Noble Lies, The Republic & Citizenship - U2 Feedback

Go Back   U2 Feedback > Lypton Village > Free Your Mind > Free Your Mind Archive
Click Here to Login
 
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
 
Old 02-19-2008, 11:12 PM   #1
ONE
love, blood, life
 
melon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 11,781
Local Time: 10:59 PM
Noble Lies, The Republic & Citizenship

Plato's Republic postulates that an orderly society can only be maintained through a series of "noble lies." Plato describes an example of this through a fictional, stratified society, where it is believed that there are different types of metal put into the inhabitants' blood by the gods.

1) The ruling class has gold.
2) Auxiliaries have silver.
3) Farmers have bronze.
4) The children of the ruling class mostly have gold, except some will have to be demoted to lower classes, and so they will be told that they have silver or bronze.
5) Some auxiliaries and farmers, likewise, will be promoted, and so will be told that they have silver or gold blood.

Plato states that, even though it is clearly false, if people believed it, then orderly society would result. Plato preferred this to democracy, which he referred to as "mob rule." It must be remembered, of course, that ancient Greek democracy was a true "direct democracy," where legislation was voted on directly by the people, with no representatives or intermediaries. Modern "democracies" are really "republics" that mainly practice a form of "representative democracy." As such, Plato's philosophy still theoretically applies here.

Plato's Republic and the concept of the "noble lie," in particular, became more important, in terms of 20th century political science. Leo Strauss (yes, that guy) posed the question as to whether "myths" were needed to maintain society. Strauss cited two noble lies in Plato's Republic that he considered to be requirements for all governments:

1) That the state's land belongs to it, even though it was likely stolen from its previous owners.

2) That citizenship is rooted in more than an accident of birth.

Strauss, like Plato, would thus imply that both statements were obviously false from a historical point-of-view. While the first statement conjures up immediate images of colonial conquest of aboriginal lands, we can also take notice of any number of "sacred cows," from the ancient Indo-European migrations into...well...India through Europe, the Germanic/Roman conquering of Celtic lands, and even the Israelites' conquest of Canaan. But even then, we could probably go even further than that, such as the probable Celtic displacement of the original Cro-Magnon peoples (who themselves displaced Neandertals, driving them into extinction), and the displaced Canaanites, themselves, would likely have displaced any number of now-lost civilizations, as the Levant has been well-populated for over 10,000 years.

The question of the meaning of "citizenship," I believe, is the more contentious of the two. We have, more or less, accepted that our national borders are generally a mixture of tradition and present national identity, and we run into border disputes when those two ideas aren't reconciled. Kosovo, for instance, is claimed by Serbia out of tradition, being an important place in Serbian cultural history, whereas, in terms of the national identity of the vast majority of the people living there, it hasn't been Serbian for a very long time. Plus, I doubt that there are very few Americans or Australians alive today who don't understand that these lands were, essentially, taken from the indigenous peoples who lived there, but accept it merely as a consequence of long-ago history. These lands are "ours" inasmuch as it has become an established tradition. "Citizenship," however, is more difficult, if only because our relation to the state is much less tangible than issues of land.

Politics has made the noble lie of "citizenship" far more murkier than before, because of the temptation to tie the very definition of "the Republic" to a particular political ideology or even a political party. To complicate things further, capitalist economic theory, particularly in terms of free trade/globalism, simultaneously questions and subverts the purpose of the state.

The "nation-state," as organically grew out of medieval Europe, was the immediate result of creating "super-tribes." That is, farewell to the Britons, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Normans; welcome to "England." And, like any tribal structure, "citizenship" was, essentially, ethnic in nature. Conversely, any outside "ethnicity" was an enemy or potentially one worthy of distrusting. Politics, in general, exploits this idea of "citizenship," and with a multi-party representative democracy, each party generally boils down to who is the most, say, "American" (or "Canadian," "British," "French," "German," etc.). Granted, this notion is much more distinct in American politics, where the Right, in particular, has been claiming, more or less, that the Left is "un-American" (and probably vice versa), but I believe this to be applicable to each nation. Each political party aspires to be epitome of "national identity," and, as such, its laws will be respected by its "citizenry."

