Once we grasp the nature of a thing, we can study and analyse it, and discern an objective standard of what constitutes a good or bad instance of such a thing. A rectangle with crooked sides is a defective rectangle; a rose with a bunch of petals removed is a damaged instance of a rose; and a rooster with a deformed leg is a flawed specimen of a rooster.
In the case of human desires, we can similarly work out which are good or bad. A desire to harm oneself or others is obviously wrong, as is the desire to escape reality via drugs or alcohol. Sex, food, and drink are goods we naturally desire, but our reason instructs us in how to use them and not abuse them. Rejecting the guidance of reason in favour of emotional or affective urges results in harm to self and others, and the community. It is what amounts to the tyranny of untruth.
Plato argued that reason, equipped with the knowledge of human nature, could control the appetite through the third part of the psyche, which he called Thymos or spirit, that is, the part of human nature that shows itself in righteous anger in the face of injustice to self or others. Thymos expresses the properly formed conscience that shuns what is shameful, and embraces what is honourable, as in defending a colleague against a bullying boss; or resisting the temptation to commit adultery; or taking a stand against tyrannous actions by the government.
So Plato’s idea of a good human being is one whose desires are held in check by a rational allegiance to the natural order in reality. By extension, he sees a good society as one that is governed by the people best equipped to know and practice this natural law.
Plato saw democracy as a libertarian and egalitarian society in which “every individual is free to do as he likes.” The restraining influence of virtue is removed, and the urge to maximize the satisfaction of personal desires is checked only by the competing desires of others. Plato’s analysis of democracy provides a mirror for the postmodern West, with the “diversity of its characters” and the treatment of “all men as equal, whether they are equal or not.” He abhors the tolerance of the social dysfunction that violates virtue, and destroys social cohesion.
The young embrace “insolence, licence, extravagance, and shamelessness…and call insolence good breeding, licence liberty, extravagance generosity, and shamelessness courage.” Moreover, “if anyone tells them that pleasures that spring from good desires are to be encouraged, and others that spring from evil desires are to be disciplined and repressed, they won’t listen…(saying) that all pleasures are equal and should have equal rights.”
The deceit typically worsens, and citizens become indifferent to corruption in their leaders, so long as they leave people free to indulge their vices. Lack of respect between parent and child, teacher and pupil, employer and employee, etc. results in the collapse of authority and the consequent social dysfunction. “The minds of the citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable”…and “in their determination to have no master,” the degenerate common folk “disregard all laws, written or unwritten.”
Lawlessness is “the root from which tyranny springs.” Leadership depends on the properly formed conscience; tyranny feeds on the deformed conscience. Virtue is required to perfect human nature, while vice is a perversion of it, inasmuch as we are rational animals. When a thing acts contrary to its nature, that very nature is corrupted.
People in whom reason, spirit, and appetite are properly ordered will have healthy psyches, living the Cardinal Virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Their grasp of objective reality equips them to think, say, and do what is right in all circumstances, their courage ensures they are not diverted by fear or perverse desire, their temperance means desires and emotions are always rationally ordered, and their sense of justice makes them champions of the Common Good.
People with unhealthy psyches, by contrast, will lack this balance, and will sacrifice the Common Good to indulge their selfish desires for possessions, power, popularity, and pleasure. Tyranny flows from the distorted psyche. Is it surprising that the mental health crisis in the postmodern West has coincided with the seemingly intractable crisis of leadership in all areas of society? And the void left by the demise of leadership is inevitably filled by tyranny in one form or another.
The establishment elites are in the process of imposing a tyrannous oligarchy on societies largely unprepared, uninformed, and brainwashed. They pursue their ends by means of the raw political power of the managerial state, cultural domination via academia, state schooling, the entertainment industry, corrupt corporates, and Big Tech, and the terror engendered by mob rule.
The crisis in the West is cultural before it is political, and culture is the expression of a worldview, which is inevitably defined by what people worship, that is, what they see as their highest good. The worship of material and sensual gratification results in misjudgment, malice, and madness, whereas the worship of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness leads to freedom and fulfilment. Seeking the source of those three transcendental realities is the essential purpose of rational beings, and the only way to tame tyranny.
As Plato told us: “What is honoured in a country is cultivated there.” And that holds true for any family, any business, and any community.