by the Editor, August, 2008
Four Forms of Government
Some months ago, I interrupted my series of essays on the individual chapters in Plato's Republic so that I could complete the re-publication of Ouspensky's A New Model of the Universe.
In the preceding chapters of The Republic, Socrates and company have arrived at an outline of the "perfect" State where "wives and children are to be in common; all education and the pursuits of war and peace are also to be common; and the best philosophers and the bravest warriors are to be their kings". We may wonder how long a state of perfection will last if, as seems likely, the 'best philosophers' are not also the 'bravest warriors' and the most pragmatic administrators. We may also find it instructive to compare the Platonic Utopia with the practical reality of the state in which we now find ourselves.
I resume my study of Plato at the beginning of December, 2008, a time when the difficulties and dangers discussed by Socrates and company nearly two-and-a-half millennia ago are not only still operational but have been amplified out of all proportion in both extent and severity. The financial world has been shaken and its foundations have proved too insecure to enable us to look forward with much confidence in our ability to withstand the further monetary shocks which must be expected in the years ahead. The political world is disillusioned and fractious; the global economic outlook is shrouded in gloom; terrorism is rife; and human morale is at a very low ebb.
But if we could detach ourselves for a moment from our immediate concerns, we should also note that the Earth still turns on its axis every 24 hours and encircles the Sun every 365.25 days; that the atmosphere still provides air to breathe and fresh water to drink; that earth and oceans still provide prodigious quantities of food. No human agency can claim any credit for this. No matter what name we give the Real Ruler of the World, we know that it cannot be a mere human being. Any megalomaniac who assumes the title can never be any more than a pretender playing the leading role in a farce.
Hence we have only ourselves to blame if, through maldistribution, some of us are unhealthy for lack of nourishment while others have made themselves unhealthy through over-indulgence, excessive consumption, and assuming an unsustainable burden of debt.
We have collectively put too much trust in the princes of this world bankers, politicians, preachers, and pundits of all kinds: and we are now being tried as individuals. We are being forced to seek the ground of our own hearts and to examine our thoughts not merely intellectually but in harmony with the rhythm of our hearts and of the Eternal Principle underlying the reliable regularity of the natural world. Only thus shall we overcome the discomforts of a bad conscience the discord that arises from internal conflict between mind and heart. This interior conflict can be resolved only when each of us learns to accept personal responsibility for the economic conduct of his or her own life.
I shall therefore endeavour in this essay to spell out what I believe to be fundamental truths that politicians dare not utter and that even bishops may find hard to face.
In chapter VIII, Socrates describes the four principal stages through which the wheel of political fortune typically revolves as a consequence of human psychology. They are:
After alluding briefly to the relative sizes of the 'circles' representing the duration of all sorts of lives [reminiscent of Ouspensky's ideas about Eternal Recurrence Ed.], Socrates utters a portentous prophecy:
"But to the knowledge of human fecundity and sterility all the wisdom and education of your rulers will not attain: the laws which regulate them will not be discovered by an intelligence which is alloyed with sense, but will escape them, and they will bring children into the world when they ought not."
He then proceeds to describe in mathematical terms metaphysical laws, knowledge of which could be used to determine the just and harmonious regulation of human populations. The text furnishes us with an example of the difficulty inherent not only in expressing metaphysical laws in ordinary language, but even in expressing mathematical quantities involving 'irrational' numbers in any language at all. It may, however, be deduced from the description that the law in question is the Golden Proportion. Using the figures given in the text, if we make a = 4900 and b = 8000, (a + b) = 12900. Then we can see that 4900/8000 = 0.6125 and 8000/12900 = 0.62. Taking the roughness of the approximations into consideration, these are very nearly 0.618, and closely approximate the reciprocal of the Golden Proportion.
The practical import of the Golden Proportion is that, locally, nationally, and globally, the fit and healthy should constitute about 62% of the population and therefore be sufficient to rear and educate children, nurse temporarily sick or injured adults back to health, and learn from the accumulated wisdom of the still fit and healthy old. This would naturally not leave much to spare for passengers who did not do all they could to support themselves. It is for consideration that the same Golden Proportion could with benefit be applied in many situations requiring justice in the sharing of burdens.
The chief problem which now faces the global community, and which the political classes dare not discuss openly, is over-population by humans, an unduly large proportion of whom constitute nothing better than spendthrift passengers.
World population is nearing 8 billions. That short sentence means nothing to most people, because they have little sense of what a 'billion' means. [See. e.g., Credit and Debt. Ed.] However, it implies a problem whose practical effects are being felt in every over-crowded plot of habitable land. The Earth is not expanding. Therefore population growth is producing traffic congestion, housing shortages, rising food prices, wasteful consumption of irreplacable mineral resources, and inadvertent extinction of too many non-human species to say nothing of whatever contribution it may be making to "global warming". As I stated elsewhere, too many human children are being born and too many of them are living too long.
