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Posted on August 27th, 2012, by

lato is one of the prominent thinkers of his epoch, whose influence is still significant in the modern, western philosophy. His views on the state are particularly noteworthy, because Plato critically evaluated different state models which he distinguished in ancient Greece. In this respect, his views on democracy are particularly noteworthy since, today, democracy is widely spread and it is considered to be by the modern society as almost a perfect system. However, Plato did not share the view on democracy as a perfect socio-political system, but still he was a friendly critic whose crucial insights in Republic can help democratic citizens grapple with some of the challenging problems pervading their political institutions, principles and practices.

First of all, it is important to underline that, according to Plato, the society is structured and consists of several classes. At this respect, it is important to underline that his classification of society is based on the clear association of a human soul. Consequently, it is primarily necessary to describe the structure of the human soul, as Plato understood it. He structured the soul on three basic domains: appetite, spirit, reason. Due to such a structure of the individual soul, he attempts to build up the classification of the societal structure since the society consists of individuals and they are influenced by these appetite, spirit and reason.

As a result he defines three classes within the structure of the society: productive (workers), protective (warriors), and governing (rulers).

The productive class (workers) consists of the laborers, carpenters, plumbers, merchants, farmers, etc., i.e. those who correspond to the appetite part of the soul. Protective class (warriors) consists of those who are adventurous, strong brave, in the armed forces, in which the spirit part of the soul prevail. And finally, governors are those who are intelligent, wise, rational, self-controlled and who are well suited to make decisions for the community and corresponding to the reason part of the soul. By the way, Plato underlined that governors are very few, especially good ones.

Furthermore, according to the state model created by Plato, the principles of Athenian democracy, as it existed in his days, are imperfect.

The philosopher explains that these principles are not applicable to rule in an ideal state, moreover, only few of such principles may be used by a wise and good ruler in the ideal state. He rejects rhetoric and persuasion that are so typical for democracy as useless for governing and instead he suggests that reason and wisdom should primarily govern. Equally he rejects tyranny, despotism and oligarchy as far not ideal forms and consequently they are not suitable for the ideal state.

As a result the logical conclusion he arrives to is the idea that it is philosophers who should rule the state, notably he says: until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and are leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, no, I think, will the human race (Plato 473c-d).

In such a way, philosophers are the best or ideal kings basically because they are those who love the sight of truth (Plato 475c). However, he underlines that it is practically impossible to reach the level of an ideal state if citizens are constantly oppressed by a tyrant or by a limited number of oligarchs who actually rule the state. Instead, he argues that the creation of the ideal state and the appearance of an ideal ruler is possible only on the condition of democracy (Plato, 479b-c) because democracy provides citizens with the opportunity to cope with major challenges which cannot cope with under a different political regime. To put it more precisely, democracy opens the opportunity for citizens to influence the political and social life of the country. Therefore, they are able to influence the policy of the state.

In addition, the ruler in a democratic state does not defend interests of a specific class or his own interests as doe rulers in oligarchic or tyrant states. Instead, he needs to focus on needs and interests of all citizens living in the states. Consequently, all citizens can benefit from democracy, though Plato realized the social status of an individual could affect his opportunities even in a democratic state. Moreover, Plato also relied on justice which he believed is doing good to friends (Plato, 332a) and justice in a democratic state was available to all citizens and all citizens could count for justice, while in oligarchic or tyrant states, for instance, it was oligarchy or tyrant who take advantage of justice.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Plato was critical in relation to democracy, but it was a friendly criticism of a person who understood advantages of democracy compared to other socio-political systems.

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