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Degeneration and democracy in Book VIII of Plato's Republic

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Title:
Degeneration and democracy in Book VIII of Plato's Republic
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Deane, Samantha Jeanne
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English
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v, 82 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Republic (Plato) ( fast )
Democracy in literature ( lcsh )
Degeneration in literature ( lcsh )
Degeneration in literature ( fast )
Democracy in literature ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 80-82).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Samantha Jeanne Deane.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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Full Text
h
DEGENERATION AND DEMOCRACY IN BOOK VIII OF PLATOS REPUBLIC
by
Samantha Jeanne Deane
B.A., University of Colorado, 2007
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2011


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Samantha Jeanne Deane
has been approved
by
Margaret Woodhull
Katherine Rousseau
1/- L ,v 7
.c l
Date
T


Deane, Samantha Jeanne (Master of Humanities)
Degeneration and Democracy in Book VIII of Platos Republic
Thesis directed by Professor Robert Metcalf
ABSTRACT
Platos Republic is a confusing and confused text, nonetheless when pulled
apart the most perplexing portion is Book VIII. Book VIII details the fall of the ideal
constitution, described in Books I-VII, as it descends through four inferior states
finally collapsing into the tyrannical. The focus of this paper is on the ultimate
collapse, with an eye to evaluating whether it is always necessary and unavoidable.
By closely following the critique of constitutions within the text and watching for
instances of intertextuality we will come to a clearer understanding of the situations
which lead to this collapse.
Many scholars have recited the state of the question Plato inherited, but most
have not gone on to closely follow how that question directly impacted Platos texts. I
will examine Plato's contemporary world: including the reign of Pericles, the
Peloponnesian War, and the workings of the Athenian Democracy so as to establish
the world in front of the text. This paper will also examine the literary history Plato
is cognizant of. including Hesiod's Age of Man, Herodotus Constitutional
Debate, and Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War with an eye to
understanding where Plato sees himself in relation to these widely famous political


texts. As a result of evaluating the state of the question in its fuller sense, as the
world in front of the text, we will be able to properly account for the degenerations
winding path, and, thus, uncover Platos carefully guarded interest in democracy.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
Robert Metclaf


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.................................1
METHODOLOGY.................................5
2. WORLD IN FRONT OF THE TEXT...................9
PERICLES...................................13
THUCYDIDES.................................16
THE PELEPONESIAN WAR.......................19
3. WORLD OF THE TEXT...........................26
TRIPARTIE DIVISION OF THE SOUL.............27
EDUCATION..................................32
4. BOOK VIII...................................38
THE OFFICIAL STORY OF DEGENERATION IN BOOK VIII.40
5. DEGENERATION................................54
HESIOD.....................................56
FREEDOM....................................66
6. AN AFTERWORD: WORLD IN FRONT OF THE TEXT AND WORLD OF
THE TEXT COLLIDE.............................70
WORLD AFTER THE TEXT........................7
BIBLIOGRAPHY...........................................80
v


INTRODUCTION
The thesis of this paper is that while Book VIII of Platos Republic overtly
purposes the degeneration of civic life Socrates concurrently develops an actual
solution, independent from the perfection of the kallipolis. The solution can, thus, be
found in a dialectical reading of Book VIII, which elucidates the dynamic power of
freedom, value of diversity and necessity of the dialectic, and most importantly can
be called democracy. Socrates resolution to the degeneration is complex and
involved, but it is only relevant if, one, he is right about the degeneration and, two,
the negative aspects of the solution do not outstrip its effect. In other words freedom
is a fickle friend. The process by which this paper comes to know the democratic
Socrates is through an investigation into his historical reality, foundational theories
within the text it self, and relevant cultural influences. Chapter 1 develops what I like
to call the world in front of the text, mainly by way of primary sources like
Thucydides and Hesiod in an effort to place Socrates and Plato in their respective
historical moments so as to better understand the political movements of Book VIII.
Chapter 2, then, helps us understand two theories that are vital to Book VIIIs internal
story; these theories revolve around the city soul analogy and the process of
education, which is highly dependant on the dialectic. After building out the basic
principals of Book VIII in chapter 2, chapter 3 outlines the general movement of the
degeneration of Book VIII by highlighting the transitions from the kallipolis, to the
1


timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. In chapter 4,1 pull the degeneration of
the historical moment, Hesiods Age of Man, and Book VIII all together to finally
flesh out the democratic purpose of this destructive tale. Then, in a final culmination,
the afterword, or what I call the world after the text, puzzles out what our
conclusion, that Socrates is cautiously democratic, means for the lager world and our
own political moment. In an effort to begin, however, lets us first take a look at the
setting of the Republic as a whole, and our own setting as the audience.
Socrates is down at the Piraeus, a port, for the festival of a new Thracian
goddess; the dramatic date is 421/422 BCE, a time known as the Peace ofNicias,
while the actual date is closer to 360 BCE, a period after the fall of Athens (Nails, 383-
384). He is out on the edge of democracy heading back to Athens when he is
accosted by Polemarchus, and drawn into conversation by the resident alien Cephalus
(Plato 327a-328e). The resulting dialogue between Plato, Cephalus, Glaucon and
Ademantus revolves around the construction of a perfect constitution, Socrates
definition of justice and the consequential degeneration of the diseased constitutions.
Moreover, Socrates critique as translated by Plato in the Republic takes place on the
physical banks of democracy, outside the confines of Athens, and is prompted by a
man who lacks full citizenship due to newly instated laws. The dramatic dates,
though highly contested, provide unique vignettes of Athens sociopolitical moments;
moments that shape the debate of the Republic. Socrates may proffer a number of
complex theories or controversial revelations, however on the most basic level the
2


Republic is a response to the question: In what political constitution will man find the
most potential for continued flourishing? Socrates most interesting and perplexing
answer to this question is the subject of Book VIII, this thesis, and, unbeknownst to
most, our own political debate today.
The year is two thousand and nine, the country the United States, and Andrew
Bacevich, a self-proclaimed conservative, loses his son in a war blamed on his partys
agenda. As a result Bacevich accosts the American public with a book, which calls
into question the very foundation of the American political system. By his own
estimation the biggest plight of the American administration lies in its inability to be
critical of its own aims, goals, and most of all, actions. Thus, the civic life of our
nation continues to go unchecked; power moves into inappropriate forums and, most
of all, we lose the ability to rationally evaluate the propensity for continued stability.
He states: The impulses that have landed us in a war of no exits and no deadlines
come from within. Foreign policy has, for decades provided an outward manifestation
of American domestic ambitions, urges, and fears.. .they reflect he accumulated
detritus of freedom, the by-product of our frantic pursuit of life, liberty, and
happiness (Bacevich, 5). While Bacevich is obviously speaking about the American
political system, his observations and concerns are uncannily applicable to 5th century
Athens and, more importantly, speak directly to Platos concerns, ala Book VIII,
about the degeneration of political life, the incendiary nature of freedom, and
importance of critical dialectic thought. Or, perhaps, it would behoove us to flip the
3


association around. It is not so much that Bacevich applies to Plato, but that Platos
concerns and arguments in Book VIII are still critically relevant to our modem
affectation of democracy. What these commentaries share is an attitude of
degeneration, a commitment to critical awareness and an ambivalence toward the
veneration of freedom. In fact, the critique Bacevich wages against the American
democracy is symptomatic of the vertigo democracy has the potential to cause, and
the very situations which lead to tyranny in Book VIII. As they say the road to
redemption is not easily found; nonetheless, it is vital for the continuation of our own
political manifestation that we uncover Platos intricate hypothesis.
Within the vast text of the Republic, Book VIII presents an odd challenge;
not only is Book VIII rather narrative in function, it is a narrative which circles back
on itself with little rhyme or reason. Book VIII follows a long digression about
women, children, the process of education, the nature of the soul and the creation of
Platos ideal society only to return to the originating question regarding the play of
justice and happiness. Then, in what appears to be a compulsory turn of events, Plato
goes on to propose the very real destruction of civic life in a degeneration, which has
no apparent stop-gap to effectively reverse the trend. In a book characterized by false
starts and dead ends Book VIII leaves the reader with a bleak outlook. Democracy
doomed to fail, and it appears the last constitution standing will be tyrannical.
What makes Platos theory suspect and worth greater investigation is the fact
that he lived in one of the first vibrant democracies. The Athenian democracy was
4


the pride of its many citizens, as exemplified in the writings of Thucydides, the rule
of Pericles, and the plays of Euripides (not to mention the fact that the freedom of
speech necessary for a philosophic practice, as Socrates practiced it, is only afforded
by a democratic rule). Despite these positive arguments for democracy Platos
critique does not read as altogether false, and, in the case of Athens, proved true. So
what prompted Plato to write such a scathing critique of his own political system; a
critique, which does not stop with theory but begins and ends with a supposition of
justice and mans propensity for happiness? Plenty of insidious acts were carried out
on behalf of the polis, but Socrates does not attack the rule of law, or the poor
judgment of jury; rather, he agonizes over the values promoted and propagated by
democracy. Moreover, the degenerative function of Book VIII adds depth to the
debate which moves it beyond a mere critique and into the realm of a dynamic pursuit
of truth. It is not about the values attributed to democracy alone, but the way what we
value affects the political system we generate or destroy. The degeneration of
political systems within Book VIII is written as a natural progression; a progression
which occurs without thought and is only escaped by way of a through-going
awareness of freedoms operative purpose within each and every political system.
Understanding a political system enough to critique its value and utility
requires that we understand its subjects. Thus, before Plato dives into his analysis of
the diseased constitutions he wants us to understand what a good and ordered person
looks like, what values he holds, and how that person has been educated. It is only by
5


way of comparison with the perfect city and soul that the diseased forms may be
evaluated. It stands to reason that there must be a route however small, which
effectively bypasses the necessity of the degeneration, and it is my contention that
this route can be found in Platos rendition of democracy.
Methodology:
To truly unpack Platos argument in Book VIII we must first step out of Book
VIII to evaluate the larger concepts developed within the Republic that go on to affect
Platos reasoning throughout the entire text, and this, of course, requires a small
discussion about methodology. Platonic texts are often approached through one of
two ways. The first method, known as the analytical or developmental method, takes
the position that Platos text, as a collective whole, presents a universal Platonic
theory. To deal with inconsistencies within different dialogues the analytical school
focuses on the truth within particular statements as building blocks of a universal
theory. The other traditional method used to approach Platos dialogues is
characterized as the dramatist or dialogical school. This school of thought places the
majority of interpretative emphasis on literary details of the dialogues as dramatic
texts. Thus, nuances of character, language, irony, and setting influence the
interpretation of a single dialogue alone.
My own views fall in line with the dialogical school of thought, and that is
the method 1 have used in the writing of this paper. I agree with Gregg Recco who
believes the proper locus of interpretation should be focused on the drama of the
6


argument. This belief is partially due to the fact neither that Plato himself, nor his
protagonist Socrates, ever fully commit to their proposed ideas; rather they simply
test their ideas on the readers in an effort to find an engaged interlocutor. Roochnik's
work in Beautiful City: the Dialectical Character of Plato's Republic is very much in
line with Reccos. He argues extensively for an understanding and application of the
dialectic, which allows us to read a single text in its entirety rather than as confused
parts. Both of these approaches allow us to follow the twists and turns presented
within Platos Republic, while elucidating the anomaly that can spark further
interpretation. The larger methodological net I will use to organize my paper comes
from David Ban'. Barr, an apocalyptic scholar, creates a framework that effectively
bridges the gap between the historical reality, text, and interpretive discourse. By
looking at the world in front of the text, world of the text and the world after the
text, we can effectively unpack perspectival differences apparent in Book VIII of
Platos Republic while legitimately evaluating the varied instances of inter-textuality
(Barr, 71-73). For the purposes of this paper the world in front of the text refers to
the historical moment out of which the text is created, the world of the text refers to
whatever is internal to the text itself, and the world after the text refers to the
interpretative discourse the text ferried after publication. Once we have established
the world in front of the text, a world which clearly played a role in the setting of the
dialogue, not to mention its content, then we will be able to officially dive into the
7


meat of Book VIII in the hopes of uncovering that passage, however dangerous
which effectively bypasses the necessity of degeneration.
8


