Zeitgeist Zero Hour: Return of Tyranny (or Ochlocracy) when the civilisation clock resets and enters into the age of Tyranny
riginally published on February 27, 2019 Last Revised on March 25, 2019 Last Edited on April 27, 2019
by Michio Suginoo
If democracy were the mother of liberty and equality, toward the end of her life, she would conceive in her matrix (uterus) the foetus of tyranny, demagogues, to ultimately defeat herself. Tyranny—the regime of fierce terror—would be the direct offspring of the most cherished regime of freedom, democracy.
This is my figurative summary—not of my belief, to avoid any confusion—of the terminal symptom of democracy diagnosed by pre-eminent intellects in antiquity—Socrates, Plato, and Polybius. In more plain words, democracy is doomed to degenerate into either tyranny or ochlocracy (mob rule); and the rise of demagogues is an omen for the paradigm shift.
To me, as a spoiled beneficiary of democracy, the ancient intellects’ diagnosis of the terminal symptom of democracy definitely would sound nothing but an irony and a paradox, should it have even a grain of truth. How does it unfold anyway? Now, let's have an overview of their view.
In the twilight of democracy, an animosity between ‘the wealthy, the minority’ and ‘the poor, the majority’ intensifies, and it escalates the tension between them. As its backdrop, throughout democracy, politicians and their auxiliaries (e.g. lobbyists and partisan journalists and corrupted intellects in our contemporary context) had been igniting and amplifying the flares of conflict among social classes—especially between the multitude working class and the rich—positioning themselves near the logistics of the redistribution system. Their objective is money. Their plan is to extract the wealth of others from all segments of the society through redistribution systems, and they achieve their goals by creating factions in the society. They craft misinformation/disinformation, or fake news, to politically mobilise public opinions and stir up animosities between the two ends of the economic spectrum of society. As result, the majority of the public would become cognitively impaired. (Aristotle 1304 b; Plato, 565 b-c) In democracy, policy proposals shaped through examined and qualified expert knowledge—which has been brewed by generations of specialists through a series of their diligent discourses—could be vetoed or compromised by such manipulated public opinions. It could cause a disastrous social consequence. (Ober, 1993; Thucydides, n.d.) At the other end of the social spectrum, the instigators’ relentless malicious attempts compel the wealthy to assemble themselves in defense of their wealth. As a result, they start shaping an oligarchy within democracy. (Plato, 565 a-c)
Against this backdrop, unprincipled populists—by attacking their common enemy, 'the oligarchy, the minority'—emerge and appeal to the votes of a multitude of the working class. (Aristotle, 1305 a ; Plato, 566 a) Ironically, a majority democratically elects one of them as their champion. The motivation of the majority is also their own economic benefit—money through wealth redistribution systems such as subsidies. (Plato, 565 c-d) The champion consolidates his/her power by inventing the majority’s common enemies ('Common Enemy') and inflicting injustice on them. The demagogue, while concealing his/her real egocentric ambitions, dangles populist policies in front of his supporters and manages to domesticate them. Furthermore, in order to stay in power, the champion is compelled to keep re-inventing a 'Common Enemy' of his constituents. Nevertheless, when the wicked instigator finally runs out of domestic sources of 'Common Enemy', he/she seeks it abroad and starts waging war. (Plato, 566 e)
In this process, as the demagogue gains power, he/she starts mobilising a series of unconstitutional decrees for his/her own benefit. (Aristotle, 1292 a) Now, the unscrupulous populist reveals his/her real ambitions, by overriding existing laws, possibly with the use of violence, in order to purge his/her enemies in a piecemeal fashion. The instigator gradually impairs the legitimacy of the existing constitutional foundation. Ultimately, the society transforms into tyranny (Aristotle, 1292 a; Plato 565 e – 566 e), or ochlocracy, a mob rule (Polybius, Book VI).
This paints a mosaic panorama of terminal symptoms of democracy diagnosed about 22 to 25 centuries ago by great intellects in antiquity—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius (a Greek historian), and Thucydides (an Athenian general who fought in the Peloponnesian War). As a precaution, historically, such a paradigm shift would not necessarily take place in one single shot. If any of this sort happens, it would involve a series of civil strifes between demagogues and oligarchic factions for an extended period of time. Nevertheless, it portrays a dire aspect of democratic paradigm.
As a matter of fact, the list of ‘democracy sceptics’ continues further into the age of modernity and includes the following figures: paradoxically founding fathers of the United States (e.g. James Maddison and Alexander Hamilton), and Alexis de Tocqueville.
