Book 8 Notes from The Republic

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The Republic Book 8

After summarizing their decisions and the description of the city, Socrates returns to his statement that the method used in the governing of this city is good, while there are four others worth discussing that are not good. The four regimes Socrates now names are the Cretan or Spartan regime, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. It makes sense that these are the only types of regimes, since human character must have the same number of forms as the regime. Now, Socrates attempts to identify a type of man with each regime so that the philosophers can compare and contrast the just to the unjust and see who is happier.

The first one they discuss is aristocracy. They say that the best man resembles this, and that he is the just man. They then try to determine how a timocracy, rule by honor, might arise from an aristocracy, and come to the conclusion that the aristocracy may decay and deteriorate because of human nature; that is, people having children when they should not, and the mixing of the many metals and such, may lead to inequality, and may lead to people who should not be ruling being in power; this will bring about hatred and war. As a result of all the mixtures, two groups of guardians started pulling apart: those polluted with iron and bronze and concerned with making money, and those of silver and gold, rich in their natures, trying to bring back the ancient arrangements. After much violence, they then compromised and distributed houses and land as private possessions, and enslaved the friends and providers as serfs, giving themselves over to warfare. This would result in a regime somewhere between an oligarchy and an aristocracy. It will be ruled by honor, however, and will thus be a timarchy. It will imitate aristocracy by honoring its rulers, as well as in other ways.

However, this will lead men to desire more and more possessions, as in an oligarchy. They will also honor gold and silver, and have their own treasuries, and despise spending money because they honor it and do not possess it openly. The most important thing, however, will be love of honor and victory. Thus, a timocracy has come about. The man corresponding to this would also have love of victory, and would be self-willed and unmusical. He would also be fond of listening, but not a speaker. He would be harsh towards slaves and gentle towards free men, subservient to rulers, and fond of rule and honor. He would expect to rule from war and victory, and will love gymnastics and hunting. He would despise money when he is young, but grow to love it more and more as he grows older and no longer devotes himself to excellence. This will happen as the best guardian, the power of reasoned, educated speech, leaves him.

Topic Tracking: Excellence 7

Timocratic men become so because, as boys, they hear their mothers complaining that their husbands are not rulers and are not interested in money and the like. This makes the mother resentful and makes her speak to her son of her husband as an unmanly man. The servants also have a part in this, as they tell the boy that his father does not punish people who owe him money and the like, and that his father is weak. Thus, the boy will want to be strong and more of a man than his father. Then, when he goes out into the city, he will hear more of this, and will hear that men who tend their own business are foolish and held in low-esteem, while busybodies and honored and admired. On the other hand, the young man will see his father's actions and hear his words. As a result, he will be torn between the rational part his father instilled in him and the desiring and spirited parts that are naturally in him. However, since he does not have an evil nature, but simply keeeps bad company, he will come out a compromise: "he turned the rule of his soul over to its victory-loving, middle, spirited part and became a high-minded lover of honor." Book 8, pg. 208, line 550b

Next, they move on to study oligarchy and the oligarchic man. This regime is based on property assessment, where the rich rule and the poor have no part in government. The oligarchy comes about as the timocracy is destroyed. This happens because of the treasuries of gold that the individuals in the timocracy have. As people spend their money on possessions, they watch and compete with each other, and eventually the majority of people follow them. Because they all want more and more possessions, they start wanting more money, and thus honor money more and excellence less. Accordingly, the wealthy become more honored, and the people of excellence less honored. With the majority now money-loving businessmen instead of lovers of victory and honor, the admired rich men will be put into office, and the poor will be dishonored.

Topic Tracking: Excellence 8

Then, a law is established assigning a monetary amount as the limit of an oligarchic regime, thus disbarring anyone whose property falls below the assigned value. This law is enforced through violence and terror, and it completes the formation of the oligarchy.

The faults of this city are that the citizens assess people based on the value of their property and not on their skills. Also, in reality there are two cities in the oligarchy - one for the rich and one for the poor; they are always plotting against each other, thus creating a weak city. This means that they can't fight a war: they will be scared to arm the majority since it may turn against them, and they are too few to fight a war by themselves. One of the greatest evils of the city is that they do not prohibit people from selling all their belongings and property. This means people will not belong to any of the classes or professions, but will simply be poor and helpless paupers. Also, when these people are rulers, they are not really looking to benefit the city but themselves. This means that they are not truly rulers, but rather squanderers. The beggars in the city also indicate that there are thieves, pickpockets, robbers and the like lurking around. In the oligarchic cities there are lots of beggars, which means that crime is extremely high in these cities. As a result, the rulers have to deliberately attempt to restrain crime by using force. However, the reasons that these people exist are simply non-education, bad upbringing, and the regime.

