If there is any single point upon which political thinkers and philosophers are agreed, it’s the very notion that democracy as a system of administering governance is imperfect. Democracy has it’s faults and loopholes. As an idealistic conception, it comes short of the very idealistic prognosis upon which it is based when tested against the hard face of reality. As a human invention, democracy is bound to be imperfect. Tomas Masaryk tied it together by saying “democracy has its faults, because people have their faults. Like teacher, like pupil.”
Democracy in its idealistic romanticism couldn’t have accurately factored in all possible human responses, which in all practical sense, are innumerable. This in itself exposes a gapping hole. Thus, as a system of administering governance, democracy is bound to roll through glitches which will dilute the very ideal it seeks to establish. In the end, democracy is only the best among the rest, not necessarily a perfect option on its own. This is more accurately put together by Winston Churchill when he said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the other options that have been tried”.
The ideal of a government within democracy is also no less troublesome. Thomas Paine once opined that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Government provides a continuous conundrum which indicts the reasons for its very existence. It has within its own chamber, a peculiar danger that hurts and soothes at will, a raging contradiction. Government so often live at variance with its reason for existence, sometimes interfering against rights it exist to protect. Ayn Rand reflects on this, noting that “potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.” So often, government is nothing but an unwelcome inference. This must have informed Henry David Thoreau submission that “that government is best that governs the least”.
In Athens – the place where it all began, democracy was at best experimental, and had fierce competition from other system of government, particularly oligarchy and timocracy. It was there that the inherent weaknesses of democracy began to appear to early thinkers. The philosophical elites of course only saw democracy as a last resort in the absence of more credible alternatives. Socrates, and later Plato, thus had a window of opportunity to both access and critique democracy in its formative stages through direct observation. The shortcomings were clear: the illiteracy of the electorate and the unwillingness of the wise to participate.
While the Athenian democracy is as a matter of fact very different from the democracy we know today, it still was the cradle of modern democratic civilization. Moreover, many of the weaknesses highlighted by Socrates and Plato are still reflected in our modern democracy. Democracy simply has no sure safeguards against incompetency. Socrates was quick to highlight how the dullest could attain a position of authority within a democracy, stressing that democracy does not guarantee that the most competent will lead. He was himself trialled and executed by what Plato describes as an incompetent jury.
Plato, a student of Socrates was no less critical of democracy. In Athenian democracy, not all men met the criteria required to vote, and of course, women couldn’t vote too. In Plato’s pursuit of what the ideal nation should be, he made an elaborate exposition on what constitute the human being, his emotions and intellect. In his final analysis, he divided his hypothetical republic into different classes and contends that each man ought to take an occupation in the area of his most obvious talents. In his ideal nation, he envisioned the concept of “philosopher kings”. In line with his earlier submission, he argued that only those who seek after wisdom, who have demonstrated competence in the art of governance should be allowed to lead. It was this group (that sought after wisdom) that he described as philosophers, and stressed further that until they are allowed to lead (become philosopher king), the republic cannot become perfect.
In effect, democracy must consistently allow the best and most competent to lead before it can attain perfection. His other predictions turned prophecy on how a tyrant could emerge within a democracy has come to fulfilment time and again throughout the course of human history.
Central to all these criticism is the proven incompetence of the people at selecting competent leaders. Not only is democracy faulty, the people are no less faulty. By appealingto their immediate emotional needs, a skilled politician can woo the electorate to get him elected regardless of his competence for the job he is vying for. In many cases, by offering instant gratification through an enthralling oration, the people become spellbound and charmed into serving his desires. And because the majority are easily entangled in an emotional cobweb and bought over at little price, the politician is able to have his way with minimal fuse. This way, the people shortchange their long-term wellbeing for a trifling peanut in the name of exercising their democratic rights.
Moreover, this establishes a trend of incompetence and ineptitude, which diffuse into the mainstream political culture of a people. With time, the awareness of the need for competence in governance will be replaced by a gradual acceptance of a subnormal reality. The politician too, having successfully turned the abnormal into the new norm, expends no efforts at acquiring competence in the art of leading. On the contrary, they pay particular attention to fine tunning their oratory and persuasion skills. Over time, they perfect a winning formula that is proven with accuracy, the summing point of which is to weigh the people’s biases and sentiments, and to meet their needs by every means necessary. Falsehood, which in the business of real politicking is a legitimate tool, comes in handy to inflate the disillusion of the unlearned. Deception, through sky high promises that they have no intention of keeping comes in handy too. In the end, because the political class has already turned the people’s eyes away from the need for competence, and have subtly redefined competence itself, they find no compelling reason to acquire it. Thus, the people may end up with a clueless government that produces poor governance or no governance at all.
This however is where education comes to the rescue. Education by design is aimed at the development of the individual – emotionally, intellectually, psychologically and spiritually, the essence of which is to equip the individual for a wholesome life. His development through impartful education enhances his maturity and his capacity to discharge his social and career responsibilities. This also makes him a competent citizen who by reason of his sound education, understand his civic duties and the implications of his political choices. This way, he becomes a responsible member of the society who actively contribute to the progress of the society – socially, economically and politically.
