Human nature and
The basic insight of Western political philosophy is that
human nature and politics do not mix. Therefore, in order to have a
well-ordered world one of the following must occur:
beings should have no role in politics--the smaller their role, the better.
Accordingly, politicians should be as non-human or superhuman as possible.
- Politics should be kept on a very short leash and turned into a trivial
pursuit that would be quite innocent even in human hands.
first alternative leads to the conclusion that human nature should be changed
or even eliminated to make the world safe for politics.
second alternative implies that politics should be trivialised or even
eliminated to make the world safe for human beings to live in.
Greek philosopher Plato clearly defined the problem of politics in his great
treatise on justice (a.k.a. The Republic). Many important insights of
political thought in the West can be traced to that work.
of these is the notion that economics and politics are fundamentally different
sorts of human activities. Plato holds that the economic life is the natural
life for human beings because it concerns itself with satisfying human needs
without creating any antagonism between one man and another man. As long as
economic considerations predominate in the organisation of human societies the
latter are, in Plato's words, healthy. In fact, Plato spoke of 'a golden age
of man' to eulogise this idea of a purely economic society, which in his view
is the natural, healthy form of society.
According to Plato, politics enters the picture when human beings become
obsessed with desire and greed. They then will seek not only to satisfy
desires that are contrary to their own health well-being (for example, the
desire for sweet food and intoxicating beverages) but also to satisfy desires
by other than economic means (for example, by means of violence and fraud).
These other, non-economic means are the stuff politics is made of.
Politics, then, appears at first as the criminal invasion of economic
conviviality by acts of violence and fraud. As long as such acts are no more
than amateurish attempts by individuals to satisfy their greed by non-economic
means, there is little danger. However, Plato notes that human society is an
organisation of specialised trades. Thus, when politics infests social life,
it does so in the form of the appearance of class of men who specialise in
violence and fraud. Against such specialists in aggression, there is no
economic defence. Economic activity cannot cure the sickness that is politics.
Indeed, economic activity is the precondition of political parasitism. One
man's economic activity simply creates more opportunity for the robbers.
Moreover, in a direct confrontation with the specialists-in-violence, the
economic specialists (bricklayers, shoemakers, artisans, farmers, traders,
bankers, sailors, and the like) are doomed to defeat.
definition of the problem of politics follows from the foregoing observations.
The warriors (skilled in the use of arms and violence) and the tricksters
(skilled in the methods of deceit) are robbers and thieves, but that is to say
only that they are human beings who seek to attain economic ends by
non-economic means. Now, it is natural (i.e. physically necessary) for a
human being to seek to attain his economic ends, but it is not natural (i.e.
compatible with respect for the natural order of the human world) to do so by
non-economic means. Human nature always directs a person to seek to attain his
economic ends, but when that person possesses means of violence and the skills
to use them then he will use those means and those skills for his own economic
Already, it is clear that Plato has laid the intellectual
foundations for his 'ideal political society'. Indeed, it follows from his
argument that in an ideal political society the means of violence and the
skills to use them must be kept out of human hands. Consequently, the great
practical task of the political philosopher who is aware of the problem of the
politics and eager to solve it, is to find a way to achieve that end. Of
course, his great difficulty is that he cannot directly confront the warriors
and frauds. He must acknowledge their superiority in their own field of
specialisation. In some way or other, he must learn to use the warriors and
tricksters to defeat the warriors and tricksters.
terms, the problem is well-neigh insuperable. However, Plato argues that there
is a logically possible solution of the problem. It actually might have been
available at the time when politics first appeared in human society, but even
if it is now perhaps too late to put into effect, it still is theoretically
Plato's theoretical solution is modelled on the
domestication of wild animals, which proceeds by taking their young and then
attempting to change them gradually into useful and servile things. In this
way, wolves have been turned into watchdogs, which are enormously helpful in
protecting men's live and property. Clearly, selective breeding and relentless
and intensive training can do the trick. In the same way, Plato suggests, a
defender of economic society might succeed in breeding, raising and training a
class of men that have all the technical skills of the warriors and the
tricksters but no longer have a motive for using them for their own advantage.
In that way, that breed of human beings is gradually deprived of its original
human nature and equipped with an 'artificial' or 'second' nature, which by
design is appropriate for a 'guardian of society'.
of the theory requires that the political class of the 'guardians' be kept
strictly separate from the economic classes, so as not to get any taste for
the human or economic way of life. Thus, their way life must be based on
principles that are directly opposed to those of normal human beings. They
must not have any family of their own, no property that they might call their
own, no personal friends, nor anything else that might give them a reason or
motive for acting otherwise than they are told by their supreme leader, the
ruler of the political society. That ruler, obviously, should be a 'guardian'
himself and indeed the most perfect 'guardian'. If he were a normal human
being, he would use the power of the guardians and their mastery of the skills
of violence and fraud for his own benefit--and that is not part of the
Thus, Plato came to the conclusion that the
political or guardian-class of society should be kept in strict separation
from the economic world of man. It should spend its life in 'the barracks',
where personal economic ends cannot corrupt their political mission and their
mastery of political skills cannot corrupt economic life outside the barracks.
insight in this matter received an echo in the eighteenth and the nineteenth
century, when the idea of the separation of state and society became
institutionalised in the program for a 'constitutional state' and the radical
separation of 'public' (political) and 'private' (economic) law. Even before
that time, medieval rulers relied on monks (who also live in a 'barracks')
rather than on their near-equal noble knights in their attempts to create a
guardian-class that would be less likely to use it powers for personal ends.
When absolutism became the political rule in Europe, the kings immediately
began to organise a standing army, the members of which were professionals who
lived in military barracks, wore distinctive clothing (uniforms), had their
own code of honour and indeed their own legal codes. Needless to say, none of
those (consciously or unconsciously Platonic) experiments in separating
politics and economics came near to achieving its Platonic purpose.
must note another important insight of Plato, even if it is a direct
consequence of his political philosophy. That insight is that politics is
'education', the conscious and deliberate attempt to control men's minds by
controlling every input into their lives as rational beings.