Feb 8, 2021 in Review

Plato's Vision of Timocracy, Oligarchy, and Democracy

In modern society, democracy is regarded as the most beneficial system of government. The reason for it is such characteristics of democratic government as the inclusion of all citizens in policymaking through the delegation of powers to the elected representatives. Nevertheless, in many cases, democracy fails to perform this function. The clue to this ineffectiveness could be found in the epoque when it appeared for the first time the period of the Ancient Greece. The source, which gives the answer to this question, is Platos Republic. According to this book, the country should be led by one man a philosopher king. It makes possible to rule people by the laws of wisdom and reason. Other types of governance may throw the state into the abyss of pragmatic desires and instincts. Although timocracy, oligarchy, and democracy are treated as degradation in Platos Republic, democracy is viewed as the worst stage, resulting in the destruction of the country in the form of tyranny.

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Transition from Aristocracy to Timocracy

Plato regards Aristocracy as an ideal form of government. Nevertheless, under some conditions, it may deteriorate and change into timocracy. Firstly, it can be explained on the example of education. Young people may pay less attention to the philosophical subjects and more to the gymnastic. Secondly, the transition may be the result of the genetics. A son, brought up in a family of an idealistic father and nagging mother, has the potential to turn into an arrogant person, obsessed with honor. Finally, the division of society may contribute to the appearance of timocracy. The arguments between people interested in making money and those interested in wisdom lead to the introduction of private property, slavery, and wars.

Analysis of Timocracy

Timocracy is described in Platos Republic as a government of honor. The peculiar feature of it is the warfare nature. It can be noticed in its characteristics. Firstly, the ruler of this form of government is most commonly a soldier, obsessed with the idea of glory. His soul, according to Plato, is made of iron and bronze. These metals symbolize his strength, firmness, and magniloquence. In the book, it is underlined in such a way, [...] he came to the middle, and turned over the rule in himself to the middle part, the part that loves victory and is spirited; he became a haughty-minded man who loves honor. Secondly, the ruler gets his title because of physical qualities but not wisdom. In other words, citizens evaluate the ruler judging from his actions on the battlefields. Nevertheless, it is necessary to underline that they praise and appreciate him. Thirdly, the biggest value of timocracy is honor, preserved through warfare. In other words, military means but not intellectual ones are applied to achieve the glory in the timocratic society.

Disadvantages of Timocracy

As Timocracy is one of the possible variants of degradation of Aristocracy, it possesses some drawbacks. Firstly, it can be noticed from the perspective of a rulers personality. Because courage and physical strength are the most praised features, a person in charge of the city may be not the wisest one. Moreover, he may be skillful only in the art of war but not policy. Secondly, timocracy creates the preconditions for the appearance of corruption. As a ruler is not engaged with wisdom, he has the tendency to succumb to the temptations. Most commonly, he may be obsessed with money. It pushes him to find the ways how to get profit at the expense of others. Thirdly, it is the deterioration of principles. The value in Aristocracy is virtue. In Timocracy, it is modified to honor. According to it, people concentrate not on the spiritual improvement but the satisfaction of pragmatic objectives with the help of military means. Nevertheless, disadvantages do not indicate that timocracy does not have any positive sides. In general, Plato regards it as a favorable system. He supports his opinion by the argument that a strong leader will have the power to maintain the order within a society. In addition, a masterful soldier is the best variant of a ruler for the country in the state of war.

Transition from Timocracy to Oligarchy

Oligarchy is the next stage of degradation. Firstly, it is the result of the division of the society into those who love money and those who love wisdom, taking place in timocracy. Private property allows people to accumulate money. Due to it, wealth becomes the decisive indicator. Secondly, oligarchy appears on the basis of the militant style of life. War is the way of getting rich in a quick way by defeating the weaker side. The constant military campaigns contribute to the accumulation of wealth and loss of the respect for excellence. Finally, it is the outcome of the change of value. In the conversation between Socrates and Plato, it is described in such a way There is," he said, "no other transformation so quick and so sure from a young man who loves honor to one who loves money. The chase for profit makes people forget about honor. This condition is used by the oligarchs, who proclaim the limits of political participation. It means that they restrict the ability of others to interfere in their administration of the country.

The Analysis of Oligarchy

Plato describes oligarchy as a regime, which rules according to the property assessment. It is a government of few. Rich people are those few, who take the leadership in their hands. There are some peculiar features of oligarchy. Firstly, it is greedy rulers, obsessed with money. As money is the decisive factor for power, rulers are the richest representatives. Secondly, it is the polarity of society, divided into rich and poor parts. The accumulation of money in the hands of a small group turns the other people into poor. It leads to the appearance of new social roles such as beggars and troublemakers. The third distinctive trait is the concentration of all objectives on the process of profit-making. Money is the biggest value of oligarchy. The obsession with wealth is described in the following quotation, [...] letting the one neither calculate about nor consider anything but where more money will come from less; and letting the other admire and honor nothing but wealth and the wealthy [...].

