Winston Churchill wrote "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". These days, however, the vast majority of Western intellectuals no longer see democracy as a sort of necessary evil in the way Churchill did. Instead, today’s thinkers are generally passionate supporters of democracy. In 1989 Francis Fukuyama famously summed up his euphoric modern viewpoint with an essay entitled "The End Of History":
"The notion that mankind has progressed through a series of primitive stages of consciousness on his path to the present, and that these stages corresponded to concrete forms of social organization, such as tribal, slave-owning, theocratic, and finally democratic-egalitarian societies, has become inseparable from the modern understanding of man... [We may be in the process of witnessing] the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
Not only is liberal democracy now generally believed to be by far the most enlightened form of government, it is also believed to be by far the most economically successful form of government. Therefore, on material grounds alone, it is believed that the masses will eventually rebel against any other system, making democracy the only sustainable form of government.
We have the critical idea that mankind's evolution toward democracy on ideological grounds has accompanied his evolution toward democracy on pragmatic economic grounds. Democracy is the endpoint of mankind's search for material progress just as it is the endpoint of mankind's search for justice and virtue. The most ethically advanced system is also the most economically powerful system.
Singapore and China challenge democracy
However, the widely accepted claim that only liberal democratic systems can thrive is being increasingly challenged by the economic success of technocratic paternalistic China and Singapore.
Today, in 2008, orthodox Western thinkers still see the success of China as an anomaly that can not last. For example, Alan Greenspan has said that he believes corruption is endemic to the authoritarian system and this will eventually cause economic growth to stall. Failure comes about, he claims, because corruption prevents the Darwinian process by which wisdom triumphs over ignorance, so corruption is a cancer that eats away at the ability of society to respond successfully to the challenges of life. Indeed, economic historians point out that many regimes in the past, eg Russia under Stalin and Italy under Mussolini, showed initially high growth rates after adopting an authoritarian model and then fell into decline.
However, the exceptionally successful and fully matured example of Singapore provides a very strong modern counter argument. Singapore isn't a perfect example because it is only a small country, bigger than Ireland, about the same size as Norway, Denmark and Finland, smaller than Switzerland. It also has an unusually high population density, although high population density is normally an economic disadvantage. For example, countries like Norway, Canada, Australia and even the USA are blessed with ample natural resources and low population densities which tends to make them rich and competitive and easy to govern. Yet Singapore is spectacularly successful, it's not only one of the richest countries in the world, its GDP is still growing fast at around 8% per annum, it has the world's best health care system, the world's best social security model, the world's best public housing program, a brilliant education system, and outstanding work place professionalism and flexibility. Transparency International publishes a corruption index in 180 different countries. New Zealand and Sweden tie for 1st place closely followed by Singapore in 2nd place. And we should add that Singapore isn't just a City Of London style financial centre milking the riches of the world's elite, it also has one of the busiest ports in the world through which large volumes of global trade flow, it also repairs ships, refines oil, and has many other industrial export businesses such as oil rig manufacture. Think about the state owned company "Singapore Airlines". That's an example of a very profitable and award winning airline from a small county that has spread across the globe, one of Singapore's many remarkable achievements. Some Western harpies call Singapore boring, they say what makes a country great is not the peacefulness and greenery of London's Mayfair, but rather the chaos and consumerism of London's Camden Town- but the truth is Singapore scores extremely high marks in global quality of life and happiness surveys etc.
Yet despite all this incredible success Singapore cannot possibly be called a Francis Fukuyama style liberal democracy. All liberal democracies share certain fundamental characteristics, in essence they blend a great deal of economic and cultural freedom, both at the individual and corporate level, with generous safety nets both for individuals that run into trouble, and also for companies that run into trouble (think about the bailouts given to failing car markers and bankrupt banks). Talking ideology instead of economics, fans of liberal democracy promote these attributes as humane and loving and enlightened, but in practice they are increasingly associated with cowardly pandering and self-indulgent power seeking in the political class - creating not humanity and love and economic success, but rather vested interests and corruption and incompetence. Singapore is different, for example, it doesn't get trapped by the muddy economic liberalism we associate with political parties on the right of liberal democracy, and one example of that is the way its economy was built on state investment after independence in the 1960s, and state owned enterprise remains a large part of the economy today. Yet Singapore also avoids getting trapped by the long haired hippish social security models and ossified working practices we associate with political parties on the left, and one example of that is the way kids who haven't built up their social security pot are not entitled to unemployment benefit, they have to find a job or live with their parents.
The difference between Singapore and liberal democracy stands out even more starkly when one compares cultural forces policymaking. Whereas the basic philosophy of post-modernism is un-judgemental man is the measure of all things relativism, Lee Kwan Yew, the long time ruler of Singapore, was a sort of enlightened absolutist who shaped the national zeitgeist in the same sort of way statesmen of old such as Fredrick The Great once did. For example, Singapore doesn't permit Francis Fukuyama style free speech, newspapers and television are aggressively managed in order to foster "elite cultural values" and "rational thinking". Lee Kwan Yew even changed the national language to English in order make the country more competitive. Try to imagine the Danish government switching all schooling from Danish into English, some European economists dream of a common language, but in practice this kind of brave new world deeply idealistic and radical policymaking is simply incomprehensible in Francis Fukuyama style liberal democracies. Danish democracy's great claim to fame is building enough wind turbines to generate 20% of their electrical demand on a windy day, which is a world record, yet as a result they consequently have the EU's highest electricity bills. In other words Singapore does things which are smart, but Denmark does things which are silly, and that's because Singapore is governed by reason whereas Denmark is governed by the madness of crowds. In Singapore the government also outlaws political campaigning, if you want to change government policy you have to find a way to reach someone in the bureaucracy directly, you can't try to effect change by gathering a group of friends and shouting. Yet all this censorship of nonsense and discipline of individualism hasn't had a negative impact on elite intelligence, Singapore is not filled with kool-aid drinking Nazis or double talking Soviet apparatchiks, the elite are genuine high flying fast running professionals who wrestle with one another intellectually and most of them have an educational background in hard core science and engineering.
In conclusion, Singapore essentially runs a sort of ultra-modern scientific utopian style government rather than a cultural and economic freedom centric liberal democratic government model. The great and long lasting success of modern Singapore makes it very hard to sustain Alan Greenspan's point that corruption and incompetence always overwhelms authoritarian systems in the end. Singapore also contradicts the poets who associate authoritarianism with 'hate instead of love', even though chewing gum is banned in Singapore, it really doesn't have a hate filled zeitgeist, on the contrary in a world chaos and crime and madness Singapore stands out as a beacon of peace and harmony. The truth is if one had to choose the most enlightened government on earth, it's hard to imagine constructing a rational argument that pointed elsewhere. Bhutan is sometimes said to be the happiest country in the world, but imagine yourself looking after 740 thousand devout Buddhists who worship you as a King and wear traditional dress and live in an 18 person per square kilometre density pristine mountain paradise that gets all the money it needs by exporting hydroelectric power to its neighbours, then imagine yourself looking after a multi-racial melting pot of over five million ambitious modern people living in a 7,400 person per square kilometre density swamp!
Of course the idealization of democracy is really a 1990s+ neo-liberal invention, none of the worlds most famous philosophers such as Plato, Confucius, Aristotle, Buddha, Jesus, Aquinas, Voltaire, Kant, Nietzsche advocated democracy. Margaret Thatcher, a supporter of Pinochet, famously said of Francis Fukuyama's supposedly seminal essay: "The End Of History! [rather] The Beginning Of Nonsense!". The 18th Century historian Edward Gibbon, writing in his famous book "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", describes the height of the Roman Empire as follows: "If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom".
