Plato's View of Democracy

Topic: EducationTeaching
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Last updated: June 11, 2019

At first I didn’t fully understand some of Plato’s objections to democracy. After doing a little research, I realized that it was important to understand his definition of democracy and what it means to a society. Plato’s problem isn’t with the democracy we know today, or even the Athenian democracy. Instead, it is the form of democracy he criticizes. In The Republic, democracy means the rule of the people, in a much more literal sense than it does for the citizens of most of the modern states which claim to be democracies.

Plato has an aversion to democracy because it violates the proper order of society by creating an artificial equality. His basic criticism is that democracy is an irrational form of constitution. It is based on the assumption that every citizen is equally entitled to a say in political affairs, no matter how unsuited he is in terms of ability, character or training. In this form of democracy, it doesn’t matter how ignorant a person is, he could still play a significant role in public affairs if he speaks persuasively enough.

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Plato was disgusted by the idea of a system where value and merit are disregarded and instead unconditional equality. He and Socrates both felt that all people were born with knowledge, but that not all people were in touch with the knowledge they possessed. Plato rejected the idea that all men are equals. Plato also believed that man was not self-sufficient; he believed man would be most happy living in a state, being ruled over.It seems that he also believed all men wanted to live the truly good life where they could be in tune with the truth and achieve their ultimate goals.

When discussing a democratic society and its leaders, Plato says, “When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply the strong wine of freedom, then, unless her rulers are very amenable and give a plentiful draught, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs. From what I can tell, Plato had specific ideas of what makes an ideal society based on the teaching of Socrates. He seemed to be interested in a society able to provide a livelihood for its people, a society free of what he saw as the self-serving individualism and commercialism, and a society unified by a harmony of interests. According to The Republic, the ideal government is based around a revolution of one man; the philosopher.The flaw of democracy is that the masses (who are neither knowledgeable or experienced in government) are in possession of political power in the city. According to Plato, what looks like equality is actually a loss of social order and social hierarchy, and what appears as liberty in democracy is the loss of social type and social training. Plato deems the perfectly just society as possessing social order, social hierarchy, social type and social training, so he regards democracy as the negation of justice.Plato just doesn’t seem to trust democracy, and he believes it will eventually evolve into a tyranny (as people who don’t know just from unjust take power).

From what I can tell, Plato believed that if people only knew the truth, or what he believed to be the truth, then a much more peaceful society would be formed. In this excerpt, he makes a lot of statements about the ideals that should be held by members of a society, but a lot of them don’t seem realistic.I don’t think life is supposed to exemplify society’s ideals, because there is no way to know what a perfect life would consist of. It is possible to theorize, but at the end of the day what you still are left with is a society of people who all think differently, and who all have individual morals and beliefs on the purpose of life.

It is these differences I believe that make the world the interesting and diverse place it is today, though Plato might argue that these variations are the downfall of a democratic society.

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