It’s an old story, a very old story. Who rules? The Greek city states were torn by strife between the Aristocracy (a term which comes from the Greek, aristokratía. Aristos means “excellent,” and kratos translates as “power”) the rule of the Excellent, and Democracy, which again is from Greek, demokratia, or “rule by the demos or common people”.
And then I read this blog http://quillette.com/2016/07/08/remain-vs-leave-elite-technocracy-vs-liberal-democracy/ where he discusses Elite Technocracy versus Liberal Democracy.
Both sides have good antecedents. The democrats can look back to Cleisthenes, Pericles, Locke and the English Whigs. Their stance is the citizen is central and the state must govern with the consent of the citizen. Without consent there is tyranny and the right of rebellion.
The aristocrats, or in more modern terms the technocratic elite follow Plato, Thomas Hobbes and Georg Hegel. These stress the authority and wisdom of those in government as the only ones who really understand what is going on and are the only ones equipped to make the decisions about the future.
In Greece the conflict between the two ideologies led to strife within the state between the competing groups. As always it is more complicated than a simple ‘class’ war because the leaders of the demos were often men drawn from the same wealthy class which provided the aristocracy. Personal feuds and factions complicated and intensified the battle.
Obviously personal feuds and factions are unlikely to have a part in our modern politics, doubtless the dispute between Boris Johnson and Michael Gove was over the deepest philosophical conjectures. Similarly within the Labour Party, the current bickering between Jeremy and virtually everybody else has nothing to do with the fact that his MPs see little chance of re-election with him at the helm and again is a nuanced dispute over high political principles.
The last couple of weeks have thrown the fault lines into high relief. We have those for whom the will of the demos, the common people is sovereign. (Even when they disagree with it.) We have others who believe that some people are just too stupid, or too ill-educated to be allowed to decide matters of any importance. I’ve seen suggestions that persons over a certain age should not be allowed to vote, or that there be IQ tests before people are allowed to vote. (Or in extreme cases restricting the franchise to nice people like us who live within the M25)
The Greeks had many faults, but one they don’t seem to have suffered from was political correctness. They were perfectly happy to give something the label it deserved. I think we would start seeing things far more clearly if we were to do that. Let the believers in the rule of a technocratic elite proudly stand for their principles, let them boast of them, let them flaunt them in the market place of public opinion. “The man from Whitehall knows best, trust us to look after you.”
Or we could try democracy. The problem with democracy is that it’s difficult. It demands a lot of hard work from both the leaders and the led. Leaders really have to make a constant effort to keep in touch with people, not merely to know what hoi polloi are thinking and saying, but also to educate them and explain. Leadership is a two way process, where both sides listen and are changed.
And for the led, democracy cannot work alongside the cult of celebrity and a culture which emphases me, me, me. It also works best when you have a population that have been educated, not abandoned in sink estates and sink schools.