CHAPTER 1
THE WORLD IN FRONT OF THE TEXT
The history of Ancient Greece is written by numerous authors of divergent
genres, and can, therefore, be rather elusive. Nonetheless, scholars across the
humanities have proffered interpretation after interpretation, decade after decade, of
the Greek canon, and as one political historian captures it: We feel legitimated in
taking their [scholars] own interpretations of history as if they were historical truths
because ancient texts appear to have been so elegantly and convincingly deciphered
by outstanding modern scholars (Schemeil, 100). SchemeiTs words of caution are
not to be disregarded, and are part of the reason that, for the purposes of this paper,
Thucydides and Herodotus will be our lens into the past. Both historians
bequeathed beautifully written texts about the political and social workings of Athens
and her surrounding city-states. There is, however, unmistakable bias in their
respective texts, which are more narrative than expository. When we consider the
elegance of Thucydides telling of the Peloponnesian War and Herodotus expansive
Histories, coupled with the thousands of years and countless scholars who have
translated and interpreted these texts we must begin to question the image of Athens
we have today. This quandary is not limited to historical texts, but is applicable to
any ancient text, including the Republic, which has ferried years of translation,
interpretation and study. It is with these words of caution in the forefront that we
9


embark on the world in front of the text; the world which shaped Platos reality and
inspired Book V111 of the Republic.
Before the age of the Peloponnesian War and Thucydides chronicles there
are points of consensus surrounding the birth the Athenian democracy. Nonetheless,
we must begin by acknowledging that the political history of Athens is a mix of both
myth and fact. Myth tells of an ancient monarchy, probably fashioned out of Hesiods
tales, but from what is known Athens appears to have been governed by an
aristocracy up until the time of Solon and Clisthenes. Solon is the first democratic
figure in the history of Athens and led from about 594- 561 BCE. Solons greatest
contribution was the codification of laws; one of the most well known laws left from
Solons time and evident in Platos Republic is the rule, which established that debt
could not lead a person into slavery. Interestingly, Solons laws were held up by
democrats and oligarchs alike, although they tended to dilute the aristocrats power.
On a larger scale, Solons codification of laws led to the creation of the public courts
and began, for all intents and purposes, the enfranchisement of the poor. Nonetheless,
despite Solons contribution, Clisthenes is generally credited with the founding of
democracy in 508 BCE (Woodruff, 44-45).
Clisthenes did not have a noble plan, nor was he convicted of democratic
whims. As Herodotus recounts the event: Clisthenes, finding himself the weaker,
called to his aid the common people. Hereupon, instead of the four tribes among
which the Athenian had been divided hitherto, Clisthenes made ten tribes and
10


parceled out the Athenians among them (Herodotus, 66). As it so happened,
Clisthenes was caught in a battle with Isgoras, the other man put into power following
the rule of the tyrant Pisitratus, and found that the only way to win was to bolster his
side; thus, Clisthenes arranged for the creation of small local governments to replace
the ruling oligarchy in effect decentralizing Isgoras power base. What is even more
interesting about Herodotus take on the events is the perception of weakness.
Clisthenes, in this case the weaker party, decides to disseminate power among a
greater number of people only in order to secure a larger take for himself.
Democracy in Athens at his time was very much understood as demos (people) rule,
and, yet, its founding fathers were merely trying to secure their own political
stations. It is even more intriguing yet, that Democracy begins in the Republic when
the poor or weaker classes decide to start a revolution. While Clisthenes may not have
had revolutionary fervor, these small waves of enfranchisement initiated by Solon and
perpetuated by Clisthenes slowly begin to emancipate larger democratic ideals. In
between Solons enfranchisement and Clisthenes reform there was a period of rule
by the tyrant Pisitratus. Importantly, Pisitratus rule reminded the citizen of Athens
what they were fighting against, and thus helped Clisthenes reforms gain favor and
momentum (Herodotus, 62).
While these dates are not certain and Clisthenes democracy was simply a
necessity, this moment represents the beginning of an ideological battle over Athens
and the surrounding Greek city-states that never truly died back down. With
11


expanding enfranchisement came concerns of the wealthy landed aristocrats who saw
the decentralization of power as an affront to the political state. Herodotus recounts
the emergence of democracy with a particular eye to one value: Thus did the
Athenians increase in strength. And it is plain enough, not from this instance only,
that but from many everywhere that freedom is an excellent thing... no sooner they
shook off the yoke than they became decidedly first of all (78). It is obvious at least
from the perspective of Herodotus that the moment Athens embraced her freedom
was the moment that Athens became first among the Greek city-states. While that
point may be debatable, there is no mistaking Athens quick rise to power. Despite
the chosen dates and founding characters, the Athenian democracy was in first class
working order by 462 BCE. This initial founding moment was defined as the time of
Ephialtes, and the continuous battles of Marathon and Salamis in 490 BC and 480
BCE, respectively, give the Athenians the power they need to form one of the
preeminent institutions of the democracy, the Delian League.
Athens, thus, found itself in a constant flux of political environments ranging
from a strident oligarchy and moments of tyranny, to an imperial democracy
(Woodruff, 46-47). As a response to such continued unrest Athens created a very
rigid definition of its democracy, reinforced by each oligarchic lapse and solidified by
the nearly thirty year Peloponnesian War (43 1 BCE-404 BCE). The Peloponnesian
War involved most Greek city-states and came to be a war fought on the grounds of
constitutional arrangement. Moreover, Socrates and Plato each came of age and lived
12


through the constitutional turmoil that was the Peloponnesian War. In the case of
Socrates, the price was unduly high as the turmoil precipitated the loss of his life.
With the knowledge of Athens unique instability we now turn to the story of one
inspired man who became synonymous with Athens glory.
Pericles:
Pericles, who lived from 461 to 429 BCE, is one of the most well known
characters of Ancient Greece; it is from his funeral oration that many of the values of
the first democracy are defined, and it is to him that the imperial nature of Athens is
also attributed. Socrates, or perhaps Plato, has an obvious distaste for the leader of the
golden age of Athenian democracy. In the Gorgias Socrates asks Callicles somewhat
rhetorically: Are the Athenians said to have become better because of Pericles, or,
quite the contrary, are they said to have been corrupted by him? Thats what I hear,
anyhow, that Pericles made the Athenians idle and cowardly, chatters, and money-
grubbers, since he was the first to institute wages for them (Plato Gorgias, 515e).
The act Socrates is referring to is only one part of Pericles legacy. Pericles was the
first to institute wages for those who participated in the daily activities of the
assembly. Presumably, this was to gamer more support from the working class who
could not afford to participate without a wage, but what Pericles did was create a new
profession (Woodruff 51). The ropes that were initially used to gather people for a
day at the assembly were now used to keep people out; what was once an activity
only for those who did not require a wage was now something in which even the poor
13


could partake. Platos gripe was not with the enfranchisement of the poor, but with
the inclusion of those who had no knowledge of statesmanship. Due to the fact that
the Athenian democracy had no equivalent to the executive branch nearly all
decisions were confirmed or denied by simple majority vote of the assembly. When
the assembly was then made up of people who, due to their lack of experience, could
easily be swayed by a skilled orator, one is left to wonder who really controlled the
fate of Athens.
Another large protest, uttered by more than just Plato, revolves around
Pericles and the use of the money from the Delian league. The Delian League began
as a means to unify Greece against its Persian enemy, but slowly turned into an
Imperial fund. (Woodruff, 51). It has been surmised that through his oratory he
convinced the people of Athens to use the money that was set aside for defense to
rebuild the Parthenon on the Acropolis. What is more, it was decidedly taboo to
rebuild a religious structure on the ashes of an old one; but neither sacred nor political
norms could persuade Pericles from his agenda, and in the end the Acropolis was
rebuilt with money meant for protection not veneration. For Pericles supporters his
involvement in the rebuilding projects made him a patron of the Athenian culture, as
he truly became the leader of his own age. Among his other notable
accomplishments Pericles also tightened the rules of citizenship by putting into law
the qualification that a citizen must have citizen parents. At the beginning of the
paper we spoke of Cephalus, an arms dealer to the Athenian democracy, who was
14


killed during the rule of The Thirty. However, more importantly, he was a resident
alien who lacked the classification of citizen, yet retained the power to affect the
democracy under the reign of Pericles; the alternative would have been to remove or
enslave any non citizen, a decidedly undemocratic move (Rudebusch, 76). To put the
problem of citizenship in numbers, Athens had about 200,000 inhabitants, yet the
adult male population capable of participating in the assembly ranged between
20,000-40,000 (Plattner, 109). Due to Pericles tightened citizenship requirements
Athens was teeming with people who had no say in their government, but every
opportunity to affect the opinions of those around them.
In his funeral oration, which was recorded by Thucydides, Pericles champions
the virtues of democracy: We have a form of government that does not try to imitate
the laws of our neighboring states...In name, it is called a democracy, because it is
managed not for a few people, but for the majority (Thucydides 40). Arlene
Saxonhouse takes issue with the translation of Thucydides, which renders him
sympathetic to democracy. Within this sympathetic vision democracy is defined as
power in the hands of the people, essentially polis rule. Instead, she prefers Hobbs
translation, which like the passage quoted above indicates that; it is... administration
[with] respect not to a few, but to the multitude (Saxonhouse 3). The difference
between these two translations foreshadows the distinction Plato will make. In its
actual manifestation Athenian democracy was a formed government, meaning there
were administrative policies and procedures. Athenian democracy was not merely
15


polis rule or mob rule, but a working democracy. If it had been simply polis rule,
perhaps people of all sorts would have been allowed a voice; rather Athenian
democracy was an administration of adult male citizens. The larger point is that
Athens was a democracy, which had a decidedly defined set of administrative
procedures, and as the case of Pericles demonstrates, one skilled orator could rule as a
king in all but name.
Thucydides:
Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War is a detailed account of
Athens heyday; it is by way of Thucydides that we know of Pericles defense of
democracy, and it is by way of his account that we have been able to compose a more
genuine picture of the political workings of Athens. Interestingly, Thucydides has
said that to be a political historian one must be apolitikos. Etymologically polis refers
to a city, it is the accumulation of citizens who acknowledge a common goal, and thus
to be a true critic one must have distance from the polis of study. However,
Thucydides, bom between 471-455BCE, was the son of a wealthy merchant and
enjoyed full Athenian citizenship; meaning he was taught oratory from Antiphon and
philosophy from Anaxagoras. Thucydides was, thus, anything but apolis until his
polis exiled him. As the Athenian democracy became noted for, people in power one
day could easily be cast out the next, and when Thucydides failed to guard Athenian
interests at Thrace he was exiled for a period of twenty years. It was during the
course of his exile that Thucydides recorded his histories, and, according to Strauss,
16


this was the time where he became one of the greatest political historians, not because
of his detailed accounts, which are deficient in areas, but because Thucydides
grasped and articulated the essence of political life (Stauss, 75). Thucydides work
obviously coalesces around the Peloponnesian War, and the question forces itself on
us: how does his material lend itself to grasping the essence of political life? The
answer, as Strauss understands it, is in Thucydides rejection of the vulgar, or
traditionally accepted, history. For Thucydides the Peloponnesian War was more than
just the biggest war Greece had seen; it was the conflict of ideologies and cultures.
By asserting the preeminence of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides is
simultaneously rejecting Homer and his Trojan War, or by association Athens self
accepted cultural definition. The importance of this rejection cannot be overlooked,
because in this act Thucydides is literally rewriting the course of history.1
Thucydides throws off the yoke of Athens vulgar history and in Strauss estimation
of Thucydides genius he states: The Peloponnesian War is the climactic Greek war.
As such it reveals all possibilities of war and of peace, and all possibilities of
barbarism and of Greekness. Thus by understanding the Peloponnesian War, one
grasps the limits of all human things (Strauss, 84). By grasping the limits of all
human things Thucydides effectively defines his own moment of degeneration. In the
eyes of Thucydides, who, we must remember, wrote the speeches of Pericles from
1 In an article concerning Athens cultural heritage Moses Hadas states that perhaps
because Athenians had always learned their Homer by heart, Homers tales simply
became the most important moment in history (Hadas, 69).
17


which so much knowledge of the first democracy has been garnered, the
Peloponnesian War was the moment Athens began her slow successive degeneration.
For Thucydides the degenerative moment is one defined and perpetuated by
the shifting values war forces on people of Athens.
In peace and prosperity, states and individuals have better sentiments, because they
do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities. Revolution
thus ran its course... words had to change their ordinary meaning... reckless audacity
came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious
cowardice; moderation was held to be the cloak for unmanliness... Frantic violence
became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-
defense (Thucydides 3.82).
Interestingly, Plato rattles off a similar sequence of shifting values in Book VIII
during the oligarchs experience with the lotus eaters and consequential transition to a
democratic constitution. The shifting of values can also be understood as a change to
what counts as good, and, thus, is also an expression of degeneration in and of itself.
It is no surprise that the goals and values of both city and citizen must necessarily
shift in wartime if a state hopes to survive, but when traditional values are thrown out
in favor of new perhaps less noble sentiments many may see the transition as a fall
from a previous state of grace. When we consider that what Book VIII truly presents
is a continuous change to the same question (that question being what is good and
the answers being displayed in the devolving constitution) it can largely be argued
that Book VIII is really a battle between two constitutions: oligarchy and democracy.
It is a tale of shifting values as seen through a positive and negative light. While
Plato was not without city, nor a political historian, by any estimation, he effectively
18


captured a world which was strikingly similar to Thucydides shifting universe. It was
a world which moved with the winds of the Peloponnesian War.
The Peloponnesian War:
Needless to say the Peloponnesian War turned the known world upside down;
words were redefined and values revalued. The events of the war, which lasted
around 27 years, help highlight the erratic decision making of the Athenian
democracy. The war began when Sparta felt that the Athenians expansionism had
reached its limit, and launched the first phase of the war in a series of land attacks.
While there was a 50 year span of peace, commonly called the Peach of Nicias, the
second phase of the war was triggered when the Athenians attacked the island of
Melos, a Spartan interest, and killed or enslaved all of its people. Throughout the
duration of the war atrocities were committed on both sides; nonetheless, in what
came to be the Athenians last blunder, the Sicilian expedition, we can glimpse a
vignette of the Athenian democracy at work.
The plan was to capture one of the larger Spartan cities, Syracuse, by means
of a substantial attack, and three generals were put in charge, Nicias, Lamachus, and
Alcibiades (Woodruff, 263-264). The decision to attack Syracuse, however, was not
unanimous, and, in fact, conjured a rather lively debate. Nicias, who had been
chosen to the command against his will and who thought that the state was not well
advised... came forward in the hope of diverting the Athenians (Thucydides, 4.8).
In his speech to the assembly Nicias has two main arguments: one, that if the
19


