A documentary by Astra Taylor. In English and Greek, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Starting in Greece, where the philosophical concept of liberal democracy first flourished, roughly 2,500 years ago, this incisive documentary unravels an inquiry that’s actually a lot more complicated than it sounds.
“It’s a question that almost defeats the purpose of asking it,” posits one young woman interviewed by Canadian filmmaker Astra Taylor, who talks to academics, activists, historians, politicians, immigrants, and ordinary citizens in places as varied as Florida and Italy.
The movie is structured around quotations from Plato, and these are elaborated upon by folks like professor Cornel West, who stresses that democracy is more than a numbers game. “If it was just a matter of majority rule, we might still have slavery.” Instead, he points out, emancipation had to come from presidential fiat. Famed ’60s activist Angela Davis says that the U.S. missed its chance to restructure its politics after the Civil War, and that the Africa-derived part of the population was never invited into the process. The amendment proclaiming birthright citizenship, in fact, was a unilateral move to enfranchise black voters—one of the main reasons the birther-in-chief is going after it.
Voting rights in general are being eroded throughout the nation, and Taylor’s visit to a Trump rally reveals the results of poor education and antidemocratic propaganda, as seemingly nice young white people express their main concern: that being a foreigner or poor person of colour is somehow highly advantageous in today’s America.
Even apart from obvious factual errors, their notion of citizenship is extremely stunted. Plato called members of a true democracy “citizens” because they came from heterogeneous zones called “cities”, not from sparse rural areas ruled by clan loyalty. Itself a slave state in Plato’s time, present-day Greece is also seen as a flash point of income inequality, with immigrants bearing blame for the nation’s austerity measures—themselves mostly the result of usurious banking practices that hobble poorer countries the same way they do blighted urban areas.
Most of the interview subjects ponder the taming of the “unruly passions” endemic to democracy, since they always allow for the possibility of fascism. That is, we tend to think about personal gain or security, not responsibility to make society function at its best. West, again, quotes Dostoyevsky as saying that many people gravitate toward authoritarianism “because they are afraid to authorize themselves”.