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Democracy, Ancient and Modern

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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“Poverty is not measured by how much one possesses but by how big are one’s desires.”–Plato

“A well regulated State is based on the common sense of the people.”–Giambattista Vico                

“No one pretends that Democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.” –Winston Churchill

In a relativistic age which beliefs in functional relativistic truths but not in Truth itself, when consequently many sing the praises of democracy but precious few can pin down its essence, a revisiting of Plato’s skeptical attitude towards it may be in order. It may lead us to a surprising discovery, that of Giambattista Vico in the 18th century (see his New Science): that democracy has never been based on the rule of a few all-wise leaders and not even on that of well-learned people, i.e., the philosopher-kings and the all-powerful manipulating politicians, but on the “common sense” of all the people.

The statement on democracy quoted above was proffered by Churchill in the House of Commons on the 11th of November 1947 at the origins of the EU. Some have assumed that Churchill had Plato’s critique of democracy in mind when he proffered it. That assumption is based on a kind of rationalism devoid of imagination which ends up missing the irony of Churchill’s statement, not to speak of the paradoxical nature of Plato’s critique of democracy in The Republic.

Indeed, in an age of relativism, when many sing the praises of democracy as the gift of the age of Enlightenment, ignoring the fact that in reality its cradle is ancient Athens, when others (the futurists who run on cars with no rear view mirrors) say that its essence may have changed even in the last fifty years or so, and will keep on changing faster and faster, while precious few bother to explore its essence, its ambiguity and paradox, perhaps a revisiting of Plato’s critique of democracy may be worthwhile. In book VI of The Republic Plato narrates a parable as a way of answering this crucial question by Adeimantus: “How can you be justified in saying that cities will not cease from evil until philosophers rule in them, when philosophers are acknowledged by us to be of no use to them?” This is the parable by which Plato answers the question, via Socrates: “Suppose the following to the state of affairs on board a ship or ships. The captain is large and stronger than any of the crew, but a bit deaf and short sighted and similarly limited in seamanship. The crew are all quarreling with each other about how to navigate the ship, each thinking he ought to be at the helm; they have never learned the art of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spent any time studying it; indeed they say it cannot be taught and are ready to murder any one who says it can. They spend all their time milling around the captain and doing all they can to get him to give them the helm. If one faction is more successful than another, their rivals may kill them and throw them overboard, lay out the honest captain with drugs or drinks or in some other way, take control of the ship, help themselves to what’s on board, and turn the voyage into the sort of drunken pleasure-cruise you would expect. Finally, they reserve their admiration for the man who knows how to lend a hand in controlling the captain by force or fraud; they praise his seamanship and navigation and knowledge of the sea and condemn everyone else as useless. They have no idea that the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the wind and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control a ship (488b-d).”

The above allegory, as per Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric, can be interpreted thus: the ship is the Athenian ship of State, the rather incompetent captain is the Athenian people. The people own the state and are supreme in it, as indeed it ought to be in any democratic Republic, even a rudimentary undeveloped one. The motley crew represents the politicians who are constantly quarrelling with each other on how best to navigate the ship while regularly attempting to take the helm from the captain.

Now, it would appear that things have not changed that much in twenty four hundred years. Undoubtedly, this allegory from The Republic paints a rather bleak picture of democracy. Plato seems to be neither a “republican” nor a “democrat.” Had he lived today in the US or somewhere in the EU, he might have ended up voting for the green party. Be that as it may, some of his readers over the ages, while acknowledging his penetrating genius, have attributed to him totalitarian-elitists intellectual tendencies, the attempt to explain the whole of reality with one over-reaching theoretical scheme. This charge seems to be supported by the fact that Plato maintains a rather skeptical attitude toward the poetical in general, and that his ultimate solution to the conundrum of the political incompetence of ordinary people who own the ship of state in a democracy, seems to be that philosophers become kings or vice versa, kings become philosophers. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that he also advocated that no one is ready to be a philosopher before the age of fifty; wisdom arrives, if at all, with the experience of a life-time of virtue, or to say it with Shakespeare: “maturity is all.”

Were we to seriously survey the history of mankind we would soon find out that humanity has had as their leaders precious few philosopher-kings and an abundance of Caesars and Napoleons, people who in general are in love with Machiavellian “power politik” which they practice rationally on the chess-board of life while being completely uninterested in philosophical speculations. Exceptions are Alexander the Great (a student of Aristotle) and Marcus Aurelius, the author of The Meditations.

