Tag Archives: Plato’s Republic

Thoughts on Governance

Writing for What Would The Founders Think?

In this post, Michael Newton tries to restore precision to our language. The American experiment was conceived as a republic, not a democracy. Present day efforts to conflate the terms not withstanding, the Founders were wary of democracies and they had good reason.

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We don’t want democracy in Egypt! We want republicanism.

Now that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, the media, analysts, politicians, and just about everybody else is calling for democracy in Egypt. For example:

I believe these calls for democracy are made out of ignorance of the word’s real meaning. While we want a democratic system over there, we don’t want true democracy. Alexander Hamilton said at the Constitutional Convention:

“We are now forming a republican government. Real liberty is neither found in despotism, nor in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.”

Here are some more quotes about the evils of democracy:

“Now the first of these to come into being is monarchy, its growth being natural and unaided; and next arises kingship derived from monarchy by the aid of art and by the correction of defects. Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series.” [Polybius, The Histories 6.4.7-13.]

“And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch.”[Polybius, The Histories 6.9.7-9.]

“And a democracy, I suppose, comes into being when the poor, winning the victory, put to death some of the other party, drive out others, and grant the rest of the citizens an equal share in both citizenship and offices.”[Plato, Republic 557a.]

“Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” [James Madison, Federalist No. 10.]

“I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.” [John Adams letter to John Taylor, 1814]

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” [Lord Acton]

I for one shall hope that Egypt forms a republican and moderate government, just as Alexander Hamilton recommended for our own country more than 220 years ago.

Britain on the path to tyranny?

The title of my book and the blog is The Path to Tyranny. The book describes how the demand for free gifts from the government leads to tyranny. But this road does not always lead straight to tyranny. It often falls into anarchy first.

Today’s headline at Drudge Report:

ANARCHY IN THE UK: PROTESTERS ATTACK ROYALS!So how exactly does anarchy lead to tyranny? First, I’ll share a couple of quotes from some people much smarter than me.

John Adams in A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America:

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

Plato’s Republic:

And so the probable outcome of too much freedom is only too much slavery in the individual and the state… from the height of liberty, I take it, the fiercest extreme of servitude.

Montesquieu explains exactly how anarchy leads to tyranny in his Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline:

For in a free state in which sovereignty has just been usurped, whatever can establish the unlimited authority of one man is called good order, and whatever can maintain the honest liberty of the subjects is called commotion, dissension, or bad government.

I already expounded upon this quote in a previous blog post:

This is the real reason so many today advocate anarchy and anti-globalization. They do not really want anarchy. Instead, they want to establish a situation which would call for immediate order, to be established by the government and “intellectual elites.” First stage is anarchy, second is totalitarianism. These “anarchists” hope they can direct events towards socialism, as they successfully did in Russia in the 1910s and attempted to do in Italy and Germany, though other collectivist regimes beat out the socialists and communists, though both the Fascists and Nazis adopted socialist platforms to win favor among the people.

The ultimate result of the anarchy spreading through Europe is not yet known. History shows that this often, but not always, leads to tyranny.

The situation reminds me of Germany in the 1920s, except that all of Europe and the United States is in a similar situation to the Weimar Republic with huge deficits and debts that cannot be paid off. That led to the tyranny of the Nazis. Will we be able to avoid the mistakes of the past?

Favorite Quotes from Aristotle’s Politics

More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle literally wrote the book on politics. Aristotle’s Politics most certainly rivals and probably exceeds Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s Prince in its understanding and explanation of political philosophy, though it seems to be less popular than those other works. Aristotle’s Politics was possibly the most influential political book until Montesquieu wrote his Spirit of the Laws, which our Founding Fathers relied on quite heavily in developing the United States Constitution.

In writing The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny, I used Aristotle’s Politics as a prime source for information on ancient Greek politics and political philosophy in general. Here, I share some of my favorite quotes.

Aristotle’s principles of liberty:

One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn. [Politics Book 6 Part 2]

The majority must be supreme, and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just. Every citizen, it is said, must have equality. [Politics Book 6 Part 2]

A man should live as he likes. This, they say, is the privilege of a freeman, since, on the other hand, not to live as a man likes is the mark of a slave. This is the second characteristic of democracy, whence has arisen the claim of men to be ruled by none, if possible, or, if this is impossible, to rule and be ruled in turns; and so it contributes to the freedom based upon equality. [Politics Book 6 Part 2]

Aristotle’s definition of tyranny:

For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only. [Politics Book 3 Part 7]

Aristotle explains the motivations of tyrants:

A tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends; his aim is pleasure. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

The idea of a king is to be a protector of the rich against unjust treatment, of the people against insult and oppression. Whereas a tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends; his aim is pleasure, the aim of a king, honor. Wherefore also in their desires they differ; the tyrant is desirous of riches, the king, of what brings honor. And the guards of a king are citizens, but of a tyrant mercenaries. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

As of oligarchy so of tyranny, the end is wealth; (for by wealth only can the tyrant maintain either his guard or his luxury). [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Aristotle explains how men became tyrants:

In any of these ways an ambitious man had no difficulty, if he desired, in creating a tyranny, since he had the power in his hands already, either as king or as one of the officers of state. Thus Pheidon at Argos and several others were originally kings, and ended by becoming tyrants; Phalaris, on the other hand, and the Ionian tyrants, acquired the tyranny by holding great offices. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Panaetius at Leontini, Cypselus at Corinth, Peisistratus at Athens, Dionysius at Syracuse, and several others who afterwards became tyrants, were at first demagogues. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

History shows that almost all tyrants have been demagogues who gained the favor of the people by their accusation of the notables. At any rate this was the manner in which the tyrannies arose in the days when cities had increased in power. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Aristotle explains the ruthlessness of tyrants:

Another mark of a tyrant is that he likes foreigners better than citizens, and lives with them and invites them to his table; for the one are enemies, but the Others enter into no rivalry with him. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

From democracy tyrants have borrowed the art of making war upon the notables and destroying them secretly or openly, or of exiling them because they are rivals and stand in the way of their power; and also because plots against them are contrived by men of this class, who either want to rule or to escape subjection. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Aristotle explains how tyrants oppress the people:

These are, (1) the humiliation of his subjects; he knows that a mean-spirited man will not conspire against anybody; (2) the creation of mistrust among them; for a tyrant is not overthrown until men begin to have confidence in one another; … (3) the tyrant desires that his subjects shall be incapable of action, for no one attempts what is impossible, and they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny, if they are powerless. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

Another practice of tyrants is to multiply taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that within five years his subjects should bring into the treasury their whole property. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

The people, having to keep hard at work, are prevented from conspiring. The Pyramids of Egypt afford an example of this policy; also the offerings of the family of Cypselus, and the building of the temple of Olympian Zeus by the Peisistratidae, and the great Polycratean monuments at Samos; all these works were alike intended to occupy the people and keep them poor. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

The tyrant is also fond of making war in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]