Democracy is a topic extensively studied by political philosophers all around the world. Plato was one of these philosophers. Plato believed that “democracy […] is a charming form of government, full of verity and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike”. An analysis of ancient Athenian democracy and the Republic provides great understanding of the statement within its context. The statement itself is valid, but Plato does not appear to mean what he said.
The statement itself has two main parts that one must understand in order to fully understand the statement. Plato wrote the Republic in 380 BCE, in Athens (Spark Notes Editors). The first part of the statement discusses the variety and disorder found in the Athenian democracy. This section is discussing the issue of the use of the ‘lot’ system, and the freedom of opinion and speech. The ‘lot’ system, and the freedom of opinion and speech causes a lot of variety in the polis (Breaugh, Lecture 3). When Plato is referring to disorder, he is referring to the civil unrest involved in the transition to democracy (Breaugh, Lecture 3). Plato might also be referring to the lack of harmony due to the level of freedom that is offered in Athenian democracy (Saxonhouse, 279). The freedom can cause civil unrest due to the differences of opinion presented by a variety of people. The second part of the statement discusses equality within democratic Athens. This section basically discusses the principle of isonomy, which was the core principle of Athenian democracy (Breaugh, Lecture 3). Democracy provides a sort of equality because, in Plato’s view, the different classes of citizens are equal, but only politically, not socially. This also did not apply to non-citizens, including metics and women (Breaugh, Lecture 4). The only form of equality that non-citizens got was equality before the law, which is really good for the time. However, non-citizens had no say in the laws that were being created, and could have no impact on political life in the polis.
In further analysis of Plato’s beliefs and the Republic, one will realize that Plato did not really mean what he said. It is evident from reading analyses of the Republic that Plato advocated an aristocratic form of government. In the Republic, Plato defines justice as having a structure, where each citizen does the job that they are specialized in (Spark Notes Editors). Plato implies that philosophers are the most suitable people for ruling (Spark Notes Editors). Plato believes that philosophers are the most ‘just’ and rational men, and are therefore the best people to rule (Santas, 73; Spark Notes Editors). This is implying that these rulers must be aristocrats (rule of the best).
Plato believed that Athenian democracy was unjust, since citizens could run for ruler, without being specialized; and citizens in other professions could get involved with the business of ruling, which Plato also considers unjust. Plato...