Originally published March 7, 2019 Last Revised on May 25, 2019
By Michio Suginoo
This content is a revised version of my earlier post dated on March 13, 2017, "When Democracy fails 1: Ephemeral Democracy and the road to Tyranny: in light of Socrates’ Political Cycle: A Reflection of Plato’s “the Republic”
Socrates (circa 470 – 399 BC) conceived a panoramic conceptual framework of constitutional change. First, he described a constitution (political regime) as a manifestation of social psychological order (‘psyche’), or the soul of political reality.
Then, he illustrated that constitutional changes unfolds as manifestations of the decay in ‘psyche’, or moral depravation. As generations pass, the internal ‘psyche’ decays. As the social psychological order decays, the ensuing moral depravation populates a series of 5 different constitutions (presented in the list below) to form a super-structure of constitutional (political regime) cycle, call it ‘Socrates Cycle’. It unfolds as follows in chronological order:
What is the logic behind his cyclical view? Why does his regime changes have to follow in this sequence? Why tyranny has to come out of democracy in his view? This reading will have an overall perspective of Socrates’ conceptual framework of his constitutional regime cycle (Socrates’ Cycle).
Before we begin our examination on Socrates’ Cycle, I would like to share some footnotes with the readers in advance. Here are some advance footnotes.
First, despite his profound insight in the topic, we need to be aware, there are limitations in his discourse (to be discussed in another reading of this series.) Despite such limitations, his argument remains significant and relevant to our time, because of overarching implication of its intrinsic value. And I would suggest, the very intrinsic value of Socrates discourse is that he illuminated constitution (political regime) as a manifestation of the social soul (‘psyche’) of time, or Zeitgeist.
Second, Socrates’ political paradigm cycle is only concerned with the Western Civilization. Sino Civilisation, Hindus Civilisation, and others are beyond the scope of Socrates’ discourse.
Third, I would like to remind the readers of a historical consensus that Socrates did not leave us his writing. We can have only glimpses of Socrates’ thought primarily through writings of his disciples, Plato and Xenophon. In our discourse, when I refer to Socrates, I am referring to Plato’s fictional Socrates. Thus, often Plato and Socrates are interchangeable to a certain extent. To what extent was Plato loyal to Socrates’ thought? Was Plato using Socrates as his own mouthpiece in his writing? Nobody would know the truth. So, let me pretend here, Plato was tautologically Platonic, thus, loyal to Socrates’ original thought.
Fourth, I would like to acknowledge, as a comprehensive citation clause, that throughout this reading, unless stated otherwise, wherever refers to Socrates' thoughts, relies on the multiple translations of Plato's ‘the Republic’ listed in the reference section at the end of this reading.
Last, but not least, I have no allegiance to any particular political thought. Simply put, I see flaws and paradoxes in every political regime. An d as a ‘Paradox Hunter,’ my primary interest is to study the anatomy of paradoxes embedded in subject of our discourse: in this particular theme, I see Socrates Cycle as a cycle of paradox of our political, economic, and moral reality.
Furthermore, I would like to make a special remark regarding class-based analysis. Socrates analyses the interactions among social classes—such as the rich, the middle class, and the poor— in his discourse on political economy. The use of class-based analysis in this reading indicates no allegiance with Marxism, at least at my end.
Chapter 1: Four Cardinal Virtues and Tripartite Doctrine of the Soul
Repeatedly, the very intrinsic value of Socrates’ discourse is that he illuminates political regime, or constitution, as a manifestation of social psychological order (‘psyche’) of each epoch, or Zeitgeist. And in order to characterise different ‘psyches,’ Socrates develops his two fundamental frameworks which transcend barriers of time to today: ‘Four Cardinal Virtues’ and ‘Tripartite Doctrine of the Soul’.
Now, this chapter goes over the fundamental principles of his discourse as the prerequisite for our better understanding of Socrates’ Cycle.
Socrates’ Social Justice and Four Cardinal Virtues
What is a ‘just state’; how to construct the constitution of a just society and operate it; and how a just constitution decays over time. Justice of society preoccupies Socrates in his discourse on political regime. To begin with, what is his definition of ‘social justice’.
Socrates introduces his concept of ‘justice’ as a component of ‘Four Cardinal Virtues’:
self-discipline (temperance), and
In order to describe his just society, he divides society into three components—the ruling class, the military class, and the ordinary—and assigns these virtues across the spectrum of the society in a particular manner.
In a just society, Socrates argues, the ruling class rules the society on behalf of the ruled, not for the sake of their own sectional interest. (Plato, the Republic, Book I) Here by the phrase, ‘on behalf of society,’ Socrates reveals, social justice is the common good of the society as its end. In order to do so, he further articulates, the ruling class should possess wisdom —the first virtue in the list—as their specialised expertise to govern on behalf of the entire society. (Plato, the Republic, 2007, p. 132: Book IV: 428c) In addition, for the realisation of his just society, he demands of the military class courage—the second virtue in the list—the ability to distinguish between signals and noises of risks associated with state security. He further demands of every single citizen across the spectrum of the society self-discipline (temperance) —the third virtue in the list—to focus on one’s own professional expertise.
Overall, he articulates that the end, the common good, is realised through individual’s pursuit of specialised expertise, or occupational specialisation. Interestingly, Socrates identifies justice in the means—occupational specialisation—to realise a just society, rather than its’ end--‘the common good’.
