Political Quandaries

If all the simpletons and halfwits magically disappeared from the Earth, society would be infinitely more rational; but then who would do the menial jobs, such as practicing modern medicine, banking, leading our largest churches, and inventing the internet?

Plato’s great political insight, the founding wisdom of political philosophy itself: The only men intellectually and temperamentally suited to rule are precisely the ones who would never desire power, and who would therefore have to be forced to accept it against their will, against the will of the many, against the hatred of every existing ruling class, and above all against their nature. The implication: No society will ever be governed by men suited to govern. All government, in practice, will be by (and for) the intellectually and temperamentally unqualified and incompetent.

Among the many sound reasons for the modern republican institution of separate and equal branches of government, the most important reason of all is the one least often acknowledged: No one in government, as a matter of principle and common sense, should ever be presumed to be intelligent enough to make wise decisions, or moral enough to decide anything without reference to his own immediate material advantage. Quite the contrary; those intelligent and moral enough will never, or at best almost never, enter the political arena. Hence, a balance of separated powers should lead to the best possible outcome under the circumstances, namely an “honor among thieves” form of mutual restraint — the crooks will have their eyes on one another, and hence their conflicting interests will serve to clog up the channels of public looting. If these equal branches ever find their way around the formal barriers of law to establish a collusion of interests (i.e., of mutual perceived advantage), the institutional limits of republican government will quickly vanish in all but optics, as we all know.

Popular art unifies the people by way of the passions. It may unify them in fear of the gods, in love of their nation, in laughter at human stupidity, in loathing (or compassion) for evil, or in the joys (or pains) of undying love, unbreakable family unity, or ennobling friendship. Today’s popular art unites the people in fear of adulthood and death, in navel-gazing self-obsession, in the aggrandizement of childishness and irrationality, in titillation by taboo, and in the trivial gratifications of physical lust, materialist greed, and the cynical self-seeking of “networking.”

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