- Plato’s Allegory of the Cave Explained
An Athenian philosopher living in ancient Greece, Plato is famous in part for penning the Socratic dialogue The Allegory of the Cave, one of the most significant pieces of work in literary history.
– What Is an Allegory?
The word ‘allegory’ comes from the Latin ‘allegoria,’ meaning speaking to imply something else. An allegory represents a larger point about society or human nature through a simple story, in which different characters may represent real-life figures. Sometimes, situations in the story may echo stories from history or modern-day life without ever explicitly stating this connection.
Allegories are similar to metaphors in that both illustrate an idea by making a comparison to something else. However, allegories are complete stories with characters, while metaphors are brief figures of speech.
– What Is The Allegory of the Cave?
The Allegory of the Cave is a Socratic dialogue recorded by Greek philosopher Plato. Plato was a student of Socrates, and one of the few people to write down some of his many teachings, which were eventually compiled into their own books. The Republic is one such book, containing The Allegory of the Cave, a dialogue between Socrates and Plato’s brother Glaucon. As presented by Plato, Socrates’s allegory of the cave imagines a group of people chained together inside an underground cave as prisoners. Behind the prisoners there is a fire, and between the prisoners and the fire are moving puppets and real objects on a raised walkway with a low wall. However, the prisoners are unable to see anything behind them, as they have been chained and stuck looking in one direction—at the cave wall—their whole lives.
As they look at the wall before them, they believe the shadows of objects cast by the moving figures are real things—and the only things. Their visible world is their whole world. The narrative goes on to ponder about what would happen if one of the prisoners were forced to leave. What would they see? How would they adjust? Would they believe what they saw outside? What would happen to them if they returned to the cave? Would they be able to see the same things they saw before? The narrative assumes the freed prisoner would return and try to liberate their fellow prisoners, now knowing how much more of the world exists outside the cave. However, in its conclusion, Socrates and Glaucon agree that the other prisoners would likely kill those who try to free them, as they would not want to leave the safety and comfort of their known world.
– What Does The Allegory of the Cave Mean?
Plato uses the cave as a symbolic representation of how human beings live in the world, contrasting reality versus our interpretation of it. These two ideas reflect the two worlds in the story: the world inside the cave, and the world outside. For the prisoners in the cave, the shadows on the wall created by firelight are all they know to be real. If one of the prisoners breaks free and witnesses the outside world, they will come to understand that as the true reality. However, when the freed prisoner returns to the darkness of the cave, their eyes will have now been blinded by the light of the sun, and their fellow prisoners still inside the cave will believe that it is the outside world that is harmful; to them, that truth is not worth seeking.
The allegory delves into the philosophical thought of truth, and how those with different experiences or backgrounds may perceive it. The shadows on the wall of the cave are constantly changing, so there is no stability or consistency offered for those who bear witness to them—only a false reality. They have no knowledge that the real world exists outside of their dark cave, or even that there is a real world other than their own. Meanwhile, the person who has left the cave will not be able to exist as they once did. In fact, they may even come to pity or feel superior to those who remain in the cave. The allegory essentially demonstrates the conflicts between knowledge and belief and what happens to a person once they’ve been enlightened. It is an examination on the nature of humanity, and fear of the unknown.
The Influence of The Allegory of the Cave
Plato’s cave allegory has influenced philosophy as well as media and filmmaking, whether directly or indirectly. References to Plato’s allegory of the cave appear in works such as:
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953): In this famous dystopian novel, fireman Guy Montague burns books for a living, until a new acquaintance forces him to reconsider his values. Through literature, Montague discovers the outside world.
- Country of the Blind by H.G. Wells (1904): In this Plato-esque story, a man with sight stumbles into a land of the blind, where all the villagers lost their sight due to a disease. However, not only can they not see, but they also don’t believe anyone else can. The man fails to prove to the villagers that he can see, and in the end, he is unable to save them from an impending rock slide.
- The Matrix (1999): This popular film follows Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he discovers that the world he has been living in is actually a simulated reality. Neo decides to leave his comfortable existence and learn the truth.
- The Truman Show (1998): In this movie about a TV show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives a “fake” life that is used purely for the entertainment of others. Slowly, he begins to chip away at the facade, even though everyone else around him refuses to admit he’s right.
- Room by Emma Donoghue (2010): Author Emma Donoghue has acknowledged the influence of the Socratic allegory in her novel, Room, which is told from the perspective of a young boy who has never left the room where he was born.
It is without a doubt that Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is one of the most thought-provoking and fascinating parables ever told. It is intriguing to the extent that many have devoted their entire careers, if not lives, to trying to fully grasp its true essence and meaning. The Allegory of the Cave has infinite interpretations, which have added to its beauty over time, creating multiple platforms for discussion, debate and abysmal philosophical analysis. This short tale by Plato not only depicts the journey of a ‘prisoner’ out of a dark cave and into the world of the Good, rather; it illustrates a story concerning the soul, the importance of knowledge and the true meaning of liberation.
It is only when one has closely read and analyzed ‘The Republic‘ by Plato that he/she is able to summarize the three ways through which a person is able to make the celebrated turn. It this turn that transforms the person from being a regular individual who lives in the world of shadows and is preoccupied with non-concrete things, into a philosopher; a person who has experienced what lies outside the cave and is able to see “the true light of the Good.” According to Plato’s Republic, the three ways are: divine intervention or ‘divine irruption’ into the human dimension, education of the individual through the muses and gymnastics (which is supervised by the philosophers) and what is known as ‘dialectic’.
The Allegory of the Cave can be categorized as an example of divine irruption, the first of the three above-mentioned methods. The motive for such an assumption lies in the wording of the allegory itself narrated by Socrates. Socrates begins his renowned narration by instructing Glaucon to imagine a cave. In this imaginary cave, Socrates speaks of prisoners who have been firmly tied up and chained since their childhood, all facing the same direction: “Imagine further that since childhood the cave dwellers have had their legs and necks shackled so as to be confined to the same spot. They are further constrained by blinders that prevent them from turning their heads; they can see only directly in front of them.” (Plato, 209) What this description suggests is that the only reality, the only thing that the prisoners are familiar with, are the shadows that are projected on the cave’s wall. Everything else is obscure and unknown to them.
It is when Socrates mentions to Glaucon that one of the prisoners is freed that we sense an interference from the divine, a greater source of power that commands the liberation of the prisoner: “One prisoner is freed from his shackles. He is suddenly compelled to stand up, turn around, walk and look toward the light.” (Plato, 210) The language used in the previously cited phrase, particularly the words freed and compelled suggest the external intercession of an unmentioned player. The phrases: “Again, let him be compelled to look directly at the light” and “then let him be dragged up by force” both reiterate the interference of an external force”. What can be inferred from this extended metaphor is that it is only with the presence of a divine player, that the ordinary person can make the turn towards the light of the good. One can also interpret the allegory of the cave as being a justification for the proper transformation of the soul once it has been provided the precise sort of education. Hence, the person who pursues true education and seeks knowledge, continuously clarifying his doubts, will be able to attain the title of a philosopher if he strives to do so.
