Monday, November 17, 2008

Enlightenment under the Swamp for Insufficient Truths

Panimula: Ang susunod na sulatin ay ang papel na ipinasa ko sa aming klase sa PoS 60-B: History of Political Theory, sa ilalim ni G. Rene Raymond R. Raneses, Jr. Sapagka't napagisip-isip ko nang dapat naman magsimula nang maging seryosong sulatan ang blog na ito, maganda sigurong dito ko simulan. Hindi ko ipinagpapalagay na tunay nga itong mabuting sulatin, nguni't siguro ito pa lamang ang nagagawa ko na maipagmamalaki kong ibahagi sa buong mundo na nakakabasa, kung may nagbabasa man nga nito.

Ngayon, balik sa editing ng Thinkpiece No. 1 sa PoS 61-B.


Enlightenment under the Swamp for Insufficient Truths: An Analysis of Pragmatic Politics as a Means of Achieving and Inhibiting Utopia in Platonist and Aristotelian Thought

Hansley A. Juliano, II AB Political Science

“…Having [all the virtues] and always conforming to them would be harmful, while appearing to have them would be useful… it will be well for [a leader] to seem and, actually, to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank and religious… but, being compelled by necessity, he must be ready to take the way of evil.” – Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince”

The classical democracy of the Athenian polis has been considered as the established paragon of modern states in developing an active citizenry in their political activities. It appears that the Greeks do not only have an eager spirit for public functions, they figuratively have a romance with the polis itself. The Filipino citizenry, however cliché as it may sound, pales in comparison to this. The nature of the political sphere in contemporary Philippines is one that has been marked by a seeming love-hate relationship. In a self-proclaimed democratic society where our demos are sovereign according to the 1987 Constitution, it is not presupposing to state that they have a somewhat inherent aversion to any means of participation or even trailblazing in the field. Reflection is unnecessary to realize that such a mindset is paradoxical, considering that people’s lives are affected and directed by political action whether or not they actively participate, as Colin Bird (2006) remarks: “This is not just a point for those who consciously decide to become politically active in various ways. To adapt a famous remark of Leon Trotsky: ‘You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.’ …” (7).

The widespread belief that participating in politics is akin to throwing oneself in a murky swamp wherein one cannot emerge with his mindset and ethics untainted likely rooted from the long-standing culture of mud-slinging politics in the Philippines. Aggravating this is the fact that government posts have been long dominated by elite clans and families, causing this image of Filipino rulemakers as unrepresentative of Philippine society[1] being etched into our imagination. This in turn propagated the stereotypes of politicians as power-hungry and egoistic oligarchs who create or replace the laws of the nation as they saw fit to perpetuate themselves in power. With arguments during sessions about what course of action would entail the desired output without consideration to the customs and beliefs of the demos, we developed a negative view of what is termed “pragmatic politics,” characterized by resolutely following policy that seem to or obviously disregard questions of morality and draws heavily from an actualization of the maxim “the end justifies the means.”

In this paper I intend to renegotiate the rift between our notions of the ideal and the pragmatic in the practice of politics. We have placed a dichotomy between these two and usually look at them as distinct and irreconcilable. The ideal is what is good, noble and achievable without the absence of conflict, whether physical or psychological, albeit with much toil. The pragmatic is what is apparently evil, base and followed with much deliberation and conflict with morals, but ensures the enactment of policy and achievement with comparatively little effort. Such is faulty if we are going to practice politics, as the nature of politics itself (particularly political theory) is the search for what would establish and maintain the good life, the “ideal.” If we are going to work for the achievement of the ideal, I share with Kathleen Wilkes’s (1980, 342) charge that “the correct distribution of relative weights to these varied pursuits can be settled by internal and pragmatic considerations; it will be, quite simply, the one that is found to work, and the distribution that works will be the one with the most completeness (teleiotes, 1097a28) and self-sufficiency (autarkeia, 1097b8).” A practitioner of politics, if he or she is to work for the common good, should not be dissuaded by the supposed trappings of pragmatic means, as it is precisely the best means by which the ideal will be achieved.

It is in this light that I present a discourse on how we shall revise our view on political ethics and clarify the proper dispositions and pathways of argument we should take. In deliberating on the proper methods of assuring and maintaining justice, we have to discard temporarily notions on the place of ethics, religion and spirituality in politics. This is not to say we would advocate their destruction and promote “immorality”, as what we are proposing is “amorality.” The image of the politician as Janus-faced, opportunistic and cunning, however negative to contemporary society, cannot be fully eliminated nor rejected as it is the essence by which one would be able to participate fully and search successfully for the mean and what the ideal state really is.

Since the consideration of the writings and ideas developed by the Platonist and Aristotelian thought are central to this discussion, I intend to develop this argument by first reviewing through the former’s The Republic and the latter’s Nicomachean Ethics. In highlighting passages and arguments which show opinions for or against the proposal or the actualization of policies pragmatic in nature, we shall study why they likely caused scandal in their times due to the deluded notions of people about the ideal. Second, I review and reconcile the way theorists viewed the idealism and pragmatism that permeates both works and how they dissected it based on their necessity to the process of political deliberation and theory. Third, I analyze the concepts and insights we develop through the exegeses in the conflict and questions posed in Robert Redford’s film “Lions for Lambs,” and fourth, I synthesize and reaffirm my initial arguments together with a discussion on how we would be able to develop the ideas we have into a more substantive and clarified notion of practicing politics pragmatically towards the ideal.

It Is All Part of the Plan

Pragmatic policy formation is actually not very new, having been established during the Renaissance period by the small handbook The Prince authored by Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli. Yet it appears that the origins of the thought in political deliberation based from its feasibility stretches back long before even Rome began their conquest of the known world. The very critics of the democratic Athenian state, the “gadfly” philosopher Socrates and his aristocratic student Plato, have already begun theorizing and promoting such policies during the decline of Athens. In one of Plato’s most renowned books, The Republic, they set rules according to the good it will generate for the ideal state, intending to teach the following generations what they would call “fine lies” that would “shape their souls” into perfect rulers (Rep. 377b-c). Such rulers would be termed later on as “the guardian class.” That a concept of noble reasons used to justify an act of widespread deception for the betterment of the state is present in the earliest work of political thought is noteworthy of reflection. It seems that to achieve an ideal society from one that is not, acting against the foremost of the ideal virtues is a necessity, beginning from the indoctrination and formation of its future leaders.

