An Ancient Look on a Modern Society
The political environment of the United States has changed dramatically over the last 200 years. Opinions about the direction of politics within the United States have circulated the Internet through news agencies and even in academia. One of the greatest methods to compare and contrast what modern politics is doing is to look at it through the lens and eyes of historians, philosophers, and Politicians.
Aristotelian, Platonic and Epicurean mindsets (created by Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus respectively) would all have a different outlook on how the United States got to where it is. They would certainly all have similar viewpoints on the direction that politics are going and explain the major issues within our society. Each of these philosophers would agree that there is a better form and a better way in which to run the US democracy and that the current form is not effective. Let me give proof of this statement.
Looking into Plato's understanding of how a government should be run and its condition, it would be seen that Plato would have far more critiques and issues for American democracy than the other philosophers stated before.
Surprisingly Plato would have a great issue with the historical representation of women in politics at the beginning of the United States birth.
His concept of female and male guardians has less to do with their gender so much as it has to do with what they learn and how they affect their community. By creating laws that stopped women from being in a position of authority or being educated in the same way that a man was, a major discrepancy was created leading to the issues of modern politics in America.
" Therefore, if we're going to use the women for the same purposes as the men, we have to educate them in the same way."(Plato, P. 162).
This concept that the training and education someone gets is integral to how they impact society regardless of who the person is continues within Plato's writing,
“...anything beneficial is commendable and anything harmful is deplorable”(Plato, p. 170).
This idea that communities must be led by leaders who are well-versed in philosophy and understanding of their world is hit on even further by Plato. Having a well-educated and morally just leadership is one of the most important things regardless of the type of government installed
“...Unless political power and philosophy coincide and all the people with their diversity of talents who currently head in different directions towards either government or philosophy have those doors shut firmly in their faces There can be no end to political troubles.” (Plato pg 192).
Modern American politics is full of politicians who are far from philosophers and rather focused down the line of economics or law. Based on the previous quotes it can be insinuated that Plato would explain most of our political turmoils within our democracy stems from the fact that we have allowed politicians who are not morally or philosophically ”Good” into office. While the leadership of the people to choose what is correct is important, the leaders must be of moral standing for societal success.
Aristotle’s view of the United States would praise some of its political structure while also bringing a critique to its leaders in much the same way that Plato would.
“The greater the number of owners, the less the respect for common property.People are much more careful of personal possessions than of those owned communally; they exercise care over common property only insofar as they are personally affected.”(Aristotle).
The focus of individual ownership within the United States would be something that Aristotle sees as an integral part of a constitutional government. This is how the “tragedy of the commons” is avoided , when others have pride and confidence over their own property. This concept of ownership over land is integral to Aristotle's democracies.
“For the best material of democracy is an agricultural population; there is no difficulty in forming a democracy where the mass of the people live by agriculture or tending of cattle. Being poor, they have no leisure, and therefore do not often attend the assembly, and not having the necessaries of life they are always at work, and do not covet the property of others” (Aristotle p. 143).
Aristotle would agree that the focus on agriculture and private ownership within the United States generated a lot of success both economically and politically. However, the commercial ownership of land would fall under a perversion of these rights. Private ownership is important, but the act of private ownership over large portions of land that is used by others is not "private" in this sense. The modern-day commercial real estate actually creates a tragedy of the commons within the extremes of ”private ownership”. If the owner of the property is not the one directly responsible for its work then few would hold responablitliy over the property. Even further with the massive amount of the population lacking ownership of the land they work and live in, more political and social discourse arises.
“If they do not share equal enjoyment and toils, those who labor much and get little will necessarily complain of those who labor little and receive or consume much.” (Aristotle p 27).
While this quote may be used to speak on those who use social safety nets and welfare, it equally works towards the upper class and elites who enjoy the same lack of toils.
The wealth disparity and downfall of house ownership paired with this “Private Tragedy of Commons” would be a source of issue to Aristotle that could only be solved by strong leadership and control.
The thoughts of Epicurus would be very complicated when looking at the current state of the United States,
“Because of the very fact that pleasures are primary and congenital good we do not select every pleasure, there are times when we forgo certain pleasures particularly when they are followed by too much unpleasantness” (Epicurus p. 64).
Much of the culture and the industries within the United States are focused on pleasure, however, this is not a minimalist pleasure. The focus on excess and the acquisition of as many "pleasures" would go against this minimalist idea Epicureanism supports. The influence of Christianity within the politics of the United States, the most recent Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights would be an issue within Epicurus's thoughts.
“...more often than not it is this religion which has spawned misdeeds both wicked and ungodly” (Epicurus p. 47).
The further push that seems to be coming from the Religious right in U.S. politics would be a negative sign of further issues to stem from it down the line.
Finding pleasure through a minimalist mind set, be that through sustainability or efficiency in acquisition of these pleasures is of the utmost importance through this lens.
The thought process of these three philosophical ways of thought would find many issues within the American political system. Plato would have the greatest issues with the function of our systems and the direction of our culture. Seeing this current generation of leaders as immoral and uncontrolled, with a lack of philosophical thought. Aristotle would understand the need for equal rights and give credit to the longevity of the constitution within the United States. However, the extreme of levels that companies have taken private ownership would be a point of discourse for him and lead to critiques on the effectiveness of our democracy to allow this to happen. Epicurus would praise our focus on the quality of life and pleasure but despise the extremes of consumerism and lack of sustainability. The system within the United States would be subject to major change under any of these schools of thought, and perhaps it should be.
Aristotle and Stephen Everson. 1996. The Politics and the Constitution of Athens Rev. student ed. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
Plato and Robin Waterfield. Republic. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994
Epicurus, (2012). The Art of Happiness. Penguin Books.