Deffenses for Democracy

Is liberty a bad thing? Socrates seemed to think so. In Book VIII

of Plato’s Republic, Socrates criticizes democracy by attacking three of

its most important aspects: liberty, equality, and majority rule. He

asserts that because of these things, a democratic city will always fall

into tyranny. I disagree, and feel that all three of the principles are

essential to a fair and just city, and only in their absence can a city be

taken into tyranny.

Socrates begins his observations on the defects of a democratic

government by first attacking liberty. His main argument is that there is

entirely too much of it. People in a democracy are free to do what they

wish in their lives and are free to chose what if any job they will do.

Socrates asks if, like the man with the democratic soul, they will not

just pass the time and not get much done (Plato, 557e).

This may be true, but people who do not work do not eat. In

Socrates city, much like in a communist regime, all of the people in a

city are responsible for the common good of all of the other members of

their city. A man who does nothing would truly be a burden on this

society, but unlike in Socrates city, or a communist state, in a capitalist

democracy people are responsible for their own survival, and a man

must work if he is to have a food, shelter, and all of the other

necessities of life.

When describing his just city, Socrates was very much in favor of

specialization of labor (Plato, 367e-372b), so for a man to try many

things would go against his concept of what belongs in a good city. But

Shouldn’t one try one’s hand at many tasks until one find a job that best

fulfills one’s soul? In Alienated Labor, Karl Marx argues that separation

of labor is fundamentally wrong in that it alienates the laborer not only

from his labor, but also from himself and society as a whole(Good Life,

272). Socrates himself claims that a just soul must find work that is

best for the “rational” part of the soul (Plato, 434d-444e)

Socrates also claims that criminals in a democratic city have too

much freedom. He asks Adeimantus if he had not seen men

“sentenced to death or exile, nonetheless staying and carrying on right

in the middle of things...”(Plato 558a). A democracy has laws and

punishments as does every other government.

Justice is always dependent on the wisdom of people, and people

are fallible. Perhaps criminals do go free sometimes when given a trial

by their peers, but monarchies and tyrannies are no less fallible. History

is full of wrongly accused people being put to death, and horrible men

being set free, in all kinds of government. Trial by a jury of peers, as is

found in a democracy, helps to alleviate this much better than judgment

passed by a ruling body. According to Lysander Spooner, trial by jury

is the watchdog of liberty, and when jurors are truly taken

indiscriminately, and do theirs jobs seriously and without bias, then a

person has received the fairest trial that is possible (Spooner, 2)

Socrates next takes aim against majority rule. He asks, what is

majority rule, but a system of a leader telling his people what he thinks

they want to hear? (Plato 558b) This may be true, but when a city has

the power to choose its leaders, the leader then becomes responsible to

the needs and desires of the people if he wishes to stay in power. It is

as Thomas Jefferson says, “Governments...derive their just powers

from the consent of the governed” (Jefferson). Even if a leader is

ignoble, if the people he is leading wish for noble things, he must to the

good thing or not be leader anymore.

Socrates imagines a city where there are philosophers are guiding

the city (Plato, 484), but are not philosophers human too? Why would a

philosopher be any less sensitive to corruption? Socrates response to

this is that the philosophers would be educated to know what is right for

the city. History has proven though, that just because a person is

educated does not mean he is noble or virtuous. Some of the worst

leaders in the world have been the most educated. Education does not

necessarily breed morality. Aristotle explains that to be a truly virtuous

person one must act in a virtuous way, not just know what is the way to

be virtuous (Good Life, 35).

Would not a corrupted leader in Socrates city be much more