When the ‘chosen prisoner’ is released and let out to the real world, his eyes gradually begin to adjust to the new environment that surrounds him. He instantaneously apprehends that everything that was once familiar to him i.e. the shadows, are in truth, factions and obscurities compared to what is actually existent—what is truer than reality as we know it. But, when the possibility of the prisoner returning back to the cave is presented to Glaucon, it is agreed that he will be mocked and ridiculed on his claim of seeing a ‘truer world’ than the world of shadows. The reason for this is that the other prisoners, who have never experienced life outside the cave, will find it impossible to believe a different insight on reality than the one they have known during the course of their lives: the faded shadows on the wall.
The Similarity of Plato’s Cave and the Story of the Prophet
One must closely encapsulate the allegory of the cave on its own terms before making any comparisons and associations that could further enhance one’s own understanding of this legendary fable. It was almost impossible to avoid connecting the Allegory of the Cave, and the ascent of ‘the chosen prisoner’, to the period of revelation in Prophet Muhammad’s life—peace and blessings be upon him. It was during the Holy month of Ramadan when God communicated with the Prophet Muhammad, who was retreating in a cave, through archangel Gabriel. A noticeable similarity between Plato’s allegory and the story of Muhammad’s first revelation in Islam lies in the first verse, or first word to be more precise, that was revealed to Muhammad by Gabriel:
“Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, who created—created man out of a mere clot of congealed blood. Read! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He who taught [the use of] the pen. He taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an, Surat Al-`Alaq 96:1-5)
Why We Need to Educate Ourselves
Education. Education is one of the most prominent parallels that can be found in both of the two accounts. It is with knowledge that one is able to transcend towards a higher class—that of philosophers. The allegory of the cave depicts the elevation process of one’s mind by education through the ascent of the ‘chosen prisoner’ to witness the true world of reality. Similarly, the first word revealed to Prophet Muhammad —read— stresses the importance of seeking knowledge and uplifting one’s intellectual capacity to the next domain. Henceforth, education is framed as a marvelous gift, whether it was through Plato’s thought (which is eventually sourced to the Creator), or directly from God through Gabriel, it is agreed upon that it holds great power and ability to transform what is ordinary to being extraordinary.
The Prophet Mohammed as the Liberated Man in Plato’s Allegoy
Apart from education, there are several other similarities between Muhammad’s experience with revelation and what is styled by Plato in the Allegory of the Cave. One main resemblance is the flow of events in each of the two accounts; the idea of a ‘chosen prisoner’ by a divine power, the adjustment that was required by the prisoner to his new surroundings, and then, the anticipated mockery that awaited the prisoner upon his return to the cave. All of these instants that Plato depicted in the fable narrated by his teacher, Socrates, can be found in the account of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation.
Upon his sudden encounter with the archangel, Muhammad was unable to familiarize with what was happening around him and he hurried out of Cave Hira’a and down Jabal Al Nour (Mountain of Light). Gabriel then called out to Prophet Muhammad, seeing that he was running away from him, saying: “O Muhammad! You are the Messenger of Allah and I am Angel Gabriel.” Upon hearing this, the Prophet Muhammad stopped, and at that moment in time, anywhere he turned his head to he saw Gabriel. (Al Banna, 26) .
What we can infer from this is that Muhammad was specifically chosen by God to see the light of the Good and experience the real truth, this is similar to the prisoner who was liberated from his shackles and was compelled to ascent outside of the cave; it was he who was chosen out of all the others.
To conclude, the two versions that have been analyzed in this essay aim to further develop and bridge the gap between Platonic philosophy and one of the most significant stories in Islam. The Allegory of the Cave is not limited to philosophical aspects of the human life, rather; it can be extended further to religious and spiritual traits of our lives. In Islamic view; God is the source of all the Good in our world, He is the One that grants each of us His due of light and goodness: “God wishes to purify you completely…to lead you out of darkness into light”.
- A Comparison of the Philosopher-Kings in Plato’s Republic and Al-Farabi’s The Attainment of Happiness – An Essay by Daniel Joshuva
Plato and Abu Nasr Al-Farabi
Al-Farabi (872-950 A.D.) was an Islamic Philosopher who lived during the Golden Age of Islam in the Abbasid Caliphate. He studied and wrote much on the ancient works by the Greeks, especially Plato and Aristotle. This essay will cover much on the ideals of Happiness for a city’s population, and the the basis on what makes a good ruler; that is the Philosopher-King. See here more: Al-Farabi’s Humanistic Principles and “Virtuous City” and The City of Life, Visions of Paradise
The ideas of Plato’s Republic have both influenced and antagonized philosophy from cultures all over the world ever since it was written in the 4th century BC. Specifically, the philosopher-kings of his Republic have been debated and interpreted in so many ways, it’s hard to imagine anything new being said. However, in the 9th century AD, the brilliant Islamic philosopher Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (AD 870-950) would do just that. His breadth of knowledge and understanding of both Greek and Muslim thought is impressive, even by today’s standards. His originality is also seen in his attempts to synthesize the two traditions. In this essay, I would like to explore two things.
First, what are the similarities and differences between the philosopher-kings of Plato and the philosopher-kings of Al-Farabi? If there are any, what changes did Al-Farabi make to Plato’s theory?
Second, what can the modern-day reader learn from a comparison of these two thinkers that come from vastly different contexts?
Although the Republic is large and covers a variety of issues; for the purposes of this essay, the main discussion will come from books 5,6, and 7. As mentioned in the introduction above, the philosopher-kings of Plato have been interpreted in many ways since thetextwas written over 2 millennia ago. One of the more popular interpretations is that the philosopher-kings described by Plato are meant to stay in an idealistic context. This is important because many people have dismissed the concept of Plato’s philosopher-king on grounds that they are not a practical solution to any real political situation. Whereas this very well be true, Plato in this section is philosophizing on his ideal city, a city that he most likely doesn’t see coming to fruition in any real sense. As he tells Glaucon in Book V
Let me, as if on a holiday, do what lazy people do who feast on their own thoughts when out for a solitary walk. Instead of finding out how something they desire might actually come about, these people pass that over, so as to avoid tiring deliberations about what’s possible and what isn’t. They assume that what they desire is available and proceed to arrange the rest, taking pleasure in thinking through everything they’ll do when they have what they want, thereby making their lazy souls even lazier. (Republic 458a)
As Plato tells us, he is writing under the assumption that the aims of his ideal city arealready assumed possible. He does this to “avoid tiring deliberations about what’s possible and what isn’t.” Instead, he wants to talk about all the necessary parts that would be required for his ideal city, if the ideal city is already assumed to be possible. In this sense, the philosopher-kings are truly an idealist notion. Dr. Robin Barrow describes Plato as, “a poet”, with, “a touch of the mystic about him and more than a touch of imagination” (Barrow 209). In my opinion, it is important to remember this aspect of Plato’s thought when discussing his theory of philosopher-kings in his ideal city.
It is towards the end of Book V, after his discussion on the role of women and the family in his ideal city, that Plato states his controversial thesis that has caused debates ever since.
Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, Glaucon, nor, I think, will the human race. And, until this happens, the constitution we’ve been describing in theory will never be born to the fullest extent possible or see the light of the sun. It’s because I saw how very paradoxical this statement would be that I hesitated to make it for so long, for it’s hard to face up to the fact that there can be no happiness, either public or private, in any other city. (Republic 473c-e)
As he admits in the last sentence, Plato does not believe that a city can find happiness unless the rulers of the city become “philosopher-kings”. So, what are they?
