In the current turmoil, chaos and rise of Donald Trump, it is fascinating to go back and read the thoughts of Plato. It seems it was all predictable. f.sheikh
“Plato described five different types of societies, and ranked them according to how rational, successful and just each was. Four were kinds of city states that already existed in Greece – timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. The fifth was his own Republic, a society ruled by philosopher kings, and which Plato called an aristocracy. This was the best of societies, one in which ‘the desires of the inferior many are controlled by the wisdom and desires of the superior few’.
Next on Plato’s scale of the good society came timocracy, or military dictatorship. Sparta was the model (as indeed it was for the Republic itself). It was a bleak, austere society built upon military conquest and mass enslavement in which slavery allowed not for a life of luxury but for one of unremitting asceticism. Sparta demanded obedience and sacrifice from its citizens to sublimate their interests to those of the community. All manual work in Sparta was the lot of slaves and of helots – Greeks captured in battle and enchained as bonded labour – because all male Spartans were trained almost from birth to become professional soldiers. To us, Sparta may seem anything but an ideal society, but the discipline, selflessness and attachment to the ideals of the polis won Spartans the admiration not just of Plato but of most Ancient Greeks.
Timocrats, Plato believed, are ruled by the desire for honour, a passion more worthy than that of bodily desire, but less so than that of reason. If neither aristocracy nor timocracy was possible, then Plato considered oligarchy as the next best. The souls of oligarchs are dominated by an ignoble passion, the desire for material goods. They nevertheless have to show a degree of self-control to accumulate wealth. Then comes democracy, a society ruled by people dominated by lowly appetites for food, drink, sex and pleasure. It is a society without order or discipline. A democrat puts all ‘his pleasures on an equal footing’, ‘always surrendering rule over himself to which ever desire comes along, as if it were chosen by lot.’ Political equality inevitably leads to a coarseness of culture and an anything-goes morality, a claim that finds an echo among modern conservatives.
The only society worse than a democracy is a tyranny. This is not the opposite of democracy but is rather democracy fully played out, a society in which every form of behaviour, including murder and disrespect for law, becomes acceptable. The moral of the story is that ‘extreme freedom can’t be expected to lead to anything but a change to extreme slavery, whether for a private individual or for a city’. Tyranny enslaves not just the population but the tyrant too. A tyrant’s soul, Plato observes, must be ‘full of slavery and unfreedom, with the most decent parts enslaved and with a small part, the maddest and the most vicious, as their master.’ He is ‘like the city he rules’, full of ‘fear, convulsions and pains throughout his life’