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PLATO, HEGEL, AND DEMOCRACY Thom Brooks University of Newcastle All Rights Reserved Abstract Nearly every major

philosophy, from Plato to Hegel and beyond, has argued that democracy is an inferior form of government, at best. Yet, virtually every contemporary political philosophy working todaywhether in an analytic or postmodern traditionendorses democracy in one variety or another. Should we conclude then that the traditional canon is meaningless for helping us theorize about a just state? In this paper, I will take up the criticisms and positive proposals of two such canonical figures in political philosophy: Plato and Hegel. At first glance, each is rather disdainful, if not outright hostile, to democracy. This is also how both have been represented traditionally. However, if we look behind the reasons for their rejection of (Athenian) democracy and the reasons behind their alternatives to democracy, I believe we can uncover a new theory of government that does two things. First, it maps onto the so-called Schumpeterian tradition of elite theories of democracy quite well. Second, perhaps surprisingly, it actually provides an improved justification for democratic government as we practice it today than rival theories of democracy. Thus, not only are Plato and Hegel not enemies of modern democratic thought after all, but each is actually quite useful for helping us develop democratic theory in a positive, not negative, manner.

I. Introduction Democracy presents an interesting dilemma for contemporary political philosophers. Many of the most historically important political philosophers were either dismissive, if not outright hostile, to democracy as a superior form of governance. For example, neither Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, nor any number of other major figures defended democracy as the superior form of government, often preferring various incarnations of monarchical governments instead. The anti-democratic position held by these canonical writers is clearly at odds with the position of contemporary political philosophers. Today, seemingly everyone everywhere makes

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some claim to popular legitimacy.1 Elected politicians claim that their election gives them a political mandate, as well as legitimacy. Authoritarian politicians claim that they make decisions in the peoples best interest, only maintaining their rule until the people can take over for themselves. Thus, at least in popular discourse, even authoritarians espouse that their legitimacy rests on some form of popular mandate too. Indeed, hardly any leader claims he acts contrary to popular legitimacy. The dilemma posed here is a simple one: if much of our philosophical canon is antidemocratic, how can these major figures have gotten it all so terribly wrong? Of what use are these figures in helping us formulate a theory of good governance today? The standard reply by democratic theorists is that these figures help support the case for democracy in a negative way. That is, figures like Plato and Hegel are thought to get democracy wrong, wrong in such a way that it helps to highlight the case for democracy, rather than against it. They tell us useful lies. In this article, I will adopt a very different approach to this issue. I will focus on two major figures in the history of political philosophy often discussed together: Plato and Hegel. Both are either dismissive, if not hostile, to democracy on similar grounds. First, I will look at what their arguments were against democracy, as well as their substantive claims in support of what they took to be superior alternative forms of governance. Second, I will examine how both understood the public as a check on the political power of elites in their mature philosophical writings. The article will then end with a consideration of whether the outlines of their mature political visions sketched here are defensible against some possible objections. My view is that

For example, Ian Shapiro writes: Authoritarian rulers seldom reject democracy outright. Instead they argue that their people are not ready for democracy yet, that their systems are more democratic than they appear, or that the opposition is corrupt and antidemocraticperhaps the stooge of a foreign power and [t]he democratic idea is close to nonnegotiable in todays world. (Ian Shapiro, The State of Democratic Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 1.) Page 2

not only are Plato and Hegel not enemies of modern democratic thought after all, but each is actually quite useful for helping us develop democratic theory in a positive, rather than negative, manner. They need not continue to be perceived as either foes or foils of the modern democrat any longer.

II. Platos and Hegels alternative models to liberal democracy Neither Plato nor Hegel are pro-democracy in any obvious sense. In his well known The Open Society and Its Enemies, Sir Karl Popper singles out Plato and Hegel in particular as the fathers of modern totalitarianism, also claiming Hegel is an apologist for Prussian absolutism.2 Moreover, Bertrand Russell likewise claims Such is Hegels doctrine of the Statea doctrine which, if accepted, justifies every internal tyranny and every external aggression that can possibly be imagined.3 Russell adds:

Plato possessed the art to dress up illiberal suggestions in such a way that they deceived future ages, which admired the Republic without ever becoming aware of what was involved in its proposals ... I wish to understand him, but to treat him with as little reverence as if he were a contemporary English or American advocate of totalitarianism.4

Whilst most scholars today would deny either Platos or Hegels political visions are totalitarian, See Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies. Vol. II: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, 5th ed. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), pp. 1, 34, 22. See ibid., p. 47 and Rudolf Haym, Hegel und seine Zeit (Berlin, 1857), pp. 35791. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945), p. 742.
4 3 2

Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, p. 105 Page 3

this has not prevented any number of commentators from taking strong issue with their visions.5 These visions have been called arbitrary, beset with contradictions, bizarre, comical, implausible, obscure, troubling, unconvincing, unusual, wide of the mark, and much worse.6 Not only then do Plato and Hegel seem unlikely allies of democratic theorists, but their political visions have been subjected to severe criticisms themselves, primarily because each vision is not democratic, at least in any obvious sense. For example, while Plato first claims that a self-sufficient, moderate city with a constant population is the true and healthy city, most of his Republic defends a city ruled by philosopher-kings, instead.7 These philosopher-kings rule

See T. M. Knox, Hegel and Prussianism, in ed. Walter Kaufmann, Hegels Political Philosophy (New York: Atherton Press, 1970), pp. 13-29. See also Shlomo Avineri, Hegels Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), pp. 185-89. See Avineri, Hegels Theory of the Modern State, p. 187; Michael O. Hardimon, Hegels Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 215; Steven V. Hicks, International Law and the Possibility of a Just World Order: An Essay on Hegels Universalism (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999), p. 173; Sidney Hook, Hegel and His Apologists, in ed. Walter Kaufmann, Hegels Political Philosophy, p. 90; Dudley Knowles, Hegel and the Philosophy of Right (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 327; Michael Levin and Howard Williams, Inherited Power and Popular Representation: A Tension in Hegels Political Theory, Political Studies 35 (1987), p. 114; Z. A. Pelczynski, The Hegelian Conception of the State, in Z. A. Pelczynski, ed., Hegels Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 25; Leo Rauch, Hegel, Spirit, and Politics, in Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, eds., The Age of German Idealism (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 285; Hugh A Reyburn, The Ethical Theory of Hegel: A Study of the Philosophy of Right (Oxford: Clarendon, 1921), p. 252; Steven B. Smith, Hegels Critique of Liberalism: Rights in Contexts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 152; and Mark Tunick, Hegels Justification of Hereditary Monarchy, History of Political Thought 12 (1991), p. 482. On the true and healthy city, see Plato, Republic 369c-373a and my Knowledge and Power in Platos Political Thought, International Journal of Philosophical Studies 14 (2006), pp. 51-77. All Plato quotations come from Plato, Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997). Page 4
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because they possess the expert knowledge of kingship which others lack.8 Thus, according to George Klosko, the central motif of the political theory of the Republic is putting philosophical intelligence in control of the state.9 In his later work the Laws, Platos views change and he comes to endorse a government fusing democracy and monarchy.10 He says:

Listen to me then. There are two-mother constitutions, so to speak, which you could fairly say have given birth to all the others. Monarchy is the proper name for the first, and democracy for the second. The former has been taken to extreme lengths by the Persians, the latter by my country; virtually all the others, as I said, are varieties of these two. It is absolutely vital for a political system to combine them, if (and this is of course the point of our advice, when we insist that no state formed without these two elements can be constituted properly)if it is to enjoy freedom and friendship applied with good judgement.11

The government Plato defends is composed of a legislator with an elected body, the Guardians of the Laws. The legislator is unelected and properly educated for his office, responsible for