Plato, through Socrates, spends the rest of Book V establishing what is means for a ruler to be a philosopher. When Glaucon asks Socrates who the true philosophers are, he responds “Those who love the sight of truth” (Republic 475e). “The outcome of the whole discussion”, as Cross and Woozley explain in their commentary of the Republic, “is that the latter does not possess knowledge, does not really know anything, but has only belief (doxa), is a philodoxos, i.e. a lover of belief, whereas the genuine philosopher possesses knowledge, is able to apprehend the truth, and thus alone merits the name of philosopher” In Book V, Socrates establishes that the philosopher-kings he is about to discuss further are those that possess true knowledge, as opposed to those that rely on “doxa” or belief.
Although much more time could be spent on what Plato understands as knowledge, which is a true understanding of his theory of Forms, for the purposes of this discussion it is better to move on to Book VI. It is in Book VI that Plato begins to give the specific qualities that should be seen in his ideal philosopher-king. After establishing again that the philosopher-king, in his nature, has, “a love for the truth” (Republic 485c); he then lists more specific characteristics associated with this nature. Wooley and Cross summarize these characteristics as, “a good memory, he is quick to learn, magnanimous, gracious, a friend and kinsman of truth, courage, justice and temperance” .It is these characteristics that Plato believes will be visible in the nature of every philosopher-king.
For the purposes of this essay, the other important takeaway from Book VI comes from Plato’s discussion about what the best constitution should be in relation to these guardians of the city. As he states, if we, “were to find the best constitution, as it is itself the best, it would be clear that it is really divine and that other natures and ways of life are merely human” (Republic 497d). It is here that Plato acknowledges the importance of laws and lawmakers in relation to his ideal city. He understands that true knowledge of the forms is not enough; the rulers must also use this knowledge in the making of the laws in the city. As Wooley and Cross state, “There must, as is said at 497d, be some authority in the state with the same idea of its constitution, the same understanding of it, as Glaucon and Plato, the original legislators. That is, the rulers must have knowledge, must in fact be philosophers” . The ideal rulers of Plato’s city must not only be philosophers, they must also be legislators.
Only if the rulers of Plato’s city also become philosophers and legislators will the happiness of Plato’s ideal city come to fruition. It must be remembered that the philosopher-kings Plato imagines only exist to create and maintain happiness in his ideal city. They do not have any selfish motives of their own. The rest of Books VI and VIII are Plato trying to explain how and what the education of these philosopher-kings might look like. He highlights this process with three different allegories: Allegory of the Sun, Allegory of the Divided Line, and the Allegory of the Cave. These allegories represent the process guardians are supposed to go through to obtain true knowledge. As described by Narges Tajik, “Philosophers pass through the steps of their own education, whether physical or mental, in the city. They, after training in music and literature as a preliminary education, learn mathematical disciplines-arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and harmonics” . It is through this process of education, as the infamous allegory of the Cave shows us, that the philosopher-kings ascend from darkness to light. Plato summarizes the goal of this process in Book VII, “But our present discussion, on the other hand, shows that the power to learn is present in everyone’s soul and that the instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body… education is the craft concerned with doing this very thing, this turning around, and with how the soul can most easily and effectively be made to do it” (Republic 518c-d). Is it through this process of ascent that the philosopher-kings learn the Good, which is what is necessary for the ideal city.
As Plato makes clear, however, learning about the truth is not enough. Those that learn must not be allowed, “to do what they’re allowed to do today”, which is, “To stay there and refuse to go down again to the prisoners in the cave and share their labors and honors, whether they are of less worth or of greater” (Republic 519d). The guardians must go back and educate the rest of the city. Glaucon then asks if it is wrong to force these guardians to live a worse life when they could live a better one by not going back. As Socrates then reminds Glaucon, the philosopher-kings only exist in the first place for the happiness of the whole city. “The law produces such people in the city, not in order to allow them to turn in whatever direction they want, but to make use of them to bind the city together” (Republic 520a). The guardian that returns to Plato’s city is not only ruler, but now a philosopher and legislator as well. Happiness for the city and for themselves is only found when they use their newfound knowledge for this purpose.
Although he was largely known in the medieval Islamic world for his expertise on Aristotle, even known as the “Second Master” because of this, the influence of Plato on Islamic philosopher Al-Farabi’s thought is also undeniable. However, the influence of Plato on Al-Farabi is largely, “an un-Platonic interpretation of Plato, at least of Plato as seen by the Hellenistic traditions” (Mahdi, Philosophy and Political Thought 17). The importance of Plato on Al-Farabi’s thought is largely a political one, while viewing the other-worldly aspects of Plato as “accidental” (Mahdi, Philosophy and Political Thought 17). This is noticeable when one sees the special importance Al-Farabi places on both Plato’s Republic and Laws in his political works. In this context, The Attainment of Happiness is especially important, because according to Mahdi, “it is here that he gives an account of the theoretical foundation on the basis of which those other works should be understood, and of the philosophic principles that are applied in the other works” (Mahdi, Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle 9). A comparison between the philosopher-kings of Plato and Al-Farabi becomes insightful when viewed through this light.
Before Al-Farabi arrives at his discussion of what philosopher-kings should be in his The Attainment of Happiness, he splits the books into two sections. He first discusses “the human things through which nations and citizens of cities attain earthly happiness in this life and supreme happiness in the life beyond are of four kinds: theoretical virtues, deliberative virtues, moral virtues, and practical arts” (Al-Farabi, Attainment of Happiness 13). Of these the theoretical virtues are most important because, “[It] is primary knowledge. The rest is acquired by meditation, investigation and inference, instruction and study” . After telling us what each of these are, he tells us that theoretical perfection is comprised with the knowledge of these four things (25). He then goes on to discuss in depth the methods by which one can attain knowledge in each of these things. Although much more could be said on this section of the book, Al-Farabi arrives at the conclusion that knowledge comes to be understood by man through one of two ways: philosophy or religion. As Mahdi points out, “The main argument of the Attainment of Happiness is so constructed as to lead inevitably to a view of the relation between philosophy and religion” (Mahdi, Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle 9). As we will see, the ruler of Al-Farabi’s ideal city becomes a different variation of Plato’s when this is fully understood.
Al-Farabi finally states the central thesis of his philosopher-kings towards the end of the book when he says
So let it be clear to you that the idea of the Philosopher, Supreme Ruler, Prince, Legislator, and Imam is but a single idea. No matter which one of these words you take, if you proceed to look at what each of them signifies among the majority of those who speak our language, you will find that they all finally agree by signifying one and the same idea. (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness 46)
It is clear from reading this that his idea of philosopher-kings is very similar to Plato’s. The rulers described by both authors are those that work for a single idea: the happiness of the city. To begin, let us compare the first four categories that are almost identical to Plato’s: Philosopher, Ruler, Legislator, and Prince.
The philosopher that Al-Farabi describes is almost identical to the role the philosopher plays in Plato’s Republic. The philosopher, like Plato’s, is someone that understands the truth of being at deeper level than the rest of the city. For Al-Farabi, this is someone that is knowledgeable in the “theoretical virtues”, which as mentioned earlier is described as “primary knowledge”. Knowledge is not enough however, because, “To be a truly perfect philosopher one has to possess both the theoretical sciences and the faculty for exploiting them for the benefit of all others according to their capacity” (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness 43). Just like the example from Plato’s cave, the philosopher cannot stand idly by after learning truth, he must go back into the city. His philosophy must not only be theoretical, but practical as well. He goes as far as to say that those that isolate themselves with the theoretical alone practice a “defective philosophy” .