Plato’s student, Aristotle of Stagira, would later define in his teachings at the Lyceum (compiled by his student Nicomacheus, which is subsequently referred to as the Nicomachean Ethics) what is the ideal character of such leaders or foremost citizens of the state. Calling such “the magnanimous person,” he defines this person as one who is aware of his virtue and eligibility for greater things and pursuits, and is neither ashamed nor extravagant in expressing so. He thinks of what he is due based on what he believes is his real worth, presuming that he is privy to the concept of the mean or what is adequate. In pursuit of maintaining so, he practices greatness in every established virtue. And since he is someone who can judge himself properly in accordance to what he is rightfully, he is to be considered the paragon of human living and thought. (NE, 1123b5-30). With such laudable qualities condensed in a single human being, who is known to be more fickle and irreverent if not reared properly and with utmost discipline, it is right to call such “superior men.”

We must take note, at this point, the definition of justice as presented by both Plato and Aristotle in their works; after all, it is the pursuit of a just society through bringing up just men to rule that is their central proposals. By Socrates it was said that justice is something that is essential in the preservation of unity among the body, whether that of the individual of the city-state, called the polis. Justice is seen as desirable for it uplifts the concept of virtue, which promotes the health of the human soul with respect to his dealings with the people around him. (Rep., 351a-354b). In the Nicomachean Ethics¸ justice is precisely shown as concerned with human relations as to the maintenance of the mean. (NE, 1129b15). Both of them agree that justice is the foundation of the state and its very essence, without which all that it stands for would amount to nothing. Thus, there is a necessity to make them the core of the rulers of the ideal state.

Due to the high intellectual, physical and ethical erudition demanded of the guardians in order for them to conduct themselves properly, Plato, through the words of his late mentor, created a program of instruction in literature by which he virtually debunked the popular culture of the Athens of his day. With the intention of instilling a model of virtue through the pantheon of their gods, Socrates proposed while conversing to Glaucon and Adeimantus that they reject the works of their poets, most importantly those that portray these deities and heroes as creatures with base desires and doers of abominable deeds. (Rep. 378a-394a). Not even the greatest epic, the Iliad created by Homer, would be spared from being phased out from the readings of the youth from whom the guardians shall be chosen, as it has portrayed the gods in various levels of baseness and villainy (i.e. the vanities of Hera and Aphrodite, as well as the brutality of Achilles).

I would say that this tampering of what was then considered sacred texts would produce among us the same effect of witnessing copies of the Bible being burned. The intrusion to what is considered the personal realm of a human being, one’s own spirituality, is something not even advocated by pragmatist theories during the Renaissance. In fact, there was a stressing among these writings that rulers must not touch what personally belongs to their subordinates[2]; and what else could be more personal to a man than his beliefs on the supernatural and the divine? Yet Plato advocates such a policy with determination one can simply think that he must be serious in believing it to be the ideal or he must be mad.

To put this proposal into context and understand why such an intrusion of the private realm is necessary, I believe we must first establish what the primary sources say on the ideal relationship between the individual and the state. Aristotle, in his discussion on the nature of friendship and how should it be practiced, lauded it as the ideal relationship among men and, as such, among states and their individuals:

Moreover, friendship would seem to hold cities together, and legislators would seem to be more concerned about it than about justice. For concord would seem to be similar to friendship and they aim at concord above all, while they try above all to expel civil conflict, which is enmity. Further, if people are friends, they have no need of justice, but if they are just they need friendship in addition; and the justice that is most just seems to belong to friendship.

…[F]riendship and justice would seem to have the same area of concern and to be found in the same people. For in every community there seems to be some sort of justice, and some type of friendship also… the extent of their community is the extent of their friendship, since it is also the extent of the justice found there. The proverb ‘What friends have in common’ is correct, since friendship involves community. But while brothers and compatriots have everything in common, what people have in common in other types of community is limited, more in some communities and less in others, since some friendships are also closer than others, some less close. (NE, 1155a25; 1159b25-35).

In this sense, friendship is seen as the ultimate expression of justice among fellowmen. This is why it is considered to be the ideal model of a harmonious and just relationship between the individual and the state. Echoing a Biblical passage about the willingness to lay down one’s life for a friend[3], so must an individual, or for that matter a responsible citizen of the state, be willing to put the ideals of the state in paramount interest above one’s own well-being and even right to live, considering these as his. It is through this that we would be able to understand why Socrates once said that we must have philosophers to rule the ideal state (Rep. 484d) even though they would eventually be considered mad by the people and even killed for what they believe (496d), as what eventually happened to Socrates himself.

With these in mind, I suppose we would be welcome in reading another shocking proposal by Plato (again, through Socrates) in Book V of The Republic as to the means by which physical training will be held and the concept of sexual and familial relations in general be abolished among the philosopher-kings in his ideal society. It was said that if women are to be allowed to join among the guardian class, they should be allowed to participate in gymnastics to prepare them for war. As gymnastics is basically practiced by men, young and old, in the nude, so should the women be allowed to intermingle with them (452a-c). To make this work, he argues that we disregard any ideas of indecency that the train of thought would conjure as to this practice, as what is being done is for the good of the state.

In addition to this, Socrates arranges for the process of procreation that the best male guardians have intercourse with the best women, so they would produce the most abundant number of children of the highest pedigree. Should there be any offspring that results with defects or a child would be born out of the mating season, it is required that those children be cast out of the city-state. Since these newborns shall be reared together in a pen, there must be ways established in order to avoid confusion as to who is the parent of whom. The solution to this, he said, is to abolish the entire notion of the family by teaching these children to call each of their elders their father and mother, as well as consider each other as all brothers and sisters. The same practices would then be followed when they become guardians themselves. (460d-463c). Based from these, we may infer that Socrates believes the best state is communist: one wherein there is no concept of private property, whether inanimate, animals or humans, as “all is owned by everyone.”