Tripartite Doctrine of the Soul
Repeatedly, the very intrinsic value of Socrates’ discourse, at least to me, is that Socrates illuminated each constitution (political regime) as a manifestation of distinct ‘psyche,’ or a distinct social psychological order. In illustrating different psychological orders, he developed ‘the Tripartite Doctrine of the Soul’. The doctrine divides the soul (‘psuche’) into the following three distinct components:
‘Thumos’ or/and ‘Thumoeides’ in Greek: although often translated as spirit, passion, mettle, vitality, or guts, it does not seem to have a single established consensus in its translation among our contemporary translators. It is a sort of a blanket term that encompasses pugnacity, enterprise, passion, spirit, anger, indignation, ambition, and contentiousness. (Lee, 2007, pp. 63, 140-141) For our discussion purpose, I call it simply ‘Thumos’ in this reading.
With these three components, Socrates constructs five distinct internal structures of moral hierarchy, or five souls, each of which populates a distinct constitution (political regimes).
As an example, Socrates constructs the internal moral hierarchy of the perfect soul using the three components of the soul and plants it into his utopian ‘just kingship/aristocracy’ called ‘Kallipolis’ (literally a beautiful city-state). Then, Socrates articulates:
“[S]ince all created things must decay, even a social order of this kind cannot last for all time, but will decline.” (Plato, 2007, p. 279)
In other words, even the supposedly perfect soul of his utopian society is not immortal. Accordingly, a constitution (political regime) vanishes as the moral hierarchy of its soul vanishes in his argument. Then, the process of decay shapes another internal order of soul, which manifests its corresponding constitutional arrangement that takes over the society. In this way, Socrates uses his analogy of the human soul to demonstrate his discourse of ever-transforming political, economic, and moral reality.
Here, let me paint a rough brief sketch of the framework of his argument.
As described earlier, Socrates constructs his utopian just kingship/aristocracy based on his construct of a perfect soul. Then, as generations pass, he lets the perfect soul decay. As the decay deepens, it ruins the internal structure of the soul. As a consequence, the constitutional arrangement transforms from one form to another. Accordingly, the society travels from one constitution arrangement to another. As the depravation of the soul populates four additional forms of constitution (political regime)—‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy,’ ‘Timocracy,’ ‘Oligarchy,’ ‘Democracy,’ and ‘Tyranny’ in chronological order—to complete Socrates’ Cycle. The cycle evolves as if it were a waterfall—water falling from a high position to a lower one. As his cycle goes, the constitutional soul decays from the best arrangement to the worst one according to Socrates’ moral standard (many of our contemporaries, I would suspect, might well disagree with the order of constitution cycle, most likely articulating that democracy is the best one). In this way, he portrays his constitutional (political regime) cycle as a series of the manifestations of moral depravation in the psychological order of a state, or ‘psyche’.
Money (Private Pursuit of Wealth), Moral Depravation, Use of Violence
Money (personal pursuit of wealth) could corrupt individuals, thus, impair the moral conduct among people, and ultimately, with use of violence, will ruin the entire social construct, particularly its constitutional arrangement. This is one of common views shared among intellectuals and lawgivers (e.g. the quasi-legendary figure of Lycurgus in Sparta) in the ancient Greece. They had a propensity to interpret wealth in moral term and treated it with awe (a mixed feeling of respect, fear, and anxiety).
And Socrates is not an exception. Simply put, personal pursuit of wealth (money) could corrupt individuals, thus, impair the moral conduct among people, and ultimately destabilize and ruin the entire social construct, particularly its constitutional foundation: thus, it provokes collective behavioural change of a society. And in his argument, this chain reaction of the behavioural change begins from the top of society, the ruling class.
Given these points in our mind, let’s move on to the next chapter to listen to what Socrates has to say: Thus, spoke Socrates!
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Chapter 2 Socrates’ Utopian State: Just Kingship/Aristocracy, Kallipolis
For his first constitutional paradigm, Socrates constructs his version of a perfect soul—which enshrines ‘Reason’ to let it govern ‘Appetite’ by equilibrating the elements of ‘Thumos,’ especially indignation and spirit—and plants it into his utopian theoretical ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’, Kallipolis.
Etymologically, ‘aristocracy’ is the rule by the best. Aristo meant either of ’best of its kind,’ noblest, bravest, or ‘most virtuous’ (of people). Therefore, the ruling class of aristocracy have to be the best in whatever criteria imposes: be it by virtue, by birth, or by wealth. Now, Socrates unveil his just aristocracy as one of the most virtuous sort.
Now, let’s see the moral construct of his Kallipolis:
In contemplating the regime of Kallipolis, an extreme ideal model of ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’, Socrates sees unity as one of its essential cornerstone to craft his ideal Kingdom. In shaping unity, Socrates further articulates, ‘Foundation Myths’—often translated as ‘noble lies’—play a significant role (Lee, 2007, p. 112). ‘Foundation Myths’ talks about the foundation of the people and the society and about heroes and heroines who saved the society from catastrophes. Socrates portrays, the 1st generation of civilisation cycle starts with the age of myth that consolidates the unity of society. In a way, we may interpret, ‘Foundation Myths’ instructs indignation and spirit—two elements of ‘Thumos’—to pursue and promote ‘the common good’ but not to satisfy individuals’ egoistic appetite. In other words, unity together with ‘Foundation Myths’ shall, in his theory, be conductive to organically structuring the moral hierarchy of Kallipolis, which enshrines ‘Reason’ on its top to pursue ‘the common good’. (Plato, 414-415)
In terms of social consciousness, ‘unity’ of Kallipolis contrasts to ‘diversity,’ which is a foundation of a democratic society. Democracy’s organizing principles—equality and freedom—creates a dynamic society with diverse self-interests among the population. In this sense, Socrates’ requirement for his utopian society, unity, contemplates a rudimental society which emerges during the early stage of civilisation cycle. Nevertheless, it would very unlikely to qualify a psychological foundation for a large complex dynamic society as civilisation advances.
