“Come then, tell me, dear friend, how tyranny arises. That it is an outgrowth of democracy is fairly plain.”
So begins part two of Plato’s Republic. In light of the recent storming of the Capitol, Plato’s words seem to ring true.
American democracy was founded on the idea of liberty — “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Liberty is a good thing, but, like all things, cannot be used in too much excess, because, as Plato says, it is “the excess and greed of this and the neglect of all other things that revolutionizes this constitution too and prepares the way for the necessity of a dictatorship.”
In other words, when liberty is used as an excuse to break the law or to harm others, liberty becomes a negative thing. It is in these extreme environments that dictatorships arise.
When the public cannot listen to logic or reasoning, force is the only way to subdue them. Plato points out that in some ways, tyranny under certain conditions is better than democracy; for example, tyranny under the rule of a reasonable dictator is better than democracy under chaos.
What Plato calls the “anarchic temper” stems from childhood, where children are taught that they are special or unique and that they should assert their own beliefs no matter what.
As a result, the teacher begins to fear and fawn upon pupils, who “pay no heed to the teacher or to their overseers either.”
Here, there bears a striking resemblance to the words President Trump used to address the mob — “We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” “We love you. You’re very special,” and, finally, “I know how you feel.”
Are these not the words of the fearing teacher or parent humoring the child?
In the Republic, Plato claims that when there is too much liberty, there is too much chaos that resembles anarchy too closely, and so “when the tyrant arises,” the tyrant assumes a “protectorate” stance. When there is chaos, there is fear and tyrants can use fear to manipulate the public.
President Joe Biden warned the country that “at this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault,” adding that “today is a reminder, a painful one, that democracy is fragile.”
In the months leading up to the 2020 election, the election was seen as the chance for Americans to save America with their vote.
The editorial board at the New York Times published an editorial entitled “End Our National Crisis” where they outlined the reasons for removing the president, citing incompetence, corruption and a disregard for facts that they regarded, among other things, as reasons to vote out former President Trump.
During the tense days of waiting for ballot counting to finish and election results to be announced, they published another editorial, titled: “You’re Not Just Voting for the President. You’re Voting to Start Over.”
Unfortunately, the depth of America’s problems and the precariousness of American democracy were vastly underestimated. Things were not solved after the election was over. Republicans pushed the idea that there was election fraud. To this day, former President Trump still maintains that the election was stolen.
And now, this.
We have turned from the most respected superpower nation on the planet to a country where our people behave like children. We have become a place where if you don’t like something, you can grab your gun, throw a tantrum,and begin violence in the name of liberty. We elected a leader who openly condones that violence — as long as the violence is in his favor. These are not the pillars of democracy or liberty.
Our democracy is degrading before our very eyes, and Plato foresaw it. He foresaw a descend into tyranny stemming from misplaced ideas about liberty, and an overindulged populace.
We are standing on the brink, and now, more than ever, it is imperative for us to save ourselves.