Such an arrangement, given its similarities to farm animal production, is unsurprisingly controversial. Filipinos who would be able to read this particular portion of the work will likely be uncomfortable in this seemingly blatant destruction of basic human virtues[4], another intrusion to what is rightfully personal and intimate to ours alone as we have said a while ago[5]. The circumstances giving rise to promiscuity, incest and crude form of abortion is likely enough to alienate some of us. The malaise of being closed to such an idea is still affecting even newly-immersed students of political science[6], as such a proposal seems to be baffling to them; for it appears to have reduced humans, more so the rulers of human society, into mere tools and slaves of an imagined institution which may or may not be, in the pure sense of the truth, actually beneficial or essential to a fulfilling lifestyle, namely the state.

Yet this is precisely the argument of Plato and Aristotle all throughout their works. The very outrageousness of the means as compared to the ends sought all the more highlights how necessary and ideal the ends are. As such, we should look at it in a more sympathetic light. The ends of the state should be pursued by what means possible and most feasible. To the guardians, it would be the most intelligent thing to do, for it is done for the pursuit of the good of the state, which through their indoctrination is considered as the supreme good. As expressed by Aristotle: “It seems proper, then, to an intelligent person to be able to deliberate finely about what is good and beneficial for himself, not about some restricted area – e.g. about what promotes health or strength – but about what promotes living well in general… production has its end beyond it; but action does not, since its end is doing well itself, [and doing well is the concern of intelligence].” (NE, 1140a25; 1140b5). Hypocrisy would definitely be essential and an enormous amount of courage would be taken in carrying this out, as the next section of our discussion would endeavour to prove.

A State with a Taste for the Theatrical

With finishing our survey of what the primary sources express on the topic, let us now look at what contemporary political theorists and writers have to say about the views presented by Plato and Aristotle. As we will see below, there is a consistent tendency among them to write either in favour or against the primary sources, but most of them generally consider both works as expressions of the ideal. To illustrate, Professor Michael Curtis of Rutgers University (1961) says that all of the proposals, discussions and arguments present in Plato’s ten books presented an ideal regime, the feasibility or likelihood of which was not clear… The ideal state was an ordered state, in which all fulfilled their function and worked for the good of the whole, and which education prepared the individual for his function and for citizenship. But it was also a structure of rigid control, static social position, censorship of literature and art, limitation of power to an elite capable of grasping the defining body of knowledge necessary for ruling” (27-28).

One of the earlier scholars to study Plato’s work and suggest a pragmatic reading was the Muslim scholar Averroes (Latinate distortion of the Arabic Ibn Rushd, ابن رشد), who commented that the policies and proposals found in The Republic are considerably viable as a means of ensuring that the community would be tightly bound, similar to that of the original Arab constitution. In E.I. J. Rosenthal’s translation of his text, it is clarified for us that “it would be more absurd to permit an individual to live in a house by himself. For in this state no single person possesses anything individually. Rather their community is like that of the members of one body… In general, there is nothing which brings more evil and confusion to the State than when its citizens say of something ‘this is mine and this is not mine.’” (Rosenthal 1956, 170-171).

I should agree with Averroes in his claim in this sense that only through such means, however pragmatic and questionable, that the state would be able to survive. Though a later translation would be utilized by R. G. Mulgan (1977) in reviewing the original text[7], his opinions on its comments appear to approve of it. He says that even though the entire work of the Muslim scholar does not actually offer new insights on The Republic, it is nevertheless commendable in its highlighting of insights not explicitly stated by Plato. That Averroes was not subscribing to any leanings while reading The Republic, whether to his Islamic faith or partiality to the author, illustrates that it is indeed a reliable and feasible view. Mulgan does, however, highlight the fact that if Averroes was able to read the other pioneer treatise, the Politics by Aristotle, he might have thought differently (Mulgan 1977, 646), as it was due to his inability to read Aristotle that he settled with Plato.

Taking this into consideration, it is no wonder, then, that it would be his student Aristotle himself who would be the first critic of his proposals in The Republic as he wrote in Politics. As presented by Robert Mayhew (1997) in his study of how the student proceeded to debunk his teacher, one sees how Aristotle states that the pragmatic means proposed by Socrates in the proposal of the abolishment of the family is, in a sense, problematic and counterproductive:

In the Republic, Plato’s Socrates asks: “Is that city in which most (pleistoi) say ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ about the same things in the same way the best governed city?” Glaucon responds: “By far.” (Rep. 462c). All middle-aged adult males, for instance, will share, or say “mine” of, all young males. The latter will be “sons” to these “fathers” in common. And the affection felt will be that which is usually felt between fathers and sons. Plato believes such intense feelings in all for all will produce the most unity possible in the city, and this he says is good (Rep. 457c-464d)…

Aristotle says that “all saying ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ at the same time about same things” is harmful in another way. (Pol. 1261b32-33). That is to say, not only does it produce a fallacious argument, it has other (more tangible) problems when put into practice. Indeed, these are the major problems with the communism of women and children. The first of such problems is this: When a relatively large number of people share things in common, they tend to neglect them… Aristotle is not primarily making a point about the affection felt between these “fathers” and “sons” (though he is leading up to this. Rather, he is saying here that no matter what these men might feel for their thousand “sons,” they will end up neglecting them since it is quite natural (or quite tempting) to think that someone else is taking care of them. (Mayhew 1997, 60-62).