For the philosopher, the “practical virtues” in Al-Farabi’s system are the virtues used to bring the rest of the city happiness. For the city, it is not enough that the philosopher understands truth, he must be able to apply what he knows towards the benefit of the city. And because of the belief that Plato and Al-Farabi have that not all citizens can learn truth the same way the philosophers do, other “practical” methods must be used. It is for this reason that Al-Farabi declares that the philosopher must be a “supreme ruler” as well . The philosopher needs this authority so that he may apply practically what he knows how to demonstrate theoretically. Therefore, when someone considers, “the case of the true philosopher, he would find no difference between him and the supreme ruler. For he who possesses the faculty for exploiting what is comprised by the theoretical matters for the benefit of all others possesses the faculty for making such matters intelligible as well as for bringing into actual existence those of them that depend of the will” (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness ). In short, the supreme ruler brings about practically, through will, what the philosopher theoretically demonstrates as truth.
As was discussed above, the legislator aspect of Plato’s philosopher-king is an acknowledgement by Plato that knowing the truth is not enough, the rulers must also be able to create laws so that this same truth can be realized in the city. Al-Farabi understands the legislator role in a very similar way. He states that, “to bring the actual existence of intelligibles”, the philosopher also needs to, “prescribe the conditions that render possible their actual existence” (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness 45). Once the conditions to bring about truth are considered, the philosopher becomes legislator in creating laws to bring his knowledge to the city. “Therefore the legislator is he who, by the excellence of his deliberation, has the capacity to find the conditions required for the actual existence of voluntary intelligibles in such a way as to lead to the achievement of supreme happiness” . Al-Farabi’s legislator, just like the philosopher and supreme ruler, has one goal: achievement of supreme happiness. Al-Farabi reminds us that the legislator must be a philosopher first for this very reason. He believes that it is impossible for the legislator to find the conditions necessary for supreme happiness unless he experiences this happiness first with his own intellect . He then emphasizes the inverse as well: the philosopher that understands the theoretical virtues but cannot bring them about practically “has no validity” .
The Prince category that Al-Farabi mentions is also heavily inspired by Plato’s thought. Al-Farabi believes that humans have different “natural virtues”, or in other words, different humans have different natural states of character. It is only after this natural virtue is “coupled with deliberative virtue” that moral virtues can be formed by the will (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness 33). For Al-Farabi, it follows from this that, “some men who are innately disposed to a [natural moral] virtue that corresponds to the highest [human moral] and that is joined to a naturally superior deliberative power, others just below them, and so on… Therefore the prince occupies his place by nature and not merely by will”. It is important for Al-Farabi that it is not only outside things that give the prince power, he must also show innate ability to understand truth. In fact, he tells us the name prince itself is supposed to signify, “sovereignty and ability” (46). And just like the other categories, the perfect prince exists only for the attainment of supreme happiness. “If his ability is restricted to goods inferior to supreme happiness, his ability is incomplete and he is not perfect” .
After Al-Farabi mentions the Philosopher, Supreme Ruler, Prince, and Legislator, he mentions the last category that truly separates him from Plato: The Imam. The ingenuity that Al-Farabi shows in synthesizing the Imam with the philosopher-king is incredible. It is this synthesis that has lead scholars like Farouk A. Sankari to state that it is, “Alfarabi’s great contribution to political philosophy” . So, what exactly does Al-Farabi’s Imam represent? He tells us that the idea of the Imam in Arabic, “signifies merely the one whose example is followed and who is well received: that is, either his perfection is well received or his purpose is well received” (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness 46). In short, the Imam represents someone that brings the truth to the people through religion.
It is the incorporation of religion in Al-Farabi’s theory of philosopher-kings that separates him from Plato. Religion is important for Al-Farabi because, aside from philosophy, it is the other way that man can assent to truth. Philosophy, as discussed above, is when truth can be demonstrated by the intellect, when the philosopher shows proficiency in the “theoretical virtues”. Religion, on the other hand, knowing the same truth as the philosopher, persuades not through demonstration but through imitation. In fact, it is these “popular, generally accepted, and external [philosophical]” methods of persuasion through imitation that Al-Farabi understands as religion. “In everything of which philosophy gives an account based on intellectual perception or conception, religion gives an account based on imagination” (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness ). The divine revelation of religion for Al-Farabi is symbolic imitation, meant to persuade those that cannot understand the demonstrative methods of the philosopher. In this context, the Imam becomes important because he translates the demonstrated truth of the philosopher into symbols so that the rest of the city may be persuaded to truth through imagination.
In Al-Farabi’s own time, this religion was Islam. The bold claim that religion and philosophy ascend to the same truth by merging the Imam with the philosopher-king is what makes Al-Farabi stand out from Plato. As Ali and Qin state, “Unlike Plato’s philosopher king, the ruler of Alfarabi’s virtuous city is a philosopher prophet who receives divine revelations. Revelation as his source of knowledge differentiates him from the ruler of Plato’s The Republic and associates him with the prophet Muhammad, rightly guided Sunni caliphs and Shia Imams who received guidance from God through revelation” . Al-Farabi’s Imam, someone that receives divine truth and translates it into images for the benefit of the people, is clearly modeled after the prophet Muhammad. Religion can be the link that reveals truth to those that cannot understand the universal truths passed down through philosophy. For Al-Farabi, if philosophy is universal, then religion is cultural. As he states, “Philosophy gives an account of the ultimate principles (that is, the essence of the first principle and the essences of the incorporeal second principles), as they are perceived by the intellect. Religion sets forth their images by means of similitudes of them taken from corporeal principles and imitates them by their likeness among political offices. It imitates the divine acts by means of the functions of political”. Philosophy only gives an account of truth; it is religion that imitates this truth in the real world by the formation of political offices that try to bring this truth to reality. Ali and Qin go on to conclude, “Although Alfarabi makes a distinction between the knowledge of a philosopher and the nonphilosophers, he, nonetheless, seeks perfection for ‘all the people of the excellent city’, and argues that all of them ‘ought to’ have the basic knowledge about everything. While Plato either excludes or expels imperfect natures, Alfarabi’s policy towards them seems to be that of reformations through the knowledge they can grasp which is religion, the symbolic imitation of philosophy” . Al-Farabi links the Imam to the philosopher-king of Plato so that “ultimate principles” can be understood by all, even if this understanding must come through symbolic images created by religion to imitate the “ultimate principles” of the philosophers.
Takeaways for the Modern-Day Reader
When it comes to comparing philosophers with the magnitude and breadth of knowledge that Plato and Al-Farabi showed throughout their work, the hardest part comes in narrowing down what can be learned. The beauty of these great intellectuals for the modern-day reader is that they can continue to inform and expand our thinking in so many ways, even thousands of years later. The philosopher-kings of both writers is just one example of a jumping off point in a comparison between these two. However, in doing research for this comparison, there was a theme that is continually seen throughout both works that I believe is still relevant for any student of political philosophy. The theme is in the title of Al-Farabi’s work that has been discussed, sa adah in the Arabic, or in the English translation: happiness.