We would also find out that sometimes the rule of the majority turns into the tyranny of the mob which represses the few who may be branded as outsiders. This ugly phenomenon is observed and commented upon in modern times by none other than Tocqueville; despite the fact that he had great sympathies for democratic systems, he suspected that it applied to democracies also. The founding fathers of the United States were in fact so troubled by this sad tendency of human nature to rule and manipulate others, that they decided to add the Bill of Rights to a Constitution which already proclaimed and enshrined inalienable and universal truths and values.

At this point one may ask: is Plato’s critique still valid today, and if so, what are the practical consequences of ignoring it? Let us try to apply this critique to an overarching problem of modern Western Civilization, namely the principle of sustainable development. This principle would require that we change the way we live our lives. We should distinguish what we truly need from what we want, as Aristotle teaches in The Nicomachean Ethics. In other words, we the people would have to democratically agree to place a greater value on the future quality of the environment than on our present comfortable life-style. This is particularly true in the developed countries, the so called first world, such as the US and the EU.

This moral concept creates obligations not only for the common good of the present inhabitants of the world, but also toward future generations. There is a problem however: in a free market there is no normative standard of what constitutes a need and what constitutes a want. The only standard is one’s desires, as Madison Avenue well knows and as Plato intimated when he said that poverty is not measured by how little one possesses but by how big are one’s desires. In effect the idea that the majority of the people in a democracy would deprive themselves of their wants is redolent of one of Eco’s hyper-reality fantasies.

Most “successful” politicians would not risk their popularity with the ones who elected them for the sake of voters yet to be born, to wit the jettisoning of the Kyoto agreement by a President Bush and its disregard by the EU political leaders despite its pious lip service to it. Hence Plato’s dire pessimism about democracy. He would tell us this: in rational terms, you lovers of democracy have a clear choice; you can keep democracy or keep the earth cool so that you can keep on living on this earth, but you cannot do both. You may ask: what Is Plato suggesting that we opt for dictatorship or perhaps that we vote for the Green party and Ralph Nader? Not exactly, but he is however suggesting a rational pessimism about democratic governments.

The question at this point is this: is such pessimism warranted? Yes, if one keeps in mind Plato’s metaphor of the ship of State and its assumptions. No, if one challenges any of its assumptions. One such assumption is that wisdom does not reside with the people but with a select few elites: the philosopher-kings. However, Giambattista Vico asserts in his poetic philosophy that such an assumption is unwarranted. He has another better idea: he called the wisdom of the people “common sense” and he considered it superior to that of the few which he called “la boria dei dotti” (the conceit of the learned). He is the first philosopher to put forward a radical notion: that Homer, the blind poet, did not exist, that he is the poetic representation of the common oral tradition and wisdom of Hellas, i.e., of all the ancient Greek people which he calls “common sense.”

Vico proved this notion philologically by comparing The Iliad and The Odyssey and showing that they could not have been written by the same author. He repeatedly explains in his New Science how this common sense wisdom has, time and again, saved humankind; that Providence avails itself of that wisdom within the immanence of human history, and it is that kind of wisdom, much more than the elitist kind of wisdom of the learned parading as “leadership,” that saves humankind time and again.

Here we need to remember that in the above statement by Churchill there is an “exception:” Churchill seems to agree with Plato that democracy is inefficient, the worst kind of political system imaginable when manipulated by incompetent politicians, yes, but with the exception of all the others. This paradox that Churchill perceived and Plato seems to miss can be explained thus: when one has trust and faith in the innate wisdom of the people, then democracy begins to appear as the only possible solution to the problems of all the people, for democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people.

This explanation has been proven even empirically and mathematically based on fixed statistical laws by which most modern insurance companies operate. Two or three people are asked to guess how many jelly beans are in a jar; an average is taken and recorded. Then six more people are asked and the average is again taken and recorded. Twelve people are than asked and the average is taken and recorded again. Consistently, the average for the last group will be closer to the reality of the situation than the second or the first, the second closer than the first, that of all the groups together closer than any individual group and closer than the guess of any single individual. This phenomenon was observed even by Aristotle who observed that the decisions of many people tend to cancel out the blunders of a lonely tyrant or even a group of tyrants, hence democracy is always preferable.