Martha Nusbaum (1980), in her own interpretation of how Aristotle criticized Plato, complements this issue on the problem of the abolishment of the family by looking at how the latter dissected the human person to identify his parts. Plato supposedly intended to enslave the components of man which gives them a leeway to indulge in base pursuits to make them follow what is better; that is, to remove their autonomy. She says that Aristotle argues that it doesn’t make sense to do so as we must not treat the irrational parts of the human as separate or disadvantageous to the rational part, which was called “the real man.” All components of the human being, even our appetites, should be considered. However, she also implied through Hylophormism that believing in such would undermine the credibility of philosophers as the ideal rulers. At the same time, it would also appear to be contradicting itself. Since Aristotle himself promotes the concept of akrasia or the indulgence of these appetites in regulated amounts, the danger emanating from them remains unsolved, endangering the pursuit of ethical purity. It also condemns Platonist idea as “playing a dishonest game – both assimilating akrasia to behavior produced by external compulsion and then, at the same time, treating the akratic as a blameworthy individual liable to punishment and coercion.” (Nusbaum 1980, 415-416).

These analyses attempt to show us how pragmatic the means by which Plato would strive on to achieve the ideal, and how Aristotle, in insisting to include questions and particularities of ethical consideration, seems to deviate from and make counterproductive the practice of political deliberation. Plato envisions an ideal which is, like all ideals, uncertain as to how possible its achievement is, but has a set means of establishing the ways to it. Aristotle, by placing focus on the reconciliation of the moral parameters of man to what would give him the good, only succeeds in defining it, but not the ways as to how to attain it. The latter, then, would fit the description of Glaucon: “those who linger in [philosophy] for a longer time – most become quite queer, not to say completely vicious; while the ones who seem perfectly decent, do nevertheless suffer at least one consequence of the practice you are praising – they become useless to the cities.” (Rep., 487d). In this simplistic view, Plato would be the political and Aristotle would be the philosophical.

Yet such an image of Aristotle would be unfair or even incorrect, to say the least. As Curtis would note, it is to him we owe the establishment of political science through his being the “cool, dispassionate, moderate observer, the empirical investigator of political institutions and behavior.” (Curtis 1961, 28). With his exhaustive analyses of constitutions and, most importantly, the prototype classification of governments (NE, 1160a35-1161a5), his niche is firmly established. How, then, can we reconcile the supposed insistence of Aristotle on the ethical perspective to Plato’s proposals based on utility to form a coherent train of their political thought?

In this, I endorse the argument presented by Jean Roberts (1989) as to how to define Aristotle’s train of political thought runs: “…Aristotle does think that one ought to have some sort of concern for one’s fellow citizens, but there is no indication that he thinks that this inevitable arises by nature as does the love of parents for children. In any case, the sort of emotional attachment he envisions as existing, at least ideally, between fellow citizens hardly seems powerful enough, or dependable enough, to tie one citizen’s happiness to that of others. So Aristotle I cannot think just be pointing to the sorts of emotional attachment humans predictably have for each other in calling them political. (Roberts 1989, 192).” He also notes that the Nicomachean Ethics provides very little help in resolving this issue, as Aristotle’s only definition of people’s political inclination lies on the vocalized need for friendship in practice of the good life. (ibid).

Thus, in a sense, we may possibly claim that the Nicomachean Ethics, unlike Plato’s The Republic, is concerned more to the establishment of the ideal through the means of the ideal. The whole text of the book deals with how to pursue the good life through metaphysical deliberation. Though he does recognize the necessity of politics as essential to the good life, he does not state explicitly the crucial nature of politics as the very means to achieving it. That is, the Nicomachean Ethics is essential in understanding political theory as it prepares us to the relevance of politics in daily and useful living, but it does not define a definitive political theory of its own. As such, we must not look at it as a main source of examples on deliberation: this honor would go to his other and more analytical Politics which, as we have stated before, also a critique of Plato’s work.

But then, since we have been tasked to reconcile this work with The Republic, we should find a means by which we can see the meeting point between the ideal values of Aristotle and the pragmatic means of Plato, so as to show the transition from the pragmatic means into achieving the ideal result. Let us take a case in point. We do agree that the essence of politics is deliberation, and as such there is always a necessity of making decisions in situations critical or insignificant. If we would focus, however, on the decisions that are supposed to be made in critical cases, there is always an element of courage necessary. David Pears (1980), in his essay on how Aristotle defines courage in the Nicomachean Ethics, presents a beautifully-versed analysis I would like to share below:

Aristotle’s observations are not enough to support this interpretation, but they do point towards it. He says that people who are confident of victory because they have been victorious so often are not courageous (NE 3.8.13). Now these people fit the simple definition of confidence given in the Rhetoric. But we know that courage involves confidence. Therefore the confidence that it involves must be based not on certainty but on an assessment of the odds. This is confirmed by his argument against Socrates’ equation of courage with expertise; expert soldiers may look courageous, but often they are not really courageous because they know there is no risk (NE 3.8.6). (Pears 1980, 184)

Courage is defined by Aristotle himself as an example of the mean (NE, 1104a5-25), saying it is where the meeting point between cowardice and rashness meet to satisfy what is required by virtue. Following the parameters of the argument by Pears, we might pose another way of viewing courage as what we may consider as the mean between idealism and pragmatism. To be ideal means to have a fearless view of the world as how it should be, and there are countless cases of people dying for what they believe is the right way; not one of them would have been willing to put life on the line if they were not driven by the courage to pursue it. On the other hand, courage also plays a major part in pragmatic deliberation as being pragmatic is, as mentioned, having a will to forego considering ethics and morality if these would inhibit achieving the ideal and constantly sustain its performance. There is always an element of “going against the world,” whether an insignificant portion or almost the whole of it, in decision-making. As if confirming it, political philosophers of later eras would echo the need to disregard what the world would feel: “For the mob is always impressed by appearances and by results; and the world is composed of the mob.”[8] I therefore proclaim, with Adi Ophir (1991), a simple yet full statement on how the pragmatic is interminably linked to the ideal: “’utopia’ is not proposed as a haven to flee to but as a political act within an existing political order. The full significance of this act cannot be grasped outside the context of the problematic discursive field that makes the ‘utopia’ possible, in fact ‘invites’ it.” (Ophir 1991, 83).

