Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plato's Republic, Book 9

I think it's funny, my last entry about Plato's Republic Books 1-3 has the second highest views of all my entries.  I'm relatively certain it doesn't have anything to do with the skill with which that particular entry was written, rather it's a popular search topic on Google as people are still reading and researching Plato and his writings even today.

A couple notes before we begin.  First, I don't plan on doing any entries about Books 4, 5 or 7, 8 I had a short(ish) comment on Book 6 here.  I listened to those audio recordings too long ago to adequately analyse their content.  Second, every once in a while I actually get a little proud of myself.  Let me explain, I've been listening to the history of philosophy podcast and I've recently come across the podcast entry pertaining to Plato's Republic and sometimes I come to the same conclusions or have the same insights as the maker of that podcast.  It makes me proud to think that I thought of the same things this scholar came up with.  It's silly, since it should naturally come from whatever text we're both consulting, but I still feel that way nonetheless.

Without further ado:

Book 9.  Plato (via Socrates of course) lays out the other types of human governance, and he proceeds to tear each one down to show how they are inferior to his "Republic."  Incidentally, the word 'republic' is not used in the text (at least other than the title, that I heard as I listened to the whole text read); it seems that the word 'republic' is given by scholars in describing Plato's ideal state (i.e. body politic).  It may surprise you to know that Plato lists the types of states in order from best (closest to his ideal) to worst (farthest from his ideal state), and that Democracy ranks third out of four!  The type of governance that we hold so dear, is to Plato, second to LAST in quality.  There is one huge caveat to this that I've come up with, namely, that Plato's idea of democracy is very different from our modern idea of democracy.  While the people did hold the power, from the meaning of the Greek words, the leadership was chosen by lot.  So, if you were a citizen of Athens, you could hold a position of leadership if your lot was chosen.  That means the leadership is not chosen by merit, skill, ability, persuasiveness, charisma, money or any other desirable or undesirable trait.  What we think of in the US is a representative democracy, we choose the representative leaders democratically.  We're supposed to choose based on merits or skills NOT on the negative traits.

The ninth book is quite long because it details not only these four different types of state: oligarchy, timarchy (timocracy), democracy, and tyranny, but it also describes the character of the man in relation to each of the state types.  I won't go into all the details of each group because that would take more than you or I have time for!  I will give a short personal definition of each type because not all of them are familiar.  Oligarchy, is where the rich or affluent rule.  One can buy leadership via money or winning popularity or influence.  Monarchy fits within oligarchy because it's a state run by the few and of course the monarchy would be rich and powerful, though in hereditary monarchy of course power is handed down via lineage.  There are other simple types not very many of which are very positive for the ruled classes, because they are generally in servitude to the leadership.  Though of course Plato doesn't seem to spin it that way, because oligarchy is set up as second only to his Republic as a form of governance.  Then comes timocracy (or timarchy), which is difficult to describe without referencing Sparta, because Sparta is the primary example used by Plato for this type of governance.  I've always thought Sparta was ruled by the military, which is actually not far from the this idea.  Timarchy comes from the Greek word for honor.  So, leadership is based on love of the state and honor, which one would assume comes from military prowess.  Then comes democracy, where anyone and everyone rules.  Then last and easiest to understand is tyranny, where the tyrant rules.  Generally, tyranny is considered the worst form of governance because as most people know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

One key point of book nine that I'd like to point out before concluding this entry is how Plato (again) makes the argument against wrongdoing.  The other characters in the dialogue with Socrates have tried to make the argument that behaving badly is actually the best course of action.  Plato argues and quite persuasively shows how the tyrant is actually the LEAST happy personality of all the archetypes associated with each form of government.  This seems odd because one would think that a tyrant, who, by virtue of being a tyrant, can have anything and everything he or she wants at any time, would be the most happy type of person.  Plato points out that such freedom is illusionary and is actually the deepest and most sincere form of slavery; that is, slavery to oneself and one's passions.  This deeply entrenched slavery shows that the tyrant is actually the least content, happy, honorable, good, etc. type of person among all the types.  My own interpretation of this point is that we need to avoid all types of tyranny in our lives.  Don't be too obsessed with any one pursuit, even in contradiction with my blog title, the pursuit of happiness can also lead to a slavery to one's passions. Contentment is the key here, as 1 Timothy 6:6 says, "6 But godliness with contentment is great gain."

I had originally intended to cover both book nine and ten but as this entry is getting quite lengthy I'm going to break them in to multiple entries.  So stay tuned for the next entry and possibly the closing of my entries about Plato's Republic.

Throne room (or sorts) at Shuri Castle here on Okinawa in Naha city