April 01, 2010

U.K. General Election – #voteplato

Vote Plato! Plato’s Government of Philosophers

A UK general election is looming and, for those of us who are UK voters, politicians are getting increasingly desperate for our votes … and I shall also be asking you for your votes, for at the end of this blog I shall be inviting you all to vote for your own alternative Cabinet of Philosopher Rulers. But first: who would Plato vote for if he were around today?

That’s easy: he wouldn’t vote because he didn’t believe in democracy. Certainly not the participatory democracy (if you were an Athenian male citizen) of the Athens of his day (which had, of course, put his beloved Socrates to death), and his arguments against democracy suggest he would have been no more sympathetic to our representative version. His arguments, in brief, are these:

1) The majority of people are characterized by their non-rational appetites (for e.g food, drink, sex, material possessions and the money needed to acquire them).  If left to their own devices and not guided by others, they will not only be characterized by such appetites, they will be ruled by them. As democracies are constitutions where the majority rule, then democracies will be constitutions at the mercy of non-rational appetites. The reason this matters so much becomes clearer when viewed in the context of Plato’s psychology (as expressed in the Republic). Our individual psyche is comprised of three parts: as well as the appetitive part, there is a rational part which desires truth and reality, and a spirited part which cares about worldly ambition and success. Both our individual well-being and our virtue depend on our being ruled by our rational part.

2) Because of the above, Plato also believes that democracies can be a breeding ground for tyranny. Democracies can be swayed by the oratory of popular demagogues and not realise when the demagogues start to turn themselves into tyrants who will actually undermine democratic freedoms. Furthermore, one can even view democracies themselves as a kind of tyranny – the tyranny of the irrational majority over the rational minority.  

These are not views, of course, that I personally endorse, though I believe that Plato’s critique of democracy is a salutary reminder of how democracies can go astray and how vigilant we always need to be against various forms of tyranny. But what is of relevance for the coming election is the view put forward in the Republic that states should be ruled by philosophers. So what I would love you all to do is to nominate one or more philosophers, past or present, for an alternative Cabinet. You can either just propose a name or names, or you can also say what post your candidate should have. Your proposals could be entirely serious e.g Hobbes for Home Secretary or they could be more mischievous e.g Zeno for Minister for Transport. The idea is both to have some fun and to consider whether any past or present philosophers might actually be/have been any good at such jobs.

If you want to take part in this bit of electoral philosophical fun, post your nominations, votes or thoughts on Twitter and simply add the hashtag

#voteplato to your tweet.

I have a team of three election returning officers poised to monitor the process and I will produce for the blog a more detailed roundup of the nominations after a week’s votes are in – more frequent reports will follow as the race hots up. We will close our philosophical poll on the day before the UK election is held and declare the final results on the UK general election day.

- 23 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Sue


    01 Apr 2010, 16:38

  2. Clive

    Get real… So Plato said… have you no imagination or independent thought?

    06 Apr 2010, 14:00

  3. Robert Nozick (he even has his campaign video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fr8qSh9ZhP8)

    Robert Paul Wolff (but he will probably refuse so Kant instead)

    Plato was right about how people vote. I don’t think the problem is that it can lead to tyranny (though it can). The main issue is that by voting people will be subjecting others to their will (and the problems about how it is exercised, if people made mistakes which affected only them it would not matter but democracy means that the cost of their mistakes is also borne by others). I don’t think anyone has the right to impose their will on other people. Individuals are autonomous. We should look at autonomy not as a goal to be promoted but as an absolute (or at least very stringent) side-constraints. The State is a priori illegitimate since it involves ruling over people without their (explicit) consent. But if the State exists and we are to be ruled by Philosophers: Kant, Nozick, Locke, Adam Smith, Hillel Steiner, J. S. Mill, G. A. Cohen, John Rawls, Dworkin.