With the resolution of the question of Aristotle’s notion on the right way of dealing with the achievement of the ideal, I believe we can now review both his and Plato’s definitions of justice and how they might be attained. Claudia Baracchi (2002), through looking at Socrates’ companions at discussion in Book I of The Republic, stated that a person living in the state follows the ways of justice due to its being a required tradition or order in society, perceived to be “advantageous” to living in the city. (53). Bernard Williams (1980), however, does not only endorse this, he also reads it as a pragmatic means of pursuing the ideal life, if not for the welfare of the city then for one’s own self. In his discussion of justice by Aristotle as a virtue, he says that “the disposition of justice can itself provide a motive. The disposition to pursue justice and to resist injustice has its own special motivating thoughts: it is both necessary and sufficient to being a just person that one dispositionally promotes some courses of being just and others as being unjust.” (Williams 1980, 197). This is to say that being just, or for that matter the means to pursue justice, are carried out not only due to our beliefs but because we experience some sort of “feeling” that it is, indeed, the right thing to do.

Since we have gone through an exhaustive gauntlet of proving the necessity of being pragmatic to attain the ideal, let us now try to look at the means by which we would be able to perform the envisioning of society following that, and why does, in being pragmatic, there is the pressing need for feigned hypocrisy. It is an accepted fact that politics is in many ways a performance enacted within the stage of the state. It only differs with theatrical performances in terms of its ramifications to the audience; that is, the citizens. Inasmuch as the audience of a play or a movie leave the theatre elated yet unaffected in their way of living (if they are, only psychologically), the contrary is true to that of the citizens. Whatever line is uttered in this stage, the citizens will either literally benefit or suffer from it. Thus, there is a necessity to placate the fears and hesitations of the citizens, of course assuming that there is an active and participative citizenry in that particular state. To make policy setting and deliberation amusing and enticing to the public, they must have what the iconic “freaks” of the fictional city of Gotham have: “a taste for the theatrical.”[9]

As an example, let us start with Eva Brann’s (2004) observation of Plato’s mode of expression in The Republic. She said that he, in order to make the discourse attractive to the reader, wrote it “in the first person. For that form does retain some of the immediacy of drama, and yet at least one of the authors of the dialogue, namely Socrates, is very much present and responsible as the teller of the tale. Such a dialogue form overcomes the danger of poetry while preserving its power to move the soul.” (Brann et al. 2004, 90). This “moving the soul” of the citizenry in a political performance is essential so as to convince them that the statements to be made are for their betterment, for the common good, even though this common good would entail sacrifices that may have long-term adverse effects in the future. On a contemporary note, this was how the Amendment on Parity Rights to the 1935 Constitution was ratified: then-President Manuel Roxas, through his skill as an orator, made the public believe that to grant equal rights of using the Philippines’ resources to the Americans would be beneficial to our economy. In a sense it is; however, it entailed an infraction of the right of Filipinos to exclusivity and opened an avenue for neo-colonialism from 1946 to 1974.

In the resolution of an issue a politician took up to defend and prove to be of paramount importance, he or she should have undergone a considerable amount of deliberation as well as a resolution to pursue it. This determination would always be the deciding factor in achieving or succeeding, based on how Richard Kraut (2002) defined the work of one who lives a political life, and why Aristotle believed that a philosophical life is “supposedly” the better. He said that “[p]olitical action always tries to shape the future, but the consequences of one’s actions are never a matter about which one can be certain. Nonetheless, the burdens of a political life are not so great that they will make someone leading it regret that he chose to develop and exercise his cognitive powers as fully as a human being can.” (Kraut 2002, 95). To add to this, Allan Bloom (1968) insisted in the interpretative essay of his translation of The Republic that rulers must tell much more lies, bigger than what Socrates originally called the “noble” or “fine lies,” as we have mentioned in the beginning of the discourse. This is due to the fact that what we call the noble lie is “more easily believable than these lies will be, inasmuch as [it] concerns the origins and, after a period of time, there will be no witnesses of those origins left to gainsay it;…” (Bloom 1968, 384).

That such a challenge is posed to the practice of pragmatic politics makes the possibility of deliberating in this manner all the more ideal. It might be that we will be entering the very dangers of pursuing justice which are irrelevant to human nature, as what Terence Irwin (1985) said in his introduction to his translation of the Nicomachean Ethics (Irwin 1985, xvii) and deny them even though it is the very essence of our being human. However, I would propose that as a closure, we take into reflection how Aristide Tessitore (1989) looked at it: “Aristotle periodically and quietly reminds his most gifted readers that these are self-imposed limits and do not represent the only, or even fundamental, perspective that informs his work as a whole.” (Tessitore 1989, 262). The dichotomy that we have wrongly placed between pragmatism and idealism, then, should have been between the personal sphere and the political sphere, which was basically what Plato has been proposing. Thus, if we, as practitioners of politics, would consider a reorganization of our views, we must maintain that what we believe personally should be subsumed into what must be believed for the maintenance and security of the state. Only then, I believe would we be on the right way to end the ills of the world that has been plaguing human societies since their time.

The Good as to a Schemer’s Point of View

Having gone through a discussion of the arguments presented by the aforementioned theorists at great length, we now turn to a theatrical performance of pragmatism in policy-setting and try to reconcile them with what we are studying. Redford’s political drama “Lions for Lambs,” for all the negative reviews and merciless bashing it got from established film critics, presents a particular scene in which an action of policy-making and agenda-setting makes us think about the validity of the ends we pursue.

It is inherent among us, as we have said a while ago, to take the opinion of college student Todd Hayes (portrayed by Andrew Garfield) on the practice of politics, or for that matter political science: “[T]he psychology about how much shit the voters will swallow before they notice. The science part, it's only how to win. Not how to govern, not how to make anybody any better, just how to win. No matter how stupid or how two-faced or cruel you gotta make yourself look.” [10] As said a while ago, we dichotomize what is the ideal from what is the pragmatic, which is wrong in the practice of political discourse. Rather, we must stress that the difference does not lie insomuch as the pragmatic is alien from the ideal, but that the pragmatic is the means by which we follow different ideals.