Heterodox modern thinkers worry about the ability of democracy to compete
Today, in 2008, a few semi-orthodox Western thinkers are beginning to think that whilst democracy is the most enlightened form of government, it does not necessarily outperform authoritarianism economically. Perhaps the level of corruption endemic to the authoritarian system has been overestimated, perhaps other economic factors benefit from authoritarianism. For example: Robert Kagan, foreign-policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has said: “We lived under the illusion that economic success required political liberalisation. All the [democratic] optimism of the 1990s rested on this assumption. Now it appears that the causality is less certain... The old struggle, the one that long predated the Cold War, has returned.”
For political scientists this argument violates Seymour Martin Lipset's legitimacy axiom, separating performance and worth is unscientific. Understand this idea by thinking about Darwinian evolution, whatever survives must be wiser that that which fails, claiming to be ideologically evolved when you are weaker than your neighbours is delusional. Ancient Greek philosophers said wisdom is both more beautiful and more powerful than ignorance, ignorance can not defeat wisdom in a fair fight, like the battle between the Spartans and the Persians at Thermopylae, the good is only ever beaten by the bad, so to speak, because devils command bigger armies that angels. Yet in times of peace and prosperity, only the wise can see wisdom, and the upside down sense perception perspective of ordinary men which sees only, so to speak, the fruits of the tree rather than the life-force sustaining it, means ignorance often outsells wisdom in the short term time perspective. Understand that idea by thinking about junk food, the society that lives on sweet foods thinks it is in paradise for a while but then turns violent when the high wears off, the society that lives on high proteins bulks up but then collapses. Socrates might say "wisdom conquers ignorance eventually", Homer might say "the Gods favour the worthy". The Sophists might say "history is written by the victorious", or "might is always right, and weakness always wrong".
In other words, when democrats side away from the idea that democracy is morally and economically superior, and start saying that democracy is morally superior but economically inferior, they are embracing an irrational outlook on life. It comes about as a result of ego attachment to an old viewpoint, and it persists until the irrationality of their viewpoint either revolts them or kills them as a result of existential failure. Ancient Greek philosophers describe the concept of the "straying cause" which is like the Buddhist idea of "karma", and one interpretation of it is that life synchronistically conspires to challenge false beliefs with ever increasing levels of existential challenge. In other words one can not escape evolution, if one is wrong about something, one will be gradually forced to confront that reality, one can never hide from truth and justice. The Ancient Greeks said nemesis follows hubris, individuals who can not let go of their ego end up being forced to deny the undeniable with ever more childish arguments, by twisting everything upside down they destroy the capacity for rational thought inside their brain and turn themselves into increasingly volatile children living entirely in the moment with no attention span nor self control. Think of the old expression "the gods make mad those they wish to destroy", it's not really about tyrannical gods making men mad, rather men making themselves mad fighting against what everyone comes to call paradigm change.
Emergence of heretics who wish to reform democracy
Today, in 2008, it's still very much a nascent movement, but a third group of Western heretics, drawn primarily from the world of financial markets, rarely from journalism or politics, are arguing that the spectacular economic success of "The China Model", which has been sustained for almost 30 years now, and which dwarfs the achievement of emerging democracies such as India, demonstrates that authoritarianism can, in fact, deliver much higher levels of economic growth than democracy even in the longer term. In effect they are saying you can ignore Singapore's amazing success if you like, but you can't turn a blind eye to what is going on in China anymore than you can ignore an elephant in the room. So the heretics believe the West needs to learn from China, to study China's long term vision and political and economic model, to extract the good ideas and reverse engineer them into Western democracy, making the West more effective.
Although Warren Buffet has not called himself a heretic, he has said that he prefers to invest in authoritarian China rather than democratic India because the Chinese government "can get things done". The majority of Americans oppose the stimulus package put in place to mitigate the credit crisis, if democracy was more populist, and politicians followed public opinion, Buffet points out that the American economy would have been completely destroyed. Tony Blair worries that immoral capitalistic populist journalism is making the public increasingly irrational, jeopardising growth. Blair has said "The role of modern media in modern democracy is an issue every senior politician I know believes is ripe for debate. Yet it is virtually un-debated... Every walk of life involving power is now subjected to regulation except one: the media." In the same way, heretics focus on two things: encouraging leaders to ignore populist opinion, and making public opinion more rational by regulating freedom of speech.
There are many ways democracy could potentially be reformed. The Ancient Spartans had an ultra elitist democracy which elected their members of parliament for life. Candidates had to be at least sixty years old and have a track record of success in ordinary life. They didn't give speeches about politics, they didn't belong to political parties, they didn't campaign for elections, they were elected on the basis of perceived personal virtue not their stance on particular issues. In office they didn't debate policy in front of crowds of adoring fans, nor did ordinary people take an interest in politics. This created a totally different political climate from Ancient Athens, which was a society in which everyone was absolutely obsessed by politics, and also a totally different zeitgeist. The Spartans were very austere and tough and traditional, the Athenians became increasingly out of control. The hero of the Athenians was the cunning Odysseus who conquered the world not by talking down to people like the noble Agamemnon, nor by being passionate like the great warrior Achilles, but rather by playing psychological games with everyone's mind. So they aspired to be experts at pretending to be honest, or pretending to be friendly, allowing them to twist people of faith or passion around their finger.
Like the modern British in the 1600s, the Athenians became rich and powerful through sea power. For example, by building big trading companies on the one hand, and encouraging clandestine piracy on the other hand, a country can literally rule the waves. This monopoly on international trade allows what economists call "rent seeking", making the country exceedingly wealthy. Like the British, domination of the sea led to the acquisition of colonies, and by about 430BC Athens was regularly invading and plundering and taxing neighbouring states with mercenary armies. The Athenians were widely reviled by everyone in Greece, almost the only state they left alone was isolationist Sparta, because everyone fared the Spartan's fearsome fighting prowess. In the end, however, Athens did end up recklessly engaging the Spartans despite Apollo's Oracle at Delphi predicting that their enormous wealth wouldn't save them, their society would fall, and the gods would celebrate when they were defeated. After a thirty year long horrific war which consumed the entire Greek world, the Athenians were finally defeated, and their democracy gave way to vicious tyranny, and large numbers of foreigners and famous Athenians such as Socrates were put to the death.
So the modern heretic worries that modern Western democracy is reaching its Ancient Athenian nemesis, that's it destroyed our vision of Kingship and turned us into cowardly little dogs, that it's torn away our individual moral fibre and made us into fifthly pigs, and that it's splintered our minds so we have no mental discipline and are full of insane instinctive opinions like flea bitten rats. And they say the answer is something like Ancient Sparta, a place run by wise old military men who despise politics, but are handed the keys to power for life, after proving themselves in a successful war.
Scientific Government & Snow's Two Cultures
Finally, ultra-heretics, often inspired by modern Singapore, or early 20th Century philosophers such as Thorstein Veblen, or Ancients such as Plato and Confucius, wish to go beyond the old Spartan idea of simply toning down populist democracy and populist journalism, and instead dream about that radical proverbial endpoint of human civilisation called "utopia". The world "utopia" is a bit like "god", we have invented the term but the image of it is still shrouded in mystery. Yet serious modern thinkers tend to think along the same sort of lines as Plato and H G Wells, and tend to imagine utopia as something that at least begins with some kind of paternalistic scientist led technocratic government, not a poetic oratory led populist liberal democratic government.
Now on the left and the right of ordinary politics, the world "utopia" is today ridiculed or feared, but the ultra-heretics say that's only because the world has turned upside down and the elite has been overrun with children and sinners, and there is nothing at all either ridiculous or frightening about utopia, on the contrary that's what the art of statesmanship is all about. Think for example, about a child who stands at the top of the world as a leader of men men and calls utopia ridiculous because he doesn't really have the power of oratory and can't persuade anyone to follow him. Do you see it's not really utopia that's ridiculous, it's him! Think for example, about the sinner who writes a newspaper and calls utopia fearful because he is afraid of giving up his godforsaken writing and joining up with the good guys writing healthy articles that save instead of destroy the world. Do you see it's not really utopia that is to be feared, it's him! Contemplate the life changing idea that just as Socrates said "the single purpose of human life is to die better than we are born", so the single purpose of mankind is to make as much progress as it can toward utopia before some meteor or some flood extinguishes life on earth. Anyone without that realization indelibly printed at the core of his soul is surely not really a statesman, but rather an imposter.