In practical terms, the above statistical mathematics proves that one can trust the common sense of all the people more than the conceited knowledge of a few elites. Not to do so, is to risk ending up with dictatorship, albeit that of a philosopher-king. Which is to say, trusting the people, the way an Abraham Lincoln did, for example, when he advocated a government of the people, for the people, by the people, has far better consequences than not trusting them, as a Machiavelli would suggest in his Prince and his geo-political considerations.

Indeed, few people would cooperate with a State that denied them some sort of participation in the decisions affecting their own lives. They would only do so under coercion. In conclusion we can say that from a purely rational viewpoint Plato was justified in being skeptical of democracy, nevertheless he was wrong in the assumption that it was a mere matter of logic and rationality; it is also a matter of imagination and faith: faith in the ultimate wisdom of the “common sense” of the people.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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New Social Compact

The power of love: comparison of two romantic relationships

Elchin Hatami

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The article illustrates the role of love in two romantic relationships based on two novels. Conrad and Jeanine are the two main characters in “Ordinary People”, a novel by Judith Guest [1], and also Don and Rosie have similar roles in “The Rosie Project,” which was written by Graeme Simsion. The books were published at different times and were written about different societies and conditions. Although Conrad’s relationship with Jeanine and Rosie’s friendship with Don have some similarities, their relationships are mostly different. Don and Conrad have various mental disorders. Conrad’s problem appeared because of events that happened in his life, but Don’s disorder is genetic, and he needed to learn how to communicate with people. The relationship between Conrad and Jeannine helps Conrad to get better and accept that horrible event as the reality of his life. On the other hand, Don has problems with socializing and cannot communicate with women well. Finally, he fell in love with Rosie, and the power of that love caused him to fix his behavioral problem. Rosie and Jeanine’s presence and love affected Conrad and Don and helped the two men began to heal considerably.

According to the novels “Ordinary People” and “The Rosie Project,” their relationships happened at different times and in different regions. Conrad and Jeannine are younger than Don and Rosie. Naturally, their thoughts and feelings were different from Don and Rosie’s. For example, in the first meeting, it seems that Conrad had a positive attitude about Jeannine and just looked for her beauty. The first time when they talked to each other, they had a friendly greeting. After the greeting, Jeannine and her friend turned away, and Conrad walked blindly behind them, down the hall toward history class (Ordinary People, p.21). In contrast, Don, when he first visited Rosie, did not empathize with her. He could not tolerate her differences, and though her lifestyle and characteristics were not familiar to him; then, he found her unsuitable for his Wife Project. For instance, when Rosie said she was a vegetarian, he thought vegetarians and vegans could be incredibly annoying (The Rosie Project, p.51). He also found her smoking inappropriate and criticized her smoking habit; “Smoking is not only unhealthy in itself and dangerous to others in our vicinity, but it is also a clear indication of an irrational approach to life” (The Rosie Project, p.57). In fact, Conrad found Jeanine more attractive at the first meeting, but Don showed no interest in Rosie, and he was agitated when he saw Rosie was completely different than he expected. Moreover, during Conrad and Jeanine’s relationship, it can be recognized that they loved each other, and Conrad was a very kind partner to Jeanine. For example, when she talked about her parents and cried, Conrad lifted her chin with his hand and kissed her (Ordinary People, p.200). The events in the novel showed that Conrad always had romantic behavior. Jeanine also had a good agreement with him. For instance, she encouraged him to write the song and notate it. “I love it. Let’s notate it, okay? I have got some paper. Here, play it again. It is so lovely and clean” (Ordinary People, p. 245). Conversely, Don was very selfish. He just set his schedules, thought about himself and did not care about Rosie’s feelings. In the laboratory, when he was testing the DNA samples for the Father Project, he hurt Rosie’s feelings and said, “Presumably, you think it is to initiate a romantic relationship.” Rosie answered, “The thought had crossed my mind.” Don continued with this sentence, “I am extremely sorry if I have created an incorrect impression. I am not interested in you as a partner. I should have told you earlier, but you are completely unsuitable.” Rosie said, “Well, you will be pleased to know I can cope. I think you are pretty unsuitable too” (The Rosie Project, p.125). Consequently, Don and Rosie’s relationship was completely different from Conrad and Jeanine’s affair. It seemed that it was one-sided love that eventually changed during the relationship.

