How Democracy and Oligarchy Become Tyranny: From Plato’s Five Regimes (Republic, Book VIII & IX)

In his Republic (Books VIII and IX), Plato examines how different forms of governments, including Democracy, can lead to Tyranny.

The Gist: Below we examine Plato’s theory of how Timocracy (a government based on honor) leads to Oligarchy (a government based on wealth and power) leads to Democracy (a government based on liberty and equality) leads to Tyranny (a despotic authoritarian state devoid of liberty and with extreme inequality) in a Republic (i.e. we’ll look at how three of Plato’s five Regimes dissolve into each other as explained in Plato’s Republic).

With this in mind, we’ll also examine Plato’s theory of the related ideal class structure, and his theory that only Monarchy and Aristocracy can avoid the above decent of the forms (with the exception being Plato’s Kallipolis AKA “beautiful city” / Aristotle’s Polity AKA “Ideal city”, which in both cases is roughly a mixed Republic like the U.S. which is part democracy, part oligarchy, part aristocracy).

In other words, well look at how Mixed Republics rooted in aristocracy can avoid the pitfalls of other classical governments by examining how the other forms deteriorate toward tyranny without the proper restraints.

In words, from a selfish modern angle, we are looking at how our American Republic was constructed as a safeguard against tyranny, and how our democratic and oligarchic, and at times timocratic, nature can be a slippery slope toward a tyrannical government (if we forget the original “spirit of the laws” upon which the U.S. was cleverly founded by American thinkers like James Madison).

That said, before we can do any of that, we need to better frame Plato’s argument and explain his masterwork. I suggest watching the following two videos and checking out our summary of Plato’s Republic, the better you get the gist, the more sense the line of arguments will make.

Plato: The Republic – Book 8 Summary and Analysis. Summary and analysis of Book 8 of Plato’s Republic. Also, a discussion of Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. No one is going to really be able to explain to you how prophetic and insightful Plato’s Republic is, but this video and our page should give you a taste.

Plato: The Republic – Book 9 Summary and Analysis. The core argument for democracy becoming tyranny is in the later half of Book 8, but to get the full argument one should read all of Book 8 and at least the first bit of part 9, the sections all flow together.

SUMMARY: To quickly re-sum the above, this page explains Plato’s Republic in general, but specifically his five regimes and ideal state, and specifically how oligarchy and democracy become tyranny. Why? Because, in Greek Terms, the U.S. is a Kallipolis/Polity (as noted above, loosely speaking, a mixed constitutional government of aristocracy, oligarchy, and democracy meant to balance and separate the powers). So, we are selfishly looking to see how the aristocratic nature of our government can safeguard the republic against the vices present in the oligarchical and democrat(ical) parts. See also the WIKI page on Plato’s five regimes for another take on the same concept. Here we will also touch on the honor-based timocracy and correct aristocracy, but our main focuses is on how democracy becomes tyranny, so we specifically will be looking at that and the closely related oligarchical system from which democracy came (as it informs the rest of the conversation).

NOTE: One could see the American revolution as the revolution Plato predicts that Oligarchy ends by. Or, you could see that as the end of King George’s Timocracy and the start of American oligarchy. Or, is it that George was a Monarch and the U.S. founded as a Timocracy? Maybe what we see now is democracy becoming tyranny? But maybe what we are seeing is the start of oligarchy becoming democracy? In all cases, our mixed system is going to cause some complexity over this… anyway, the point is safeguarding, not finger pointing. This isn’t about judgement calls of what part of the cycle we are in, it is about expanding one’s mind to these concepts so we all have a clear understanding of “what not to do” and “how to safeguard the republic“.

IMPORTANT: This is all a metaphor for the soul and an answer to the question “what is justice”. It is an answer to the question “what is the importance of ethics?” It is, an excerpt from one of the most important and prophetic works of philosophy in history. Be wary of shallow readings.

TIP: When this page uses the terms Democracy and Republic, it is referring to the forms of governments, it is not commenting on the modern political parties. Democrats and Republicans got their names from the Greeks, but their modern ruling style in practice has little to nothing to do with the conversation.

Plato’s Five Regimes: A Basic Overview of Plato’s Republic to Frame the Argument

For Plato, his ideal beautiful city aside, the only non-ideal forms of government that can breed the virtues needed to avoid Tyranny are Monarchy and Aristocracy (a kingdom or republic ruled by law respectively).

All other forms (timocracy, oligarchy, democracy) devolve into tyrannical rule by their nature, including (for this conversation) democracy (everyone rules) and oligarchy (an aristocracy where those with wealth and power rule instead of those with the best minds).

Here we should note that Aristotle had a slight different view. He said a polity (a mix of aristocracy, oligarchy, and republic). But in both cases the concept is the same, a constitutional government ruled by law that could moderate vices and virtues within the state.

The key to understanding this, is understanding that democracy and oligarchy both breed the vice of excess “greed” in people because democracy is too liberal (which allows for the vice of excess due to its lack of restraints), and oligarchy is based on the accumulation of wealth and power (it is too focused on the vice of excess).

To Plato, wealth was the most corrupting of all things (it wasn’t a vice, it was an emblem of the path toward vice). It was the means by which humans could obtain all other vices.

To Plato, the ideal ruling class were philosophers and the ideal ruler a philosopher-king. To be a philosopher-king is to seek and love truth more than anything else, and one who seeks wealth at the expense of ethics is pretty far from this ideal ruler. Thus, all forms in which wealth and seekers of wealth are allowed to rule the other classes is on a slippery path toward tyranny as an advent of human nature (Plato notes how excesses naturally cause paradoxical reactions in all things).

With that said, we know (like Plato knew) that not everyone is this virtuous or inclined to be virtuous, but that is why Plato strongly advocates for a class system (which is also a metaphor for the soul, in both cases balance of powers is key to the theory). This way some can be driven by truth, some honor, and some the vices… each fulfilling a necessary role in the state.

By allowing this “specialization” via a state-fostered class system, we allow all aspects of the human condition the liberty to arise, but ensure a balance of traits in society by, for example, ensuring that those who seek truth, not vice, run the state, while those who seek wealth, but not truth, in turn rule their sphere of business and trade.

The problem with democracy and oligarchy is that they promote vices to all people (liberty is not a restraining force!).

In a democracy, one who should be a philosopher-king spends their youth seeking vice, a warrior amasses wealth where they should focus only on honor (like a timacrat or aristocrat) and a defense of the values of the state, a popular artist thinks themselves a politician, and a producer or warrior may be lifted up by the people to the status of God-King (but without the wisdom to rule justly), etc.