In order to understand the basic idea behind Scientific Government, we need to discuss the debate between humanities and science. This is a debate which has raged throughout history, for example, in Ancient Greece between political sophists such as Gorgias and scientists such as Anaxagoras, in the Age Of Enlightenment between orators such as Edmund Burke who advocated tradition and human heart based government and utilitarian philosophers such as Voltaire. More recently, in 1959 the English mathematician C P Snow gave a lecture called "The Two Cultures" in which he said the intellectual life of the whole of western society is split into two cultures, namely the humanities and the sciences. He talked about winning the second world war and running economies, and he said the emotive intuition based decision making of Britain's "literary intellectuals" had proven ineffective compared to the calculated empirical based decision making associated with people who started life with a maths or physics or engineering based education and then self developed by tackling real world problems in industry or research rather than devoting themselves to law or politics or music. He suggested the British Education system be reformed to make it much more scientific and vocational, and much less literary.
Think about the idea of a non-expert going to a doctor, the doctor can explain what he doing to a certain extend, as long as the patient can concentrate and keeps his emotions under control, but he can't compete with a sophist orator like Gorgias who specialises in persuading crowds of people using emotional hooks. So the debate between democracy and authoritarianism can be comprehended as a debate between the two cultures, because crowd based decision making revolves around instantaneous instinctive emotional responses not scientific calculations of future consequences, and aesthetic debate is the stuff of humanities, whereas what we often call cold hard pragmatism is the stuff of scientists and engineers. So people argue that because the crowd can not make decisions about things like health spending or nuclear power or the effectiveness of state vs private sector enterprise in a rational way, scientific government is not only incompatible with popular democracy, it is also incompatible with popular transparency. To understand this idea imagine asking someone who knows nothing about rocket science to give NASSA advice. At best he will be like a human resources person who makes cultural recommendations that help new recruits get into the mood, at worst he will be like a witch doctor talking absolute gobbledygook. That is why scientific government requires a partnership between the scientists and the journalists, why a free press controlled by people who have no faith in science and are pursuing their own agenda is completely antithetical to scientific government - and this is of course the condition of modern Western democracy today.
The mystery of human thinking, utilitarianism & paradigm change
Perhaps the easiest way to learn about deep ideas is though myths and legends. Imagine a maze with brightly coloured tunnels and a well at the end. The divine designers of the maze created it so that someone with a perfectly pure heart could follow his intuitive sense of aesthetic beauty and find the water. Back in the golden age when everyone believed in telling the truth and giving their life for their country society could navigate the maze easily. But imagine a crowd of thirsty modern nihilists and hedonists running round that maze, because they are not pure of heart they find themselves running round and round in never ending circles getting more and more thirsty. The world is saved by a scientist called Theseus who brings out a ball of string. As they run round the maze he can mark off all the dead ends they have taken before, and ends up finding the water.
I think that's a nice metaphor for modern democracy vs scientific government. Each time modern Western policymakers have to make a decision they all pull out their moral compasses and give some speeches about what they think is the best one, and then the crowd votes. Popular oratory is a sort of moral compass like skill that guesses the right tunnel according to the spot emotional judgement of the crowd, and science is a sort of computer guided navigation system that calculates which tunnels are dead ends. The power of the humanities student depends on the spiritual sensitivity of the analyst, can he really guess the answer to the question "what would Jesus think" or is his guess closer to "what do post-modernist atheists think"? Is he a Socrates who understands the philosophy of ethics, or a post-modern economist in love with liberalism?
But how is it possible for a sophist like Gorgias to convince a crowd that he knows more about medicine that a doctor? In Plato's Sophist dialogue, the god like stranger asks young Theaetetus whether or not he really believes it's possible for one man to know everything. He talks about the famous sophist Protagoras who became rich and famous by writing books and giving speeches about all sorts of things from politics to wrestling. Is there really such a thing as moral compass which perceives some kind of ethical feelings and can answer questions about everything from politics to wrestling in some sort of magical intuitive way? Protagoras didn't just claim the ability to recognise or count objects, he become rich by offering the elite advice about navigating the ship of state, in other words, advising which government policies would promote wellbeing. Socrates said "the being of the beneficial is in the future", so how can a moral compass attuned to some kind of ethical being in the present possibly point the way to a brighter future? For this to work there would have to be some kind of bizarre synchronistic connection between the beautiful present and the future good.
At the same time how can "reason", whatever that is, possibly answer the question "what would Jesus think"? Behind all those strange Socratic dialogues that go round and round talking about ethics, is there really an objective communicable rational science of beauty and goodness in human nature? In the Age of Enlightenment philosophers such as Hobbes imagined the government as a mechanical algorithmic machine, but how can one really hope to discuss the goodness or badness of laws? Take the drinking of alcohol, doctors would probably call it destructive, yet if we were to ban everything like that wouldn't we end up like ants instead of men? The English politician Edmund Burke rejected Hobbes's argument that politics can be reduced to a deductive system akin to mathematics, he claimed the complexities of human society are too great, and human intellect is too limited. Burke advised against radically challenging the accumulated behavioural inheritance of the ages, and he predicted that the cold hard rationality of philosophers such Voltaire during the French Revolution would lead to disaster. He described himself a believer in "human heart-based" government which values man's instinctive moral prejudices. Burke was right, the French Revolution failed disastrously, France become a nation of self interested cynics and the streets ran with blood and the more traditional Germans shot into supremacy. So what was Socrates talking about when he said enlightenment is reasoned? What did the Ancient Greeks understand that Voltaire didn't?
These great questions eat away at all real philosophers, they are the holy grail that all great men aspire to, and he who posses the grail acquires the power of the three goddesses- from Hera the political power to unite the world, from Athena the power to conquer evil in battle, and from Aphrodite the love of the most beautiful woman in the world (ie something like cooking, cleaning and breeding). Out of these controversial questions springs the battle that has raged thought history under so many names - the battle that started the French Revolution and Great Wars of the 20th Century, the battle C P Snow talked about in his lecture "The Two Cultures", the battle with names such as religion vs philosophy, faith vs science, rationalism vs empiricism, ideology vs pragmatism, humanities vs science, journalism vs engineering etc. Immanuel Kant said the Copernican revolution that will kick off the golden age of philosophy occurs when we stop squabbling like children who judge the conkers they find under horse-chestnut trees by taking turns knocking them together testing their ability to withstand and inflict punishment, and instead we delve deep into the recesses of our minds trying to understand human thought processes, trying to understand how how these two modes work together. It's a long and dangerous journey that kills almost every man who attempts it, and Immanuel Kant, like so many others, failed. Understanding the nature of human thinking is the essence of Ancient Philosophy, and the two great surviving sources of wisdom come from Ancient Greece and Ancient China. Fragments have survived in many other countries, but such small fragments that those who stare at them all day long are likely to damage their eyes.
