen Bloom “Interpretive Essay” pg 414
[2] 557c
[3] 558b
[4] 557d
[5] Allen Bloom “Interpretive Essay” pg 420

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