Tuesday, September 7, 2010

FLG Again Turns To Plato

Withywindle writes:
FLG mentioned honor recently ... honor I take to be concerned with the relations among people, and thus in tension with the God's-eye view of idealism. I.e., to get away from the present-day examples, the papal nuncio (or some such official) urged Charles V to break his word and burn Martin Luther; Charles, honorably, rejected this idealistic proposal. One might then go on to say that liberalism, being more idealistic, tends to discount honor -- but then, domestically liberals have some conception of the attachments of party and faction, which I take to be a variant of honorable relationships in tension with ideal. So we will stipulate a theoretical model and a practical muddle.

I think the way in which Plato describes how his ideal city would fall apart is very useful here.  In fact, I brought this up last time Withy mention honor:

Shall we follow our old plan, which we adopted with a view to clearness, of taking the State first and then proceeding to the individual, and begin with the government of honour? --I know of no name for such a government other than timocracy, or perhaps timarchy. We will compare with this the like character in the individual; and, after that, consider oligarchical man; and then again we will turn our attention to democracy and the democratical man; and lastly, we will go and view the city of tyranny, and once more take a look into the tyrant's soul, and try to arrive at a satisfactory decision. -- The Republic, Book V III

Each of these is gradually more focused on the individual. The timocrat is outwardly focused because honor is granted by others. One cannot truly honor oneself. The oligarchic man is more inwardly focused than the timocrat. He builds walls and vaults to protect his wealth, but relative wealth is still the measure of a citizen. So, he must compare his wealth to others to determine his status in the polity. The democratic man values freedom, which is the rejection of others. Freedom requires individual autonomy from the polity. I oversimplify, but basically I am saying that freedom means that the polity lacks the right to tell you not to do or to do something protected by that freedom. The tyrant is the most self-involved in that the rest of the world exists to serve him. Each of these is a regression toward self-valuing from a more polity-valuing existence. Or to use the term which Withywindle used, a shift away from the relational self toward the isolated self.

1 comment:

Withywindle said...

Tell that Plato dude to stop copying my ideas! Or I''ll live-blog him or something.

Thank you! -- yes, that is presumably how all later idealists think of it, a progression from honor to ideals. But some of us think of those ideals as 1) conflicting, or at least involving a terrible loss when you choose ideals over honor; and 2) a choice not necessarily worth making, since we can perceive honor (and other people) more clearly than we can perceive ideals. In this shadowy cave, best to look for ideals reflected in the faces of other people; i.e., honor, not ideals.

For which, see the last scene in another Orson Welles movie, The Third Man.

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