See Plato, Euthydemus 291c-292c; Plato, Republic 426d, 477d-e; Plato, Statesman 292c, e, 308e, 311c. George Klosko, The Development of Platos Political Thought (New York: Methuen, 1986), p. 172. On the difference between Platos Republic and his Laws, see Luc Brisson, Ethics and Politics in Platos Laws, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 28 (2005), pp. 93-121.
11 10 9

Plato, Laws 693d-e; see Plato, Eighth Letter 353d-e. Emphasis added. Page 5

making all laws, and persuading the public that these laws are just.12 The Guardians of the Laws are common citizens who are democratically elected to enforce the laws of the city, laws created by the legislator. Whilst it is true that this later political vision does give elected persons important powersgenerals and calvary-commanders are also elected too13candidates are vetted in a scrutiny process prior to running for election to ensure they will perform well if elected.14 For Plato, putting incompetent officials in charge of administering the [legal] code is a waste of good laws ... doing damage and injury on a gigantic scale to the political community.15 Thus, even when Plato does try to incorporate some notion of democracy and elections into a defensible political vision, it seems quite far removed from anything we might consider to be a democracy, at least in any obvious sense. Likewise, Hegel does not endorse a system of governance that is recognizably democratic either. Instead, he defends a hereditary monarch who proposes laws with the consent of his cabinet to an elected assembly, the Estates.16 Whilst Hegel also allows elections to political office, the majority share of power is invested with the monarch and his cabinet ministers. Hegel then, too, defends a system of government that both tries to incorporate elections for important


See Plato, Laws 823a. See Plato, Laws 755c-d, 756a-b. See Plato, Laws 752d-754e, 755a-c. Plato, Laws 751b.




See G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 273, R [hereafter, PR]. I will put to the side whether or not the monarch is the dominant partner here as my argument does not depend on it. That said, I do argue elsewhere that the monarch is more powerful than his ministers. (See my Hegels Political Philosophy: A Systematic Reading of the Philosophy of Right (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007).) Page 6


political institutions while having lost [its] democratic ... character, lacking any close resemblance to a modern democracy, again, at least in any obvious sense.17 We might well think it a tall order to suppose that either Plato or Hegel could actually help us theorize about democracy in a positive way. Normally, any value they offer to democratic theorists is viewed in a negative light. For example, Platos arguments in favour of philosopherkings are seen to fail because experts should not have final say on political decision-making. Thus, some claim that Plato helps us understand better why people without specialized knowledge should still have a political voice, indeed, the only voice. Similarly, many other commentators take up Hegels theories of freedom, recognition, and reconciliation and claim that he sets popular political participation in a too limited role, where these theories cannot properly develop and take hold. Hegel negatively furthers the democratic theorists cause as this problem highlights the need to extend recognition and reconciliation, for instance, much further in our political practices than his constitutional monarchy allows. In both cases, Plato and Hegel are negative teachers, foils used by democratic theorists to show us why democracy is the best form of government and how it can be further improved through Platos and Hegels misplaced and incorrect criticisms of democracy.

III. Platos and Hegels shared arguments against democracy It is important to first recognize what Platos and Hegels target is when they criticize democracy: Athenian democracy.18 Neither is considering liberal democracy and, in fact, I believe that many


See Hegel, PR, 273R.

This is a point missed surprisingly often, but noted well by Ilting. (See K.-H. Ilting, The Structure of the Hegels Philosophy of Right, in Z. A. Pelczynski, ed., Hegels Political Philosophy, pp. 103-4.) Page 7


of their criticisms do not damage liberal democracy for this reason, but may help buffer arguments for it as well. In this section, I will examine four different arguments put forward by both Plato and Hegel against democracy. These arguments are:

(1) Democracies are actually anarchic societies that lack any kind of coherent unity.

(2) Democracies are more likely to follow their citizens impulses and desires, rather than any concern for the common good.

(3) Larger democracies fail to permit sufficient voice for their citizens, offering disincentives to citizens to participate.

(4) Democracies are essentially governments run by fools: it would be best to have those with expertise in statecraft take command, as the citizens are unable to govern well because they simply do not know what they are doing.

I will now examine each of these arguments in turn. My purpose will be to demonstrate both that Plato and Hegel offer these four arguments against democracy, but also to show how modern liberal democracy can accommodate their worries.

III. A. Democracies are actually anarchic societies Platos and Hegels first criticism of democracies is that they are characterized by anarchy. For example, Plato attacks democratic governments for being essentially libertarian societies, where each citizen can arrange his own life in whatever manner pleases him: anarchy is mistaken Page 8

as freedom.19 The share and scope of power held and exercised by each citizen is much greater than that held by democratic citizens today. But it is also not without its own problems. Hegel notes that the rights of each citizen are insecure in democracies because not everyone might respect the rights of others.20 The thought is that if people can live however they please, they may choose a form of life that imposes restrictions on someone elses well being. This gives us reason to reject democracies as an attractive form of political organization. Whilst these worries may be well placed with regard to classical democracies, no one today would think modern democracies function similarly. Platos and Hegels second criticism is that democracies lack any kind of unity on account of their being anarchic societies. Democracies lack unity in one of two ways. First, democracies lack political structure.21 Democracies are more akin to a collection of individuals occupying a common space, rather than a form of political organization. For example, Plato says:

In this city, there is no requirement to rule, even if youre capable of it, or again to be ruled if you dont want to be, or to be at war when the others are, or at peace unless you happen to want it. And there is no requirement in the least that you not serve in public office as a juror, if you happen to want to serve, even if there is a law forbidding you to do so.22

Plato, Republic 557b, 560e. See ibid., 572d-e and Julia Annas, An Introduction to Platos Republic (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), p. 300.


See Frederick Beiser, Hegel (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 252. See Plato, Republic 562b-c. Plato, Republic 557e-558a. Page 9



The society lacks any rules beyond whatever it is people see fit. One democracy might differ radically from another, depending upon the varieties of people who happen to compose it. Similarly, Hegel refers to democracies as fragmented societies, where people form merely an aggregate, a collection of scattered atoms.23 Hegel argues that [t]o speak of the people is a completely empty phrase as a result.24 He explains:

The many as single individualsand this is a favourite interpretation of [the term] the peopledo indeed live together, but only as a crowd, i.e. a formless mass whose movement and activity can consequently only be elemental, irrational, barbarous, and terrifying. If we hear any further talk of the people as an unorganized whole, we know in advance that we can expect only generalities and one-sided determinations.25

Hegels view is that to speak of the people is to speak of something that has some coherent form, that takes some identifiable shape.26 Democracies are not coherent political bodies, but literally mob rule in every sense instead. Second, both Plato and Hegel accuse democracies of lacking leadership. If everyone rules and everyone has equal political voice, no one can speak for anyone else and, it is thought, not

Hegel, PR, 290A. See ibid., 273R, 274, A, 276, 278R, 290A, 302 and G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science: The First Philosophy of Right, trans. J. Michael Stewart and Peter C. Hodgson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 167R (hereafter, LNR).


Hegel, LNR, 148R. Hegel, PR, 303R.


