Monday, December 28, 2009


Which kind of participation is possible in Plato's aristocracy?

In his book Republic, Plato supposedly transcribes a conversation between Socrates and some young Athenians that starts by analysing what is justice leading to the creation of a just city. This ideal city follows – what was identified by Leon Battista Alberti during the Renaissance as – concinnitas universarum partium, or the harmony and concord in all the parts in relation to one another, where each and every organ mind its own performance and to remove one part compromises the whole. Being on one’s place is here proved to be the required participation in this city. Divided in four elements: wisdom, bravery, temperance and justice; Socrates will analyse the city’s first three elements believing that the remainder would be justice, the gathering’s inquire. As the appetite is the largest element in an individual, followed by courage and both governed by his reason, the smallest element; so is the city ruled by a few wise men and women or by a king with a true love for philosophy, helped by soldiers and a larger amount of auxiliaries. Each element does it occupation, that should be a single one if to be done with excellence, and respect the rule of the few and this harmony and respect to the wise element is what makes a man or a city just. To be sure, in such a city to be a just man means performing the assign task, be it to be a shoemaker or a philosopher, according to one’s gifts and training; and this is the required participation, to be just.

Why then, have I been dreaming about the reasons to escape Plato's perfect city and fall into the extravagant excesses of a democracy? For I truly have.

Until the city is ruled by philosophers there shall be no constitution worth being called a city, under this oath Socrates debates on the reasons why philosophers are considered useless by the multitude and nevertheless are the right ones for the job. The reason being that philosophers are the ones with access to the essential forms lighten by good and revealed by pure reason. To achieve this level of knowledge requires years of training in several subjects and to be considered as guardians requires a just city. Democracy for him is not a just constitution but the third level of decay from the desired one, aristocracy. An oligarch’s son, the democrat is blinded by license; all appetites are alike for him, good and evil; everyone has equal participation in civic right, liberty and equality is his motto. Jusque ici tout va bien. However it is not the fall but the landing that matters, and as is noticed in their conversation to do anything in excess seldom fails to provoke a violent reaction to the opposite extreme. Democracy destruction shall be by the metamorphosis of the object of its supreme good – freedom, into its worse shape: excessive slavery, and with this tiranny arises.

This hate of democracy is as old as its very origin, ancient Greece. And today’s hate formula is not against democracy itself, conversely to Plato’s idea, democracy is not a corrupt form of government, the problem is about the people, democratic civilization. What provokes the crisis of democracy is nothing other that the intensity of democratic life (Ranciére, 2006, 7).

PLATO. 1997. Republic. Wordsworth.
RANCIÉRE, J. 2006. Hatred of Democracy. Verso.

continued on note #13 with the reading of Ranciére's Hatred of Democracy


Andre Alves said...

depends on the metal of your soul honey...
for those like me, made from wood and musk and seepage,there isn't much to tell

carla said...

(mental note Gold, Silver and Iron), way before silicone :-) and the democratic urge for selfgeneration...

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