In my view, the philosopher-kings of both Plato and Al-Farabi cannot be critically examined unless the emphasis on happiness that both authors display is understood fully. This happiness, however, is different than what many people think of when they think of happiness in the 21st century. For most people in the modern world, happiness starts on the individual, personal level. This understanding of happiness never usually escapes the realm of feelings; feelings that change as consistently as the seasons. Some may go a little further, and extend this understanding of happiness not only to themselves, but to those they care about as well. However, for Plato and Al-Farabi, this is almost the exact wrong way to look at it. For them, happiness only exists when the city is happy. Everything they theorize for their ideal cities is always viewed through this lens, especially in relation to philosopher-kings. For both authors, it is not that the philosopher-kings come first, followed by ideal happiness. For them, it is that ideal happiness already exists, and it is the philosopher-kings that come to learn this truth to benefit the overall happiness of the city. It is why Plato’s philosopher-king must return to the cave, because his existence in the first place is only for that purpose. As Tajik reminds us, “Plato believes that the philosopher ought to return to the city, because if he does not promote the citizens towards the happiness, his own happiness will not be perfect” . Al-Farabi reminds us of this “supreme happiness” as well, which is seen in how he continually emphasizes both the theoretical and practical knowledge that rulers must have to properly govern a city. In these theoretical cities, every individual lives for the happiness of the city, and it is this happiness that comes back to then be experienced by the individual. Even the philosopher-kings, in their quest for ultimate truth, only exist in the end for this purpose.
Another takeaway that branches off this overall theme of happiness, is the significant impact that religion plays in the role of Al-Farabi’s city when compared to Plato’s. Al-Farabi, by looking at the world around him, knew that philosophy was not enough in bringing everyone to understand happiness in the same way as the philosophers did. His proof was not only the Islamic world around him, but also the other religions of the past. He understood the power religion could play in helping so many people come to understand happiness. Like Plato, Al-Farabi believed that because different people have different natures, not everyone could come to understand truth in the same way. Whereas Plato seems to leave behind those that cannot understand the truth of philosophy, Al-Farabi tries to bring them back in through religion. By imitating philosophy, religion tries to bridge gap between the philosophers and non-philosophers. Al-Farabi wants everyone to know the truth of the philosophers, even if they must come to understand this truth through methods of persuasion instead of methods of demonstration (Al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness).
As mentioned previously, the attempt to compare writers with the level of stature of these two was a difficult task. However, it has also been an extremely rewarding one. On the most basic level, having to dive deeper than I ever have into two different philosophers has greatened my interest not only in their philosophical contexts, but in their historical contexts as well. More specifically, Plato’s concept of philosopher-kings was what I found most interesting reading through the Republic earlier this semester, so getting to learn a little more about how it has been understood over time has also been rewarding. In my opinion, Plato’s philosopher-kings remind us that his ideal city was one in where every citizen lived for the happiness of the entire city. This means that the rulers are not only included in this, but that in his ideal city, the rulers would not even exist outside of this. Al-Farabi then takes this concept from Plato and expands on it brilliantly. In his attempt to synthesize the concept of Plato’s philosopher-king with the Imam of Islam, Al-Farabi displays great respect for the philosophy of the past without ignoring the people of his own historical context. If there is an overarching lesson to be drawn from Plato and Al-Farabi, it is this one. Plato’s philosopher-kings serve to remind us that the knowledge of existence outside the cave is useless unless one goes back in. Al-Farabi’s addition of religion is his acknowledgment that this knowledge should be known by all, not only the rulers. Although Plato and Al-Farabi both agree that philosophy contains truths that are eternal, it is Al-Farabi that reminds us that these truths can be understood in more than one way. If Plato’s emphasis on philosophy reminds us of universal truths, it is Al-Farabi’s addition of religion that reminds us that these truths are always being told in new eras, in new places, to new people.
- Plato’s idea of democracy
Plato finds democracy next to tyranny. Why does he think so low of democracy? Explain your position towards his criticism. Can his argumentation be applied to contemporary democracies?
This essay seeks to address the above questions. First it explains Plato’s concept of democracy, which shapes his attitude towards this form of government. Then it discusses my position towards Plato’s criticism of democracy, provides a definition of contemporary democracy, and finally shows how Plato’s argumentation can be applied to present day democracies.
Plato’s idea of democracy which was conceptualized in around 300 B.C is quite different from the present day understanding of democracy. According to Plato, democracy originates “when the poor win, kill or exile their opponents, and give the rest equal civil rights and opportunities of office, appointment to office being as rule by lot” . In another word, for Plato only philosopher kings were entitled to rule a society and apart from them ordinary people were perceived as barbaric and not worthy of governing. Plato’s perception of democracy was shaped by his aristocratic background. For him only the elite which were described as “gold” had the right to rule the regular people who according to Plato were destined to be ruled. In Plato’s word elite is a person who born with capacity and ability of being “gold”. He doesn’t want the people to take power and hold office.
Plato believed that anyone who did not have exceptional gifts could not grow into a good man unless he was brought up from childhood in a good environment and trained in good habits. Plato asserts that “ democracy with a complicated gesture sweeps all this away” and doesn’t mind what the habits, and background of its politician are; provided they profess themselves the people’s friends, they are duly praised.
The main reasons why Plato doesn’t want people to be in power are the following: first, he says that “people are free, there is liberty and freedom of speech plenty, and every individual is free to do as he likes” . Therefore, people will abuse ultimate freedom and this will lead the state to chaos and instability. Plato refers to democracy as “an agreeable anarchic form of society” with lots of variety, which considers all people as equal, whether they are equal or not. In an anarchic society there is no protection of people’s basic rights and complete chaos. In such a society without law and order, violence would be rampant and inevitably lead to oppression and tyranny.
Second, in Plato’s point of view, a democratic society is a place for “constitution hunting” where a multitude of constitutions based on individuals’ interests are available. Plato says “it’s a shop in which one finds plenty of models to show” . In Plato’s word, model means constitutions mean the laws that people created by themselves and using that according to their own interests. He warns against leaving people with their own interests. Therefore, we can conclude that according to Plato finally it leads to anarchy and tyranny in a state. In an anarchic society there is no law, and the powerful person is the leader. He has his own law and he accommodates it on people. He does “what pleases him best”, and becomes a tyrant. In order to prevent a society from becoming anarchy, we should have regulation on that society.
I think there is need for regulation within the rule of law in a democratic society, but Plato defines it differently. In my opinion, every citizen of a state has equal rights and responsibilities toward his country similar to the elite (philosopher king) part of society. In contemporary democracy, unlike Plato’s time, the whole power belongs to people. However, Plato wants the state to be ruled only by the “philosopher king” therefore denying the rights of other citizens of the state; this is not practical in contemporary democracy. Read more here
- Why Democracy Doesn’t Work:
Democracy is the closest we’ve gotten to a form of government that offers equal representation and rights to all people and provides an avenue for everyone to contribute to society’s development. But it is no secret that Plato, one of the greatest ancient Greek philosophers, did not like democracy. He believed that democracy doesn’t work. Or as is precisely stated in The Republic, “Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike“. Furthermore, in The Republic, he proposes what he envisioned an ideal government should resemble. Although all of Plato’s suggestions are not ideal or applicable in a democracy, there are definitely a few that can be learned and adapted to improve our governments’ status. Due to the recent developments across the globe, it should be self-evident that we haven’t managed and taken care of our democracies very well. So what faults did Plato find in democracy as a form of government? Why did one of the greatest philosophers our planet has ever known, living in one of the most ancient democracies in humanity’s history, not like democracy? And more importantly, what lessons can we take away from Plato and his Republic? —-
- Why Plato Hated Democracy
The Republic’s clues about modern leaders and their popularity
Ancient Greece is famed for both it’s democracy and philosophy. Despite this, the seminal Greek philosopher Plato was much opposed to his city’s democratic governance.