As for the oligarchic man, he would probably follow on from the timocratic man in the following manner: growing up, he will see his father work hard for all that he has. However, after his father has accomplished much, he will probably be brought to court under some false accusations and be executed or disfranchised or something of the sort, left with no property. After the son has suffered all this and lost his possessions, he will be terrified, and will make his honor-loving spirit the most important of all. Because of his poverty, he will also make the accumulation of wealth the most important thing in his life. He will also enslave his rational and spirited part, allowing the rational part to calculate and examine nothing but how to make more money, and the spirited part to admire and honor nothing but wealth and the wealthy, and to love no honor but that connected with the possession of wealth.

Using this as a basis, the oligarchic man resembles the oligarchy in many ways, such as prizing money above everything else, gratifying only his desires and refusing to make expenditures for anything else. He will not have thought much about education, or else he would not have appointed such leaders. Because of his lack of education, evil desires are in him, and he restrains them only by force because of his concerns for other things. However, if given the chance to commit injustice without being caught, he will.

Next on the list is democracy. Democracy stems from oligarchy because people want to get as rich as possible. The manner in which it happens is as follows: the rulers are reluctant to prohibit self-indulgent men from squandering and losing their property, and so they buy it up or lend them money against it, thus increasing their wealth and honor even more. This proves that a city can't honor wealth and still have enough temperance in her citizens. Thus, an oligarchy neglects temperance and encourages self-indulgence. Because of this, it sometimes forces uncommon men into poverty, and fills them with hate, leading them to fall in love with revolution. On the other hand, the moneymakers convince any person with any excellence left inside of him to become a money-lover by giving him money. In order to prevent this, a law is passed that most voluntary contracts be made at the contractor's own risk.

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As for families, children are spoiled and unfit for any labor, too soft to hold up to any pain, while the parents neglect everything but making money and do not care about excellence at all. Eventually, the poor will conquer, kill off their enemies and exile the rest. Then, they will give everyone an equal share in their government and in offices; thus constituting a democracy.

The people living in a democracy are free, and each citizen can arrange his life privately. Because of this, there will be many different people, and anything is allowed. There is also lack of compulsion, so that even if a person is competent, they don't have to rule, or be ruled, or go to war, or anything of the like. Furthermore, people do not care what route others have taken to get where they are, especially politicians, as long as others like them. As for the democratic man, the two natures of desires must be established before attempting to describe him: there are necessary desires, ones that benefit us if they are satisfied; and unnecessary desires, those that we can get rid of if we discipline ourselves.

The democratic man comes from the oligarchic in the following manner: the young man will be raised in a stingy, uneducated way. He may occasionally taste some unnecessary desires. If his father or some other relations attempt to admonish and berate him in order to make him more oligarchic, strife and counter-strife will occur within him, causing a civil war. Some desires will be wiped out, but the final result is that he will come to order. However, because of his father's ignorance of childrearing, the exiled desires will come back even stronger, seizing the young man's soul, replacing the old thoughts with new opinions, denouncing shame as foolishness, defining temperance as cowardice, and persuading him that moderation and reasonable spending are slavish peasant virtues which also need to be exiled from his soul. Instead of all these, they put in insolence, anarchy, extravagance, and shamelessness. In this way, a young man raised among necessary desires changes into one who enjoys and practices useless and unnecessary pleasures. Therefore, he lives each day at a time, gratifying whatever desires turn up. He may also occasionally get involved in politics or the military, if he likes, and he says and does whatever he pleases.

Now they begin speaking about how democracy leads to tyranny: the insatiable good that democracy defines as freedom. However, should the city fall into misfortune, the people will blame the rulers and call them oligarchs. Should anyone then obey the rulers, they will be denounced as voluntary slaves; they honor rulers who act like subjects and subjects who act like rulers. This extends to homes, so that parents must act like children and children like parents. Similarly, teachers are terrified of pupils, and children fight with adults about everything. There is also complete freedom and equal rights between the sexes, and slaves are as free as their owners. This makes the citizen's soul too sensitive to endure any slavery, and eventually they will disregard the laws, as they must have no master over them. In democracy, there are three classes: the drones, who speak and transact, the rich, from whom the drones can get money, and the people, the peaceful, self-employed, workers and farmers who form the largest class. The revolution starts because the majority sees what the rich have and believe that they are oligarchs. The drones incite this even further, and there is a main advocate for the people. Inevitably, the advocate becomes the tyrant and fights in a civil war against the property-holders. When they get this far, they are often scared that the rich will try to kill them, and so ask for bodyguards to defend the "defender of democracy." The people provide this because they trust the tyrant.

In the beginning, when a tyrant walks around he will greet everyone, deny being a tyrant, and make promises to individuals and the state. He will also cancel debts, distribute land to the people, and pretend to be kind and gracious to everyone. However, after exiling his enemies, and befriending the others, there will be no need for him as a leader, and therefore he will keep starting new wars so that the people keep thinking that they need him. He will also need to raise war taxes and the like, and people will begin to hate him, even the people who put him there in the first place will start to speak against him. Therefore, if he wants to survive as a tyrant, he must eliminate everything until he is left without a single friend or enemy, and he must always beware of everyone around him. Ultimately, he is either to live with worthless people, or die.

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