In Plato's Republic, he states that democracy is second only to tyranny as the worst form of government because tyranny arises from democracy. This goes against what most people believe of democracy. Today, democracy is viewed as the best political system because the prime tenets of a democracy are freedom and equality. Essentially, democracy is all about free people governing themselves. However, Plato is critical of democracy precisely because of these features. Democracy, in Plato's belief, gives people too much freedom, which can lead to chaos. He also believes that when everyone believes that they are equal and that they have both the right and the ability to govern others, this brings a lot of people seeking power to want to be in politics. This means that people may be wanting to be in power because they believe that they can have this esteemed position, but this means that people would be wanting power because of the desirable nature of having power rather than doing good for the public. Thus, Plato believes that democracy is corruptible as it allows the presence of people who could turn into bad leaders or dictators, which would then lead to tyranny in the republic.
Of course Plato's democracy or views of democracy are different than present-day definitions or examples of democracy, but still, it can be argued that even today there are people who are brought into politics who do not have the proper skills or the altruistic attitude about serving the public as opposed to serving one's own personal appetite for power. There are many politicians today who use their power in corruptible ways. This is exactly what Plato was talking about. Today we are lucky enough, however, to have a system that doesn't allow for dictators or demagogues to take control, but still we get corrupt people wanting power in politics. There are plenty of politicians out there today with unsound morals.
According to Plato, democracy is something that depends on chance and it has to be combined with competent leadership (Grube & Reeve 1992, 174). He notes that leaders like Solon and Pericles come along by chance and they are what make democracy a good form of government; without them, it would not be. This is because Plato believes that most people are driven by their own desires or greed. His attitude about human beings is, in general, not kind. He believes, moreover, that individuals are driven by false beliefs, which will eventually lead us to the discussion of the allegory of the cave. He believes that the only reason people adhere to laws in the first place is because they believe that they will be punished otherwise and it is this fear of being punished that keeps them obedient. It is not because they have a passion to be good, obedient citizens. Social order is important and people can create social order, however, Plato just doesn't believe that this can happen with a democratic republic.
In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" in Book VII of The Republic (Grube & Reeve 1992, 186), Plato offers some insight into education. A true education, Plato believes, is about being led from the oppression of sensory appearances into the light of knowledge, which comes from the for of the Good. The form of the Good is the cause of all knowledge -- the first principle.
In the allegory of the cave, Plato compares people who are unknowledgeable in the Theory of Forms to prisoners who are chained in a cave without the ability to turn their heads. The only thing the prisoners can see is what is one the wall in front of them. A fire burns behind the people and between the fire and the prisoners...
The puppeteers are behind the prisoners holding up puppets that cast shadows onto the wall of the cave. The prisoners are not able to see the puppets, which are the real objects behind them. The only thing the prisoners can see and hear are the shadows and the echoes cast by objects that they cannot see. This means that the prisoners thus mistake appearance for reality. The things that they see on the walls -- the shadows -- are seen as being real; however, they know nothing about the real objects that are behind them causing the shadows, which are not real. If a prisoner is to talk to another prisoner about what he is seeing on the wall and he uses the word "flag," for example, he thinks he is talking about a flag, but he is not. He is only talking about a shadow. He knows nothing of a flag. "And if they could talk to one another, don't you think they'd suppose that the names they used applied to the things they see passing before them?" (Grube & Reeve 1992, 187). The point here is that the prisoners would be wrong because they would be using a word that is a word for something else to refer to the shadows that they see. They cannot really see the flag (only the shadow). If they were to see the flag for real, they would have to turn their heads, but they cannot. This leads Plato to the conclusion that the general terms of our language are not names of the real objects that we can see. They are really names of things that we cannot see, but rather, things that we can only imagine.
The allegory of the cave gives four stages through which a person must go in order to get a good education. The stages are distinguished by what a person can see. The ignorant person can only see the shadows and he does not have a clue about the fact that they are not real objects. The person who is well educated will see the shadows, the puppets casting the shadows, and the original things after which the puppets are created, as well as the fire that makes everything visible.
The shadows on the wall of the cave are representative of the things that people think. For example, a person may have an idea about what it is like to walk on the moon, but their idea about walking on the moon and what it is really like to walk on the moon are going to be vastly different. Plato would argue that people often don't have the motivation to really compare and check the difference between their notions and the real thing and thus they live their lives in an illusory world (i.e., ignorance) where they do not question the way the world is. Like the prisoners in the cave, they believe that their ideas are reality. Plato would argue that most people live like this and thus this is why democracy doesn't work.
A good government, according to Plato, would require a certain amount of knowledge and understanding and democracy presupposes a knowledgeable population. His own experiences showed him that the general population is unable to make rational decisions and also that people do not, in general, have the motivation to pursue a higher level of education -- at least not one high enough to become competent leaders. Plato believed that there will only be a limited amount of people who are actually willing to go the distance, to get the knowledge in order to be great governors.
Plato's argument is incredibly apt even looking at today's form of democracy, which is different than in his day, but still, even today we can see that the people that are put in positions of leadership end up not possessing the skills, the morals, and the wherewithal to lead citizens. They may be able to talk a good talk, but they are not able to carry out their promises because the lack the knowledge to be able to do so.
In Plato's "Allegory of the Ship" in Book VI of The Republic, Plato compares the state to an expensive ship. For the ship to have a safe journey, it must have a great captain sailing it. The captain must know everything about not just the ship but about geography and navigation, water currents and supplies it needs -- among other things. If the person navigating this ship was not properly trained or was just downright ignorant, the people in the ship would be endangered, as would the ship itself. It is easy to see where Plato is going with this. He asserts that a state is like a ship, it needs experts running it and they must be informed about many different aspects including law and economics, military strategy, etc. If the state has an ignorant or untrained person at the helm, then the people and the state itself are in danger.
The reason why a democracy cannot work in terms of this analogy is because regular people do not have the training or the knowledge that would allow…
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