The thing here is that this is all based on an utilitarian theory of justice (the main theme of the book is “what is justice” in a man and in a state and “why should we desire it as the highest good“). The goal is to create the ideal state in which the most people are the happiest, and due to human nature, that means the order or aristocracy and monarchy is needed.

We know people are naturally greedy, but for Plato, it is the “producer” class (not everyone) that is meant to have the mantra “Greed is Good”. This class is meant to be separate from government, separate from military, and even separate from the other vice-based sub-class of “producer”, “the luxury and artist” class.

The philosopher knows greed, they known honor, they know sensual vices, they know vices of wealth, but for them truth is the highest good and happiness (they have been trained for this and are naturally this way).

The philosopher and warrior have the restraint needed to ward off vice, in fact they take pleasure in this “highest good”, so they are best suited to rule and defend the nation (as both are rather thankless jobs less one loves good in itself).

The producer and artist are free to seek vice, a perfect liberty afforded to them, but because of this, they should not rule (so yes, Plato is a bit of an authoritarian and conservative and doesn’t extend this liberty in his Republic like a democracy would).

Plato’s perfect state is a collective of specialized individuals. There is capitalism, liberty, and some equality… but law and order hold together the society and the philosopher king and honorable warriors always defend the virtues of the state.

For Plato, the Republic does a much better job of allowing this state of true liberty and equality to thrive. Oligarchy and Democracy do not do this! Instead, these forms actually incentivize greed and fail to imbue virtues of moderation and truth seeking in their people and thus they begin the slippery slope toward the rise of a tyrant (explained in more detailed below).

If one is driven to greed, then let them fill their cup, in their own class. When all in a society “have drunken too deep of the wine”… then the state itself becomes corrupt and this is the fertile ground from which a tyrant grows.

In a Democracy, a would-be philosopher turns to pleasure seeking and vice, and a wealthy would-be oligarchy who is charming and amasses fortunes is revered as a success story and is allowed to rise to the top. The should-be-producer/but-now-tyrant-in-training rises to the top, crushing other oligarchs as a champion of the punch-drunk people. The philosopher who should have ruled is laughed at for valuing truth more than money and pleasures, the man who is full of vice is looked at through these metaphorical “beer googles”.

Simply, this can all be summed up as: excesses of liberty and equality create a fertile ground for vice-seeking, and because people naturally seek vice for happiness (they naturally seek a low form of pleasure, and can only be taught to seek truth as the highest happiness if the state plays its role as educator of virtues and culture).

Anyway, that is the gist, there is a lot more ground to cover below. For everything else, I suggest you read the mind-blowing Republic. It is the sort of book that is only properly summarized in more words than are contained in the book in the first place.

Why we Care?

Why are we talking about a book from 300 BC? Well, because it is the basis of modern philosophy and modern government. Oh, that and we live in a state that is becoming increasingly democratic and oligarchical despite its Republican roots. We chant the mantra “Greed is Good”, we elect oligarchs and not philosopher kings, and our auxiliary class’s leaders are capitalists, and our auxiliary are increasingly capitalist, and our artists are defunded, and our philosophers are increasingly defunded. Our rich cherished more than schools, spirituality tossed aside for liberal vice seeking.

Look, I love liberty and equality as much as the next one… but, so did Plato and so did the founders. Our “mixed constitution” was purposefully structured to ensure American virtues via the law. Valuing lower order vices is a slippery slope. Greed is good, but in moderation. Moderation, temperance, or whatever you want to call it, is perhaps the highest virtue of the state (its arete). There is real danger in extremes. This has been known since before the 300’s BC, and since Athens and Rome have fallen.

Every nation thinks it is perfect, but every drunk thinks themselves to be infallible. A sober thinker, like any of our founding fathers, would not be so quick is to declare anything a good man did as perfect. Plato’s theory is about perfecting the state and perfecting the soul. The goal is happiness for all. Taking his words and warnings seriously isn’t unpatriotic, it is as patriotic as one can be.

Moving on

Thus, with all this said, examining this bit of Plato’s theory will help us to understand why our American founders weren’t just being cute when they created a Republic. America’s founders were well aware of the government types defined by Plato and Aristotle and they, wisely, neither trusted the minority or majority not to be tyrannical or act on behalf of a special interest. In fact, they expressed constant concern over special interest and pure democracy in documents like the Federalist papers, constantly seeking to safeguard the Republic.

Not trusting the people to avoid the election of a tyrant, they created a system in which representatives picked the President and Senate and the people picked state and local officials (a “representative” democracy with a separation of powers in a “mixed Republic”).

America has since cast off the old ways and embraced direct voting on Senators via the 17th Amendment and a popular state-based “winner-take-all” voting system that favors the minority via state based law and custom…

…-_-…

…Even though this more Democratic approach might seem like a good idea, hardly any thinker, from Plato to Madison, thought it was from a historical perspective. The problem being that liberty in an extreme is just as corrupting as extreme authority, with the same being true for equality and inequality.

Sure, Oligarchy (which to the Greeks implies not just power by wealth, but also the orderly and conservative virtues of aristocracy) can also lead to tyranny, and a monarchy can become tyrannical as well, but what of a mixed-Republic that allows for both oligarchs and democracy due to its liberal and democratic values?

Well, it isn’t that there is no hope, it is just that any form of government comes with a cautionary tale as Plato notes as he writes down a conversation between Socrates and a man named Glaucon have in the Republic (Book VIII).

When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of 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. – Plato’s Socrates

NOTE: Plato is the author of wrote down the dialogues of Socrates. Socrates was Plato’s teacher, Plato Aristotle’s, Aristotle Alexander the Great’s.

TIP: Plato insinuates that things seek balance. Therefore, extreme equality leads to extreme inequality, extreme liberty, that leads to extreme tyranny and despotism. The concept can be explained as a “paradoxical effect“.

TIP: See our discourses on Rome, Sparta, and Athens for how different sorts of popular governments dealt with democracy and class warfare… and how they ended.

Tyranny Born of Democracy – Socrates. A land of liberty is a land without restraint, without regulation. If one comes along with no self restraint, no one is prepared to restrain them. This is the one who becomes a tyrant. Add in the fact that those who think themselves equal lose a tolerance for inequality and we have a cluster fuss. Plato makes countless great points and every single one is just flat our eery to anyone who knows the basics of history and modern western society.

And so, Glaucon, we have arrived at the conclusion that in the perfect State wives and children are to be in common; and that all education and the pursuits of war and peace are also to be common, and the best philosophers and the bravest warriors are to be their kings?

