Plato saw the same thing: "It's not that easy being green," Kermit the Frog has said.
"People tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water." Or at least, so Kermit has claimed.
Was Kermit feeling sorry for himself, or did he have a strong point? We'll leave that to the historians! But at least within our failing society, it's also "not that easy" to cast oneself in the guardian's role—to play the role within our society which Plato prescribed long ago.
Years ago, sacred Plato said a just city would need leadership from a guardian class. Indeed, he said a just city might need to be ruled by such an elite.
According to Professor Lane, Plato's Socrates said these "guardians"—these "philosopher kings" and "philosopher queens"—would have to live simply and communally. They would have to be educated in certain ways. They would have to be "dedicated to what is good for the city rather than for themselves."
They'd also have to be philosophers! Or so Plato said!
Just this once, let's be clear! Plato lived at a different time—at "the dawn of the west." When he was voicing these prescriptions through the person of Socrates, he was discussing the way to create a "just city."
He wasn't discussing the needs of a large continental nation like our own failing state.
It's estimated that Plato was born between 429 BC and 423 BC—that is, during the fifth century BC. The bulk of his adult life was therefore lived during the fourth century BC.
How large was the Athens of this day? You're asking a significant question. The leading authority on this matter offers this overview:
Estimates of the population of ancient Athens vary. During the 4th century BC, there might well have been some 250,000–300,000 people in Attica. Citizen families could have amounted to 100,000 people and out of these some 30,000 would have been the adult male citizens entitled to vote in the assembly. In the mid-5th century the number of adult male citizens was perhaps as high as 60,000, but this number fell precipitously during the Peloponnesian War...From a modern perspective these figures may seem small, but among Greek city-states Athens was huge: most of the thousand or so Greek cities could only muster 1000–1500 adult male citizens each; and Corinth, a major power, had at most 15,000.When Plato imagined the structure of a "just city," he was discussing the needs of a city-state of this general size.
The non-citizen component of the population was made up of resident foreigners (metics) and slaves, with the latter perhaps somewhat more numerous.
Plato held that this Athens should be ruled by the philosopher kings and philosopher queens who constituted the guardian class. In the modern context, one would more simply hope that various individuals and groups would step forward to play the role of the guardian, offering such expertise as may serve the public interest.
It isn't that easy being green? Given the nature of our mass society—given the situation experts are calling "the twilight of the rational animals"—it's virtually impossible to serve in the guardian role within our broken mass culture. Over the past thirty years, we've seen quite a few who have tried and failed:
We think of several efforts by Paul Krugman, including his attempt to encourage the mainstream and corporate liberal press to describe Paul Ryan as he actually is. Try and try though Krugman did, he couldn't get others to follow his lead, not even corporate liberals.
(It's an established part of Hard Pundit Law. There will always be a Judge Starr, a Ryan or a Comey who is being universally hailed as the nation's most upright person. Few Dems need apply.)
We think of Kevin Drum's attempt to present basic information about the recent history of lead exposure. Drum's attempts to spread information ran headfirst into the demagoguery of corporate clowns like Rachel Maddow, who used her high corporate platform to dumb the liberal world down as she kept selling the car.
We think, of course, of Gene Lyons' 1995 book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater, which began as a full-length report in Harper's. Alas! By "the media," Lyons principally meant the Washington Post and the New York Times. For this reason, his reporting on the early years of the war which eventually sent Donald Trump to the White House was disappeared by the various corporate players we liberals foolishly think of as our tribal leaders.
We think of our own endless work of the so-called "war against Gore," the twenty-month journalistic scam which sent George W. Bush to the White House.
As with Whitewater, so too here. This ugly, stupid war was largely conducted within the mainstream press by leading "liberal" figures. For this reason, our own attempts to serve in the guardian role were destined to be disappeared by the various mainstream careerists who pose as liberal titans.
We also think of the way the mainstream press reports domestic and international public school test scores. Returning to attempts by Krugman, we think of the way the mainstream press disappears the basic data concerning health care spending in the United States, which amounts to an astonishing form of looting.
For reasons which go unexplored/unexplained, it has been impossible to get the mainstream press to perform its normal duties with respect to such basic pieces of information. Those who try to play the guardian role with respect to such topics are destined to learn a basic sociological fact:
Performing this role in our mass corporate culture is, in the end, considerably harder even than being a frog!
In all these areas, "corporate liberal" speak-chuckers have reliably served the interests of corporate ruling interests. (Chomsky describes this process as "manufactured consent.") Meanwhile, make no mistake:
You've seen similar patterns in recent weeks concerning the liberal world's hapless attempts to address the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
In our next report from the guardians file, we'll take a brief look at Professor Wilentz's recent attempt to play the guardian role in this matter. For today, let's understand what you saw at yesterday's televised hearing.
Citizens, please! Yesterday's hearing was the latest iteration of a pattern as old as so-called humankind.
Yesterday's hearing can be viewed in more than one way, of course. Depending on which corporate channel you were being propagandized by, you were encouraged to react to the testimony in substantially different ways.
There are various ways to understand yesterday's hearing. But for those who principally saw a power elite rushing through a major power grab, we'll only say that yesterday's hearing was an echo of human experience during the age in which Plato lived.