Overall, democracy, which to the eyes of these sceptics is infested with cognitively impaired opinions, appeared a wrecked state of social order, which is doomed to degenerate into a highly unfree society, tyranny or ochlocracy (mob rule).
They perceived a logical paradox embedded in the architecture of democracy in one way or another. For example, Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century French aristocrat, encapsulated one of the paradoxes of democracy in the simple phrase ‘Tyranny of the Majority,’ meaning that the majority in democracy, unrestrained, can behave like an absolute monarchical tyrant, override laws and inflict injustice on minorities. The consequence might well be, as mentioned earlier, ochlocracy (mob rule), the most unfree society.
Needless to say, the overall paradox in the ancient notion of democracy has a very dire implication: as if democracy—the supposedly best constitutional achievement of civilisation—were destined to conceive the fetus of tyranny, demagogues, within her matrix (uterus) to ultimately defeat herself. On one hand, the paradox should cast an unexpected notion of democracy very contrary to utopian ones that some of our contemporary democracy advocates cherish; on the other hand, over the past decade or so, contemporary democratic reality has unfolded harbingers of the paradox—an intensifying animosity between the working class and the wealthy, and the rise of demagogues/populists across advanced economies.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of paradox that we live in.
How can we preserve the soundness of our precious contemporary democracy? As a first step, we need to understand the paradoxical natures of democracy in order to enable us to manage them. To cut a long story short, these three intellects in antiquity had a panoramic framework to examine democracy—or more in general, any form of political (constitutional) paradigm—as a part of the large process of the recurrent life cycle of political (constitutional) paradigms.
What was the rationale behind their thoughts? Was there any historical precedence to support their view? Would it be relevant to our time, or are we also trapped in the ironical paradox of democracy? If it had a grain of truth, can we manage to avert such a dire consequence and preserve the soundness of democracy? In order to contemplate all those questions, as a first step, we need to understand the mechanism behind their views.
This series, 'Zeitgeist, Zero Hour,' invites you to contemplate our contemporary democratic reality from a panoramic view, treating it as a part of the larger process of civilisation cycle—with a particular attention to ‘political paradigm cycle’ and ‘civilisational (supra-secular) monetary cycle’—rather than treating it as a frozen snapshot of an independent isolated entity.
In addition, I would like to inform you for your reference that the contents of this series constitute a preview synopsis of my forthcoming publication project. My forthcoming book will expand the scope and the depth of the web contents.
Zeitgeist Zero Hour
Socrates/Plato and Polybius conceived their contemporary political reality as a part of the process of a larger cycle, call it ‘political paradigm cycle’. On one hand, Socrates/Plato framed it as a cycle of five constitutional paradigms in a chronological order:
On the other, Polybius formulated it in a cycle of six paradigms:
and Ochlocracy, or mob rule (Polybius, 1979, p. 304: Book VI)
Is our democratic system also destined to repeat ‘Tyranny of the Majority” and ultimately degenerate into ochlocracy (mob-rule)? In other words, is the civilisation clock ticking toward the zero hour of Zeitgeist (the spirit of epoch)—the time when the Western civilisation clock resets our political paradigm from a democracy to a tyranny/ochlocracy?
To be shown later in this series, Aristotle, based on his survey of 158 constitutions, demonstrated a more dynamic understanding of constitutional regime changes. He, making a conspicuous contrast against these three thinkers’ deterministic articulation that democracy is destined to degenerate into tyranny, provides us with a room for hope to explore alternative consequence.
Three Factors: Money, Moral Depravation, and Use of Violence trigger Paradigm Shift in Constitutional Foundation
In order to understand these intellects in antiquity, it’s important to know that these ancient intellectuals saw wealth in moral term and with awe (a mixed feeling of respect, fear, and anxiety). Money could corrupt individuals and thus impair the moral conduct among people. As this vicious human behaviour driven by ‘appetite’ becomes viral among the ruling class, it could provoke a series of civil strifes among them. Once some of them make the first case of breaching laws, possibly with use of violence, in pursuit of their own private interests, that lays the foundation for further escalations of unlawful and violent acts among the ruling class. As others follow suit, gradually the legitimacy of an existing constitutional foundation vanishes to be replaced with a new one. In ancient Greco-Roman world, private pursuit of wealth—especially money, which could lead to viral moral depravation within a society—was one of the fundamental issues that concerned prominent ancient Greek intellectuals. In particular, Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius articulated in one way or another, that private pursuit of wealth could conspire with moral depravation among the ruling class, accompanied with use of violence, to render a constitutional paradigm shift from one form to another. That notion, highly likely a reflection of the collective human behavioural nature, appears to have transcended to our time.