Of course, for Hegel, the particular shape a peoples political community ought to take is the rational structure of the free will in the system of right, as set out in the Philosophy of Right. (See Hegel, PR, 4A.) Page 10


for the community as a whole as well. In a society where all are equal, that society, in effect, lacks rulers.27 Hegel adds:

In democracy all powers merge together in immediate fashion, the people being the supreme lawgiver and the supreme judge. An individual, e.g. a general, is still needed for execution, but the power is not definitely transferred to him, and he does not know how far he can go. The people lack stability, and with them no laws are firm.28

Hegels claim is simple: who carries out the decisions that the so-called people decide? If a democracy votes to end poverty in its midst, who has a mandate to carry this out? What rights and obligations are extended to such a person? Democracy is alone in leaving such questions open and, worse, leaving their answers arbitrary. From these criticisms, both Plato and Hegel propose forms of government that are not anarchical and have clear political decision-making structures in place. These structures ensure the community avoids slipping into anarchy and helps foster a coherent political unity. For Plato, one possible structure is a society where each person pursues tasks they are naturally suited to perform. He believes that there exists a natural division of labour, forming a natural unity, where some are best suited to work as cobblers, others as medical doctors, and a chosen few as philosopher-kings. A second possible and related structure, in the Laws, holds that a lawgiver creates laws and educates the public about their necessity, while a democratically elected assembly has the task of enforcing these laws. In this way, political unity is fostered by pursuing


Plato, Republic 558c. Hegel, LNR, 135R. Page 11


the moderation of the mixed wine of freedom.29 Hegel believes unity is best sought out by abandoning democracys contingent character and differentiating itself into various internal structures, such as a government, courts of law, public authorities, and so on.30 This structure must not only contain various branches of public institutions, but these institutions must have a coherent relationship with one another along a clear hierarchy. The pinnacle of the state is the monarch.31 For Hegel, the monarch solves a number of important problems relating to the questions of who enacts laws that have been agreed upon or who can speak on behalf of the state: these are some of the monarchs varied roles.32 Thus, anarchy is averted and unity created. We can then move beyond the troubled notion of popular sovereignty ... based on a garbled notion [Vorstellung] of the people given our recognition of clear political structures and their organization.33 At first glance, Platos and Hegels claims seem off the mark. It certainly is not obvious in which respects, if any, modern democracies are more aggregates rather than unified societies. Perhaps modern liberal democracies are more aggregativethat is, perhaps they give a certain priority to individual rights above any variety of group rights34than either Plato or Hegel would prefer, but there is an identifiable unity present nonetheless. We have clear institutional


See Brooks, Knowledge and Power in Platos Political Thought, page number. See Hegel, LNR, 129R, 130R. Hegel, PR, 279R.



Hegel claims any state, whether a monarchy, an aristocracy, or democracy, must always have an individual at its head ... for all actions and all actuality are initiated and implemented by a leader as the decisive unit. (Hegel, PR, 279R.)


Hegel, PR, 279R (emphasis given).

On group rights, see Peter Jones, Group Rights and Group Oppression, Journal of Political Philosophy 7 (1999), pp. 353-77. Page 12


structures, as well as political leaders, such as generals, prime ministers, presidents, and the like, in our modern democracies and, indeed, they do know their remits, duties, and obligations as set out in public laws. Platos and Hegels criticisms of Athenian democracy do not stick to liberal democracies today, because liberal democracies can address their worries unlike Athenian democracies. We satisfy Platos and Hegels general worries about democracy because, well, were not that kind of democracy after all. In fact, we actually come much closer to addressing their concerns than either they or ourselves might have imagined.

III. B. Democracies are more likely to follow their citizens impulses and desires, rather than any concern for the common good A second argument against democracies is that they are more likely to follow their citizens impulses and desires, rather than by any concern for the common good of all. If democracies are essentially anarchic societies, then, on this view, each person is free to choose whatever ends for the community and herself she wants. Not only might these choices clash, but the problem is that all will be disposed to think of themselves ahead of others. The common good will be lost in the wild pursuit of individual desires.35 Moreover, these individuals are pursuing their passions, rather than reason, because reason is inapplicable: the citizenry do not know how to rule and, thus, cannot have reason as their guide.36 Any democratically elected officials are little more than servants dedicated to the satisfaction of the citys appetites.37


Hegel, PR, 281R, 301R.

See Plato, Republic 561b-c and Hegel, PR, 273R. Also see Terence H. Irwin, Platos Moral Theory: The Early and Middle Dialogues (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), p. 229.


Plato, Gorgias 517b. Page 13

For example, in a memorable passage from the Republic, we are told that the common people:

always look down at the ground like cattle, and, with their heads bent over the dinner table, they feed, fatten, and fornicate ... their desires are insatiable ... like a vessel full of holes.38

Democratic citizens are like people groping in the dark because they simply do not know how to govern.39 The only guide the citizenry have is the pursuit of their individual passions. Worse still, citizens lack any means of choosing amongst competing passions, apart from whatever takes their fancy at a given time.40 As a result, a democracy is ruled by the pursuit of the passions of its members and not the pursuit of their common good.41 This view is shared by Hegel. He believes that democracies are governed by the sense of the caprice, opinion, and arbitrariness of the many, often identifying caprice as characteristic of democracies.42 For this reason, he believes democratic states are characterized by subjective opinion and the self-confidence which accompanies it.43


Plato, Republic 586a-b. Plato, Phaedo 99b. See Plato, Republic 520c-d.


Plato says: And so he [i.e., the democrat] lives, always surrendering rule over himself to whichever desire comes along, as if it were chosen by lot. And when that is satisfied, he surrenders the rule to another, not disdaining any but satisfying them all equally. (Plato, Republic 561b.)


Plato, Republic 559d-561c. Hegel, PR, 281R (emphasis given). See Hegel, LNR, 129R. See Hegel, PR, 310R. Page 14



In addition, Plato identifies two further difficulties. First, a great number of people falsely believe they possess sufficient political expertise, justifying their involvement.44 Citizens are untroubled with the thought that they deserve an equal political voice with one another on account of their having political status (e.g., being a citizen). Their lack of knowledge of which ends are best pursued by the state never enters their minds as a serious objection. Second, the people are more keen to win arguments, rather than pursue truth, when engaged in a philosophical investigation with one another.45 Thus, even if the citizens held sufficient political knowledge, it is thought they would be unable to manage it effectively. Their solution to this problem is to constrain popular participation in politics, creating room for those with some particular expertise in governance to guide political decision-making. The thought is that those who know best how to govern are best able to detect the common good of the community and enable its pursuit to the good of all. Thus, in Hegels words, the state can be regarded as a great architectonic edifice, a hieroglyph of reason which becomes manifest in actuality.46 It is worth pointing out that liberal democracy takes stock of Platos and Hegels worries again here. As Joseph Schumpeter notes, democracy is not rule of the people; but, instead, [d]emocracy means only that the people have the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them ... this may be expressed by saying that democracy is the rule of the politician.47 The masses do not directly vote for anything nor anyone other than those who


Plato, Philebus 48c-49a. See Plato, Gorgias 457c-d. Hegel, PR, 279A.



Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York, 1942), pp. 284-85. Page 15


govern them, save in the occasional referenda. We limit access to participation in such a way that all the vicariousness that exists in the greater society is put under some control. In addition, our elected political leaders cannot work alone, but must often work amongst themselves and compromise with one another. They cannot be moved solely by whatever whim takes their fancy and they have the opportunity to rationally reflect upon potential policy options before deciding on any course of action. This is not to say our politicians always make the best judgements or that democracy today lacks a need for development. Instead, my point here is only that it can actually accommodate this second worry of Platos and Hegels in a positive manner.