Globalism/free trade, by its nature, looks to a world that is "post-tribal" in its outlook. In pure economics, at its most basic, the whole world's value is judged solely on a product and its price, and labor is judged in equal terms. Nonetheless, we know this to be inapplicable to our daily lives, at a microeconomic level. "Free trade," to take a page from Plato's Republic, is for the "gold-blooded"--that is, the wealthy and their businesses. "Citizenship" may have traditionally been defined through ethnic and family ties, and later added to include occupational necessities, but a quick perusal through many nations' immigration laws will reveal that "citizenship" can be bought, at the right price, usually if you have an extra $500,000-$1 million lying around. Likewise, "free trade" is certainly not "free" for the "bronze-blooded," as a lengthy trip across international borders will reveal that there are strict limits as to what you can buy and bring back with you, without being subject to penalizing duty assessments.

Perhaps if you're like me, you're asking yourself what "citizenship" means in the 21st century, and what "noble lie," if any, is required for us to rally around it. Irving Kristol, considered to be the founder of American neoconservatism, took on a more Platonist answer to this question:

Quote:
"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."
Now before we get tempted and turn this into a fairly predictable conservative/neo-con bashing thread, let me offer my opinion that Kristol is both an arrogant demagogue and correct, inasmuch as his statement adequately describes the nature of government--which applies to all electable political parties. Leo Strauss, although being the intellectual father behind neoconservatism, was noted to be skeptical of both the politics of "progress" and "return"; and, in fact, was automatically suspicious of anything claiming to solve an old, long-running political dilemma. He believed that any attempt to resolve the debate between "rationalism" and "traditionalism" in politics would inevitably lead to tyranny. History provided these examples for Strauss, as well, through the "ultra-rationalist" ideology of communism and the Soviet Union, and the "ultra-traditionalist" ideology of fascism with Germany, Italy, and Spain (this is where Jonah Goldberg's book equating "fascism" with "liberalism" deserves to be shredded and forgotten).

In the current U.S. elections, we are, essentially, having a referendum on what it means to be an "American"--just as it is the same referendum in each and every election. As many philosophers of various stripes have noted (including Straussians), "America" is more than a nation; it is also an idea. Both the Republicans and the Democrats, as such, are competing to be that "idea," again, just like in every election. But as Plato, Strauss, and Kristol each note, implicitly, the quest for such power can take unexpected turns. Can we, as Americans, trust the "noble lie" that we are being fed? Does McCain represent the "noble lie" of Iraq being a cornerstone of future American freedom anymore than Obama represents the oft-promised, yet often ill-delivered quest for "change"? Is Huckabee's "Joe Everyman" persona anymore genuine than Hillary Clinton's "Iron Lady" image? And, perhaps most importantly, can the "noble lie" be maintained, in the face of mass information that can be accessed by the gold, silver, and bronze-blooded alike? What does that mean for the future of "citizenship" and the Republic itself?

We live in interesting times, indeed.
__________________

__________________
melon is offline  
Old 02-20-2008, 04:10 AM   #2
ONE
love, blood, life
 
A_Wanderer's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: The Wild West
Posts: 12,518
Local Time: 01:59 PM
What doesn't constitute a lie in the context of some national ideal? There is no universal scorecard that says that one sentient mammal has exclusive right over a patch of land because they traded coin for it, or that it has an innate right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the end of the day those are arbitrary concepts that can't be justified by any natural or historical law - they can only function because the individuals that make up a society generally accept and abide by those principles.

The reasons why one may live by a principle can just as easily be coerced as consensual, a slave under the DPRK state machine toiling under lies about the Eternal Leader and the Great Leader may well fully believe state propaganda. People are capable of believing anything; I think that tendency is not so much a product of top-down social control as it is a part of how our minds function. An evolutionary spandrel of mammalian conciousness with practical purpose and selective advantage in group bonding.

Fanciful inventions need not be forced upon people, every society on the face of the planet has it's own spirits, ghosts and gods; ideas that make sense of the world, that imbue existence with meaning have a very innate appeal to most people. Spiritual belief need not be compartmentalised away from other forms of belief or thinking, partisan political thought is subject to non-sequiters and oxymorons just the same. Why wouldn't myths constructed about identity, be it ethnic or national be subject to the same sort of emotional responses?

