Democracy in "The Republic" by Plato

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The Republic is one of Plato's most popular books, which many have learned and applied over a long period of time. The Republic addresses many of the challenges that other administrations have posed and proposes what needs to be done to ensure that those concerns are resolved. The doctrine of independence is one of the most pronounced themes of the Republic. Plato has a broad variety of viewpoints on democracy, its meaning and how it can be exercised. Maybe he also criticizes liberalism and proposes the better ways in which states are perceived to be managed. It sets out concerns about the law of the few vs the rest, and how this placement affects government.This paper gives a review of Plato’s view on democracy and relates it to the views given in Varoufaki’s talk on Ted concerning the relationship between democracy and capitalism. The paper addresses Plato’s critiques and compares with Varoufaki’s provocative proposition that democracy and capitalism are not compatible.

Regarding the notion of the few and the many, as depicted in The Republic, Plato argues that the most knowledgeable would rule over the others. In other words, there are few individuals who have the knowledge, especially the philosophers, while majority of the people have less knowledge and it would be disastrous if people with less knowledge were in leadership. Plato brings out the issue of Knowledge and power as being different, and that knowledge is by far most important that holding positions of power by the less knowledgeable. Thus, Plato argues that the few philosophers are the ones who should hold political positions of ruling. 

Additionally, Plato proposed that philosopher kings could make better rulers because all philosophers aimed at discovering an ideal polis. For example, the “kalipolis,” which meant a beautiful city, would have an orientation where the political rulers depended on knowledge, a characteristic of philosopher kings, rather than power.  While Plato’s orientation could be theoretically lead to a better political rule, it remains that power in the contemporary politics is a significant aspect of that makes up the political dimension. Arguably, this observation shows a flaw in the argument that Plato presents. It is paradoxical that Plato’s argument proposes an undemocratic political regime that is ruled by a benevolent tyrant. However, one should not ignore the significance of Plato’s proposition of an ideal polis since some aspects of it could be beneficial when applied in the contemporary state governance.

Democracy as Viewed in The Republic

The concept of democracy has proven to be more complex that it seemed before because of the differed views on what really it entails. Currently, it is viewed in most modern governments that are perceived to be democratic, that citizens have a say in the decisions made by the government. Since the times of Plato, many debates have been conducted regarding the actual meaning of democracy. For example, debates on whether democracy is the notion of majority rule continue to raise arguments in modern societies. Also, there is continue arguments on whether democracy could be what is referred to as the “Madisonian View,” which proposed democracy as the protection of the minority group. Democracy could be described as “the rule by the demos,” where “demos” is an alternative term for “the people,” and as “the mob”…the unfit” (Wolff 67).   According to Wolff (2006), “Making political decisions requires judgment and skill. It should, Plato urges, be left to the experts.” (67). To clearly elaborate this argument and make it easier to understand, Plato use the “craft analogy”, where he uses a metaphor of a ship. To support his argument on the place of democracy and his argument on the knowledgeable, taking charge, a vivid analogy is given as a demonstration of his point of view. In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates describes an instance of a ship led by people who lack navigation skills. He states that:

“don’t understand that a true captain must pay attention to the seasons of the year,    the sky, the stars, the winds, and all that pertains to his craft, if he’s really to be the ruler of a ship. And they don’t believe that there is any craft that would enable him to determine how he should steer the ship, whether the others want him to or not, or any possibility of mastering this alleged craft or of practicing it at the same time as the craft of navigation. Don’t you think that the true captain will be called a real stargazer, a babbler, and a good-for-nothing by those who sail in ships governed in that way?” (Plato; 2007, 204)

Using this allegory, Plato stressed of several things including the notion of specialization as a crucial component in governing Republics. Additionally, Plato was also trying to stress on the critical issue that faced philosopher at that time. Perhaps, his point was that philosophers were looked down upon by many during the 420BC Athens times. Furthers, such lack of appreciation rendered them as unimportant individuals in society, despite the fact they were very knowledgeable and could offer exceptional service to people through leadership. The excerpt also pinpoints the atrocities associated with equality, liberty, and unnaturalness that democracy presents.

In his talk on TED talk on whether capitalism is compatible with democracy, Varoufaki proposed provocatively that there is no way democracy and capitalism could be compatible. Varoufaki noted that the development of enterprise has led to the emergence of huge corporations that control most of the decisions made by the government. In his explanation, Varoufaki describes capitalism in a context of multinational corporations having more power to influence policy in their favor. One would argue that perhaps allowing corporations to have too much power could be because of the laxity of the leadership of governments. In other words, this scenario could imply Plato’s view that those in power are not knowledgeable hence compromise the system.

Additionally, Varoufaki’s proposition could align with Plato’s argument that only a few in society can take charge. It is difficult for people to be led by themselves since such move would make decision-making processes problematic. Paradoxically, Varoufaki advocates for an "authentic democracy," where the rule of law is followed, and people are given a chance to participate in matters of state. This is presented to as a paradox about Plato’s criticism of democracy and that allowing many people to take part in leadership would bring more problems due to cases of incompetence. Furthermore, the suggestion by Plato that the Republic should be ruled by philosophy Kings also contradicts with Varoufaki’s proposition of an "authentic democracy." As stated earlier, Plato’s view of society being ruled by knowledgeable philosophy kings would as well be a form of “benevolent dictatorship.”

In conclusion, the issue of democracy has raised many debates for many years, and differed views have has. In The Republic, Plato argued that only individuals with high knowledge level, particularly the philosophers, should rule. His view of democracy does not align with the notion of the majority leading but rather, a few who are fit. Plato’s vies contradicts with Varoufaki’s proposition of an "authentic democracy," where individuals would have a say in government decisions. His argument that corporation have gather much power to influence governance is a common phenomenon in most governments today. From these points of view, democracy remains a crucial area of society that governments should ensure it is clearly outlined and followed.

Works cited

Plato (Author), Lee, Desmond (Translator), Lane, Melissa (Introduction), The Republic, Second Edition with new Introduction (London; Penguin Classics, 2007)

Wolff, Jonathan. An introduction to political philosophy. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

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