Voltaire once said, “it is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce.” That was quoted more than three centuries ago, however, it still reflects an ideal championed by few today. In context, the stipulated “few” are politicians. The profession has persevered through the centuries because politicians have adapted to the changing times. Politicians were present in the early Greek city-states where slavery was a norm, in early 19th century America where African-Americans and women were restricted of their “inalienable” rights, and in our present information based society. They have been able to do this by adapting to the changing times, and because they are skilled in the art of persuasion and seduction. Two early philosophers, Plato and Kant, described this as the ability to “delude and hoodwink” unsuspecting listeners as the focal point of rhetoric. The art of persuasion and seduction are two skills that Politicians must embody in order to “conquer,” or to merely be successful in their field.
The founding of the term philosophy is attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher named Pythagoras, who derived it from the Greek word philosophia. In the English language “love for wisdom” is the translation of philosophia. Many philosophers share this love for wisdom and seek to understand the world in ways that many other men/women wouldn’t consider. Their revelations are penned and published for the public to examine and learn from. They are not held in lock and key for only the most privileged or ambitious. However, it is the most ambitious who acknowledge and seek their wisdom. Politicians of the like are well versed in philosophical undertakings. Our bodies of government and learning institutions are also direct reflections of the ideals championed by early philosophers. Life as we know it would be completely different without the contributions of these men/women in history. Therefore, it is safe to say that becoming more apt in the teachings of Socrates and Plato, or Human Understanding, as illustrated by John Locke, can elevate one of the many into the hierarchical level of the few.
Passivity is a weakness that runs rampant in the post-industrial societies that we now live in, and the power of Human Understanding is taken for granted. When it comes to Human Understanding, the fire that once burned in the stomachs of earlier humans has been put out. American Biologist, Edward O Wilson, referred to the Enlightenment era as one where the theme present was, “we want to know; we will know.” However, that is no longer the case today for many. The few “knowing ones” are now voted into power and trusted to hold the concerns of their constituents who put them there at heart if they win the race and are granted the position. As noble as that optimistic sense of blind trust may sound, it is highly unrealistic and begets stagnation. The English Philosopher named John Locke once stated, “universal consent proves nothing innate.” Too many hold these few politicians in high regards because of faculties they have achieved or knowledge attained, that the common man has not done. They blindly consent to be ruled by those they feel are more suited to a position that they can work towards filling themselves. In America, there are no innate principles that dictate who’s more likely to succeed over another, or that favors the privileged over the common man. Power and success can be sought, and the only driving force pushing one person further than another is ambition.
“Survival of the fittest” is a concept that is likened to the great 18th century naturalist named Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin illustrated how one species of birds prevails over another in competition for resources in the environment. Homo sapiens are also a species who compete for opportunities in life. The ones who are most fit prosper and the ones who are less fit suffer. The concept ultimately led to the rise of the 20th century movement known as Eugenics. Many wealthy and prominent persons hailed survival of the fittest as “the answer.” Eugenics was seen as an ideal that they must abide by in order to secure their prominence and wealth. Eugenicists believed that the most fit should survive and the damned must be put away and castrated. Schizophrenics and other “societal misfits” were put away into asylums and underwent surgeries to prevent them from reproducing. Today, as it was also done years ago, prominent persons only marry other prominent persons, and the educated usually only marry other educated people. Societal misfits marry other societal misfits from their community, and the cycle goes on.
Just like the process of natural selection that was illustrated by Charles Darwin, class breeding and marital arrangements secures the success or failure of different classes of the same species. In this case, the species I’m referring to are not birds they are humans. John Locke once stated that:
If a child were kept in a place where he never saw any other but black and white till he were a man, he would have no more ideas of scarlet or green, than he that from his childhood never tasted an oyster, or a pine-apple, has of those particular relishes (92).