Athenians win, Syracuse is too far away for them to maintain a presence, and two, if
they lose they will be more vulnerable to attacks from enemies who are closer to
home. (Thucydides, 4.9-4.13). The main proponent of the war, young Alcibiades,
responds with his own long speech directed at Nicias in which he summarizes the
Athenian need for the expedition. Perhaps Alcibiades strongest and most interesting
argument lies in his assessment of the Sicilians; The cities in Sicily are peopled by
motley rabbles, and easily change their institutions and adopt new ones in their
stead... from a mob like this you need not look for either unanimity in counsel or
concert in action (Thucydides, 4.18). In Alcibiades opinion because Sicily was not
an established democracy there was an impossibility of genuine concert in war, and
thus victory would be an easy feat. The problem with Alcibiades estimation was that
Sicily had become more democratic than any Athenian could have guessed. Beyond
the Athenians apparent lack of foreign intelligence a unique perspective about the
Athenian democracy is expressed in Alcidiades speech. From an Athenian
perspective they were superior in war because they were a democracy. In theory,
being a democracy meant that each individual who fought was fighting for his
government and his personal freedom, and, thus, possessed a greater sense of
perseverance. What the Athenians failed to see were the benefits of other modified
forms of democracy, such as with Syracuse, and the possibility that a democracy
could also be persuaded to ignore a specialized opinion when an idea gained general
20


favor. In any event, in spite of, or perhaps due to the healthy debate the Athenians
fell in eros with the enterprise.
In the midst of preparation to set sail an act of impiety was committed against
the city which changed the course of events, so that we may never know if the
Athenians could have won. More specifically, some young men in a drunken frolic
about town mutilated all of the Hermae statues. While the crime may not seem severe
today, it was an affront to the gods and, more importantly, the crime was trumped up
by the citizens to be an affront to the democracy. Coincidently, young Alcibiades had
ties to the former oligarchy, Socrates, and was rapidly gaining power in the assembly.
Socrates, remember, was convicted of corrupting the young and of not believing in
the gods in whom the city believes (Plato, 24b). He, thus, became a quick target for
the crime, and when charges against Alcibiades were brought before the court it was
ultimately agreed that he was more of a danger at home. The fear was that he could
take charge of the army for himself and once again bring about an oligarchy. So, he
was sent off, and it was decided that he should be tried upon his return. Herein lies
the crux: after setting sail Alcibiades heard rumors that he was to be bought to trial,
upon which he fled to Sparta to divulge the Athenians strategy helping Sparta win
the war (Thucydides, 6.61). In most of Thucydides telling of these events he appears
to exude a bit of empathy for Alcibiades. He too was a young man with wealth, a
small crime in democratic Athens with an oligarchic past, and, therefore, seemed to
meet suspicion of oligarchic revolution around every comer.
21


While the tale of Alcibiades and the Sicilian expedition is exciting in and of
itself, it also highlights the essential workings of the Athenian democracy. The
constant conceptual tumult caused by continual political unrest resulted in a number
of perplexing practices. Athenian democracy was anything but consistent, let alone
ideal. It was not an uncommon event for the assembly to be persuaded to listen to
Alcibiades sing the praises of war and champion him a hero one day, and the next
find suspicion of revolutionary intentions, only to then decide execution was the
solution. While Clisthenes is credited with the founding of the Athenian democracy,
he also introduced the concept of ostracism. Political ostracism in Athens was a
practice which allowed for an opposing political leader who did not successfully gain
the favor of the polis to be exiled for up to ten years. Keep in mind, Athenian
assemblies were made up of a sample of the population who were encouraged to
propose their own ideas to the demos: if an idea was rejected and the people felt
threatened by the individual who proffered the opinion, then that person was liable to
be exiled (Woodruff 39). While neither Thucydides nor Alcibiades proposed ideas,
which garnered their ostracism, both men faced the wrath of a democracy terrified of
any oligarchic stirring. With such a practice in place it is not difficult to see an
enigmatic democratic ideal, such as the freedom of speech, subverted in a rather
disturbing manner. The theory of Athenian democracy and the practice of it are quite
divergent. In theory, or by definition, it was a government by and for the people.
However, what is indicated through Thucydides translation of Pericles Funeral
22


Oration is that the government was for the people with the pretense of being by the
people (Thucydides, 40). Even generous accounts indicate that only one seventh of
the adult male population would have been represented at any given assembly, and,
with that in mind, the same people were not there day in and day out; so, a decision
reached one day was revoked the next (Saxonhouse, 5).2
What, then, was the aim of Athenian democracy? According to Paul
Woodruff, the positive aim was protection (Woodruff, 31). During the age of
democracy Athens realized that it needed to pay particular attention to its citizens, as
they were its defense system. The configurations of Greek city-states were affected
by the dominant military needs...when a navy was required the poor had an
opportunity to make demands (Woodruff, 25). Democracy, a form of government
founded on the semblance of equality, was then essential for a city-state that relied on
the poor to man their defense. Protection was the external demand; internally,
democracy helped bring about harmony among the citizens. Democracy, out of
necessity, requires harmony to sustain the system; it prevents civil war by allowing
citizens agency in their own political life. The tools used by the first democracy to
sustain both harmony and protection were profound for their time and included: the
legal system, freedom of speech in the assembly, checks on majority rule, and
general elections by the polis (Woodruff, 31-36).
2 As seen with the Trial of Ten Generals
23


In theory this was the means by which Athenian democracy worked, and, yet,
in practice there were major flaws. While anyone was allowed to speak in the
assembly, it was well known that the orators ran the proverbial stage. Rhetoric, the
talent of the orators according to Socrates, was simply pandering to the polis, and as
seen with Pericles a good orator could rule in a democratic Athens.3 Beyond the
predominance of rhetoric, problems with representation were vast, ranging from
resident aliens to women, who plainly were not allowed a voice in the political arena.
Some, like Socrates, could rationalize womens involvement at least in theory, but
that never seemed to change the practice. Then there is the fact that Athens was a
slave economy. Athens did not have slaves because it was a democracy; it had them
in spite of the fact that it was a democracy. Economically slaves made industry
possible, and, thus, there were never any serious concerns about the moral
implications of such a practice.
Athenian democracy was far from perfect and these conundra where theory
and practice collide are infinite. Athens... has given us the greatest gift imaginable:
the ideal and the reality of a democratic polity based on complex and moral
conception of citizenship. On the other hand...Athens bequeathed a cruel and
imperial domination of other Greek cities, the slaughter and enslavement of its war
time opponents... and the almost total exclusion of women from cultural and political
3 Plato expresses his opinions regarding rhetoric throughout a number of different
dialogues; however the Gorgias is where he equates rhetoric with pandering (Plato
Gorgias 463c).
24


life (Sagan, 2). What Athens gave us was a working model of the first democracy.
It is not difficult in this quick glimpse of the political scene to see the major
ambiguities at play in the Athenian political system, which provided an endless spark
for Platos philosophy. This small slice of Athenian history does not even cover
Athens most pernicious sin, the trial and conviction of Socrates, and yet even
without this story there is plenty of fodder for Platos political concerns in Book VIII.
Within the play of the Peloponnesian War, a time when Plato would be coming of
age, there appear to be two democracies at work, continuously jockeying for
position, in an ever-expanding imperial Athens. It is with this background in mind
that we turn to the Republic to examine Platos take on his own political reality and
its future.
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CHAPTER 2
WORLD OF THE TEXT
Book VIII of Platos Republic is an intricate political dialogue
characterized by false starts and dead ends. Within the context of the dialogue,
Book VIII is a return to the originating question: is justice the preeminent good
for the just person, and if so in what constitution can justice be found (Cooper,
927)? According to the answer Socrates details throughout the remaining books of
the Republic, the aristocratic and ideal constitution represents the height of good
government, prefers the rule of guardian philosopher kings, holds that all
possessions should be held in common, and that justice is represented when each
individual tends to their own techne (Plato, 543a).4 In an effort to properly
understand both Socrates ideal constitution and Book VIII it is essential to begin
by unpacking some of the more foundational theories of the Republic. First and
foremost is the tripartite division of the soul, which is followed by the theory of
dialectic education. Due to the nature of this paper we will address the theories
suixounding education while leaving the contemplation of the forms for another
paper. Once the foundational theories of the Republic have been established the
official story of Book VIII can be devolved and the necessity or unavoidability of
4 Techne translates to craft or art.
26


the degeneration, both internal to the text and external of the text, may be uncovered.
Tripartite Division of the Soul:
Book I features a conversation which revolves around the definition of justice,
and what we leam is that for Socrates the right kind of justice begets happiness. Due
to this proposition Socrates works to uncover what types of people, or souls, are
happy and in what constitution they reside so as to prove that doing justice is better
than injustice. Thus, according to Socrates reasoning justice in the city is only
brought about by the existence of justice in the individual, which presupposes a
tenuous relationship between city and citizen throughout the Republic, but especially
within Book VIII. Socrates creates the foundation for justice in the individuals
psyche by way of the tripartite division of the soul. What Socrates wants to uncover
as he delves into the workings of the soul is the location of agency for the variety of
actions of which we are capable. Of particular concern is whether the same parts of
the soul are capable of both learning and growing, as well as anger and desire (436 a-
b), and, thus, in which part justice is housed. The answer is complex, and after a
comprehensive investigation Socrates concludes that there are in fact three classes
within the soul: the appetitive, spirited and calculative. Simply stated, the appetitive
portion of the soul corresponds to our desires, the spirited our emotions, and the
calculative our rational.
27


