The Philosophical Value of Democracy

Partial view of the painting “The School of Athens,” by Raphael.
Partial view of the painting “The School of Athens,” by Raphael.

The real meaning of words like “Democracy” and “Politics” deserves a calm examination, so as to avoid unnecessary misinterpretations.

Both concepts belong to classical philosophy and theosophy. Understanding them requires a comprehensive view of life that goes beyond the myopic analysis of short term isolated facts such as electioneering.

Democracy, the power of the people, means that everyone must be heard. In other words, the interests and needs of all have to be sincerely taken into consideration. Politics is the science of correctly managing the common interests of individuals in the community (polis).

In its highest aspects, Democracy expresses the law of universal brotherhood. The greatest philosophers of every age dealt with Politics in its noble sense and did not aim at short-term personal power. A few among them are Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Seneca, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Immanuel Kant and Helena P. Blavatsky. The founder of the modern theosophical movement was strongly “political” in her criticism of conventional Science, in her challenge to dogmatic religions and forms of culture.

HPB was politically active, when she created the modern theosophical movement as a long-term, intercultural nucleus of brotherhood regardless of nation, sex, social class, caste or ideology, yet respectful of all communities and to every individual.

Of course, theosophical action relies on the law of karma. It plants the seeds of Truthfulness and Goodness and lets them germinate. It unmasks oppression on a philosophical and impersonal plane.

When Slogans Neutralize Reason

Abuse of power and disrespect for citizens do not occur solely under military dictatorships or formally fascist regimes. Far from it. The worst forms of authoritarian domination start on the mental plane and spread through propaganda in largely subconscious ways, while preserving democratic formalities.

When in a democracy mutual sincerity and good faith lose strength, reason is reduced to a form of speech and put at the service of lust for power.  Then systematic attacks to human reason may emerge, and propaganda will describe them as “consensus”. Illegitimate action may hide under the appearance of noble ideals. A rigorous discernment is necessary, since cultural, religious and philosophical groups are not free from the danger. They all suffer in varying degrees from the same diseases that threaten the society at large.

The leaders who promote collective deceit are also victims, for they have deceived themselves first. This is no excuse, of course: but the fact reveals the reality of human condition. Morally misinformed people will describe imaginary facts with such an emphasis and repetition that the most blatant falsities cam be seen as undeniable realities, in the vast territory of naiveté.  According to the false morality of automatic belief, it is not necessary (nor allowed) to question “consensus” and “revelation”, or to think by oneself. It is thought that everyone must adhere to the chorus of official opinion.

Philosophy allows us to see that when propaganda replaces knowledge, mental laziness reigns supreme. The danger is not quite recent, and George Orwell wrote:

“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits (..…).”  [1]

Orwell showed that this is not limited to politics. The disease of falsehood in speaking emerges from the falsehood present in every form of wishful thinking.

Those who want to establish a false consensus behave as if the mere fact of someone disagreeing with their propaganda were enough evidence that the citizen has no valid knowledge. He must be insane, or worse, he must have an evil intention. [2]

After that, the personal names of such “enemies” start being used as symbols of that which the naïve members of the community are supposed to automatically hate, so as to show that they have “common sense” and “are clever”.

To think with independence is implicitly forbidden, yet all are free to reproduce in various forms the same commonplace ideas. He who does not adhere to the established opinion will be seen as a dangerous individual in whose sincerity no one is allowed to believe.

The sickness is feverish and short-lived. Sooner or later, the consensus disease destroys itself. Its end is accelerated by conscious individuals. The healing for the hysterical habits in social life dwells in Ethics, in respect for the laws and for the One Law, and in the ability to attain happiness through the daily fulfilment of one’s duty. Any exaggeration of personal ambition is as good as rubbish, and must be duly recycled into something better.

In ancient Greece, Plato wrote these healing words for our century:

“…Money and honour have no attraction [for righteous men]; good men do not wish to be openly demanding payment for governing and so to get the name of hirelings, nor by secretly helping themselves out of the public revenues to get the name of thieves. And not being ambitious they do not care about honour.” [3]

Not all that pleases is good, and not all that is good must be also pleasant.

The idea of democracy invites us to be enriched by differences instead of feeling threatened by them. A degree of self-sacrifice is essential to democracy. Mutual respect makes the foundation of democratic order, just as hatred is the one source of terror and violence.

A correct concept of brotherhood means one must be able to learn from contrast, from defeat, and from those who criticize us. Even injustices suffered are useful lessons, as they invite us to persevere in our noble goals and pay less attention to short term obstacles or personal difficulties. Truth is often painful, but the habit of voluntary simplicity enables us to see that the good is present in all the others, friends or not.
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NOTES:

[1] Quoted in the article “Modern Language and Theosophy”.

[2] On the illusion of eliminating adversaries, and on the false belief that it is enough to change social structures, human beings needing no inner change, readers can see the article “Getting Rid of Rousseau’s Delusion”.

[3] “The Republic”, Plato, Book I, [347], Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc, Chicago-.London-Toronto, 1952, “The Dialogues of Plato”, 814, see p. 306.
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Read the texts “Freedom From Mind Manipulation”, “The World War in Our Minds” and “The Politics of Hysteria”.
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About the Author
Born in Brazil in 1952, Carlos Cardoso Aveline is a journalist by profession and author of the book “The Fire and Light of Theosophical Literature”. He has other works published on esoteric philosophy and ecology. The editor of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, Cardoso Aveline thinks Judaism, Jewish philosophy and Israel have important roles to play in the ethical rebirth the world needs in the present century. He lives in Portugal and directs the Library and Research Center of the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose associated websites include www.TheosophyOnline.com and www.HelenaBlavatsky.Org .
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