If one was to be optimistic then the internet could serve to subvert the assumed truths that people hold, but in the real world it seems that most peoples minds are closed and partisan enough to simply cluster together with like minded others. People log into a ghetto of their choosing and get their assumptions consistently affirmed.

Incidently the thought that popped into my mind with the Irving Kristol quote was that it could easily be muttered by O'Brien in 1984. Different truths for different strata, the idea of it is chilling to me in that it is utterly divorced from reality, there ceases to be anything to check bad thinking. If the assumptions are false then the conclusions will be baseless - but I suppose that there is a history of that.

As far as land ownership goes the expectation that the states land belongs to it must be measured by what individuals gain by recognition. People accept notions of ownership because that recognition also guarantees their ownership, pity the poor outgroup but if you pay for your land and pay the state for the privelage you are expecting your ownership to be protected (regardless of who it has been appropriated from in the past). This doesn't take into account collective ownership, but those human experiments were done after the consolidation of land in the hands of a few was broken and the promises of would be seductive compared to serfdom.

In terms of bullwarks against tyranny some of those enlightenment ideals have in practice seem to have yielded positive results on the whole. Free speech, secularism, civil liberties, universal suffrage - of course that assumes that a tyranny couldn't offer or guarantee those things, but that is a potentially false assumption especially given that the will of the majority is frequenty at odds with the liberty of minorities.
__________________

__________________
A_Wanderer is offline  
Old 02-20-2008, 04:24 AM   #3
ONE
love, blood, life
 
A_Wanderer's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: The Wild West
Posts: 12,518
Local Time: 01:59 PM
Incidently this thread has inspired me to add Karl Poppers The Open Society and its Enemies to my amazon wishlist
__________________
A_Wanderer is offline  
Old 02-20-2008, 09:11 AM   #4
ONE
love, blood, life
 
melon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 11,781
Local Time: 10:59 PM
Quote:
Originally posted by A_Wanderer
If one was to be optimistic then the internet could serve to subvert the assumed truths that people hold, but in the real world it seems that most peoples minds are closed and partisan enough to simply cluster together with like minded others. People log into a ghetto of their choosing and get their assumptions consistently affirmed.
It is true. Partisan zeal, of any kind, has tended to bother me over the last few years. One question I find myself asking is why it didn't bother me before? I think that if there is a "problem" to be solved, it's going to involve answering that question. I'm also reminded of the so-called "True Believer Syndrome", which I think is applicable to some on both the Right and the Left. I wonder if this concept is related as to why politicians and political parties can get away with the same old hollow promises year after year and not be held accountable for not actually following through?

Quote:
Incidently the thought that popped into my mind with the Irving Kristol quote was that it could easily be muttered by O'Brien in 1984. Different truths for different strata, the idea of it is chilling to me in that it is utterly divorced from reality, there ceases to be anything to check bad thinking. If the assumptions are false then the conclusions will be baseless - but I suppose that there is a history of that.
It is certainly "divorced from reality," but I imagine that it is used by politicians of all stripes, regardless of the party or the ideology. We are really quite numb to a politician going on a populist diatribe to a crowd of working-class people, then later having a fundraiser amongst business elites that most certainly share none of the same interests. So the solution typically ends up going down the "path of least resistance"; that is, giving the wealthy donors what they want, so that they continue to give money, and playing politics with everyone else, making sure to blame your political opponents for why none of those "populist promises" could be fulfilled. Since the news media is in the business of ratings, not imparting "Truths" (see "Network"), they have no incentive to hold them accountable, when a story about Britney's vagina tests better in a focus group than political stories. Let's face it: people prefer hot-button issues that have a simple, two-dimensional back story behind them. But what do you do when the "hot-button" is bordering on hysterical nonsense?