When people start studying philosophy they begin by thinking the human mind works a little bit like a modern chess computer. Like the yin and yang, there are two parts to a chess playing computer, the part that values a board position, and the part that searches through evolutionary events in the future. The search program calls the valuation program as it runs, you can't build a chess playing program without the valuation part, but you could build it without the search part, yet doing so would be like creating a visionary general who is good at giving advice long term advice about initial troop positions, but hopeless at executing cavalry charges. Scientists tend to say that modern computer programs are good at the search part, ie analysing large numbers of future moves; but very bad at spot evaluations of board positions, they typically try to calculate value simply by adding up a weighted sum of all the pieces on the board. Researchers in artificial intelligence talk about some kind of faculty in human beings, called "Chess Aesthetics", which seems to translate the strength or weakness of a position into instantaneously perceptible emotions of beauty and ugliness, and which is infinitely more effective than simply adding up a weighted sum of all the pieces on the board. That is why scientists who dream of artificial intelligence usually say the problem they need to crack in order to make progress is the problem of aesthetics, and they have spent many years scratching their heads thinking what is beauty and what is ugliness, and how might one measure them.
Thinking along these lines, people who begin studying philosophy start by noticing that the difference between the liberal arts type and the engineer type is that like in this computer chess playing example the liberal arts crowd are completely unable to break out the box and think about future consequences, the reason they go round and round in circles all the time is that they are shooting from the hip and they are deeply personally involved in the decision, and if you try and point out their mistakes they start screaming like a man having his teeth pulled because their decision making process is connected to their ego. The engineer, on the other hand, is much less excitable because he is thinking ahead and detached from the emotions in front of him and is not sloshing around in ego, that's why he can deal with hypothetical questions such as "for the purposes argument suppose that ...". When you argue with the former type you need to use a sort of persuasive style, whereas for the latter you need to use a sort of refutation style, the first is about what is, the latter about what is not. So the scientific thinker is like the young whiz kid who shines because he comes at life from a completely different direction and leaves all the old men stepped in conventions hopelessly following behind. Yet he is also dangerous, because sometimes the customs of the old are wiser than the young realise, as they find out to their cost at later in life. Indeed life is filled up with examples of young people rushing around thinking they are doing a wonderful job but deep down creating all sorts of long term problems.
The trouble is that when novice philosophers such as Voltaire see the elite bourgeoisie unable to solve certain problems that conflict with tradition, they rise up in love with their youthful wisdom and write pamphlets that start a war by saying all everyone needs to do is put away their moral compasses and think like ultra rational utilitarians. But the problem is more complex, and utilitarianism is an illusion, and this cult of youthful naivety ends in disaster. For example, Friedrich Engels and Carl Mark called themselves "scientific socialists", but in reality running a country is a macrocosm of what every parent does when they bring up a child, there is no such thing as utilitarian childcare, there is only how someone might imagine such an impossible thing to be, for example, dehumanized architecture and no sexual inhibitions and no communal love. Countries that call themselves "without ideology" are really just saying "we don't like to think about philosophy", and that's fine as long as it works, but they too can easily finding themselves stuck in a dark well with nowhere to go just as the liberal arts crowd they make fun of can get stuck in the glue of ego.
Ancient philosophers such as Socrates did talk about two ways of thinking, and the American mathematician philosopher Charles Sanderson Pierce, who was in my opinion easily the greatest Platonist of modern times, talked about Plato's Theaetetus dialogue which is all about being and becoming. Pierce invented the word "pragmatism", and on the surface people who follow the path of becoming rather the being do look more like ascetic pragmatists instead of happy go lucky Dionysians, but Charles Sanderson Pierce was making the mistake of announcing his baby to the world before he had really taken a look at it to see if it was the genuine article or just a wind egg. It's way beyond the scope of this short essay to talk about this enormous topic, but suffice it to say that like the ignoble rooster crowing to Apollo, he drove the god of war Aries into bed with Aphrodite, whereas her real lover should be the god of craftsmanship and science Hephaestus. We will come back to this idea later in this essay, but the vital point Socrates made was that the world is not saved by slaying slavish ideologists, nor by staring manic crusades for justice, but rather by bringing everyone together and getting everyone to become idealistic experts.
During an intellectual paridgm change a great deal of damage is done by playwrights and comedians undergoing a sort of terrible crisis of faith and outpouring of self hatred. Compare French Revolution playwrights such as the Marquis de Sade with the Ancient Greek Aristophanes who wrote The Clouds. It's like a man who owns six dice, and feels rich because everyone else has four, and one day he meets a man with twelve, and in his rage he pulls down the moon in a Bacchic Frenzy like a Thessalian Witch. In The Clouds every last vestige of moral goodness is stripped away from every character, his writing is like a mixture of cocaine and heroin that shreds civilization. In 1930s Germany George Grosz is a famous example of this same phenomena. Paradigm change is like a plague that can rip away everything a man once knew leaving him without any memory of his past life and totally bewildered and completely mad. So when liberalism fails the answer is not utilitarian self interest, and philosophers who fight the first must follow up by doing war with the second. Like Hitler's Blitzkrieg, utilitarian attacks seem to be spectacularly powerful because unlike the humanities crowd they have no inhibitions and do whatever works, but like the French Revolution they quickly turn insane. The plague is cured by elitism and ethics and specialization.
Let's give an example of where utilitarianism fails. Steve Jobs said (approximately): "It's really hard to design by focus groups. We think the Mac can sell millions but in a way we built it for ourselves. We don't go out and do market research, we try to figure out what it means for something to be truly great... Most people are too wrapped up in themselves and too impatient, but once you have that clarity you can move mountains... If you are a master craftsman building a chest of drawers you are not going to use a bit of plywood at the back even if no-one is going to see it. In fact the whole word is begging you to use plywood, from the customers to the accountants to the share holders, but you have to follow your ideals and build for the gods... When the world looses that idealism it slowly starts to come apart, and the endpoint is a hellish failing world full of soulless capitalist shit."
The utilitarian is a geek who can't see the Form of perfection that the chest of drawers should be modelled on, nor the Form of perfection that governs the working practices of the master craftsman, nor their opposites which must be avoided, and instead reaches out like a frog in a swamp toward the cave wall and plucks whatever sells in the short term. But this path leads him gradually into a black hole from which it takes a superhuman effort to escape.
Sophistry & Knowing Nothing
In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, explains that our moral perspectives are not reasoned, but rather psychological. Morality, he points out, runs very deep in the human mind, far beyond ordinary rational thought processes, and the teleological / evolutionary purpose of morality is to bind groups of individuals such as families, tribes, cities and countries together. So answers to moral questions such as what is wrong with the world, eg greed in the elite or sloth in the masses, spring from these instinctive moral perspectives. Changes to a persons underlying moral intuitions occur slowly in a subliminal not rational way, sometimes as a result of prolonged contact with friends or role models, sometimes as a result of existential failure.
Now the key observation Haidt made, the observation that has made him famous, is that these deep psychological forms are connected to trivial things on the surface such as the belief in UFOs. Haidt demonstrated this process by developing what he calls a vector of foundational receptors such as nurture, fairness, loyalty, authority, purity, and liberty; then measuring individuals for these qualities by asking profound psychological questions; which in turn allowed him to predict with reasonable accuracy the individuals position on matter of fact issues such as abortion, taxes, UFOs etc. If an individual is then challenged about his belief in UFOs, he will then use the rational conscious mind to construct justifications, never examining the deep psychological layer from which assumptions came, rather just twisting the surface data to give the result he wants to believe.
In other words, we have inside ourselves the ability to guess at all sorts of surface things on the basis of subjective psychological instincts, these bold guesses are not the product or knowledge or reason or calculation but rather leaps of faith. These leaps come out of the persons instinctive sense and right and wrong, but it's childish to use these assumptions to talk about UFO's, to use our moral compass properly we have to go deeper and talk about abstract ethics. So when politicians exploit this psyche to surface inspiration faculty in sophistic speeches they do two disastrous things to the person's mind: they draw him away from spiritual profundity and focus his mind the surface like a slave, and they turn him into a mad man who thinks he knows everything because he starts to put ever more and more faith in this superficial inspiration.