Kallipolis is comprised of three classes: the ruling class, the Auxiliaries (police, soldiers, government officers (Lee, 2007, p. 112)), and businessmen. Now, with his ‘Four Cardinal Virtues,’ Socrates assigns each virtue across the class structure of the society in the following manner:
Wisdom to the Ruling Class: Socrates demanded of the ruling class ‘wisdom’ as their excellence of governance. The state governance needs to be exercised only by the few gifted with the ‘wisdom’. And Socrates defines ‘wisdom’ as a special form of knowledge “which is exercised not on behalf of any particular interest but on behalf of the city as a whole.” (Plato, the Republic, 2007, p. 132: Book IV: 428c) In other words, by saying “on behalf of [the society] as a whole,” I presume, Socrates identifies the pursuit of ‘the common good’ as the end-goal (telos) of his social justice. Nevertheless, somehow Socrates deliberately identifies justice in the means rather than the ends (to be shown in few lines).
Courage to the Military Class: Socrates demanded of the military class ‘courage’ as their excellence of handling state emergencies, especially national defence. The defence of the state needs to be exercised only by those gifted with both a special disposition of courage that can distinguish between signals and noises with respect to risks of state emergencies and ability and willingness to act in accordance with laws.
Self-discipline (Temperance) to all the citizens: he further demanded of all spectrums of the society including the ordinary citizens ‘self-discipline’ which is conductive to a harmony of the society. (Plato, the Republic, Book IV: 432 a)
Justice to all the citizens: Now, in order to operate the three other virtues, he requires each single individual to pursue one’s own occupational excellence and do not interfere with others’ occupations: “[W]hen each of our three classes (businessmen, Auxiliaries, and Guardians) does its own job and minds its own business, that by contrast is justice and makes out state just.” (Plato, the Republic, 2007, p. 139: Book IV: 434b)
Socrates’ social justice can be realised when the ruling class pursue the psychic harmony of society with ‘Reason,’ while restraining their ‘Appetite’ and ‘Thumos’ with stringent self-control. As a result, the society ‘flourishes’ as a product of ‘psychic harmony’ created by the Wisdom of the ruling class. (Lane, 2007, pp. xxv-xxvii)
Kallipolis is governed by a ‘Philosopher King’ who possesses virtuous Wisdom of pursuing the common good and regulates the rest of the society with Reason. And he is protected and assisted by his Auxiliaries who possess courage and ability to regulate spirited indignation (‘Thumos, the third component of the Soul).
Furthermore, its economy is operated by its citizen’s desire (Appetite). Overall, every individual regulates oneself with self-discipline to pursue the professional excellence of own expertise (Justice).
At this stage, some of us might well perceive Kallipolis as a utopian political-fantasy in the territory of Neverland. Nevertheless, understanding his construct of Kallipolis would be an imperative footstep to better understand Socrates’ argument going forward. We will discuss further this issue in another content: its tentative title: ‘Limitations and Intrinsic Values of Socrates Cycle.
Moreover, some of our contemporary democratic minds would still face a hindrance, when we see the architecture of Socrates’ utopian society. It is because Socrates crafted his best society, Kallipolis, in a form of totalitarian paradigm. It is not democratic at all. As a matter of fact, Karl Popper accused Plato, Socrates’ principal disciple, of founding the tradition of totalitarian dictatorship.
Nevertheless, in order to avoid anachronism, we have to understand the fact: not only Socrates, but also did other ancient intellects make a clear distinction between ‘just Kingship’ and Tyranny.
On one hand, to Socrates, ‘just Kingship/Aristocracy’ would pursue the common good, rather than the ruler’s sectional interest, to realise a just society with his wisdom. On the other, Tyranny imposes injustice on the society in pursuit of the tyrant’s own sectional interest.
On one hand, a ‘just King’ would control himself with Wisdom (reasoning and knowledge) not to impose injustice on the society; otherwise, he will ruin his soul and become unhappy. Justice would fulfil the King with happiness. a ‘just King’ lives in peace and harmony. On the other hand, a Tyrant is obsessed with his/her love of honour and victory; it makes the tyrant paranoid, envious and angry, creating inner confrontations and uncertainties within himself/herself; in order to guard himself/herself from the populace, a tyrant has to surround himself/herself with his/her personal bodyguards, or his mob. (Plato, 585-587)
On one hand, a ‘just King’ would honour law. On the other, a Tyrant would dishonour law and reason.
Although the notion of virtuous dictatorship might be distant from our contemporary democratic consciousness, we are better off acknowledging it in order to avoid anachronism.
In addition, Socrates might cause you another hindrance, especially to some of our contemporary egalitarian minds, by presupposing a discriminative assumption that wisdom cannot be attained by all; but it is accessible to only few people who were born with congenital virtue and mastered knowledge and reasoning acquired through stringent education. Simply put, inequality of Wisdom: life is not fair. Thus, a just society is realisable only by entrusting those gifted people: or by ‘surrogate reason”. (Lane, 2007, p. xxvi)
In other words, democracy and Socrates’ utopian just society appear antagonistic, positioning at the two opposite ends of the constitutional universe:
While direct democracy (in the classical Athenian sense) embraces open participation of all the citizens in governance, the governance of Socrates’ just society is entrusted only to the expert wisdoms of the ruling class.
