Defenses for Democracy
Is liberty a bad thing? Socrates seemed to think so. In Book VIII
of Plato's Republic, Socrates criticizes democracy by attacking three of
its most important aspects: liberty, equality, and majority rule. He
asserts that because of these things, a democratic city will always fall
into tyranny. I disagree, and feel that all three of the principles are
essential to a fair and just city, and only in their absence can a city be
taken into tyranny.
Socrates begins his observations on the defects of a democratic
government by first attacking liberty. His main argument is that there is
entirely too much of it. People in a democracy are free to do what they
wish in their lives and are free to chose what if any job they will do.
Socrates asks if, like the man with the democratic soul, they will not
just pass the time and not get much done (Plato, 557e).
This may be true, but people who do not work do not eat. In
Socrates city, much like in a communist regime, all of the people in a
city are responsible for the common good of all of the other members of
their city. A man who does nothing would truly be a burden on this
society, but unlike in Socrates city, or a communist state, in a capitalist
democracy people are responsible for their own survival, and a man
must work if he is to have a food, shelter, and all of the other
necessities of life.
When describing his just city, Socrates was very much in favor of
specialization of labor (Plato, 367e-372b), so for a man to try many
things would go against his concept of what belongs in a good city. But
Shouldn?t one try one?s hand at many tasks until one find a job that best
fulfills one?s soul? In Alienated Labor, Karl Marx argues that separation
of labor is fundamentally wrong in that it alienates the laborer not only
from his labor, but also from himself and society as a whole(Good Life,
272). Socrates himself claims that a just soul must find work that is
best for the ?rational? part of the soul (Plato, 434d-444e)
Socrates also claims that criminals in a democratic city have too
much freedom. He asks Adeimantus if he had not seen men
?sentenced to death or exile, nonetheless staying and carrying on right
in the middle of things...?(Plato 558a). A democracy has laws and
punishments as does every other government.
Justice is always dependent on the wisdom of people, and people
are fallible. Perhaps criminals do go free sometimes when given a trial
by their peers, but monarchies and tyrannies are no less fallible. History
is full of wrongly accused people being put to death, and horrible men
being set free, in all kinds of government. Trial by a jury of peers, as is
found in a democracy, helps to alleviate this much better than judgment
passed by a ruling body. According to Lysander Spooner, trial by jury
is the watchdog of liberty, and when jurors are truly taken
indiscriminately, and do theirs jobs...