Tuesday 20 October 2009

Equality to equals and unequal alike

Plato, through Socrates, described it thus;
...a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.
Or as I once remarked to a friend;
The thing with democracy is that ultimately it’s about allowing morons to vote.
Democracy boulders cartoon
Plato’s ideal system, an aristocracy led by wise men that are (crucially) reluctant to lead, seems inherently dangerous given our understanding on the ability of power to warp the best of intentions - not to mention the scarcity of wise men. So unless we subscribe to this utopian vision or perhaps the benefits of a benign autocracy (and I’m surprised to find there are many that do) we are, for all its perceived limitations, left with democracy; though are these limitations really a weakness?

One might think so since the BBC have invited Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP and a holocaust denier, to appear on Question Time; their most prominent platform for political debate. However such people are a fact of life whatever the system; brushing repulsive individuals under the carpet not only disenfranchises, it’s counterproductive. Who can be persuaded the error of their ways by being denied the right to speak?

I can think of few people who deserve to be ridiculed more but a more constructive act might be to engage them in debate or, to use language his party would understand, debate the sh*t out of them. There are undoubtedly dangers; putting Griffin in a civilised environment may result in some believing the participant himself to be civilised. In addition I would hope the other panellists can avoid indulging in a game of “who hates the racist the most”; it’s a trap the BNP would be delighted to spring.

Yet despite these risks we must engage in debate; not necessarily because we hope to change minds, though occasionally we may, but because this is how a society grows. If unwilling to face up to its more unpleasant members then how can it be worth fighting for? An unchallenged society is doomed to failure.


  1. Morons notwithstanding....
    Great post.
    There's a quote -- I used to attribute it to Winston Churchill, and am not sure that's correct, but anyway: "Democracy is the worst form of government there is. ...Except for all the others."

    After working as a lobbyist for 13 years, I noticed several things:
    --There were two kinds of legislators. There were those who were "somebody" as far as having a kind of "personal power," or inner strength, and they brought that to the office, with them. And then there were those who ran for office in order to become "somebody."
    --Many times, unfortunately, the very people who ought not to be trusted with power are the ones who want it the most.
    --And I came up with a question which I still don't know the answer to: There's an old saying, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." But after observing state legislature, I started thinking, It isn't the power which corrupts -- it's the most corrupt people who want the power. ... And it's definitely a different concept. Have posed that question to a few people and haven't heard an answer that gives me the enlightenment I'm seeking. (Most people are simply disgusted with politicians.)

    As for the holocaust deniers and other "wing nuts" -- Free Speech is a wonderful thing, but definitely has a flip side, no?