What Socrates taught was the opposite: (a) To repair the mind by destroying all surface opinions in debate using the Socratic Method of self contradiction. (b) Submerging people in the deep ethical layers which really matter by teaching The Theory Of Forms. All this this has to be done carefully, because you don't want to rip away the persons roots but instead start by pruning back his shallow stupid opinions and watering him with some spiritual ideas. The Tao Te Ching says: "The Master leads by emptying people's minds and filling their cores, by weakening their ambition and toughening their resolve. He helps people lose everything they know, everything they desire, and creates confusion in those who think that they know."
One of the best ways to see all this in action is to rent an old film such as "The Edge of the World" which is a 1930s movie about a remote Scottish island trying to decide whether or not to go on fighting against the harsh conditions or emigrate to the mainland. In that film there is a sense of silence, the strength of their gruff silent Scottish way of life was that the lack of false opinions, compare their zeitgeist in your mind to the teeming seething masses of disastrously overpopulated India. Because people from unsophisticated countries are full of superstition, even people who emigrated to the West from such countries years ago, they are easy prey for advertising executives selling fancy shoes, or brokers selling dodgy financial products, or satellite TV executive from Kuwait selling conspiracy theories, or missionaries selling religions. In 1930s Germany the same superstitious zeitgeist famously developed, and the once disciplined Germans were hooked by Hitler's absurd anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and all sorts of other strange ideas started sweeping Germany from Freudian personality theory to nudist camps to vegetarian diets and occultism and astrology. Even in films from 1970s America you see this stillness, think of Steve McQueen in "Bullitt". Socrates said the purpose of a good all round education is not to make you smart at something, it is to stop you thinking what you do not know, to stop you jumping into things you have no idea about with a lot of nonsensical guesses. Think of the film "The Seven Samurai", the wise old man sits in his rocking chair looking at the stars, if you talk about politics he rolls his eyes and tells you a meaningful story with a ethical message. Think about modern America, all that stillness is gone, it's the land of bozos talking absolute nonsense with incredible confidence like pigs digging around in the mud. Think about modern Brittan, it's got feral youths with attention deficit disorder running all over the place screaming like baboons in the forest. This intellectual decline is created by the sophists as they destroy the though processes of the masses in the manipulative game of populist liberal democracy.
Sophistry & Erotic Love
As well as filling people with false opinions giving them verbal diarrhea, the sophists feed on people's emotional body like the blood sucking ticks that drive hairy creatures mad. For example, the message "we can change America" wows children because it feels good and everyone loves change, but voting for someone simply because they inject one with that feeling is as pathetic as buying a packet of cigarettes when one sees a picture of the Marlboro Man.
People love fuzzy psychological images such as the Marlboro Man because they can project their fantasies upon it, and these images are crafted to exude the desirable psychological characteristics such as stature, strength and cunning that all great men exude. But is the democratic politician like Paris, a good looking smooth talking expert at getting princesses into bed, or is he a genuine King like Agamemnon? Is he just acting like a cowboy because he thinks that's what she wants, or is he a real cowboy whose strength is not an act but the genuine result of the upbringing and working practices on his family's ranch? If she marries him will he be able to make those cowboy dreams come true, or will she find out that he is just as clueless about running a ranch as she is? In other words, will she have married a phoney who specialised in pretending to be an expert rather than really being an expert?
It's extremely hard to compete with people who live in the land of slogans because there is nothing to get hold of- to win one needs to project bigger and more gripping images than everyone else. Refutation begins when people talk about changing specific American policies, but of course that kind of expert intellectual debate is not the sort of stuff you talk about at parties when you want to impress the girls. Post modern philosophers have forgotten how the human mind works, they don't realise that there is a difference between legal talk, political talk, scientific talk and philosophical talk. They are gradually tearing up every law or custom written or unwritten left by our ancestors, and building a world of perfectly laissez-faire lovemaking which ends up being ruled by a succession of unworthy men ranging from bourgeois intellectuals to greedy businessmen to oily playboys to dangerous rapists.
Modern democracy is like a woman who wants to marry a captain, but she has given up the age old ways of her grandmother, she no longer listens to the amazing stories he tells about the voyages he has undertaken, instead she tells him what she thinks about running ships and sees if he agrees. Yet she knows nothing about seamanship so all her opinions are all either trivial or nonsensical, so this loud erotic courtship is, of course, bound to end in disaster. Since she is easily seduced by the wrong man, what she needs to do instead, is to save herself by thinking of a competition that will bring out the strongest suitor, to test his ability to shoot an arrow through ten axes so to speak. What else can she do? She learns that all the local boys are hopeless, she puts on her Sunday best and tries to catch the eyes of one of the great men who never look at ordinary girls. When he says you're beneath me, she redoubles her efforts, when he says you're right, she withdraws worried about his worth. The trouble is all the good men have long since disappeared, years of loneliness have turned them into followers of chase Artemis instead of competitive Apollo. So if it all goes terrible wrong she hangs out at the Scientific Café, perched on the end of the bar sipping her drink, hoping that as the night wears on and the drinks flow and the lights dim an awkward guy wearing a laurel leaf will loose interest in his textbook. Finally such a man looks up into the warm embracing abyss of her eyes, stammers and spills his drink on his nylon shirt, and she sweeps in dabbing him with her delicate handkerchief, and they live happily ever after.
So the intellectual implosion of society occurs because the elite are focusing on the non-expert crowd and trying to seduce them with personality, and the crowd are working themselves into a frenzy by all the attention the great men are lavishing on them, and the elite turn away from the art of actually sailing the ship and study the seductive art of populist rhetoric. For example, Hitler used to spend hours in front of the mirror practicing speeches and he was an expert at designing eye catching logos, but these PR skills have nothing to do with real seamanship. Albert Speer famously said Hitler was not as an intelligent, decisive, functionally effective statesman; but rather a "lazy, artistically tempered bohemian who worked in spurts". He said Hitler was "an incompetent, unprofessional, self-taught layman without any sense of the complexities of any great task, who boldly assumed one function after another on the basis of naive intuition". In Plato's Gorgias dialogue Socrates describes oratory (think journalism) as a profession that appeals to people "who have a mind which is good at hunches, also bold, and good at dealing with people". Hunches because they are not calculating like a scientist, but rather guessing like layman. Bold because only the bold would dare to guess how to sail a ship by the fly of their pants. Good at dealing with people because in order for this witch craft to work they must be good at predicting how people reach emotionally so they can twist them round their fingers.
Social Sciences, Aristotle, Sophistry
In our example Theseus the scientist saved the world by thinking practically, not by Aristotelian style philosophy which sought to find universal truths in physical reality. Recall the great philosophical debate between rest and change. Heracles was the Ancient Greek philosopher who said the world is like a river that is always flowing and never standing still, trying to articulate universal truth is as impossible as stepping in the same water twice, the river is always flowing, no two moments are ever the same. Parmenides was the Ancient Greek philosopher who said the exact opposite, the world is not a flowing river, it is as timeless and static as the stars in the sky. Both views are arguable, but the mistake sophists make is to forget the theory of Forms and think that Paramedian universals can be found in the world of external reality instead of deep psychodynamic principles.
In order to understand this complicated idea, think about the difference between academic economists and scientists. Unlike mathematics, science has no axioms. Newton's laws of mechanics worked for a while, but eventually Einstein replaced them. Physics is a sort of combination of inspired guesses that approximate truth, combined with detailed analysis of what is not true. Mathematics is a sort of axiomatic tool kit that sits along side providing assistance. The social scientist lives in a different world from the ever changing scientist, he is a bit like the mathematician who assists the scientist, but instead of maths he offers philosophical advice. He thinks, for example, he can analyse experts from afar and extract universal principles that summarize best practice techniques, allowing him not only to prepare students who want to go into the industry for the challenges they will face, but even lecture experts on how they can improve their productivity.
