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Democracy Then Is Democracy Now Essay

1468 words - 6 pages

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates describes five different constitutions, all of which have some similarity but are fundamentally different. There is one of these constitutions that is most like the system that is in place in the United States: Socrates’ description of the democratic constitution. It is the most similar to the American way of life, whereas the others all have something that is not quite like the United States. Many of the founding fathers had read the Republic. This influenced many of the choices they made in forming the United States’ system of government. Even so, they had to sacrifice perfection for freedom, shunning Plato’s notion of a kallipolis. The founding fathers created a system that was most like democracy with slight oligarchic influence.
Similarities to American democracy and the democracy which Socrates describes are evident when he says:
The people––those who work with their own hands––are the third class. They take no part in politics and have few possessions, but, when they are assembled, they are the largest and most powerful class in a democracy.
(235, 565 a).
Shay’s Rebellion, which occurred in Massachusetts in 1786, is essentially what Socrates is describing here inThe Republic. Debt collectors were coming down heavily upon rural farmers, “those who work with their hands”. They could not meet the demands of the debt collectors as specie was hard to come by and many lost their property because the courts ruled in favor of the creditors. The farmers joined together and successfully rebelled, shutting down the banks. This proved “when they are assembled, they are the largest most powerful class” as they exhibited such a great amount of power. The rebellion also demonstrates how alike Platonic and American democracy are as this was a group that would have participated much less in politics as they were so far removed from the metropole. The quotation is also relevant when considering US voter turnouts. Approximately 57.5% of eligible citizens voted in the 2012 election according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. This attests to the “no part in politics” that accounts for nearly half of the American population in this instance. Many people do not vote because they feel that there is no point. This is because of the electoral college system that is in place which keeps the two party system in place which discourages many from voting as they know it will be one of the two major parties and a third party is highly unlikely to win. This can be considered somewhat oligarchic as only certain people, those in one of the major parties, can become rulers.
The system of government in the United States and that of the democratic city in the Republic are nearly same. When Socrates describes the “dominant” ruling class, he says, “Its fiercest members do all the talking and acting, while the rest settle near the speaker’s platform and buzz and refuse to tolerate the opposition of another speaker” (235, 564 d-e). What he describes...

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