While direct democracy is governed by the majority rule, or democratic knowledge, Socrates’ just society’ only by the expert knowledge (wisdom) of the ruling class.
In this sense, Socrates portrays democracy as a corrupted regime, since democracy opens its deliberative process to the ordinary who have no particular excellence (wisdom) in governance whatsoever.
“[D]emocratic equality meant an abdication of specialized, qualified expertise and education; democratic rivalry, in particular the tension between rich and poor, undermined civic stability and unity ; and the democratic encouragement of the desire for power and influence, both among individuals at home and in imperialism abroad, subverted the achievement of order and happiness.” (Lane, 2007, p. xiii)
These Socrates’ very counter-democratic and counter-egalitarian assumptions, which solidify the cornerstones of Kallipolis, percolate throughout his discourse and make Socrates’ thought very controversial in our age of democratic regime. (Lane, 2007, p. xxvi) Repeatedly, we need to be aware of the ancient notion of ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’ as a virtuous and non-exploitative type of dictatorship governed by highly educated rulers with his ‘Reason’ and congenitally superior virtue.
Thus, in Kallipolis, Philosopher Kings and his Auxiliaries (police, warriors, and administrations) (Plato, 414 b)—collectively called ‘Guardians’—are selected through stringent screening process: first, they are screened out of highly educated virtuous men, who have mastered truth and reasoning (philosophy), with high moral dispositions.
Here are two primary requirements among many that Socrates demands ‘Philosopher Kings’: they have to thrive through strict philosophical education; they have to demonstrate his congenital integrity and supreme virtue under any adversary and seductive conditions. And, to the Auxiliaries, Socrates demands, they go through strict education and attain self-control over their spirited indignation to protect ‘the common good’ of the society. In this passage, Socrates promotes gender equality: women who demonstrated excellence in merits and virtues should also participate in the Guardians of Kallipolis.
In a way, Socrates contemplates his ‘Just Society’ as a highly meritocratic paradigm, which is not hereditary at all: a very dynamic caste system of strict moral value hierarchy, or non-hereditary aristocracy which is ruled solely by their excellence in merits and virtues. In a way, Socrates portrayed Philosopher Kings as enlightened ones and most of the public as those who are cognitively too impaired to see the truth and attain wisdom. In addition, as described below, the most stringent restraints are imposed on the Guardians, both the Philosopher King’ and ‘the Auxiliaries’, but not on the ordinaries.
Overall, Socrates’ Kallipolis is a non-exploitative ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’ governed by excellence in merits and virtues (‘Reason’) in pursuit of the common good.
However sophisticated his argument were, nevertheless, his argument might sound counter-intuitive to our contemporary democratic minds for two reasons at least: concentration of power into a single ruler and the unrealistic stringent demands imposed on the ruler. First, to our contemporary minds, the concentration of power in his utopian society, without check and balance, could only allow the ruling class to abuse the system for their own advantage, rather than entices them to pursue the common good. Nevertheless, Socrates argues, a just ruler, Philosopher King, will not instigate injustice on his society since it would only ruin his soul. He would use wisdom in order only to preserve his perfect soul. Second, in our materialistic world, it would be unrealistic, if not impossible, to find such a perfect moral leader. In addition, in order to prevent corruption, Kallipolis imposes the most stringent restraints on the ruling class. In this sense, the world Socrates imagines appears a neverland to our contemporary democratic imagination.
Nevertheless, his argument can be modified, by replacing his utopian state with more mundane kingship or aristocracy alternatives. to analyse historical development.
Economy of Kallipolis
Socrates—in order to craft the maximum integrity of the ruling class—engineered an institutional framework to remove the sources of moral depravation. He does so by prohibiting the Philosopher King and his Auxiliaries of Kallipolis from owning properties and having private family life. Especially, the prohibition of property ownership among the ruling class reveals Socrates’ awe of private pursuit of wealth, which could lead to corruption. In this sense, in Kallipolis, the ruling class are far more severely restrained than the public. No property and no family life characterize the life of the ruling class.
Guardians are prohibited from personal possessions and required “to maintain in all circumstances both their own integrity and the principles of balance and harmony they learned in their education, and then they [are] expected to be of the great service to the community as well as to themselves.” (Plato, 2007, p. 115)
The general public are allowed to engage in commercial activities and entitled to property ownership. Nevertheless, Socrates put the limit on the economic activity among the public: Guardians prevent both extreme wealth concentration and poverty from arising in the society. (Plato, 421 c- 422 a)
Overall, economic activity in Kallipolis is unlikely expansionary but more likely stable at a rudimental stage in civilisation cycle.
There are more about Kallipolis—such as censorship. Nevertheless, that already painted its big picture for our discussion purpose.
Chapter 3: Socrates Constitutional Cycle A chain of natural decays in the Soul of Constitution Part 1 (From Aristocracy to Democracy)
Transition from 'Just Kingship' to 'Timocracy'
Now, let’s see how Kallipolis—’Kingship Proper’ (‘Aristocracy Proper’)—disintegrates into the next regime, Timocracy.
Now, moral starts decaying from the top of the society, the ruling class.
