By Nikos Kotzias *
One of the fundamental questions in ancient Athens was whether in democracy the experts or Politics had the first say and which one of the two was to make the decisions. For the “Demos” of the Athenian Democracy, the choice was clear: all issues are political and that is why the Demos decides on them, utilizing the experts and their suggestions.
The experts are necessary to help politics and democracy, but they cannot replace them, nor precede them. Contrary to the Demos, the representatives of tyranny turned to the experts in order to justify their hostility towards the democratic functioning of the regime. The tyrants always used to hide behind the experts in order to impose their policy.
The question is, why did the ancient Athenians choose that the decisions be made by Politics, the Demos? Don’t they make mistakes? Of course they did! One need only remember the failed campaign of the Athenians in Syracuse. But mistakes can be made by experts as well, more of them in fact (just ask war historians about the suicides of generals who destroyed the defense of their country with their choices). The history of politics has shown that Democratic Politics makes fewer mistakes than experts.
In terms of ethics, there is one more difference. The mistakes of democracy are paid by those who make the decisions. Mistakes by experts are not paid by them. This why the conclusion in the history of ideas is always the same: The issue of democratic politics is too serious to be left to the experts.
We faced the same problem with the struggle between Democratic Politics and the authorities that turned to the experts back in the Cold War. That was when theories around “Technodomi” emerged seeking to convince everyone that there was only one right way to view things and that was the Administration’s position, since it was backed by the technocrats. The rest of them were allegedly “one-dimensional”, outdated. The protests in the ’60s, particularly in 1968, alongside the collapse of the dictatorship regimes in the ’70s, buried those beliefs to the ground.
At the end of Cold War, there were views arguing that “history was over.” That the “time of the experts” had come. They are the ones who know and the people can just consume. These theories could not stand the test of time. Most people don’t even remember them.
After 2009 came the great economic crisis. Neither the states that gave birth to it nor the social groups that led us to the crisis actually paid for it. In the name of the experts, it was the grass-roots classes that paid the price. It was at this time that a theorem emerged claiming that democracy can not solve such problems. That the solutions are the ones determined by the expert scientists of the IMF, the European Central Bank, the Troika. Of course, we found out along the way that they could not even use a single multiplier .
In the midst of the crisis, the infamous TINA (There Is Not Alternative) emerged, according to which the policy of international technocracy in the service of big business is by definition the only right one, but also the only one applicable. In the name of international and European scientists, they dismantled the economy and society. The sciences, argued the “havers”, serve only one view, coincidentally their own. Every disagreement was silenced and dismissed. The media of power had declared a holy war against dissent.
Today we are once again facing the same theorem. Scientists-technocrats (as always only those affiliated with power) appear again as the possessors of the unique knowledge and the right to choose (a public-health version of TINA). Discussion is prohibited. Democratic dialogue is seen as “divisive.” Many media outlets accuse the main opposition of wanting, oh! what a disgrace! to oppose. While, in their opinion, it should be limited to trusting the experts in power and nodding to everything.
There is a central question about how states like South Korea and Vietnam have managed to fight the pandemic with tests, “detective” jobs in terms of contacts and human networks, while keeping at the same time their economy alive without abolishing politics, rights and social functions. Some like to ignore these cases. For me as a scientist and a politician, I find them very interesting. I remind you that a democratic science seeks and relies on the best practices worldwide.
To sum up: I remain a fighter for the priority of Democratic Politics over the experts. Experts are needed to make decisions. But those should be made by Politics. They do not provide the “guidelines” , as New Democracy executives state in the media. Politicians are the one who choose who they will listen to and how they will use them . The implementation of any policy and the measures that accompany, back and support it are human choices and not divine one-way streets. The ancient Athenians understood this and therefore believed that institutions and choices were the work of men and not of the gods. Consequently, what “experts” do is subject to analysis, examination, criticism, comparison with other solutions.
PS1. Some people should finally have a read of Pericles’ “Epitaph”. Don’t be afraid of it. This is not a text from Karl Marx’s memoirs.
PS2. They should also get used to the democratic debate. The culture of democracy and the culture of dialogue are productive.
PS3. Democracy does not dissolve anything. It is the demand for the policy to be hidden behind technocrats and the latter to respond to the main opposition on behalf of the former that is divisive.
PS4. The fact that TV channels provide answers through the the worst of the amateurists to critical questions and opinions which they silence does not honor the ones who seek or even beg for such support.
PS5. I am concerned that for the first time in history, left-wing executives have become mouthpieces of “pure technocratic-authoritarian” theories about the role and function of science.
PS6. Denying the right to criticize is hard conservatism. Some people, right and left, should come to terms with the fact that there are no more prohobitions on criticism. /ibna
* Nikos Kotzias is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Professor in the University of International Relations and Foreign Policy and President of the Movement for Ideas and Action “Pratto”.