Quote:
In terms of bullwarks against tyranny some of those enlightenment ideals have in practice seem to have yielded positive results on the whole. Free speech, secularism, civil liberties, universal suffrage - of course that assumes that a tyranny couldn't offer or guarantee those things, but that is a potentially false assumption especially given that the will of the majority is frequenty at odds with the liberty of minorities.
Indeed. So another question becomes whether it is possible to improve upon this system, which, even if it is probably the best option amongst political ideologies, is clearly imperfect. I guess that's a job for philosophers and economists of the present and future.
__________________
melon is offline  
Old 02-20-2008, 07:21 PM   #5
Forum Moderator
 
yolland's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 7,471
Local Time: 04:59 AM
Quote:
Originally posted by melon
Politics has made the noble lie of "citizenship" far more murkier than before, because of the temptation to tie the very definition of "the Republic" to a particular political ideology or even a political party. To complicate things further, capitalist economic theory, particularly in terms of free trade/globalism, simultaneously questions and subverts the purpose of the state.
Tocqueville identified a somewhat similar complication in the process of democratization--that once the premodern political concepts of divine right of kings and (to a lesser extent) 'natural' hierarchies are done away with, a paradox develops wherein strategies for legitimizing political authority become ever more important, even as the increasing fragmentation and differentiation of society make such legitimization ever more elusive. Identity politics, 'branding' and other narrative (noble lie?)-type discourses certainly aren't the only characteristic forms of response to this--think Foucault's analysis of how rationalist 'technologies of objectification' are used to justify the ever-expanding regulatory powers of the modern state, for example--but they probably are the most visible, particularly during election season.

I think Kristol's answer may be tempting less because of its (arguable) cynical accuracy as a description of what happens, than because his proposed model of society comfortingly implies that there's a 'natural,' therefore stable, underlying power hierarchy sustaining what appears to be chaotic and fiercely contested on the surface.
__________________
yolland [at] interference.com


μελετώ αποτυγχάνειν. -- Διογένης της Σινώπης
yolland is offline  
Old 02-21-2008, 01:18 PM   #6
Rock n' Roll Doggie
VIP PASS
 
Vincent Vega's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Berlin
Posts: 6,615
Local Time: 04:59 AM
Regarding the nation-state, and to some extent citizenship, Kissinger had something interesting to say in a recent interview with the Spiegel, though I don't think that I can really agree with his conclusions there:
Quote:
SPIEGEL: What does Europe not understand? Paris, London and Berlin do not see the "war on terror" as a common challenge for the West?

Kissinger: I don't like the term "war on terror" because terror is a method, not a political movement. We are in a war against radical Islam that is trying to overthrow the moderate elements in the Islamic world and which is fundamentally challenging the secular structures of Western societies. All this is happening at a difficult period in European history.

SPIEGEL: Difficult why?

Kissinger: The major events in European history were conducted by nation-states which developed over several hundred years. There was never a question in the mind of European populations that the state was authorized to ask for sacrifices and that the citizens had a duty to carry it out. Now the structure of the nation-state has been given up to some considerable extent in Europe. And the capacity of governments to ask for sacrifices has diminished correspondingly.

SPIEGEL: Thirty years ago, you asked for one phone number that could be used to call Europe.

Kissinger: ... and it happened. The problem now is: Nation-states have not just given up part of their sovereignty to the European Union but also part of their vision for their own future. Their future is now tied to the European Union, and the EU has not yet achieved a vision and loyalty comparable to the nation-state. So, there is a vacuum between Europe's past and Europe's future.
http://www.spiegel.de/international/...535964,00.html

In my view, the disbanding of the nation-state is by far not as far developed in the minds of the countries' population as he suggests there, and I think his conclusion that the transformation process with the development towards the EU and the resulting unwillingness to sacrifice oneself for the country is utterly wrong. In my view, the majority is still as willing to sacrifice themselves if only they accepted and supported the reason for doing so.
I don't see this kind of non-patriotism, for example, as being anywhere so strong as it is in Germany, and even here I see myself being in a minority of people that really doesn't feel much as 'German' though I also identify in a way with my country.

I hope I don't drag on the niveau of the thread too much.
__________________
Vincent Vega is offline  
Old 02-21-2008, 11:28 PM   #7
ONE
love, blood, life
 
melon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 11,781
Local Time: 10:59 PM
Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
Tocqueville identified a somewhat similar complication in the process of democratization--that once the premodern political concepts of divine right of kings and (to a lesser extent) 'natural' hierarchies are done away with, a paradox develops wherein strategies for legitimizing political authority become ever more important, even as the increasing fragmentation and differentiation of society make such legitimization ever more elusive. Identity politics, 'branding' and other narrative (noble lie?)-type discourses certainly aren't the only characteristic forms of response to this--think Foucault's analysis of how rationalist 'technologies of objectification' are used to justify the ever-expanding regulatory powers of the modern state, for example--but they probably are the most visible, particularly during election season.
An interesting thought. Thanks for sharing.