Of particular importance in our analysis would be the character played by Tom Cruise, the bright-eyed and enthusiastic Republican Senator Jasper Irving. His character, the valedictorian of his batch from West Point and assigned in intelligence work (which he claims to excel at), worked up his way to the ranks of the Republican Party and became one of the most popular Senators at that time, due to what considered as the vibrancy he infused among the Republicans, who as whole world knows are increasingly becoming unpopular due to the tactical and political blunders committed by their leader, the current President George W. Bush.

The movie, being set in a fictional 2008, presented him as having developed a supposedly new strategy on the War on Terror against Afghanistan. The plan involves sending small “forward-moving points” to take the high ground of the battlefields in surprise during winter so as to deprive the Taliban rebels of the ability to survey the American troops, giving them tactical advantage. Such a plan, however beautiful, feasible and assured of victory as it may sound, would entail another unpopular decision to be made: additional sending of troops in the Middle East. At the current rate of casualties inflicted and lost to the United States Armed Forces, sending more troops has become an undesirable national policy, which, as Irving remarked in the movie, is ironical. Considering how, in essence, the whole world flocked to give comfort, condolence and support for retaliation to the disaster of the September 11 World Trade Center bombings, it is paradoxical that now the very citizens of America are shouting out for a new policy; “a strategy to bring the troops home,” as reporter Janine Roth (played by Meryl Streep) threw to him while he discusses the urgency of implementing such a strategy to win “a war that we cannot lose.”[11]

It is worthy to note how he voraciously parries away the questions of Roth on why is it that the necessity to reflect on the root of the problem has no room in this plan to win the war. She commented that we were fighting Bin Laden as a manifestation of their condemnation of “terror,” yet America was the power behind the rise of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War of the 1980s (whom they executed a few years ago). He maintains that the only relevant thing now to be done is to how to win this war. Sen. Irving went so far as to making a prediction that if America walks out of the War on Terror, assured is “not only the end of hope for tens of millions of Afghans nor the end of American credibility but the end of America as a voice of righteousness in the world. And when we are forced to go back in a couple years, we will be faced against a shattered Iraq, a hopeless Afghanistan and a nuclear Iran. How many troops are we going to need then? I guarantee you will be adding some zeros.”[12] Though the appeal to emotion is quite strong, citing the value of patriotism and a sense of national responsibility, it cannot mask the fact that he has committed the fallacy of the slippery slope in playing the “prophet of doom” if the policy would not push through.

He also blamed other causes for the numerous blunders that America committed in its international wars in the past decades[13], blasting on the armed forces’ bad intelligence capabilities, the ineptitude of the decision-makers in war due to lack of experience or expertise, and the unpopularity of the decision to go to war due to media exposure. On the last reason, he confronts Roth herself and complains on why the media is becoming an instrument of propagating the “rule of the majority,” confusing it with what is supposedly right. This point is actually what Aristotle says about the concept of democracy itself, being a corruption of the ideal form of government that is timocracy. He considers it as a corruption due to the fact that in such a government, all are equals or the rulers are weak, free to do anything they please.(NE, 1160b20; 1161a5).

Yet despite all this, certain elements of Senator Irving’s character appear that allows us to establish the questionability of his sincerity. When asked by the reporter if “he did bleed in battle,” he adamantly maintained that he has no culpability as to what she is assuming, having been assigned in intelligence work as a reward for his performance at West Point. And, in the end of the interview, when Janine Roth tries to pry it out from him if these plans were intended to make his image more credible to win the Republican nomination for the presidency, he replied: “Let me state this as loudly as possible. I’m not running for President.” (Italics mine).[14] The very image of hypocrisy proposed by Todd Hayes as we have mentioned in the beginning made itself manifest in him, which makes us skeptical about his rant on how broken-hearted he is to ask enlisted personnel to risk their lives for this war.

Such arguments and dilemmas abound in the entirety of the movie, and I suppose in reading this text of the movie, an alert and virtuous ear and mind is necessary to successfully dissect and analyze what is being sent out. However boring and eye-drooping, we as students of political theory should not take the point of film critics that the lengthy discussions, whether it be between Irving and Roth or the other central characters, are simply there to muddy the waters[15]. In fact, the discussions between the journalist and the senator would serve as a perfect example of the dilemma confronting Plato (once more, by speaking through Socrates) in the question of how to handle the truth in an ideal state. He said that only “a very small group… which remains to keep company with philosophy in a way that’s worthy; perhaps either by a noble and well-reared disposition, held in check by exile, remains by her side consistent with a nature” should practice philosophy, the pursuit of what is “the real truth” among the abounding half-truths and lies in the world. (Rep. 496a-b).

Roth, in pushing the need to remember the past and use it as a guide in deciding what is the ideal policy to be implemented, is demanding the truth, as witness her reply to Irving when he exasperatedly asked until when they (journalists and, in essence, the general populace) will ask the same questions: “Until we get the answer.” (Italics mine).[16] The Platonist argument goes against this, as it says that only a few should handle the truth. This is simply because the truth, though its presence is necessary if a state should have virtue and value, would inevitably cause the end of politics, the end of critical analysis and the pursuit of the good life, which is something that we must prevent from happening. In a sense, Todd was right in saying that there is always a necessity for a practitioner of politics to stoop down from what he believes is right to attain an ideal. This was encapsulated in the determination of Sen. Irving in proclaiming that “if it takes ten years, that's how long we stay, we do whatever it takes… Whatever it takes.”[17]

Is it The “Bullet-proof Idea?”