As generations of Socrate’s utopian society, Kallipolis (just Kingship/Aristocracy), pass, some of the new generation of the ruling class demonstrate antithetical motive to the moral hierarchy of the existing regime. They deny the traditional value, such as their pursuit for stringent education and the common good. They dethrone ‘Reason’ from the top of the moral hierarchy of the society. ‘Reason’ no longer regulates the rest of the Soul, namely ‘Appetite’ and ‘Thumos’. These two components of the Soul revolt against ‘Reason’. Moral depravation polarises the ruling class and split it into two directions: one into those who maintain their traditional ‘Just’ ruling to pursue the common good; and the other to those who pursue self-interest and abandon the traditional moral virtue, self-discipline, and educational value. Now, ‘Social Justice,’ thus, the common good is at risk.
The depravity shapes arrogant, contentious, and ambitious spirits within the ruling class. They become less-educated (inarticulate), egoistic, underhanded, and greedy. They start pursuing their own personal interest at the expense of the common good. They would not hesitate to break law, and steal and spend others’ wealth. At this stage, the legitimacy of the constitutional foundation of ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’ becomes impaired. And as the polarisation escalates within the ruling class, it causes civil strife, then, leads to civil war, and ultimately dethrones the constitutional foundation of ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’. In order to shape an order out of the chaos, they resolve violence by distributing wealth among themselves and a new regime called ‘timocracy’ emerges.
Socrates characterises ‘Timocracy’ as a transient state between ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’ and ‘Oligarchy.’ He portrays ‘Timocracy’ as a regime that has a bit of ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’ and a bit of ‘Oligarchy’ within itself: thus it is “a mixture of good and evil.” (Plato, 2007, p. 281)
Cut the long story short, in timocracy, ‘Reason’ is no longer of primary importance in its moral hierarchy. Now, soldier-like values—victory loving spirit and honour loving indignation, both of which belongs to ‘Thumos’—as well as oligarchic money-loving ‘Appetite’ subjugate ‘Reason’ and dominate the mind of the prerogative ruling class. In timocracy, the ruling class devote themselves in waging war and reduce their populace into serfs and menials.
Economy of Socrates’ Timocracy:
Wealth is highly concentrated among the prerogative ruling class. It is hard to contemplate that this regime has an active economy. From Socrates description, it is not clear whether the economic activity in Timocracy is more active or not in comparison with Kallipolis, ‘Just Kingship/Aristocracy’. Nevertheless, it would be safe to assume that economy in Timocracy is still rudimental.
Transition from Timocracy to Oligarchy:
If the top of the moral hierarchy in Timocracy was indignation and spirit, both of which belong to ‘the Third component of the Soul (Thumos),’ the top of moral hierarchy in Oligarchy is ‘love for money,’ one element of ‘Appetite.’ Etymologically, ‘oligarchy’ is the rule by the few; ‘the rule by money’ has another term, ‘plutocracy.’ In his argument, nevertheless, Socrates equates ‘the few’ and ‘the rich’ in his argument; in other words, his ‘oligarchy’ is plutocratic. It makes economic sense since ‘economies of scale’ concentrate wealth among a few. Some call it ‘Pareto rule’.
According to Socrates, in Oligarchy ‘Appetite’ does not exert its quality in a full-fledged manner. Since the type of oligarchic rulers tend to hoard their wealth rather than spend it. ‘Appetite’ exerts its maximum quality in greed for earning wealth. Overall, ‘Appetite’ for accumulation of wealth comes on the top of the moral hierarchy of the political paradigm.
And, repeatedly, Socrates tends to see that moral starts decaying from the top of the society, the ruling class, in every constitutional paradigm shift. In other words, indignation and spirit, ‘Thumos,’ falls from the top of the moral hierarchy to end the age of Timocracy, and ‘love for money’ thrives to the top to shape the new moral regime of Oligarchy.
New generation see their previous generation—who learned to be ‘victory and honour loving’ military type—falling prey to the new evolving moral reality, ‘love for money’: some of them get victimised by loan shark and lose their property. In the mind of the new generation, grows enmity towards the previous regime’s moral and value system. In defiance of any old principal values—moral and education for aristocracy, and victory and honour for timocracy—the new generation enshrines wealth, thus ‘Appetite,’ on top of their value system.
At the same time, some of them indulge themselves in luxuries. They refuse to take any responsibility in the society. As a result, they end up disposing their assets to successful wealthy ordinaries to continue their indulgence. The depravity among the ruling class gradually transform the economic and social structure of the society. Now, the new class, the wealthy, emerges out of the ordinary and gradually gain power based on wealth.
As time goes by, the Wealthy demands, possibly with use of violence and/or use of terror, a new constitutional framework which would grant them political licences based on wealth. And when they gain power, the new regime, Oligarchy, emerges.
In timocracy, political licence and wealth were concentrated among the prerogative hereditary few (on birth), or depraved descendants of aristocracy. Now, the time has changed. And a typical constitutional characteristic of the new regime, Oligarchy, is ‘property qualifications’ for office. The new constitution sets property qualifications to enfranchise the Wealthy, solely based on wealth, disregarding other qualifications such as virtue, merit, and birth. Naturally, the majority Poor, failing to meet the property qualification, have no share in political licence in Oligarchy.
The new regime brings the age of relentless pursuit for wealth by a few successful men. The rich, while being hard working to build up wealth, is stingy on his own money and would not hesitate to illicitly use others’ money for own benefit. The ruling class, thus, would be apt to dishonesty and criminal impulse.
