Thursday, 21 January 2010

Greek Political Philosophy Ranting

One should forgive me for my constant and perhaps almost irritable pining for the intellectual past when one understands how I, in specifically my own capacity, learn that 'academy' comes from the Greek root words of aka-demos, which means away from the people.

Anyone training for intellectual profession in the pure sense as defined in the past did so in small clusters isolated away from big city areas and common folk. And it wasn't elitism that came along with it but instead a very deep and profound respect for wisdom.

How wonderfully ideal!

The modern layman may wonder why anyone should care so much about the training of these wisequacks; in fact our faculties in Singapore dabbling with wisdom along these lines - philosophy, politics, religion - struggle to get funding if they don't bundle such forms of education with some other economically-viable packages with the appeal to other 'more important' institutions, such as corporations and the government.

But therein lies the answer. Knowledge and wisdom in the ideal past was a valuable resource worth investing in, because knowledge ensured that society gets its due back from the investment placed in these scholars and intellectuals and their years of mastering wisdom. With that kind of respect for wisdom, you'd expect to find a society that wants to live in harmony, because that is what the best wisdom provides. But we don't get that anymore because in our modern world, knowledge and objective truth is irrelevant. Money and power is the be all end all. Intentionally or not, this is the kind of world capitalism gives rise to. There is no justice - laws as we see them today across the globe are not meant to restore equity in the balance but are instead enacted to preserve the power of the ruling elite.


It is also fascinating to learn that the modern English word 'enthusiasm' comes from the Greek word 'enthusiasmos', which refers to a state of being 'infused with the gods'. To comprehend why there is an important distinction between the modern 'enthusiasm' as we know it and the 'enthusiasm' as the ancient Greeks understood it, one must realize that they believed that there was a deep connection between themselves and the gods. There is a relationship between oneself and the kosmos, and one can either rupture it by severing oneself from divine order, or respect it and participate within it. When an artist produces a grand work of art, he often attributes it to having been taken over by divine inspiration; the work did not come from him alone. This wasn't a blind and mindless faith to religion, but rather an enlightened understanding that there is something greater than the self. It was a great respect for the divine which pervades into all other great things, such as nature and order.


In many ways, political systems are all reflections of the hierarchical relationship between man and God - the hierarchy of the ruler down to the smallest man is a replication of the cosmological (divine) order and the existence of political order is a reflection of our participation in the divine order.

That's why Lee Kuan Yew's quip that in any political system, it is the quality of the ruler that is the most important, is so importantly true. The king is supposed to be the figure of God on Earth, and only from his goodness can the rest of society under his political system be in harmony.

It then seems less puzzling why there's the universal traditional notion of the divine right of kings, or the mandate of heaven.

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