    06 Apr 2010, 22:57

  4. Zeno for Secretary of State for Transport.

    07 Apr 2010, 00:12

  5. Max

    Foucault for Priminister
    Zizek for Chancellor
    Nietzsche for Health
    Leo Strauss for Education
    Machiavelli for Defence
    Martin Heidegger for Environment
    Terence Mckenna for Drugs and Culture

    09 Apr 2010, 06:47

  6. Jilly

    Foucault for Justice and Prisons
    de Certeau for Transport
    Baudrillard for Defence
    Marx for Chancellor
    Bourdieu for Education
    Nietzche for Health
    Benjamin for Culture

    09 Apr 2010, 20:16

  7. Peter Dunn

    As one of the returning officers for Angie’s #voteplato poll I can say that we will accept votes posted here as well.
    61 philosophers are in the race now and after the vote above that places the following in very close races

    Nietzche and Heraclitus tied for Health
    Baudrillard and Hobbes tied for Defence
    de Certeau and Zeno tied for Transport

    Other highlights include
    Mill still well ahead of Spinoza for PM
    but Mill also tied with Hume for Home Secretary

    Socrates has biggest single personal vote (for Education)

    Rosa Luxemburg is one of highest placed women but for no specific office

    09 Apr 2010, 22:30

  8. Charlie Bourne

    Hayek for PM
    Karl Popper for Secretary of State for the Environment (includes Urban Planning + Transport)
    Locke for Attorney General
    Voltaire for Foreign Secretary
    Bentham for Home Secretary
    Hegel for Chief Whip
    Hobbes for Minister of Sport
    Clausewitz for Minister of Defence
    Burke for Secretary of State for Education
    Henri Bergson for Minister for the Arts

    13 Apr 2010, 10:37

  9. Mark Stroud

    yes heyek for PM http://www.opticfibercables.co.uk

    13 Apr 2010, 23:10

  10. Peter Dunn

    Russell now one vote ahead of Hobbes and Baudrillard for Defence

    ....and Edmund Burke and Machiavelli now tied in vote for Foreign Secretary in vote for Cabinet of philosophers vote


    14 Apr 2010, 20:44

  11. Charlie Duncan

    Well this seems obvious:

    Mill for PM
    Nietzsche for Foreign Secretary
    Hume for Home Secretary
    Rawls for Justice Secretary
    Marx as Chancellor of the Exchequer
    Machiavelli as Chief Whip
    Dewey for Children, Schools and Families (With Rousseau and Socrates as Junior Ministers)
    Derrida for Higher Education
    Adorno as Culture Secretary
    Bookchin for Environment
    Baudrillard for Defence

    20 Apr 2010, 11:59

  12. Jim

    Bentham- Prime Minister
    Derek Parfit- Home Secretary
    Amartya Sen- Chancellor

    20 Apr 2010, 14:03

  13. Peter Dunn

    85 philosophers in running now – Mill is taking a commanding lead for the position of PM -

    and Russell leads Defence 1 vote ahead of Baudrillard who is in turn just one vote ahead of Hobbes

    20 Apr 2010, 17:21

  14. Ellie

    Gramsci – Chancellor
    Foucault – Justice
    Gandhi – Foreign secretary
    Sorel – Home secretary

    22 Apr 2010, 22:22

  15. Louise

    Socrates for education!

    26 Apr 2010, 17:27

  16. Peter Dunn

    full press release on state of vote coming but here is a sneak peak:

    The battle for PM is shaping up between Mill and Spinoza.

    Marx and Adam Smith are neck and neck for Secreatary of State for Business and Industry.

    In Defence, pacifist Bertrand Russell is just ahead of miltary philosopher and theorist Carl von Clausewitz

    Wittgenstein’s alleged poker-wielding confrontation with Karl Popper makes him a favourite for Chief Whip.

    Zeno, who argued that movement is an illusion, tops the poll for Transport.

    French feminist Simone de Beauvoir is narrowly ahead of Nietzsche, Hobbes and Machiavelli for the post of Foreign Secretary.

    27 Apr 2010, 22:19

  17. Richard Baron

    When I was at school in the 1970s, our history master maintained that we lived, not in Queen Elizabeth’s England or in Harold Wilson’s England (Wilson was then PM), but in Jeremy Bentham’s England. He had a point. And if Mill has a commanding lead, it seems that many of us would be content with a utilitarian government. I would not be content, although at least Mill would take the trouble to promote poetry over pushpin.

    I shall nominate Hume for PM. The man had sense, and a sense of history.

    Leibniz should, given his incredible range of talents, be made Lord High Everything Else. But if that is too large a portfolio, he can take education, science and European affairs.

    Kant’s modest lifestyle and sense of duty should suit him to be Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    Locke, who proposed the operation that left the Earl of Shatesbury with a drainage pipe and tap, must have the ministry of health.

