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Socrates on North Korea – the play. July 29, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Political Theory , trackback

The first proper blog post is a piece that was written for a graduate class in democracy theory. The class was divided into two teams that were asked to defend or oppose a given statement. In the debate in question, my team’s assignment was to defend the North Korean state calling itself the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. As points were awarded by our professor for creativity, I decided to be a bit original and write an opening argument as a play based on Plato’s The Republic.Condi, Kim-Il Sung and Socrates in debate.

Defending North Korea as a democracy is of course ludicrous for any informed westerner. In fact I want to make it expressly clear to anyone that doesn’t see the irony that I do in no way whatsoever endorse what I consider the dictatorial and inhumane state of North Korea.

With this in mind we had to resort to rhetorical tricks and clouding the subject for any chance to win the debate on more technical terms. My tactic was therefore to start attacking the arguments I presumed the opposition would be making in an unexpected way, trying to discredit their sources.

The paper is loosely based on Plato’s style of writing, with the introduction slightly altered from the introduction of Plato’s The Republic. In this piece, Socrates – usually the main character in Plato’s dialogues – debates with a number of opponents on the subject of North Korea – among them John Stuart Mill, Montesquieu, Alexander Hamilton and Condoleezza Rice.

The complete text, fully referenced, can be read in the attached PDF file. A small exercept follows below:

[Socrates] And looking on their constitution, how do you find it with regard to political rights?

Then rose Marsilio de Padua who had until this point sat silently watching in the corner.

[Marsilio] The most important basis is of course that decisions must be made by the people as a whole, or a majority of it. I reference you to my most excellent work, if I may say so, Defender of the Peace for proof of that. And universal suffrage is well rooted in the constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic .
[Condi] But it’s all a sham! They may have universal suffrage, but they can’t vote for anyone they like. There have to be pre-approved lists.
[Socrates] So you argue that in a democracy there should be no one to help the people choose, that ignorance is no excuse for imposing limits?
[Condi] Yes, exactly so.

At this point John Stuart Mill tried to get a word in to the discussion.
[J.S. Mill] I would deny that fact. As I pointed out in Considerations on representative government, “It is not useful, but hurtful, that the constitution of the country should declare ignorance to be entitled to as much political power as knowledge.”
[Marsilio] I do not think the modern democrats we are discussing with here, Mr. Mill, would agree that you should let the knowledgeable have more direct influence. But, as I have stated, a body of wise men could indeed draw up the proposals, then: “After such standards have been set, they must be laid before the assembled whole body of citizens.” That, I believe is just what the Democratic People’s Republic constituton prescribes.

[Condi] But that’s not very democratic for elections, is it?
[Socrates] And how was your own president elected, Miss Rice?
[Condi] He was elected by the people of America fair and square.
[Socrates] Did he have a complete majority of votes behind him, then?
[Condi] No, but he did have the majority of the electors, as ordained in the Constitution of the United States of America, article 2, section 1.
[Socrates] And are those electors preapproved by anyone?
[Condi] Yes, by the political parties.
[Socrates] As I have learned from studying the works of Professor Ellis Katz , this does in fact amount to the people merely voting for a set of preapproved electorate college candidates?
[Condi] Yes, I suppose so.
[Socrates] And according to Katz the most voters are even not aware that it is so, quite unlike in the Democratic People’s Republic where this is made clear. Do you disagree?
[Condi] No, I suppose not.
[Socrates] And why is it that such a system has been set in place?

At this point, Alexander Hamilton jumped to his feet waving number 68 of The Federalist Papers, in which he presented an argument about this:
[Hamilton] When we drew up that constitution, we found “It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
[Socrates] So it appears that America also has a system in place, in which a body of knowledgeable men elect the leader on behalf of the people, and that whoever can be placed on this body of electors is preapproved by appropriate organizations, namely the two dominant political parties, both prescribing to a similar set of values, devoted to the idea of republican democracy?
[Condi] It appears so.
[Socrates] And in the words of Hamilton as well as Marsilio de Padua, it seems there are good reasons for this, does it not?
[Condi] Apparently

[Socrates] Even if the limits on free election in America seem to be similar to those of the Democratic People’s Republic, can we conclude that the United States of America is an undemocratic republic? What say you, Alexis de Toqueville, renowned as you are for your studies of democracy in America?
[Tocqueville] I must admit that although I have been critical of many parts of the American political system, it was even as early as 1840 the best democracy around. And most importantly, we must not judge a society upon the workings of another, but seek out its own virtues.

[Socrates] Thus we conclude that since their systems are inherently similar, and since The United States of America is considered a democratic republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea cannot be discarded as non-democratic on these grounds.

Read the entire paper in PDF format here: The Democratic People’s Republic (PDF)

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