Chapter VIII of The Republic accounts for the rotation of the political wheel of fortune in terms of psychological weaknesses and lack of wisdom on the part of the rulers and guardians of the state.
Let us therefore consider our current place in the cycle in the light of the Golden Proportion and try to "make sense" of the present state of affairs in our own countries. I shall confine my remarks to the United Kingdom.
Only last week, I heard a British Government Minister declare: "It's great news that people are living longer". Well, it might be if all the people over the age of, say, 21, were healthy, responsible, thrifty, industrious, self-reliant citizens, each of them making a positive contribution towards enriching each other's lives while paying due regard to the environment we share with other living creatures which have no artificial "welfare state" to provide them with an excuse for not working continuously to sustain their own lives. But far too many people aren't like that. Too many of us are living too long and too idly, representing an intolerable burden on the younger wage-earners whose taxes pay for our pensions and our insatiable demands for medical and social care. Knowing that the state will look after us in our old age discourages us from saving so that we may reward others for looking after us until we give up the struggle to maintain breath in a body which is beyond economical repair. Hence too many of us end up as indigent dependents in a "second childhood" without a future and without the respect which used to be accorded to age. How much tax-money could be saved and how many houses could be released for occupation by young families if the normal expectation of life did not greatly exceed seventy years?
I am not suggesting that old people who have kept themselves healthy and active should be "put down" on their seventy-first birthday. They may still have much to offer in many ways, not least by sharing their accumulated wisdom and experience with the generations coming behind them. What I am suggesting is that unfit unhealthy old people should not artificially be kept alive if it means provision of expensive medical "procedures" and pharmaceuticals which they themselves can neither afford to pay for nor offer any prospect of showing an economical return on the investment. A National Health Service that is based upon pitiless extortion on the one hand should not be overly sentimental on the other. Whatever good it may do, the NHS as it stands is essentially a political machine for promoting professional politicians and their supporting bureacracies while impoverishing the ordinary tax-payer.
Socrates correctly puts his emphasis upon our penchant for bringing children into the world when we ought not.
Sexual indiscipline is deliberately aided and abetted by government. Family allowances encourage baby-farming. Infertility treatments on the National Health Service wastefully promote a fecundity which is already far more than sufficient to sustain a balanced national population. More seriously, the natural disincentives to sexual licence are nullified because abortions and free confidential treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases not only absolve the dissolute from the physical and financial consequences of their irresponsibility but also preserve them from shame.
An article in the Sunday Times of 30 November, 2008, stated that "Britain is top of the casual sex league" and that the "British are the most promiscuous Western nation". It suggests that women are just as promiscuous as men. While the emotional cost in unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexually-transmitted diseases is immeasurable, the financial cost to the tax-payer through the NHS could and should be borne by the self-afflicted, thus restoring the incentive to self-control that Nature intended.
But rather than trying to maintain the natural balance between births and deaths, politicians greedy for votes pretend to control the population by concentrating their eloquence on immigration a relatively minor factor which they cannot do much about unless and until they leave the European Union, call a halt to welfare "benefits", and insist on making adults in general responsible for looking after themselves, their children, and their neighbours. This will not happen because too many electors have already placed their faith in the handouts of socialism rather than the goodness of God, and the great majority of the working population are deliberately distracted from paying sufficient attention to the enormous sums the handouts needlessly cost them.
UK governments have secured a virtual monopoly over the education of the young, with the result that the vast majority of the population are no longer capable of working out the outrageous price they have to pay for bad government.
A British public schooled into supposing that life will not be sustainable without state provision of health, social, unemployment and retirement "benefits", are ruled by craven fear of having to look after themselves. The deluded people imagine that they need the constant and comprehensive "support" of the government, whereas if they stopped to think for a moment, they would realise that the boot is on the other foot. What is this but tyranny with velvet gloves? The gloves, too, are paid for by taxes.
Plato visualised his Republic on the scale of a Greek city state. Nowadays, even Greece itself is only a small and precarious political unit in a Global Economy. Socrates spent many hours discussing with his students the manifold complexities involved in the management of the political economy of a city state, and emphasising the harm that could ensue through maladministration by psychologically defective rulers or guardians. How much more should we be wary of the much greater harm that could ensue from the machinations of present-day professional politicians strutting their stuff on a global stage?
Clearly, the chief peril that currently threatens to curtail the future of humanity on Planet Earth is that too much power is already concentrated at the uncontrolled finger-tips of a small number of psychologically-inadequate human individuals. It is well-known that power tends to corrupt. In the pages of history and the daily news media, there is no shortage of examples of flagrant self-aggrandisement by wielders of power at the ruinous expense of their supposed inferiors. The larger and more powerful the state or corporation, the greater the peril that concentration of its powers at too few fingertips presents to all states and corporations.