Quote:
I think Kristol's answer may be tempting less because of its (arguable) cynical accuracy as a description of what happens, than because his proposed model of society comfortingly implies that there's a 'natural,' therefore stable, underlying power hierarchy sustaining what appears to be chaotic and fiercely contested on the surface.
I guess it could boil down to a "chicken/egg" question here. What came first: tyranny or the justification for it? Did Plato or Machiavelli, for that matter, plant ideas into the heads of would-be despots or just offer mere commentary? Interestingly, I find, at least with Plato, that the answer to that question depends on your ideological persuasion. Right-wingers like Leo Strauss believed that Plato was being metaphorical..."playful," if you may. On the other hand, it appears that the majority of leftist philosophers would argue that Plato was an advocate for totalitarianism.

And so, since Strauss was such an open admirer of Plato (and Machiavelli, for that matter), I guess it begs a further question: was his philosophy similarly "playful," or was he an enabler? Call it an intellectual bias, but I'm not one to blame a man for thinking, even if his thoughts aren't very pleasant. But for a man like Kristol, I'm less forgiving. It's one thing to think unpleasant thoughts, and it's another to use them to manipulate people, and it's statements like that that make me despise Kristol and all of his like-minded "neoconservatives." And, yet, when I look at many traditionally leftist parties, like the U.S. Democratic Party, I don't particularly see them as having the moral high ground here. I trust that they have been lying to us to get elected just as much as the Republican Party has.

What kind of future does the democratic nation-state have if you have a myriad of "choices," where each alternative is, essentially, either deceitful, untrustworthy, or both? I remember, at some point, being told, jokingly, that the difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties are that Republicans will screw you openly, whereas Democrats will lie to you and then screw you. Cynical, perhaps, but, like Kristol's misanthropic view on "truth," I can see where that comes from.
__________________
melon is offline  
Old 02-22-2008, 12:52 AM   #8
ONE
love, blood, life
 
melon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 11,781
Local Time: 10:59 PM
Quote:
Originally posted by Vincent Vega
I hope I don't drag on the niveau of the thread too much.
Don't worry, you haven't at all.

I'll respond to this tomorrow. I only had time for one real response today!
__________________
melon is offline  
Old 02-23-2008, 12:01 PM   #9
ONE
love, blood, life
 
melon's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 11,781
Local Time: 10:59 PM
Quote:
Originally posted by melon
I'll respond to this tomorrow. I only had time for one real response today!
Actually, now I'm not too sure what I can add to what's been said! I know that there's this underlying sense that "liberalism" is spineless, so if you use the stereotype that Europe is the epitome of "liberalism," like the U.S. likes say as a smear, then Kissinger is most likely arguing that Europe is inherently spineless.

On the other hand, someone has noted that "liberalism" means different things in the U.S. and the rest of the world--namely, that European "liberal" parties are often right-wingers. Good chunks of Europe, too, seem to have right-leaning governments currently. If you combine that with the historical U.S. right-wing, one will notice that they were a combination of isolationist and protectionist. The oft-derided Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which worsened the Great Depression by substantially raising tariffs on foreign goods, was done by Republicans. While I don't believe that Europe is remotely as bad as that, I get the sense that the underlying mood of Europe is not spinelessness, but, instead, the aforementioned tendency towards isolationism and protectionism. Granted, the European Union is trying to change that, by trying to "liberalize" their economies, but Europe still faces quite a few challenges in this regard.

One thing I do notice, particularly when someone tries to judge someone / some country from afar is that it tends to have unfortunate generalities, and I do think that tends to be the problem with U.S. conservative views on Europe. On the other hand, European/global views of the U.S., at times, can be full of sweeping generalities that aren't fair, as well. If anything, it just means that we should try and take the time to understand each other better, rather than resorting to convenient stereotypes. It's not easy, that's for sure, and we've all been guilty of it, at times; but we should, at least, try.

I guess I had more to say than I thought!
__________________

__________________
melon is offline  
 

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off



All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:59 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Design, images and all things inclusive copyright © Interference.com