Now let's take a practical example of these universals. Sophists today talk about neoliberalism. It's a philosophy that is described by clever French mathematician economists as "rational expectations" meets "invisible hand". Now Jesus and Socrates both talked about spiritual principles such as telling the truth and being kind to one's friends, but rational expectations and invisible hand are very shallow philosophical theories that absurdly imagine that all men are capable of spotting a rogue, and no man is capable of harming a neighbour without harming himself. When these theories were first proposed, every practicing statesman would have laughed at them, but over time they developed a following partly because they appeal to extroverted armchair statesman who want to rule the city, and partly because they appeal to introverted survivalists who what to be left alone to do whatever they like in the forest.
So the sophists are essentially inventors of junk food, some purveyors of spells to make you think you are a statesman, some purveyors of spells to make real statesman weak. It's not just the minds of the elite that are ruined, everyone is playing the same game under democracy so the whole society becomes infected by a sort of anarchy on one side and selfish paranoia on the other, and the end product is a sort of earthly shallowness. Socrates said democracy under Pericles turned the Athenians in cowardly [eg inability to assemble for battle] chattering [eg inability to engage in battle] money grubbers [eg slithering around in the mud]. The ineffectiveness of all this gradually makes the elite sophists realise they are selling snake oil and have become little children, and at that point they can turn into shameless sinners who go on pushing their snake oil with every more outrageous ingredients, eg they realise sugar has no kick and add some arsenic. Meanwhile the world gradually goes down hill, not just spiritually bankrupt but also economically bankrupt, until finally some kind of Copernican revolution takes place in which everyone realises how silly they were and a new age of enlightenment kicks off - or in the worst cases the civilisation implodes.
This is why Lee Kwan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, and probably the most impressive statesman since Bismarck, describes the Western World as plagued by a kind of half politically correct and half self interested wishful thinking which is making everyone in the West as "ideological as the communists". On one side the jealous socialists try to erase all nobility from the soul of mankind, on the other side the wanton capitalists try to erase all communal love. The Ancient Greek's have many legends about paradigm change and castration, because democracy is the art of debating with crowds instead of experts, it gradually turns everyone touched by it into shameless cat fighting women who can not argue or listen to men and live in a totally short term, materialistic, cliquey and paranoid world.
In the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher was a practical example of all this. She had a science background and she described British politics as full of hopelessly unprofessional shallow muddle headed sentimentalists, and she called on British academics to help her solve the country's economic problems with bold new intellectual leadership the way Keynes helped the world in the 1940s. Unfortunately British academics did not step up to her challenge, in fact elite British economists and journalists famously complained bitterly that Thatcher's economic policies were causing excessive short term pain, and Thatcher was forced to rely on the masses for political support. The truth is Margaret Thatcher towered above everyone else and spent her life constantly at war with the rest of the British elite, and it is only in hindsight that the British now understand how absolutely exceptional she was. Yet the reason Thatcher was so good and everyone else in the elite was so bad is not that she was really a god, but rather she tried to think about the problems of government using expert reasoned analysis rather than turning every debate into beauty contest between different psychological viewpoints. Socrates said the shallow bohemian decision making of populist democracy makes it by far the most incompetent political system, and it ends in existential failure, and when society is on its back the people end up electing a charismatic tyrant who feeds on the anger of the sans culottes.
Age Of Enlightenment - From polymaths to experts
One of the great questions historians talk about is why did the Western world shoot into ascendancy during the Age Of Enlightenment between the 1600s and the 1800s. During the Renaissance the Arabs and the Chinese were more or less on a level pegging with Europe, but within a few hundred years the major European powers left the rest of the world helplessly behind. So historians ask, for example, was the ascendancy of Europe a lucky event that revolved around the discovery of calculus by Isaac Newton and Leibniz, or was it something cultural?
Historians have come up with many explanations, but Platonist philosophers such as myself spend our lives trying to find one all embracing deep psychological-philosophical truth around which everything else revolves. Think about the difference between the culture of the Renaissance and the Age Of Enlightenment, think about the move away from the idealization of the Aristotelian polymath, and the ascendancy of the focused professional scientific experts and elite craftsmen. I believe the Aristotelian mixing up of spirituality and materialism poisoned the Renaissance, and both the Catholic Church and the intellectuals of the day ended up in the same sort of place as the modern social scientists, namely grubbing around slavishly in the hunt for ludicrous materialistic universals that self justify egotistical desires and destroy the wisdom of society.
This is why when Platonists such as myself talk about Scientific Government we try to get people thinking about Fredrick The Great. Age Of Enlightenment idealists talk about building a culture that revolves around focused expertise and objectivity. For example, every single Plato dialogue stresses the idea that if you want to make a decision about shoe making you find a cobbler, if you want to make a decision about wardrobe making you find a carpenter. Steve Jobs said the difference between an expert and a non-expert is, as far as that area is concerned, like the difference between a "god and a shit head". Steve Jobs said you have to try and turn the corporate structure upside down, get rid of the charismatic golf playing bozo executives from sales and marketing, and promote the real hands on experts into power. One of the ways he did was to create a culture of secrecy, which gave people power over their own creative domain. Another way was getting rid of the politically correct everyone wants to be heard culture replacing it with something more elitist and technical. Steve Jobs said the point about fake Kings is that they can't debate, all their power comes from crowds of ordinary people, if you put them in a one on one tournament with the worlds greatest men they are hopelessly cut to pieces.
Plato describes the Philosopher King as a master butcher who cuts the state up the way a master butcher cuts up a body, in other words everyone dedicates himself to a particular craft and together make up a sort of hive of cooperating bees. Specialization, delegation and refutation gives the hive it's integrity, energy and creativity. Think of Italian elitism, German engineering and Japanese Samurai combative precision in verbal debate. This kind of idealism was very much the guiding philosophy of Enlightened absolutists such as Fredrick The Great, whereas the Renaissance followed a sort of bohemian mix everything together handsome all rounder style philosophy. Enlightenment philosophy is also the essence of harmony, a plumber who is highly trained and dedicated to plumbing and proud of his country's plumbing has no interest in politics, but a man who drifts from job to job and never does anything well and never falls in love with anything is a revolutionary. In other words, when people focus on something think about that one thing, they mind their own business and if they can see that what they do is done well, they loose their suspicion and put their trust in other groups, and society comes together as a spherical white light. So anything that causes the mind to wander is the enemy of harmony and efficiency, eg the poor man who worries about his pension and steals the office stationary for his kids homework, the rich man who has stopped listening because he thinks he is a god and spends all day thinking about golf instead of work.
One of the best ways to think about all this is to contemplate the idea of building an "objective" economy, or a "hive" economy as opposed to a man is the measure of all things populist "herd" economy. In the liberal arts hive objectivity comes from faith in traditions and the search for the approval of the elite. In engineering hive objectivity comes from working for a perfectionist. Yet liberal arts in much more dangerous because there is more money to be made in ignorance. For example, the liberal arts drinker who looses his faith and turns his back on the elite can earn a fortune selling downmarket poetry and political oratory, but plumbers who drink loose their job because their plumbing instantly fails. So an objective economy is one in which the statesman strives to find jobs for people that keep them focused on thing, that try to get them to fall in love with the work and remove monetary motivation as much as possible, and put them under pressure to produce something that can be objectively judged so when they stray from the good they feel pain immediately. The ultimate goal is, of course, to make people happy healthily and wise by mastering existential challenge.