Perhaps, more than defining the division itself Socrates is concerned about
how the individual parts relate to one another and why. It becomes apparent through
his investigation into the parts of the soul that justice is found in the way the soul is
ordered. One of the more intriguing examples of this phenomenon is the story of
Leontius featured in the fourth book of the Republic. As the story is told, a man
called Leontius is on his way home from the Peiraeus when he becomes aware of a
pile of corpses at a public execution site: he desired to see them and at the same time
was disgusted and turned away. For a time he resisted and veiled his head, but
overpowered nonetheless by his desire, with wide-staring eyes he rushed up to the
corpses and said: There, you foul wretches, take your fill of the fair sight! (439e-
40a). The foul wretches Leontius is referring to can either be read his eyes or the
corpses depending on the interpretation. Nonetheless, rife with ambiguity, due to its
unfamiliar context to the modem reader, the story of Leontius is an active example of
the classes of the soul attempting to work as a whole. Leontius desires to see the
corpses and, is, yet, disgusted with his own desires need. He is at war with himself.
Not only are Leontius desires at war with one another, but the desirous part of the
soul must combat the calculatives instruction to keep walking. Unfortunately one of
his appetites wins, and Leontius does ogle the corpses, only, to then yell at his own
eyes for their insatiable desire to see. However, from the story Socrates presents it is
not at all clear whether Leontius is disgusted with: the bodies themselves, or his eyes
for their desire to see. It is, however, clear that Leontius is, in fact, at odds with the
28


complexity of his own appetites. Leontius as an individual must make the decision to
move toward one desire, which necessarily negates another desire; the whole must
therefore be composed of parts that have found harmony.
In order to take any action whatsoever he is forced to take up a perspective on
his various desires and, in the act of choosing one particular appetite, does so.
Leontius complex appetites prove that while we may have an appetite for multiple
objects there must be a part of the soul, which helps soothe the confrontation between
warring desires. For Socrates, Leontius experience of multiple competing desires
necessitates that there be a part of the soul to mitigate the difference. In fact, Recco
sees the spirited part of the soul as the only class that can communicate and
rationalize with both the calculative and appetitive (Recco 41). The space between the
calculatives instruction to carry on and the desires need to see is where decisions are
made by the spiriteds capability to question and ascertain.
For Socrates, the Leontius example is proof positive that the spirited class of
the soul is, in fact, separate from the desirous, and that different parts of the soul
control different functions. Justice is, thus, not found in any one part of the soul, but
is a state established in the proper ordering of the soul, which allows one to persuade
away the unnecessary desires in favor of the necessary.3 Part of the conceptual 5
5 Socrates speaks of different types of desires throughout the Republic but necessary
and unnecessary take special precedence in Book VIII. Necessary, or beneficial
desires rule the oligarch while unnecessary, or those, which can be eliminated, rule
the democrat (558d-559d).
29


problem of this theory comes from speaking of the soul as a unified whole that is
composed of parts. How does something retain its wholeness when it is divided
within? According to Recco, In speaking of something as a whole, one is speaking
no longer simply of the state of the thing, but also of its being (22). The souls
being depends on its internal relations, and when they all work in harmony with one
another justice prevails.6 John M. Cooper, who does extensive work with Platos
theory concerning the just persons psychology, put it this way: When each of these
three psychological elements performs its assigned job, then, Plato holds, the person
in that psychological condition is just; and if in any way or to any degree these
elements fail to do their jobs or attempt to do anything else, such a person is not just.
It does not follow that he is unjust (18). What is interesting about Coopers
interpretation is that merely because the souls parts fail to work together in a way
which would bring about justice does not mean that the person is necessarily unjust.
Rather, it means that his soul is simply not just, but perhaps functioning in the best
way it knows. Socrates at 427d then clarifies the objective: once we find a soul which
is perfectly ordered, thus just, then we will be able to see how close or adrift of
happiness disordered souls and/or cities are.
It is clear that Leontius soul is not in harmony, because it is not working as
a whole. A soul that is in harmony, or a soul in which the calculative rules, would
6 Socrates goes on to demonstrate how the relations among the souls parts are
analogous to the relation of the cities components.
30


have passed by the corpses carefully watching for unnecessary desires he could
persuade into anonymity. This soul would be just on account of being properly
ordered and in control of his desires. The ordering of the soul so as to maintain
moderation and justice, for Socrates, is done through a process of proper education in
which the soul is turned toward the light of the good itself. Interestingly, we cannot
then say Leontius is unjust; what can be ascertained is that his soul is not ordered
properly due to a lack of knowledge. The relationship between Socrates conception
of the souls parts and their association with justice is uniquely tied to his
understanding of the degenerative constitutions in Book VIII. In what Bernard
Williams call an analogy of meaning, Socrates truly believes that the same type of
justice can be found in city and citizens. So, in regards to Book VIII, it is important to
remember that one singular city is defined as just, that being Socrates kallipolis. The
remaining constitutions are, then, not defined as unjust, but are merely diseased.
Both Socrates psychological and political theories rely on the relation of individual
components, which constitute the whole. The kind of justice that is a good in and of
itself is evident only in the most ordered cities and citizens. What the just city and
citizen share is knowledge discovered by way of proper education. We find that the
calculative part of the soul, or the reasoning part, cannot do its job without knowing
what is best and which decisions are effective. Thus, justice cannot come to fruition
without knowledge gained through education.
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Education:
In Books VI and VII Socrates outlines a system of education, which would
properly turn the soul toward the light of the good (truth), and thus further advance
the just city. The process by which education is accumulated, or knowledge
disseminated, is one which primarily recognizes knowledge as a kind of power. That
being said, Socrates does not conceive of the brain or human as an empty vessel,
which can be filled with the proper knowledge in order to function. Instead the
attainment of knowledge is a process by which one comes to know truth, and this
process is utterly dependent on the dialectic. Obviously, there are stages through
which one must pass, and the most available examples are the cave and divided line
analogies. The divided line begins with imagination, ascends to belief, through
thought, and ends with understanding. What that means in terms of the dialectic is
that we first grasp the image, and then come to the reality from which that image has
dawned. At this point we are then able to pose a hypothesis, which helps us come to
an understanding. In other words, it is the expression of reason grasped through
thought. For Socrates the hypothesis step is the most vital, because it is at this point
that dialectic functions. We can only come to know the form of the first principal by
posing hypotheses, which negate one another, until we reach a conclusion or truth,
however fleeting. Socrates describes it as follows in the Republic:
The song dialectic sings. It is intelligible, but it is imitated by the power of
sight. We said that sight tries at last to look at the animal themselves, the stars
themselves, and in the end at the sun itself. In the same way, whenever some
32


tries through argument and apart from all sense perception to find the being
itself of each thing and doesnt give up until he grasps the good itself with
understanding itself, he reaches the end of the intelligible, just as the other
reaches the end of the visible (532, a-b)
The end of the visible requires the soul to turn toward that which it cannot see and
step with faith toward truth. For Socrates the dialectic is more than negation; it is
negation to the point of truth, which requires the courage to move past accessible
knowledge in order to achieve larger understanding of the ultimate truth.
This courage to know and follow a path which sight has ceased to
acknowledge is what the slave in the cave must do as well. He must accept that
beyond what he can see there is a truth, which will extricate him from the bonds he
has known. More than that the prisoner must endure physical pain: when one of
them was freed and suddenly compelled to stand up, turn his head, walk and look up
toward the light, hed be pained and dazzled and unable to see the thing whose
shadow hed seen before (515c). Socrates goes on to describe the process by which
this prisoner comes to know the truth behind the image, but what makes the cave
image so powerful is the idea of pain. Discovering the truth, ascending from the
darkness to the light is painful because previously held beliefs are suddenly stripped
away and it is the prisoners job to fill the gap with truth. What is more, the prisoner
who now sees the light is then forced to go back into the cave and take a share of the
prisoners collective labors and honors; he is not allowed to live with his head in the
clouds, but must continue to participate in order to bring about harmony and
33


happiness in the city. If education is painful it is the fault of the dialectic, as it is the
dialectic which forces one to question what they have already accepted due to
tradition or belief. Of course, due to the dangers posed by the dialectic Socrates also
equivocates that only a certain type of person will be capable of reaching this kind of
reasoning, and eventually these people will become the philosopher kings of the
kallipolis.
The dialectics advance takes two passages: one, which, as seen in the
divided line and the cave progresses, from the sensible to the knowable, and the
alternate route, which destroys and negates. According to Reccos reading of Platos
dialectic, dialectic should provide the ability to give an account of the being of each
thing, arrived at through asking and answering, an account which survives refutation
by cancelling the hypothesis upon which it is founded and raising them up, arriving
finally at an understanding, then descending through synopsis to locate each of the
parts of a whole in its place by indentifying its relations with others (Recco, 221).
Thus someone who has fully conceived of the dialectic will comprehend the general
as a means to arrive at the discrete; they will properly understand that the danger of
negation is in the revelation of truth. As Socrates himself articulates, There is no
other inquiry that systematically attempts to grasp with respect to each thing itself
what the being of it is, for all the other crafts arc concerned with human opinions and
desires (533b). That being said the dialectic is a conversation. It consists of knowing
things in relation to a network of question and answers, and while the dialectic is a
34


positive process of education in practice it presents a valid danger. What happens
when negation leaves a void and traditional values are eroded for naught? This is the
exact scenario presented in story of the oligarchs son who becomes a democrat:
And seeing the citadel of the young mans soul empty of knowledge, fine ways of
living, and words of truth (which are the best guardians of the thoughts of those men
whom the gods love), they finally occupy that citadel themselves (560b). Without
the proper education and knowledge of the dialectic this young man will be unable to
withstand outside questioning. Within the soul it is the spirited parts job to question
different desires, to pose hypotheses, and it is the responsibility of the calculative part
to know the truth and pursue the good. Thus the just soul and city must have the
capability to question and ascertain truth so as to remain ordered when traditions are
forgone or hypotheses posed which, however seductive, threaten justice.
Not everyone is philosophical but everyone can practice the dialectic.7
David Roochnik reads the entire Republic as an exercise in the dialectic. According
to Roochnik the Republic can be read in three stages (books 2-4), (books 5-7), and
(books 8-10). Each section is a refutation and negation of the preceding; that is not to
say that the later sections cancel out the previous, but that they expand and enrich
what has been established to create a fuller conception of the whole idea. Roochniks
7 To state the relationship between philosophy and the dialectic: the philosophical
nature is one which encompasses the truth and comprehends the forms of the good
itself. The process of practicing philosophy involves a practice of the dialectic as it
poses continual hypotheses in order to locate the truth
35


reading of the Republic is an example of the proper use and apprehension of the
dialectic. He uses the dialectic to test hypotheses as a means to arrive at the ultimate
truth of the Republic. Thus, he is a philosopher. According to Socrates, the danger of
the dialectic for those who are not so adept or naturally philosophical is that the
negation will only erode what is known (537d-539a). With little equivocation,
Socrates announces the evil that comes from the dialectic is lawlessness. Those who
practice it are filled with lawlessness as traditional values give way to unfounded
relativism, and from being law-abiding he becomes lawless (537d- 539a). The crux
of the dialectic is then how it is used, by whom, and for what purpose. The one
lasting precaution before Socrates delves into Book VIII is then this: when young
people get their first taste of arguments, they misuse it by treating it as a kind of game
of contradiction. They imitate those whove refuted them by refuting others
themselves, and like puppies, they enjoy dragging and tearing those around them with
their arguments (539b). The dialectic is both dangerous and transformative in the
power it has to shape opinion, and, thus, key in the degeneration of Book VIII.
On a lager scale what is so interesting about Socrates understanding of the
dialectic is that it requires freedom. At 536d Socrates states: therefore, calculation,
geometry, and all the preliminary education required for dialectic must be offered to
the future rulers in childhood, and not in the shape of compulsory learning either.
When asked why the response is: because no free person should learn anything like a
slave (536e). At this point in our exposition it is important to note that right before
36


Book VIII Socrates does two things: he advocates for the necessity of freedom in
education, or the necessity of freedom for the dialectic and warns of the dangers the
dialectic creates. In the examination of these foundational theories of the Republic
we are left with the impression that freedom and the dialectic have becomes the crux
for justice. Without the freedom to learn the dialectic and through the dialectic the
good, the soul and city will never have to tools to grasp justice or simply to be just. It
is with these thoughts in mind we turn to the odd story of degeneration.
37


CHAPTER 3
BOOK VIII
Book VIII details the fall of the ideal constitution, previously described in
Books II through VII, as it descends through four inferior states finally collapsing into
the tyrannical. In descending order of the good the constitutions fall from the
perfection of the kallipolis to the timocracy, oligarchy, through democracy, and
ultimately collapsing into a tyrannical state. Book VIII is an anomaly in the fact that
as a chapter of the Republic it has a story that can stand on its own. It is an internal
degeneration told by way of devolving citizens and the cities they inhabit. The story
itself can be read as a direct digression, but often poses significant problems for the
reader who cannot follow the odd twists and turns of this unique story.
In Book VIII Socrates returns to the original discussion after a long digression
concerning women, children, and philosopher kings to elaborate on the four types of
constitutions, which deviate from the aristocracy. The aristocracy is, of course, the
preferable constitution Socrates outlines from book IV through VII. The kallipolis is
the just and good city, which stands as the exemplar or perfect constitution out of
which the four other types of constitution necessarily fall. The investigation into the
mistaken constitutions is not straightforward nor alltogether fair. In his search for the
most unjust constitution Socrates gives a very limited discussion on each by
highlighting the essential or universal aspects leaving the particulars for another time.
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Nonetheless, due to the fact that the descent is not direct, but, rather, meanders
around we must follow the turns with Socrates if there is any hope of deciphering
why this winding road concludes with tyranny. Moreover, we will discover through
his treatment of the kallipolis probability, democracys diversity and freedom, and
tyrannys disease that Socrates displays cautious interest in democracy as the winning
political system.
To properly understand the degenerative function of Book VIII and the story
which follows, it is not only essential that we fully grasp the concept of the kallipolis,
but the general rule by which the Kallipolis is defined as perfect. According to
Socrates, The best governed city is the one in which people say mine and not mine
about the same things in the same way (462c). What I gather from this principle is
that faction is both irrelevant and nonexistent in the ideal constitution. If the private
sphere disappears, such that all possessions are held in common, then it necessarily
follows that people will share an affinity and allegiance for like things. It is from this
point that Book VIII picks up the story of the diseased constitutions. As a reminder
for both the reader and Socrates himself Glaucon recalls the discussion to its
aforementioned purpose: You said that you would class both the city you described
and the man who is like it as good.. .you said that, if this city was the right one, the
others were faulty (543d). These faulty constitutions are the subject of Book VIII.
The thematic treatment of both constitution and degeneration is sustained by the
unique shape and structure of this particular book. At 544d Socrates states that
39


