Jefferson’s Democracy

Plato had a very low opinion of democracy — perhaps because the demoi, the people, put his teacher, Socrates, to death. In any event, in the Republic where he formulates his ideal state he takes time to describe the various types of polity and the worst of the lot, in his view, is democracy. He describes at some length the types of men he is convinced such a polity, with its confusion of true liberty with license, would produce:

“When a youth, bred in the illiberal fashion that we were describing . . . and associates with fierce and cunning creatures who know how to purvey pleasures of beefy kind and variety and condition, there you must doubtless conceive is the beginning of the transformation . . .in his soul . . . .

“[The lower desires take over] and they seize the citadel of the young man’s soul, finding it empty and unoccupied by studies and honorable pursuits and true discourses, which are the best watchmen and guardians . . .

“. . .  false and braggart words and opinions charge up to the heights and take their place and occupy [the soul] of such a youth. . . they prevail, and naming reverence and awe “folly” thrust it forth, a dishonored fugitive. And temperance they call “want of manhood” and banish it with contempt, and they teach that moderation and orderly expenditure are “rusticity” and “illiberality,” and then combine with a gang of unprofitable and harmful appetites to drive them over the border.”

It should be noted that Thomas Jefferson was a Platonist. He worried that the demoi would assume too much power in the republic he helped designed. Thus, the notion was incorporated into the original Constitution, which he helped Madison design, that the direct election of such high offices as Senator and President were to be left to better qualified persons. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in order to promote the best minds to positions of preeminence in his republic. They would rule and the rest would follow out of regard for the common good. Such was the dream.

What we are seeing today, of course, is the reductio ad absurdum of Jefferson’s dream. The demoi who have been hiding under rocks for years are now crawling forth and voicing their mindless opinions, led by the worst of the worst, the Trumpet. The latest fool to issue forth is the well-known former basketball coach of Indiana University, Bobby Knight, who recently praised Donald Trump as another Harry Truman, saying with a smile, “he is not afraid to drop the bomb.” Can anyone be that stupid? Trump stood by his side also with a grin from ear to ear. Jefferson must be spinning in his grave, as are Adams and Madison and the rest of those remarkable men.

The notion that such a man as Donald Trump can be a serious contender for the highest office in the land must give us pause. He is an embarrassment and totally unqualified to be “leader of the free world.” Initially, the pundits all agreed that his run would be brief and perhaps a bit comical. It has gone on much longer than anyone thought possible and it now appears as though he might actually be the Republican candidate for president. The Horror! This tells us less about Trump and more about those who blindly follow him. The very type of person Plato abhorred appears, like scum, to be rising to the top. And it appears that Bernie Sanders, who is by far our best hope to restore some semblance of Jefferson’s dream, might lose the nomination to Hillary Clinton who, in turn, appears to have a lesser chance to beat Donald Trump in the general election (if the pundits can be believed).

Something has gone terribly wrong.