Liberal Arts in the Age Of Enlightenment
Now people say there are two sorts of expertise, for example: running hospitals and designing houses. One seems very objective, one much more subjective, and people often say that whilst it makes it makes sense to keep the politicians away from running hospitals, in the liberal arts it should be a free for all. In other words, people can understand the idea of letting go of health care decisions, but not letting go of architecture, because whereas the former seem to be basically utilitarian issues devoid of human personality, the latter are almost completely composed of human personality. The best heath care system is easily measured, it combines low price with low mortality, but the best architecture is a much more complicated problem, it is something that makes the people happy and healthy spiritually. The first is easily measured by a panel of medical scientists, the second is a complex philosophical problem that involves thinking about how different designs make different people feel inside. So people tend to say that whilst scientists are the best judge of the health service, man is the measure of all things in architecture. For example, the most glaring flaw in the utopian writing of H G Wells is his failure to address the issue of aesthetic leadership. So whereas he very much pushed the idea of handing technical environmental problems to scientists, he was much less clear about who should lead in matters that pertain to the psyche. In fact, his blindness to human personality left him imaging a world utopia full of what comes across as almost English gentlemen living in Chelsea.
What do Age Of Enlightenment idealists say about the health care vs architecture debate? They say hospitals should be run by elite doctors, and cities should be designed by elite architects. Fredrick The Great basically grouped arts and sciences together, so a painter was just classified as a type of craftsman, and the words "art" and "science" were almost interchangeable. The basic idea here is that whilst the liberal artist is not a philosopher, in other words he can not make a rational decision about the appropriateness of different architectural styles for different people, what he is good at is getting the hang of a certain architectural style and then sticking to it. Now think of the traditional King as someone who is brought up to embody the ideal national archetypal, or the Philosopher King as a scientist of human nature who impersonates the ideal national archetypal the way an actor impersonates a part, and imagine the liberal artists aiming at him rather than focusing on the masses. Like a powerful magnet that passes its energy onto the iron in men's blood, the idealism of the King then passes into the liberal artists, and they end up producing the good even though they don't really understand the philosophical purpose of their designs any more than the builder who manifests their architectural drawings understands the architectural purpose of his bricks and mortar.
Think carefully about the Marlborough Man again. The challenges a cowboy conquers whilst he is at work creates a zeitgeist, a psychological type. For example, a Diamond Cutter requires a completely different personality to that of a Cow Hand because the work requires a different style. Now imagine you want to bring a child up as a cowboy, you can get him ready for his future occupation by exposing him to cowboy cultural forces. Think about children playing at Doctors and Nurses or Cowboys and Indians, what they are trying to do catch hold of a certain lifestyle, and although it won't make them into real experts (whatever Protagoras says), these poetic things do have an important role to play because they prepare the child for the future. For example, children copy their parents, so when the son of a lawyer finally grows up, he will learn to be a lawer far faster than the son of a non-lawyer. The liberal arts is an extension of this same beautiful process which instils the right outlook and values by osmosis. Do you see? The muse is a sort of nuclear power, in the hands of a philosopher he can rapidly establish sophisticated working practices, but left to his own devices he will lead all the children to hell like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. One is like the nuclear reactor that saves the world from climate change, the other like the nuclear bomb that destroys the world.
So the world is pulled apart when society looses its understanding of liberal arts, and imagines that it's the same thing as philosophy or statesmanship instead of a stream of consciousness poring out of the psyche like a bird at song, and let the liberal artists lead instead of making them follow the King. The bad liberal artist outsells the good liberal artist because he panders to love of crowds of young people instead of striving for the love of wise old Kings, and over and over again in history we have had long periods of cultural decline which seem progressive for a while but gradually end up revolving around the lust for sex and violence in young men. Today liberal arts is again reaching toward this Athenian Democracy / Sodom and Gomorrah / 1930s Germany endpoint. The liberal arts problem is even well know in the world of business too: a tinker inherits a fortune and decides to open an Italian restaurant, so he employs an interior designer and because he is man without taste he gives the designer total freedom, and the artist ends up building something that looks marvellous but is more like a London night club than an Italian café, and the business fails economically. A liberal artist is a very dangerous thing unless long experience doing one thing has turned him into a perfectly tuned string. At the same time, if he is tuned correctly, touched perhaps by Apollo the god of music, or Artemis the god of incantations, the liberal artist is a farmer of people who can raise the dead.
So idealists talk about changing the culture around the liberal arts to make it much more elitist and idealistic. They talk about Napoleon's rejection of romanticism and the way he tore down architectural squalor and completely rebuilt much of Europe in the "Empire Style" reflecting the idealism of Ancient Greece. They have no more interest in tacky capitalist villas than they have in brutal communist tower blocks, what they care about is building cities as sublime as Mozart's Masses and as exuberant as Bach's Cantatas. Even in China today we see these same themes just beginning to evolve, for example the censorship of downmarket television, the rapid improvement in educational standards, the promotion of Classical Music - although I think Confucius would be horrified by the godforsaken concrete capitalist cities that have sprung up across China like mushrooms. Let's take an example from food: Brie Cheese is a real art, but Kraft Cheese is just something an accountant working at a chemical factory dreamt up one day to satisfy people who have no taste in food. In an objective economy Kraft cheese should be banished because it has no elitism nor communal love. Essentially it is a godless product, it is the opposite of the 'make the world better' type idealism that Steve Jobs said every genuine entrepreneur should strive to achieve. Advocates of scientific government don't want a bozo bohemian capitalist junk economy based on psychological advertising and ugly houses and mindless films and social networking, they want an economy in which everyone keeps his mind on his job and thinks of himself as a idealist working toward a model of perfection who knows and cares for nothing else. Think of the way Steve Jobs dominates mobile phones and distains market research, imagine something similar rolled out across multiple industries. Instead of a superstitious wasteful laissez-faire capitalism we end up with an idealistic utopia with a concentrated calculated collection of both beautiful, functional and efficient products.
So when people sit in their arm chair reading and commenting on newspaper stories, or browse the internet for consumer goods, or snap terrible photos on their throw away camera for facebook, they are not focusing and striving for perfection, they are just rotting their brains. Like those dangerous faithless poets they start claiming there is no right or wrong way, they can't be contradicted, they think they can answer everything by guesswork, their though processes become increasingly superstitious and irrational and immature. Think about William Shakespeare's speech "To Be, Or Not to Be", since the Victorian Romantic era British literary intellectuals have worshiped Shakespeare, and today this speech is arguably the most famous and critically acclaimed example of liberal artistry in the English language. Socrates used to analyse poetry, let's try and follow his example and ask whether or not the speech is beneficial to society. It sounds like he stole the title from an Ancient Greek debate between inspired Dionysians and detached Orphics, but most people think what Shakespeare was trying to say is "Shall I try to fight against the problems of life, or shall I commit suicide", yet nobody is completely sure because it is full of self contradictions. If, as it in fact quite likely, it is a speech about suicide, it is completely nihilistic because it makes no attempt to address the debate using some of positive values such as integrity and love Jesus talked about, nor does it talk about avoiding some of the negative values Buddha talked about; it seems to resolve the debate by looking for the most cowardly selfish possible solution, namely the pure minimization of personal suffering. In other words the speech seems to head toward exactly what Buddha said we should aspire not be, and away from exactly what Jesus said we should aspire to be. Yet by in large the speech is admired as nothing more than an incomprehensible stream of nice sounding words, yet this is a completely hopeless and totally bohemian way of thinking about the world that turns people into vapid vegetables. In other words it seems that critics of Shakespeare such as Tolstoy were right- the world's most famous bit of poetry is not just shallow and callow but probably even spiritually bankrupt- what more damming indictment of the state of modern elite humanities could there possibly be?
The closest thing to objective culture in the world today is in Germany and Singapore, and the terrible truth is that the so called "knowledge economy" on which the Anglo-Saxons have bet their future is really the "bohemian economy", it is like an upside version of the Renaissance in which people think one should guess at everything instead of focusing on it, except this time round what makes a person a noble judge is not the ability to speak dozens of languages, but rather the ability to condense everything down into a popular tweet, and it is tuning the Anglo-Saxons into zombies, not just the people making it, also the people consuming it.
