Final Remarks on Plato
November 7, 2013
The Relationship between Plato and Democracy
• If you believe in democracy, you have to consider the Platonic/Aristocratic
critique of democracy. For Plato, democracy is when the people rule according to
their unnecessary desires and appetites of the people – can only be controlled to a
certain extent (but better than tyranny).
• Infinite substitutability of all things (isonomia)/total equality and
interchangeability between all things is democracy. For Plato, this is what
democracy is – and rejects this system. He would rather people be developed and
positioned according to their naturally abilities – a political system should allow
natural hierarchies and inequalities to flourish. To be free for him, is to develop
one’s natural aptitudes in one’s natural setting.
• The basic critique of Plato against democracy is that it’s anarchic. The democrat
is therefore someone who has no control over their appetites, because he or she
behaves as if they are all equal – no ability to rule themselves with reason. They
would succumb to whatever pleasures that they desire. They cannot prioritize
their desires, and would therefore be ruled by their passions.
• The destruction of natural hierarchies leads to chaos and loss of stability and
order. People should be attributed to specific roles and functions in society
according to their natural abilities and functions. The educational system will
reveal where people are to be placed.
• There is an even more fundamental critique of democracy in Plato’s Republic:
o Democracy is not a regime or constitution is at all.
o Arkhe = “founding principle or logic” which decides where in a society
people are to reside and why. It is the principle of the ordering of society.
Arkhe of Oligarchy = rule of the wealthy few; hierarchy
determined by position of wealth.
Arkhe of Timocracy = vote is based off of land ownership;
hierarchy determined/rooted in possession of property.
Arkhe of Monarchy =
Arkhe of Kallipolis = those who have access to the
forms/knowledge of the good; the degree to which you’ve come
out of the cave determines your position.
Arkhe of Democracy = ???
Plato argues that democracy does not have an arkhe. There is no
principle that determines (properly speaking) who rules over who
and why. A proper political regime has to have an arkhe, and
democracy doesn’t have one. Thus, it should not be.
*Ancient Greek/Athenian democracy is not the same as
contemporary democracy, in which the assembly was a random
selection. Jacques Ranciere on Plato
• Plato’s Republic justifies a hierarchical politics rather than democratic politics.
For this reason, Plato is problematic and promotes police order.
• The goal for Plato is therefore preserving the order that exists, and prevent people
from revolting or protesting – it suppresses the people.
• Democracy happens when those assigned to a rigid place rise up from their
• Ranciere se