III. C. Larger democracies fail to permit sufficient voice for their citizens Plato and Hegel each pose a third, more specific objection to democracy. This is that larger democracies fail to permit sufficient voice for their citizens. The thought here is that in large democracies, democracy, as such, is essentially meaningless.48 This is because the so-called voice each person has is particularly minute. That is, my vote is worth far more in decisions involving three or maybe a dozen people, than in a polity of three hundred million people. My share in decision-making, my voice, depreciates when the polity expands its number of citizens. Political participation, thus, becomes relatively worthless, even if democracy could be justified on a much smaller scale. Instead, we should opt for a form of political decision-making that takes citizens more seriously, where the decisions of key stakeholders matter. Hegel argues that monarchy is superior to democracy as only a hereditary monarchy is capable of equally representing every citizen. Elections breed winners and losers on polling day. Democratic officials come to power when sufficient numbers of citizens express a preference for


Hegel, PR, 311R. Page 16

them. Elected leaders are therefore the products of articulated interests, where it may well be the case that not all interests in the state will be represented equally. Only an hereditary monarchy can respect this equality because only such a monarch can rise above factions. As a result, monarchies help foster the unity of the state through the majesty [Majestt] of their office.49 The monarch is majestic insofar as he is raised above the varied, divisive factions within his state. Of course, many commentators have criticized Hegel in particular for circumscribing the publics voice too narrowly. For example, Dudley Knowles says:

What is left of Hegels view that the organic constitution of the state precludes the possibility of political liberalism? It amounts to this claim: that persons who are brought up by their parents to respect the state, educated in civil society to bring skills to the market place and apply those skills successfully to a trade, who join with colleagues in corporate activities which elicit a common social purpose greater than the pursuit of mutual advantage, cannot detach themselves in thought from these affiliations to ask whether the state serves their several and joint purposes, so long as the state is organized in such a way that it does in fact serve these ends.50

In his attempt to avoid the problem of large states and minuscule popular political voice, it could be argued Hegel abandons opportunities for popular participation in politics. Besides, for Knowles, whether or not the state can function in the way Hegel preposes is an empirical


See Hegel, PR, 281.

Dudley Knowles, Hegel and the Philosophy of Right (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 335-36. Page 17


question. If Hegels view is incorrect or, at least, there seems reasonable grounds to reject it, then Hegel might be accused of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The issue of the role of the public in Platos and Hegels mature visions will be considered in part IV. Before we turn to this issue, we should consider the role of experts in these visions so we can understand how the public can act as a restraint on their powers.

III. D. Democracies are essentially governments run by fools Perhaps the primary and most often highlighted (and criticized) problem both Plato and Hegel have with democracies is that democracies make decisions without any coherent notion of what they are doing. Democracies are essentially governments run by fools. Instead of democracies, it would be best to have those with expertise in statecraft take command, as the citizens are unable to govern well because they simply do not know what they are doing. Thus, in Aristotles words, we should endorse the view that they should rule who are able to rule best.51 As we have seen, the problem with democracies is that they allow all citizens to possess an equal voice in political decision-making, without regard to the citizenrys lack of knowledge or ability. All members are treated equally despite the fact that some are more capable of good governance than others.52 Therefore, the cobbler and the medical doctor each have an equal say regarding governance, both equal to the person with particular expertise in governance. One result is that political judgements will be based by and large upon mere guesswork, as expert legislators are not in full command. Democracies are generally poorly governed as a consequence.

Aristotle, Politics in his The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. II, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984),1273b5-6 [Book II].


See Plato, Republic 558c. Page 18

Similarly, Hegel rejects the view that the people are correct to claim that they know best their interests on account of these interests being their own. Instead, he claims that:

the reverse is in fact the case, for if the term the people denotes a particular category of members of the state, it refers to that category of citizens who do not know their own will. To know what one wills, and even more, to know what the will which has being in and for itselfi.e., reasonwills, is the fruit of profound cognition and insight, and this is the very thing [Sache] which the people lack..53

For Hegel, the term the people identifies precisely those least capable of good governance. Citizens are in error to think they have an equal claim with others on matters simply in virtue of the fact they are interest holders.54 The view here seems to be that it would be a mistake to let the citizens have full responsibility for political decision-making because they lack sufficient knowledge. Both Plato and Hegel offer alternatives to democracy they believe will overcome this worry. I will discuss each alternative in turn. Plato argues that judgements based upon true knowledge carry a certain epistemic authority that judgements based upon right or wrong opinion lack. Every person possesses some degree of true knowledge, or expertise, in one type of craft [techn].55 The right to rule is not


Hegel, PR, 301R. See Hegel, PR, 308R.


Plato says that justice is doing ones own work and not meddling with what isnt ones own (Republic 433a-b, 441e). On techn, see C. D. C. Reeve, Philosopher-Kings: The Argument of Platos Republic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). Page 19


conferred via majority approval nor material wealth, but expertise in statesmanship.56 Only a few or, perhaps, just one individual will possess this knowledge in any given state.57 Furthermore, Plato claims it is a common fact of life that people properly seek counsel solely from experts in a particular field. For example, in the Theaetetus, Plato says:

In emergenciesif at no other timeyou see this belief. When they are in distress, on the battlefield, or in sickness or in a storm at sea, all men turn to their leaders in each sphere as to God, and look to them for salvation because they are superior in precisely this one thingknowledge. And wherever human life and work goes on, you find everywhere men seeking teachers and masters, for themselves and for other living creatures and for the direction of all human works. You find also men who believe that they are able to teach and to take the lead. In all these cases, what else can we say but that men do believe in the existence of both wisdom and ignorance among themselves?58

As a consequence, whenever we discern those who possess expert knowledge in governance, it is right that they should rule as this is the craft they naturally pursue bestjust as those with expertise in trade skills ought to work as manual labourers.59 The expert statesman alone transforms the naturally bestowed authority from certitude all naturally have of their given craft

See Plato, Euthydemus 291c-92c; Plato, Republic 426d, 477d-e; and Plato, Statesman 292c.


Plato, Statesman 297b-c. See Plato, Republic 494a. Plato, Theaetetus 170a-b. See Plato, Statesman 266e. Page 20



to an authority that is political.60 Platos ideal monarchical city-state is to be ruled by philosopher-kings: men and women who rule neither for the sake of honour nor wealth, seeking only the advantage of the citizens they serve.61 Only they should rule the state as only they have the necessary expertise, given that ruling is their exclusive craft. Platos political vision in the Republic is oft criticized, but I do not believe he was unaware of difficulties with it and, in fact, he comes to reject parts of this vision in favour of his more mature view in the Laws.62 The reasons for this change of heart are present already in the Republic. For example, after he suggests that much of the discussion of the Republic has been a theoretical sketch, Plato tells us that the nature of practice is to attain truth less well than in theory.63 The way forward entails making the smallest possible change to bring this theory into being: philosophers must rule as kings or kings rule as philosophers.64 Indeed, Plato admits that it is not impossible for this to happen, but it is difficult for it to happen.65 Furthermore, he says:


You mean that [the philosopher-king] will be willing to take part in the politics

See Gregory Vlastos, The Historical Socrates and Athenian Democracy, Political Theory 11 (1983), p. 503 and Robin Wakefield, Introduction, in Plato, Republic, trans. R. Wakefield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. xxv. This agrees with Reeve that, for Plato, Proper political rule is proper psychic rule. (Reeve, Philosopher-Kings, p. 262.)


Plato, Republic 347c-d, 412d-e. See my Knowledge and Power in Platos Political Thought. Plato, Republic 472e-473a. Plato, Republic 473c-d. See ibid., 499a-d. Plato, Republic 499d (emphasis given). See ibid., 502b-c, 540d. Page 21





of the city we were founding and describing, the one that exists in theory, for I dont think it exists anywhere on earth.