However, without such impartful education, he is incapacitated and unable to fulfill the duty of a citizen effectively. Moreover, without such education, a man may become unaware of his true needs, and hence becomes an easy prey for the desperate politician. Through certain deprivations, politicians may synthetically induce a false sense of awareness of a need that doesn’t in reality exist. By appearing to meet those needs, the politician is able to win the trust of the uneducated and thereby enslave him to serving his own desires.
Thus, over time, a rigid mindset is formed in the psyche of the poor and illiterate that overwhelms him with a feeling of inferiority and neediness. It is instructive to note further that while the politician plays the role of the instigator, lack of, or inadequate education, not poverty, is responsible for infusing such a wrong mentality. In many cases, poverty is an artificial invention, which infuses the awareness of a false need. This sense of a false need, makes the poor to think that all he need is money. Thus, when a politician appears on the scene to provide the money he thinks he desperately need, his sense of need is instantly gratified. In return, he offers the politician his trust and vote, not realizing that he had been the victim of a massive manipulation scheme.
Again, he soon exhaust the money and become overwhelmed by a gnashing sense of poverty and a strong awareness of the need for money again. In between, he fails to see how his lack of education informs his outlook and mentality, and how his political choices informs his reality. More importantly, he doesn’t realize that his political decisions only serve to perpetuate his poverty. This thus forms a cycle that goes on and on. In the long run, lack of education has a crippling effect on democracy and enhances the probability of the emergence of a tyrant.
An untrained mind is more easily swayed by the persuasions of the ambitious politician. Also, the faculty for objective reasoning becomes duller and rusty through lack of use or lack of adequate education. The more a person exercises himself in active reasoning, the more his capacity for objective reasoning improves. Curiously, until reason and justice becomes the defining attributes of a nation state, it cannot become an abode of peace and prosperity.
However, sound education enhances the mental awareness of the people and empower them to discern the cunningness and deception of the desperate politician. Such development thus empowers the layman to both understand his environment, and to take an increasingly active role in designing and effecting his future.
It is instructive to note further that as the educational index of the citizenry improves, it alters the disequilibrium between the led and those leading. The more educated the citizens are, the more they demand for competence from those leading. This can be unsettling for the politician at first, as his usual antics and cajoling no longer elicit the same effect. With time, the politician realises that to earn the trust and vote of the electorate, he must acquire or feign competence in some form. This becomes a perplexing dilemma for the politician. He thus brood over his fading charm and digs for a con’s sleight in a slurry desperation to salvage his dwindling political fortune. Thus, while preaching the need for quality education to swindle a scoop of political capital, he does the hard job of masking the cringing sensation within, reminding him that improving real education spells his end. Consequently, he speaks so highly of his proposed educational revolution which will bring quality and wholesome education to all, but he does exactly the opposite once the curtains granting view to the public closes. He makes saying one thing and doing another a daily practice.
However, this thinly veiled hypocrisy is easily spotted by the enlightened. While the enlightened usually count among the minority, by the strength of will and courage, he can bend the scale towards justice, thereby evening the prospect of quality education for all. Instructively, this reflects the sacred duty of the educated: to ensure that wholesome education is not restricted to a few, but made the legitimate entitlement of all persons.
To arrive at this crucial point however requires a solitary journey in a soulish search, sober reflections and creative introspection, thinking deeply and finding answer to what constitute the greatest good to the individual. While this is a peculiar journey that only few takes, it is indeed necessary, and the effects are quite profound. A scrupulous walk through this journey will lead to a simple conclusion: that we are all caught in an inescapable web that intertwine our individual fate with the collective. This was more beautifully weaved together by Martin Luther king Jr when he wrote from the Birmingham city jail that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”.
The educated must thus realize that vying for the common good is indeed out of his own enlightened self-interest. He understands that no one fulfill fate in isolation, and that in reality, the individual is but a single strand in a complex network of beings, and therefore subject to the common fate. The enlightened, now aware of this reality, finds a compelling reason to commit to fronting the common good.
However, the educated within a democracy must realize that promoting the common good inevitably requires educating the masses. The biggest shift or change within a democracy can only begin to emerge through the education of the electorate. This must therefore become the biggest concern for the educated. Education empowers, and remains the best hope for democracy. Its denial therefore strangulates the survival of democracy and hasten the advent of tyranny. Democracy is weakened by an illiterate citizenry who are too underdeveloped to stake a claim to dignity and honor. In fact, they are clueless about such possibilities and have thus relinquished the control of their own future. As long as the majority of a people falls into this category, their future will remain bleak. It is in light of this that the educated do bear a solemn responsibility to facilitate the education of others.
On the flip side, the educated also bears another sacred responsibility to lead. In fact, this was the main concern for both Socrates and Plato, that only the most qualified ought to lead. If those who are not qualified are allowed to carry on the task of administering governance, then the collective destiny of the people is only put at peril. When incompetence has become endemic within government cycles, underperformance and underdevelopment will be the inevitable result. This reality will only become the starting point of a more virulent descent into utter chaos.
As Plato asserted, “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”