As wealth gap widens, it divides a society into two parts: ‘the Wealthy, the few’ and ‘the Poor, the multitude.’ Since the Poor outnumbers overwhelmingly the Wealthy, the Wealthy constantly fears the Poor’s revolt against them. In this context, Oligarchy tends to be hesitant to arm the population to engage wars against other foreign states. They fear their own people more than foreign enemies. On the top of that, Socrates argues, the Wealthy, because of their ‘love of money,’ typically would hesitate to spend money to engage wars. In my personal opinion, Socrates lacked diligence in this particular remark: it would depend on the net expected return of the war, but not solely its cost. Nevertheless, we can find some milestone historical precedence to support Socrates’ characterisation of war-hesitant Oligarchy.
The most problematic of all is the living condition of the Poor. They are so impoverished and become either beggars or thieves.
Another feature of Oligarchy is the emergence of the new class of sole squanderer of inheritance, who only consume by disposing fragments of a massive wealth of their inheritance. They indulge themselves in extravagant life style by monetising their accumulated wealth and refused to play any role in the society. Socrates call them ‘Drone.’ They gradually become either beggars or criminals. Above all, the population, except ‘the ruling Wealthy, the few,’ is reduced to either beggars or criminals. This ultimately destabilises the construct of Oligarchy.
Economy of Socrates’ Oligarchy
From Socrates’ descriptions of Oligarchy, we can pick up some economic characteristics of the regime:
Oligarchic rulers having two behaviours: money-making and frugal on spending;
‘Drone’ selling off their inheritance to indulge themselves in luxurious life;
Ever-widening wealth gap impoverishes the ordinaries and make them beggars and/or thieves.
Overall, Socrates’ Oligarchy would shape a specialised market of luxury for Drone and money-making market operated by the Wealthy (e.g. debt market for loan shark) to enslave the mass, but does not appear to expand further than that since the ruling class is frugal and the ordinaries are in poverty. Wealth inequality widens; and the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. In comparison with the preceding two political paradigms, namely ‘just Kingship /Aristocracy’ and Timocracy, Socrates’ Oligarchic economy appears to be more active.
Transition from Oligarchy to Democracy:
Moral depravation among the ruling class is perverse throughout Oligarchy and further deteriorates as time goes by. The Wealthy, amassed with enormous wealth, would never be satisfied with their level of wealth. With their insatiable pursuit for wealth, they flood the society with toxic excess lending, victimising those who lack education and self-discipline among the ordinaries with poisonous borrowing. Those highly indebted are stripped off their properties that went under pledge of the poisonous loans that they recklessly took. As a result, they are reduced to poverty.
As result of such rampant ruthless Zero-Sum games, the expansion of toxic loans multiplies the ‘Drones’ and beggars. Toward the end of Oligarchy, some of new generations out of the thrifty rich start indulging themselves in spendthrift and become demoralised to drones. They live in extravagance openly, while the poor suffer from their abusive economic conditions. As the ever-widening wealth gap escalates the tension between the ruling classes and the subjects, it progressively destabilises the society: it nurtures the psychological conditions among the poor to wage revolt against the ruling class. As the tension culminates, it leads to violent responses such as civil war or revolution. When the poor defeats the wealthy ruling class through either execution or proscription, democracy emerges.
In portraying democracy, Socrates contemplates the Athenian democracy, which is direct democracy. On the other hand, most of our contemporary democracy are indirect democracy, which are operated through representative systems—such as ‘presidency representative system’ and ‘parliamentary representative system’. Thus, there is a gap between Socrates’ democracy and our contemporary democratic reality. We need to keep it in our mind in order to avoid anachronism.
In principle, the ruling class of democracy is all the citizens. In practice, nevertheless, its sovereign belongs to whoever shapes a majority, since the majority ruling dictates the decision-making process of democracy.
Democracy enshrines freedom and equality—in other words, a fully bloomed ‘Appetite’—on the top of its moral hierarchy, or its soul. On one hand, Socrates describes democracy as the most attractive of all political regimes because of “liberty and freedom in plenty,” and “the diversity of its characters” (Plato, 2007, pp. 292-293); on the other, he also criticizes it as “an agreeable anarchic form of society, with plenty of variety, which treats all men equal, whether they are equal or not.” (Plato, 2007, p. 294)
Socrates profiles democracy as a regime comprising of three classes:
the few rich;
the working class, the majority;
and those who spend other people’s wealth—Socrates calls it ‘Drone’: politicians and their supporters (e.g. lobbyist and corrupted partisan journalists and intellects).
Socrates portrays democracy as a regime of political battleground between the rich and the poor. And he attributes the political divide to the third class, ‘drone,’ which is comprised of highly corrupted individuals who live on other people’s wealth. In our contemporary vocabulary, ‘drone’ is analogous to politicians and their partisan supporters. Now, Socrates unveils a highly corrupted political reality of democracy.
Many of 'drones' suck the wealth of the rich, take a lion share of the gain for themselves and redistribute the small remaining share to the working class. As time goes by, some of the rich, in response, become compelled to assemble themselves in defence of their wealth; as a result, some astute Wealthy, despite no willingness to overturn democracy into oligarchy, ends up shaping an oligarchy under the democratic regime. This illuminates a complex reality of democracy: in the course of its life, democracy subsumes oligarchy (or oligarchic faction) within itself.
Socrates articulates that the drones fan the flare of animosity between the rich and the working class. The working class are easily deceived by the drones due to their lack of knowledge. Some drone accuse the rich of exploiting the working class for the sake of their profit.