Western peoples have for too long placed too much faith in the supposed virtues of democracy. In blind defiance of the very principle of democracy, self-proclaimed "world leaders" keep attempting to impose some semblance of it by force on peoples and states which do not share their enthusiasm.
In the Western states themselves, the merits of democracy have been eroded in a manner very similar to that predicted by Socrates. Without the discipline imposed by the need to earn daily bread for ourselves and our dependants, including our temporarily incapacitated neighbours, we are naturally inclined to become morally, as well as physically, flabby. A Welfare State which substitutes sentimentality for compassion, compulsory taxation for natural charity, and robotic bureaucracy for personal responsibility renders the human individual unfit to be free. Responsible freedom degenerates into irresponsible licenciousness. The civilising institutions which might have maintained the honour and dignity of the caste of guardians and "princes" have been shrugged aside by career politicians who flatter themselves they know better, and traditions established to uphold the dignity of the individual have been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.
The incivility inseparable from irresponsibility results in all sorts of wickedness ranging from petty misdemeanours to crimes of violence for which politicians are too blind to accept any blame. Instead, they attempt to strangle even the most insignificant evidence of wilful behaviour by weaving a web of ridiculous regulation which threatens to throttle any and all constructive initiative.
If we could only waken up to stark reality, we should find that our wives and children as well as ourselves are in fact held in common as unwitting cash-cows for the benefit of professional politicians, and too many of our young people have been inveigled into becoming brave warriors in undemocratic and dishonourable political wars in support of purely imaginary "national interests". Tyranny has sneaked up on us and we don't even notice it.
Tyranny cunningly disguised under a cloak of spurious philanthropy is the outstanding characteristic of the European Union into which too many Western nations have allowed themselves to be seduced. It is a particularly subtle form of tyranny over which the electorates who every few years solemnly participate in "elections" have no control whatever.
The real villain of the piece is the political party, a Machiavellian device designed to enable the power-hungry to promote themselves without exposing their lack of wisdom to scrutiny by the electorate. The "levers of power" migrate every few years from one party to another at the whimsical behest of nothing more substantial than the fickle "public opinion" against which Socrates inveighs in earlier chapters.
If I wished to gain political power in the United Kingdom, I should have to join whichever national political party seemed most likely to get people to vote for me. I should have to pay lip service to the party's dogmas, obey its leaders, and, if my gift of the gab seemed adequate, might expect in due course to get elected to Parliament and start working my way up the greasy Party pole. This process would almost inevitably cut me off from my roots in the community which had nurtured me and whose people were best qualified to assess my strengths and weaknesses. I should have sacrificed my personal character and become a mere creature of the Party whether as a knocker on constituency doors, as a straw contributing lobby fodder in Parliament, or as an insincere propagandist "personality" on television.
Because the Party operates on a national, rather than a local, scale, even the electoral constituency is too large to be personally comprehended. An impersonal mechanical mindless governmental process proceeds independently of the social engineers who have set it in motion but who, through lack of control over the people on whom they must rely to carry out the local functions of the state, are unable to maintain its speed and direction. Thus the one thing we can say for certain about democracy as practised here in the United Kingdom is that it has been converted into an electoral tyranny through compulsory taxation. Lulled to sleep by the soothing blandishments of party politicians, we have surrendered personal responsibility and become a rabble of robots and a network of nerds rather than a nation of neighbours.
If power really lay with the people, all taxes would be voluntary. We should neither be engaged in unnecessary wars nor maintaining costly and inappropriate weapons systems. We should be caring for and sharing with each other instead of snuggling up to the cold bureaucratic bosom of a nanny state.
As things are, we are ruled by an "elected dictatorship" governing through an impersonal bureaucracy, the strength of which is that there is no single individual tyrant who can be identified, held to account, and got rid of whether by an electoral process, by execution (like King Charles I), or by assassination. As a result, we are administered through a confused plethora of intrusive and often irrational legislation, much of which comes from an undemocratic European Union, and nearly all of which is incomprehensible not only to our ill-educated demos but sometimes even to the hierarchy of Courts of Law and a burgeoning litigious industry characterised by a system of appeals which, in defiance of natural logic, depart from the local and practical to end in the remote and pseudo-theoretical.
On 27 November, 2008, a much-respected Member of Parliament was arbitrarily and very publicly arrested by a force of out-of-control "guardians". His home and his Parliamentary offices were searched, his computer was confiscated, and his email was disconnected all apparently for no better reason than that he was performing his duty as a representative of the people by telling them what the government did not want them to know.
We shall no longer be able to smugly announce that such a thing "could never happen here".