constitutions are only begotten out of the people who form their foundation; they are
not bom from oak or rock but naturally conceived. Due to this observation Book
VIII proceeds with a description of the constitution and the person who is like said
constitution, and the interlude between each degenerative step down the ladder is a
description of change always detailed through the individual.
Before moving into the story of diseased constitutions the internal
organization of Book VIII begs to be addressed. The prevalence of thematic
treatment of civil war as indicative of both disease and dissolution is relevant in the
way that it reminds the reader to continuously consider Socrates definition of justice.
In fact, at 470c Socrates indicates that the existence of civil war means Greece is sick
by way of persistent faction, and again, at the beginning of Book VIII, we are given a
similar maxim of dissolution. At 545c-d Socrates outlines the process by which the
degeneration takes place, or is bound to take place; the principle which causes change
is none other than faction within the ruling class or civil war among rulers. This
simple principle foreshadows one of the inherent problems within a democracy: the
lack of a ruler (or conversely, a plethora of rulers) begets confusion and can easily
leads to faction. We have, however, gotten ahead of ourselves; to fully understand
the degeneration it is vital to follow the process by which it occurs.
The Official Story of Degeneration in Book VIII
Having already established the kallipolis existence throughout Books II
through VII Book VIII begins with its dissolution. Interestingly, because the
40


kallipolis is ideal and led by philosophers, faction within the ruling class seems like
an incompatible axiom of change. The point of creating an ideal city is to show that it
is perfect and thus best; at a loss, Socrates delivers a rather altruistic aphorism: it is
hard for a city composed in this way to change, but everything that comes into being
must decay. Not even a constitution such as this will last forever. It, too, must face
dissolution (546a). Thus, Socrates exempts the kallipolis of this maxim by, one,
establishing a cyclical principle of change, and two, developing a rather belabored
mathematical analogy. In the end, an improper calculation of the geometric principle
causes the leaders of the Kallipolis to allow children to be brought forth at the wrong
time thus creating children who are neither good natured nor fortunate (546c). If the
geometric principle is part of the forms, then this disintegration commences when
the forms are ignored, and results in succeeding generations who are not properly
educated (546c-d). This lack of proper education consequently leads to
inharmonious inequality, which breeds civil war and calls for a revised constitution.
Inequality leads to unrest and revolution, which produces civil war and births a new
constitution: civil war breaks out, both the iron and bronze types pull the constitution
towards money-making...while both the gold and silver types- not being poor...but
rich in their souls- lead the constitution towards virtue and old order (Plato Republic
547b). Through the progression of a generation the muses are neglected and the
races intermixed fostering both hostility and civil war. In the reduction of the
pedigree of the citizens values are abbreviated, and a middle way is forged. The
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establishment of the middle way is perhaps one the biggest changes in transition from
the kallipolis to the four diseased forms. What the middle way truly establishes are
the two greatest challenges to Socrates ideal city: one, the formulation of the private
sphere and two the enslavement of former friends and/or allies.
The timocratic constitution is the first in the series of faulty constitutions and
is defined by its love of honor. As the structure of Book VIII indicates the timocracy
is influenced by both the aristocracy and oligarchy as they bookend its existence
(547c). The characteristics of the timocracy are then a mix or middle way and
include aspects of each parenthetical constitution. In the timocracy the rulers are
respected, the auxiliaries still hold possessions on common, honor as opposed to
wisdom is valued, a secret love of money is cultivated, and children are educated by
force (547e-548b). Due to the predominance of the spirited the most manifest
element within this constitution is the love of honor and victory (548c). Part of the
problem with the timocratic constitution is found in its own valuation of what it good.
When honor or victory is valued, a culture is predicated on a wartime existence;
honoring honor requires a faith in something intangible. Honor cannot be defined
materially, but is rather personal integrity as defined by others. So when war is not
at hand and honor cannot be defined as victory, the only other tangible object for
which others can bestow honor is money.8 Citizens of the timocracy are careful to
honor money in private, and would do anything to protect it. Socrates, thus, describes
8 See Greg Recco for a larger conversation on honor and the timocracy.
42


them as building private treasuries, hiding behind their walls and spending money
that is not theirs since they are publicly forced to despise money.9 That love which is
kept fiercely private leaks out when the timocratic man is seduced into believing that
the laws should bend toward the collection of profit. Honor comes to be equated with
money and what was kept behind closed doors is now the definition of the city. The
quotient of civil war in the timocracy is not defined out right by Socrates, but can be
seen as the acquisition of money becomes more visible, and the competition for
power and wealth leads to rivalry among the rulers.
The oligarchy develops out of the timocracy when the honor loving men
become money loving; the more they value money the less they value virtue (550e).
Of note, when Socrates begins describing the oligarchy he is interrupted by
Adeimantus who asks what arrangement he means when speaking of the oligarchy.
Etymologically speaking oligarchy means rule of the few, which was also a
characteristic of the timocracy. Adeimantus has a right to be confused, but Socrates
clarifies and defines the oligarchy as the rule of the rich. Naturally, then, within the
oligarchy those with money are appointed as leaders and rulers, and in doing so a
benchmark of wealth is established. It is this establishment of wealth and its
corollary, poverty, which present the oligarch with the most troubles. Once the city
9 "TheyTl be mean with their own money, since they value it and are not allowed to
acquire it openly, but theyll love to spend other peoples because of their appetites.
Theyll enjoy their pleasures in secret, running away from the law like boys from
their father..(Plato, 548b).
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is stratified in such a way it becomes two cities in one; and is again poised for civil
war (55 lb-55 Id). The oligarchic man himself is defined by his lack of honor as he
gives the rule of his soul over to his desires. He no longer concerns himself with the
calculation of what is right, but lets desire rule as master. Moneymaking is his only
concern and because he rules desires by force and not persuasion he is afraid to
arouse any other competing desire (553d-555b). The process by which the oligarchy
devolves into a democracy is an interesting step wrought with revolution, but
somewhat hard to follow. Once the rich are rich and the poor are poor, the poor those
with idle time begin plotting against those who have taken their money. They long
for a revolution. The moneymakers meanwhile continue to financially disable the
citizen body, and soon the city is full of drones and beggars (555c-e). The leaders
refuse to enact laws to prevent this by either regulating the sale of private property or
requiring that the citizenry care about virtue by prescribing that the majority of
contracts be entered into at the lenders risk (556 a-b). These laws not existing,
revolution mounts in the hearts of the poor and disenfranchised, and it is by way of
their coup that democracy develops.
The descriptions of the two latter constitutions, democracy and tyranny, are
more nuanced than Socrates presentation of timocracy and oligarchy and frankly
pose larger conceptual problems for the process of degeneration. Democracy and
tyranny, therefore, receive more extensive treatment than their earlier counterparts.
Democracy is the only constitution within the degeneration of Book VIII which
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comes into fruition by means of a true revolution. After the poor democrat comes to
understand the oligarchs cultivated weakness civil war ensues: Democracy comes
about when the poor are victorious, killing some of their opponents and expelling
others, and giving an equal share in ruling under the constitution, and for the most
part assigning people to positions by rule of lot (557a). Democracys birth is
straightforward compared to the relatively ambiguous emergence of timocracy and
oligarchy, and it is the first constitution that effectively changes the shape of the
government as opposed to just changing attitudes toward what is valued as good.
Following the broad statement concerning the reorganization of offices, the
first democratic principle to be exposed by Socrates is freedom. Logically one would
expect equality to come first since that is one of the revolutionaries first acts as they
giv[e] an equal share in ruling, yet Socrates primary issue with the democracy
relies on the broad and ambiguous quality of freedom. For Socrates freedom means
that everyone has the license to do what he wants; thus, he will choose to arrange his
life in whatever manner he so chooses (557b). What becomes apparent and
problematic, especially when considering Socrates previous definition of justice, is
that all varieties of people and all varieties of constitutions will thrive under this one
singular constitution. 10 Thus, under the umbrella of the democratic constitution the
value of minding your own techne is lost, instead you have the freedom to mind
10 "Then it looks as though this is the finest or most beautiful of the constitutions, for,
like a coat embroidered with every kind of ornament, this city, embroidered with
every kind of character type, would seem to be the most beautiful (Plato, 557c).
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everyones business or none at all. This concept of freedom from which modem
democracies associate freedoms, like the freedom of speech, seems ill defined by
Socrates who takes it simply to be freedom to do anything. Nonetheless, freedom as
a democratic Athenian construct is better understood in light of Paul Woodruff s
explanation of freedom to and freedom from (67). On the positive side, if you are
free, then you are free to do something; the Athenians wanted to be free to take part in
their own government. On the negative side, if you are free, there are certain things
you are free from. In Athens, what the people wanted to be free from... was tyranny
(Woodruff, 67). The freedom of which Socrates speaks seems to account for the
persons ability to do anything their appetite craves, and, yet, the general Athenian
understanding of freedom is perhaps more limited to the freedom of speech in the
assembly and freedom from tyranny.
Greg Recco goes about the problem of freedom from a different angle as he
analyzes the Greek words associated with freedom such as liberal and license
(156-161). Accordingly, license correlates with freedom to in the sense that one
has the freedom to do whatever they desire, however in choosing to do one thing,
other actions are necessarily limited. If we refer back to Leontius, in choosing to see
the corpses his other actions were necessarily limited, and it is clear that this
definition of freedom is organically self-limiting. Liberality or illiberality draws a
larger connection to ones character, but is still within the realm of freedom to.
Illiberality is a departure from positive character traits, or on a more general scale can
46


be understood as a departure from humanity; according to the Socrates, the illiberal
persons character is: vicious, unrestrained, slavish and graceless (401b). Later we
may be able to say that the illiberal person can simply be called a tyrant, but for now
these character traits of the illiberal help to highlight the qualities of liberality.
Liberality is, then, the emulation of moderation; it is choosing to use your freedom to
live responsibility within your community. The last understanding of freedom takes
us back to Woodruff s conception of freedom from (67). The idea of freedom as
freedom from tyranny is an expression of freedom as a political condition. The
initial reaction to conceiving of freedom as a political condition is to assume it is
limited to freedom from tyranny or freedom from slavery. However, if we are to
remain in the mindset of the Republic then we must also infer that freedom,
understood as a political condition, also means freedom to rule oneself. In that vein,
freedom does not necessarily mean freedom from the responsibility to live an
arranged psychic and physical life, and, yet, this is the most egregious grievance aired
by Socrates.
Moving on from the conundrum, which is freedom, the democratic
constitution is also home to some lesser evils. Lacking in what Socrates, curiously,
calls small-mindedness, this democratic city will despise censorship, and allow
convicted criminals to roam the streets like dead heroes (558b; 558a). While these are
not, perhaps, the most relevant arguments, they do raise two of Socrates significant
concerns. ... The democracy of Platos dialogues allows those whom the Athenian
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democracy condemned- even those whom they executed- to continue to roam freely
and speak to us (Saxonhouse, 98). Namely, Socrates is allowed to wander down to
the edge of Athenian democracy, and air his grievances, not only when he is alive, but
even after his death through the likes of Plato. Moreover, democracy permits those
with dissenting views to speak with whomever, and it does not censor the publics
education as the philosopher kingship would. Instead, due to the purposed freedoms
of the democracy someone with a natural gift for philosophy could be the equal of a
convicted criminal, and, more importantly, because of the unqualified equality
anyone can rule who wishes to please the majority. The freedom to do whatever one
chooses combined with an abundance of equality, if you were a male citizen, requires
that: it would seem to be a pleasant constitution, which lacks rulers but not variety
and which distributes a sort of equality to both equals and unequals alike (558c).
Prior to the description of the democratic individual what we have is a group of
people tied together because of their physical relationship, or citizenry, who seem to
only share a belief in own their freedom and equality.11 Socrates does not outline the
role of government, assembly, or even the rules of conduct and laws; instead, he
defines a democracy as a group of people tied together by beliefs, which are bound to
tear them apart.
11 "Theres neither order nor necessity in his life, but he calls it pleasant, free, and
blessedly happy, and he follows it for as long as he lives (Plato, 56Id).
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The democratic person is, then, raised as the son of the thrifty oligarch; he has
the same values as his father so he too rules his spendthrift pleasures by force
(558d). The son is ruled mostly by the necessary desires, that is to say desires we
cannot desist from which give us benefit, raised without proper education, steps out
into the majority and tastes the honey of the multicolored pleasures (558e).
Democracy is described as a disease that comes from the outside and the son of the
oligarch is easily seduced by this disease of external desires due to his lack of
education.12 As the revolution within his person takes place the son goes to live with
the majority and lets the plentitude of desires take over (560c-d). He exiles those
desires which ruled his oligarchic constitution namely moderation and reverence,
welcoming instead insolence, anarchy, extravagance, and shamelessness while
couching each in positive values of the democracy. Insolence becomes good
breeding, anarchy freedom, extravagance magnificence, and shamelessness courage
(561c-d). Allowing equality to each desire he surrenders rule of himself to whichever
desire rules on any given day. The problem Socrates identifies with the equality of
desires is similar to the issue he identifies in Callicles hedonism in the Gorgias. If
all desires are equal than all pleasures are equal and happiness comes from the ability
to satisfy whichever desires or pleasure rules at the moment (491e-492c). According
12 When speaking of proper education 1 am of course referencing the earlier
discussion of the dialectic. Without the proper training the oligarchics son does not
know how to question and ascertain the truth so as to persuade the unnecessary
desires away.
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to Socrates, the democratic person has no appetite for the necessary discrimination of
desires, but assumes that the individual will follow each desire like bee to honey.
Socrates democratic individual or the entire system, for that matter, is characterized
by its lack of definition. It is an entity, which blows with the wind: Book 8...
presents democracy as a regime that in its insistence on freedom and equality is a
regime of formlessness, one that lacks eide" (Saxonhouse, 273). Nevertheless, as
discussed the Athenian democracy, of which Socrates was a product, did have a form
that consisted of well-developed conventions, theories, and practices. Perchance,
then, it is due to Socrates unwillingness to deal with the inherent contradictions
within the Athenian democracy that he dismisses it all, individual and government, as
formless.
Throughout history, the relationship between democracy and tyranny has
proven to be both uncompromising and fragile, almost as if there cannot be one
without the other. Book VIII is not immune to this relationship, but, rather, works to
define it. The transition from democracy to tyranny is the conclusion of Book VIII,
and interestingly the characteristics of the tyrant are left to Book IX. At 563d
Socrates states: To sum up: Do you notice how all these things together make the
citizens souls so sensitive that, if anyone even puts upon himself the least degree of
slavery, they become angry and cannot endure it. And in the end, as you know, they
take no notice of the laws, whether written or unwritten in order to avoid having any
master at all. The democracy thus disposes of moderation and takes freedom to be
50