That, replied Glaucon, has been acknowledged.
Yes, I said; and we have further acknowledged that the governors, when appointed themselves, will take their soldiers and place them in houses such as we were describing, which are common to all, and contain nothing private, or individual; and about their property, you remember what we agreed?

Yes, I remember that no one was to have any of the ordinary possessions of mankind; they were to be warrior athletes and guardians, receiving from the other citizens, in lieu of annual payment, only their maintenance, and they were to take care of themselves and of the whole State.

True, I said; and now that this division of our task is concluded, let us find the point at which we digressed, that we may return into the old path.

– Plato’s Socrates starts (in his normal passive aggressive way) of showing how lovely liberty and equality are… then he spends the rest of the Book putting the fear of God in you. If extreme equality and liberty sounded terrible, they wouldn’t be so insidious and dangerous. Think that is kind of where Plato is going with this.

TIP: Plato’s theory inspired many including Buchanan, Montesquie, Marx, and other thinkers who understood that each government type had “virtues” and was subject to “cycles”. To avoid the fall of a Republic and the rise of a Caesar, a society must avoid extremes (such as the extreme corruption of the Roman Senate or the extreme economic inequality of the Weimar Republic. Or rather, even just perception of wealth inequality and a corrupt senate is enough if a populist base is rabid enough and a leader charismatic enough. Don’t worry, couldn’t happen here, we are much greater than Greece and Rome, and just look around, we are getting even greater).

Why Socrates Hated Democracy.

“You know the proverb, ‘the people is a monster of many heads.’ You are sensible, undoubtedly, of their great rashness and great inconstancy.” – George Buchanan on why pure democracy isn’t always as good as it sounds on paper. Who are populists like Caesar or Hitler if not charismatic leaders of the beast of many heads that had become enraged by inequality and the corruption of the ruling class aristocracy in a democratic Republic? But to our point, Plato predicted this all back in 300’s BC. So let’s turn to his guidance.

The basic forms of government

An illustration of the basic forms of government. Hobbes’ imagery re-worked to show the forms, the body politic, the head(s) of state, and the arm of the executive and legislative.

Democracy, Oligarchy, and the Rise of Tyrants

In his Republic Plato was foreshadowing the rise of tyrants like Caesar and Hitler by showing how extremes of liberty and equality lead to an intolerance of inequality and corruption, and how a populist tyrant arises as a champion of the people to destroy the “corrupt elite class”.

Literally, that is all there is to it. People become excessively free and equal in a democracy, they grow accustomed to the liberty. This is amazing and great, but it allows for corruption. The oligarchy and the elite rise and there is inequality.

The inequality frustrates a faction within the whole body politic. A limb of the body arises when a tyrant, ceasing on the opportunity, realizes that the frustration can be turned into a battering stick with which to best his political and class rivals. The Tyrant-in-training fights the elite on behalf of the faction, but the power is corrupting and soon [speaking metaphorically] the early socialist aspects of the NAZI platform become concentration camps and nationalist imperialism.

If and when the war is won, and all opponents crushed, do those who are left really think they won’t be next? Those who fell in line behind the tyrant so easily would be foolish to expect that a Tyrant can ever really find peace. No, a Tyrant must have opposition to thrive, there is always another head on the chopping block.

This is Marx in action, this is a faction within the proletariat rising up against the elite class under the banner of an elite who turns against the bourgeoisie “establishment”. This is the story of figures like Napoleon, Caesar, and Hitler.

This isn’t a jab at a modern figure, this is a part of the human condition as it applies to government and the city state manifesting with Solon in Athens, Manifesting with Caesar in Rome, and destined to manifest again if we don’t safeguard the Republic as the Federalist Papers instruct.

For, as Plato, Montesquie, Marx, MadisonHamilton, and others knew too well, a government like a Democracy can be corrupted by extreme equality and extreme inequality and collapse into a tyrannical government just as easily as an aristocracy can become an oligarchy (see also: how inequality corrupts democracy).

Luckily, Aristotle and the other thinkers like America’s founders gave us the tools we need to avoid such unfortunate events. So then, we’ll examine not only Plato’s types of governments, but also the virtues and vices of the type and some tips for defending the Republic.

22. Democracy and Majority Rule (I).

TIP: Plato’s regimes are Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.

How to Stop a Would-Be Tyrant

Stopping a tyrant after they have ceased total power illegally takes a war or natural death, exile is often tried, but it is often just met with the return of Napoleon or Lenin (historically it is too weak an answer, humanist, but weak…).

Castro was not stopped, his brother now runs Cuba. The North Korean Kim family were not stopped, they rule a nation so equal we no longer call it democracy, we call it despotism. In any nation, in any era, when a Tyrant has ceased power, the cycle is perpetuated. And while each new phase gives another round of hope, history doesn’t show us many peaceful ends to tyranny (outside our American revolution).

For those who don’t want to be subjected to decades of rule with glimpses of hope, action must be taken sooner.

The best way to stop a tyrant is to stop the source of the frustration (to stop the “spirit” which causes the decent into the next form)… Deal with inequality now, don’t exploit the loophole and wait. Address valid fears of your opponents, don’t make them your enemy. Embrace the aspect of mixed government which says “no, we don’t always follow the will of the majority or minority, we follow logic and reason”. Be willing to take some pain now for stability down the road. Sure, we all want to deregulate and see some boom now, but sometimes you just need 10% interest rates and a little unhappiness. Tell people the truth, a lie may be expedient, but it won’t always have the best results, you can loose trust. Use criminal virtue, but don’t be a criminal.

Educate the young to be honorable and virtuous, not to value wealth most or to think themselves equals of our greats out of the gate. Greatness is earned, and it is only equatable to wealth for the producer class, greatness of a solider or a politician is a thing of honor or virtue, not wealth.

But most of all. Set term limits, uphold just law, uphold the separation of powers, and uphold human rights.

With that in mind, luckily, in America we have a mixed Constitution that does all this by its intent.

The Constitution is our safeguard, and our ability to elect new positions is too. Although it wasn’t the case with Caesar, most tyrants take more than 4-8 years to fully turn a democracy into a tyrannical state, #thanksfounders.

With that said, narrowly avoiding tyrants isn’t the name of the game here. The name of the game is education and striving toward centered politics in an effort to make our mixed American Republic outlive ancient Greece and Rome and go down in the history books as THE example of a nation that got the balance of liberty and equality right.

Plato’s Police State. A police state! Well that is unconstitutional…. yet detainment camps in WWII, right? So the defense of the Republic is the defense of our values and the Constitution. This remains true even in trying times.