But perhaps, I said, there is a model of it in heaven, for anyone who wants to look at it and to make himself its citizen on the strength of what he sees. It makes no difference whether it is or ever will be somewhere, for he would take part in the practical affairs of that city and no other.66

Thus, the ideal states existence as an earthly, political practice may be compromised by its heavenly and ideal nature. The philosopher-king will only come to rule the ideal model in heaven proposed and in no other. Plato offers some additional evidence in the Republic and elsewhere to support the view that only a god or someone with a divine nature can actually serve as the philosopher-king ideal type. As an example, he tells us that (a) the gods are our guardians,67 (b) philosophers become as divine and ordered as a human being can,68 and the philosopher-king has a divine ruler within himself.69 There is, however, an additional reason to think Plato was aware of the impossibility of implementing his Republic. For instance, we are unable to know the true nature of others with absolute certainty. The implications then are that the Republic will fail, as we will be unable to prevent the breeding of philosophically-natured persons with others, perhaps producing no


Plato, Republic 592a-b. Plato, Phaedo 62b. Plato, Republic 500c-d. Plato, Republic 590c. Page 22




offspring who might grow into philosopher-kings.70 This problem is compounded by the fact that Plato believes persons who are perfectly matched for breeding will naturally produce a given number of children with a lesser nature anyway.71 As a result, centralized restriction of sexual relationships is doomed to fail from the very start, aspiring to little more than a staving off of the inevitable. Ultimately, Plato endorses some mixture of expert rule with popular consent.72 This form of government is a compromise between a monarchical and a democratic constitution fusing a moderate authoritarianism with moderate freedom, enjoying both freedom and friendship applied with good judgement.73 As we have seen, Plato believes democracies resemble anarchical societies.74 The main problem with democratic governance is that the citizenry are completely unscrupulous as to whom should make political judgements, allowing all citizens to participate equally at a task where some people perform much better than others.75 If we are to incorporate popular participation into a just form of government, then it becomes necessary to ensure we will be governed by responsible leadership. Plato says:

I suppose that, when a democratic city, athirst for freedom, happens to get bad cupbearers


Plato, Republic 546a-b.

Plato, Republic 546a-e. See Rod Jenks, The Machinery of the Collapse: On Republic VIII, History of Political Thought 23 (2002), pp. 21-29.


See Plato, Laws 693d-e.

Plato, Laws 756e, 701e, 693d-e. Platos moderate authoritarianism has much in common with the notion of sceptical authoritarianism I have defended elsewhere. (See my A Defence of Sceptical Authoritarianism, Politics 22 (2002), pp. 152-62.)


See Plato, Republic 462c. Plato, Republic 557e-558a, 560b. Page 23


for its leaders, so that it gets drunk by drinking more than it should of the unmixed wine of freedom, then, unless the rulers are very pliable and provide plenty of that freedom, they are punished by the city and accused of being accursed oligarchs.76

Democracies pursue freedom for its own sake, without any regard for corresponding responsibilities nor the common good. Keeping in mind the common ancient Greek practice of always mixing wine with water prior to consumption, Plato opposes an unmixed wine of freedoma freedom to do whatever one pleasesperhaps for the reason that freedom is intoxicating: the citizens are more liable to become drunk and irresponsible. Plato does not forbid the consumption of winein this case synonymous with freedombut he does forbid excessive consumption of it. Freedom is a good to be cultivated within ones own state, so long as it is constrained by good judgement.77 With leaders capable of good judgement, a state is in possession of good cupbearers and will be ruled with principled moderation, but yet enjoy widespread, popular freedoms. Platos mature political vision is one where popular participation meets responsible leadership. A lawgiver creates laws, makes them publicly known, and convinces the public they are justified. He is educated for this task and knowledgeable about governance. The people elect members to a representative body whose task is to enforce the communitys laws. In this way, Plato believes he can account for democratic representation without falling prey to democracys many pitfalls. Hegel puts forward a vision fusing popular participation with expert rule as well. In this


Plato, Republic 562c-d (emphasis added). Plato, Laws 693d-e. Page 24


vision, a constitutional monarch arrives at political decisions with the aid of his cabinet [Ministerium]. Hegel refers to the monarch with his cabinet as the power of the sovereign [die frstliche Gewalt].78 Potential ministers are formally educated on state affairs, as well as ethics, and are rigorously tested.79 This education is thought to best allow for their dispassionateness, integrity [Rechtlichkeit], and polite behaviour.80 A pool of qualified candidates are drawn up based upon proof of their abilities.81 The monarch then selects appropriate ministers for cabinet positions from this pool.82 He may fire ministers at will.83 While the monarchs decision to employ or discharge ministers is subjective, this is not seen as problematic as it is thought that all potential cabinet ministers would offer the same general advice, at least in principle.84 The role of ministers is only to advise the monarch on matters of state, grant consent to his decisions when appropriate, and debate proposals in the legislature. They cannot make any executive decisions on their own, although they can make decisions on foreign affairs with the monarch without the consent of the Estates, including decisions to go to war.85 Ministers play an

See Hegel, LNR, 138 and Hegel, PR, 275, 279-80, 283. Die frstliche Gewalt may also be translated as the princely power.


See Hegel, LNR, 144R and Hegel, PR, 296. See Hegel, PR, 296. Hegel, LNR, 144R.



For example, see G. W. F. Hegel, Die Philosophie des Rechts: Die Mitschriften Wannenmann (Heidelberg 1817-1818) und Homeyer (Berlin 1818-1819), ed. K.-H. Ilting (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta Verlag, 1983), pp. 166-67 (reprinted in Woods editorial note to 283 in Hegel, PR, p. 466).


See Hegel, LNR, 140 and Hegel, PR, 283. See Hegel, PR, 292. See Hegel, PR, 329. Page 25



important role in best enabling the monarch to make proper decisions for the state.86 The monarch is advised on all political matters by his cabinet: Hegel believes this advice will help prevent the monarch from making mistaken judgements based upon his own personal assessment of what rationality demands.87 It is important to get this balance right for several reasons. As Hegel notes, when a civil servant makes an error it can lead to more damaging consequences than if the person were only a private citizen.88 A poor business decision may affect its employees, customers, and possibly even its local community. Poor decisions by those in and around government affect everyone in the state. It is right that standards are higher for those who will have a greater disproportionate share of political power than common citizens because the stakes are much higher.

Thus, both Plato and Hegel put forward four criticisms of democracy, as well as solutions to these worries. Both Platos mixed government and Hegels constitutional monarchy are governments where reason predominates and the arbitrariness of popular decision-making is tempered, although I will discuss popular participation in the following section.89 Importantly, liberal democracy can accommodate these criticisms as well. Before considering whether the arguments behind expert rule are defensible, it is first necessary to consider an important feature of both Platos mixed government, as found in the

Hegel, LNR, 140, R.

Hegel, LNR, 140R. Elsewhere, Hegel adds that in addition to the executive civil servants there are also higher consultative bodies which necessarily work together in groups, and they converge in their supreme heads who are in touch with the monarch himself. (Hegel, PR, 289.) Hegel suggests that these higher consultative bodies are corporations. (See Hegel, PR, 289R.)


See Hegel, PR, 294R. See Hegel, PR, 263A, 278R. Page 26


Laws, and Hegels constitutional monarchy that is oft overlooked by commentators. That feature is the fact that the public acts as the supreme restraint on the exercise of political power. I will now move to a consideration of how this works for each before turning to a defence of their general views and a consideration of two major objections before concluding.

IV. The public as the supreme restraint on political power This is not the end of the story, for Platos and Hegels mature political visions. Neither Plato nor Hegel were entirely antagonistic to the masses. Indeed, neither argues that experts can simply act however they please. In fact, both Plato and Hegel assign to the masses two interesting arguments. These are:

(1) Any just government must be responsive to the public.

(2) Experts should not have the final word on political decisions.

I will examine these two arguments in turn.

