The traditional theory of the state and the traditional theory of science betray a common feature - they are both based on posing the wrong question. Plato asked: "Who should rule?" To this day, we are mesmerised by efforts to answer that question. However, the query's bias tempts us to seek answers that are fundamentally authoritarian. Who should rule? "The best," "the wisest," and even seemingly liberty-minded answers are essentially of an authoritarian nature: "the people," "the majority." Why? You will see in a moment. First note, the question is analogous to the question posed by the traditional theory of science: "Which is the final source of our knowledge? The intellect, or perception/observation?" and so on.
It is a forgone conclusion in both approaches that there must be an ultimate authority - to give us the best kind of government or science, respectively.
Both of these fundamental and grandiose questions should be replaced by better and more modest questions.
Instead of wondering "who should rule?", we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to shape our political institutions in such a manner that bad, incompetent or inefficient rulers will cause the least damage possible? Without spilling blood and with fidelity to justice, how can we get rid of a government that proves tyrannical or otherwise detrimental?
The ancient Greeks came up with an intelligent solution, which they called isonomia, a term rather accurately describing what to this day we understand by the rule of law. They also devised an auxiliary tool to help ensure isonomia: democracy, whose supreme task it was to provide effective protection against tyranny ("better to count heads than to bust them.")
Unfortunately, the grandiose conceit of Plato's question "who should rule?" has come to dominate our contemporary view of democracy. And I have had occasion to remark in an earlier post that in the meantime democracy has become a uniquely effective way of disenfranchising the demos, the people (and most of us are proud of and happy with it.)
In a similar vein, the question addressing the sources of our knowledge can be rephrased more fruitfully compared to the traditional query which ponders and seeks "the best, the most reliable, the most authoritative sources of knowledge."
Let us dare think that such ideal and infallible sources of knowledge are as impossible to find as the ideal and infallible ruler, and that all such sources and rulers are prone to mislead or fail otherwise. With respect to advances in our understanding of the world, to avoid the term "knowledge" (which really should be replaced by the term "conjectural assumptions"), let us build our paradigms around this question: "Is there a way to discover errors, so we can eliminate them?"
And the answer to that question: "Yes, there is. Namely, by constantly testing and criticising the theories and conjectures that our "knowledge" consists of."
We should not seek to verify a theory, i.e. try to establish it as ultimately complete and eternally true, but endeavor to falsify it by incessantly putting it (or at least always allowing it to be put) to the test. If it stands up to such scrutiny it deserves our admiration, but it will never have our unquestioning support, our dogmatic consent.
In the same way, we must subject government and the institutions of our political system to incessant probing along the lines of the question: What would a government look like that is the most effective (in facilitating a free society) and, at the same time, prone to the least damage in exercising its limited and well-defined tasks?
America's Founding Fathers and millions of Americans have shown throughout history just how promising this approach is.
In Europe, in fact, the world over, one hears condescending nonsense about America being just too young a country, with no history to speak of, while in fact, the German nation state is younger than the United States, and before forming a nation state Germans languished thousands of years in the darkest culture of servitude, while the great and deep culture of liberty, at least 2 500 years old, sought out America as the first long-time home to freedom. America has a very long and proud history that links her up with the highest achievements of human civilisation found in Ancient Greece, the Republican tradition in Ancient Rome or the fabulous minds of the Scottish Enlightenment. While Europe has been a continent of serfs for thousands of years, with only few years of freedom, America has probably the longest consecutive history of liberty. I encourage any one, including my collaborators at RSE, to write about the great history of America, a far better source from which to learn what civilisation is than Europe's past.