If you ask a person why he believes in democracy, and keep digging down the way Socrates loved to cross examine people, he will invariably end up falling back on Winston Churchill's quote "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried" - the old idea that power corrupts. But Winston Churchill was not a philosopher, he was journalist with a drink problem who declared a war he wasn't ready for, a war which would probably have destroyed his country if the Russians hadn't saved his skin, and he forced the Germans into a militarily pointless tit for tat civilian bombing campaign that ruined the architectural heritage of both England and Germany and killed vast numbers of women and children. Yet Churchill's "power corrupts" idea does have some basis in truth. The terrible truth is that power, fame and wealth are toxic for people who make decisions by moral compasses. Jesus talked about Camels, Socrates said:
(1) Imagine a ship [metaphor for Athenian liberal democracy] in which there is a captain [Pericles] who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but he is a little deaf and a little blind, and his knowledge of navigation is not much better. The sailors are quarrelling with one another about the steering of the ship, every one of them is of opinion that he has the right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation, and cannot tell who taught him, nor when he learned the skill. Indeed the sailors further assert that navigation is not a skill, that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary. They throng about the captain, begging and praying to takeover the helm, and if at any time they do not prevail, but others are preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard. They try to chain up the captain with drink or narcotic drugs, then they mutiny and take possession of the ship. They make free with the stores, and whilst eating and drinking to their hearts content they proceed on their voyage in such manner as might be expected of them. Whomever is their partisan and cleverly aids them, whether by force or persuasion, in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain's hands and into their own they compliment with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman. They abuse and call good-for nothing the other sort of man, the true pilot [Philosopher King] who pays attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds and whatever else belongs to his art. It never seriously enters their mind to think of the steerer's art as a professional calling requiring qualification.
(2) The Sophists [politicians], in fact, teach nothing but the opinion of the many, that is to say, the opinions of their assemblies; and this is their wisdom. I might compare them to a man who should study the tempers and desires of a mighty strong and terrible beast [the masses] who is fed by him. He learns how to approach and handle him, also at what times and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what is the meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when another utters them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may suppose further, that when, by continually attending upon him, he has become perfect in all this, he calls his knowledge wisdom, and makes of it a system or art, which he proceeds to teach, although he has no real notion of what he means by the principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls this honourable and that dishonourable, or good or evil, or just or unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the great brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast delights and evil to be that which he dislikes; and he can give no other account of them except that the just and noble are the necessary, having never himself seen, and having no power of explaining to others the nature of either, or the difference between them, which is immense.
(3) Do you really think, as people so often say, that our youth are corrupted by Sophists? Are not the public who say these things the greatest Sophists of all? Do not the people themselves educate to perfection young and old, men and women alike, and fashion them after their own hearts? When they meet together at political assembly, or in a court of law, or a theatre, or a pub, and there is a great uproar, and they praise some things which are being said or done, and blame other things, equally exaggerating both, shouting and clapping their hands, and the echo of the rocks and the place in which they are assembled redoubles the sound of the praise or blame--at such a time will not a young man's heart, as they say, leap within him? Will any private training enable him to stand firm against the overwhelming flood of popular opinion? Or will he not be carried away by the stream? Will he not have the notions of good and evil which the public in general have? Will he not do as they do, and as they are, such will he be?
Perhaps that is why Socrates avoided democracy like the plague even though he was the smartest person in society and lived through the implosion of Ancient Athens and the death of a large percentage of the population all brought about by the incompetence of politicians. Can you imagine that? The wisest man in Greece, the man whose student Plato wrote the most important book about political philosophy known to the modern world, avoided public office because he said democracy is so dysfunctional there is nothing he could even contribute to it.
Government should be more like the army, generals are not rich celebrities giving speeches to the multitude but rather austere living professionals who spend their life fighting other professionals in reasoned debate. Like Odysseus they evolve out of a long painful journey to the top which involves real world challenge and demonstrates great talent, and they should only get to stay at the top as long as they keep winning. Think about Socrates, he couldn't impress crowds, but he could beat everyone in expert verbal debate. Socrates didn't care about money or power, he dressed in rags and devoted his entire life to helping people. If you can't find a Socrates give the job to a person like Roger Penrose, Britain's most eminent scientist, or if he turns it down let the Royal Society choose another scientific expert. The idea of the tyrant dictator is an old fashioned fallacy that imagines politics as the sort of sophistic children's game politicians today play on TV. Companies have CEO's, they don't run on democracy, failing CEO's resign or are sacked by the board of directors, arguing that democracy is the best possible system because Hitler was worse makes no sense at all. Hitler was a bohemian populist orator not a scientist, he was elected by the masses and despised by the elite, I hope that 21st Century Europe is grown up enough to build a government as professional as Singapore - because our democratic world is gradually falling to pieces and if we are too stupid to choose a wise leader we will surely end up with another dangerous bozo.
The Distant Dream of Platonic Utopia
Beyond Scientific Government lies the sort of philosophical utopias described by Plato and Confucius. Science has limits, to run a country you also have to understand human nature, eg you need to find ways to motivate people and educate people. In fact the most obvious observation one can make about modern statesmen compared to great figures from the past such as Bismark or Thatcher is that they have no skill in psychology, they can't describe the difference between an Italian and a German nor anyone else. The closest profession to a statesman in society is the military commander because to build armies and win wars one has to combine the psychological and the technical. If we lived in Ancient Rome it would be easy to find a statesman, we would choose a man like Marcus Aurelius. The problem today is that modern military commanders are much less talented than they were back in Ancient Rome because we live in a largely peaceful world. For example, one of big lessons of the Second World War was that many officers who had been highly regarded before the war began subsequently proved completely ineffective when the fighting started. Only challenge brings out the best in men and separates the men from the boys so to speak.
Socrates said the philosopher grows out of the mathematician / scientist who tires of materialism and undertakes a scientific study of human though processes by analysing dialogue (Phaedo). By carefully analysing the arguments of orators, Socrates began to uncover the psychodynamic principles which journalists appeal to when they talk about politics. So Socrates was really a psychologist, but not a psychologist who relied on empirical statistical studies, but rather a very powerful abstract thinker who focused very carefully on what people were saying, and went on to derive models of how men think and how they should self improve. In this way he recovered the long lost ideas of saints and sages about how to lead a good a life. So serious Ancient Greek philosophy is the science of spiritual growth, it is the search for objective models of society and human personality, allowing a person to find the long lost snow covered path up the mountain back to god. If you like it is a tool kit which allows society to build a new faith, on the one hand sit warriors such as Socrates who refute everything, on the other hand sit priestesses such as Diotim who give birth to inspired theories, and the end product is a new perfect faith, ie religious leaders such as Jesus. So one can think of Plato's Utopia as a sort of combination of Fredrick the Great with Diotim and Socrates instead of Christianity.
That brings up back to the Maze example for the finish of our article. I think the story is not really about Theseus the scientist, but rather Theseus the philosopher. I think what Theseus did is analyse the evolution of society dividing it into phases, allowing him understand the philosophical essence of various historical choices, allowing him to avoid the endless repetition of past mistakes that condemns society to gradual disintegration, allowing him to create a new golden age in a true end of history style moment. We think society is improving because we measure progress by the "Promethium Fire" Hephaestus uses to make life more comfortable, but wisdom is not skill in arts and sciences. Beds of roses weaken us and we spend most of history going downhill only healing as a result of periodic crisis. Let's take a concrete example- in order to revive the economy after the train wreck of the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher embraced laissez-faire economics. But she was just repeating the same mistake in a slightly new and more dangerous form that was made in the run up to the Great Depression, a mistake that has been made many times in different forms throughout history, a mistake that destroys the social cohesion of society and propels it toward another crisis even more challenging that the last.