Greek Philosophy
______________________________________________________________________
Plato, The Character of Democracy

Socrates has just explained how an oligarchy degenerates into a democracy. He then proceeds to describe the nature of a democracy and the character of the "democratic man":

   And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.

   Yes, he said; that is the nature of democracy, whether the revolution has been effected by arms, or whether fear has caused the opposite party to withdraw.

      And now what is their manner of life, and what sort of a government have they ? for as the government is, such will be the man.

   Clearly, he said.

      In the first place, are they not free; and is not the city full of freedom and frankness, a man may say and do what he likes?

      Tis said so, he replied.

   And where freedom is, the individual is clearly able to order for himself his own life as he pleases?

   Clearly.

   Then in this kind of State there will be the greatest variety of human natures?

   There will.

   This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being like an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colors to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States.

   Yes.

   Yes, my good Sir, and there will be no better in which to look for a government.

   Why?

   Because of the liberty which reigns there, they have a complete assortment of constitutions; and he who has a mind to establish a State, as we have been doing, must go to a democracy as he would to a bazaar at which they sell them, and pick out the one that suits him; then, when he has made his choice, he may found his State.

   He will be sure to have patterns enough.

   And there being no necessity, I said, for you to govern in this State, even if you have the capacity, or to be governed, unless you like, or to go to war when the rest go to war, or to be at peace when others are at peace, unless you are so disposed, there being no necessity also, because some law forbids you to hold office or be a dicast, that you should not hold office or be a dicast, if you have a fancy, —is not this a way of life which for the moment is supremely delightful?

   For themoment, yes.

   And is not their humanity to the condemned' in some cases quite charming? Have you not observed how, in a democracy, many persons, although they have been sentenced to death or exile, just stay where they are and walk about the world, the gentleman parades like a hero, and nobody sees or cares?

   Yes, he replied, many and many a one.

   See too, I said, the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the good taste foundation of the city, as when we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study, how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make a statesman, and promoting to honor any one who professes to be the people's friend.

   Yes, she is of a noble spirit.

   These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

   We know her well.


______________________________________________________________________

More Greek Philosophy