Democracy the Classical Features of Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :


He argues that there is a duty resting on convention, which he considers in a deep and morally weighty sense, based on an implied but nonetheless binding contract between the individual and the state:

It is a fact, then," they would say, "that you are breaking covenants and undertakings made with us, although you mad them under no compulsion of misunderstanding, and were not compelled to decide in a limited time; you had seventy years in which you could have left the country, if you were not satisfied with us of felt that the agreements were unjust (Plato, 1993, p. 89).

In other words, Socrates has enjoyed the benefit of the laws all his life and cannot now break them without breaking an implicit agreement he has made with the state based on his acceptance of the law over his lifetime.

Plato's ideal state is not a democracy, and indeed Plato sees democracy as a state too subject to the passions of the masses. Capitalism as well would not fare well in Plato's state, which bears some surface similarities to a socialist state. The state that Plato would create would have a different relationship between the individual and society because Plato would abolish private property in service of an easing of tensions and a reduction in strife. For Socrates, the state will replace the family, and the community as a whole will become the family. The abolition of private property is part of this effort to bring the people together rather than to drive them apart, for Plato sees private property as creating rivalries and inequalities which have become the governing factors in social intercourse. Socrates describes what society will be like without the guardian class having this dedication to acquiring goods, noting that the Guardians will not tear the community apart by demanding that some property be designated as theirs. This also means that people will not separate themselves from the community, designating a certain territory as "theirs" and separating the family from the community. Always Socrates is dedicated to the idea that the community is the basic unit of society, not the individual and not even the family. Instead, he sees the community as existing together as a unit, as sharing polity in its broadest sense.

Plato also feels that the introduction of private property into the Ideal State would lead to civil strife. This could come about with the develop of two factions or parties in the state, and the resulting civil strife would lead to an agreement that would destroy the harmony of the Ideal State. Thus his decision to eliminate private property is a means of assuring that the state itself remains unified, and he sees private property as creating a climate that could lead to violence, first among individuals, then families, then larger factions, then war within the state as a whole.

Plato is attempting to eliminate all strife from society, while we have developed a system that accommodates strife because we recognize that in some degree it is a product of human nature and cannot be eliminated. We have developed a system in which strife between adversaries can lead to change, and this is one of the problems with Plato's society. That is, it would tend to be stagnant over time, reducing the possibilities for change and development.

Aristotle was a student of Plato's but developed his own approach to philosophy. His works are often a compendium of knowledge on a given subject as much as they are philosophical speculation about their meaning. Aristotle, like Pericles and Plato, considers politics at the city level, the city-state of the Greek era. Aristotle's description of the state as an association of free men aligns him with democratic theory, though he expresses a distaste for democracy at a certain level and finds that there are certain classes in society that should not be given the right to participate because they are not worthy. For Aristotle, indeed, democracy is often best when fewer people participate rather than when more do. He says that democracy in rural communities is preferable because farmers are too busy to attend meetings and involve themselves in government, thus leaving matters to the more capable and educated. In urban regions, however, craftsmen and shopkeepers manage to attend meetings and participate, and for Aristotle these are not the best sort of people. At the same time, Aristotle finds that the state itself and the association of free men in a state implies citizen participation. Aristotle states,

Whenever authority in the state is constituted on a basis of equality and similarly between citizens, they expect to take turns in exercising it. This principle is very old but in earlier times it was applied in a natural and proper manner; men expected each to take a turn at public service, and during tenure of office to look after the interests of someone else, who then did the same for him (Saunders, 1981, p. 188).

Aristotle calls his version of democracy by the name "polity" and describes its constitution as assuring political control to be exercised by the mass of the populace in the common interest. Participation is determined according to a specific need of the body politic:

And that is why in this constitution the defensive element is the most sovereign body, and those who share in the constitution are those who bear arms (Saunders, 1988, p. 190).

Aristotle does not see all men as equal and emphasizes the ways in which they are in fact different for the purposes of making a claim to office and privilege. He concludes finally that it is less what the person has than what he contributes that should be the determining factor. He says that the purpose of the association which is a state is not for the purpose of living together but for the sake of noble actions:

Those who contribute most to this kind of association are for that very reason entitled to a larger share in the state than those who, though they may be equal or even superior in free birth and in family, are inferior in the virtue that belongs to a citizen. Similarly they are entitled to a larger share than those who are superior in riches but inferior in virtue (Saunders, 1981, p. 198).

Aristotle believes that every art and inquiry is aimed at some good, that everything has as its goal some good. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identifies political science as the discipline that has as its goal the study of what is good for mankind. Ethics are actually a branch of political science, and personal ethical science is at one level while political ethical science is at a higher level of inquiry. For Aristotle, statecraft holds a primary position because it employs all the other sciences. It must therefore embrace as its aims the aims of all the others. The purpose of political science is to secure the good. This is on a higher level for the state than it is for the individual because while the securing of the good for the individual is itself a good, the securing of the good for an entire nation of people is of a higher order (Wheelwright, 1951, pp. 157-159).

Aristotle holds that the state is a natural object and that man is by nature a political animal. Aristotle describes human beings as naturally joining together in ever larger and larger units, from pairs to them household to the village to the state: "The final association, formed of several villages, is the state. For all practical purposes the process is now complete; self-sufficiency has been reached, and while the state came about as a means of securing life itself, it continues to secure the good life" (Saunders, 1981, p. 59). The state is a necessary control on the human being, and Aristotle sees the state as ennobling man in a way that man in the state of nature could never achieve: "For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is worst of all when divorced from law and justice" (Saunders, 1981, p. 61).

Based on his concept of absolute justice, Aristotle finds that there are three right forms of government -- monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Each of these can also degenerate into a lesser form: monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into mob-rule. Aristotle can be considered a democratic theorist in several respects. One of his abiding concerns is with the constitution of…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Democracy The Classical Features Of" (2008, April 30) Retrieved August 23, 2017, from

"Democracy The Classical Features Of" 30 April 2008. Web.23 August. 2017. <>

"Democracy The Classical Features Of", 30 April 2008, Accessed.23 August. 2017,