An Annotated Excerpt on Tyrants From Book VIII

Let’s end with an extended [annotated] excerpt from Book VIII of Plato’s Republic in which Socrates (after describing how Oligarchy becomes tyranny) explains to Glaucon how Democracy becomes Tyranny via a dialogue with another Greek.

Here Plato’s Socrates describes a wealthy leader who, as allowed for in a land of liberty that encourages the amassing of private wealth and is forgiving of vices, arises as a champion of the people against the elite to become a tyrant.

NOTE: The start of Book 8 is important and discusses timarchy and its descent into oligarchy. The whole of Book 9, especially the first part is equally as important to the conversation. This is just an annotated excerpt meant to express the gist.

The Republic by Plato – Book VIII – Part 1 of 2. You can read/listen to the first part of Book VIII here. I do suggest reading all of the Republic, but be wary it goes into many different tangents and not every book is about types of governments (mostly VIII and IX are, the surrounding chapters are more about the class system in the government, which is key to fully understanding the total argument).

TIP: The idea here is to treat a city-state (a nation or state, as described in Nicomachean Ethics) as an entity and compare it to a person. A person has virtues and vices, and so does a state. Here it is described how the vices of a state lead to tyranny (and generally how oligarchy turns into democracy which turns into tyranny; thus, both oligarchy and democracy have potentially to turn into tyranny under the following conditions).


[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is a metaphor for 1. the perfect state 2. the perfect class structure in a state 3. the perfect soul. If a soul is in balance (wisdom and reason lead, next comes honor, next comes our animal desires of wealth, art, and sensual poetic pleasure, lastly our most animal immoral desires), then the classes will be in balance, and then the state will be in balance (all are connected, each enhancing or degrading the other). The only forms, according to Plato, that can balance the state are monarchy and aristocracy, or Plato’s mixed Kallipolis (or in Aristotle’s terms, a Polity AKA a mix of aristocracy, oligarchy, and democracy AKA “a mixed Republic”). So this story of descent from oligarchy to democracy to tyranny is also describing the corruption of the soul as it moves away from valuing truth and honor and toward valuing vices like pleasure and money. The general concept here is that Justice is the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and excesses are not “balanced” and thus the chief virtue “moderation”, when out of balance, is the chief vice that undoes nations and the soul. Hard to summarize, but that is the gist.]

[in this first section the conversation describes how in an oligarchy ruled by wealth and power there is inequality and this creates a frustrated economic class “eager for revolution”. Here we must note that the oligarchy, for all its faults, still understands honor, manners, and other virtues of an aristocrat. They are corrupted aristocrats, not just punch-drunk commoners. Thus, while they seek vice, they have a set of virtues and know how to apply restraint… this will note be true for all Democrats.]

Next comes democracy; of this the origin and nature have still to be considered by us; and then we will enquire into the ways of the democratic man, and bring him up for judgement.

That, he said, is our method.
Well, I said, and how does the change from oligarchy into democracy arise? Is it not on this wise? –The good at which such a State alms is to become as rich as possible, a desire which is insatiable?

What then?
The rulers, being aware that their power rests upon their wealth, refuse to curtail by law the extravagance of the spendthrift youth because they gain by their ruin; they take interest from them and buy up their estates and thus increase their own wealth and importance?

To be sure.
There can be no doubt that the love of wealth and the spirit of moderation cannot exist together in citizens of the same State to any considerable extent; one or the other will be disregarded.

That is tolerably clear.
And in oligarchical States, from the general spread of carelessness and extravagance, men of good family have often been reduced to beggary?

Yes, often.
And still they remain in the city; there they are, ready to sting and fully armed, and some of them owe money, some have forfeited their citizenship; a third class are in both predicaments; and they hate and conspire against those who have got their property, and against everybody else, and are eager for revolution.

[in an oligarchical state those with wealth are increasingly divided from those without. Those without grow greater in number, and those with grow less virtuous, and the end result is the majority overthrows the minority and the oligarchy (now run by the many) becomes a democracy. Marx in action.]

That is true.
On the other hand, the men of business, stooping as they walk, and pretending not even to see those whom they have already ruined, insert their sting –that is, their money –into some one else who is not on his guard against them, and recover the parent sum many times over multiplied into a family of children: and so they make drone and pauper to abound in the State.

Yes, he said, there are plenty of them –that is certain.
The evil blazes up like a fire; and they will not extinguish it, either by restricting a man’s use of his own property, or by another remedy:

What other?
One which is the next best, and has the advantage of compelling the citizens to look to their characters: –Let there be a general rule that every one shall enter into voluntary contracts at his own risk, and there will be less of this scandalous money-making, and the evils of which we were speaking will be greatly lessened in the State.

Yes, they will be greatly lessened.
At present the governors, induced by the motives which I have named, treat their subjects badly; while they and their adherents, especially the young men of the governing class, are habituated to lead a life of luxury and idleness both of body and mind; they do nothing, and are incapable of resisting either pleasure or pain.

Very true.
They themselves care only for making money, and are as indifferent as the pauper to the cultivation of virtue.

Yes, quite as indifferent.
Such is the state of affairs which prevails among them. And often rulers and their subjects may come in one another’s way, whether on a pilgrimage or a march, as fellow-soldiers or fellow-sailors; aye, and they may observe the behaviour of each other in the very moment of danger –for where danger is, there is no fear that the poor will be despised by the rich –and very likely the wiry sunburnt poor man may be placed in battle at the side of a wealthy one who has never spoilt his complexion and has plenty of superfluous flesh –when he sees such an one puffing and at his wit’s end, how can he avoid drawing the conclusion that men like him are only rich because no one has the courage to despoil them? And when they meet in private will not people be saying to one another ‘Our warriors are not good for much’?

Yes, he said, I am quite aware that this is their way of talking.
And, as in a body which is diseased the addition of a touch from without may bring on illness, and sometimes even when there is no external provocation a commotion may arise within-in the same way wherever there is weakness in the State there is also likely to be illness, of which the occasions may be very slight, the one party introducing from without their oligarchical, the other their democratical allies, and then the State falls sick, and is at war with herself; and may be at times distracted, even when there is no external cause.

[now, with the oligarchy fallen or retreated, what kind of state do we have? We have a state of pure liberty! But, is this new liberal state run by have nots and democracy the best? If it allows for everything, does it not also allow for the worst? Worse than this, its aristocrats are “declawed”, they no longer have the power to sway people away from vice. With everyone equal, why even listen to a parent when they tell you to study instead of going out to party with your friends? And even if the parent does convey the message, with so much out of balance things are certain to go wrong at some point.]

Yes, surely.
And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot. [NOTEAthens had a democracy by lottery, so they treat democracy as this.]