Yesterday's hearing was the latest replay of familiar events from that earlier age. The leading authority on that era has thumbnailed the matter as shown below:
Before the first attempt at democratic government, Athens was ruled by a series of archons or chief magistrates, and the Areopagus, made up of ex-archons. The members of these institutions were generally aristocrats, who ruled the polis for their own advantage. In 621 BC Draco codified a set of "notoriously harsh" laws that were "a clear expression of the power of the aristocracy over everybody else." This did not stop the aristocratic families feuding amongst themselves to obtain as much power as possible.There's a lot to ponder there. Still, viewers of yesterday's hearing might consider the possibility that they were watching a TV rerun, in which they saw human history being relived. Consider:
Therefore, by the 6th century BC, the majority of Athenians "had been 'enslaved' to the rich", and they called upon Plato's ancestor Solon, premier archon at the time, to liberate them and halt the feuding of the aristocracy. However, the "enfranchisement of the local laboring classes was succeeded by the development of chattel slavery, the enslavement of, in large part, foreigners."
Solon, the mediator, reshaped the city "by absorbing the traditional aristocracy in a definition of citizenship which allotted a political function to every free resident of Attica. Athenians were not slaves but citizens, with the right, at the very least, to participate in the meetings of the assembly." Under these reforms, the position of archon "was opened to all with certain property qualifications, and a Boule, a rival council of 400, was set up. The Areopagus, nevertheless, retained 'guardianship of the laws'"...
Not long afterwards, the nascent democracy was overthrown by the tyrant Peisistratos, but was reinstated after the expulsion of his son, Hippias, in 510. This sort of aristocratic takeover "was ended by the appeal by one contender, Cleisthenes, for the support of the populace." The reforms of Cleisthenes in 508/7 undermined the domination of the aristocratic families and connected every Athenian to the city's rule. "Cleisthenes fixed the boundaries of the polis as a political rather than a geographical entity—boundaries which Solon had left permeable—by formally identifying the free inhabitants of Attica at that time as Athenian citizens." He did this by making the traditional tribes politically irrelevant and instituting ten new tribes...
A third set of reforms was instigated by Ephialtes in 462/1. While his opponents were away attempting to assist the Spartans, Ephialtes persuaded the Assembly to reduce the powers of the Areopagus: "in effect stripping it of all its controlling and supervisory powers and leaving it only as a court for cases of homicide and certain offences of sacrilege." At the same time or soon afterwards, the membership of the Areopagus was extended to the lower level of the propertied citizenship.
In the wake of Athens' disastrous defeat in the Sicilian campaign in 413 BCE, a group of citizens took steps to limit the radical democracy they thought was leading the city to ruin. Their efforts, initially conducted through constitutional channels, culminated in the establishment of an oligarchy, the Council of 400, in the Athenian coup of 411 BCE. The oligarchy endured for only four months before it was replaced by a more democratic government. Democratic regimes governed until Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404 BCE, when government was placed in the hands of the so-called Thirty Tyrants, pro-Spartan oligarchs. After a year pro-democracy elements regained control, and democratic forms persisted until the Macedonian army of Phillip II conquered Athens in 338 BC.
"In the wake of Athens' disastrous defeat in the Sicilian campaign in 413 BCE, a group of citizens took steps to limit the radical democracy they thought was leading the city to ruin. Their efforts, initially conducted through constitutional channels, culminated in the establishment of an oligarchy."
The establishment of an oligarchy! Especially in a mass society, citizens opposed to this type of human impulse are badly in need of the services of a capable "guardian class." They must hope that this class won't be undermined by the work of hidden corporate elites and their endless enablers.
A final note for today. In his famous Seventh Letter, Plato recorded his reaction to the ascension to power of "the so-called Thirty Tyrants." In this translation, we think Professor Lee has it just about right:
PLATO: The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown...and a committee of Thirty given supreme power. As it happened some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them, as if it were the natural thing for me to do. My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age. Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness. When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times.The democracy was soon restored, but Socrates was brought to trial on “a monstrous charge.” His subsequent execution finished off Plato as well:
“The more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult it seemed to me to govern rightly,” he said in the Seventh Letter. “Nothing could be done without trustworthy friends and supporters; and these were difficult to come by in an age which had abandoned its traditional moral code but found it impossibly hard to create a new one.”
Plato abandoned his thoughts of a political career, deciding to spend his time dreaming up the perfect republic. Yesterday, we Americans saw a version of these events on our giant screens.
“Nothing could be done without trustworthy friends and supporters, and these were difficult to come by," Plato thoughtfully said. For "trustworthy," we'd substitute "capable"—and we'd say that he was seeking the intercession of a guardian class.
Our corporate liberal pseudo-guardians have been undermining progressive interests for at least thirty years. In our next report from the guardians file, we'll consider the recent attempt of Professor Wilentz to serve in the guardian role with respect to Kavanaugh's nomination.
Also, we'll raise the question we'll be pursuing for the next several months:
Let's consider the sweep of modern history, dating back to Lord Russell's work in 1901. Where have our logicians been during that expanse of time? More generally, through what means did our "philosophers" (our philosophy professors) decide to abandon their posts?
Tomorrow: The oligarchs' most recent rise