I would interpret, and expand, his views into our contemporary context as follows: Politicians and their supporters (e.g. lobbyist and corrupted partisan journalists and intellects), positioning themselves near the logistic of the redistribution system, ignite and amplify the flares of conflict among all social classes—especially between the multitude working class and the few rich. They are divided into two directions: one to the side of the Wealthy, the other to the multitude working class. Some politicians are successful in managing the government in order to do favours for the Wealthy (‘Regulatory Capture’). Partisan supporters on both sides craft ‘Fake News’ to deceive their enemies on the other side. In one way or another, all of them engage in spreading misinformation and disinformation to escalate the tension between the two classes. To Socrates, democracy must have appeared the age of corruption, the age of misinformation/disinformation and the age of degradation of knowledge. The multitude are cognitively impaired by ‘Fake News’. [My interpretations in Italic]
As a historical irony, Socrates himself fell prey to Fake News in the twilight of Athenian democracy. Due to his distorted public image which had been crafted by a comedy play, ‘the Clouds,’ of a prominent poet of his time, Aristophanes, Socrates faced a trial based on groundless accusations. As result, with two charges—corrupting the youths of the Athens; and blasphemy against the Greek Gods—he was sentenced to death. The giant of supreme Wisdom (knowledge and reason), Socrates, succumbed to the ignorance of democracy. His death symbolises the wicked curse of cognitively impaired democratic knowledge, which is crafted based on distorted public consensus, but not based on ‘Reason’ or truth.
Chapter 4: Socrates Constitutional Cycle A chain of decays in the Soul of Constitution Part 2: How democracy could fail
Transition from Democracy to Tyranny:
Again, moral depravity deepens at the ruling class. And the ruling class of democracy is a majority, whatever it might be; but, here we make the general assumption that the majority is the working class.
Socrates raises the issue of widening inequality. That said, inequality existed all through the history, even in worse forms in previous regimes—timocracy and oligarchy; and even in his utopian ‘just Kingship/Aristocracy’ equality was not guaranteed. In this sense, Socrates suggests that something beyond inequality has changed since the emergence of democracy. It has something to do with the change in 'psyche,' the social moral hierarchy. Now, the ‘Appetite’ of democracy, insatiable Freedom and Equality, rises on the top of its moral hierarchy. Socrates argues, an extreme freedom would take the society to perfect anarchy and lawlessness. Paradoxically, relentless pursuit for freedom among the working class, Socrates articulates, ultimately evokes an inevitable reaction of reversal to its contrary notion on the opposite end, extreme servitude. (Plato, 563 e).
Widening inequality intensifies the tension between the wealthy and the working class. Now, in this backdrop, a new kind of leader emerges, by crafting his political capital in a unique sort of way. The new leader behaves in disguise of the champion of the working class, by attacking the oligarchs as the common enemy for the largest class of the society. Basically, the new leader is a special sort of populist, a demagogue: simply put, the new leader’s political capital is common enemies of the mass (Common Enemy). The majority elect a single political representative as their champion and provide him/her bodyguards as well as overwhelming support. (Plato, 565 c, 566 b).
In early days of the demagogue, he/she smiles at the working class, pretending to act as their champion and making hints of populist policies, such as debt relief and subsidies (wealth redistribution). (Plato, 566 d-e). In substance, he/she is ‘a Master of Deception’.
“Plato’s demagogues peddle fantasy and utterly disregard the facts.” (Hobbs, 2017)
As the champion attacks on the wealthy and domesticates the minds of his constituents, the demagogue commits a series of unconstitutional and unlawful acts for his own personal gain: e.g. to bring his enemies to trial on false charges and politically and/or physically purges him. He expels some of his enemies and kills others, otherwise manages to convert surviving ones into his/her allies. (Plato, 565 e, 566 a).
If no attempt to eliminate the champion were successful, the wicked politician would purge all his enemies. (Plato, 566 a-d)
Once the demagogue eliminates his enemies in his own society, the demagogue now loses his political capital, the legitimacy over his own political supporters—remember, the demagogues’ primary political capital is ‘Common Enemy,’ common enemies of the majority. Therefore, having purged all the domestic ‘Common Enemy,’ the psychopath needs to seek it abroad and starts waging wars for his own self-preservation. Socrates, it appears to me, is implying a possible escalation of ‘Imperialism’ as the transition takes place from democracy to tyranny. War needs to be funded by additional tax, thus, causes extra burden on the society, more specifically the people, the taxpayers.
Now, the tyrant faces a new challenge: in the absence of material common enemies, new factions emerge among his old constituents and some of them seek to liberate themselves from the tyrant. The tyrant becomes paranoid of revolt against him by his own people. Out of paranoia, he surrounds himself with his private army of foreign mercenaries to guard himself. Now, in order to curry their favour, the tyrant pays them well out of the state treasury and possibly grants them non-financial benefits, such as citizenship. When some of his/her supporters raise concerns on the chaotic order that he created, the demagogue purge them. (Plato, the Republic, 566 e, 567 a-b) The champion, unrestrained without any relevant enemy, now is about to become a tyrant to enslave his pupils. (Plato, the Republic, Book VIII: 566 a-567a)
Overall, the demagogues not only deceived his constituents with fantasies that he concocted, but also starts abusing his society for his own personal interests. Now, if people complain about his policy, the tyrant has no reluctance to use violence. (Plato, the Republic, Book VIII: 567b-570).
This summarises Socrates’ illustration of the transformation from Democracy to Tyranny.