Finally, at the end of the novel, Conrad and Jeanine’s love affair raised their life expectancy and helped them to forget their pasts that had subjected them to terrible events. The author illustrated that they were happy after forming a deep relationship, and portrayed the result of their relationship with the following sentences: “He squeezes her tightly, feeling the sense of calm, of peace slowly gathering, spreading itself within him. He is in touch for good, with hope, with himself, no matter that” (Ordinary People, p.251). Therefore, the presence of Jeanine helped Conrad’s mental problem got better and returned to a healthy life. In contrast, Don and Rosie’s relationship process was different. They went to New York City, and in the hotel, when Rosie opened the door wearing only a towel, he recognized that she was extremely attractive and fell in love with her (The Rosie Project, p.221). First, Rosie kissed him, and then he kissed her back; again, she responded (The Rosie Project, p.223). When he declared his marriage intention to her, she refused and said, “Don, you do not feel love. You cannot love me” (The Rosie Project, p.269). After that, he began to change his behavior. He thought he should open his life socially to a wider range of people and decided to fix his behavior. In fact, he struggled to solve his communication and empathy problems, which were defining symptoms of the autism spectrum, to win Rosie’s love and feeling.

In conclusion, Conrad and Jeanine’s relationship in comparison with Don and Rosie’s dating have happened at different times, in different places, and involved different situations. Despite the differences, both events lead to similar results. The presence of Jeanine and her love helped Conrad to improve his mental problem. Additionally, when Don fell in love with Rosie, he decided to change and socialize more to obtain Rosie’s good impression. The power of love treated Conrad and Don’s mental disorders significantly. On the whole, love is a powerful impression and profound feeling that often can help people overcome psychological problems. Research also has shown that individuals can obtain good health and long life via having a romantic relationship, and falling in love also can improve critical mental disorders.

Endnotes:

1. Ordinary people is a novel by Judith Guest that first published in 1976. The novel talks about life of the Jarretts, a typical American family who try to cope with the consequences of two traumatic events.

2.The Rosie Project is a 2013 Australian novel by Australian novelist Graeme Simsion. The novel is the New York Times bestseller book. The novel was written about genetics professor Don Tillman, who struggles to have a serious relationship with women.

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Invisible COVID-19 makes systemic gender inequalities and injustices visible

Muratcan Isildak

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It is no surprise that the Covid-19 epidemic is not gender-neutral in our social world, which requires everything to be sexually consequently halted economic activities and enforced social distance. The gender dimension of the outbreak is very violent and paralyzed, but they are not new and surprising. In fact, the invisible covid19 is hyper-global and largely corporate-driven, with its economic, environmental and social injustices, permanent gender inequality and sexism, severe xenophobia and racism, and new colonialism and marketed mining activity implemented by self-owned financial, political and intellectual elites has made many fault lines visible in our world visible.

In the context of the coronavirus epidemic and other systemic crises, some useful features associated with female leadership, such as knowing their own limits, motivating through transformation, putting people on top of self-praise, humility, focusing on raising others, and empathizing rather than managing others, are more gender-sensitive, egalitarian and human rights. can help improve centered responses. At the very least, the diversity of approaches and experiences in addressing public health and human safety should be an argument for more equal representation of women at all levels of decision-making. This can affect, for example, how parliaments (currently 75% men worldwide) protect and safeguard human rights, how gender-sensitive the measures they take and how they should control their implementation after Covid-19 and how we can build a better future.

The Covid-19 outbreak is not the real cause, but it is a reinforce, enhancer and aggravating of existing discrimination and injustice in our systems and societies, including crushing, using and victimizing women and girls in many areas of daily life. It does not separate viruses, societies and systems. It is not a coincidence that the dominant economic pattern and thinking are constantly exploiting existing gender stereotypes, and that women and girls are constantly underestimating their contribution to the survival of societies by making the care work invisible, worthless, low-paid, and insignificant. Therefore, the fight against corona virus should be comprehensive and systematic. This struggle cannot be limited to the virology plane and cannot be referred to improving health systems; The feminist, human rights-based, intersectional and justice-oriented analysis, based on nationalist and authoritarian austerity and competition policies, is based on human rights, intersectional and justice-oriented analysis, cultural, political, social and economic levels. it should attack discrimination and inequality inside and outside.