Democracy operated through political parties implies government by nothing better than sentimentality. The hungry sheep who are unwilling or, occasionally, unable to earn their bread by the sweat of their faces, look up expecting to be fed by the fruits of taxation. The Golden Proportion, by virtue of which the fit and competent majority of the population would naturally be willing and able to look after the weak or feckless minority in their own neighbourhoods, is being reversed by the selfish dictatorship of the national ballot box.
On the comprehensible scale of a parish or of a church congregation, neighbourliness is effective because genuine charity is reinforced by a sense of duty and peer pressure. Giving is voluntary and a direct cost to the donor. On the scale of the state, genuine charity has been emasculated by compulsory taxation which removes much of the will as well as the means for individuals to be charitable in their own right. Politicians proclaim themselves to be charitable when they are precisely the opposite; they merely bribe some of the voting public with other people's money.
When the scale is extended to "Overseas Aid", it is only another form of bribery of foreign political leaders at the cost not only of the home tax-payer but also of the supposed beneficiaries whose demoralisation is so intensified by reliance on temporary handouts that any lives "saved" today must be "saved" again next month or next year.
On 29 November, I heard on the radio that some pressure group or other was complaining because a large sum of British tax-payers' money, nominally and arbitrarily allocated to AIDS relief in southern Africa, had been underspent. Every adult and adolescent in the world should know by now that AIDS is a sexually-transmitted disease and therefore avoidable by the exercise of sexual discipline. The voting public should also know that large sums of money cannot be accumulated without robbing a great many tax-payers who cannot see any justice in being forced to pay for other people's negligence. Hence I cannot help wondering why we continue to pander to governments which wage hopeless wars against Nature with no ultimate benefit to anyone but criminal drug pushers and the purveyors of pharmaceutical products. It cannot be long now before even governments realise that wars on AIDS and drugs are just as expensive but no more effective than military wars far from home, and that death is ultimately the only way out of the hell they are inadvertently helping us to create for ourselves. Why can't we just mind our own business and let other people mind theirs as Nature not only permits but ultimately requires?
It is becoming increasingly obvious that all forms of government regulation are ineffective.
Consider, for instance, the great pride politicians are currently taking in having "bailed out" the banks and in "safeguarding" depositors' funds. I, for one, would not have entrusted any part of my savings to a foreign bank had my risk not been fully insured in advance by the British government's placing the entire burden on future British tax-payers. Had the banks and building societies been regulated not by a government-appointed bureaucracy but by thousands of "savvy" depositors, they would never have got away with advancing 125% of the purchase price of a house to borrowers, many of whom had little or no prospect of servicing the loan. Once the news had leaked out that any lending organisation was making mortgages available on such "easy" terms, its depositors would immediately be looking for safer lodgings for their money. We must never forget that capital is created by savings. Without at least a little capital, individual freedom is severely curtailed. A freedom-loving capitalist society is ill-served by a government that is perpetually in debt.
We should also take note of the many reported incidents of failure of "social" services and associated agencies of the state to protect children and helpless old people against cruelty and other forms of abuse. Here again, government provision at tax-payers' expense merely encourages irresponsibility on the part of friends and neighbours who are thereby provided with an excuse for sloping shoulders on the grounds that "it's nothing to do with me".
In the name of "security", governments collect more and more data about the private affairs of individuals, and then destroy the security that those individuals have set up for themselves by permitting undisciplined servants of the state to carry sensitive information around in laptops or on micromedia which they absent-mindedly leave lying around to be stolen. All my life, the British public have wisely distrusted their politicians, but they once placed great faith in the integrity of the Civil Service: that faith too has had to be abandoned in view of the frequency with which confidential personal data become open to scutiny by criminals and the news media. How much confidence can any British citizen now place in a compulsory Identity Card which cannot be anything but an expensive Trojan horse facilitating further arbitrary restraint on individual freedom?
Burgeoning terrorism and crimes of violence constitute confirmation that an irresponsible society tends to degenerate into a savage society. Without the willing co-operation of the people, state regulation cannot work on any level. There are now too many regulations which merely irritate responsible people and very few which command whole-hearted assent.
On a global scale, the population of human rabbits in the walled garden of Earth is approaching uncomfortably close to the point at which we shall have nothing to eat but each other. As it would be wildly unrealistic to hope that any government whose tenure depends on sentiment will be far-sighted enough to adopt policies favouring population reduction by letting the old and the incurable succumb to natural forces, Mother Nature will have to impose her own regime for restoring the Golden Proportion, and she will do so whether we like it or not.
In the meantime, aided by a vigilant press, television, and the Internet, we individuals must endeavour by all available means to regulate the regulators as well as the providers of all manner of services and accept personal responsibility for our own actions regardless of whether we are encouraged or discouraged by governments. Caveat emptor should be re-instated as the primary regulating principle governing all our transactions.