It's not a pretty sight.
The trouble starts when equality before the law morphs into the bizarre
belief that all moral viewpoints are equally valid. Oh! but wait a minute!
Political correctness suggests, no, demands two provisos: 1. Self-love and
self-indulgence must be ranked as the greatest of rights; and, 2. Toleration
(for every sort of extreme) must be placed upon a throne and worshipped by
one and all as the highest of all virtues.
Have you ever heard of such an equality as this? It sounds all too familiar.
In the end, Plato informs us, a nation of, self-loving, self-worshipping
freedom-seekers find themselves bound in personal and political fetters of
their own making.
Perhaps, the Western classics have more to offer than our dumbed-down state
universities (who universally ignore and debunk their study) claim they do.
Let's give Plato a try and see what he might teach us. The dialogue is between
Socrates and Adeimantus; Socrates speaks first.
[T]he tyrannical man in the true sense of the word comes into being when,
either under the influence of nature, or habit, or both, he becomes drunken,
lustful, passionate[.] O my friend, is not that so?
Such is the man and such is his origin. And next, how does he live?
Suppose, as people facetiously say, you were to tell me.
I imagine, I said, at the next step in his progress, that there will be
feasts and carousals and revellings and courtesans, and all that sort of
thing; [Self-]Love is the lord of the house within him, and orders all the
concerns of his soul.
That is certain.
Yes; and every day and every night desires grow up many and formidable,
and their demands are many.
They are indeed, he said.
His revenues, if he has any, are soon spent.
Then comes debt and the cutting down of his property.
When he has nothing left, must not his desires, crowding in the nest like
young ravens, be crying aloud for food; and he, goaded on by them, and especially
by [self-]love himself, who is in a manner the captain of them, is in a frenzy,
and would fain discover whom he can defraud or despoil of his property, in
order that he may gratify them?
Yes, that is sure to be the case.
He must have money, no matter how, if he is to escape horrid pains and pangs.
And as in himself there was a succession of pleasures, and the new got the
better of the old and took away their rights, so he being younger will claim
to have more than his father and his mother, and if he has spent his own
share of the property, he will take a slice of theirs.
No doubt he will.
And if his parents will not give way, then he will try first of all to cheat
and deceive them.
And if he fails, then he will use force and plunder them.
And if the old man and woman fight for their own, what then, my friend?
Will the creature feel any compunction at tyrannizing over them?
Nay, he said, I should not feel at all comfortable about his parents.
But, O heavens! Adeimantus, on account of some newfangled love of a harlot,
who is anything but a necessary connection, can you believe that he would
strike the mother who is his ancient friend and necessary to his very existence,
and would place her under the authority of the other, when she is brought
under the same roof with her; or that, under like circumstances, he would
do the same to his withered old father, first and most indispensable of friends,
for the sake of some newly found blooming youth who is the reverse of indispensable?
Yes, indeed, he said; I believe that he would.
Truly, then, I said, a tyrannical son is a blessing to his father and mother
[Socrates is being sarcastic].
He is indeed, he replied.
He first takes their property, and when that falls, and pleasures are beginning
to swarm in the hive of his soul, then he breaks into a house, or steals
the garments of some nightly wayfarer; next he proceeds to clear a temple.
Meanwhile the old opinions which he had when a child, and which gave judgment
about good and evil, are overthrown by those others which have just been
emancipated, and are now the bodyguard of [self-]love and share his empire.
These in his democratic days, when he was still subject to the laws and to
his father, were only let loose in the dreams of sleep. But now that he is
under the dominion of love, he becomes always and in waking reality what
he was then very rarely and in a dream only; he will commit the foulest murder,
or eat forbidden food, or be guilty of any other horrid act. [Self]Love is
his tyrant, and lives lordly in him and lawlessly, and being himself a king,
leads him on, as a tyrant leads a State, to the performance of any reckless
deed by which he can maintain himself and the rabble of his associates, whether
those whom evil communications have brought in from without, or those whom
he himself has allowed to break loose within him by reason of a similar evil
nature in himself. Have we not here a picture of his way of life?
Yes, indeed, he said.
And if there are only a few of them in the State, the rest of the people
are well disposed, they go away and become the bodyguard or mercenary soldiers
of some other tyrant who may probably want them for a war; and if there is
no war, they stay at home and do many little pieces of mischief in the city.
What sort of mischief?
For example, they are the thieves, burglars, cutpurses, footpads, robbers
of temples, man-stealers of the community; or if they are able to speak they
turn informers, and bear false witness, and take bribes.
A small catalogue of evils, even if the perpetrators of them are few in
Yes, I said; but small and great are comparative terms, and all these things,
in the misery and evil which they inflict upon a State, do not come within
a thousand miles of the tyrant; when this noxious class and their followers
grow numerous and become conscious of their strength, assisted by the infatuation
of the people, they choose from among themselves the one who has most of
the tyrant in his own soul, and him they create their tyrant.
Yes, he said, and he will be the most fit to be a tyrant.
If the people yield, well and good; but if they resist him, as he began
by beating his own father and mother, so now, if he has the power, he beats
them, and will keep his dear old fatherland or motherland, as the Cretans
say, in subjection to his young retainers whom he has introduced to be their
rulers and masters. This is the end of his passions and desires.
When such men are only private individuals and before they get power, this
is their character; they associate entirely with their own flatterers or
ready tools; or if they want anything from anybody, they in their turn are
equally ready to bow down before them: they profess every sort of affection
for them; but when they have gained their point they know them no more.
They are always either the masters or servants and never the friends of
anybody; the tyrant never tastes of true freedom or friendship.
And may we not rightly call such men treacherous?
Also they are utterly unjust, if we were right in our notion of justice?
Yes, he said, and we were perfectly right.
Let us then sum up in a word, I said, the character of the worst man: he
is the waking reality of what we dreamed.
And this is he who being by nature most of a tyrant bears rule, and the
longer he lives the more of a tyrant he becomes.
Plato hits the nail on the head. Liberty, defined by license, is but a dream.
Inevitably, we reap what we sow. Who should be surprised that a culture of
selfishness breads a nation of idlers and infidels, drunkards and dependents,
scoundrels and sluts, power-hungry politicians and apathetic citizens, and
thus a nation, ripe for tyranny?
And although, this sounds, in some ways, very much like America today, there
is hope;—for the "anything goes" paradigm and its accompanying
social anarchy, often spawns a revival of conservatism, as we also see in
America today. The trouble is, as Plato asserts elsewhere in "The Republic," the
bad guys know all about that probability; in fact, they plan on it, even
pray for it. Such movements can be and are easily hijacked by opportunists
and revolutionaries, men who pedal a law and order agenda, in order to get
elected—and then the real trouble begins.
Either way, "tolerant," self-centered democracies, unchecked by
law and morality, tend to vote themselves a tyranny. Fair warning that conservative
Americans have a right, even a duty to stand up and say, "No!" to
free-for-all tolerance! Lest legal lines once clearly drawn in the granite,
become lines, faintly drawn in the sand, awaiting the first blast of hot
air to come along and blow them away.
Plato had it right, but perhaps, Benjamin Franklin summed it up best, "Only
a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt, they
have more need of masters."