Plato’s The Republic, Books 7 and 8 Reflection

A question on the transition from democracy to tyranny


 How thin is the line between freedom and enslavement?

Book 8 discusses the four types of unjust constitution and man. Plato/Socrates presents them in an order of increasing perversion of the ideal city-state, aristocracy. Since it is natural for the just city to eventually degenerate through time as it is virtually be difficult to sustain and maintain such state, the aristocratic government would successively change into other forms—timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny—with the last being the most unjust and chaotic.

Timocracy arises from the fallen aristocracy, wherein the rulers value honor and give importance to war. The timocratic man fears of being deprived from his necessary desires, so he works hard to obtain money. Though money is important to him, honor still prevails in his soul. If the rich start getting richer, and the poor poorer, a huge gap between the two groups of people is created—making them extremes and likely enemies of one another. This is when an oligarchy is formed. An oligarchy is essentially not a single city, as the two groups mentioned are never united, so they are of their own “cities”, having irreconcilable goals. Because of the insecurity felt by the poor, who are now subjects of the rich, they value money above all else. The impoverished man desires to make money, but keeps his reason to be careful about his wealth as he would not want to threaten himself in losing all the wealth he has built up. If the slightly respectable oligarchy further falls to ruin, the democratic state arises. In this state, the rich would start lending money to the very poor, but at very high interest rates, making the poor almost totally bankrupt. This madness would rouse the poor to kill or remove the abusive rulers, trying to recreate another form of political state where everyone is free. No one is compelled to rule, and no one is obliged to take orders. That is how rulers are decided by popularity polls, instead by a seemingly appropriate assessment which could, at least, gauge who are the most worthy to rule. A tyrannical man is born because of the unlawful desires taking control of the democratic man’s life. Therefore, in a tyranny, people are enslaved to their lusts and will do anything to eliminate whoever gets in their way from satisfying all their cravings. They are the most unlawful, whose appetitive soul is dominant over his very own reason, and blinded and unbound by morals.

In democracy, people want freedom so they don’t want heavy obligations to carry out. They only want to satisfy their desires. On the other hand, the tyrannical man wants no restrictions, which reflects his selfish desire to exercise freedom only upon himself, and robs others of their properties only for the his own satisfaction. But because the tyrannical man seeks to control others, he forgets to control himself. The tyrant imposes freedom upon himself but enslavement upon his subjects. Probably without being aware of it, the tyrant is, in turn, enslaved by his selfish cravings. Instead of being a master of himself, he cannot control his desires that take over his rationality. He can, therefore, be likened to a madman. A madman is unaware of what he is doing—pretty much absent-minded. If freedom is totally abused, one can be enslaved to his own idea of freedom and gradually loses sight of the independent life—life free from fear of being killed by enemies, of the insatiable hunger, of guilt and conscience from committing unjust deeds.

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