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Christopher Rusyniak

Professor Brown

Perspectives

September 24, 2006

One of the reasons why Socrates teachings are still read, studied, and revered today is

their timeless nature. His definitions of various pure forms of government such as timocracy,

oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny are still applicable today. We could still agree that pure

democracy is a form of government inferior to alloys of oligarchy, timocracy, and democracy.

First we would have to determine what make a good society…

I will have to make this vague relative to Aristotle’s description of good in Nicomachean

Ethics. Generally a good society is one which allows for a wholesome lifestyle as well as

provides for the “necessary appetites” of a being, such as food, shelter, and protection of life and

property. It must also have a dynamic system in place for creating and updating laws to defend

citizens from infringements on the former rights and others as they see fit.

In order to defame ‘democracy’ we must first specify exactly what democracy is.

Democracy is a society where the constituents rule themselves. Everyone has an equal voice in

every bit of legislative action and judgment. The people also have limitless freedom to govern

themselves as they see fit. A less extreme example would be a government where everyone had

an equal say in the actions of government, legislative, judicial, and executive. An example of a

pure democracy would be anarchy, as in an anarchy everyone is free to do anything they wish.

I defined democracy as “having limitless freedom to govern yourselves as you see fit.”

This is also a paradox as having limitless freedom means not being bound by government;
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therefore you would not be able to govern yourself with limitless freedom. And so, you may

conclude that in a pure democracy there is no law.

One of the first issues that comes to mind when you think of this society is that a perfect

democracy or anarchy simply cannot exist. Plato, in The Republic, insinuates this as he says

“isn’t that a heavenly and pleasant way to pass the time, while it lasts. It probably is, while it

lasts.” (558a2)

Plato also throws at us a dilemma of the democratic society when he says, “There is no

compulsion to rule this city…or to be ruled…” (557e2) The truth is that one can set up as much

infrastructure as one wants but if no one is required to obey, the population will simply ponder

the easier way to appease their appetites, usually stealing, killing, etc. This is a reference to

anarchy, whose existence even in theory is impossible.

Instantaneously after anarchy’s creation the citizens of this society will create alliances

with other citizens and they would begin to make various contracts with each other for

protection, food, shelter, etc. If they did not they would be enslaved to their own full spectrum

of freedoms. A freedom to kill, steal, or rape would submit the population into a constant fear

and force citizens to form these alliances or be killed. A reoccurring paradox is formed; freedom

is not really freedom, but enslavement.

And just like that anarchy, democracy is gone, and it becomes tyranny, people no longer

have the full spectrum of freedoms. This of course is the most extreme case.

Let us set up another hypothetical democracy in which everyone votes on laws, their

execution and judicial decisions. There are a number of faults in this system, some more obvious

than others. The first one that comes to mind is the slowness and potential for error in such a

system. If everyone was required to vote, the entirety of society would have to stop dead after
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every issue, large or minuscule, that surfaces and be summoned to a vote. The government

would be impossibly slow at legislating, and the efficiency of all the other portions of the society

(food production, trade, etc) would diminish.

Also when describing a democratic being Plato mentions that the Democrat lives life

“day to day, gratifying the appetite of the moment.” (561c6) He doesn’t ponder the future, but

rather pleasures himself to the best of his ability at a particular instant. How can the legislative

body take action that will positively benefit the society if each member of the body only cares

about pleasuring himself for that instant? It would be nearly impossible to assemble any sort of

majority and if they did this majority would care nothing about the future effects of their rash

decisions. In the future large groups of people rallying for a single cause based on it immediate

need would be termed factions. Creators of our government, such as James Madison, were very

afraid of factions and sought to throw as much oligarchic power into the constitution as possible

(Senate, Judiciary, etc.) This was to defend the society from whim. Plato illustrates this as well,

“he takes part in politics, leaping to his feet and saying and doing whatever happens to come to

mind.” (561d2)

Plato argues that instead of the appetites controlling spiritedness and wisdom, wisdom

should control spiritedness and appetites. Democrats, he argues use their wisdom, not to live

wisely as they should, but rather to justify their gluttony.

Clearly democracy is the one of the most inferior forms of government. It does not

promote order, it does not allow for any laws, and it makes for the creation of drones, people

who are only interested in satisfying their current appetites and believe this to be happiness. An

irony exists, happiness just as the appetite is instantaneous, and the citizens of this society will be
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in a perpetual search for different and more extreme ways satisfy their unnecessary appetites as

they become bored and the instantaneous euphoria is expended.

Pure Democracy is not only inferior, but also impossible. As I stated earlier, the only real

way to make government function properly as I defined it is to make a malleable alloy of

democracy, oligarchy, and timocracy. Even so, not one country in the world has achieved a

government that is completely perfect. Now, a couple millennia after Socrates’ death we still

have been unable to perfect the system and have revolutions, disenfranchised people, and

“drones” with and without stings in our society.

Just as Plato claims, “It looks, then, as though it is the most beautiful of all

constitutions…And presumably many people would behave like women and children…and

actually judge it to be most beautiful.” (557c4) At first glance boundless freedom seems to be

the ideal virtue. That is until one becomes a slave to that freedom. Socrates’ argument still has

not been refuted.