Andrew Belonsky

We Need a Platonic Democracy

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | May 22, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: News, Plato, politics

Democracy's an imperfect, unpredictable beast. It works one place, yet disintegrates elsewhere. It's unstable, to say the least, and with continued discrimination against gay people, our country's failing the democratic task. That's why we need to reframe democracy within updated Platonic parameters.

Now, before I get too into this, I should clarify: I don't mean "platonic" as in "nonsexual friendship." In fact, I mean quite the opposite: a world in which homosexuality's taken at face value - a natural desire - and one that should be integrated into democracy.

As with Willa Cather, it can get a bit dangerous when discussing Plato in "homosexual" terms. Certainly the word didn't exist in his pre-Christ times, nor would Plato likely have adopted it for himself. He wrote as many negative things about gay people as he did positive. The man who wrote Symposium, an apparently celebration of organic gay love, also wrote disparagingly of adult gay relations. The desire was fine, sure, but people weren't meant to act on them, he would argue. Ex-gay activists make a similar argument, although Plato had a slightly more rational perspective.

His criticisms aside, many scholars assume that Plato was inclined toward men. And his take gay love offers some insight into why democracy could use a platonic makeover. On the contrary, I think that despite philosopher's prudence on same-sex love, a Platonic democracy would embrace gay sex, within reason.

For Plato, democracy and homosexuality are inherently related. "Homosexuality is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them," wrote the philosopher. "It is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love - all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce." Male-on-male love, when kept under control, could be beautiful, fulfilling and grand. In fact, it was a democratizing force.

More than being unimportant to barbarians, Plato said in Symposium, same-sex love is dangerous. Such love helps bond men, and love in general bonds society, therefore the idea of two men scared the pants off less enlightened people. To prove his point, Plato in cites the warriors Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who are credited with helping overthrown the tyrannical Hippias. Insists Plato,"[Love is] inimical to tyranny; for the interests of rules require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them; which love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by experience; for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power." The warriors' shared love, like the love in Roman phalanx, helped them overthrow a despot. A healthy democracy allows, and encourages, all love, even those between people of the same sex. Within reason...

Democracy for Plato wasn't a good thing. Not in practice, at least: too much freedom leads to unrestrained greed and tyranny amongst the upper class, and spawns a perverted liberty. Freedom becomes abandon. Asserts Plato in The Republic, "Tyranny develops out of no other constitution than democracy--from the height of liberty." He goes on, "The fiercest part of it makes speeches and transacts business, and the remainder swarms and settles about the speaker's stand and keeps up a buzzing and tolerates no dissent...." Unfettered democracy unleashes unspeakable excesses, and, worse, gives power to the masses, a group capable of abhorrent violence. Democracy, like desire, must be tempered.

Harmodius and Aristogeiton represent Plato's ideal leaders: strong, yet sensitive enough to philosophize, the perfect combination for Plato's "philosopher-kings." Democracy runs best, argues Plato, when wise people helm it. "Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one... cities will never have rest from their evils," writes Plato in The Republic.

Good democratic governance must be approached rationally. It must be motivated by a love for one's country, and your fellow countrymen. It's a Platonic love that allows liberal sexual expression, while also putting the collective will ahead of individual climax. Plato's misgivings about gay sex were likely born in his own discomfort over his own sexuality, but his perspective on gay love as a concept should be incorporated into the democratic ideal.

Though certainly we should be free to follow our carnal pleasures, the good of the nation depends on teetotalism. Democracy can't function if everyone's screwing all the time, right? If one gets too wrapped up in desire, they miss their mark. Like pain, pleasure can be a distraction. A true democracy, one that fulfills the system's ideals, would embrace those who deviate from the so-called norm. It would welcome love of all types, and acts, too, so long as they weren't a distraction to the task at hand: equality.


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First be grateful that we're not a Democracy but instead a Democratic Republic.Second we as lgbt Americans would do far better in achieving our rights by practicing this.Know your history read the Constitution and know the Forefathers positions on the interpretation of the Constitution and their views on Religion."A Democracy is nothing more than mob rule,where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49% of the people"(Thomas Jefferson.)A Constitutional Republic helps to protect the 49% from the other 51%.Our best shot at equality is to demand our full rights as United States Citizens and to accept nothing less.

It's hard for Americans (well, the left, anyway) to argue in favor of restrictions on democracy because we have so little as it is right now. Look at the big ticket legislation the Democrats tried to get through - corporations control everything to the point that the will of the people doesn't matter much at all. No public option in health care, no bank busting in finance reform, immigration reform that's more concerned with cracking down on immigrants than setting up a functional immigration system, financial stimulus that was too small, and p-hah on the environment.

The only democracy the government seems to be in favor of is ballot initiatives on marriage or immigrants' rights. Oh, yeah, the best issues to vote on.

But Plato was right in saying that fascist governments don't want people to become friends and associate with each other. I'd also add to that what 20th century philosophers did and say that governments want to fully regulate pleasure as well so that doesn't get out of hand. Anyone paying attention can see that, but too bad too few people are paying attention.