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Plato's Republic - Moral and Political Philosophy





....and when they have reached fifty years of age, then let those who still survive and have distinguished themselves in every action of their lives and in every branch of knowledge come at last to their consummation: the time has now arrived at which they must raise the eye of the soul to the universal light which lightens all things, and behold the absolute good; for that is the pattern according to which they are to order the State and the lives of individuals, and the remainder of their own lives also; making philosophy their chief pursuit, but, when their turn comes, toiling also at politics and ruling for the public good, not as though they were performing some heroic action, but simply as a matter of duty; and when they have brought up in each generation others like themselves and left them in their place to be governors of the State, then they will depart to the Islands of the Blest and dwell there; and the city will give them public memorials and sacrifices and honour them, if the Pythian oracle consent, as demigods, but if not, as in any case blessed and divine.


Plato, The Republic




The Republic - Book VII: The beginning point is a hypothetical aristocracy; a just government ruled by the knowledgable leaders. It is supplanted by timocracy (timocracy-a form of government in which possession of property is required in order to hold office) when its social structure breaks down and civil conflict breaks out. The passionate elements dominates the timocratic (timocracy-a form of government in which possession of property is required in order to hold office) administration, with a governing class of property owners made up of soldiers or military leaders. The focus on honor is replaced by oligarchy as wealth accumulation weakens it. The wanting factor dominates the oligarchic government, with the wealthy ruling class. The wealth gap increases, culminating in a popular uprising by the underclass majority, resulting in the establishment of democracy.



As a result of democracy's emphasis on maximum freedom, power is dispersed fairly. The desiring aspect is equally dominant, but in an unregulated, unrestrained manner. The democratic government's populism leads to ochlocracy, which is fueled by a fear of oligarchy, which a cunning demagogue can use to seize power and impose dictatorship. The metropolis is enslaved to the dictator in a tyrannical regime, who uses his forces to remove the best social components and persons from the city in order to keep control, while leaving the worst. To cement his status as leader, he will also instigate warfare. In this sense, dictatorship is the most cruel of all regimes.



Socrates analyzes an individual that corresponds to each of these regimes in parallel. He explains how an aristocrat can become weak or disconnected from political and material wealth, and how his son can react by becoming unduly ambitious. The timocrat, in turn, may be beaten by the courts or powerful interests; his son responds by collecting fortune in order to achieve authority in society and defend himself against the same problem, resulting in the emergence of an oligarch. The oligarch's children will grow up with money without needing to be frugal or stingy, and will be lured and swamped by his impulses, leading him to become democratic and value freedom above all else.


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