Gender experts and feminists are wise to deal with the epidemic in their writings and analysis to begin to transform the way our societies work, the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, especially women and girls, to protect, empower and take advantage of them. it reminds us that we need to use this momentum – and initiatives, resources, research, actions and discourses. They are also making a joint effort to monitor the actions of governments and companies and to impose the responsibility to launch the fundamental changes needed now. This is a gender equality, intersectional and human rights that prioritize people’s well-being, participation in decision-making processes and access to basic services and resources, centrally for the responsibilities targeted at the local, national and global level, during and after the Covid-19 outbreak.

Finally, during a terrifying global crisis such as the Covid-19 outbreak, especially to political leadership, to both real leadership examples and failures, and therefore to societies experiencing multiple and intersecting human, economic, social, sanitary and political crises, We witness the need to re-evaluate what qualities we are looking for in leaders who are expected to guide the world after the epidemic, which is radically different from the pre-epidemic world. A series of gender experts and observers, comparing different national responses – and leadership styles – to the coronavirus crisis, is not the debt of female leaders in different countries such as Taiwan, New Zealand and Germany, and female heads of states in some Scandinavian countries, in times of crisis to empathize and diligently. points out that they emphasize that there is power. The success of the epidemic in limiting the worst excesses in their country is even more impressive, given that at the start of the epidemic, only 10 out of 152 elected presidents, and therefore only 7% of all global political leaders, were women. Compare this to the style of a group of male leaders who use the crisis around the world, perhaps the most striking example of Hungary, who use the crisis to speed up authoritarianism and undermine the principle of separation of powers, and resort to the war of blame rather than offering stable crisis management. This shows only what social scientists have previously confirmed at various levels, that is, there are some gender differences in leadership activity.

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The Need for Humanitarian Leadership and Global Solidarity during COVID-19

Dr.Anis Ben Brik

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The coronavirus pandemic is a systemic human development crisis, affecting individuals and societies in unprecedented ways. It is also generating new humanitarian needs.

According to UN estimates, half a billion people, or 8% of the world’s population, could be pushed into destitution by the year’s end, largely due to the pandemic. If so, then the fight against poverty would be set back 30 years. The International Rescue Committee said last week that the virus could cause 1bn infections and 3.2m deaths in 34 fragile states, including Afghanistan and Syria.

The fourth annual Global Report on Food Crises highlights Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti among the countries most at risk of widespread famines caused by the coronavirus pandemic. According to World Food Programme estimates, the number suffering from hunger could rise from 135 million to more than 250 million.

The International Labour Organization reported last week that almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers (representing the most vulnerable in the labor market)out of a worldwide 2 billion and a global workforce of 3.3 billion are in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.

COVID-19 has underscored the importance of humanitarian leadership and global solidarity. On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, co-sponsored by 188 nations including Qatar, calling for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, including by exchanging information, scientific knowledge and best practices and by applying the relevant guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization.”

Solidarity is a matter of both morality and long-term vision. Failure to pass this test would leave deep psychological wounds in left-behind countries, paving the way for all manner of extremism and new crises—from pandemics to conflicts—that would threaten everyone. By rallying around science and solidarity today, we will sow the seeds for greater unity tomorrow.

The coronavirus does not respect borders. Nor does it discriminate. It brings into stark view the imperative for humanitarian leadership. This crisis has revealed variations in state capacity to contain the spread of the virus.

Many governments either lack adequate capacity to respond, or in some cases, the necessary political will to provide for their citizens. For example, the most developed countries – those in the very high human development category – have on average 55 hospital beds, over 30 physicians, and 81 nurses per 10,000 people, compared to 7 hospital beds, 2.5 physicians, and 6 nurses in a least developed country.

One can readily imagine that if the COVID-19 response has been dire in the developed countries, it is going to be infinitely more devastating for governments that have only a fraction of the financial and medical resources.

Despite the blockade, the State of Qatar stands out as one of the most actively involved in global humanitarian responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Qatar has provided significant humanitarian aid to 20 countries so far, including assistance in the field of medical supplies, building field hospitals, and contributing USD 140 million to multilateral organizations working to develop vaccines or ensure the resilience of healthcare in other countries.

To date, Qatar has sent substantial aid to China, Iran, Palestine, Italy, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Nepal and Rwanda. In addition, the representation mission of the Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS) in Turkey has recently distributed supplementary food aid to around 110,000 families at internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Idlib and Aleppo Governorates, northern Syria.

In the age of COVID-19, protecting the most vulnerable among us is not just a moral imperative but also an urgent public health objective. The health of one is the health of all.

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