The tyranny of the masses
Modern equality, for Hannah Arendt, can be traced to the “rise of the socials” at the expense of the “political.” For her, the social displaces the political—e.g., mass society is bad because it has destroyed human individuality. For instance, some commentators argue that the French Revolution was not meant to promote freedom but, rather, to address poverty (a politics of need). According to Matt Hahn, Arendt thinks that the emphasis on poverty eliminates the primacy of freedom for politics. Thus, for Arendt, the issue of poverty destroys the beauty of politics.
For Arendt, modern equality is “antithetical to freedom and is the equivalent of conformism to a despotic regime.” She does not believe in modern equality because equality per se leads to conformism. This conformism, for her, leads people to give up great individual pursuits of doing “great and unique deeds.” Hahn argues that for Arendt, freedom is not a private matter but, rather, a function of the public. In “The Promise of Politics,” Arendt writes that “without equal status, there is no freedom.” We become free through public intercourse and not through our “intercourse with ourselves,” and as such, it is “the character of human existence in the world.”
While we cannot fully subscribe to the political elitism that Arendt proposes, we have to admit the truth in what she says. It can always be argued that we will not be able to find the solutions to the problems that besiege our country if we continue with the same “politics of poverty.” Although we cannot leave everything about our lives to experts, we cannot celebrate ignorance either. The greatest threat to our democracy is the tyranny of the masses. It is not only the politician who manipulates them. Mass deception happens when a people’s collective consciousness becomes forgetful. The moment people fall prey to false promises, they actually sell their future to those who can easily pay for it. The end result is not unfamiliar—massive deprivation, criminality, and incurable ignorance.
A thought experiment can be applied in order to test a conjecture. But there is always something morally objectionable even at the level of conceptualization in suggesting that the people of a First World country can exchange places with the people of a Third World country. We might say that it should come as no surprise that on one hand, given a developed country’s advanced technology, efficient culture and discipline, in 10 years or so changes can be observed—better transportation, improved facilities, a functional bureaucracy—and that on the other hand, given a penchant for doles, a culture of corruption, and lack of discipline, it might not take 10 years for other people to destroy a well-ordered society. However, the problem with this suggestion is that it insults the history of a people and underestimates their abilities in that regard.
The moral lesson in that respect is simple. We are already here. And precisely, we cannot depend on foreigners if we want to improve the living conditions of our people. This is the land of our birth. The only option for us is to love it.
We have to reexamine the way we do things. For a very long time, we have, as a collective body and as individuals, emphasized rights and entitlements. But we need to understand that the most expensive society is not the most modern one. The most expensive society is the egalitarian one. At the moment, the people in the Third World cannot afford it. Historically, Pol Pot tried to achieve what he thought was a “just” and “equal” society by killing everyone who was against his ideology, including anyone who wears a watch. Pol Pot’s atrocities resulted in the martyrdom of two million lives.
What we need is a paradigm shift in our brand of politics. We have to reorient our people so that they will begin to believe in themselves. The masses have to believe in their capacity to make decisions. They have to truly value their lives and their ability to find meaning in it. The poor have to rise above their situation and shatter the mass consciousness in which they are cloaked and regain their dignity as human beings endowed with the power of autonomous choice. The cunning ways of a shrewd but self-serving political tactician will not have an effect on a free people who have decided to determine their own future as a nation.
The basic point still is that all of us are moral equals. What is unconscionable, however, is that the ruling class is using the masses to perpetuate their hold on power. Henceforth, if we want to end our misfortune as a nation, the masses should rise above the defeatist attitude that has been indoctrinated in them by their past and present oppressors. We don’t need a miracle in order to change the course of our destiny. The masses only need to convince themselves not to sell their freedom of choice.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.