IV. A. Government should be responsive to the public Both Plato and Hegel argue that any just government must be responsive to the public. This fact is often overlooked. For example, Michael Hardimon says of Hegel:

What stands out about this account of the modern political state is precisely the restricted character of the ordinary citizens participation. Unlike the citizen of ancient Athens or republican Rome, the ordinary citizen in the modern social world does not participate Page 27

directly in the decisions of the state. Hegels modern political state is not a democracy.90

Whilst it is certainly true that Hegels constitutional monarchy was not a democracy, it is not true at all that because citizens have restricted political access that Hegels state is unresponsive to the needs and concerns of these citizens. In fact, Hegel allows for two major areas of democratic participation. The first is through corporations, which represent the communities and various professions and the estates, with their authorities [Obrigkeit], supervisors, administrators, etc..91 The officers in both corporations and the estates are elected by popular vote.92 Corporations act within what Hegel calls the states civil society and exist primarily as guild-like organizations. The estates act at state level and are essentially an assembly whose task is to either accept or reject legislation proposed by the monarch.93 Thus, Hegel allows two different levels of elected, popular participation in two institutional bodies that are not without power. Any government that refused to work with the estates, for instance, would never be able to enact and enforce new laws. Beyond democratic participation, Hegel allows for other ways in which government must be responsive. For example, he claims that the states foundations are set, in part, through the establishment of the citizenrys trust and their dispositions toward the government.94 Hegel


Hardimon, Hegels Social Philosophy, p. 219. Hegel, PR, 288. See Hegel, PR, 288.



Perhaps the reason why the estates cannot propose legislation is due to Hegels view that particular interests should be harmonized with the universaland not the other way around. Thus, the estates (representing particularity) need only confirm their agreement or disagreement with proposals brought before them by the universal class, the cabinet ministers. (See Hegel, PR, 261R.)


See Hegel, PR, 265. Page 28


It has often been said that the end of the state is the happiness of its citizens. This is certainly true, for if their welfare is deficient, if their subjective ends are not satisfied, and if they do not find that the state as such is the means to this satisfaction, the state itself stands on an insecure footing.95

For Hegel, we might say, to borrow a phrase from T. H. Green, that will and not force is the basis of the state.96 That is, a secure state is one where the people are satisfied with their government, their ways of life. The state must embody its citizens feeling for its rights and [present] condition.97 A satisfied people are easier to govern because they accept their political system, unlike dissatisfied people where lawbreaking would become far more common. Finally, Hegel believes monarchy is a system which has brought satisfaction to people more often than not. He says:

Monarchs are not exactly distinguished by their physical powers or intellect [Geist], yet millions accept them as their rulers. But it is absurd to say that people allow themselves to be ruled in defiance of their own interests, ends, and intentions, for they are not as stupid as that; it is their need, the inner power of the Idea, which compels them to accept such rule and keeps them in this situation, even if they appear to be consciously opposed

Hegel, PR, 265A.

See Hegel, PR, 268A and T. H. Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation and Other Writings, eds. Paul Harris and John Morrow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1986), pp. 89-106 [113-36].


Hegel, PR, 274A. Page 29

to it.98

This view, of course, seems somewhat at odds with Hegels earlier statements about citizens. Earlier he claimed that the people were unfit to rule because they were unable to identify their interests and the means of attaining them. Yet, in this example, Hegel claims that the common citizenry are capable, albeit capable to recognize that a monarchy can achieve these ends better than if left to themselves in a democracy. Likewise, Plato argues that any just government must be responsive to its citizens. For example, he argues that it is most sensible to advise citizens on the best course of political action, rather than to decide such matters in secret or force their compliance.99 Government should be transparent, if still limiting the extent of popular electoral measures. That said, it is unclear how much accountability Plato ultimately demands of rulers. In the Alcibiades, Plato claims that the person with expertise in governance should persuade each member of an assembly individually, one at a time, rather than force their acceptance.100 The reason for this may be because the governance of any city ought to work towards the good of the citizens, not the interests of those in power. For example, Plato says: Shouldnt we then attempt to care for the city and its citizens with the aim of making the citizens themselves as good as possible?101 Often he uses the analogies of the steersman, acting for the benefit of both his ship


Hegel, PR, 281A. See Plato, Laws 823a. Plato, Alcibiades 114b. Plato, Gorgias 513e. Page 30




and the sailors.102 In these analogies, the ships resemble cities to their attitude to the true philosophers.103 Throughout, he seems to take for granted that political leaders will steer their cities to prosperity, although it is clear he demands these leaders make an effort to keep the citizens on board and in support of them. Platos chosen tool was persuasion to convince the people to accept some form of expert rule, as he came to realize later in his life the importance of popular approval and participation in governance.104 One of the earliest pieces of evidence for this is found in the Crito. Plato says:


My good Crito, why should we care so much for what the majority think? ...


You see, Socrates, that one must also pay attention to the opinion of the majority. Your present situation makes clear that the majority can inflict not the least but pretty well the greatest evils if one is slandered among them.105


... They cannot make a man either wise or foolish, but they inflict things haphazardly.106

See Plato, Alcibiades 117c-e, 135a-b; Plato, Republic 341c, 488a-489b; Plato, Seventh Letter 351d; Plato, Statesman 296e-297b, e, 299a-e. See also Plato, Laws 639b; Plato, Phaedrus 246a-247c.


Plato, Republic 489a.

For a different viewpoint, see Irwin on Platonic Love and Platonic Justice in Terence H. Irwin, Platos Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 311-13. The present situation is that Socrates has been condemned to die by the newly installed Athenian democracy. (See Plato, Apology 38c and Plato, Crito 43a-44d.)
106 105


Plato, Crito 44c-d. Page 31

Whilst public opinion may be fickle, Plato would still weigh heavily the significance of paying attention to the public mood along with Crito. In the Second Letter attributed to Plato and addressed to Dionysius II, Plato tells us that he travelled to Syracuse in part so philosophy might gain favour with the multitude.107 This view is not confined only to the various letters attributed to him, but also in the Republic: part of the necessity of making the transition to philosopher rule in any state is to convince the majority of the people elsewhere that this project is a practical possibility.108 For these reasons, both Plato and Hegel held that any just government must be responsive to the public. However, we may well feel that the degree of responsiveness they make room for is still insufficient. In the following section, we will see a second way in which the public matters for Platos and Hegels mature political visions.

IV. B. Experts should not have the final say on political decision-making Both Plato and Hegel have been accused of giving insufficient popular representation in their political visions. The worry is that in both cases experts rule without any satisfactory check on their powers. For example, Hardimon says:

if ones concern is with the distribution of power in Hegels political state, as well it might be, the proper source of worry is not the monarchy, whose powers are rather restricted, but rather the bureaucracy, the real seat of power in the modern political state


Plato, Second Letter 312. See Plato, Seventh Letter 325d-e. See Plato, Republic 498d-499a. Page 32


as Hegel represents it.109

Hardimon does not share his worry alone. Allen Wood says: Hegel plainly intends real political power to be in the hands neither of the prince nor of the people, but of an educated class of professional civil servants.110 Similarly, Platos political vision is supposed to succumb to what Robert Dahl calls the Guardianship argument.111 This argument says that experts make the final decision in all political matters. Dahl argues this view is unacceptable and we should reject Platos political vision as a result. Dahl says:

almost all of us do rely on experts to make crucial decisions that bear strongly and directly on our well-being, happiness, health, future, even our survival, not just physicians, surgeons, and pilots but in our increasingly complex society a myriad of others. So if we let experts make decisions on important matters like these, why shouldnt we turn government over to experts? Attractive as it may seem at times, the argument for Guardianship rather than democracy fails to take sufficient account of some crucial defects ... To delegate certain

Hardimon, Hegels Social Philosophy, p. 215 (emphasis added). Whilst Hegel is quite clear that the monarch is meant to act as a clear restraint on the powers of the bureaucracy, it is unclear how effective the monarch can be (see Hegel, PR, 295A, 297). After all, the bureaucrats seem to have sole control over the education of future members, who form the pool of potential ministers. There is no check on their education nor suitability for office beyond the monarchs decision to appoint or remove members of this pool of potential ministers.


