The legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle, writing 2,362 years ago, addressed himself to the issue of the political stability of nations.
In his view, every state is made up of three elements in the form of classes. “One class is very rich, another very poor, and a third is a mean”, he wrote in his book “Politics.”
Aristotle said that the rich class never learns, even at school, the habit of obedience. On the other hand, he said, the very poor, who are the opposite extreme, are too degraded.
“So that the one class cannot obey, and can only rule despotically; the other knows not how to command and must be ruled like slaves”, Aristotle wrote.
He said that the rich and poor classes were so extremely apart, and were in such conflict, that none could rule the other. The rich despise the poor, and the poor envy the rich.
“The poor and the rich quarrel with one another, and whichever side gets the better, instead of establishing a just or popular government, regards political supremacy as the price of victory”, he said.
Aristotle therefore called for a middle way, one between the very rich and the very poor, which he called “the mean”. These are the class of citizens who “have a moderate and sufficient property,” being not poor nor too rich.
According to Aristotle, these citizens were free from factions and bias, supported neither the rich nor the poor, and prevented either of them from dominating the other. They act as arbitrators between these two competing classes.
“Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be best administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either of them singly: for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant”, Aristotle concluded.
From the year these theories were published, to wit 350 B.C., it became mandatory for each nation aspiring to political stability to develop a large middle class. Acting to prevent the excesses of either the rich or the poor, the middle class came to be known as “the bulwark against revolution”.
Sadly for Kenya, after the middle class saved the country from the military coup de’ tats and popular uprisings that were witnessed in many an African country, it is today the greatest threat to the survival of this nation.
The Kenyan middle class of which I am a part of has abdicated all responsibility to this country and entered into a conspiracy with the very rich to suppress and dominate the poor class.
Take for example the issue of cost of living that is facing this country. The middle class has stood aloof from this debate and not required that the government put together meaningful programs to save the poor from starvation.
Neither are we ready to support what initiatives are brought to force the government to do so. When Hon Jakayo Midiwo led a group of Members of Parliament to force the Minister of Finance to reign in the runaway rates of interests being imposed by the banks, we the middle class were silent.
This is despite the fact that the rates of interest being charged are threatening to wipe out whatever gains the middle class has made in the last 9 years since the fall of the Moi regime.
Coming to think about it, we the Kenya middle class have never been there when the country needed us. We have watched as the rich classes have pursued policies for the domination of the poor, even when those policies are a threat to us as a middle class.
According to Aristotle’s political theory, the values of the country should be those of the middle class. It is for the middle class to determine the best way to establish an equitable society then require the other classes to adhere to those values.
Instead, we take on the values of the very rich and follow them as the values of the country. But these values of the rich are tailored and directed for one single objective, the suppression and domination of the poor.
The reason why permanent change keeps eluding this country is because the middle class has never developed or at least identified with any values that can bring about that change. After every election we go back exactly where we were when we first started talking of change.
Today, this country is collapsing under the weight of corruption and ethnicity, but the middle class is silent, and often altogether absent. We don’t want to talk against any of these vices, lest we annoy the rich class which we have allowed to dominate the society. In fact, as a middle class, we have allowed the rich to even dominate our thoughts, our conscience and our freedoms.
When I was appointed as the Legal Affairs Advisor to the prime minister, one of the criticisms I received in accepting the appointment was that my acceptance was not in conformity to the political ambitions of a member of the rich class.
This criticism was severally levelled to me by different members of the middle class, younger in age than me.
It showed me the debasing depth that we as a middle class have sunk to the point that we even make decisions on our professional or even personal lives, based on how well we please the rich class.
It got me thinking that if the Kenya middle class is what is expected in political theory to be the stabilizing factor of this country, then we are in a load of problems.
What a responsible middle class should have done, or at least should do so now that the country is at a cross road, is to lay down the values that are necessary to secure the future of this country.
Once we have identified these values, then we must commit ourselves to them and adopt them as the values of the middle class and the country as a whole.
After this we shall be able to participate in politics that is meaningful to the country and that will secure the change we want.
But so long as we as a middle class keep serving the interests of the rich class, and keep treating the destiny of this country as though it is tied to the destiny of individuals, then we shall fail to establish even the basic stability in this society which we ourselves need for a fulfilling life.
(Mwangi is the Legal Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister)