|Written by Peter J. Leithart|
|Tuesday, 08 June 2010 08:33|
Plato was no fan of democracy. To govern well, he argued, one must be able to answer questions about the good, and only philosophers are capable of knowing the good because only philosophers have come out of the cave to see the Form of the Good. Wise men should rule, wise men like Plato himself.
Few now trust Plato on this point. Philosophers are (in our collective imagination) unkempt, spectacled skinny guys in tweed, too fragile to endure the tumble of modern politics and too detached to care. But the essence of Plato’s vision has fired that same collective imagination for centuries. For if we don’t want philosophical experts to rule us, politicians assure us that we want, and need, experts.
Aristotle was more sanguine about the possibilities of democracy. Just as a potluck dinner (sumphoreta) can be better than any individual dish, and even better than a meal provided by a single host, so a potluck of citizens might make a better stew than a small group of experts. “Each person,” Aristotle surmised, might “possess a constituent part of virtue and practical reason, and when they have come together, the multitude is like a single person.” The “many-footed” and “many-handed” demos knew more together than any of its parts knew separately.
According to Josiah Ober’s 2008 Democracy and Knowledge, this capacity for effective use of dispersed knowledge was the genius of Athenian democracy. In classical
Because democracy enabled
Well, almost everyone. The Athenian demos, after all, consisted of a fairly small slice of the Athenian population. Slaves, freed slaves, women and metics were excluded from the deliberations of the various assemblies, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable they might be. Aristotle thought that was perfectly just, since slaves lacked the natural endowments that would have made them suitable contributors to Athenian life.
And here is where the church comes in as the fulfillment of the aspirations of Athenian democracy, just as it is fulfills the hopes of
Several New Testament’s descriptions of the
For the apostles, the
When the well-born and rich receive blessings, it’s business as usual; but when the life of God flows out to the margins of the marginal, the kingdom has come. For a first-century Gentile, it would be no surprise to see the educated, rich and well-born contributing to the formation of an upstart religion. When slaves become bishops, when women receive the Spirit, when the shameful parts of the social body are given more abundant honor (1 Corinthians -26), then something dramatic and new has entered human history.
Rigid class divisions subverted the aims of Athenian democracy. Useful knowledge and skills remained locked away in the minds and hands of slaves and metics, and never deployed for the benefit of public life in
What Athenian democracy could not do, God did in the laocracy of the church. What neither the law nor democracy could achieve has been fulfilled by the Spirit in the city of God. The dreams of the demos were fulfilled in the
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 June 2010 10:49|