Saturday, May 15, 2010



Visa to the Land of the Wise

By John Taylor; 2010 May 15, Jamal 17, 167 BE

Cosmopolitan reform by a democratic world government would allow us to rebuild and recombine our infrastructure from the ground up, including quicker, more efficient travel, the elimination of combustion through electrification using renewable power sources, and new ways of building. Combining several such fundamental infrastructural improvements would not only avoid pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other negative impact on the environment but it would also maximize health, freedom, welfare and security for residents. However, none of this, beginning with the world government, would be possible unless we all get a much better grasp on wisdom. That is, we must contemplate long and hard about what it would be like to live in the land of the wise, and what sageocracy is.

Sageocracy, Or the Land of the Wise

I am writing People without Borders because I want to live in a land of the wise. I do not care if the place does not exist, I want to be there, if only in spirit. I do not care if it seems hopelessly pie-in-the-sky to some; it only matters that such a place is possible. If enough people see it in imagination they will want to go there. Thus far-off ideals become reality.

What would a sageocracy, a wise society, look like?

I believe that the land of the wise would be the most beautiful place imaginable. After all, the reverse is already the case; our world of folly is about as ugly as it is possible to be. Here is a definition of beauty: beauty is what wisdom sees when she looks back at herself in the mirror. A land of the wise would be practical, prudent and sustainable, but above all, she would prize beauty.

I therefore imagine my land of the wise as a physically imposing place. It would have domes covering over street corners, which would be used as open, public meeting places. Automobiles and other conveyances would be silent, removed from sight. There would be classic, columned stoa several stories high, running down the shady side of every street. The Parthenon would be ubiquitous. On the opposite, sunny side of the street there would be trees, gardens and greenhouses sloping gently up the sunny sides of single block buildings. The right side is conservative, egalitarian and classical, the left side liberal, free ranging and enterprising.

This design would follow God's first commandment, Fiat Lux. Let there be light. Physical light without and spiritual enlightenment within would come before all else. The sunward side of buildings would be black and green, colours that absorb light and put its energy to use. The white marble of the shady side would reflect light as much as possible. Such efficient use of solar energy would be a good start to the Fiat Lux that leads to wisdom. Best of all, Sophia, wisdom, would have ample illumination to see herself in her mirror.

However, even if the design of such a city were perfectly beautiful, it would be inadequate if the dwellers within fell short of beauty or perfection. If its people were foolish or unjust, it would hardly be worthy of the name "land of the wise." Nor, as was pointed out to me, if they were bored or shiftless.

Still, one can imagine a land of the wise that does shelter fools and blunderers. After all, what society in the real world has ever been devoid of such shortcomings? Who, even the wisest, has not been foolish in one situation or another? Indeed, did not philosophy, the love of wisdom, begin when Socrates pointed out that nobody can make a permanent claim to wisdom? In the Phaedrus of Plato, Socrates refuses to call any man wise, "for that is a great name which belongs to God alone." For men, "lovers of wisdom or philosophers is the modest and befitting title." In his Apology, Socrates declares,

"My hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others; but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, `He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.'"

What I think really would make this place worthy of the name "land of the wise" is that wisdom would prevail in it, not that everybody could be wise all the time. Such a thing would be inconceivable. It is enough that wisdom should prevail in the land of the wise. A majority must love and strive for wisdom, and recognize her when they see her, and resolve to submit to her decisions, or at least to resolution that lead to wisdom. All this makes for a sageocracy.

Let the wise, when they are wise, have the upper hand.

The historical record is not devoid of precedents for such a state of affairs. The Persian Empire of Cyrus and Darius was the first multi-ethnic empire built largely on tolerance and local autonomy. The Roman Republic (not to be confused with the Roman Empire) in some ways and for a time approached the ideal of a land of the wise.

SPQR and Sovereignty's Two Polarities

The device "SPQR" was the motto of the Roman Republic. It stood for Senatus Populusque Romanus ("The Senate and People of Rome"). More broadly, it symbolized a union between the common people, or plebeians, and the nobility, or patricians. The marriage between plebs and pats was not made in heaven. It was tense and contentious at times, but as Machiavelli pointed out, it held fast for centuries and channelled tremendous energy to greater civic ends. The marriage was not just theoretical; it was instantiated in an institution the Romans called the senate ("senate" meant "old"). The senate was a body of prominent, older patricians whose accomplishments had distinguished them from others. Like most traditional societies, the gray hairs of the Roman senate were thought to make them wise leaders. Nonetheless, they depended on the plebeians; the sovereignty of the state did not come into existence until both senate and the people agreed. Hence, SPQR.

The banner SPQR was held aloft by Roman armies, and the letters were placed on official documents. Under this flag a city steadily grew into an empire spread across the Mediterranean world. This republic endured some five hundred years, before corruption set in. Conquest created a huge influx of slaves, who came to outnumber both plebeians and patricians by a ratio as large as seven to one. The gaps between slave, freedman and citizen came to mean far more than that between plebeian and patrician citizens. Finally, the Republic was terminated by the coup of Julius Caesar in 27 BCE. However imperfect, the Roman Republic was stable enough to endure twice as long the present American republic.

As mentioned, it was SPQR, a marriage of wisdom, the senate with the power of the people, that gave the Roman Republic its remarkable vigour and longevity. By placing the wisest (the senate) in an alliance with everybody (the people), sovereignty was invested in a just government for all. This high ideal encouraged Roman citizens to take their civic duties seriously. Citizens subordinated private benefit during the Republic to the virtues of an upstanding citizen. Many early Roman officials attained a probity that contemporaneous Greek and Alexandrian philosophers could only theorize about.

It would seem then, that choosing a truly wise senate of the world would be the first, best step to the kind of governance that would lead to the land of the wise whose physical outlines we are now sketching. We will discuss how such a universal senate might be organized in the next section, on democratic reform. In the meantime, our outline of cosmopolitan infrastructure is still incomplete.


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