Plato’s ‘Republic’ is widely acknowledged as the cornerstone of Western philosophy and the first great examination of political life. Written around 375bc, ‘The Republic’ still holds insights into ethics and political life that can teach the modern world many a lesson. Such has been the impact of Plato on Western thought that Alfred North Whitehead claimed:
“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”.
European political thought became dominated by appraisals to democratic values in the 20th century, as democracy swept the continent. But this is not quite what the great philosopher had in mind. Plato uses The Republic to deliver a damning critique of democracy that renders it conducive to mass ignorance, hysteria, and ultimately tyranny.
Democracy in Ancient Athens
Plato witnessed democracy begrudgingly in his city of Athens. Ancient Athenian democracy differs from the democracy that we are familiar with in the present day. Athens is a city-state, while today we are familiar with the primary unit of governance operating nationwide. Consequently, governance of a smaller population enabled more ‘direct’ forms of democracy rather than the ‘representative’ forms accorded by contemporary constitutions.
All citizens (with the pertinent qualification of their being free men) were permitted the opportunity of equal political participation: Important decisions were made by the assembly, where each citizen had the right to speak and the majority of offices were assigned by lot.
Professional prosecutors and judges did not exist in Ancient Athens. Instead, it was left to the ordinary citizen to bring indictments, act as jurors, and deliberate on the outcome of trials.
Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly.
The Death of Socrates
Socrates, another of Ancient Athens’ great philosophers, was Plato’s respected mentor and friend. Plato’s Republic is written in a series of dialogues in which Socrates is given a starring role — Socrates himself never wrote his work down. As a result, there is some ambiguity as to whose opinions are being posited in the Republic but it is commonly thought to be Plato’s.
Socrates was largely a nonentity in Athenian public life but he was an enthralling character who dedicated his life to conversations with promising young men and leading intellectuals. But it was not only his life that had an extraordinary impact on Plato; but also his death.
In 399bc Socrates was put on trial by a small group of fellow citizens acting as democratic citizen-prosecutors. He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and introducing new gods, neglecting those of the city, which existed as an object of civic patriotism. Socrates was convicted of these charges, before being imprisoned and finally executed. Plato was repulsed by his city’s failure to benefit from Socrates and the execution influenced his conclusion that democracy is antithetical to philosophy.
Democracy — Rule by the Ignorant
Plato believed that expertise is the critical attribute of a leader; He criticizes democracy of seldom producing such characters. Rather, it elects popular spinsters who are effective in manipulating popular opinion.
To depict this, Plato uses an analogy of ship navigation in Book VI of ‘The Republic’. He contests that in order to select the appropriate captain, a popular vote is ineffective because people can be swayed by characteristics as irrelevant as their appearance. Instead, we should seek out only the most knowledgeable candidate as it is he who holds the required expertise.
Plato illustrates the ignorance that democracy yields in producing a captain:
… the true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds, and all the other subjects appropriate to his profession if he is to be really fit to control the ship…[the electorate] think that it’s quite impossible to acquire the professional skill needed for such control and that there’s no such thing as the art of navigation.
Plato, therefore, believed that philosophers should rule — philosopher kings. A true philosopher is someone that is in love with knowledge and the search for true reality. Those who seek reality are those best qualified to guide as they have the greatest knowledge at their disposal.
‘Philosophy’ can be interpreted from Greek as the love of wisdom, thus a true philosopher is a person who seeks pleasure purely of the mind. According to Plato (in Book VII), this unencumbered love of wisdom negates the possibility of the love of falsehoods, physical pleasures, material pleasures, meanness, and cowardice. All desires and tendencies that threaten to corrupt leadership.
In a democracy, however, leaders are prone to ignoring the inconvenient truths. During the Brexit campaign, a leading UK politician Michael Gove refused to name any economists who back Britain’s exit from the European Union, saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. In different sections of Plato’s Republic, this hostility towards philosophy (true knowledge) is predicted.
In his famous Allegory of the Cave (Book VI), Plato illustrates a moment in which a man discovers the reality of the world is different than perceived by prisoners in a cave. As he returns to the cave to reveal this, he is met with violent rage. As well as being symbolic of Athens’ treatment of Socrates, it suggests that knowledgeable leadership cannot survive in democracy as it will be ‘warped and estranged’ by the need to remain popular.
Democracy is Hysterical
The excitability and emotion of people and their mass mobilization incites democracy to acts of hysteria according to Plato. The whimsical nature of public support defies sound reason and produces fatal inconsistency over time.
The ‘Mytilenian Debate’ in Athens, 427bc, stands as a flagrant example of this hysteria. Reported in Thucydides’ book the History of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian assembly, scared of further revolt, hastily sentenced all of the male citizens of the rebellious city-state Mytilene to death, while the women and children would be sold into slavery. Realizing the unprecedented brutality of their decision, it was overturned the very next day.
Aside from inconsistency, Plato also insists that the hysteria of democracy leads to its demise in other ways:
“An excessive desire for liberty at the expense of everything else is what undermines democracy and leads to the demand for tyranny”
In this society awash with liberty, there is no distinction between citizens, immigrants, and aliens. Teachers fear pupils, the young do no respect the old. Everything is full of the spirit of liberty and even animals walk the streets with rights. Aspects of the liberal society illustrated here are today celebrated. In fact, Plato’s apparent denunciation of immigrants holding citizenship and animal right appears draconian in the setting a present-day liberal-democracies. But rather than denunciating these substantive realities, the great philosopher was concerned this society would cause a greater conflict; a political conflict yielding hunger for a single, strong leader — a tyrant.
Incredibly, issues that Plato mentioned 2,400 years ago are very much still topical — often sources of political dispute. Across the Western political discourse, immigration and citizenship remain a source of political tension. Donald Trump’s ascent to power appears indicative of this revolt against libertarian politics that yearns for strong leadership, in light of these insights in Book VIII of ‘The Republic’.
Historically, the most famous demise from a democracy into tyranny happened in Germany between the First and Second World Wars. At the end of the First World War, a condition for armistice decreed that Kaiser Wilhelm was to give up his monarchy. The German Reichstag assumed the responsibility and offered to usher in a democracy, fearful of the rising communist appetite. Here became the Weimar Republic.
When the Weimar Republic was formed in 1919, there were hopeful signs that democracy would take root in Germany. The new democratic constitution with its expanded bill of rights was one of the most progressive in the world. Historians have offered a number of explanations as to why it failed. Among them is the punitive nature of the Treaty of Versaille, burdening generations of Germans with economic scarcity and so-called “guilt clause” attributing sole responsibility of the war to Germany.
German football supporters giving the Nazi salute during the international match against England in 1935.
The guilt and economic collapse enraged the German population, feeling it a huge mark of shame on national pride. Such emotion, a Platonic viewpoint may claim, is conducive to political hysteria enabling a well-timed tyrant to capitalize on the will for strong leadership and violent retribution. We all know what happened next.
Criticism of the Plato’s Ideal State
In Plato’s ideal state, groups are divided into their social utilities such as a warrior population and an agricultural population, without the ability to willfully change professions. With this system of functional specialization, there is little possibility of any full development of human personality. Suggesting that the state should wield such control over the livelihoods of its citizens is an affront to human liberty as we understand it now.