In our jaded and increasingly fermenting society we tend to claim being pragmatists, dismissing the idealist as a lunatic who only thinks of the impossible for his environment, a believer in a utopia. If we follow this mode, we would believe that the utopia thrives in it sense of being unachievable, “the impossible dream,” and thus we would prefer sticking to established means of doing things as results are assured, however questionable their applicability to our needs or to what the status of the state needs. Such a mindset is misled, as the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus would declare through his now-famous maxim: “Nothing is permanent but change.” True, the times, leaders and beliefs are always bound to be subjected to the alterations and situations that the human race will be placed in. However, I would like to postulate beside it that even the concept of the state is made permanent since its establishment, if not at least as enduring as change. It may change in form, as Aristotle has proven in our past discussions, yet what makes it remain is its core and most important: the demos or the people.

It was documented that the absolutist French monarch, King Louis XIV of France, expressed on his deathbed that, to disprove the popular story that he claimed he was the State: Je m'en vais, mais l'État demeurera toujours." ("I depart, but the State shall always remain").[18] The state is bound to exist unless the people have been eradicated from the face of the earth, and for that matter the practice of politics as well, as hinted by Sheldon Wolin (1960, 125) in his discussion of the political criteria posited by St. Augustine in his writings: “to the degree that a political society promoted peace it was good; to the degree that it embodied a well-ordered concord among its members it was even better; to the extent that it encouraged a Christian life and avoided a conflict in loyalties between religious and political obligations, it had fulfilled its role within the universal scheme… The political order, then, occupied a kind of intermediate plane where the two antithetical symbolisms intersected. The collective life of the political community was carried on amidst a deep tension between the naturalism of the daily activities of the community and the supernaturalism of the City of God.” (125). The will of the people shall always be the determining factor in the persistence or the downfall of any ruling government as it is for them that it exists.

To illustrate this once more in a contemporary experience, we need not look far from twenty years to see and understand the mitigating circumstances of the EDSA People Power Uprisings. The element of decision-making was made and enacted upon immediately by the demos at the call of a voice for help. Of course, due to the close involvement of the Catholic Church in this event, it would appear as if appeals to morals and ethics were the key to the almost inhuman speed of mobilization that occurred[19]. However, if one would actually look at it, it was the decision of each person whether he would or would not join the call to oust a dictator. The pragmatic option was usually defined as to be apathetic and just remain in the confines of one’s home to remain safe; this is wrong as no deliberation on the odds was made; there was no sign of courage in this and thus it is not a valid option. They all chose the ideal to show support to those who voiced out their dissent, and then went through the pragmatic means of rallying each other to go to EDSA. Through these, a series of chain reactions reverberated within the chain of command in the Armed Forces, eventually convincing high-ranking officers to defect for the cause of legitimacy and honor as proclaimed by then-General Fidel V. Ramos.[20] Pragmatism should not be defined as the best means of self-preservation; rather, it must be the deliberation of service with respect to maintenance of the self.

To project the possibility of pragmatism becoming the mainstream among policies of political decision-making would be, in itself, quite idealistic as long as the dichotomy of the practical and the ideal exists. There will be a necessity of propagating the noble lies and the supporting lies that would make them feasible to the state, as well as a transformation of the mindset of people that may take a relatively long time. Generations will indeed arrive and pass through this society, many sacrifices and compromises of ethics and conduct will be undertaken before the ideal shall be achieved. Yet one must not lose hope and the conviction in the ideal. If one is to be courageous and virtuous enough to undertake these much toil and unfinished work of “superior men” for centuries, he must be straight in his faith and in saying that there is a will to do “whatever it takes.”

It must be conceded that it was never easy for a radical idea to be accepted by a society which has a very strong attachment to its established traditions and beliefs. There is always the urge among the people to preserve and normalize what appears to be deviant, in the false belief that doing so promotes order and peace. To hold this belief is to renounce our status as “political animals,” as it entails a rejection of discourse and analysis as to what are the necessities for us to be able to live the good life. One who claims that he or she is inhibiting the expression of one’s beliefs so as to avoid conflict is being self-contradictory and hypocritical; the harmonization of conflict is what is necessary in order to reach an ideal of the common good. It is in challenging the stability of the set customs and beliefs of the state that we would be able to learn if it does cater to the needs of the people, if it places the welfare of all above the sensibilities we have developed. With these things in mind, I believe it would be to the good of the field of political deliberation if we would finally discard our aversion to being pragmatic and amoral. As the welfare of the state and its citizens are what matters the most, it is necessary to accept that, indeed, “the end justifies the means.” The challenge is how we would act in order to make this mode of action achieve the ideal, and teach the people to understand the true meaning of pragmatism; not necessarily something true, but something good enough which will reward the faith of the people.


Primary Sources:

Plato. The Republic of Plato, 2nd Edition. Translated with Notes and an Interpretative Essay by Allan Bloom. United States: HarperCollins, 1968.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin. Indiana: Hackett, 1985.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Translated and edited by Daniel Donno. New York: Bantam Dell, 1966.

Secondary Sources:

Baracchi, Claudia. Of Myth, Life and War in Plato’s Republic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

Bird, Colin. An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Bloom, Allan. “Interpretative Essay,” in The Republic of Plato, 2nd Edition. Translated with Notes and an Interpretative Essay by Allan Bloom. United States: HarperCollins, 1968.

Brann, Eva, Peter Kalkavage and Eric Salem. The Music of the Republic: Essays on Socrates’ Conversations and Plato’s Writings. Pennsylvania: Paul Dry Books, 2004.

Carnahan, Matthew Michael, Lions for Lambs, VCD. Directed by Robert Redford, Hollywood, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and United Artists, 2008.

Coronel, Shiela S. The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-born Dominate Congress. Quezon City: PCIJ, 2004.

Curtis, Michael. The Great Political Theories Volume 1. New York: Avon Books, 1961.

Dangeau, Philippe de Courcillon (1638-1720; marquis de). Mémoire sur la mort de Louis XIV. Paris: Didot frères, fils, 1858.

Ebert, Roger. “Review: Lions for Lambs.” (accessed August 5, 2008)

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978)

Irwin, Terence. “Introduction,” in Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin. Indiana: Hackett, 1985.

Kraut, Richard. Aristotle: Political Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Mayhew, Robert. Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato’s Republic. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.

