August 17, 2004

A CITY ON A HILL (via Mike Daley):

Candidates' visions don't do justice to democracy's greatest good, freedom.
Part 1 (Honora Howell Chapman, 8/16/04, Victor Davis Hanson)

John Edwards offers such a compelling story of American success through education and hard work that one cannot help but like him. And his kids are totally adorable! But his “two cities” theme spooks me when I think of Plato’s Republic, Book 8. Here Socrates is leading his eager students through four different types of governments: timocracy (rule of those with honor, usually earned through military prowess), oligarchy (rule of the few, based on wealth over virtue), democracy (rule of the people), and tyranny (rule of one man who has bought the people’s favor). The exchange on oligarchy is rather eerie because it ties together both the Kerry and Edwards visions:

“Yes,” he said, “but what is the character of this constitution, and what are the defects that we said it had?” “To begin with,” said I, “consider the nature of its constitutive and defining principle. Suppose men should appoint the pilots of ships in this way, by property qualification, and not allow a poor man to navigate, even if he were a better pilot.” “A sorry voyage they would make of it,” he said. “And is not the same true of any other form of rule?” “I think so.” “Except of a city,” said I, “or does it hold for a city too?” “Most of all,” he said, “by as much as that is the greatest and most difficult rule of all.” “Here, then, is one very great defect in oligarchy.” “So it appears.” “Well, and is this a smaller one?” “What?” “That such a city should of necessity be not one, but two, a city of the rich and a city of the poor, dwelling together, and always plotting against one another.” “No, by Zeus,” said he, “it is not a bit smaller.” “Nor, further, can we approve of this--the likelihood that they will not be able to wage war, because of the necessity of either arming and employing the multitude, and fearing them more than the enemy, or else, if they do not make use of them, of finding themselves on the field of battle, oligarchs indeed, and rulers over a few. And to this must be added their reluctance to contribute money, because they are lovers of money.” “No, indeed, that is not admirable.” [from Paul Shorey’s translation, found at, a fantastic Classics resource]

No, by Zeus, indeed! Now if you reconsider Edwards’ “two cities” message, in essence we have a Democratic candidate in the most powerful democratic republic on the planet telling us we live in an oligarchy. Earning a firmly middle class salary (by Californian standards), I find this pretty insulting to my intelligence and lived reality. Yes, the nation has reeled from the effects of economic downturn and a rather slow recovery. Yet none of us, not even John Kerry, wants to pilot that oligarchic ship they’re conjuring. (Or does he already with his fellow senators like Edwards, along with Bush and Cheney, and I’ve been too preoccupied earning my paycheck to notice?)

Of course it's scary, but it's also political suicide: if you're reading this (in other words, if you have a computer) you know for a fact that you're in the comfy city and that John Edwards is coming after you and yours to give what you've got to those in the crappy city. A good measure of the uniqueness of America is that we all either reside in the "good" city or think our kids will. Trying to pit us against each other is contemptible...and stupid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 17, 2004 8:43 AM

Another good measure of the uniqueness of America is the virtually complete absence of de jure or de facto barriers to moving from the crappy city to the good city.

Or vice versa, for that matter.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 17, 2004 11:22 AM