Plato fails to condemn the institution of slavery and regard it as fundamental evil, which reflects the social construct in neighboring Sparta — a militaristic oligarch with a large serf populous. His careful organization of society by a detached philosopher-king rids his ideal state of the self-determination that provides human liberty in a democracy. A final irony is that Plato’s advocacy of censorship of art, poetry, and bad characters (Books III and X) could perhaps prohibit The Republic from existing in his own ideal state.
Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher who was a student and admirer of Plato, criticized his teacher’s purely theoretical approach. Aristotle pursued political knowledge with a historical appreciation and practical sensibilities which reflected the epistemological divide between the two great thinkers — Plato a rationalist and Aristotle an empiricist.
Ignoring the lower class population was dangerous according to Aristotle, and likewise, notions such as a frequently idle warrior population were simply impractical. Kings should take advice from philosophers and they should also benefit from the advice of their citizenry. This mode of the constitution is thought to bring more unity than one preventing political dialogue between the ruled and their rulers.
While there have been instances of tyranny arising from democracy, as noted in the previous chapter, democracy has been widely successful. An article from the Economist claims that populations have turned on autocrats for good reason:
“Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal”.
The affluence, liberty, and peace arising from the spread of democratic values in the 20th century would afflict damage to Plato’s testimony for what appears to be an autocratic rule of dissonant philosophy.
But while Plato may have sought to heal tyranny with medicine that tastes a lot like the disease, The Republic still carries its important messages. In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region including long-standing democracies like the United States.
There is a lot we can learn from Plato and his work in The Republic. Perhaps where democracies are concerned, we must remain wary of the ignorance and hysteria that Plato forewarned us of, to halt regression into tyrannical practice.
Tyranny of the stock Market:
– Why do the rich get richer — even during global crises?
Every 30 hours, the pandemic spawned a new billionaire, while pushing a million people into poverty. Here’s why. y Somesh Jha 26-12-2022
Death and devastation are not the only calling cards COVID-19 will be remembered by. The pandemic has also drastically widened inequalities across the globe over the past three years.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 131 billionaires more than doubled their net worth during the pandemic. The world’s richest person, Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault, was worth $159bn on December 27, 2022, up by around $60bn compared with early 2020. Elon Musk, the planet’s second-wealthiest man, boasted a $139bn fortune — it was less than $50bn before the pandemic. And India’s Gautam Adani, third on the index, has seen his wealth increase more than tenfold in this period, from approximately $10bn at the start of 2020 to $110bn at the end of 2022.
At the same time, close to 97 million people — more than the population of any European nation — were pushed into extreme poverty in just 2020, earning less than $1.90 a day (the World Bank-defined poverty line). The global poverty rate is estimated to have gone up from 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent by late 2021. Now, skyrocketing inflation is affecting real wage growth, eating into the disposable incomes of people around the world.
To curb rising prices, central banks are reducing the flow of money into the economy by increasing interest rates and withdrawing excess liquidity. But that has again boomeranged on workers, with companies — from tech firms like Amazon, Twitter and Meta to banks like Goldman Sachs — announcing layoffs at the end of an already tumultuous 2022.
Al Jazeera spoke to economists to understand why the rich keep getting richer even amid crises and whether that is inevitable each time there is an economic slowdown.
The short answer: Many countries adopt policies such as tax breaks and financial incentives for businesses to boost economies amid crises like the pandemic. Central banks flood the economy with money to make it easier to lend and spend. This helps the wealthy grow their money through financial market investments. But widening inequality is not unavoidable.
Stock market boom
When the pandemic began, central banks across the world swung into action to protect financial markets that took a severe beating as governments started imposing lockdown restrictions.
To save the economy from collapsing, central banks slashed interest rates, thereby lowering borrowing costs and increasing the supply of money. They also pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets with the aim of encouraging companies to invest in the economy. Major central banks have infused more than $11 trillion into the global economy since 2020.
These interventions triggered a boom in the value of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments — but the rise in asset prices wasn’t accompanied by an increase in economic production.
“Instead of leading to more economic output, a bulk of the sudden infusion of money into the financial system led to a dramatic rise in asset prices, including stocks, which benefitted the rich,” Francisco Ferreira, director of the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Al Jazeera.
A year into the pandemic, capital markets had risen $14 trillion, with 25 companies — mostly in the technology, electric vehicles and semiconductors segment — accounting for 40 percent of the total gaiBillionaires saw their fortunes increase as much in 24 months as they did in 23 years, according to Oxfam’s “Profiting from Pain” report released in May this year. Every 30 hours, while COVID-19 and rising food prices are pushing nearly one million more people into extreme poverty, the global economy is also spawning a new billionaire.ns, according to an analysis of stock performance of 5,000 companies by consulting firm McKinsey.
“The result is that this pandemic period has seen the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since the records began,” Oxfam America’s Director of Economic Justice Nabil Ahmed told Al Jazeera. “And we are still coming to terms about how extraordinary that rise has been.”
Billionaires saw their fortunes increase as much in 24 months as they did in 23 years, according to Oxfam’s “Profiting from Pain” report released in May this year. Every 30 hours, while COVID-19 and rising food prices are pushing nearly one million more people into extreme poverty, the global economy is also spawning a new billionaire.
To be sure, both income and wealth inequalities have been on the rise since the 1980s when governments across the world began deregulating and liberalising the economy to allow more private sector participation. Income inequality refers to the gulf in the disposable income of the rich and the poor whereas wealth inequality deals with the distribution of financial and real assets, such as stocks or housing, between the two groups.
Among other things, the post-liberalisation period also resulted in declining bargaining power of workers. At the same time, companies increasingly started turning to financial markets to borrow money for their investments, Yannis Dafermos, a senior lecturer in economics at SOAS University of London, told Al Jazeera.
“It is the financialisation of the economy in particular that generated a lot of income for the rich, who invest in financial assets,” Dafermos said. “And whenever an economic crisis strikes, the central banks’ response is to save the financial market from collapsing because it is so much interlinked with the real economy. This helps stock and bond markets to thrive creating more wealth and inequality.”
This is what major central banks did during the global financial crisis in 2008-09 — injecting liquidity into the market through various tools and lowering interest rates to encourage companies to borrow and invest.
“The easy money policy that began after the global financial crisis led to really low to negative interest rates and big liquidity in the financial system,” Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Al Jazeera. “So, in the past 15 years, corporations chose to reinvest the money into buying more financial assets chasing high returns, rather than increasing their production.”
The pandemic accelerated those structures of inequality – be it liberalisation of the labour market, surge in monopoly power or erosion of public taxation – Oxfam’s Ahmed said. One example is that 143 of 161 countries analysed by Oxfam froze tax rates for the rich during the pandemic, and 11 countries reduced them.
Inflation hits lower-income nations worst
As countries started easing COVID-19 restrictions, a sharp rise in consumer demand coupled with supply shocks contributed to global inflation touching record levels.
That has forced central banks to wind up their policies of allowing access to easy money. They have also announced sharp interest rate rises. Their aim now is to reduce demand so that prices soften and, in advanced economies like the United States, to also cool down the jobs market.
To preserve their earnings in the wake of this policy shift, major companies have now started announcing job cuts, even as inflation bites the poor with low savings.
“Even when inflation has increased, the profit margins of firms have not declined,” Dafermos said. Large companies are retaining profits to give dividends to their shareholders rather than increasing wage incomes, even as smaller companies suffer due to a lack of investments by bigger firms, he said.