the only master, equating law with oppression, up until the point at which the people
begin to fear some outside danger. Interestingly the democracy is perceived as a
disease, which comes from the outside, while tyranny is the result of a fear of a
perceived external threat. In the face of this threat the demos elects a leader who
becomes intoxicated with power; thus, transforming into a tyrant. To step back for a
moment, it is important to recall that the oligarchy falls when it too throws off the
bonds of moderation; both democracy and tyranny come about as a response to
immoderation in regards to what that respective constitution has defined as good.
What is more, tyranny as defined in Book VIII is really no government at all, and,
thus, as formless as the democracy Socrates creates. If the conditions which bring
about democracy and tyranny are quantifiably similar and both constitutions share a
lack of eide, then what distinguishes one from the other? The answer to that question
is rather convoluted, but Socrates attempts to unravel the puzzle in his
characterization of the disease shared by both democracy and tyranny.
This disease is described in a flourish and revolves around the image of the
drone. There are the drones with stings, who do all the talking and the stingless who
simply buzz around the platform of the drones with stings (564). In a democracy the
drones find the most power, although they exist in every constitution, and the stinged
drones do all of the talking while the stingless make sure the opposition gains no
voice. The remaining two classes of men within the democracy are the rich who
provide the honey for the bees and the average working men who are the most
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numerous but have little motivation to gather. The problem comes about when the
drones take money from the rich, claim to distribute it to the people, and when
accused of keeping it themselves by the formerly rich, use their platform to accuse the
rich of being oligarchs (564b-565d). Once trials begin and tensions run high, the
people of the democracy ride their fear of oligarchy and consequently set someone up
to be their champion; drunk with the privileges of leadership he becomes the tyrant.
There are two competing stories at play here. One understands that tyranny comes
about when the people get intoxicated by their own freedom and having sensitive
souls end up enslaving themselves to a tyrant; the immoderation account. The second
story features specific types of people and the disease of the drones. In the story of
the drones, the drones claim that they have elected a protector of the people to guard
the democracy while the drones themselves are truly to blame for the election of the
tyrant and onslaught of tyranny. What the two competing stories tell us is that
tyranny comes about when, one, freedom is venerated to the point of immoderation,
and two, when the drones, orators, and sycophants gain enough power to lull the
people into electing a tyrant. If neither one of these situations presents itself then
perhaps democracy is sustainable.
The problem with Platos historical reality is that both situations fed into one
another. While Pericles ruled in all but name the expanding empire began to forget
just what the veneration of freedom meant and Athens did, in fact, collapse. This
quick glimpse of Book VIITs unique descent has made the inconsistencies within the
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degeneration more than evident; it has show them as problematic to a traditional
reading of an aristocratic Plato. Democracy just does not quite fit in the story Socrates
puts forth; furthermore, the character of the dialectic requires that Book VIII be read
in light of its final image, tyranny. That being said, it is clear that Book VIII features
a distinct degeneration and this requires no small amount of investigation as a concept
in and of itself. The degeneration of Book VIII may prove to be a mere literary
device, but it is more likely that a deconstruction of the descent will help enumerate
democracys ambivalent position, perhaps within both the text and reality.
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CHAPTER 4
DEGENERATION
As we have just discovered, Book VIIIs degeneration is not fixed, but offers
the observant reader or citizen a solution. That solution or escape route, however,
retains its significance only if we: one, understand the process of the degeneration
itself, and two, resolve to figure out the genuine feature of this circumvention. It has
been argued, by Popper most forcefully, and others more generally, that Plato was not
an advocate of change, and, in specific, was rather pessimistic about the prospect of
change due to his extreme totalitarianism or fervent anti-humanism. Thus, all change
for Plato would necessarily read as a type of degeneration. Many others have, of
course, challenged this view and read the Republic not cognizant of a fear of change,
but of a strong attachment to the right kind of change. C.C. W. Taylor argues that, it
is obvious that Plato accepted neither that absurd view nor what I have called the silly
thesis of universal pessimism, viz. that by some prior criterion of value all change is
deterioration (Taylor, 35). There are obvious points throughout the Republic where
change is, in fact, good and imperative; one specific example is seen in Platos
educational theory. As previously discussed, Plato specifically indicates that proper
education requires the soul be turned toward the light of the good. One cannot be
turned around and understand a shift in images, hypotheses, and truth
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without experiencing a great deal of change. Moreover, the dialectic -the key bridge
of the educational process- requires that one constantly accept new hypotheses when
prior beliefs are negated. Perhaps, then, what we have discovered is that change is
the wrong metric. It is not change that provokes Plato, but the starting point and what
comes about after the change is made. If change comes about when something is
perfect such as the kallipolis, then degeneration must needs be the process. However,
if the starting point were tyranny then change in the direction of the kallipolis would
be positive, even if that change did not beget perfection. It is not that Plato is
pessimistic about the prospect of revolution, his concern lies in which values are
changing and for what purpose.
The concept of degeneration, this story of change, especially as told within the
context of Book VIII shares some striking similarities with another text of Platos
time. Hesiods Works and Days is uniquely referenced in Book VIII, and has a
notable structural resemblance to it. In the re-telling of Book VIIIs official story we
discovered that while the degeneration is apparent, the stories of the democracy and
tyranny pose distinct quandaries both structurally and conceptually. Assuming each
book within the Republic has been written with a specific intent, or to achieve a
specific purpose we cannot conjecture that Plato simply mimicked a traditional story.
Rather Plato invoked Hesiod and the concept of degeneration to highlight his own
take on the politics of his day. In the comparison of Hesiods Five Ages and Book
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VIII we will discover how to read democracys position within the degeneration as
well as the moment of reversal.
Hesiod
The world in front of the text plays a vital role in the creation of the text itself
and Plato would have been familiar with both the concepts of degeneration and
constitution as defined in Hesiods Works and Days. Though Hesiods dates are
unclear, it is accepted that Works and Days and Theogony were most likely composed
between 800 BCE and 600 BCE, which is at the earliest about 400 years before Plato
began writing at 400 BCE. Hesiods Works and Days features a story called The
Five Ages about the clash of generations in a metallurgical analogy, explicitly
referenced in Book VIII, which represents the stages of mans political degeneration.
This story of degeneration is the opposite of restorative history where man or
civilization grows into a great entity; rather there is a golden and primal starting
point, which necessarily decays. While there are numerous similarities between these
two texts, including both a pronounced moment of reversal and an inevitable collapse,
it will be useful to work our way through the most candid moments of Hesiods Five
Ages so as to see why Plato chose to employ this familiar literary device.
In Hesiods pessimistic tale of degeneration the first race of man is known as
the golden race. Being the first, members of the golden race retain the closest ties to
their divine counterparts; they are described as having lived like gods. Moreover,
they too shared a stake in the immortality reserved for the gods, old age and want did
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not exist, hard work was not required; in all life was placid and easy. Due to the ease
of life the golden race naturally decayed when sleep simply raveled them up and
their spirits went on to become the wardens of justice and wealth (Hesiod, 129-147).
Interestingly, Hesiod does not provide maximum of change, as Plato does, rather each
generation seems to meet its organic end as a result of its intrinsic nature. As a result
of this cyclical dying off the gods decided to create a second generation in the
deceaseds stead.
The succeeding age is classified as the silver generation, and receives a rather
vague description in which the reader learns that the silver race is simply not as fine
as the golden. Their only defining characteristic is a general lack of wit and wisdom
that points to a perpetual state of infancy that quickly invokes divine rage (Hesiod
148-160). The creation of the bronze race happens simply because the gods are fed up
with the silver and decide to begin anew. The bronze race was created out of ash
trees, and like the trees out of which they were birthed was defined by their hard and
determined nature. They cared not for the earth but made weapons, houses, and tools
out of bronze in order to wage war, as that was their only care (Hesiod 165-172). The
bronze race is different in that they managed to kill one another off so as to erase the
earth of their memory without the gods having to lift but a finger. The fourth race is
perhaps the most interesting and well known; as the age of heroes or demigods has
been one of the most popularized by later Greeks and modem artist alike. The men of
this age are the men of legend. It is a race made up of the men who fought for
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Odysseus; they are the men for whom the gods created the Isle of the Blessed, and
they are the only generation, which escape any kind of internal criticism. The age of
heroes is unique in two ways: one, it is not defined by a metallurgical counterpart and
two; it is an age that is substantially better than its predecessor. Nonetheless, the age
of Heroes can be read as a kind of subset of the bronze age warriors, as men who
were both apart and begotten from the bronze age sensibility.
The age of iron is the last in the degeneration and is the most multifarious in
nature. The iron age is defined by work and toil. It is an age characterized by fathers
who do not get along with their children nor partner with partner; the people take
justice into their hands causing shame and nemesis to withdraw (Hesiod 205-235).
The withdrawal of shame and nemesis signifies a type of moral upheaval from which
there does not seem to be a reprieve. Shame has an obvious meaning and function
since without shame there is no guilt or conscience. Nemesis is similar, but rather
than representing an arch-rival, nemesis here refers to retributive justice, or giving
what one is due. Of note both shame and nemesis relate to the two definitions of
justice Socrates is working to dispel as he tries to cultivate the value of justice in and
of itself in Book 1.13 The downfall of the iron age is the result of this progressive
disregard for the traditionally accepted definition of justice. Part of the problem for
13 What if I show you a different answer about justice than all these- and a better
one? (Plato, 337c-d) The all these Socrates is referring to include definitions of
justice which take justice to be: repaying what one has borrowed, the advantage of
the stronger and treating friends well and enemies badly (Plato, 33 Id, 338c, 335a).
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Hesiod and the people of the iron age, is that when they throw out their conventional
understanding of justice they have nothing to replace it with, and are left simply with
evil and suffering. Had the iron age had a grasp of the dialectic they may have been
able to replace shame and nemesis with a different interpretation of justice. For all of
that since the iron age is the setting for the rest of the poem we must assume that it
also illustrates the end of the degeneration.
The process of degeneration in Works and Days is obviously unavoidable and
for Hesiod unproblematic; it is rather the natural trajectory, and part of his
understanding of history. There does not seem to be a question regarding mans
culpability, that is, until the iron age when man chooses to ignore the place of justice.
What is more, it is almost as if Plato picks up where Hesiod leaves off. In going back
to the beginning of the Republic we are reminded of the initial challenge: Socrates
must: first, define justice, and, second, show that doing justice is good in and of itself.
It is, thus, fitting that Plato would make use of a culturally saturated example in order
to make both his view regarding justice and politics that much more accessible to his
audience. The similarities to Book VIII are somewhat overt in the case of the gold
and silver ages; in fact Socrates himself refers to the political stages in terms of their
metallurgical counterparts. At 547b, the very beginning of Book VIII, Socrates
references Hesiod indicating that the gold and silver (timocratic and oligarchic) are
rich in their soul and pulled toward virtue, while the Bronze and Iron pull toward
money and acquisition of wealth. In terms of Platos use of Hesiods races there is
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some room for interpretation, but, generally speaking, the golden age is equivalent to
the kallipolis; the silver the timocratic; the bronze the oligarchic; the age of heroes
with the democratic and finally the iron age with the tyrannical. What is immediately
apparent within Hesiods Five Ages is that the age of heroes does not fit within the
general structure. Inasmuch as democracy poses a problem for Book VIII the age of
heroes does so within the Five Ages, or as Recco rightly points out, the glory of
the heroes is at odds with the general movement of degradation (Recco, 101). Thus,
we are forced to evaluate the process of degeneration specifically in light of these
ages.
Due to the similar structure and obvious convergence of these two texts if we
ask a question of the age of heroes we are also asking that question of Democracy, its
structural counterpart. The age of heroes is defined by men of virtue who fight wars
in service of their community, all the while honoring the conventions of justice. The
age of heroes does not possess an intrinsic way to sustain itself; rather these men of
virtue die in the service of war and leave the earth for the succeeding generation.
