Deffenses For Democracy Essay

Is liberty a bad thing? Socrates seemed to think so. In Book VIII
of Plato’s Republic, Socrates criticizes democracy by attacking three of
its most important aspects: liberty, equality, and majority rule. He
asserts that because of these things, a democratic city will always fall
into tyranny. I disagree, and feel that all three of the principles are
essential to a fair and just city, and only in their absence can a city be
taken into tyranny.
Socrates begins his observations on the defects of a democratic
government by first attacking liberty. His main argument is that there is
entirely too much of it. People in a democracy are free to do what they
wish in their lives and are free to chose what if any job they will do.
Socrates asks if, like the man with the democratic soul, they will not
just pass the time and not get much done (Plato, 557e).
This may be true, but people who do not work do not eat. In
Socrates city, much like in a communist regime, all of the people in a
city are responsible for the common good of all of the other members of
their city. A man who does nothing would truly be a burden on this
society, but unlike in Socrates city, or a communist state, in a capitalist
democracy people are responsible for their own survival, and a man
must work if he is to have a food, shelter, and all of the other
necessities of life.

When describing his just city, Socrates was very much in favor of
specialization of labor (Plato, 367e-372b), so for a man to try many
things would go against his concept of what belongs in a good city. But
Shouldn’t one try one’s hand at many tasks until one find a job that best
fulfills one’s soul? In Alienated Labor, Karl Marx argues that separation
of labor is fundamentally wrong in that it alienates the laborer not only
from his labor, but also from himself and society as a whole(Good Life,
272). Socrates himself claims that a just soul must find work that is
best for the ?rational? part of the soul (Plato, 434d-444e)
Socrates also claims that criminals in a democratic city have too
much freedom. He asks Adeimantus if he had not seen men
?sentenced to death or exile, nonetheless staying and carrying on right
in the middle of things…?(Plato 558a). A democracy has laws and
punishments as does every other government.
Justice is always dependent on the wisdom of people, and people
are fallible. Perhaps criminals do go free sometimes when given a trial
by their peers, but monarchies and tyrannies are no less fallible. History
is full of wrongly accused people being put to death, and horrible men
being set free, in all kinds of government. Trial by a jury of peers, as is
found in a democracy, helps to alleviate this much better than judgment
passed by a ruling body. According to Lysander Spooner, trial by jury
is the watchdog of liberty, and when jurors are truly taken
indiscriminately, and do theirs jobs seriously and without bias, then a
person has received the fairest trial that is possible (Spooner, 2)
Socrates next takes aim against majority rule. He asks, what is
majority rule, but a system of a leader telling his people what he thinks
they want to hear? (Plato 558b) This may be true, but when a city has
the power to choose its leaders, the leader then becomes responsible to
the needs and desires of the people if he wishes to stay in power. It is
as Thomas Jefferson says, ?Governments…derive their just powers
from the consent of the governed? (Jefferson). Even if a leader is
ignoble, if the people he is leading wish for noble things, he must to the
good thing or not be leader anymore.

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Socrates imagines a city where there are philosophers are guiding
the city (Plato, 484), but are not philosophers human too? Why would a
philosopher be any less sensitive to corruption? Socrates response to
this is that the philosophers would be educated to know what is right for
the city. History has proven though, that just because a person is
educated does not mean he is noble or virtuous. Some of the worst
leaders in the world have been the most educated. Education does not
necessarily breed morality. Aristotle explains that to be a truly virtuous
person one must act in a virtuous way, not just know what is the way to
be virtuous (Good Life, 35).
Would not a corrupted leader in Socrates city be much more
catastrophic to a city than a corrupted leader in a democracy? In a
democracy, one corrupted leader can be forced to leave office and be
replaced, but when there is only one leader, who is either ordained by
god or brought in by military force, or when there is a group of leaders
who are not responsible to the people, the people have no opportunity
to decide on a more noble or just person as their leader, and the people
have no protection against corruption in their government.
Socrates last attack is against equality. He says democracy
dispenses a ?certain equality to equals and unequals alike? (Plato,
558c). He seems to be saying that all men are not created equal and
that certain people are better equipped to have rights in a city. In fact,
Socrates says that the people must be told that they have certain
metals in their souls which make them of different classes (Plato,
412b-415d). He calls this the Noble Lie, and while it is a lie, I am not
sure how noble it is.
Equality certainly has been a huge issue in our American
government. As for personal rights, President John F. Kennedy said,
?All of us do not have equal talent, but all of should have an equal
opportunity to develop our talents (Kennedy)? When it comes to equality
in government, Alexander Hamilton Declared in a speech to the
Constitutional convention that ?every individual of the community at
large has an equal right to protection of the government (Hamilton).?
When it come to equality in choosing government, things tend to get
tricky. If everyone is not going to be given a say in the government, then
who decides who gets a say and who does not? What are the
credentials for voting? Who decides on the credentials? Who decides
who decides on the credentials? Philosophers? Who decides which
people are fit to be philosophers? Who educates the philosophers to be
able to tell who would make a good voter and who would not?
All people may not be created equal, but if all people are going to be
affected by the laws, all people should have an opportunity to decide on
them, and all people should be protected by them. The whole point of a
government is to take care of its people. According to Lord Macaulay,
?That is the best government which desires to make the people happy,
and knows how to make them happy (Macaulay, 231).
Michael Davis, in his book The Politics of Philosophy, explains that
the best way to ensure a well run city is to make sure all of the citizens in
the city are given equal say in the way it is governed. He uses Malcolm
X’s famous saying in that a group of oppressed people will not stay
oppressed forever, and that the best way for a government to stay stable
is to listen to the majority with respect for the minorities. (Davis, 55-57)
In conclusion, while Socrates offers good criticisms of democracy, he
does not defend them very well, and he offers us no plausible alternative.
He claims that democracy is one of the worst regimes, yet it was
democracy which allowed him to criticize the very system he was taking
advantage. I think the best argument for democracy is the failure of other
repressive governments such as the collapse of communism in the
Soviet Union, The French monarchy, Britain’s colonial rule here in
America, and Fascism in Germany. Perhaps if these governments had
allowed for liberty, equality, and a majority rule, they would still be in
existence today.



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