Polyarchy, foxes, wolves and other stuff. Jun06


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Polyarchy, foxes, wolves and other stuff.

Noam Chomsky

In Doctrines and Visions, Chomsky alludes to notion that there are, at any one time, only a minority of men capable of ruling since most men are beasts. Since the Revolution in England in the seventeenth century, democracy hasn’t been about the multitude of “beasts in men’s shapes” but rather the concentration of power in the hands of the few. These “men of best quality” serve to ensure that “a system of elite decision-making and public ratification” is enshrined: “polyarchy” is the term.

How is the multitude to be put in its place. One way is to manufacture consent, that “public ratification.” People must believe in and willingly adhere to what their leaders are telling them. Walter Lippman wrote that a “specialized class” of leaders must be empowered so as to direct the public who, without these leaders wouldn’t manage their own affairs. THe public, according to Lippman are ignorant and meddlesome; leaders of men are trained “in the law schools and law offices and in business” so as to “live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd…ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.”

Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince

This famous and supposedly precocious political thinker Machiavelli, whose name is nowadays an adjective meaning anything from “devious” to “self-serving,” wrote The Prince as a CV for a job in the administration of Lorenzo De’ Medici of Florence. In it, he says more or less that he has an understanding that men generally do not have and that, while he has access to knowledge and insight that may be unsavoury, it is no less essential for it.

Machiavelli advises Lorenzo that “there are two ways of fighting: by law or by force.” The first is preferable but sometimes ineffective. Leaders must derogate to themselves the right to resort to force, though it is the natural way of beasts. A prince must know the ways of both man (law) and beast (force) if he is to survive. Then comes one of Machiavelli’s most famous quotations: “Therefore one must be a fox in order to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves.” A ruler mustn’t only be like a lion: “a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when in places him at a disadvantage and when the reasons for which he made his promise no longer exist. If all men were good, this precept would not be good; but because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them.”

What man sees: Hadrian through the eyes of Margarite Yourcenar.

“Order,” Emperor Hadrian writes in his diary, “was restored in my life, but not in the empire. The world which I had inherited resembled a man in the full vigour of maturity who was still robust, though already revealing, to a physician’s eyes, some barely imperceptible signs of wear.” This isn’t Hadrian, not as such; rather it is Yourcenar imagining Hadrian’s thoughts. He is imagined writing to Marcus Aurelius who you might know from the movie Gladiator, played by Richard HarrisHadrian writes to his successor in other words, advising him through accounting for his feelings and fears, thoughts and insights, memories and experiences. Her Memoirs of Hadrian begin with the Emperor’s approaching death. His physician Hermogenes was “alarmed, in spite of himself, by the rapid progress of the disease…it is difficult to remain an emperor in the presence of a physician, and difficult even to keep one’s essential quality as man.”

Alex Bellos’ Alex Through the Looking Glass:” How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life.

Bellos writes about, inter alia, the cone. If you take a right-angled triangle and rotate it on one of its short sides you get a cone. If you slice that cone in different ways you get curves such as circles, ellipses, parabolas, hyperbolas. The difference between the last two is that the former is the result of a cut at an angle other than ninety degrees. A parabola is a leaning hyperbola if you will. On further reading I discover that how I’ve defined parabolas and hyperbolas isn’t quite right because:

a cut parallel to the side makes a parabola, and all deeper cuts make a hyperbola.

 So, a parabola is always the result of a cut that follows the angle of the side of the cone while any cut that starts at the side and finishes in the base and isn’t parallel is a hyperbola. A parabola by the way must also end in the base rather than run from side to side if it is to be a parallel cut. Bellos tells us that the Greeks studied these “conical sections” for their own sake but that they had “momentous applications” later on.

The difference between circles and ellipses is that circles are made by starting with a centre point, the origin and drawing a line that is equidistant from said point until the line finds itself again after moving through 360 degrees. To make an ellipse you need two points. You put a looped string, say, around the point so that it looks a little like the track of the circus maximus maybe. Then, you take a pencil and push one side of the string to the side away from the other side of the loop and draw a line. The further apart the two points are the less a circle the line resembles; the closer the more the like a circle. This is important because it exposes another difference between circles and ellipses other than how they’re constructed. Circles are all the same shape; the only difference is size. The same is not true for ellipses which all look slightly different. You can shrink a big circle so that it will eventually look exactly like a smaller one; you cannot do this with ellipses. What’s more, ellipses can always be viewed to resemble circles and the same with circles: they can be viewed at particular angles so that they resemble ellipses.