The moment of reversal the age offers the text is just that- a moment, a fleeting breath
through which there is a sigh of relief. There is not a single value unique to the age of
heroes that makes it overtly resilient, and unlike democracy the generation is
described as markedly better than its predecessor. It is not so much that the age of
heroes bypasses the degeneration, but that it is something separate and apart
altogether, and as we have already seen, democracys reign is not nearly so neat.
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Within Book VIIIs democracy Socrates describes a constitution plagued by both
variety and enamored with an array of diverse choices. It is a democracy, which
works because of its love of freedom and fails because of that freedom. The very
things that propagate the democracy also bring about its ruin. Moreover, each
succeeding age within Book VIII takes on an aspect of its preceding counterpart and
perverts its value so that the constitution changes. Within Book VIII the degeneration
is often more about reevaluating that which is considered good as opposed to
Hesiods natural decomposition. It is clear that the similarity between these two texts
is limited to structure and image. However, it is curious that Plato would choose to
use such a saturated template for his least conventional book, especially given Platos
distaste for poets and their tales.
Platos rationale for using Hesiods conceptual structure may have more to do
with his own philosophical perspective regarding the world than with a true
admiration for Hesiods work. In fact, a case can be made that the characteristic of
degeneration so apparent in each text may have more to do with perspective than
literary function. More importantly, in this case, it is not so much about what was
happening in their respective historical realities, but how each author felt about their
own history. As a way to understand the difference in perspectives, Strauss offers a
notable abstract concerning Thucydides that is uniquely applicable to this situation as
well. Strauss is trying to uncover Thucydides personal affection for the
Peloponnesian War. The conclusion Strauss comes to is this: this particular event is
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the only phenomenon in which the nature of human things or of human life becomes
fully visible because in it the peak of Greekness, and therewith the peak of humanity,
becomes fully visible; we see the beginning of the descent (Strauss, 84). If Hesiod
were of the belief that human civilization had reached its true moment of perfection in
the reign of the golden race, then the descent would not be troubling in the least,
rather it is as natural as a hawk that has caught a speckle- throated nightingale.
Socrates, on the other hand, is not so sure that perfection of the kallipolis is possible
or probable. Thus, because Socrates does not hold the belief that a moment of
origination has defaulted to the current state, but rather that the current state must be
built the story of degeneration he establishes in Book VIII takes on more meaning
than just that of a simple descent.
Socrates is prompted to go through the degeneration of diseased
constitutions due, in part, to his own ambivalence about the possibility of the ideal
state, and at one point even indicating a clean slate would be obligatory (499d,
501a, 502c). Part of the problem, of which we are made aware in Books V through
VII, is that the Kallipolis is predicated on a love of, and attachment to, philosophy.
According to Socrates, for philosophy to properly take root that city must first be
destroyed. Said differently, the philosopher will simply refuse to start anywhere but
from the beginning, since philosophy must begin from the point of youth and
educators who teach the subject must have been consumed by a love of philosophy as
well. There is, thus, no probable point of origination, besides a moment of ultimate
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beginning, which is not theorized about at any point throughout the text of the
Republic. The necessity for such drastic action lies in Socrates understanding of
philosophy and therefore the dialectic. As this is not a thesis which concerns Platos
take on philosophy the short answer which addresses Platos philosophical theory is
this: philosophy as defined in the Republic is a pursuit of the soul which regards
rigorous discussion as the best means to get at the ultimate truth. Moreover,
philosophers are dynamically and passionately in love with the truth, so much so that
they alone engage in the endless pursuit of knowledge through reasonable questions
and answers. The essential make up of a philosopher, namely, interpretative insight
and courageous investigation equates for Recco to a pattern of changing what counts
as evidence so that the pursuit of knowledge is endless and exhaustive. The
courageous person exhibits a special relationship to appearances that resist the
immediately visible or tangible in favor of something that presents itself, so to speak,
only in the mode of absence (Recco 192). The philosopher is, therefore, someone
who follows the mostly invisible path toward truth. In the example of the ship, of
which Socrates is so fond, the philosopher understands the form of the ship while the
ship builder and its crew only recognize the image of the ship. Translated to
government the philosopher is able to comprehend the form of the constitution that is
best while sifting through its diseased images: ...We say that, until philosophers take
control of a city therell be no respite from evil for either city or citizens, and the
constitution weve been describing in theory will never be completed in practice...
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(501 e). The pursuit of Book VIII, an ever-winding degeneration, transforms into an
investigation concerning the existence of the constitution in which both the ship
builder and the philosopher may flourish concurrently. The Kallipolis is a stage, a
moment, in a long conversation that terminates at the beginning of book 8 giving the
descent of Book VIII the sole purpose of identifying the next best or, perhaps, more
practical solution (Roochnik, 78).
Socrates understanding of philosophy in conjunction with the ultimate failure
of the kallipolis bequeaths more to the reader than mere opinion. His philosophy
about philosophy begs the reader to understand that the perfection of the kallipolis
may never come to be, purely because constitutions are not created in a vacuum.
Since a clean slate is too chilling a thought for even Plato, and due to the fact that
constitutions are a construction of social forces, the constitution most likely to value,
treasure, and necessitate philosophy is a democracy, even as it is described in Book
VIII. In Book IX Socrates restates the most salient points from Book VIII and his
description of the democratic man is telling: ...because he has a better nature than
his corrupters, he is pulled in both directions and settles down in the middle between
his fathers way of life and theirs. And enjoying each in moderation, as he supposes,
he leads a life that is neither slavish nor lawless and from having been an oligarch he
becomes democratic (572c-d). Previously, in Book VIII the timocratic man was of
the middle way, while the democratic man wafted from one pleasure to another. It is
not that Socrates has all of a sudden changed his tune, but that in his reiteration of
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Book VIII he asks us to reevaluate the degeneration he has decidedly just brought to a
conclusion. This is a pronounced dialectic moment of the Republic and clearly asks
the reader to reevaluate the text in light of its own dynamic movement. If we take the
convergence of the timocratic and democratic types a step further it can be argued
that what Book VIII is presenting is the story of two constitutions each told in
positive and negative relief. The reason the democratic constitution shares the
characteristic of moderation with the timocratic is because each constitution is a
positive portrait of its counterpart, in this case oligarchy and tyranny, respectively.
Consequently, the battle within the degeneration of constitutions comes down
to oligarchy versus democracy, and according to Greg Reccos reading: Book VIII is
a restaging of the political (or ideological) struggle of the Peloponnesian War, a battle
whose prize was not military victory, but acknowledgement of the superiority of one
form of constitution over another (Recco, 97). After a thorough investigation into
the culturally saturated concept of degeneration it is fair to say the Book VIII truly
does pitch the battle between two contestants. There is, on the one hand, the positive
portrait of oligarchy in the story of timocracy where honor replaces wealth in the
valuation of what is good. On the other hand, then, there is democracy, which may be
as formless as tyranny, but allows for freedom instead of fear. The correlation of
timocracy with oligarchy and democracy with tyranny is apparent in how the
constitutions are defined; timocracy/ oligarchy both equate to rule of the few, while
democracy can generally be conceived as rule of the many poor. Tyranny does
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change the rules in that the rule of the many turns into not rule of the few, but the rule
of one. In other words, the battle can be envisioned as rule of the few versus rule of
the many since tyranny is never given a place within the contest, but simply works to
help define the dangers exploited by democracy. After collapsing the playing field
into two contestants it is clear that the dialectic, the pinnacle of Platos educational
system, requires not only that we read the text dialectically, but also that we
understand that the only constitution which necessarily honors the dialectic is the
democratic. More to the point, in its inherent variety or natural diversity the
democratic constitution is the only constitution in which we find the ship builder, its
crew, and captain living with relative flourish.
Freedom
If we take the Republic to be an educative text advancing theories as
pedagogy, then we have to take each image as necessary for our education. The final
cave image does not override the initial sun image; rather, it builds upon the sun and
divided line images so as to educate the reader and pupil. Recco sates that the image
must be interpreted in light of its final stage and so too should Book VIII (196). The
question is not whether Socrates or Plato was democratic, but rather what the final
image of the tyrant tells us about the degeneration of constitutions in general, and
democracy in specific. Furthermore, if Book VIII can be read as a reconstruction of
the Peloponnesian War and our victor within the text is democracy/tyranny, then what
the image in its final stage illuminates is the incendiary nature of both freedom and
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the dialectic. The continuously devolving city in Book VIII reaches its culmination
with tyranny. The tyrant of Book VIII appears to thrive on the license to do whatever
one wants, but as we soon find out he really becomes a slave to his own security
arrangements. Such that what happens in the space between strong democracy and its
weak counterpart, tyranny, is the creation of a national security state where freedom
is relinquished in a fear that it may be forcefully taken.
Out of democracy where the freedom to choose from a variety of
constitutions is nurtured, if not required, comes a constitution which enslaves itself
to the simple idea that someone must be master. As was expounded upon in chapter
3, Socrates reminds us at 565d that tyranny can arise when the Greek city chooses to
give the highest authority to an elected leader instead of its people. In this action they
no longer give credence to the variety of perspectives, the testing of hypotheses, or
the utility of freedom. All of the constitutions of Book VIII take up a perspective on
freedom in the extent to which the citizens are given the ability to order their own life
or as Recco sees it: Each of the constitutions in question can be understood as
striving to realize a certain aspect or degree of freedom and as failing at that task...
freedom is not another name for the good, but it provides the space in which alone
what is best may thrive (Recco, 164). In other words, freedom is not the good,
which is valued by democracy but it is the space in which that which is good may
come to be. Timocracy and/or oligarchy are constructed to take honor and wealth as
the good that their cities and citizens seek. Democracy does not set one specific value
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up as good, but respects freedom and allows the individual to self-educate in a means
to achieve self-rule. There is a genuine confidence that the existence of diversity will
foster the dialectic as citizens are forced to question the different lifestyles at hand,
which in effect, enhances citizen wisdom. Moreover, at the beginning of the
Republic, Socrates defines justice to be minding ones own techne,14 or doing what is
ones own. With a bit of simple deductive reasoning it can be ascertained that one
cannot know what is ones own without having been exposed to a diversity of
choices.
It is, thus, apparent outside of the kallipolis, which is not a probable solution
according to Socrates, democracy is the only constitution in which Socrates
definition of justice is attainable. While Book VIIIs degeneration is as distinct as its
counterpart in Hesiods Five Ages, democracy, much like the age of heroes, does
not neatly fit within the descent. Rather, the tale of democracys downfall stands out
and invites the reader to embrace the overtly pessimistic movement of Book VIII as
an imminent critique of Platos immediate political situation. Platos musings, which
make up the continuum of Book VIII, reiterate the conversations taking place on daily
basis in the agora as tension between democrats and oligarchs pulsed during the
Peloponnesian War. It can be and has been argued that Plato was an elitist aristocrat;
nonetheless, the goal of our investigation into Book VIII was not to prove him a
14 Techne can be translated as craft or art, so for Socrates minding ones own tehcne
means minding what is your craft or art.
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democrat. It is clear that what the degeneration of Book VIII, when read in light of
Platos understanding of the dialectic, advances is an acknowledgement that freedom
is necessary for justice. The goal of the Republic was to define justice so as to
discover in what constitution man could achieve the greatest happiness; barring the
birth of the kallipolis, it has become clear that democracy, with all its faults, is that
constitution which provides the greatest opportunity for man to flourish.
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AN AFTERWORD
WORLD INFRONT AND WORLD OF THE TEXT COLLIDE
In what has come down to Socrates theoretical paraphrasing of the
Peloponnesian War, Book VIII changes the outcome, because democracy wins.
Democracy does not win unequivocally, nor does Plato come out singing
democracys praises, but by the conclusion of Book VIII, or even within the
ramblings of Book IX, it is clear that: one must live in a democracy to dream of a
callipolis (Saxonhouse, 100). In recalling Athens political history and Platos
personal history we are reminded that democracy did, in fact, fail Athens, and, more
