THE BLOG
12/17/2012 10:29 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

Plato, Ancient Greek Philosopher v. Today's American Republican Party

The Republican Party claims to be the Party of small government, unfettered conservatism, and low taxes. Most recently, they have even developed an unusual affection for austerity programs, an impulse that is certainly consistent with their core values although such practices may very well yet bring the limited recovery of our painful economic crisis to a paralyzing stand still. This crisis - it should be said - was created by a Republican President who inherited a healthy budgetary surplus from the Democratic administration before him. Yet after going into two unpopular wars and paying their enormous and unwieldy costs on credit and through a systematic deregulation of protective fiscal policies and a lack of oversight, the Republicans have left the country in financial shambles.

President Bush's disregard for economic prudence provided the financial ruling capitalist elite with a new frontier for greed. Corporate America and Wall Street took advantage of all the many deregulations handed to them by the Bush White House, and with their reckless speculative behavior, gambled with and risked the stability of the entire capitalist system and by implication, the world system, as well.

That most of the representatives of the financial capital in this country are affiliated with the Republican Party or that it was a Republican administration that brought us to this very dire situation, are facts that cannot be ignored. What is difficult to understand, however, is the stubbornness of the Republican Party leadership in continuing to protect the richest 2 percent of the population against the possibility of rising taxes. This is a particularly egregious strain on credulity given that a sizable segment of this 2 percent votes Democrat and provides substantial funding to the Democratic Party. It is now popular wisdom that many rich people, rather than risk another recession, would not mind paying more taxes as a way of moving the economy forward.

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician whose ideas have had a profound impact on many facets of modern life including political and social theory, might find this state of affairs confounding. He was one of the earliest thinkers to put forth the idea that the best and most effective governance is based on a balanced integration of people and power, one which allows all of its various components to thrive, although not at the expense of others.

Were Plato alive today, however, he would be nothing less than thunderstruck by the Republicans, who have become - plainly and simply - an oligarchical party, a small group that governs for their own purposes. The "Grand Ole Party" is one that helps financial and economic elites such as the Koch brothers, who represent a unique brand of libertarianism. And perhaps most tellingly, Republicans have failed to recognize the central problem of American society today: our conspicuous and steady growth towards economic inequality.

We should take note of a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a multinational forum that examines the factors that drive social, economic and environmental change. The OECD had some alarming things to say about economic inequality: "There was a rise in the share of top-income recipients in total gross income in the three decades from 1980 to 2010 in all countries, with considerable variation from country to country. It was most marked in the United States: prior to the onset of the financial and economic crisis in 2008, the share of the richest 1percent in all income reached close to 20 percent."

Plato, in his "VIII book of the Republic", warns us about the perils of a oligarchical system in ways that should make us ponder and in a better world, might force the Republican party to change its ways. Writing a philosophical dialogue, Plato states: "This, then, will be the first great defect of oligarchy? Clearly. And here is another defect, which is quite as bad. What defect? The inevitable division: such a State is not one, but two States, the one of poor, the other of rich men; and they are living on the same spot and always conspiring against one another."

The Republican Party should heed Plato's warnings.