x

OPINIONS

Why Tyranny Could Be the Inevitable Outcome of Democracy

November 13, 2019

Lawrence Torcello Rochester Institute of Technology

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) Plato, one of the earliest thinkers and writers about democracy, predicted that letting people govern themselves would eventually lead the masses to support the rule of tyrants.

When I tell my college-level philosophy students that in about 380 B.C. he asked “does not tyranny spring from democracy,” they’re sometimes surprised, thinking it’s a shocking connection.

But looking at the modern political world, it seems much less far-fetched to me now. In democratic nations like Turkey, the U.K., Hungary, Brazil and the U.S., anti-elite demagogues are riding a wave of populism fueled by nationalist pride. It is a sign that liberal constraints on democracy are weakening.

To philosophers, the term “liberalism” means something different than it does in partisan U.S. politics. Liberalism as a philosophy prioritizes the protection of individual rights, including freedom of thought, religion and lifestyle, against mass opinion and abuses of government power.

What went wrong in Athens?

In classical Athens, the birthplace of democracy, the democratic assembly was an arena filled with rhetoric unconstrained by any commitment to facts or truth. So far, so familiar.

Aristotle and his students had not yet formalized the basic concepts and principles of logic, so those who sought influence learned from sophists, teachers of rhetoric who focused on controlling the audience’s emotions rather than influencing their logical thinking.

There lay the trap: Power belonged to anyone who could harness the collective will of the citizens directly by appealing to their emotions rather than using evidence and facts to change their minds.

Manipulating people with fear

In his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” the Greek historian Thucydides provides an example of how the Athenian statesman Pericles, who was elected democratically and not considered a tyrant, was nonetheless able to manipulate the Athenian citizenry:

“Whenever he sensed that arrogance was making them more confident than the situation merited, he would say something to strike fear into their hearts; and when on the other hand he saw them fearful without good reason, he restored their confidence again. So it came about that what was in name a democracy was in practice government by the foremost man.”

“Misleading speech is the essential element of despots, because despots need the support of the people. Demagogues’ manipulation of the Athenian people left a legacy of instability, bloodshed and genocidal warfare, described in Thucydides’ history.

That record is why Socrates – before being sentenced to death by democratic vote – chastised the Athenian democracy for its elevation of popular opinion at the expense of truth. Greece’s bloody history is also why Plato associated democracy with tyranny in Book VIII of “The Republic.” It was a democracy without constraint against the worst impulses of the majority.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: http://theconversation.com/why-tyranny-could-be-the-inevitable-outcome-of-democracy-126158.

RELATED

I read the story in the Associated Press twice to make sure what it said was accurate: The shareholders of Tesla, the electric car maker, have approved the compensation package for CEO, Elon Musk, amounting to about 44.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

1 of 2 Abducted Louisiana Children is Found Dead in Mississippi after Their Mother is Killed

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Louisiana woman was found dead in her home Thursday, and her two young daughters were abducted and found hours later in Mississippi — one dead and the other alive, police said.

ATHENS – Acknowledging disappointing results in the European Parliament elections for New Democracy, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said there won’t be early elections in Greece and dismissed any idea of taking New Democracy further right.

NEW YORK – This year, Leros New York is the standout team in the Premier Division of the Long Island Soccer Football League (LISFL) – and beyond.

ROME - There were multiple triumphs for Greece this week at at the European Athletics Championships in Rome.

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The Spanish team for men's soccer at the Paris Olympics got permission Thursday from the IOC to select two players who previously played for other countries.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.