In researching my last two posts, I re-read Plato’s discussion of democracy, what he calls “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.”
I had to share at least some of what he said with you. Keep in mind that Plato did not approve of democracy. His experience with it was the notoriously unstable direct democracy of Athens, as well as other Greek city states. All of the citizens voted directly on every issue. He did not know of the more effective version of representative democracy, as would be practiced by the Roman Republic and, arguably, perfected in the American constitution.
What Plato wanted was a government by experts, philosophers bred and trained for the role, and his idealized Republic would be more akin to what we would recognize as totalitarianism. And yet, as he discusses the various options for government, Plato–or Socrates, whose conversations he is either recording or inventing–he makes brilliant observations and insights that make his book The Republic foundational to political thought to this very day.
What he said about democracies, though, in 380 B.C. is startlingly prescient and squirm-inducing for modern readers as we recognize ourselves in what he says 2,400 years later.
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“A governing authority which knowingly or unknowingly . . . allows the norms of the law to be dictated by the so-called ‘legal consciousness’ of the time, sinks to the level of raw power.” – Rev. Hermann Sasse