importantly, it personally failed Plato. In 404 BCE Athens surrendered to the Spartan
army they had held at bay for nearly thirty years, and in doing so the Spartans
installed their own oligarchic government, the Thirty (Woodruff, 264). While the war
was witness to atrocities on both sides, the Athenian democracy can be credited with
effectively waffling through enough decisions that they evoked this outcome.
Chapter 1 featured the story about the young and enthusiastic Alcibiades who was
asked to lead the Athenian army on a mission to extend the reach of empire to the
Sicilian islands. The imperial expedition dew in the face of democratic freedoms
Athens trumpeted, was poorly conceived, and came on the heels of a serious debate,
the Athenians sealed their own fate when they fell in love with the enterprise due to
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the Alcibiades speech. Unfortunately what seemed like a good decision one day was
reversed the next when a perceived threat to the democracy caused the demos to
condemn one of the expeditions leaders. The rigidity with which the Athenian
democracy functioned often proved to instigate more problems than solutions. By
allowing a little diversity in political thought the Athenians could very well have
sustained a functioning democracy.
While, the ultimate failure of Athenian democracy is apparent, it does not
take away from the innovation accomplished in its founding. Even Plato, whom the
democracy personally betrayed, in the death of Socrates was able to conceive of the
way in which democracy could, in fact, succeed. This success as we saw in our
reading of Book VIII is reliant on a cultivation of diversity from which people may
come to know what is their own by testing out alternate lives like the dialectic
hypotheses they are. This diversity is of course dependant on the freedom to order
ones life as one sees fit, and on the freedom to choose the path of their personal
education. The freedom to choose ones personal constitution is what allows Plato to
dream of his kallipolis, and it is the lack of respect for this freedom that killed
Socrates. Neither the democracy of Book VIII, nor the democracy of Platos Athens
were perfect, both were, however, working models of good ideas. In practice Athens
worked diligently to provide a space where public opinion could not only be heard,
but could dictate political affairs. Public opinion was, of course, limited to Athenian
male citizens, and often ran through the mouth of an orator, but the idea was correct.
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The examples where theory, ideas, and practice collide are endless, and even within
Book VIII is cautioned against. It must not be ignored that it is an extreme adherence
to freedom, which brings about tyranny. In spite of the fact that both Athenian and
Platonic democracies collapse, this evaluation of Book VIIIs political degeneration
illuminates Socrates careful interest in democracy as the place where justice can
thrive and mans happiness is imaginable bearing a healthy dose of moderation.
The Word After the Text:
It can often be difficult to apply the Republic's unique philosophy, and its
democratic lessons to the kind of democracy we are familiar with as Americans
today; not to mention the insidious amount of literature, which argue for a thoroughly
anti-democratic reading of the text we have just ransacked. The idea of the world
after the text is, then, a unique way to get at the interpretative baggage accumulated
over the centuries following Platos writing of the Republic. In one sense Book IX
can be considered an internal interpretation of Book VIII by its own author, simply
because the text is written in a dialectic fashion. However, a good source who had
both distance and an intimate knowledge of Plato and his works provides a unique
way to interpret Book VIII. Aristotle was one of Platos students who went on to be
Alexander the Greats tutor and an immanent philosopher in his own right. In his
Politics, Aristotle directly critiques Platos Republic, and although he tends to focus
on the community of women and Platos kallipolis, Aristotle does proffer noteworthy
commentary of his own on the best and worst political constitutions (Book 3. Ch 1.
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Para 2). Without creating a long digression of my own, let it suffice to say that
Aristotles work is more mechanical in the sense that as a reader we are not impeded
by an intricate psychological theory or a rambling narrative. Instead, Aristotle simply
puts forth what he takes to be evident about each constitution. In the case of
democracy this is vastly different than what Plato has done for the simple fact that
Aristotle considered democracy in its multitude of variations, and not merely as a
constitution defined by rule of the many poor (6.4.4).
More importantly, however, is Aristotles definition of the polity. This polity
is for all intents and purposes what Aristotle considers the best government. When
speaking of the best political state he does not outright call it a polity, but rather
extemporizes on the good of the middle class: ... the best political community is
formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be we-
administered, in which the middle class is large..., for the addition of the middle class
turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant (6.11.3). It
can be inferred from Aristotles reverence for the middle class that moderation in
regard to extremes is what characterizes a good constitution. Thus, when speaking of
a polity what we find is a similar characterization: in a well-attempered polity there
should appear to be both elements and yet neither (6.9.2). In speaking of both
elements Aristotle is referring to both oligarchic and democratic convictions. For
Aristotle it does not have to be one or the other, he was born 20 years after the end of
the Peloponnesian War and perhaps with hindsight understood that Athens faltered in
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its adherence to a rigidly conceived definition of its democracy. If Athens and her
leaders could have embraced some of the oligarchys positive traits so as to temper its
rigid democracy as a means to foster diversity the story of the first democracy may
have been altogether different.
In moving beyond Aristotle to more modem renderings of Book VIII the
reader will likely be able to find any kind of interpretation they desire. In fact, due to
Book VIIIs unique story, which is at once a part of and separate from the larger text,
and its unfailing dead ends it has proven to be a notoriously perplexing portion of the
Republic. Jonathan Lear, a scholar of the Republic, characterizes our confusion: even
an engaged reader of the Republic must at some point wonder how-or if- it all fits
together (61). Despite this confusion throughout this paper we have managed to
clarify the way in which the Republic builds upon itself in a dialectic fashion as a
means to get at a cautiously democratic Socrates. Stanley Rosen, an insightful scholar
of the Republic, has put the dialectic to an altogether different use. In regards to
Book VIII, Rosen sees the dialectic working in the micro, but does not take it to the
macro: Socrates on the other hand condemns dramatic political change as an agent
of decay. The dialectical inversion of rich and poor, old and young, and so on, lead to
a dissolution of order and hence justice and virtue (Rosen 313). In Rosens choice to
see the dialectic function only on the level of the domestic drama he reads the decline
as a whole, non-dialectically, meaning tyranny wins out of necessity. Moreover, the
dialectic in this sense is an agent of decay, which works to erode traditional domestic
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dynamics perpetuating the degeneration. In chapter 4, Carl Poppers critique of
Platos fear of change was briefly mentioned, and in Rosen we see a similar
sentiment; a sentiment which the findings of this paper and other scholars like
Roochnik and Recco have revised considerably. Poppers point is that the criterion
of morality is in the interest of the state... the interest of the best state is then... to
arrest all change, by maintenance of the rigid class division and class rule (Popper
via Taylor, 35). While Poppers point may be accurate in reference to the manner in
which Socrates constructs the kallipolis, it cannot hold once we have admitted the
relative impossibility of the best state, and, thus, accepting that previously established
criteria are too not applicable. The idea the Plato feared or condemned political
change ignores both his theory of the dialectic, which itself requires change, often
political, and takes the degeneration of Book VIII at face value. If we are to become
philosophers who seek the truth than it is our responsibility to question the overt
implications of Book VIII in light of its many inconsistencies, and doing just that we
find a more democratic Plato who is exceptionally aware that change can both
beneficial and dangerous. It is important to remember that the Republic is not
equivalent to the kallipolis any more than it is to the tripartite division of the soul. It
would be fallacious to call Socrates an aristocrat merely because he theorizes about
his perfect aristocracy.
Rosen correctly states: that is would be absurd to call Socrates a democrat in
his sense of the term, but by means of this investigation it has become clear that
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Socrates at the very minimum has an interest in democracy as the next available
solution (314). Socrates interest in democracy according to our findings, comes about
by way of the dialectic. Due to the fact that the dialectic and philosophy require
reasonable questions and answers to get at a truth each person within the democracy
has the ability to discover their own techne, and thus be just. The obvious problem is
that while each individual may have this ability, they do not have to exercise it, nor
are they required to do what is their own. Rather, the same freedom which allows one
to order his life, also makes elected chaos or injustice possible. As Rosen sees it: the
freedom of licentiousness and its correlative diversity, if these are in any way useful
to the philosopher, show clearly the conflict between philosophy and justice, not their
coincidence (317). Rosen notes Socrates definition of justice, which requires that
we each tend to our own business, and the philosophers perspective, which takes that
one must be erotically in love with the truth to practice philosophy. The problem
therein lies that someone who is not in love with the truth can take up philosophy,
while another who is philosophically inspired may choose to become a lawyer thus
wasting his talents on the mundane. This is the plight of a democracy; every citizen
has the opportunity to follow whichever path suits him. There is no way for a
democracy to regulate the citizens desire to be just, and on the same level a
democracy cannot systematize education or the use of philosophy. Socrates
beautifully sums it up:
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Sometimes he drinks heavily while listening to the flute; at other time, he
drinks only water and is on a diet; sometimes he goes in for physical training;
at other time, hes idle and neglects everything; and sometimes he even
occupies himself with what he takes to be philosophy. He often engages in
politics, leaping up from his seat and saying and doing whatever comes into
his mind.... Theres neither order nor necessity in his life, but he calls it
pleasant, free, and blessedly happy, and he follows it for as long as he lives
(561c-d)
Diversity, equality, and freedom are keystones in the democrats life. These values
are the very qualities, which make philosophy, justice and happiness possible.
Importantly happiness is not guaranteed, nor promised. Democracy simply provides
the freedom for one to find his path even if that path leads to tyranny.
Democracy as an idea is dangerous, and perhaps this is answer enough to the
question: if the Republic supports democracy then why did Plato couch his interest in
an immensely long dialogue about his prefect aristocracy? Or as Roochnik responds
to the charge: because democracy allows for the blooming of a hundred flowers and
ten thousand weeds, it would be irrational not to criticize it (92). Accepting any
political system without thoroughly questioning its validity would be philosophically
dishonest, let alone a political system founded on the idea that freedom should be
king. Democracy proved to be a volatile 200-year experiment in Athens, and
continues to incite wars around the world, but it was founded on the idea that humans
are fallible varied creatures who when given the freedom to individually affect their
political system will collectively protect themselves from any one person enjoying
unchecked power (Woodruff, 3-4). Book VIITs decline and Athens own history
shows us that while democracy as an ideal political system is beautiful, it can turn
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into tyranny with great ease. As we have witnessed tyranny can live in the heart of a
democracy, and needs only a weak moment where the demos fear the loss of their
freedom and trade that freedom for security. In the founding of the American
democracy there was immense fear of the mobs tyrannical power, and this idea is
central to Madisons initial writings. Robert Dahl paraphrases Madison: if
unrestrained by external checks, any given individual or group of individual will
tyrannize over others (6). It is this attitude, which lead to the adoption of the
Constitution and creation of the three branches of the American government. Yet, can
these systems, which effectively limit a citizens political voice still be called
democratic? In response to this question the very definition of democracy has
changed. In the 2,500 years since those initial democratic stirrings the dangerous idea
that made Athens both brilliant and fragile has undergone a revolution of its own,
perhaps in response to the fear of degeneration.
This investigation began down at the Piraeus, a port teeming with diversity
and a known hotbed of pro-democratic sentiment. The kallipolis would have
sanitized or wiped out such places, and the Republic could never have been
conceived. In nowhere but a democracy could political philosophy be engaged in to
such an extent, and for that reason Plato could never truly be wholly undemocratic.
Rather, Plato and Socrates practiced responsible citizenship in their active political
questioning that merely goaded their fellow citizens to be present and cognizant of
their decisions. Andrew Bacevich the American conservative who was introduced at
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the very beginning of the paper, while not a philosopher has this to say to the
American people: to preserve that which we value most in the American way of life,
therefore, requires modifying that way of life, discriminating between things that are
essential and those that are not (Bacevich, 189). Re-stated in Platonic language we,
citizens of a free democracy, must learn to discriminate between necessary and
unnecessary desires if we hope to perpetuate our established way of life. Socrates
cautions endorsement of democracy and with it freedom, diversity, and equality is
hinged on this very point. Without some sense of restraint freedom does in fact lead
to its opposite and the degeneration is, in fact, fatal.
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