    28 Apr 2010, 17:13

  18. Antoine C.

    PM: JS Mill
    Chancellor: Adam Smith
    Minister for Trade: Montesquieu
    Minister for industrial relations: Karl Marx
    Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills: Schumpeter
    Minister for Science: Karl Popper
    Minister for Housing and Planning: Fichte
    Home Secretary: Thomas Hobbes
    Justice Secretary: Voltaire
    Minister for Prisons: Foucault
    Secretary of State for Constitutional reform: JJ Rousseau
    Minister for the “big society”: Alexis de Tocqueville
    Cabinet Secretary: Hegel
    Foreign Affairs Secretary: Kant
    Defence Secretary: Bertrand Russell
    Environment Secretary: Martin Heidegger
    Education Secretary: René Descartes
    Minister for Children: Parmenides
    Health Secretary: Friedrich Nietzsche
    Culture Secretary: Theodor Adorno
    Chief Whip: Jeremy Bentham
    Speaker of the House: Cicero
    Secretary of State for Scotland: David Hume
    Leader of the House of Lords: John Locke

    Minister for War veterans and national parks: Edmund Burke

    04 May 2010, 14:11

  19. Elizabeth Greetham

    We need some proportional representation here, or at least a sense of proportion. Tillich as Deputy PM (traditionally needs to pull together warring factions – why will philosophers be any different!) Angie Hobbs for new post – Secretary of State for Men. Socrates for PM (education, education, education). Anyone but Mill (protest vote) for PM. Third transferable vote to whoever wants it

    04 May 2010, 15:49

  20. Ellen Pagliaro

    Socrates for Education
    Heraclitus Sports minister

    04 May 2010, 20:53

  21. yehudi webster

    A glaring inconsistency in Western civilisation is the fact that it contains the human, material and technological resources to eradicate human material deprivation, and its leaders balk. A second inconsistency is that the West’s philosophical and theological luminaries did not use either reason or faith to resolve what is surely the problem for all millennia—violence/war. And so, a plague on your house full of suggestions for Ministerial positions. Give us ideas committed that affirm life, rather than celebrate the Other’s death. Give us education reform that focuses on cultivating reasoning and critical thinking, and a sense of being a human being, or an earthling, or a wonderling of the universe. The species needs not Ministers or philosopher-kings, but an intellectual rupture with certain Greco-Roman and Abrahamic intellectual legacies. After all, politicians are but education’s mistakes.her-kings, but an intellectual rupture with certain Greco-Roman and Abrahamic intellectual legacies. After all, politicians are but education’s mistakes.

    05 May 2010, 06:58

  22. yehudi webster

    Correction. After “education’s mistakes.” should read. “The species needs not philosop . . .

    05 May 2010, 07:02

  23. Russell Vallance

    PM: Immanuel Kant (modest, practical, peaceful – Clement Attlee type).

    Chancellor of the Exchequer: Benedict Spinoza (daily grinder, downgrades imagination, austere, knows his Monism from his Monetarism)

    Foreign Secretary: Niccolo Machiavelli (who else? – can also double up as Lord President of the Council and Dark Lord to replace Peter Mandelson)

    Sec of State for Science: Rene Descartes (philosopher and working scientist)

    Home Secretary: Johann von Herder (safe pair of hands on immigration)

    Sec of State for Culture Media and Sport: Epicurus (“Sod the rabble, I’m funding opera”)

    Communities and Local Government: St Augustine of Hippo (City of God Part II – drains, car parks and shopping centre)

    Lord Chancellor:: Sir Thomas More (er…. on second thoughts, I think he’s been tried already and it didn’t work out too well)

    Sec of State Northern Ireland: Zeno of Citium (if ever any job needed stoicism…..

    Housing: Diogenes of Sinope (to be cynical, after the barrel, any sort of housing is up)

    Sec of State for Defence: Soeren Kirkegaard (a Leap of Faith definitely required to believe we have a defence policy and the forces to carry it out)

    Work and Pensions: Thomas Hobbes (that’ll sort the lower orders out)

    Education: Socrates (an interesting approach to youth)

    Health: Thomas Kuhn (he’ll cure all your paradigms)

    Office of National Statistics: Hypatia (tuck her out of the way – no media savvy – goes to pieces when explaining work to the public)

    Cabinet Secretary: Mother Julius of Norwich (“All will be well, All manner of things will be well”)

    Chief Whip: Donatien, Marquis de Sade (bringing some philosophical gusto to the post)

    Leader of the Opposition: J S Mill (wimp away to your heart’s content, John)

    05 May 2010, 15:02

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