Republic "Tyranny Arises Out Of Democracy"


"Tyranny Arises Out Of Democracy"

Context: In dealing with the question of what constitutes the ideal State, Socrates, the principal speaker in The Republic, describes and analyzes the possible types of government: aristocratic, timocratic, oligarchic, democratic, tyrannical. Following the Greek conception of history as an ever-turning wheel, he explains how each system eventually changes into another and lower one because of the principle that "the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction." Thus oligarchy (rule based on the ownership of property) results in the insatiable demand for wealth on the part of the rulers and, by reaction, brings about a greater demand for liberty on the part of the populace. So the system of government changes to democracy, the rule of the "people." But this form of government in turn engenders its own reaction: the more liberty men have, the more they demand, until a situation arises that is strikingly similar to that found today. And we have, says Socrates, "subjects who are like rulers, and rulers who are like subjects"; "the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their master"; "the father grows accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son is on a level with his father." Hence, law and authority cease to function, and there appears a class of "idle spendthrifts" who destroy the State. Society divides into three classes: the drones who live upon others; the orderly and wealthy class who are fed upon by the drones; and the workers whose leaders "deprive the rich of their estates and distribute them among the people, at the same time taking care to reserve the larger part for themselves." The rich naturally try to defend their property as best they can; hence, the people, the "demos," find a champion for their cause; and this champion, with the mob at his back, turns into a tyrant. Thus the wheel has turned: oligarchy has become democracy, and democracy has become tyranny. As Socrates sums it up in his dialogue with Adeimantus:

The ruin of oligarchy is the ruin of democracy; the same disease magnified and intensified by liberty overmasters democracy–the truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction; and this is the case not only in the seasons and in vegetable and animal life, but above all in forms of government.
The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.
Yes, the natural order.
And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?
As we might expect.