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ENLIGHTENED TYRANNY

The students of Socrates came from the milieu of the grand families who were often not at ease with the democratic management of Athens. This antidemocratic sentiment was exacerbated when the republic of Athens was drawn into the Peloponnesian War: a war it mismanaged with disastrous results. Alcibiades was not the only one of Socrates’s students to go over to the enemy. Xenophanes, who wrote several works in the defense of Socrates, was also one of them

When the republicans regained power, Socrates and his friends publicly advocated an enlightened tyranny. For them, the only thing wrong with the oligarchy was that it was formed by incompetent people selected by Sparta. An oligarchy of philosophers and experts would have governed better than a republic.

After the death of Socrates, Plato details, in The Republic, a political proposition that still influences various forms of totalitarian power. His first argument against democratic regimes is that a citizen rarely has the expertise to evaluate the implications at stake in a vote.49 Only a philosopher that is to say, only a person in contact with the Ideas contained in his soul has the capacity to know what has to be undertaken for the common good. The philosopher may have to lie, rig the votes, and manipulate the opinions of the citizens, if he does so to defend a position necessary for the survival of the city. In other words, he is the expert who decides what others ought to know, think, and do. This discussion also takes place in the therapeutic milieus of the twenty-first century. An Idealist therapist believes that he is in a position to decide what a patient has the right to know concerning his own health. The actual position, clearly in opposition to Idealistic propositions, is that the patient always has the right to know what one knows about him. Yet the Idealist stance is still employed in all of the world’s democracies,50 if only in their way of carrying out secret services. Some people sometimes relate the government of the European common market to a platonic oligarchy of experts instead of a democracy such as it is defined and practiced in countries such as Switzerland.

Plato touches on practices that are even more difficult to accept when, always for the good of the state, he proposes eugenics procedures. He would like the government to make it such that the most gifted would mate with each other and that individuals who are gifted for particular professions would marry each other:51

The offspring of the inferior, or of the better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious, unknown

place, as they should be.

Yes, he said, that must be done if the breed of the guardians is to be kept pure. (Plato, 1937, The Republic, V 460c, p. 722)

While waiting for the development of philosophers able to govern in an oligarchy, united by the one and only Truth, Plato and Aristotle tried to promote enlightened tyrants.

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