The ruling class of Tyranny is its tyrant. A tyrant is driven by impulse, passion, and fear: in a way, unrestrained ‘Appetite’ and ‘Thumos’ (the Third Element of the Soul) dictate his/her Soul, subjugating ‘Reason’. His/her Soul is perfect freedom without constraint; in other words, perfect anarchy and perfect lawlessness. And the Soul of the political paradigm has the same structure as well as characters. In portraying Tyranny, Socrates makes a conspicuous contrast with the other one-man rule, ‘Kallipolis, the Kingship Proper.’ Kallipolis was ruled by the Wisdom of the ruler to pursue ‘the common good’ of the society. These two dictatorships are contrary, positioning at the opposite ends of the spectrum of morality and justice. And more interestingly, Socrates begins his cycle with the best one-man rule and ends with the worst one-man rule.
Now, it seems, the transformation of the Soul—starting from the best one that enshrines ‘Reason’ to the worst one that enslaves ‘Reason’ in pursuit of ‘Appetite’ with unrestrained ‘Thumos’—completes. Now it transforms the society into a constant state of chaos.
As the champion reveals his ego-centric motivations, some of his/her ex-supporters start expressing their dissatisfaction on the outcome, thus, deep remorse in their past endorsement in raising this imposter. The imposter becomes paranoid of upsurge of dissidents. As a result, in order to eliminate the cause of his/her paranoia, the psychopath starts purging some of his/her ex-supporters: especially those who possess potentiality to pose threats to him/her. The imposter can only reinforce remorse among them. Now, the desperate paranoid starts demanding further reinforcement of his/her private army to protect him from the citizen. This time, the paranoid, unable to trust any of his/her citizens, seeks the security reinforcement out of foreigners within his society—in Socrates’ epoch, slaves. The psychopath would offer all kinds of favour, such as provision of citizenship, to foreign-residents to assemble his new mob members. Now, if people complain about his policy, the tyrant has no reluctance to use violence. (Plato, the Republic, Book VIII: 567b-570).
The tyrant openly portrays himself/herself ‘the wise’ and ‘godlike,’ saying something like “tyrants are wise […] by keeping wise men’s company.” (Plato, Republic, 2012, p. 307: Book VIII: 568)
Now, with his newly enfranchised foreign born citizens, the pathological narcist wages civil war against his/her own native citizens, those who had supported him/her during his/her time of demagogue. Now, they wake up from the fantasy-dream. They, Socrates articulates, regret that they supported the imposter out of delusion, their own insatiable desire for unguaranteed freedom and unguaranteed equality.
Economy of Tyranny:
The ruler would spend without limit at his will in order to constantly improvise his piecemeal reactionary tactless maneuverers without any strategy. The tyrant will exhaust the treasury of the state and recklessly sustain his momentum by borrowing. As the ruler wages wars against foreign land, the further borrowing will burden the economy. The economy might well stagnate.
I would argue, Socrates is not diligent enough at this particular remark. He should have argued the net-return of war, rather than the cost of war: if war brings a massive amount of booty beyond its cost, the tyrant might be able to restore his legitimacy and trust in the society and might be able to establish a reasonably sustainable dynasty for a couple of generations.
In Socrates’ discourse, three primary factors—moral depravation, personal pursuit for wealth, and use of violence—play a significant role in impairing the enforcement of law, thus, ultimately in driving a paradigm shift in constitutional foundation. Ancient intellects in general had a propensity to interpret wealth in moral term. Simply put, personal pursuit of wealth (money) could corrupt individuals, thus, impair the moral conduct among people, and ultimately ruin the entire social construct, particularly its constitutional foundation: thus, it provokes collective behavioural change of a society.
Socrates constructed his best political regime, Kallipolis, on the basis of unity. As civilization progresses, it demands complexity and diversity. Unity cannot be assumed in a advanced dynamic society. In this sense, his best political paradigm, even if it ever existed, would unlikely provide a viable solution to a complex society with diversity at an advanced stage of civilization: instead, Socrates’ best regime might best serve at a rudimentary stage of civilization.
Overall, Socrates illustrated that every political regime has own distinct inherent flaws and becomes progressively unstable after some generations.
Is constitutional change inevitable? Can’t we craft a better stable constitutional structure? Let’s look at history to contemplate this question. How about Sparta and the Roman Republic? They sustained their constitutions for generations. What kind of political structure did they engineer? They might provide us a hint.
These two states in antiquity share one thing in common in their constitutional structures: mixed regime, in which aristocratic, oligarchic, and democratic elements co-exist and check and balance one another. Both Aristotle and Polybius articulate, a mixed regime is stable since each constituent element checks the flaws of the other elements. It creates a sort of a gravity of equilibrium. Of course, history witnesses, a mixed regime is not free from decay: the Roman Republic imploded from within despite well-crafted check and balance in its institutional and constitutional framework. Nevertheless, a mixed regime seems to provide a best practically possible solution to the human problem.
Now, after having travelled through Socrates’ Cycle, we can contemplate our contemporary democratic reality: if we want to preserve our democratic paradigm, what shall we do?
We might be able to find some grains of truth from Socrates’ caveat about democracy’s flaws.
As a reminder, Socrates cycle has some inherent limitations. And those limitations are the flip side of its own intrinsic values. In order to appreciate the intrinsic values of Socrates discourse, we need to understand those limitations. The next chapter discusses the limitations of Socrates Cycle. Then, the following chapter will have an overview of Aristotle’s approach of the preservation of constitution.
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