Yes, he said, that is the nature of democracy, whether the revolution has been effected by arms, or whether fear has caused the opposite party to withdraw.

And now what is their manner of life, and what sort of a government have they? for as the government is, such will be the man.

Clearly, he said.
In the first place, are they not free; and is not the city full of freedom and frankness –a man may say and do what he likes?

‘Tis said so, he replied.
And where freedom is, the individual is clearly able to order for himself his own life as he pleases?

Clearly.
Then in this kind of State there will be the greatest variety of human natures?

[literally, Plato uses the term “spangled” [like a star spangled banner; but here to describe a state that values liberty and equality specifically] a few times. Liberty, equality, spangled, democracy, wealthy oligarchs, this is getting creepy.]

There will.
This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States.

[at first glance the two assume this government of liberty, equality, and choice is the best… but this is Socrates, and that means we are being set up to be knocked down with doubt.]

Yes.
Yes, my good Sir, and there will be no better in which to look for a government.

Why?
Because of the liberty which reigns there –they have a complete assortment of constitutions; and he who has a mind to establish a State, as we have been doing, must go to a democracy as he would to a bazaar at which they sell them, and pick out the one that suits him; then, when he has made his choice, he may found his State.

He will be sure to have patterns enough.
And there being no necessity, I said, for you to govern in this State, even if you have the capacity, or to be governed, unless you like, or go to war when the rest go to war, or to be at peace when others are at peace, unless you are so disposed –there being no necessity also, because some law forbids you to hold office or be a dicast, that you should not hold office or be a dicast, if you have a fancy –is not this a way of life which for the moment is supremely delightful

[when all are free, when no one cares, when no one is better or worse, when all are equal (even when they are not), it is beautiful… ideally, on paper… but it is, as we will see, a slippery slope in reality.]

For the moment, yes.
And is not their humanity to the condemned in some cases quite charming? Have you not observed how, in a democracy, many persons, although they have been sentenced to death or exile, just stay where they are and walk about the world —the gentleman parades like a hero, and nobody sees or cares?

Yes, he replied, many and many a one.
See too, I said, the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the ‘don’t care’ about trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the foundation of the city –as when we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study –how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make a statesman, and promoting to honour any one who professes to be the people’s friend.

Yes, she is of a noble spirit.
These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

[what works well for the many… doesn’t always work well for the one. In a society that extends maximum liberty to all, a corrupt oligarch is sure to arise. Above the “democratic State” was described, next “a democratic man” will be described. Note that the idea is that “the democratic man” comes into being after “the oligarchical state” and “the oligarchical man” have fallen, so “the father” in this case is “the oligarchical state”. Here one should that they will be comparing the virtues of oligarchy, specifically it’s appreciation for principles, to the more unorderly democracy.]

We know her well.
Consider now, I said, what manner of man the individual is, or rather consider, as in the case of the State, how he comes into being.

Very good, he said.
Is not this the way —he is the son of the miserly and oligarchical father who has trained him in his own habits?

[here they are distinguishing between higher order virtues and lower order pleasure seeking (vice). See an essay on vice and virtue as understood by the Greeks. The point will be: a man with total liberty, but with the lower order desires of a power hungry oligarch, when those tempers aren’t unrestrained, will become a tyrant in a democratic state, the worst of all things that could happen! In Aristotle’s day they got one of the coolest tyrants of all time, Alexander the Great, he is up there with Napoleon, most states aren’t so lucky.]

Exactly.
And, like his father, he keeps under by force the pleasures which are of the spending and not of the getting sort, being those which are called unnecessary?

Obviously.
Would you like, for the sake of clearness, to distinguish which are the necessary and which are the unnecessary pleasures?

I should.
Are not necessary pleasures those of which we cannot get rid, and of which the satisfaction is a benefit to us? And they are rightly so, because we are framed by nature to desire both what is beneficial and what is necessary, and cannot help it.

True.
We are not wrong therefore in calling them necessary?
We are not.
And the desires of which a man may get rid, if he takes pains from his youth upwards –of which the presence, moreover, does no good, and in some cases the reverse of good –shall we not be right in saying that all these are unnecessary?

Yes, certainly.
Suppose we select an example of either kind, in order that we may have a general notion of them?

Very good.
Will not the desire of eating, that is, of simple food and condiments, in so far as they are required for health and strength, be of the necessary class?

That is what I should suppose.
The pleasure of eating is necessary in two ways; it does us good and it is essential to the continuance of life?

Yes.
But the condiments are only necessary in so far as they are good for health?

Certainly.
And the desire which goes beyond this, or more delicate food, or other luxuries, which might generally be got rid of, if controlled and trained in youth, and is hurtful to the body, and hurtful to the soul in the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, may be rightly called unnecessary?

Very true.
May we not say that these desires spend, and that the others make money because they conduce to production?

Certainly.
And of the pleasures of love, and all other pleasures, the same holds good?

True.
And the drone of whom we spoke was he who was surfeited in pleasures and desires of this sort, and was the slave of the unnecessary desires, whereas he who was subject o the necessary only was miserly and oligarchical?

[keep in mind this is a long text separated into books, the conversation is still about a democratic(al) man growing out of an oligarchical state. They really want to hammer home how lower order pleasure seeking is hardwired into this liberal offspring, paired with the idea that at least the oligarch had a set of honors, manners, and restraints. As it will be the undoing of nations, care is taken to paint a clear picture. Anyway, this section is more clear than the last, and we can see how the young man becomes corrupted by his circumstance.]

Very true.
Again, let us see how the democratical man grows out of the oligarchical: the following, as I suspect, is commonly the process.

What is the process?
When a young man who has been brought up as we were just now describing, in a vulgar and miserly way, has tasted drones’ honey and has come to associate with fierce and crafty natures who are able to provide for him all sorts of refinements and varieties of pleasure –then, as you may imagine, the change will begin of the oligarchical principle within him into the democratical?

Inevitably.
And as in the city like was helping like, and the change was effected by an alliance from without assisting one division of the citizens, so too the young man is changed by a class of desires coming from without to assist the desires within him, that which is and alike again helping that which is akin and alike?

Certainly.
And if there be any ally which aids the oligarchical principle within him, whether the influence of a father or of kindred, advising or rebuking him, then there arises in his soul a faction and an opposite faction, and he goes to war with himself.

It must be so.
And there are times when the democratical principle gives way to the oligarchical, and some of his desires die, and others are banished; a spirit of reverence enters into the young man’s soul and order is restored.

Yes, he said, that sometimes happens.
And then, again, after the old desires have been driven out, fresh ones spring up, which are akin to them, and because he, their father, does not know how to educate them, wax fierce and numerous.