The Disadvantages of Oligarchy

Oligarchy is the second stage of degradation. Due to it, it is characterized by many disadvantages. The first drawback is the incompetent personality of a ruler. A person is given the title on the basis of his possessions but not traits of qualities and skills. He may not have the necessary knowledge of policy to lead a country. It means that even a plutocrat-blockhead may occupy this position. Secondly, the problem deals with the neglectful attitude of citizens towards rulers. A gap between rich authority and poor citizens creates the hostile atmosphere between them. A country functions under the constant threat of rebellion. The third disadvantage is extreme poverty. The obsession with money pushes authority to deprive the citizens of all means for existence. They are turned not only into simple poor people but depauperate ones. Many even live on the brink of survival. The fourth drawback is illiteracy. As people serve money but now wisdom, they have a disrespectful attitude towards education. It is treated only as the means to get money. In other words, people do not open the hearts to wisdom but only look for basic skills and knowledge. The fifth weak side of oligarchy is the vulnerability to war. As the society lives in the constant pursuit of money, it loses the sense of homeland and the devotion to it. That is why citizens are not ready to perform the military duty. Moreover, the authority does not want to provide them with weapons because of the threat of rebellion. Finally, oligarchy initiates the mechanisms of social self-destruction. Some people turn into criminals. They are ready to kill others with the aim to satisfy their pragmatic objectives. The analysis of oligarchy reveals that it is the worse system of government than timocracy, characterized by the respectful attitude towards a ruler and a moderate difference between rich and poor citizens. In contrast to timocracy, oligarchy is a hostile confrontation between authority and citizens because of money. Plato describes it in the following way, Such a city's not being one but of necessity two, the city of the poor and the city of the rich, dwelling together in the same place, ever plotting against each other. Nevertheless, oligarchy is not the worst variant for a state.

Analysis of Democracy

The increase of the lower class unites the people over the same idea to get freedom and overcome the oligarchs. Superiority in numbers and strength gives them an opportunity to achieve this goal by the means of rebellion. On the one hand it seems for them that the solution of all their problems is the equal distribution of rights. In other words, they chose democracy as their remedy. Democracy may be defined as peoples power. In the theory, it is characterized by the positive qualities. Firstly, it is the governance of a country by the whole nation with the help of voting. It presupposes the equal participation of everyone in the creation of the future of a state. The second feature is equal rights and freedom. The objective of democracy is to create a society, in which every person will have an opportunity to enjoy the freedom of speech and action. Finally, democracy proclaims the virtuous humanistic objective. Human life and dignity are regarded as the biggest value. The theoretical picture of democracy is described by Plato in such a way, It is probably the fairest of the regimes, [...] just like a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues, this regime, decorated with all dispositions, would also look fairest [...].

Disadvantages of Democracy

However, in practice, democracy is not so beneficial. It turns out to be a poison without any possible antidote. Firstly, it remains such disadvantages as unprofessional authority, hostility between public and rulers, poverty, improper education, increase of crimes, and possibility of a revolt (civil war). Nevertheless, the threat of democracy deals with its peculiarity to disguise these disadvantages under the mask of noble deeds. In other words, people believe that they suffer from some problems only temporarily with the aim to build the democracy in a country. Secondly, proclaimed equal rights of democracy do not prevent from the existence of significant gaps between social strata. In other words, oligarchs steel exist in democracy. Nevertheless, the broad public does not know about it. Plato describes them as drones the dominant class, who decides everything. They are the opposition to the multitude, who only seems to decide everything. Finally, democracy may deteriorate the disadvantages to such an extent that it turns into the worst system of government tyranny. It occurs as the result of games with total freedom. For instance, after some time living in a democratic society, people start disregarding all laws and do not want to obey to no one. However, they still should do it. As rulers are obviously slightly richer than the common population, they begin condemned as oligarchs. At this time, the other person stands as a defender of democracy. At first, he pretends to be a superhero and promises to save the nation from slavery. Citizens, deceived by this blarney, delegate the authority to him. The hero overthrows the rulers. Nevertheless, with a flow of time, it becomes clear that he is not better than previous representatives. When people try making him give up, the true face unleashes. The person, who pretends to be a defender of the democracy, appears to be a tyrant. Due to it, democracy preserves not only the drawbacks of all previous regimes but turn them into the greatest evil. That is why Plato regards it as the worst system of government in comparison with timocracy and oligarchy.


To sum up, in Platos Republic, democracy degrades from oligarchy and timocracy. It is described as the most harmful system of government. It preserves such drawbacks of others systems as unprofessional authority, hostility between public and rulers, poverty, improper education, increase of crimes, possibility of a revolt, and significant gaps between social strata. In addition, democracy provides all these disadvantages with a peculiar shade. It disguises them under the mask of noble missions. In other words, citizens are deceived by false dreams and promises. However, it is not the biggest threat. Democracy may even deteriorate the system of government to the worst extent, known as tyranny. It occurs as a result of peoples wish to escape from any duties. The chase for freedom, in fact, turns them into the slaves of a tyrant, who pretends to be a superhero.


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