Plato's Republic Forms of Government Research Proposal

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Plato's Republic

Forms of Government in the Republic by Plato

One of the most interesting aspects of the forms of government described in Plato's the Republic is his views on the democratic government and its shortcomings. It is particularly interesting in respect of how democracy is viewed by society today. Indeed, this form of government is seen as ideal in current Western Society. According to Socrates in Plato's work, however, democracy is merely one of a progressive governmental sequence, each with its own faults. Significantly, the democratic form of government precede tyranny in the degrading sequence. While the United States most closely resembles democracy as explicated by Socrates, the other forms of defective government will also be examined for possible points of similarity. Finally, the possible degradation of American government into tyranny will be considered for its viability in terms of the current political climate, combined with Plato's explication of such an eventuality.


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In Book VIII of the Republic, Plato adds depth to ideas of government that Aristotle began addressing at the end of Book IV. According to Socrates' explanation, when the ideal State, as explicated earlier in the work, is not manifest in a country, other defective forms of government prevail. The four main forms of these occur in a progressive sequence, according to the main concerns of society at any given time. These concerns generally relate to money, wealth, and the lack of these.

Research Proposal on Plato's Republic Forms of Government in the Assignment

One step lower than the perfect state, according to Aristotle, is a timocracy. This occurs when the ideal State moves towards a more materialistic paradigm. There is discord between the material and the philosophical. Specific manifestations of this include education, which favors gymnastics and military training above the arts, with a concomitant tendency towards the desire for money above all else. These more materialistic tendencies also means a choice of less complex characters than philosophers being chosen to the office of government. These characters, in their pursuit of power and materialistic possessions, also have tendency towards war and violence rather than peace and reasoning.

In the United States, it appears that the last decade or two featured leaders of this kind. Indeed, the 9/11 events can be used as prominent example of the violence of the American government that perpetuates violence in others. This violence has followed a cyclic pattern, with 9/11 resulting in an escalation of international war and terrorism. This demonstrates the devastating nature of the timocratic government on an international scale.

The oligarchy is another step further from the ideal State, but on a more local scale. The materialism and greed begun in the timocracy now perpetuates to divide society into rich and poor, with an ever-widening gap between the two. Plato sees such division in terms of money and classes as a sign of injustice, and undesirable for the ideal state. In such a society, according to Plato, "the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it." (the Republic, Book VIII).

This is also the case in the United States, and indeed in many Western societies. Within the United States, divisions occur on the basis of many backgrounds. Wealth is simply a manifestation of many forms of injustice within American society. Color and race have for example long been a determining factor in the ability to acquire wealth. Women have only recently acquired the right of equal employment. Most recently, those of the Islam faith and Arab origin have been persecuted on the basis of their religious and ethnic background rather than their history of terrorist activity.

On the international scale, the untold collective wealth of the United States also echoes the divisions on the local scale. The countries known as third-world states are far poorer than Western countries such as the United States, which has become known for its wholesale greed and wastage of the world's resources on a wider scale than any other country in the world. Meanwhile, poorer countries are starving, while rich countries have more food than they can eat.


Democracy is an even further step away from the ideal State, in that it personifies an even greater degree of material greed than oligarchy. In such a state, wealth is synonymous with power. The government, being the guardian of the national wealth, therefore also has the ultimate power. Being aware of the connection between power and wealth, the government is unwilling to relinquish such power. This power is then perpetuated by the greed of the country's citizens. Aristotle says that:

The rulers,...refuse to curtail by law the extravagance of the spendthrift youth because they gain by their ruin..." In this way, the state is empowered by the greed of its citizens for an increasing amount of material things. In the democratic society, material possessions provide the only meaning in life. For Plato then, a lack of moderation provides the wealthy state with increasing wealth, which is perpetuated by the tendency of citizens to ruin themselves by spending.

This does appear to be the case for the United States as well. The freedom of democracy have left citizens with the right to accumulate as much wealth as they wish, and to apply such wealth for whatever purposes they desire. The nature of modern society is such that it has led to the perpetuation of greed. Social pressure, along with industries such as advertising, has led to the desire for an increasing amount of material things and increasing luxury. The worst in this drive is the government, with its daily display of wealth. This wealth is maintained by means of taxes, and takes precedence over the public good in terms of services such as health care and education. Education is also focused mainly on the accumulation of wealth through acquiring the correct sort of employment after leaving school. According to Plato, there is no place in the same nation for "the love of wealth and the spirit of moderation..." (the Republic, Book VIII). Because the country's leaders are so in love with wealth and gain power from the spending of citizens, greed is perpetuated.

Such greed leads to a culture of laziness among the rich, and powerlessness among the poor. The rich, enjoying their wealth and comfort, do little or nothing to assist the poor in their plight. Indeed, they are concerned only with perpetuating their own wealth. This appears to be very true in the United States, where governor and president alike make golden promises of reform and upliftment, which are nonetheless squashed by the weight of their comfort.

In this way, according to Plato, the freedom of democracy brings about the evil of greed, the class system, and the fundamental division between poor and rich. This negative view is interesting, as democracy is one of the most accepted types of government in the world today. According to the ideal, this form of government operates on the premise of human rights. Each human being has the right to gainful employment and the pursuit of happiness, according to the American Constitution. Theoretically then, each human being within the State should have access to a life that is filled with good things as a result of employment and happiness.

The reality appears to be somewhat different. In the United States, it appears that citizens are still discriminated against on the basis of little more than appearance or belief. The government is becoming ever greedier, while large corporations perpetuate dishonesty. Meanwhile, the poor are dying on the streets and in less privileged neighborhoods, comfortably hidden away from the rich.

In the end, the question remains - was Plato right? Is it possible that this type of democracy can lead to tyranny? Tyranny is the rulership of an all-powerful government over citizens who have no rights in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Plato's Republic Forms of Government."  December 14, 2008.  Accessed October 29, 2020.