Yes, he said, that is apt to be the way.
They draw him to his old associates, and holding secret intercourse with them, breed and multiply in him.

Very true.
At length they seize upon the citadel of the young man’s soul, which they perceive to be void of all accomplishments and fair pursuits and true words, which make their abode in the minds of men who are dear to the gods, and are their best guardians and sentinels.

None better.
False and boastful conceits and phrases mount upwards and take their place.

[now, the liberal democrat (the democratic man who has liberty) begins to act on the oligarchical part of him, but still under the influence of liberty and democracy (to be clear, this is a metaphor for the state for a man). The idea is that oligarchical and lower principles are being freely acted on and promoted as allowed for by democracy and liberty. The Democracy is breeding vice in the Democratic man due to his legacy of oligarchy.]

They are certain to do so.
And so the young man returns into the country of the lotus-eaters, and takes up his dwelling there in the face of all men; and if any help be sent by his friends to the oligarchical part of him, the aforesaid vain conceits shut the gate of the king’s fastness; and they will neither allow the embassy itself to enter, private if private advisers offer the fatherly counsel of the aged will they listen to them or receive them. There is a battle and they gain the day, and then modesty, which they call silliness, is ignominiously thrust into exile by them, and temperance, which they nickname unmanliness, is trampled in the mire and cast forth; they persuade men that moderation and orderly expenditure are vulgarity and meanness, and so, by the help of a rabble of evil appetites, they drive them beyond the border.

Yes, with a will.
And when they have emptied and swept clean the soul of him who is now in their power and who is being initiated by them in great mysteries, the next thing is to bring back to their house insolence and anarchy and waste and impudence in bright array having garlands on their heads, and a great company with them, hymning their praises and calling them by sweet names; insolence they term breeding, and anarchy liberty, and waste magnificence, and impudence courage. And so the young man passes out of his original nature, which was trained in the school of necessity, into the freedom and libertinism of useless and unnecessary pleasures.

Yes, he said, the change in him is visible enough.
After this he lives on, spending his money and labour and time on unnecessary pleasures quite as much as on necessary ones; but if he be fortunate, and is not too much disordered in his wits, when years have elapsed, and the heyday of passion is over –supposing that he then re-admits into the city some part of the exiled virtues, and does not wholly give himself up to their successors –in that case he balances his pleasures and lives in a sort of equilibrium, putting the government of himself into the hands of the one which comes first and wins the turn; and when he has had enough of that, then into the hands of another; he despises none of them but encourages them all equally.

Very true, he said.
Neither does he receive or let pass into the fortress any true word of advice; if any one says to him that some pleasures are the satisfactions of good and noble desires, and others of evil desires, and that he ought to use and honour some and chastise and master the others –whenever this is repeated to him he shakes his head and says that they are all alike, and that one is as good as another.

Yes, he said; that is the way with him.
Yes, I said, he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he-is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.

Yes, he replied, he is all liberty and equality.
Yes, I said; his life is motley and manifold and an epitome of the lives of many; —he answers to the State which we described as fair and spangled. And many a man and many a woman will take him for their pattern, and many a constitution and many an example of manners is contained in him.

Just so.
Let him then be set over against democracy; he may truly be called the democratic man.

[now, we finally end this section. We now know that when we say “democratic man” we don’t mean to imply a man who is all virtue, but a man who is free to choose virtue and vice equally, but is, as a human from an oligarchical father, chooses vice. Consider this quip I sometimes say, “both good and bad people exist, and people are both good and bad, but in a free society, because bad exists, some will be very bad, and this is not good… hence the importance of the Republic, ethics, morality, and law“. NOTE: The danger isn’t in liberty, it is in treating higher and lower order pleasures as equal… or worse, treating lower order pleasures as higher. If the accumulation of wealth is the highest virtue, then the actual higher order virtues are moved down the list. This is the environment in which the next phase happens.]

Let that be his place, he said.
Last of all comes the most beautiful of all, man and State alike, tyranny and the tyrant; these we have now to consider.

Quite true, he said.
Say then, my friend, in what manner does tyranny arise? –that it has a democratic origin is evident.

Clearly.
And does not tyranny spring from democracy in the same manner as democracy from oligarchy –I mean, after a sort?

How?
The good which oligarchy proposed to itself and the means by which it was maintained was excess of wealth –am I not right?

Yes.
And the insatiable desire of wealth and the neglect of all other things for the sake of money-getting was also the ruin of oligarchy?

True.
And democracy has her own good, of which the insatiable desire brings her to dissolution?

What good?
Freedom, I replied; which, as they tell you in a democracy, is the glory of the State –and that therefore in a democracy alone will the freeman of nature deign to dwell.

Yes; the saying is in everybody’s mouth.
I was going to observe, that the insatiable desire of this and the neglect of other things introduces the change in democracy, which occasions a demand for tyranny.

[this next line is essentially the whole concept. The free people, who have turned too much toward lower order pleasures begin to turn on any who try to restrain them. They seek to overthrow “the corrupt establishment”… but unlike in the oligarch, it is the democrats who have become corrupted! They can’t see this, but they still have the numbers… the same numbers they used to overthrow the oligarchy.]

How so?
When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of 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.

Yes, he replied, a very common occurrence.
Yes, I said; and loyal citizens are insultingly termed by her slaves who hug their chains and men of naught; she would have subjects who are like rulers, and rulers who are like subjects: these are men after her own heart, whom she praises and honours both in private and public. Now, in such a State, can liberty have any limit?

Certainly not.
By degrees the anarchy finds a way into private houses, and ends by getting among the animals and infecting them.

[many a future philosopher will bring up these following points. The idea that the rich try to look like the poor, parents fear their children, teachers fear their students. Sound like, oh I don’t know, anything you know?]

How do you mean?
I mean that the father grows accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom, and metic is equal with the citizen and the citizen with the metic, and the stranger is quite as good as either.

Yes, he said, that is the way.
And these are not the only evils, I said –there are several lesser ones: In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.

[again, they are saying, when all are overly equal it breeds problems. Athenians had slaves, that makes some parts of their text awkward. The idea here is that if everyone believes themselves equal society begins to become overly sensitive. See What Does “Politically Correct” Mean?]

Quite true, he said.
The last extreme of popular liberty is when the slave bought with money, whether male or female, is just as free as his or her purchaser; nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other.

Why not, as Aeschylus says, utter the word which rises to our lips?
That is what I am doing, I replied; and I must add that no one who does not know would believe, how much greater is the liberty which the animals who are under the dominion of man have in a democracy than in any other State: for truly, the she-dogs, as the proverb says, are as good as their she-mistresses, and the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of freemen; and they will run at anybody who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them: and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.

