An Analysis of Plato’s Republic: Book 8

Hey! Today, in follow-up to The Cave, we are going to be taking a look at Book 8. Enjoy!

To start the book off, Socrates finalizes their view of the functioning of the city and its politics. But Socrates wants to know what kind of city Glaucon wanted this to be, before Socrates gave his definition. Glaucon states the different possible ruling situations. The first is the simple way of having a king or queen, or, in the case of Sparta, two kings. It is simple and was universally approved. The next is an oligarchy, in which several renowned individuals, usually of “noble” bloodlines control the nation. Glaucon despises this form of government. There is Democracy, a system in which the people choose their rulers and politicians. And lastly, there is Tyranny, where one ruler can make or brake any laws.

Socrates and Glaucon agree that it is the spirit of the people which shapes a country’s political system. But I disagree. A Tyrant has the military on their side, and even if the people try to throw them out, a lot of the time it fails. Heck, Athens took hundreds of years to become a Democracy, and being a city-state, their army is their people. All it take is a charismatic leader to trick people into putting them into a position of power.

Socrates begins to tear down all other forms of government, showing how they are corrupt and raise evil citizens. Socrates goes through them one by one. One of the primarily interesting ones is Timocracy. Timocracy is so much like a Timocratic person that he simply talks about a Timocratic person, as an analogy. Apparently, they have a love for war and honor, but are also greedy and love money, fame and power. They seem much like the guardian class. They love war, and are guided by their spirit. But this last trait brings Timocracy down even more so than greed. A City cannot be run by those who rely on their gut to give them answers. It would be thrown into a state of complete chaos! To top this off, if the rulers love war they will be compelled to go to it even when it is not necessary.

After defining Timocracy and how a Timocratic person comes to be, he moves on to Oligarchy. He says the transfer from Timocracy to Oligarchy happens when people begin to value money so much that they start measuring people in it. They kick out all officials who are not rich, and institute knew ones who are. But Socrates makes the point that those who are rich are not necessarily talented, and this city will fall apart as the rulers will not know how to govern.

But it gets worse: Over time, the Rich become richer and the poor become poorer. The populations money is stripped from them, and the city begins to fill with beggars. People begin to resort to crime, and the city completely caves in on itself. This is where Socrates ends, but I can add more to this. While it seems like the rich tyrants would be safe, even they are probably sent into a state of poverty and death. With their citizens completely opposing them, there are no farmers or miners and they cannot have food or basic resources. Eventually they meet their people, and are probably lynched for destroying a city. So, I guess, Oligarchy’s out of the question!

So far, my interpretation is that he has thought Timocracy is barely acceptable and Oligarchy is pure evil. Now he moves on to Democracy and how it arises. He says the citizens will slowly grow unhappy as they realize that they are being treated with disregard and contempt. Still, the rulers will ignore their people. Eventually the people will begin to riot and wage war. A Democracy arises if they win, and take back the city for themselves.

He says Democracy is great, and I understand what he means. Each of the people’s viewpoints will be heard, and thus the public can single out the best laws and rulers. On the other hand, Oligarchy has only a few rulers so only a small set of ideas will be heard. The people that are coming up with new laws will also be more virtuous than the old money loving rulers. They will have the best in mind for the city, and they will be affecting themselves with these laws so they will naturally want to make these laws kind to the people. Again, the rulers in the Oligarchic regime are not being affected by their laws so they have no compulsion to make the laws fair and kind.

But now, as with Timocracy and Oligarchy, the walls of great Democracy must come tumbling down. Socrates points out that sometimes Democracy’s love of equality can go too far. People will begin to think animals and slaves are on the level of free people. Obviously, I am against slavery. And, I have to say, I think the second proposition is absurd. Because I stop Socrates here, I am not going to go onto the rest of the transfer from Tyranny to Democracy, but we can still talk about Tyranny.

At first, a Tyrannical leader would act kind and responsible, and get on the good side of people. This Tyrant would act like they were considering the peoples needs in their decisions. But once all their usurpers were dead or banished and they had the public opinion on their side, they would begin to show their real selves. But to keep the public from revolting, they would take measures to make sure that the citizens are focused on their work. Lastly, the Tyrant will exile or kill all people who now openly oppose his rule. Slowly, he will grow more and more in power, and less and less in popularity, but he shall enlist slaves into his army to keep the people at bay. And thus, a Tyranny shall be imposed.

Of these four forms, Democracy has stood out as the most prominently good forms of government. The other three were ruled by people who had to be evil. (In a Timocracy the ruler must love war, in a Oligarchy they must love money, and in Tyranny they have nothing imposing them!) But Perhaps Socrates’s city is even better than Democracy… after all, it would be impossible to have an unwise ruler if your rulers are literally paragons of wisdom. (Philosophers.)

I hope you enjoyed today’s paper. Bye!

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