How a Democracy Becomes Tyranny—According to Plato
A democracy is birthed because of frustrations with the ruling classes, and the citizens seek freedom from such (Rep. 557a). It then becomes a city of liberty and free speech (557b) and a manageable measure of equality (558c). However, the incessant drive for more equality redefines the traditional founding virtues of democracy so that they begin to call “insolence good education; anarchy, freedom; wastefulness, magnificence; and shamelessness, courage” (560e–561a). This characterizes the “life of man attached to the law of equality” (561e). This person becomes set against democracy “as the one who would rightly be called democratic” (562a), and then the tyrant arrives.
Socrates stated that tyranny arose from democracy when “the greediness for what democracy defines as good also dissolve[s] it” (562b). By establishing freedom to be the product of a democracy, the democratic state thirsts for freedom leads it to get “bad wine bearers as its leaders and [the state] gets more drunk than it should on this unmixed draught, then, unless the rulers are very gentle and provide a great deal of freedom, it punishes them, charging them with being polluted” (562d). Yet, here’s telling sign that such has arrived: “[A father] habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents—that’s so he may be free” (562e). Moreover, one could add that “the teacher in such a situation is frightened of the pupils and fawns of them, so the students make light of their teachers, as well as of their attendants. And, generally, the young copy their elders and compete with them in speeches and deeds while the old come down to the level of the young; imitating the young, they are overflowing with facility and charm, and that’s so that they won’t seem to be unpleasant” (563a–b).Here’s the scariest point of all that Socrates made: “Too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery, both for private man and city” (564a).
If we looked at it from our modern perspective and extrapolated these points into our times, we might say—
- An unrealistic insistence on equality.
- A redefining of terms related to democracy.
- The redefinition leads to leaders who don’t do their duties.
- Children are disrespectful to parents, and parents ask their children for “permission” in a manner of speaking.
- Teachers fear their students, and students and children lack respect for authority figures.
- Youths grow up way too fast and try to be who their elders are (e.g. possessions, status) while elders act like they’re younger than they are.
- The idol of freedom inevitably leads to slavery.
Perhaps more people should pick up a copy of Plato’s Republic.