We are used to thinking strongly about democracy – and, therefore, in ancient Athens – about the civilization from which it emerged. The Parthenon has almost become synonymous with democratic values; so many leaders of democracies like to be photographed there. Therefore, it is very surprising to discover that one of the great achievements of ancient Greece, philosophy, its other achievement, democracy, was suspect.
The founding father of Greek philosophy, Socrates, is portrayed in Plato’s dialogues as extremely pessimistic about the whole issue of democracy. In the book Six of the Republic, Plato described Socrates having a character in a conversation called Adeimantos and trying to make him see the deficiencies of democracy, compared a company with a ship. If you go on a sea voyage, Socrates asks, who would ideally decide who was responsible for the ship? Only someone or people trained in the rules and navigation requirements? This course Adeimantos said why, answered Socrates, do we still believe that each person should be able to decide who should be the leader of a country? The point of Socrates is that choice in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. And like all abilities, it must be systematically taught to humans. Despising citizens without education is as irresponsible as entrusting them to a trireme in the direction of Samos in the assault.
Socrates should have a catastrophic experience of electoral deception. 399 BC, the philosopher was invented by accusations of corruption of the youth of Athens. A jury of 500 Athenians was invited to weigh the case and almost decided that the philosopher was guilty. He was killed by Schierling in a process that is so tragic for people who think like Jesus’ condemnation of Christians. Crucial was Socrates in the normal sense, not elitist.
He insisted, however, that only those who had thought rationally and deeply on the subject should be put to a vote. We have forgotten this distinction between an intellectual democracy and a democracy of birthright. We have given the voice to everyone, without connecting it with wisdom. And Socrates knew exactly where he would lead: to a system that the Greeks feared above all, demagogy. Ancient Athens had the painful experience of demagogues, for example, the plain figure Alcibiades, a rich, charismatic and soft rich voice that fundamental freedoms were eroding and helped to push Athens into its disastrous military adventure in Sicily.
Socrates knew how many people who were looking for an election could easily exploit our desire to find simple answers. He asked us to devise an electoral debate between two candidates, one as a doctor and the other as the owner of a candy store. The owner of the candy store would say of his rival, look, this person did many bad things for you. It hurts you, it gives you bitter potions and it tells you that you should not eat and drink what you like. He will never serve you nice and varied things as I want. Socrates asks us to consider the response of the audience: Do you think the doctor could respond effectively? The real answer – “I’ll make you angry and resist your desires to help you” – would cause riots among voters, do not you think? We have forgotten all the important warnings of Socrates against democracy. We choose to see democracy as a clear good instead of something as effective as the educational system that surrounds them. As a result, we chose several candies and very few doctors.