Apart from logical frameworks, when we turn to historical experiences in the ancient Greco-Roman world, we can find some illustrative examples to validate their concerns.
Awe (a mixed feeling of respect, fear, and anxiety) to money was one of the cornerstones of the social consciousness of Sparta, a military aristocratic society. Spartan, in order to preserve the moral conduct of her people, deliberately limited the monetisation of her society within a minimum range. Polybius highly regarded Sparta as a stable regime. (Polybius, 1979, p.p. 310-311: Book VI)
In contrast to Spartan story, Athens in the early 6th century experienced a disastrous social crisis due to over-indebtedness. It was the age of oligarchy. The crisis was a consequence of oligarchic abuse of their society: the rich flooded the society with toxic loans and enslaved the ordinary public. Many Athenian debtors placed their family members and slaves under a pledge to take out loans; in case of default, some of them were sold abroad as slave. Solon (640-558 B.C.), a reputable aristocratic statesman, was appointed as a mediator to conducted financial reform to prohibit the use of a person as collateral. He also redeemed those ex-Athenian slaves who were sold abroad at state expense.
Overall, the contrast between Sparta and pre-classical Athens paints a picture of the interlink between money and moral depravation that concerned ancient intellects. A Roman example can be illustrated by the highly indebted ambitious politician, Gaius Julius Caesar, who extended his conquest beyond the constitutional limit to plunder Gaul and Britain of booty to pay back his debt service as well as to expand his political power. As consequence, Caesar waged a civil war against the Roman Republic, and finally enthroned himself as an unconstitutional life-time dictator. Simply put, debt money depraved the moral conduct of the military politician and provoked him to override the republic’s constitution and transformed the political paradigm of Rome from the republic into a tyranny.
These Greco-Roman experiences exemplify the validity of the concern—the interaction among moral depravation, wealth, and violence leading to a paradigm shift in political regime—shared by ancient Greek intellect.
In this light, it would be imperative to trace monetary transformation to better capture the progression of ‘political paradigm cycle.’
As a matter of fact, another historical parallel—between the Roman Republic of her last century (the 1st century BC) and our contemporary reality—can be drawn by monetary conditions: historical bottoms of interest rates.
Chart 1 illustrates the supra-secular monetary cycle of three ancient civilisations (Homer & Sylla, 2005, pp. 61-63). It traces the centennial best credit frontier, which is defined as the lowest interest rates during each century (to be explained later in this series).
During the 1st century BC, ancient Rome went through a tectonic paradigm shift from the Roman Republic to the the Roman Empire—in other words, from her most democratic constitutional achievement to tyranny/dynasty. And it was during this century that ancient Rome registered the lowest interest rate throughout ancient Greco-Roman history at 4%, phenomenally within a range of the ‘prime rates’ of our time (Homer & Sylla, 2005, p. 63).
As Chart 1 demonstrates, the centennial best credit frontier of Roman Civilisation declined from her nascent stage to the 1st century BC—during which the Roman Republic vanished and the Roman Empire, the age of tyranny/dynasty, began—and, thereafter, it kept rising.
Historically-low interest rates would suggest an abundance of money in a society. And, I would speculate, it most likely reflects an advancement of civilisation. The Roman supra-secular monetary cycle in Chart 1 appears to agree with this notion.
For your reference, a more recent cycle of ‘Best Credit Frontier’—in a semi-centennial scale—is presented in Chart 2. Our current epoch has registered the lowest level of interest rates so far in the historical record. It casts a parallel notion to the 1st century BC of Greco-Roman civilisation, the turning point of ancient Rome–from her most democratic constitutional paradigm to tyranny/dynasty.
Is this merely a historical coincidence? Or is there any rationale behind the parallel?
Do these developments in antiquity—the rise of demagogues and the historically lowest interest rates—cast a parallel to our contemporary reality as of the time of this writing? If that’s the case, they also cast a very paradoxical notion: our democracy, which is supposed to be the freest political paradigm throughout history, could be doomed to degenerate into a highly unfree society, tyranny or ochlocracy (mob rule).
