It is ironic perhaps that Socrates, who is credited with laying the foundations of Western Philosophy, is also known for being one of the staunchest critics of democracy. To the philosopher the fact that the principal faults of democracy, that it did not require proof of special knowledge in its leaders, that it surrendered the direction of the people’s destinies to men without adequate experience in government, and that on the question of the morality of justice of a policy, it treated the opinions of all citizens as equal in value, was anathema.
He would have appreciated the irony today that Greece, the weakest, smallest country in the Euro zone thanks to democracy, suddenly has the power to destabilize economies as far away as China, India and Malaysia, break up Europe and cause the US recovery to falter.
By the end of the day we will know which way the Greek public will vote. The nail-biting until the results come out however raises some interesting questions.
Why is the EU suddenly so vulnerable?
Why are the Greek people likely to vote for results which will upset the applecart?
Why is the global economy so desperate that Greeks “do the right thing”?
The answers to these questions are as revealing as they are tragic. Revealing because they show the mutual dependency of a global economy where no country can ever be an island in the truest sense of the word. Tragic because they also uncover a disconnect between the traditional way politics is done, and the demands made by a world that is far more interconnected than most politicians even realise.
From an idealised point of view the entry of a country in the EU club confers advantages as well as obligations. By definition the EU vision was one of countries assisting each other, with those who have better developed economies helping the newer members get up to speed, until they could contribute to the EU on a more or less equal basis.
This, admittedly, utopian view of how the EU should function which highlights its strength also represents its greatest failing. Created as a guarantee that there will never be another major war in Europe, the EU has served to channel the old predatory tendencies of its member states, into the new trade relationships it has been forging within it.
In theory, larger markets benefit by gaining access to smaller ones, smaller ones benefit by having access to goods and services they would not otherwise get. Everyone should benefit by the trickle-down affect of know-how and fresh skills and the increase it brings in terms of innovation, purchasing power and competition.
The reason this theoretical model falls far short from actuality lies in its inherent assumption regarding the equality of human nature. As Socrates would have said with a knowing nod, the reality is that when you have “…many as the dominant power in politics, you can be expected to have all the vices of the many.” While EU aid money did pour into Greece, the assumption that the country would have been able to use it the same way as the more advanced member states did, was based more upon hope than reality.
For that oversight Greece is now being made to pay a heavy tribute in long overdue reforms, which have resulted in extreme hardship for its population, at a time when the state of the global economy is a contributory problem. At the end of today, as polls close, the Greeks may exact their own retribution upon Europe. Democracy, as Socrates found out in his own sentence of death means that “…as most people hate to be tested, they will always take action of some sort against those who provoke them.”