Plato: Grandfather Of Democracy Essay, Research Paper
Plato: The Grandfather of Democracy
The history and the evolution of what we know as law, has developed out of many different viewpoints and philosophies. It has been the result of the operational and manipulative aspects of public affairs, and also seems to be the creation of different philosophical systems. There have been many that have been innovators in this area of thought from political leaders and dictators, to others who were simple political idealists and philosophers. Through the wisdom and teachings of Plato, law has evolved into many different systems, and through this paper we will discuss the impact this particular philosopher had had on our modern system of democracy. We will also try to recognize that law will continue to evolve, as does man throughout history.
Many people believe that Plato, whose life span was 427-348 B.C., has exerted a greater influence over human thought than any other individual studied throughout history. He was a student of another tremendous contributor to human thought, Socrates. Plato had written a commentary on democracy called “The Republic.” In this book he discusses the ill effects democracy has on the people, but also analyzes the inevitable need for political leaders. Plato argues that the inherent weakness of democracy exists and calls it the “extreme of popular liberty”(Plato’s, The Republic). But, when we discuss Plato’s views, we must take into account that his vision of democracy is much different than the modern system of democracy that we know today. Plato goes on to say…”this system is where slaves -male and female- have the same liberty as their owners,” and where there is “complete equality and liberty in the relations between the sexes”(The Republic).
Another quote from “The Republic” shows how different it was from our own current view of the democratic system. “Then in democracy,” I went on, “there’s no compulsion either to exercise authority if you are capable of it, or to submit to authority if you don’t want to; you needn’t fight if there’s a war, or you can wage a private war in peacetime if you don’t like peace; and if there’s any law that debars you from political or judicial office, you will none the less take either if they come your way. It’s a wonderfully pleasant way if carrying on in the short run, isn’t it?”(The Republic).
In “An Introduction to Plato’s Republic” by Julia Annas, she argues “Plato presents democracy as defined by tolerant pluralism, but Athens was a populist democracy, with a clearly defined way of life separating those with power from those without, and about as tolerant of openly expressed nonconformity as McCarthyite America!” Here, Annus is using the comparison of democracy to “tolerant pluralism,” as a way of saying that within Plato’s view of this type of political system there exists many different realities, and seems to question if law exists at all. She compares his so-called “democracy” as what is commonly referred to as “anarchy.”
Plato believes there are three social classes in democracy: the drones (unemployed), the rich, and the working masses. He says there will eventually be a period of unrest between the people and the government, and the working class “will put forward a single popular leader, whom they nurse to greatness,” and it is this leader who is “the root from which tyranny invariably springs”(The Republic). Here I would like to point out that Plato’s leader who rises through a period of unrest from the working masses could be compared to Germany’s Adolph Hitler. He too rose to greatness from a Democratic system, and what soon followed was the inevitable…Plato referred to this as “tyranny.” Plato’s system of democracy in The Republic is much different than what we know of today as democracy, but the foundation is there, and we know that his system would inevitably lead to chaos, as it is indeed anarchy. But, as we see in Hitler’s Germany, McCarthyite America, and Plato’s idea of democracy-tyranny, we also know that whenever there is a ruling class we must question if it is truly for the good of the people.
Still discussing the foundations of Plato’s democratic system, we see that Plato concluded that most people do not maintain the ability to assemble the difficult and necessary decisions that would result in a just society. He says, “The average person lacks wisdom and self-restraint”(The Republic). This means that Plato would argue that participating in politics, and the exercise of political powers was a skilled profession as any other. “[They must be] full of zeal to do whatever they believe is for the good of the commonwealth and never willing to act against its interest. They must be capable of possessing this connection, never forgetting it or allowing themselves to be either forced or bewitched into throwing it over”(The Republic). Through his writing in “The Republic”, we see that Plato believed one must not only learn how to rule, but it is a quality inherent to the character, acknowledging that this dominant part of a person is within their soul. In his book, “The Great Political Theories: Volume I”, Michael Curtis discusses this idea presented by Plato…”The three elements to the soul –appetite, courage, and reason- were related to class and to function in the state. If appetite, or the satisfaction of physical desires, dominated, the individual would be in the laboring class, if it was spirit or courage, he would be a warrior, if it was reason, or the faculty of possessing true knowledge, he would be a ruler. Constitutions were thus related to the character of the citizen body. The good state, like the good man, possessed the character of temperance, courage, and wisdom.” Plato believes that the state is also inevitable, as no one man is self-sufficing. We all have many needs, and the state helps to create a system to satisfy all our requirements. Because the state needed to create laws that would allow the citizen to achieve all these requirements, we see a notion in “The Republic” similar to our modern concept of contract-law. Plato embraces what we know of now as consideration: “If one man gives another what he has to give in exchange for what he can get, it is because each finds that to do so is for his own advantage”(The Republic).
If democracy is “the extreme of popular liberty,” than our system of democracy, may be in theory, not democratic at all. In reference to what Annus referred to as “McCarthyite America”, one could definitely question the validity of our governing system, and the effect legal reasoning has on the court system…if there is any at all! While many were publicly humiliated, blacklisted, and put behind bars through as series of court sessions because of their non-conformist beliefs of communism, we must realize that the true nature and function of democracy did not endure during this period in American history. Through the culmination of the philosophies Plato has presented, we can assert that this type of behavior is unavoidable, and as history has proven, we must conclude that Plato is correct in this belief.
Plato believes this concept of moral decency for the people will inevitably, as stated before, lead to tyranny. He couldn’t get over this inescapable outcome, although he did realize the possibilities of a good state. We must comprehend that Plato accepted the need for law, and how pluralism should not be a concept in a governing system or else it will lead to chaos. But, he also concludes that democracy will eventually lead to tyranny. I think that Plato does give credence to the idea that we as humans are innately good, but as we succumb to the pressures of society, especially when placed in a position of power, most people would act for the good of themselves.
Plato recognized the good of man, but also rationalized that the good will of man will not last very long. With logical reason he always resolved that even with his good intentions, man would inevitably succumb to his power. In another excerpt from his book, we see Michael Curtis finding a conclusive foundation for Plato’s philosophies: ”Certainly, Plato was pessimistic in his view of the inevitable, progressive deterioration of government from the starting point of timocracy until the final form of tyranny”(The Great Political Theories: Vol. I). Even though Plato sees the need for political leaders, and recognizes their invaluable function in society, he acknowledges that man indeed becomes pixilated with his power, using it in audacious measures. But, as history proves over and over again, law will continue to evolve with the future of man.
The Republic, Plato
The Great Political Theories: Volume 1: Michael Curtis