Considering the children of societal misfits versus the children of prominent or educated persons, the latter are in a position where their probability of success is significantly greater. They have “tasted” the oyster illustrated and yearn for more. Hypothetically, if we were to randomly choose a politician on Capitol Hill and trace his/her bloodline, the possibility that they have other politicians in their family is very high. In contrast, if we were to choose a societal misfit at random and put them through the same process, their probability of their political lineage will be significantly lower. However, as history can prove, there are always exceptions. Every day, men and women reach levels of success and have traversed the hierarchical level from the many to the few by having ambition. As children they may have been “kept in a place” where they were limited and had no idea what and oyster may taste like, but that did not stop them from becoming successful.
Philip Salzman illustrates that there is an “iron law of politics,” which “asserts that economic equality, individual freedom, and civil peace cannot all exist simultaneously in any society.” I agree with this because as easy as “human understanding” or philosophical notions may seem to others, or myself, it does not appear that way to the many that are ruled by the few. Economic equality is achieved in other nations that do not have a democratic body of government or a capitalist system. Money is distributed equally amongst members of the population and ideally no one has more than another. Political influence is minimized extremely and there are not as many politicians that wield power as there is in our capitalist society. These other governmental systems may sound ideal, but it all occurs at a cost; ambition and initiative are diminished.
The early Greek philosopher named Socrates once stated that, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and he tried to make that credo apart of Greek life. The many that are ruled by the few seem to believe only what is familiar and comfortable. Burton F. Porter describes that choice and belief as, “the line of least resistance but it is not the path of greatest advantage.” Philosophers sought to bring an end to the “familiar and comfortable” and wanted to motivate the people into pursuing a new method of thinking; thinking for themselves. Early philosophers’ primary goal was to combat the passivity present and enlighten the common man. One of the most influential of these philosophers known today is Socrates. Socrates engaged the people of Greece in public discussions to show them that all that they knew was wrong and that the world was not as it was thought to be. He did this through a simple form of conversation now known as the Socratic method. Practicing this dialectic process of question and answer, Socrates gathered round him a crowd of young men who enjoyed seeing the powerful challenged. They wanted the “pompous deflated and took delight in being in on the kill.” In doing this, Socrates acquired a lot of enemies. He was soon convicted of “corrupting the youth and believing in strange gods” and sentenced to death.
On the opposite side of the coin we find the politician; the philosophers experiment gone wrong. Politicians undertake a method of seduction to establish a blind trust with their constituents to get voted into a position of power where his/her motives can then be fulfilled. Today the Socratic method is used in law schools as a teaching instrument. Professors assume the position of Socrates and the pupils that fill the seats in the classroom are being enlightened to his methods. The few who are ambitious enough are the ones that go onto law school. The few who are ambitious enough are the ones that are taught and versed in the Socratic method. A significant percentage of politicians hold Juris Doctorate degrees in Law.
Politicians are a direct embodiment of Plato’s “philosopher king.” If you were to lift the invisible veil covering the face of any politician, a philosopher will be revealed. In the Republic Plato writes, “there will be no end to the troubles of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world…and rulers really and truly become Philosophers.” We can equate today’s politicians to the “kings” that Plato referred to. However, Plato’s notion did not hold all true. “Philosophers” are in fact disguised as politicians, and thus can be equated to “kings” (in my comparison), but the “troubles of humanity” have not come to an end. In Americas system of government known as a democracy, politicians hold all of the power. Gerard Vries described how many modern governments today are structured so that the leader at the top, or commander in chief, is “surrounded by official advisory bodies that help to infuse political decision-making processes with expert knowledge.” A cynic may observe, however, that these institutions add to the problem, rather than solve it. This occurs because the leader is flooded with “advice about how to deal with other advice.” One in power isn’t always making decisions on his/her own; they often call on other politicians to help them.
To conclude, one thing that we can all agree on is that philosophy removed us from the Dark Age and brought us into the light. Without philosophers we would not have advanced to the point where we are today. It would be great to live in a world where we are all equals, and famines and violence are nonexistent. However, that utopian ideal is virtually impossible. Hierarchical levels and laws are needed, but that does not mean that someone who is born into a lower class can’t move-up. To move-up you must first start by changing the way you think. To become one of the “few” you must not think like the “many.” Think like a philosopher and get paid like a politician.