Tuesday, May 03, 2016

We need more philosophers. Not politicians!

Remember the presidential wannabe who seemed to want to only utter sound-bites like “we need more welders, less philosophers"?  Yes, I am referring to Marco Polo Rubio, who is now apparently "warming up to Donald Trump" after all the insults that he hurled at the Donald!  If only he had listened to the philosophers, because he would have understood that Plato had something to say about the dangers of democracy; Plato thought that:
 rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, in the wrong hands was dangerous and likely to be abused to appeal to people’s base motives. He foresaw the unethical, dishonest uses that a skilled but immoral speaker could put his persuasive powers to, with credulous people eager to believe or buy whatever he was selling.
Rubio will perhaps be shocked to learn that people who are familiar with the works of Plato and Socrates have quite a bit to say about Trump.   Kathleen Parker continues with this:
We at least owe Trump thanks for bringing these two ancient philosophers out of history’s woodwork and back into the conversation. Trump also has inspired reconsideration of rhetoric’s rightful place in the classroom, where it was once considered an essential component of “a gentleman’s” education. 
Andrew Sullivan, who suddenly abandoned blogging that he pioneered, has returned after a long hiatus at a new place, and in a lengthy piece on Trump, suggests that America has never been so ripe for tyranny.  Sullivan also brings in Plato and Socrates:
As this dystopian election campaign has unfolded, my mind keeps being tugged by a passage in Plato’s Republic. It has unsettled — even surprised — me from the moment I first read it in graduate school. The passage is from the part of the dialogue where Socrates and his friends are talking about the nature of different political systems, how they change over time, and how one can slowly evolve into another. And Socrates seemed pretty clear on one sobering point: that “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy.”
Too bad that Rubio, Trump, and their ardent followers do not care about philosophy!  Sullivan and Parker are not some crazy hippies either.  More Sullivan:
Just as the English Civil War ended with a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, and the French Revolution gave us Napoleon Bonaparte, and the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.
I particularly like the way Sullivan phrases the weight of the moment:
In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
I don't for a moment consider that as hyperbole.  In the American presidential politics, we often worry about a "October surprise" that can tremendously affect the election outcomes.  A terror attack committed by non-White foreign terrorists either on American soil, or on American interests abroad in early October, and Trump would seize that as his ultimate gift: "Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally."

It is going to be a long and scary wait until November 8, 2016.  Meanwhile, brush up on your Socrates, folks!


Ramesh said...

Well, I have often expressed the view that it doesn't matter who is elected President as long as the prevailing political philosophy is "Hell No". There is little doubt that Democrats will simply resort to a double down version of " Hell Hell No" if Trump is elected President. Other than making every other country sigh in despair, create the odd spat and chaos Trump will do little harm or good. Actually it is the other countries who must be more concerned with Trump - the US President can start wars, torture the families of terrorists, etc etc. Americans are shielded by Hell No.

What Socrates and Plato did not envisage is the version of democracy you have where it has now become impossible to do anything. You can't even fill executive and judicial vacancies these days.That is what we should debate.

Sriram Khé said...

Your comment seems to indicate that you are considering Trump to be just another candidate for the presidency. Not so. I urge, urge, urge you read the essay by Sullivan, which I had linked to. Sullivan makes a clear and compelling case of how President Trump will blow away the "hell no" attitudes with his bully tactics.

BTW, it is the "hell no" attitude of the GOP over the Obama years that also made Trump's hostile take over of the party possible.

Ramesh said...

Since you said so, I read the whole looong essay. Agree with most of what he says, but there is nothing that is against my central argument - no President can get anything done if there is a determined opposition. Even if the GOP wins the Presidency and the House, they will not have a unblocking majority in the Senate (its still an open question whether they will even have a Senate majority with Trump at the top of the ticket). The Senate minority will simply block everything as did the Republicans in Obama's first two years. And if Trump really tries something outlandish, the GOP will lose the House in 2 years time.

Sure, Trump is not yet another candidate. He is a dangerous demagogue. But he won't be able to do anything in your political system.

Sriram Khé said...

Glad you read it ...

Now, having said all that, my own understanding is that unless there is some significant event in the lead up to the elections, which will screw up the Democratic candidate, there is no way for Trump to win. Even the last elections showed that the GOP has a demographics issue--with anybody who is not White. Trump has further alienated not only the non-White but also women. So ... if I were a betting man, my money will not be on Trump. But, I am *cautiously* optimistic ... because, I am just appalled that he made it this far with his vitriol!

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