Interest rate increases have increased borrowing costs, also affecting the ability of low-income and developing countries to spend more on welfare schemes as they have high levels of public and private debt.
“Because of the way the global financial system works, there will be a lot of pressure on developing countries to implement austerity measures,” Dafermos said. “That can create more inequalities and for me, this is perhaps more significant because it limits their capacity to provide social protection to the poor.”
According to Oxfam, lower-income countries spent approximately 27 percent of their budgets in repaying their debts – twice the money spent on education and four times that on health.
Inequality is a political choice
After World War II, countries started following progressive taxation policies and took steps to address monopoly power, Ahmed said. And while many nations reversed that approach during the pandemic, a few bucked the trend. Costa Rica increased its highest tax rate by 10 percent and New Zealand by 6 percent in order to redistribute wealth.
“There are examples of countries doing the right thing. And it reminds us that inequality is not inevitable. It’s a policy and a political choice,” Ahmed said.
If left unaddressed, on the other hand, wealth inequality gives power to the rich to influence policies in their favour, which can further deepen the income divide, independent of the boom-and-bust nature of economic cycles. “Higher wealth tends to be associated with capture of government and state institutions by the elite,” Ferreira at the London School of Economics said.
This, he said, can take different forms in different democratic contexts. But the result is the same. “The bargaining power of the rich increases due to various tools they use such as lobbying,” he said. “Policies end up benefitting the wealthy and that again creates a cycle. But, this time it’s a political cycle”
- Tyranny against Nature and Truth:
- A Mirror for the Sons of our Times
Mirrors for princes (Latin: specula principum), or mirrors of princes, form a literary genre, in a loose sense of the word, of political writing during the Early Middle Ages, Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and are part of the broader speculum or mirror literature genre. They occur most frequently in the form of textbooks which directly instruct kings or lesser rulers on certain aspects of rule and behaviour, but in a broader sense the term is also used to cover histories or literary works aimed at creating images of kings for imitation or avoidance. Authors often composed such “mirrors” at the accession of a new king, when a young and inexperienced ruler was about to come to power. One could view them as a species of self-help book – a sort of proto-study of leadership before the concept of a “leader” became more generalised than the concept of a monarchical head-of-state. see more here
Today Anno 2020 these self-help book can be used by any young man to form his heart and mind. Read here A Mirror for the Sons of our Times
- Thomas More and Islam: Utopia (1516)
An odd case in early 16th century literature on tolerance is the work of Erasmus’s personal friend Thomas More. In his Utopia of 1516, More pictures an ideal society where different religions co-exist. He not only allows the diversity of Islamic society to enter the stage, but also the fact that the wise majority regards God as ‘above all our apprehensions’:
There are several sorts of religions, not only in different parts of the island, but even in every town; some worshipping the sun, others the moon, or one of the planets. Some worship such men as have been eminent in former times for virtue or glory, not only as ordinary deities, but as the Supreme God; yet the greater and wiser sort of them worship none of these, but adore one eternal invisible, infinite, and incomprehensible Deity, as a being that is far above all our apprehensions, that is spread over the whole universe, not by its bulk, but by its power and virtue; him they call the Father of all.
Utopus, the king of the Utopians, ‘made a law so that every man might be of what religion he pleased, and might endeavour to draw others to it by the force of argument’. Islam’s teaching on truth shared by different religions shows as Utopus ponders ‘whether those different forms of religion might not all come from God, who might inspire men differently, He being possibly pleased with a variety in it’.
The stress on philosophy and argument suggests that More, rather than the Ottoman, had the Moorish Empire in mind; the Medieval center of philosophy and science which had been surrendered to Catholic rule only years before. This viewpoint may be substantiated by the story of the Utopian who converted to Christianity. He commenced preaching ‘with more zeal than discretion’, crying out against the Utopians ‘as impious and sacrilegious persons, that were to be damned to everlasting burnings’. Despite the fact that it was ‘one of [the Utopians] ancientest laws, that no man ought be punished for his religion’, the Christian is punished, ‘not for having disparaged their religion, but for his inflaming the people to sedition’. This reminds of the story of Eulogius and the martyrs of Cordoba, suggesting stories reached Thomas More from that quarter.
Illustrative the fact that early in the 16th century, the ideas imported from Islam were only appreciated as experiments, is that despite the apparent comprehensiveness of the teachings on tolerance in Utopia, Thomas More would only 15 years later forget about his own book and vehemently persecute heretics as Chancellor under king Henry. Read here I N S E A R C H OF U T O P I A: A R T A N D S C I E N C E I N T H E E R A O F T H O M A S M O R E
- The Ottoman Legacy: 600 years of how to maintain a balance between religious ideology and secular politics and how to promote fairness and equality among citizens in a multicultural society. Read also: Platonism in Islamic philosophy
While many still equate the Ottomans with the decadence of Istanbul–extravagant architecture, harems, and hookahs–they are unaware that the secrets of Ottoman success lay in a disciplined bureaucracy and a standing army that both awed and seduced its opponents. The Ottomans harnessed the talents of their diverse populations and quickly buttressed the crumbling edifice of Byzantine Christianity. Their dynamism and resilience helped fuse the cultures of Asia, Europe, and Africa, from the Himalayas to the Sahara, absorbing whatever impressed them, from Mongol armor to Persian tile work. Alongside their essential rigor, they enjoyed the finer aspects of life: in music, cuisine, and art, unafraid, even as rugged fighters, to display their love of flowers and gardens, especially tulips and roses. Behind the fine robes, carpets, and ceramics on display today in their great architectural monuments, Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia, lie centuries of migration, trade, and struggle. Read more here
- King Charles : Harmony – A New Way of Looking at Our World
- Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power
The present work complements Guénon’s East and West, The Crisis of the Modern World, and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, for whereas the latter detail the West’s gradual movement away from traditional values, Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power focuses by contrast on what Guénon believed to be the normal relationship between the spiritual and the temporal implied in a healthy traditional civilization, that is, the supremacy of knowledge over action, of the sacerdotal over the royal caste. Touching first on India and the medieval West, Guénon then illustrates his point by citing quarrels over investiture and disputes of certain French kings with the papacy as evidence of a deviation in Christianity. In his preface Guénon refers to recent ‘incidents’ that had drawn attention to this general question, and although he says that his deliberations are not meant to deal directly with them, it may be of interest to note that the events concerned centered on a confrontation in 1926 between the political organization Action Française and Pope Pius XI. Read Here
This remarkable book grew out of a conference headed by René Guénon, the sinologist René Grousset, and the neo-Thomist Jacques Maritain on questions raised by Ferdinand Ossendowski’s thrilling account in his Men, Beast and Gods of an escape through Central Asia, during which he foils enemies and encounters shamans and Mongolian lamas, whose marvels he describes. The book caused a great sensation, especially the closing chapters, where Ossendowski recounts legends allegedly entrusted to him concerning the ‘King of the World’ and his subterranean kingdom Agarttha. The present book, one of Guénon’s most controversial, was written in response to this conference and develops the theme of the King of the World from the point of view of traditional metaphysics. Chapters include: Western Ideas about Agarttha; Shekinah and Metatron; The Three Supreme Functions; Symbolism of the Grail; Melki-Tsedeq; Luz: Abode of Immortality; The Supreme Center concealed during the Kali-Yuga; and The Omphalos and Sacred Stones . Read Here