My forthcoming book will explore the theoretical monetary implications of Socrates’ discourse of the ‘political paradigm cycle.’ Then, it will do its ‘reality check’ against historical experiences. At the end of the book, I will propose a different framework of the ‘political paradigm cycle.’
Now, before proceeding further, let’s set the frame of our mind in exploring this topic.
The Spirit of the Project
Why do we need to cover such a dire scenario? Isn’t it going to end up with invoking a self-fulfilling prophecy? Why do we care about the political paradigm cycle (civilisation cycle) anyway? Isn’t our life too short and ephemeral in comparison with civilisation life cycle? Thus, isn’t it irrelevant to us? So, what's the point?
In contemplating these questions, here, I would like to borrow an idea from the title of a painting by a French painter of the 19th century, Paul Gauguin’s “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”  The title encapsulate the spirit of this project. Although we cannot change the past, we can still learn from it to shape our future. Can we shape a better future this time, better than what history may be implying? More specifically to democracy, can we evolve out of the vicious cycle of reducing our reality to ochlocracy (mob rule)? Or are we destined to repeat historical recurrence this time as well? In order to respond to these questions, as a first step we need to learn the mechanism of the past recurrences. Simply put, it is an attempt of Applied History—an application of examined historical knowledge to analyse our contemporary reality, by capturing it as a state of flux, or a part of a larger process of civilisation cycle.
In addition, to stress my intention, let me present you with an insightful caveat by Hannah Arendt, a holocaust survivor and a German writer of the 20th century. Arendt stressed, we could blind ourselves with both our own ‘reckless optimism’ and ‘reckless despair’ and, as a consequence, fail to acknowledge the self-destructive developments unfolding in front of our eyes. Here is her remark in the preface of her book, "The Origins of Totalitarianism":
“This book [‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’] has been written against a background of both reckless optimism and reckless despair. It holds that Progress and Doom are two sides of the same medal; that both are articles of superstition, not of faith. It was written out of the conviction that it should be possible to discover the hidden mechanics by which all traditional elements of our political and spiritual world were dissolved into a conglomeration where everything seems to have lost specific vale, and has become unrecognizable for human comprehension, unusable for human purpose. To yield to the mere process of disintegration has become a grandeur of ‘historical necessity’, but also because everything outside it has begun to appear lifeless, bloodless, meaningless, and unreal. […]
The trouble is that our period has so strangely intertwined the good with the bad that without the imperialists’ ‘expansion for expansion’s sake,’ the world might never have become one; without the bourgeoisie’s political device of ‘power for power’s sake,’ the extent of human strength might never have been discovered; without the fictitious world of totalitarian movements, in which with unparalleled clarity the essential uncertainties of our time have been spelled out, we might have been driven to our doom without ever becoming aware of what has been happening.” (Arendt, 1994, pp. x-xi)
Hannah Arendt’s caveat still resonates as relevant to me today. And, her words are something I should keep in my mind in pursuing this project. Moreover, I would like to add another undesirable common habit among us, reckless indifference. It could also allow all sorts of seeds of human catastrophe to grow. Thus, these three dispositions—‘reckless optimism,’ ‘reckless despair,’ and ‘reckless indifference’—need to be kept in my mind in pursuing this project.
Now, let's go back to the topic.
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In one way or another, these ancient intellects had a synoptic understanding of any given human reality, in one way or another, to comprehend its moral, political, and economic dynamism as a part of the process of a larger development of a long-time frame that encompasses our past, present, and future—civilisation cycle if you like. Their cyclical frameworks were as mentioned earlier. As a reminder, the cyclical frameworks of Socrates/Plato and Polybius were mentioned earlier.
For those who have developed a habit of seeing our reality as a frozen state that would continue for an indefinite time, it would be imperative to plant our reality back to a frame of a ‘civilisation cycle’ for the sake of better understanding the views of these ancient intellects.
Nevertheless, their cyclical views are not free from flaws. It would thus require a reality check against historical experiences and a series of vigilant adjustments and modifications on their models to shape our better understanding of our reality—its past, present, and future. The ancient Athenian democracy provides a case that does not fit into the cyclical notions presented above: the end of democracy coincides with the bottom of the civilizational monetary cycle. Unlike ancient Rome—which ended her most democratic paradigm at the bottom of her best credit frontier—the end of ancient Athenian democracy did not concur with the bottom of her best credit frontier. Her best credit frontier declined further after the end of her democracy. Why did it happen? Cut a long story short, it was due to an exogenous factor, partly due to the geopolitical intervention by her dominant neighbour, Macedon. I will argue this point further in the book. As another aspect, when we see every single historical ‘regime shift’ on regime-by-regime basis, their model fails to fit into historical experiences. Nevertheless, instead, when we see historical cycle in a larger time-frame of political reality—call it ‘political paradigm’—the relevance of their intrinsic values start appearing: this will be discussed in later in the series.
