Tom Hodgkinson: 'Boris ought to know his Plato'

 

Share
Related Topics

It seems that Boris Johnson has firmly embedded himself on the side of the oligarchs over the Occupy London affair. With breathtaking lack of courtesy he has described the protesters as "hippies" and "crusties" and boasted at a bankers' lunch that the only way to deal with them was to cycle past them quickly. Yes, I'm aware that there is a bit of ribbing going on, and he is not entirely lacking in good humour. But his refusal even to think about this very intelligent protest is distressing and, in fact, simply stupid.

Mr Johnson's myopia is, though, perhaps natural, and if Boris knew his Plato, which he ought to, having been to Eton and everything, then he would recognise in the protests, riots and strikes that have marked this year a sign that the people ain't happy with the situation. He would also recognise himself as being a member of the short-sighted oligarchy – oligarchy meaning "control by a wealthy minority". Reading Plato's Republic, I was struck by the parallels with a typical cycle that he describes. In Platonic terms, it would seem that an oligarchy has taken over UK plc, and that this oligarchy has made too many loans, thereby pauperising the people, and now fails to see what is happening right beneath their noses: that the people are talking about revolution. The good news, though, is that a real democracy may be in store:

Plato writes that when the pursuit of riches remains unchecked, resentment breeds: "Doesn't oligarchy change into democracy in the following way, as a result of lack of restraint in the pursuit of its objective of getting as rich as possible?"

"Tell me how."

"Because the rulers, owing their power to wealth as they do, are unwilling to curtail by law the extravagance of the young, and prevent them squandering their money and ruining themselves; for it is by loans to such spendthrifts or by buying up their property that they hope to increase their own wealth and influence."

In our case, money has been lent too freely to people brought up on a diet of materialism and must-haves, promoted by the advertising industry.

"That's just what they want."

"It should then be clear that love of money and adequate self-discipline in its citizens... can't co-exist in any society; one or the other must be neglected."

"That's pretty clear."

"This neglect and encouragement of extravagance in an oligarchy often reduces to poverty men born for better things."

Today, millions of us have reined in our spending habits as a result of our previous extravagance. "Some of them are in debt, some disenfranchised, some both, and they settle down, armed with their stings, and with hatred in their hearts, to plot against those who have deprived them of their property and the rest of society, and to long for revolution. Meanwhile the money-makers, bent on their business, don't appear to notice them, but continue to inject their poisoned loans wherever they can find a victim, and to demand high rates of interest on the sum lent, with the result that the drones and beggars multiply."

This is the situation that will lead to social upheaval: "Democracy originates when the poor win, kill or exile their opponents, and give the rest equal rights and opportunities of office, appointment to office being as a rule by lot."

This is what the people want: a real democracy, government by the people, and not by a clique comprising top politicians and CEOs. In Ancient Athens, something close to this was achieved. It was a city state, a city nucleus surrounded by agricultural land. The population was around 200,000 to 300,000. Of these about 35,000 to 40,000 were adult free men and allowed a vote at weekly meetings. Various councils were set up to run different parts of the administration, and membership of these councils was decided by lot. You had to serve a few hours a week for one year, and no man was allowed to hold membership twice.

The democracy we have is therefore not a true democracy, as we only have the right to choose, every five years, between two slightly different oligarchical arrangements. In between we feel utterly powerless, which is why these protests have sprung up. They give people a voice. The striking thing about Occupy London is all the dialogue it has inspired: it has brought out the Ancient Athenian in all of us. Those Greeks just loved to debate. As part of this process of economic self-education, can I suggest that Plato's Republic be required reading for anyone who wishes to take an active part in the political process? Including Boris.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were killed after a gunman opened fire during a live broadcast in Virginia  

Because of Facebook and Twitter I still have Alison Parker's final chilling moments looping in my head

Nash Riggins
A Chinese investor holds prayer beads as he monitors stock prices at a brokerage house in Beijing  

We fear China's growing power. But it is morally reprehensible to celebrate the country's woes

Fokke Obbema
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future