Allen W. Wood, Introduction, in Hegel, PR, p. xxiv.

See Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 75, 77. Page 33


subordinate decisions to experts is not equivalent to ceding final control over major decisions ... The fundamental issue ... is not whether as individuals we must sometimes put our trust in experts. The issue is who or what group should have the final say in decisions made by the government of a state.112

Dahl concedes that we regularly and quite rightly place our trust in experts of all kinds everyday. He does not deny that experts can be useful in our lives. What Dahl disputes is that experts should have final control. For one thing, experts often disagree amongst themselves.113 Does this objection lead us to reject Platos and Hegels mature political visions? I do not believe this objection succeeds. It is true in Platos Republic that the philosopherkings do have this final control, but it is not the case in his Laws written toward the end of his life. Here Plato argues that laws are created and disseminated by an expert in governance he calls the lawgiver. However, the lawgiver does not enforce the laws. Whether or not these laws are enforced is a challenge taken up by a popularly elected body. It is true that a highly capable lawgiver creates new laws and that these laws should be enforced. Indeed, a great many of these laws demand that anyone transgressing them be executed. Furthermore, perhaps as with jury nullification, if the elected body chose not to enforce a certain law in a particular instance, this would never mean that the law, as such, does not exist, but, only that the full weight of the law does not come to bear in that one specific instance.114 Plato is able to overcome the Guardianship Robert A. Dahl, On Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 7071 (emphasis given).
113 112

See Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics, p?????????

On jury nullification, see my A Defence of Jury Nullification, Res Publica 10 (2004), pp. 401-23; my On Jury Nullification, Archiv fr Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 97 (2005), pp. 169-75; and, more generally, my The Right to Trial by Jury, Journal of Applied Philosophy 21 (2004), pp. 197-212 and my The Future of the Right to Trial by Jury, Page 34


argument. So too can Hegel. In his constitutional monarchy, members of his cabinet must be responsive to both the monarch and the elected Estates assembly.115 The monarch is able to sack ministers at will. The monarch with his ministers propose all pieces of legislation to be approved or disapproved by the Estates.116 The Estates do not propose legislative bills themselves. It is important to note that neither the monarch nor any member of his cabinet can propose legislation on their own either. Instead, whatever legislation the monarch chooses to endorse can only be brought to the legislature for consideration if, and only if, the competent minister in the cabinet consents to his doing so.117 Laws can only be created and take effect if ministers can convince the elected body they should approve of these laws. In addition, it is thought that cabinet ministers can be best held accountable for the advice they offer to the monarch if they openly debate proposals approved by the monarch with themselves in the estates.118 Hegel believes that debating proposals in the estates will guarantee the competency of ministers, as ministers will have to spend much of their time preparing arguments that might convince them.119 This public grilling prevents the worry that ministers might come to use their knowledge

Philosophy Today 17 (2003), pp. 2-4.


See Hegel, LNR, 140 and Franco, Hegels Philosophy of Freedom, p. 317.

See Hegel, LNR, 149R: Legislative proposals must therefore emanate from the sovereign ... the initiative for laws rests essentially with the power of the sovereign.


See Hegel, LNR, 140.

See Hegel, PR, 284. It is important to note that this does not suggest that the relevant minister is responsible for getting the monarch to agree with him on what should become law, as this passage is equally suggestive that ministers may be held accountable if they fail to convince the monarch to avoid moving forward with a bill proposal.


Hegel, LNR, 149R. Page 35

of the legal process hid behind complicated formalities as an instrument of profit and domination, providing the public with a great spectacle of outstanding educational value in state matters.120 Ministers are forced to make a case for political decisions that non-experts can understand and comprehend. For example, Hegel says:

The educated middle class constitutes the peoples consciousness of freedom and right; the developed consciousness of right is to be found in the middle class. But if this class does not have the interests of the citizens at heart, it is like a net thrown over the citizens in order to oppress them ... Officials must therefore accustom themselves to a popular approach, to popular language, and seek to overcome the difficulties this occasions them.121

If ministers cannot win the favour of the people for their proposals, government will come to a halt and the state will fail. Thus, Hegel can overcome the Guardianship objection as well as Plato.

Thus, popular sentiment matters to both Plato and Hegel. Not only do their views of just government endorse public responsiveness, but the mature political visions of neither has experts exerting any kind of stranglehold on power. Whilst experts have a distinct and powerful presence in political decision-making, they may not always get what they want. The people must always be in agreement with experts in a free and fair manner without compulsion nor duress. To be clear, I am not arguing that each and every consideration Plato and Hegel claimed


Hegel, PR, 297, R, 315A. See Hegel, LNR, 154R. Hegel, LNR, 145R. Page 36


was central for conceiving a just state are useful for thinking about how their political philosophy can engage and develop democratic theory. Instead, I am only claiming that several factors of their political philosophies are worth highlighting, factors that I believe are most defensible today: the state should exist as a unity, popular desires must be held under some constraint to prevent abuses, the need for expertise in government, respect for popular opinion, and that in all matters the public has the final word on policies.

V. Is this political vision defensible? I will now briefly provide some argument in favour of the criticisms that Plato and Hegel direct to democratic theory, as well as the general principles behind their alternative visions. I will then consider two possible objections.

V. A. In favour of moderate democracy Throughout this article, I have avoided any attempt at defining democracy, apart from the fact thatwhatever it isit is a form of government that Plato and Hegel each attribute a number of deficiencies to, each giving us reason to reject democracy in favour of a different form of government. For one thing, it is quite obvious that the form of so-called democratic government each attacks bears little resemblance to modern democratic governments. This fact, which I take to be obvious, cannot be highlighted enough. Yet, it would remain far from obvious that even if all of this were the case, that we then should take Plato and Hegel to be democrats. One reason why we should not take them to be democrats might be the simple fact that neither ultimately justifies a democratic government.122

Although many Hegel scholars believe Hegel was mistaken on this point, such as Andrew Chitty in a personal correspondence. I disagree with this view. (See my Hegels Page 37


Nevertheless, when we look below the surface, I think we find something rather illuminating. With Plato, knowledge of good governance is key. The fact that philosopher-kings have it is reason enough for all political power to be divested into their hands. Even in the Laws, knowledge continues to play an important role. The legislator is not a monarch who makes laws based on whatever takes his fancy. Instead, he is properly educated for that role. He may well make the law, but whether or not the laws take effect and are properly enforced is something beyond his control. This task is reserved for the Guardians of the Laws, an elected body representing the common citizens. Similarly, Hegels monarch and cabinet may well propose laws and policies, but they alone do not determine whether or not these laws and policies are actually implemented. This task is reserved for the Estates, an elected body representing the common citizens. At least in their mature thought, both Plato and Hegel fuse together expertise with popular institutions where two things occur. First, unelected experts have a legitimate role to play in government and hold real influence. Second, unelected experts do not have a final say in what the political community doesthe final say rests with elected institutions. The relevance of Platos and Hegels views here for contemporary democratic theory is perhaps surprisingly significant. Most democratic theorists today become exercised about access to voting and political equality amongst citizens. For example, Thomas Christianos work centres on equality and democratic participation.123 David Estlunds work looks into the ways in which

Political Philosophy.) See Thomas Christiano, The Rule of the Many (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996) and Thomas Christiano, An Argument for Egalitarian Justice and Against the Levelling Down Objection, in Joseph Campbell, Michael ORourke, and Harry Silverstein, eds., Social Justice and the Law (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), pp. 41-65. Page 38

elections yield good results.124 Against these views, perhaps we might think of the position of Plato and Hegel as endorsing a kind of moderate democracy.125 We would not want to call it limited government because that phrase refers to the separation of powers, where government is thought to be divided between executive, legislative, and judicial branches and each is more or less equally powerful as each other. (And, of course, neither Plato nor Hegel endorse this traditional division of power between three branches.126 In addition, a non-democracy may well enjoy a separation of powers.) A moderate democracy is a government where popular political participation is limited in order to make some room for unelected experts into the political decision-making process. These experts assist elected representatives with the task of governing across all three branches of government. Whilst they have influence proportionally greater than common citizens, these experts do not have final say in what the political decisions will be. This task is reserved for elected representatives. No one, as I can see since Joseph Schumpeter and perhaps Max Weber, argues that democracy is more than representative government and elections, entailing a widespread reliance on unelected experts, experts who make the task of governing possible for elected politicians.127 Indeed, it is impossible to imagine a well organized government today without them. These

See David Estlund, Beyond Fairness and Deliberation: The Epistemic Dimension of Democratic Authority, in James Bohman and William Rehg, eds., Deliberative Democracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997). For an opposing view, see Henry S. Richardson, Democratic Autonomy: Public Reasoning About the Ends of Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).


