Plato’s Republic, Book VIII: The Decay of the Regimes

Socrates and Glaucon decide to return to the question of the best and happiest man, in conjunction with each of the remaining regimes. Earlier Socrates was about to embark on this discussion before he was interrupted by Adeimantus and Polemarchus to return to the discussion of total communism -the ownership and of women and property to be held in common. Glaucon beckons Socrates to return to this initial discussion and finish discussing the remaining four regimes. Socrates begins by showing that aristocracy has been discussed at length, and under this regime we find the happiest man. In justification, he discusses the four remaining regimes.

The first such regime, is the Timocracy, which follows in the process of degradation from Aristocracy.  Timocracy is a Laconian or Cretan regime. He begins by noting that all things that come into being fall into decay, even the noble aristocracy, and faction will inevitably arise as the iron and bronze castes will pull the city toward the more vulgar pursuits, of wealth accumulation, while the gold and silver men, who are rich naturally, will direct the city more towards virtue. This tension will lead to a need for a middle way, an agreement which distributes land privately, development of serfdom, and they will make war. The corresponding Timocratic man is a lover of honor and victories, basing his rule upon love of the hunt and achievements in battle. He takes joy in the money-lover’s game and cannot be pure in his attachment to virtue.

The next regime is of Oligarchy. Oligarchy results in a perversion of the laws and corruption in the use of the treasury. It occurs with a progressive love of money-making, and a declining value in virtue. It becomes a city of beggars, and the oligarchis man is never free from the factions within himself. The progress of the decay in regimes results in a more inner turmoil. The war occurs either outside the regime or the war is brought within the souls of men.

Next, Democracy results in a decay from Oligarchy. It may be considered a victory of the impoverished over the oligarchs. Democracy is founded upon a desire for equality, a belief that no man should be made above another. It is the “fairest” (or most visually appealing regime), like a many colored cloak. The Democratic man is a like an epicurean, in the modern sense of the word. He is a man of many pleasures. Faction and counter-faction arise in him so that he does battle with himself. All pleasures are honored on an equal basis.

Democracy breeds Tyranny when leaders are discovered to be poor “winebearers” and cannot properly distribute pleasures to the people. Then, the people accuse him of being an oligarch. The old imitate the young, and the young show disrespect for their elders and leaders, and the souls of men grow tender, and out of the excesses of Democracy is born the greatest of all evils, Tyranny. The people inevitably raise up one leader to save them from the internal factionalism, started by the man who incites factionalism against those who have wealth. This inciter is the Tyrant. He pretends to be a gracious and gentle leader, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Therefore, in trying to pursue the greatest freedom, the people find themselves under the greatest slavery.

For this reading I used Allan Bloom’s essential translation of Plato’s Republic, as well as Leo Strauss’s The City and Man and his lectures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s