Plato’s Republic, Book IX: The Soul of the Tyrant

In Book IX, Socrates continues the discussion from Book VIII by completing the analysis of the particular character of the Tyrant. Recall in Book VIII, that Socrates outlined the formation of each regime in descending order: Timocracy – Oligarchy – Democracy – Tyranny. Having identified the Tyrannic regime, his next job is to discuss the individual character of the Tyrant, what makes a particular man a Tyrant.

The private Tyrannic man is ruled by his basest passions. He is incapable of loving, only of pursuing pleasures from men and women and engaging in endless revelry. He is incapable of governing himself and setting rules upon which to live, and he loses all of his money by falling into debt and begging from those around him and threatening violence against those who do not give him what he desires. His father is a stingy Oligarch. Among the three parts of the soul, the Tyrant is ruled by the aimless passions (unlike the philosophic type, who is ruled by a love of wisdom). In the middle of this discussion, Glaucon interrupts and overtakes the discussion from Adeimantus.

At this point we recall the closing sections of the Symposium in which Alcibiades bombastically enters the party drunk, and demanding love from Socrates. Perhaps he exemplifies the true Tyrant to Socrates. During his life, he was both loved and hated at different times as a man of the people. However, Socrates clearly maintains an eros for the Tyrant, as the city of Kallipolis founded in the opening chapter of the Politeia is not a society for freemen, though it is ruled by the philosophers. All things are to be owned in common, education is to be severely restricted, and poetry is to be banished. One might have a difficult time drawing a clear line between the Tyrant and the Philosopher-King.

At any rate, all Glaucon agrees that the eros and livelihood of the Tyrant is not desirable. The Tyrant is incapable of following any other voice, neither his father nor mother, save for love which rules him like a king. He lives as a thief and a slave, without true friendship. In addition, it is agreed that the Tyrant is the least happy of men because he is not capable of being captain of his own ship, and finds himself in a prison with many enemies. However, Socrates demonstrates that there is one way of living that is worse than the private Tyrant and that is of the political Tyrant, that is, the Tyrannic man actualized as Tyrant.

Ultimately, Glaucon answers the initial question of which regime is the most just, and also which man is happiest: the kingly or aristocratic regime (580b). However, Book IX continues with a lengthy discussion of the pleasures in the soul. In order to preserve the parallel between the city and the soul of a man, Socrates discusses the threefold pleasures in the soul (just like the caste in the city of workers, guardians, and rulers). On e is that by which the human being learns, the second is that by which the human being becomes spirited, third is biggest and strongest: desires. Correspondingly, the three main classes of human beings are: wisdom-loving, honor-loving, and gain-loving. In this portion of the dialogue, Socrates lays out a case for why the philosopher is superior to the tyrant. The answer lies in the fact that the philosopher is focused on the things which are, or the things have being. He provides this ontological argument in contract to the tyrant which is too busy wandering from pleasure to pleasure that he does not look up to see the things that are.

Socrates ends Book IX by reiterating that the city they have founded cannot be found anywhere on earth, and is a city made only in speeches, however this fact does not matter so long as there is a man who is willing to found this kind of city within himself (592b).

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.

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