I owe this choice phrase to Fabian Freyenhagen. See Hegel, PR, 272A.


I readily grant that the justifications offered for this position differ between Hegel and Schumpeter and thank Andrew Chitty for this point. Page 39


experts are the bureaucrats, the law clerks, the civil servants. Through their help, ministers gain valuable advice on which policies are best to implement, which reforms are most necessary, and the knowledge to help bring this about. Moderate democracy, thus, helps transform the theory of democracy from government by ignorance to government with moderation. Furthermore, the main arguments behind Platos and Hegels criticisms of democracy seem satisfied by just this kind of a democratic theory. If this theory has something to be gained from it, then Plato and Hegel offer something positive to democratic theorists and should not longer be viewed as in perpetual conflict with them.

V. B. Possible objections to moderate democracy Someone might object to this political vision on the grounds that the peoples autonomy is not properly respected. We might think about this worry in at least two ways. First, we might think that people should ultimately share in equality when political decisions must be made. Platos and Hegels arguments seem to run counter to this view, as neither suggests that you and I must share an equal political voice. For this reason, we might think that their views should be jettisoned. A first reply to this objection might run something like this. Do we each really have equal voice? I doubt it.128 For one thing, all votes are not equal under current campaign contribution laws: studies show that contributors have a stronger effect on votes in close elections.129 Furthermore, even if we do each have an equal say when we vote for representatives, each individual person does not have the same political voice. Obviously, those who are entrusted as


See my A Defence of Sceptical Authoritarianism.

See Stacy B. Gordon, All Votes Are Not Created Equal: Campaign Contributions and Critical Votes, Journal of Politics 63 (2001), pp. 249-69. Page 40


our elected representatives exert more political influence than normal citizens by quite a margin. In addition, there is Schumpeters simple point that the people do not in general share in any decisions beyond choosing politicians to make political choices on their behalf. A second reply might be this: do we really assign people an equal voice? We dont. Children and madmen are excluded from full political participation. So too are often felons and non-citizens. Why is this? Well, perhaps the least controversial case is children: every society excludes them from full democratic participation. Yet, it is unclear why they are excluded as of right in all instances other than simple ageism. Christiano employs what he calls minimal standards of competence which citizens must satisfy to enjoy full political rights.130 In his view, only the insane and children will fail this condition. If our argument was that on average children were less politically competent than adults, we may think about possibly extending this standard to exclude adults who likewise fail to satisfy this standard. The difference seems to consist in the fact that we just assume some groups pass the test (e.g., normal adults) and some groups always fail, although this is surely empirically untrue: it is not unreasonable to suppose there is a 17 year old more political astute than someone 18 or indeed 81 years of age. This first objection to limited democracy then fails.131 A second objection to limited democracy might well be that deliberative democracy seems incompatible with it. If those with some expertise deserve a special place in our collective political life, then that is a space that deliberative democrats cannot claim for the citizenry. Limited democracy should be rejected. However, there are two replies to this objection as well. First, deliberative democrats


Cite Christianos AJP paper.

See my Can We Justify Political Inequality? Archiv fr Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 89 (2003), pp. 426-38. Page 41


assume deliberation yields positive effects, that it works. Yet, some work has put this article of faith into doubt, namely, experiments by Cass Sunstein that demonstrate that in many instances peoples views actually become more polarized through deliberation than less so.132 A second reply might look something like this. Deliberative democrats assume that people would welcome greater opportunity for deliberative politics, if only those opportunities could get off the ground. However, there has been a mountain of evidence to the contrary. For example, John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse claim:

The people do not care at all about most public policies and do not want to be more involved in the political process ... The people prefer a process that allows them to keep politics at arms length. People seek this kind of system; they have not been forced into it by others ... their ideal system is one in which they themselves are not involved, but where they can be confident that decision makers will be motivated by a desire to serve the people.133

If their empirical research is correct, the deliberative democracy challenge fails because it assumes that people want greater involvement in politics. Instead, people prefer to keep politics at a manageable distance. Far enough away that they can get on with their particular ways of life, but close enough that irresponsible persons in government (whether elected or unelected) can be held to account. Limited democracy, in fact, is congruent with just such an account.

On Cass Sunsteins law of group polarity. See also Bob Talisses paper in The Legacy of John Rawls. John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Stealth Democracy: Americans Beliefs about How Government Should Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)), p. 227. Page 42


Conclusion Thus, Plato and Hegel present us with both criticisms of democracy and positive proposals for alternatives to democracy. We need not accept their alternatives in order to admire their criticisms and positive proposals.134 These are not only defensible, but they provide new routes for the continued development of democratic theory. In particular, they help us focus greater attention to the significant and necessary role played by properly trained and uncorrupt civil servants in any modern government. Without them, modern government seems impossible. Yet, these experts are not placed in a privileged position entirely beyond public scrutiny. It is right that government not only lead, but lead through persuasion, bringing the public onboard with its proposals. Furthermore, it is right that these experts who help elected officials wade through proposed legislation, executive documents, and even potential judicial decisions of the highest order have the vitally important space to help the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, while at the same time these experts, these unelected government officials, do not have in any way a final say on what the political outcomes will be while enjoying their privileged place. It is true that the people, if we can call them that, do not simply get whatever they want either. Their choices for elected officials, proposed legislation, etc. are determinate choices: they are neither infinite in number nor in reality. The people choose amongst choices offered to them, not amongst all potential theoretical possibilities. But, yet, the people rule. Experts do not have the final say. They must always be responsive to public opinion no matter how misguided or illinformed that opinion may be. The citizenry will get the government it deserves at the end of the day. Both Platos and Hegels political visions are helpful in understanding what a justification

By looking at their criticisms of democracy, we can bracket more controversial issues pertaining to the many nuances of their full, considered alternatives and, thus, avoid getting bogged down in questions over the usefulness or applicability of Hegels conception of the will or worries pertaining to the metaphysics of Plato and Hegel. Page 43


of this system, the system we have in place today, looks like. And, for this reason, both have something to offer the democratic theorist on positive, not negative, grounds. We should neglect them no longer.135

This article was presented at annual meetings of the Hegel Society of Great Britain in Oxford, the Global Studies Association in Newcastle, and of the Classical Association in Newcastle, as well as the Department of Politics at the University of Newcastle. The article has benefited significantly by these audiences, including most especially Karin de Boer, Sarah Francis, Tim Kelsall, Graham Long, Ali Mandipour, David Merrill, Vicky Roupa, Heather Widdows, Kathryn Wilkinson, and not least extensive comments by Andrew Chitty, Fabian Freyenhagen, Stephen Houlgate, Richard Mullender, and Bob Stern. Page 44