Is liberty a bad thing? Socrates seemed to think so. In Book VIII of Platos 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 emocracy 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 Shouldnt one try ones hand at many tasks until one find a job that best fulfills ones soul? In Alienated Labor, Karl Marx argues that separation of labor is fundamentally wrong in that it alienates the laborer not only rom 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 ood 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 erson 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 catastrophic to a city than a corrupted leader in a democracy? In a democracy, one corrupted leader can be forced to leave office and be replaced, but when there is only one leader, who is either ordained by god or brought in by military force, or when there is a group of leaders who are not responsible to the people, the people have no opportunity to decide on a more noble or just person as their leader, and the people ave no protection against corruption in their government. Socrates last attack is against equality.
He says democracy dispenses a certain equality to equals and unequals alike (Plato, 558c). He seems to be saying that all men are not created equal and that certain people are better equipped to have rights in a city. In fact, Socrates says that the people must be told that they have certain metals in their souls which make them of different classes (Plato, 412b-415d). He calls this the Noble Lie, and while it is a lie, I am not sure how noble it is. Equality certainly has been a huge issue in our American overnment. As for personal rights, President John F.
Kennedy said, All of us do not have equal talent, but all of should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents (Kennedy) When it comes to equality in government, Alexander Hamilton Declared in a speech to the Constitutional convention that every individual of the community at large has an equal right to protection of the government (Hamilton). When it come to equality in choosing government, things tend to get tricky. If everyone is not going to be given a say in the government, then who decides who gets a say and who does not? What are the credentials for voting? Who decides on the credentials?
Who decides who decides on the credentials? Philosophers? Who decides which people are fit to be philosophers? Who educates the philosophers to be able to tell who would make a good voter and who would not? All people may not be created equal, but if all people are going to be affected by the laws, all people should have an opportunity to decide on them, and all people should be protected by them. The whole point of a government is to take care of its people. According to Lord Macaulay, That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy (Macaulay, 231).
Michael Davis, in his book The Politics of Philosophy, explains that the best way to ensure a well run city is to make sure all of the citizens in the city are given equal say in the way it is governed. He uses Malcolm Xs famous saying in that a group of oppressed people will not stay oppressed forever, and that the best way for a government to stay stable is to listen to the majority with respect for the minorities. (Davis, 55-57) In conclusion, while Socrates offers good criticisms of democracy, he oes not defend them very well, and he offers us no plausible alternative.
He claims that democracy is one of the worst regimes, yet it was democracy which allowed him to criticize the very system he was taking advantage. I think the best argument for democracy is the failure of other repressive governments such as the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, The French monarchy, Britains colonial rule here in America, and Fascism in Germany. Perhaps if these governments had allowed for liberty, equality, and a majority rule, they would still be in existence today.