On Border of Ethics and Politics – Discourses on Truth and Censorship in Plato’s “Politeia” Compared with Today’s Internet Regulation

Jaanika Erne |

On the 9th of May 2014 I presented a Paper at the Conference on Freedom of Expression held at the University of Helsinki from 7 to 9 May 2014. Inspired by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I was trying to combine substantial rights and their constraints, ethics and politics, discourses on truth and censorship in Plato’s “Politeia“, and arguments against and for internet censorship.

Deriving from the inherent controversy in Article 10 of the ECHR, containing in its first section a fundamental freedom but at the same time in its second section justifications for restricting and limiting that freedom, the presentation addressed the discourses in Plato’s “Politeia” on truth and censorship as they also represent sides of ethics and politics together. In the end, the presentation attempted at categorizing from the given basis the today’s arguments against and for internet regulation.
Because of the “more” Socratic ideas in Plato’s “Politeia” of truth – the idea of naturally superior people with love of the truth, difference between the philosopher (who discusses) and a rhetorician and his trainees (who deceive), also that the people who are better able to know the truth are to rule – the discourse of truth was deemed comparable with the first section of Article 10 of the ECHR.
The ideas of censorship in Plato’s “Politeia” have been understood to include censorship as given in the hands of these superior people with love of the truth, and to include justifications of censorship, which justifications serve different aims – one may agree with the conclusion that the overall purpose is to make life and accommodation to life cycles and societal processes easier for common people, creating for them better image of afterlife so that they would not be afraid of death; picking for them noble and modest people as examples to follow, so that they (as their governors or idols) would not lament, be modest, self-disciplined and obedient – thus telling lies is allowed for the good of the city, to maintain good behaviour, for traditionality in educational process, to avoid astray, for unity of rulers, political stability, creation of image of just State for citizens – the lies are thus noble and they purposefully aim at maintaining social harmony. The discourse of censorship was deemed comparable with the second section of Article 10 of the ECHR.
Understood that way, censorship in Plato’s “Politeia” constrains truth because it contains lying and Plato’s “Politeia” has been understood as containing both ethics and politics at the same time. The idea of censorship has been deemed political because censorship would be impossible without the group of rulers of a political community determining for other people the community’s content and application. On the other hand, Plato has forwarded the importance of just order for getting the best rulers to satisfy moral expectations, thus one could argue that truth and censorship together in Plato’s “Politeia” would serve as basis of justness, just society.
Based on such understandings an attempt has been made to categorize contemporary arguments in academic research and case law against internet regulation (purposes of education and academic activities, freedom of expression, antidemocratic nature of surveillance and isolation, human dignity, privacy, dataprotection, protection of public interest, internet as a powerful basis for shaping public opinion and social relations having direct access into consciousness of millions of people thus an important tool for political activity, absence of a clear border between just censorship and politically persecuting censorship, free market rules, dynamic competition, encouragement of private investment, public access, access to services, equal opportunities of citizens, maintenance of cultural and linguistic plurality, global cooperation instead of global competition, (and less related: internet has still unregulated areas being still under development, impossibility to govern speedy and multilayered unpredictable development of internet, absence of the ultimate owner of internet due to polarity of actors, absence of legal personality of internet – the latter arguments are rather technical than substantial)); and for internet regulation (public interest, defamation, slander, other infringes on human dignity, data protection, pornography, internet fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, racial hatred, consumer protection, trademark rights, other intellectual property rights, need to provide clear and exact tax system, consequent need for responsibility, spread of global governance (some arguments are simultaneously used both for and against internet censorship, and most of the arguments are frequently used for justifying both – State-level and global control).

The text of the presentation is available as a SSRN Paper at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2438244

P.S.: The both texts – ECHR and Plato’s “Politeia” – are political, thus, in addition to discussing ethics and politics in political texts, one could discuss ethics outside political texts.