Epicurus and politics

Epicurus was a strong advocate for the idea that people should reach and carry out agreements and promote fellowship and common sense cooperation. This implied a contractual form of government. Epicurus and his followers disapproved of agitation for social change because they saw political struggle as creating unnecessary stress. On the contrary, they advocated civic tranquillity, living unnoticed, abstaining from public life and the avoidance of anything that made enemies. This approach to politics suited those living under authoritarian (Alexander, the Roman Emperors) rule.

But is it appropriate for us today? We do not (yet)live under a totalitarian regime, although more and more people throughout the world are doing just that, or are threatened by dictatorial regimes. Our security and freedoms are being whittled away, both in the US and in Europe, and we are threatened by an unprecedented storm of bogus “news” and denigration of anyone seeking truth. Now unrestrained corporations and unscrupulous rich are endangering our health, safety and peace of mind. We no longer have thoughtful statesmen debating how to make life more happy and pleasant for the greatest number, but ideologues whose interest are power, money, keeping their jobs and drawing handsome pensions while kow-towing to their vulgar election funders. It’s scary.

I am personally worried that one party, controlling the Presidency and Congress and is busy berrymandering the constituencies and packing the Courts with lifetime political hacks calling themselves judges. This could presage a de facto end to democracy and the primacy of the Constitution. Gone are the wise men of honor. Perhaps we can survive a “Chinese Century” of hegemony, but can we survive a Mussolini style nationalism in America, the purge of liberals and progressives from public life? The world has seen turmoil before, but the last time (1939-45) a decent, democratic country was in the wings and came to the rescue of a Europe dominated by monsters. Now both the US and Europe are threatened, and possible help there is none.

How far can we be true Epicurians and ignore these threatening politics, and at what point do we get involved and resist? I wish I had the health and energy of youth, because there is only one responsible answer to this question.

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