When I take a country walk, he said, I often experience what you describe. You and I have dreamed the same thing.

And above all, I said, and as the result of all, see how sensitive the citizens become; they chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, as you know, they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.

Yes, he said, I know it too well.
Such, my friend, I said, is the fair and glorious beginning out of which springs tyranny.

Glorious indeed, he said. But what is the next step?
The ruin of oligarchy is the ruin of democracy; the same disease magnified and intensified by liberty overmasters democracy –the truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction; and this is the case not only in the seasons and in vegetable and animal life, but above all in forms of government.

[here I just want to call your attention to this truism, it has been reframed a thousand times since by other thinkers: “The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.”]

True.
The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.

Yes, the natural order.
And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?

[now we get to the meat. Below they discuss different types of people who arise in a democratic state… including the would-be tyrants and the “drones” (those paupers without stingers and crooks with stingers that will become the tyrannical mob that our founders feared above all else; they will be the drones of the queen tyrant bee). Those who could have never held power in a more ordered government, the least virtuous of the wealthy, are not barred from power in an overly liberal system. To the Greeks liberality was a virtue, and an excess or deficiency of this was a vice.]

As we might expect.
That, however, was not, as I believe, your question-you rather desired to know what is that disorder which is generated alike in oligarchy and democracy, and is the ruin of both?

Just so, he replied.
Well, I said, I meant to refer to the class of idle spendthrifts, of whom the more courageous are the-leaders and the more timid the followers, the same whom we were comparing to drones, some stingless, and others having stings.

A very just comparison.
These two classes are the plagues of every city in which they are generated, being what phlegm and bile are to the body. And the good physician and lawgiver of the State ought, like the wise bee-master, to keep them at a distance and prevent, if possible, their ever coming in; and if they have anyhow found a way in, then he should have them and their cells cut out as speedily as possible.

Yes, by all means, he said.
Then, in order that we may see clearly what we are doing, let us imagine democracy to be divided, as indeed it is, into three classes; for in the first place freedom creates rather more drones in the democratic than there were in the oligarchical State.

[the three classes are mentioned, but generally the idea is that there is a wealthy class and a much larger “everyone else” class.]

That is true.
And in the democracy they are certainly more intensified.
How so?
Because in the oligarchical State they are disqualified and driven from office, and therefore they cannot train or gather strength; whereas in a democracy they are almost the entire ruling power, and while the keener sort speak and act, the rest keep buzzing about the bema and do not suffer a word to be said on the other side; hence in democracies almost everything is managed by the drones.

Very true, he said.
Then there is another class which is always being severed from the mass.

What is that?
They are the orderly class, which in a nation of traders sure to be the richest.

Naturally so.
They are the most squeezable persons and yield the largest amount of honey to the drones.

Why, he said, there is little to be squeezed out of people who have little.

And this is called the wealthy class, and the drones feed upon them.
That is pretty much the case, he said.
The people are a third class, consisting of those who work with their own hands; they are not politicians, and have not much to live upon. This, when assembled, is the largest and most powerful class in a democracy.

[the drones aren’t going to congregate unless they get a little honey (they demand a slice of the pie, believing themselves equal). The idea here is to compare the most amoral to bees, some have stingers like thieves and crooks, some don’t, like paupers. Here we the idea is that the largest class, the have nots, begin to turn on the wealthy establishment within the democracy and to “squeeze them” (both paupers and crooks squeeze the upper class). We might think of this as taxation, or as a movement like Occupy Wall Street, or as deregulatory attitude of the Tea Party. The point is that the masses have turned on the wealthy in the democracy, with their stingers or alms cup out.]

True, he said; but then the multitude is seldom willing to congregate unless they get a little honey.

And do they not share? I said. Do not their leaders deprive the rich of their estates and distribute them among the people; at the same time taking care to reserve the larger part for themselves?

Why, yes, he said, to that extent the people do share.
And the persons whose property is taken from them are compelled to defend themselves before the people as they best can?

What else can they do?
And then, although they may have no desire of change, the others charge them with plotting against the people and being friends of oligarchy? True.

And the end is that when they see the people, not of their own accord, but through ignorance, and because they are deceived by informers, seeking to do them wrong, then at last they are forced to become oligarchs in reality; they do not wish to be, but the sting of the drones torments them and breeds revolution in them.

[now, the people have turned on the oligarchs. Like when Rome turned on its corrupted senate in those years when the Republic fell and became an Empire.]

That is exactly the truth.
Then come impeachments and judgments and trials of one another.
True.
The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness.

[now, in this environment of class warfare, the tyrant springs forth, acting as a champion of the people, like Caesar.]

Yes, that is their way.
This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector.

Yes, that is quite clear.
How then does a protector begin to change into a tyrant? Clearly when he does what the man is said to do in the tale of the Arcadian temple of Lycaean Zeus.

What tale?
The tale is that he who has tasted the entrails of a single human victim minced up with the entrails of other victims is destined to become a wolf. Did you never hear it?

[now, this wealthy populist Tyrant is all smiles at first, but when they get a taste of blood… the taste is corrupting.]

Oh, yes.
And the protector of the people is like him; having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the favourite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizen; some he kills and others he banishes, at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf –that is, a tyrant?

[oddly, the prediction here is that the tyrant is cast out and comes back. This was the case with Napoleon, Lenin, and Hitler for example (all of who faced a type of exile before their rise to God-King).]

Inevitably.
This, I said, is he who begins to make a party against the rich?
The same.
After a while he is driven out, but comes back, in spite of his enemies, a tyrant full grown.

That is clear.
And if they are unable to expel him, or to get him condemned to death by a public accusation, they conspire to assassinate him.

[and this is what happened with Caesar… who to be clear comes 300 years after this conversation was written down. Also, like Caesar, this people’s champion is now under the protection of the people, “their fears for him”.]

Yes, he said, that is their usual way.
Then comes the famous request for a bodyguard, which is the device of all those who have got thus far in their tyrannical career –‘Let not the people’s friend,’ as they say, ‘be lost to them.’

Exactly.
The people readily assent; all their fears are for him –they have none for themselves.

Very true.
And when a man who is wealthy and is also accused of being an enemy of the people sees this, then, my friend, as the oracle said to Croesus,

By pebbly Hermus’ shore he flees and rests not and is not ashamed to be a coward.

And quite right too, said he, for if he were, he would never be ashamed again.

But if he is caught he dies.
Of course.
And he, the protector of whom we spoke, is to be seen, not ‘larding the plain’ with his bulk, but himself the overthrower of many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his hand, no longer protector, but tyrant absolute.

