The oligarchic amoralist

Might is right and rules are made by weak people to constrain the strong. This was the philosophy of Callicles in one of Plato’s most striking dialogues – the Gorgias. Callicles was a student of Gorgias who was the great teacher of rhetoric, the propaganda of Ancient Greece.

Callicles viewed rhetoric as a tool to assert oneself and dominate others. The modern equivalent of rhetoric, propaganda, similarly seeks to acquire power, obtain control over others and enslave the masses to the will of the propagandist. It is used to suppress the truth.

By pandering to the crowd, the propagandist in a democracy secures their vote thereby gaining and retaining power for himself. The objective is to please the majority even at the expense of truth. It is a type of flattery to gratify the immediate desires of the audience rather than seeking their overall long term benefit.

Labour fully understands the power of propaganda.  Its enormous success in dominating the media is evident by the inexplicable overwhelming support it still commands despite a relentless slew of major corruption scandals.

Even after the major figures in Labour’s hall of fame, including the iconic Joseph Muscat, were brought down and exposed as frauds, Labour hasn’t suffered even the slightest of dips in approval ratings.

Despite the revelations of Labour’s looting of national assets through the Vitals and Electrogas deals, Labour is practically guaranteed another resounding victory. No matter how many ONE reporters, family members and intimate friends of the oligarchy are unfairly rewarded with lucrative posts and direct orders, the public pleads for more of the same.

Labour has managed to build a media empire to target all demographics.  The party’s media organisation, ONE, twinned with TVM, whose head of news is Labour’s own Norma Saliba, ensures that the fiction created for the public glorifies Labour’s government, exalts its overhyped achievements and buries all unfavourable realities.

Between them, ONE and TVM, are watched by over two-thirds of the population.  For those who seek their information from social media, Labour has a sophisticated machine manned by hundreds of persons of trust who are paid through taxpayers’ funds to dominate the social media narrative and obliterate contrarian views.

The harsh treatment meted out to those who stick their heads above the parapet serves as an example to all the rest who are cowed into submission. Those who comply are handsomely rewarded from taxpayers’ money, ensuring their loyalty to the party.

Plato had firsthand experience of where abuse of rhetoric leads to. He was incensed that rhetoric was used to condemn his teacher and friend Socrates to death, on false charges.  The Demos was persuaded by rhetoric to commit a gross injustice – condemning an innocent man to death. And Plato took issue with a “democratic” culture in which truth simply cannot emerge and which inexorably leads to suffering and death.

For Socrates what mattered was the truth, rather than winning and losing.  He embraced dialogue, which he considered a collaborative truth-seeking exercise, without domination. In contrast, for Callicles discussion was combative and his aim was to win by defeating his opponent.

Callicles represented the strongman who seeks domination and who will not engage in a fair cooperative exchange. He embraced a gendered male ideal of the forceful man with the strength to appropriate power, obtain victory and dominate others.

Callicles is personified in Labour’s vicious taunting and the flaunting of its overwhelming power.  Rather than seeking collaboration and consensus it seeks to humiliate the Opposition and ridicule all of its proposals.

Labour’s leader abuses his power as manifested by his communication with tax commissioner Marvin Gaerty about Bernard Grech’s taxes. He exploits the sycophancy of Speaker Anglu Farrugia to control the outcome of cases brought before the parliamentary standards committee. He shamelessly directs his MPs on that committee to undermine the Standards Commissioner.

Through his Civil Service head, he attacks the Ombudsman. He arrogantly ignores all the pleas from many sections of the public and ploughs on with the Cannabis Bill – refusing to redraft, revise or even reconsider.

He openly subverts democracy by simply discarding by-elections and picking MPs himself, guaranteeing their personal loyalty towards him. Andy Ellul cannot be loyal to his constituents – he doesn’t have any. His loyalty is to Robert Abela.

The image of Abela created for public consumption is of the body-builder, the fit macho, the strongman who is not afraid to make decisions. The alternative is portrayed as the flabby loser unable to control his own MPs, humiliated by his predecessor with his public black-shirted show of strength. Abela is the disciplined athlete who works out, not the lazy indisciplined softy.

He is the epitome of success with his luxury yacht and bulging accounts. No scrambling around to settle outstanding tax bills for him.

Like Callicles, Abela’s method of debate is simply that of winning at any cost and being the strongest, belittling his opponent in the process. Socrates’ method was to get people to appreciate, examine and engage in conversation and self-reflection.  Socrates didn’t trip up others. Callicles did and relished it.

Abusing propaganda and power corrupts democracy, providing the perfect breeding ground for tyranny and for a character like Callicles to emerge.  He will get voted in using democratic means but will then use his power and authority to destroy democracy.

Characters whose mode of discourse is resolutely combative won’t change. Their objective is not to seek the truth for the benefit of all, but to jealously guard their own status and to massage their own ego by creating false beliefs.

Plato compared the bad ruler to the bad runner who sprints at the start of a long marathon.  He may be first for a short distance but will tire, fall back and eventually finish last.  But until that happens, bad rulers keep focused only on the short term, oblivious of their damaging impact on future generations – and on themselves.


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Emmanuel Chetcuti
Emmanuel Chetcuti
7 months ago

A very deep and perfectly TRUE analysis of the present scary situation and of the unbelievable mood of the great majority of the nose lead people in Malta

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
7 months ago


John Holiday
John Holiday
7 months ago
Reply to  joe tedesco

Never, ever give up. This handgun will eventually quarrel amongst themselves over the spoils!

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