Going forward, in our discourse, this project attempts to capture our reality as a by-product of the following three components: endogenous recurrent force, evolutionary force, and exogenous force (e.g. wars, natural disasters, and accidents). In other words, we treat recurrence, evolution, and external force as the three components of our reality. Now, we can expand our earlier questions—“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”—into the structure of these three components:
1) Recurrent force:
The past (where do we come from?): How did we arrive at our contemporary democratic reality?;
The present (what are we?): If any civilisation cycle existed, which stage of civilisation cycle is our contemporary reality fitting into as of today?;
The future (where are we going?): According to the cycle, what political reality is about to unfold next? If any undesirable historical implication, is it expected to manifest itself again? Is it inevitable or can we avoid it? If we can, how?
2) Evolutionary force:
The past: Outside of the recurrent dynamism, what progress has our civilisation made in the past?
The present: Is there any new development—which a civilisation cycle has never experienced in the past—evolving in our political and economic reality, such as an emergence of new types of constitutional paradigms?
The future: What would be its implication to our reality? If there is any undesirable evolutionary implication, is it inevitable or can we alter it? If we can, how?;
3) Exogenous force:
The past: Apart from the endogenous recurrence and endogenous evolution, was there any exogenous event that affected the course of civilisation in the past?
The present: Is there any material exogenous development that could alter the course of civilisation brewing in our contemporary political reality, such as geopolitical developments, and environmental crises?;
The future: If there is any such material exogenous component, what would be its implication to our future reality? If there is any undesirable implication, is it inevitable or can we alter it? If we can, how?
With these objectives set as the intention of the project, I would like to present here an overview of the publication project.
Repeatedly, the intention of this series is to provide a panoramic view of our democratic reality as a part of the larger process, a civilisation cycle. Ancient intellects paid very serious attentions to interlinks between money and moral depravation in their assessment of the soundness of society. This notion is of fundamental significance in our process of understanding their views. In this spirit, we will examine two civilisation cycles together: the ‘political paradigm cycle’ and the ‘civilisational (supra-secular) monetary cycle.’ In this attempt, we take the following steps:
As the first step, we will have an overview of the ‘political paradigm cycle’ conceived by Socrates/Plato and Polybius, then, compare them with the empirical view held by Aristotle: in other words, we make comparison between cyclical models and an examined empirical knowledge. Then, this series introduces a notion of paradigm, which could contain a series of regime changes, to explore validities of intrinsic value of Socrates' cyclical model. In this process, we derive a hypothetical monetary implication of Socrates/Plato’s ‘political paradigm cycle’.
Then, as the second step, we will have an overview of the ‘civilisational (supra-secular) monetary cycle’ devised by Sidney Homer, a prominent bond manager from the USA in the second half of the 20th century.
Finally, as the third step, we will make a reality check by examining these cyclical frameworks against Greco-Roman historical experiences and present issues to be addressed regarding these cyclical models.
With these points in our mind, we will proceed to the next content.
Click here for the next content: "Comming Soon”
First of all, thank you very much for reading through this introductory article.
Secondly, I am planning to launch a fund-raising promotion around May 2019 to raise funds for my publication project on civilization cycles. This series serves as a synopsis of the proposed publication. Of course, the proposed book will expand the scope and depth of the web contents. The schedule of the fundraising promotion will be updated here on this website.
Donation: If you enjoyed my contents in this web site and are interested in supporting my web-activity, please feel free to click on the icon below to provide your support for the activities of www.reversalpoint.com
Note 1: Aristotle had a more dynamic understanding of constitutional transformations: for him, democracy can transform to either oligarchy or tyranny, while Plato’s Socrates monolithically articulated that democracy is destined to degenerate into tyranny. The text here introduces only a part of Aristotle’s analysis.
Note 2: This chart is based on data provided in A History of Interest Rates by Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla. (Homer & Sylla, 2005, pp. 61-63)
Note 3: Although the Roman Republic never achieved a direct democracy like the Athenian democracy, her mixed form of constitution was, in principle, designed to allow the democratic element to co-exist with the aristocratic element and the oligarchic one and to check them through her representation system.