for Ultimate Writer

| November 23, 2015
Question:

What do you think of Socrates negative view of democracy? Is he right that democracies have no values? If he isn’t right, how would values be established in a democracy? Do you think Socrates is actually serious? Remember, Athens was a democracy. But then Athens lost the Peloponnesian war to Sparta. Do you think Socrates was suggesting that the Athenians should try to be more like the Spartans (because it does kind of look like that if you think back to the documentary you watched on Sparta and then what Socrates says about this city he is constructing). Lots to think about here. You don’t have to answer all these questions. Pick the ones you find most interesting.

 

Due Nov 25. 20:30

Just need 100 words.

Attachments:

Book VIII

 

Book VIII looks at how the city Socrates and his friends have been discussing will, according to Socrates, inevitably disintegrate into tyranny. That is, we are reminded once again that the materialistic city that Socrates describes as “feverish” (372e 7) is inherently unstable. Even Socrates’ genuinely just city was unstable, however, to the extent that people are naturally materialistic and hence disinclined to be satisfied with so few “luxuries.” Still, the genuinely just city seems more stable than the materialistic city in that it is very egalitarian, whereas the unraveling of the materialistic city is traceable to its inequities.

The materialistic city turns into a timocracy, which is to say a city where honor is valued above everything else, as the result of the grumbling of a woman that “[h]er husband is not one of the rulers and [that] as a result she is at a disadvantage among the other women” (549c 5-d 1). Her son hears this and feels ashamed that his father is not a greater man. He determines to pursue honor above all else, thus elevating honor to the most important value in the city. Socrates doesn’t actually explain how one man an have such an effect on the values of the city as a whole. He asserts only that cities are reflections of the people in them, so it seems safe to assume that he thinks this dynamic is going to be fairly wide spread in the society. That is, most men will not be among the rulers, so most women, according to Socrates in any case, will grumble about this to their sons, creating what will effectively be an entire generation trying to outdo one another in terms of valor and the accumulations of honors.

There are echoes here of the story of the fall in Genesis. That is, it’s a woman who precipitates the undoing of the city. It’s the men, of course, who get carried away in their pursuit of “honor,” but they are doing it, according to Socrates, in order, in a sense, to please their mothers and by extension, one can presume, their future wives. Very Oedipal, eh? You thought it was Freud who universalized the interpersonal dynamics of Sophocles’ play, but we have it here already in The Republic!

That’s how the materialistic city becomes a timocracy, or honor-loving city. It doesn’t stop there though. It degenerates from a timocracy into an oligarchy, which is to say a city where a few people have all the money (and needless to say–power). The timocracy degenerates into an oligarchy when men become so obsessed with honor that they neglect their financial affairs and thus eventually fall into poverty. Their sons are so ashamed by their poverty they determine to amass for themselves all the money they can. Money thus eventually becomes valued even more than honor. The rulers in this city, asserts Socrates, “are unwilling to control those among the youths who become licentious by a law forbidding them to spend and waste what belongs to them–in order that by buying and making loans on the property of such [licentious] men they can become richer” (555c 2-5). That is, the rulers in an oligarchy encourage financial irresponsibility among the ruled as a means to the end of appropriating the wealth of the ruled to themselves.

So the people in an oligarchy become poorer and poorer over time, while the rulers (dare I say, the top 1%) become richer and richer. As the poor become more numerous, the resentment against the wealthy rulers grows until they finally overthrow the rulers and establish a rule of the people. You probably thought it was Marx who first postulated that dynamic–but no, it was Plato! Das Kapital was simply Marx’s riff on Book VIII of Plato’s Republic. Marx would have done well, however, to remember Socrates’ assertion that cities are reflections of the people in them. They do not spring up, as Marx appears to believe, in a purely organic fashion. They are expressions of human will, so the solution to the exploitation of the many by the few is not so simple as instituting a socialist form of government. It requires a change of will. If Lenin had realized that, we might well have avoided the debacle that was the Soviet Union.

It isn’t actually socialism Socrates predicts will result form the demise of an oligarchy, but democracy! That may sound like a good thing to the contemporary reader. Socrates’ idea of democracy was a little different, however, from the idea that came out of the Enlightenment. Democracy for Socrates was a free-for-all, a system where there were almost no rules. It was genuinely egalitarian, while it lasted anyway, but it achieved this at the price of having any real values.

The transition from a democracy, or at least Socrates’ view of what constitutes a democracy, is predictable enough. There simply aren’t enough rules to keep order in society. People want to be free to live as they please and this eventually leads to chaos. Teachers, asserts Socrates, become afraid of their students and hence fawn over them, “so the students make light of their teachers” (563a 5). The young lose respect for everything and everyone and the public becomes a mob that is ripe to be led by someone who is thirsty for power. The excess of freedom that Socrates sees as characterizing democracy ends up leading to the “savage slavery” (564a 7-8) of tyranny.

That makes you think, eh? Is that where we’re headed–tyranny? Are we perhaps there already, or are we still back in oligarchy? We think we’re a democracy, but the distribution of wealth in the U.S. actually makes us look much closer to an oligarchy than to a democracy. It’s pretty obvious we’re not a timocracy. No one seems to value honor much anymore. I’d go so far, actually, as to suggest we longer even have a coherent concept of it. There are a few exceptions, of course, there always are to pretty much any generalization. If our culture valued honor though, we’d have a different group of people running our financial institutions and a different group of people populating our prisons.

But if we aren’t a timocracy, what are we? An oligarchy? A democracy? A tyranny? How did we get where we are and are we condemned to remain here? Yes, I know “condemned” is a pretty strong term, but almost no one would say everything is as it should be now in the U.S.

What I like so much about The Republic is that Socrates keeps bringing political questions back to the realm of the personal. That’s how The Republic started, remember, by trying to figure out what a just individual was, and Socrates continually brings the discussion back to that question. Maybe we should do that as well. Maybe it’s because we haven’t yet answered that question that we are left with so many other questions.

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