Plato on the Demise of Democracy

Is it, then, in a sense, in the same way in which democracy arises out of oligarchy that tyranny arises from democracy?

The good that they proposed to themselves and that was the cause of the establishment of oligarchy – it was wealth was it not?

Well, then, the insatiate lust for wealth and the neglect of everything else for the sake of money-making were the cause of its undoing.

And is not the avidity of democracy for that which is its definition and criterion for good the thing which dissolves it too?

[Its criterion is] liberty… for you may hear it said that this is best managed in a democratic city, and for this reason that is the only city in which a man of free spirit will care to live…

But those who obey the rulers, I said, it reviles as willing slaves and men of nought, but it commends and honors in public and private rulers who resemble subjects and subjects who are like rulers.  Is it not inevitable that in such a state the spirit of liberty should go to all lengths?

And this anarchic temper, said I, my friend, must penetrate into private homes…

And do you note that the sum total of all these items when footed up is that they render the souls of the citizens so sensitive that they chafe at the slightest suggestion of servitude and will not endure it? For you are aware that they finally pay no heed even to the laws written or unwritten, so that forsooth they may have no master anywhere over them.

This, then, my friend, said I, is the fine and vigorous root from which tyranny grows, in my opinion…

And is it not always the way of a demos to put forward one man as its special champion and protector and cherish and magnify him?

This, then, is plain, said I, that when a tyrant arises he sprouts from a protectorate root and from nothing else…

And is it not true that in like manner a leader of the people who getting control of a docile mob, does not withhold his hand from the shedding of tribal blood, but by the customary unjust accusations brings a citizen into court and assassinates him, blotting out a human life, and with unhallowed tongue and lips that have tasted kindred blood, banishes and slays and hints at the abolition of debts and the partition of lands – is it not the inevitable consequence and a decree of fate that such a one be either slain by his enemies or become a tyrant and be transformed from a man into a wolf?

He it is, I said, who becomes the leader of faction…

(Republic, VIII:562-566)


Patriotism or Citizenship

As we move deeper and deeper into the current election year, civic virtues and their place in our lives takes a central place in my reflections.  Democracy, for instance, is inefficient and makes decisions which are less than optimal, as the mean of our individual choices is not intelligent but average.  And thus we have Donald Trump.  Average is mean spirited and fearful of the inescapable wave of changes that the future brings.  Average wants to maintain the status quo.  But in a world of evolution, change is the only constant and the status quo is a dangerous, usually bigoted, delusion.


Trump is good for something, of course.  He exposes the blindness of patriotism.  Patriots are not principled defenders of the right, the good and the true.  They are nationalists, and nationalism is as ugly today as it was in 1944.  The fact that patriotic Republicans take Trump to be a well-informed representative of the right reveals the fact that those patriots are blinded by fear-mongers, with Trump in the lead.


I was a soldier once.  I risked my life for the United States of America.  I have a love for the land of America, and my community is my home.  But I do not love America above all else.  I love the people of Costa Rica and Iraq and Greece and Mexico.  Canada’s vastness is a treasure as is China’s expanse.  In my dreams, Africa’s many states are overrun with wealth.  Try selling that vision.


Trump risks nothing.  Everyone knows that hate and fear are blockbusters.  We are built preloaded with the in-group/out-group software installed.  The real challenge is stripping ourselves of the bullshit we are programmed with and becoming the seeds of intentional communities.  So try something new.  Be a citizen of the Earth or the coming Kingdom, but, please, God, do not tell me you are a patriot.  Besides, I have more medals than you.