McCoy, Alfred W. Closer than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy. Pasig City: Anvil, 1999.

Mulgan, R. G. Untitled. Review of Averroes on Plato’s Republic, by Ralph Lerner. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 71, No. 2, (Jun., 1977), pp.645-646. (accessed July 23, 2008).

Nusbaum, Martha Craven. “Shame, Separateness and Political Unity: Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, 395-435. California: University of California Press, 1980.

Ophir, Adi. Plato’s Invisible Cities: Discourse and Power in the Republic. Maryland: Barnes & Noble, 1991.

Pears, David. “Courage as a Mean,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, 395-435. California: University of California Press, 1980.

Roberts, Jean. “Political Animals in the ‘Nicomachean Ethics’.” Phronesis, Vol. 34, No. 2, (1989), pp.185-204. (accessed July 21, 2008).

Rosenthal, E. I. J., ed. & trans., Averroes’ Commentary on Plato’s Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956.

Tessitore, Aristide. “A Political Reading of Aristotle’s Treatment of Pleasure in the Nicomachean Ethics” Political Theory, Vol. 17, No.2, (May, 1989), pp. 217-265. (accessed July 21, 2008)

Williams, Bernard. “Justice as a Virtue,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, 189-199. California: University of California Press, 1980.

Wilkes, Kathleen V. “The Good Man and the Good for Man in Aristotle’s Ethics,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, 341-357. California: University of California Press, 1980.

Wolin, Sheldon S. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought. Great Britain: Little, Brown & Co., 1960.

[1] Shiela S. Coronel, The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-born Dominate Congress. (Quezon City: PCIJ, 2004), 4. As established by a study of the House of Representatives based on available data, the Filipino legislator (whose backgrounds actually apply to almost all in the top government posts) is “not the typical Filipino, who is likely to be below 35, with a few years of high-school education and annual family income of about P 150,000[.]”

[2] Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. Translated and edited by Daniel Donno. (New York: Bantam Dell, 1966), 70. It was explicitly noted in his discussion in Chapter 18 that “…the prince, as I mentioned earlier, should avoid those things which would make him the object of hatred and contempt. Hatred… he will most readily endanger by being rapacious and seizing the property and the women of his subjects. This he must not touch.”

[3] John 15:3

[4] Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 3-4. I make this assertion due to the fact that the Philippines remain one of the bastions of conservative Roman Catholicism. With a large percentage of Filipinos being baptized into the Church, they have been taught early on from childhood that talking, more so thinking or fantasizing, about sex is a taboo and a grave sin bordering to lust. Such a situation is accurately mirrored in the essay “We Other Victorians,” which says: “On the subject of sex, silence became the rule… Nothing that was not ordered in terms of generation or transfigured by it could expect sanction or protection. Nor did it merit a hearing. It would be driven out, denied, and reduced to silence.”

[5] See Note 2.

[6] This was culled from a personal observation in a class on Political Theory at the Ateneo de Manila University which I attended in July 29, 2008. During the discussion on Book V of The Republic, the mere mention of physical training in the nude was quite enough to drive the class into groans of disgust or irreverent laughter.

[7] For this particular translation, see Ralph Lerner, trans. Averroes on Plato’s Republic. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1974.

[8] Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. Translated and edited by Daniel Donno. (New York: Bantam Dell, 1966), 70.

[9] I.e. the Batman and the Joker.

[10] Carnahan, Matthew Michael, Lions for Lambs, VCD. Directed by Robert Redford, Hollywood, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and United Artists, 2008. When asked by Dr. Stephen Malley (the character played by Robert Redford) for an example, Todd pointed to “presidential candidates now. They announce their candidacy in front of a large audience and loudly saying they will not run for president!”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. The most devastating example to date other than the current War on Terror is the Vietnam War. It left the United States in a period of recession and loss of credibility during the era of the Cold War. This was alluded to by Roth in the interview which, at this point, is becoming a debate. Irving commented on the course of their conversation, dryly noting that its “high-minded” nature would not interest the patronage of the network she is working for.

[14] Ibid. See Note 9.

[15] Roger Ebert, “Review: Lions for Lambs,”,

[16] Carnahan, Matthew Michael, Lions for Lambs, VCD. Directed by Robert Redford, Hollywood, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and United Artists, 2008.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Philippe de Courcillon Dangeau (1638-1720; marquis de). Mémoire sur la mort de Louis XIV. Paris: Didot frères, fils, 1858.

[19] Alfred W. McCoy. Closer than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy (Pasig City: Anvil, 1999), 257. It actually became a widespread belief among the civilians who participated in the 1986 Revolution that such an event could only be interpreted by supernatural means: “The historical factors that transformed a doomed mutiny into a mass uprising by a million civilians are so elusive, so mysterious, that many Filipino Catholics have explained the event as a miracle. Some felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Others, of a more literal faith, reported sightings of an angelic “blue lady” who hovered protectively over the massed humanity at EDSA. In an interview six months later, Manila’s primate Cardinal Sin attributed Marcos’s downfall to the hand of God… Similarly, a Filipino priest, Father Antonio B. Lambino, S.J., felt that human agency alone could not explain these events.”

[20] Ibid. General Ramos, a cousin of the dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos, was adamantly refusing to be recruited into the plot to overthrow the latter by a clique of middle-ranking officers led by Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. This was so until it was made clear to him that he will never be allowed to replace the incumbent AFP Chief-of-Staff, General Fabian Ver, whose name was mired in corruption and the accusation of murdering Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. As observed by McCoy: “The rebels were saved by luck and circumstance, not by their own tactical acumen. After months of refusing RAM’s overtures, General Ramos, after his confrontation with Marcos, unexpectedly joined the revolt in its first hours and used his patronage to prompt defections among key commanders. When Ramos’s constabulary clients refused to crush the mutiny and disperse the crowds, over a million civilians surrounded the rebel camps and made an assault impossible.”

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Enlightenment under the Swamp for Insufficient Truths by Hansley A. Juliano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

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