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Who watches the watchmen?

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02/06/2009

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who watches the watchmen?

It is a good bet that the executives at Warner Brothers are hoping that millions of people will go to watch their movie The Watchmen due out this year. Directed by Zach Snyder, (300), the movie is based on the 12 issue comic book written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Typical of Moore's attitude about his classic comic book about aging super heroes and the corruption of power, he insists he could care less who watches The Watchmen and guarantees he wont.

The Latin phrase quoted above is from The Satires of Juvenal a late first Century or early 2nd Century poet. Before Juvenal wrote his words the idea behind this thought, (who watches the watchmen?), is first brought up, at least in the history of Western civilization, in Plato's The Republic. Relying upon Socratic Dialogs, Plato uses Socrates description of the perfect society where society is divided into certain classes such as laborers, slaves, and tradesmen, but it is the guardian class charged with protecting the city. In the dialog the question is put to Socrates; "Who will guard against the guardians." Plato's answer is wishful thinking as he suggest that the watchmen themselves will watch against themselves because they were told a "noble lie", by suggesting to the guardian class that they are better than those they serve, and it will be instilled in this ruling class disdain for power and privilege. These guardians will only rule because they believe it is right and not because they desire it. Yeah right.

The first reason Plato's hypothesis should be rejected is that the premise is false. A perfect society does not include a slave class. Freedom, under this premise, is obviously subjective and quite clearly a privilege for those who've been granted it. Freedom doesn't work in the subjective realm. It is purely objective to declare freedom universal. If I am free then you are free, if we are free then so is everyone else. There can be no slavery, no diminishing of equality under the law. By creating a guardian class to rule society, by structuring the rest to varying degrees, less equal than the guardian class under the law what has been created is a centralization of power the will undoubtedly corrupt. The flaw lies in looking towards rulers to lead rather than looking to ourselves to find our path. The deceit, or "noble lie" is that everyone can't be trusted with freedom. There is truth in this observation, it does not empower humanity to repeal the natural law of freedom, it empowers humanity to use natural law to then imprison those people who have used their freedom to hurt others. Efforts to create law that would empower a guardian class are efforts to prevent crime. The responsibility of crime prevention belongs with the people, the responsibility of apprehending criminals belongs to the guardians. If the people do not watch the watchmen very carefully, the watchmen will err when no one is watching.