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The role of liberal education in safeguarding our republic

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23.01.2020

In a recent statement, Bharatiya Janata Party national general secretary Ram Madhav said that Hitler and Mussolini were “products of democracy". The remark reminded me of Plato’s Republic. Sometime in 360 BCE, Plato said: “Doesn’t tyranny spring from democracy?" Plato, looking at the ills of the Athenian democratic system then, was one of the first thinkers to write that letting people govern themselves could ultimately make the masses (or a majority) support the rule of tyrants, substituting democracy with demagoguery. This may sound shocking, but the more you look at current political trajectory of countries like Turkey and Brazil, the more it rings true. Even the US and India seem to be under a wave of majoritarian populism.

Back in Athens, the political arena was filled with rhetoric, with little commitment to empirical facts or truth. Leaders focused on oratory skills or speeches that aroused the citizenry’s emotions, rather than appeal to their logical thinking. Power could simply be harnessed by mobilizing the collective will of citizens by targeting their sentiments more than intellect. Not just Plato, Socrates too, who was extremely critical of the democratic process of electing leaders, did not acknowledge democracy as representative of what an “ideal state" should be.

In a famous illustration, Socrates, while lecturing about what an........

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