[and now we discuss the happiness of this “tyranical man”, remember we had an oligarchical man and state, a democratical man and state, now we are discussing a tyrannical man and state.]

No doubt, he said.
And now let us consider the happiness of the man, and also of the State in which a creature like him is generated.

Yes, he said, let us consider that.
At first, in the early days of his power, he is full of smiles, and he salutes every one whom he meets; –he to be called a tyrant, who is making promises in public and also in private! liberating debtors, and distributing land to the people and his followers, and wanting to be so kind and good to every one!

Of course, he said.
But when he has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.

To be sure.
Has he not also another object, which is that they may be impoverished by payment of taxes, and thus compelled to devote themselves to their daily wants and therefore less likely to conspire against him? Clearly.

[and now we see how the tyrant begins to take liberties away from the people and how enemies are made of the people.]

And if any of them are suspected by him of having notions of freedom, and of resistance to his authority, he will have a good pretext for destroying them by placing them at the mercy of the enemy; and for all these reasons the tyrant must be always getting up a war.

He must.
Now he begins to grow unpopular.
A necessary result.
Then some of those who joined in setting him up, and who are in power, speak their minds to him and to one another, and the more courageous of them cast in his teeth what is being done.

[and, now, those who can compete with the tyrant must go. Next those who don’t devote to the tyrant enough must go.]

Yes, that may be expected.
And the tyrant, if he means to rule, must get rid of them; he cannot stop while he has a friend or an enemy who is good for anything.

He cannot.
And therefore he must look about him and see who is valiant, who is high-minded, who is wise, who is wealthy; happy man, he is the enemy of them all, and must seek occasion against them whether he will or no, until he has made a purgation of the State.

Yes, he said, and a rare purgation.
Yes, I said, not the sort of purgation which the physicians make of the body; for they take away the worse and leave the better part, but he does the reverse.

If he is to rule, I suppose that he cannot help himself.
What a blessed alternative, I said: –to be compelled to dwell only with the many bad, and to be by them hated, or not to live at all!

Yes, that is the alternative.
And the more detestable his actions are to the citizens the more satellites and the greater devotion in them will he require?

Certainly.
And who are the devoted band, and where will he procure them?
They will flock to him, he said, of their own accord, if lie pays them.

By the dog! I said, here are more drones, of every sort and from every land.

[the people become a standing army for the tyrant.]

Yes, he said, there are.
But will he not desire to get them on the spot?
How do you mean?
He will rob the citizens of their slaves; he will then set them free and enrol them in his bodyguard.

To be sure, he said; and he will be able to trust them best of all.
What a blessed creature, I said, must this tyrant be; he has put to death the others and has these for his trusted friends.

Yes, he said; they are quite of his sort.
Yes, I said, and these are the new citizens whom he has called into existence, who admire him and are his companions, while the good hate and avoid him.

Of course.
Verily, then, tragedy is a wise thing and Euripides a great tragedian.

Why so?
Why, because he is the author of the pregnant saying,

Tyrants are wise by living with the wise; and he clearly meant to say that they are the wise whom the tyrant makes his companions.

[Caesar declared himself God-King, Hitler President and Chancellor, etc.]

Yes, he said, and he also praises tyranny as godlike; and many other things of the same kind are said by him and by the other poets.

And therefore, I said, the tragic poets being wise men will forgive us and any others who live after our manner if we do not receive them into our State, because they are the eulogists of tyranny.

Yes, he said, those who have the wit will doubtless forgive us.
But they will continue to go to other cities and attract mobs, and hire voices fair and loud and persuasive, and draw the cities over to tyrannies and democracies.

Very true.
Moreover, they are paid for this and receive honour –the greatest honour, as might be expected, from tyrants, and the next greatest from democracies; but the higher they ascend our constitution hill, the more their reputation fails, and seems unable from shortness of breath to proceed further.

True.
But we are wandering from the subject: Let us therefore return and enquire how the tyrant will maintain that fair and numerous and various and ever-changing army of his.

If, he said, there are sacred treasures in the city, he will confiscate and spend them; and in so far as the fortunes of attainted persons may suffice, he will be able to diminish the taxes which he would otherwise have to impose upon the people.

And when these fail?
Why, clearly, he said, then he and his boon companions, whether male or female, will be maintained out of his father’s estate.

You mean to say that the people, from whom he has derived his being, will maintain him and his companions?

[this ends with a metaphor of patricide, only here, the father realizes that the son is stronger and fails. However, while the son might be weaker in might, the Glorious Revolution and American Revolution show us that reason and guile can sometimes overcome pure strength.]

Yes, he said; they cannot help themselves.
But what if the people fly into a passion, and aver that a grown-up son ought not to be supported by his father, but that the father should be supported by the son? The father did not bring him into being, or settle him in life, in order that when his son became a man he should himself be the servant of his own servants and should support him and his rabble of slaves and companions; but that his son should protect him, and that by his help he might be emancipated from the government of the rich and aristocratic, as they are termed. And so he bids him and his companions depart, just as any other father might drive out of the house a riotous son and his undesirable associates.

By heaven, he said, then the parent will discover what a monster he has been fostering in his bosom; and, when he wants to drive him out, he will find that he is weak and his son strong.

Why, you do not mean to say that the tyrant will use violence? What! beat his father if he opposes him?

Yes, he will, having first disarmed him.
Then he is a parricide, and a cruel guardian of an aged parent; and this is real tyranny, about which there can be no longer a mistake: as the saying is, the people who would escape the smoke which is the slavery of freemen, has fallen into the fire which is the tyranny of slaves. Thus liberty, getting out of all order and reason, passes into the harshest and bitterest form of slavery.

True, he said.
Very well; and may we not rightly say that we have sufficiently discussed the nature of tyranny, and the manner of the transition from democracy to tyranny?

Yes, quite enough, he said.

[OK, it doesn’t exactly give us a happy ending… but it does warn us that we have many chances to stop tyranny before it becomes unstoppable. Namely, we must beware excesses of liberty, equality, inequality, etc… and we must place higher order virtues over pleasure seeking vices as a culture… but most of all, we must uphold and not be too hasty in changing the laws which safeguard the Republic from tyrants. It is only when the tyrant declares themselves king, and thus there is no law, that things really go bad.]

NOTE: From here we move onto Book 9. Book 9 descries the tyrannical man in more detail and is absolutely worth exploring on your own.


"How Democracy Leads to Tyranny From Plato’s Republic" is tagged with: Ethics, Left–right Politics, Liberalism, Liberty, Plato. Aristotle. and Other Greek Philosophers

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