Democracy in Republic: Plato’s Contestation

Published: May 1, 2016
Plato Republic democracy
Ann R. Cacoullos

Plato has been read as a virulent opponent of democracy, a common interpretation that, among other things, either ignores or dismisses his perceptive account of the ways democracy can be a mistaken political culture. In Books 8-9 where he designs other cities that are less than his ideal city, Plato tries to show how the whole manner of living and esteeming of a ruling class pervert the preferences and decision-making of everyone living in the city. Attention to this account can reveal Plato not so much rejecting but contesting the democracy he designs-in-theory. In the city he models, freedom and equality are misdirected, its own political culture ultimately betrays itself. I argue that, for Plato, democracy’s failure is due largely though not exclusively to a remnant of oligarchy that remains within it —the underhanded and excessive pursuit of money— which undermine the freedom and equality that define its political culture.

Article Details
  • Section
  • Articles
Download data is not yet available.
Author Biography
Ann R. Cacoullos
Ann Cacoullos (PhD Columbia University) taught courses in the philosophy of culture at the University of Athens and retired as professor in the Faculty of English Studies in 2002. She went on to teach feminist theory and courses in ancient political thought as Visiting Adjunct Professor at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Lately she has resumed her rummaging of Plato, with joy and plenty of awe. 
Aristotle. Politics. Trans. H. Rackham. 1932. Cambridge: Loeb-Harvard UP, 1977.
Burnyeat, Myles F. “Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic: The Tanner Lectures at Harvard” 20 (1999). 215-314. Web.
Cacoullos, Ann R. “The Idea of Equality Once Again: A Plea for Contestability.” Philosophical Inquiry 15. 1-2 (1993): 59-75.
Cohen, Gerald A. “Freedom and Money” 2001: 1-32. Web.
Gifford, Mark. “Dramatic Dialectic in Republic Book 1.” Ed. David Sedley. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XX. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. 35-106.
Lear, Jonathan. “Inside and Outside the Republic.” Phronesis 37. 2 (1992): 184-215.
Plato. Republic. Trans. Paul Shorey. 1935. 2 vols. Cambridge: Loeb-Harvard UP, 1970.
Plato. Republic. Trans. G. M. A. Grube. 1974. Rev. ed. C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett 1992.
Saxenhouse, Arlene W. “Democracy, equality and eide: a radical view from Book 8 of Plato’s Republic.” The American Political Science Review 92. 2 (Jun 1998): 273-83. ProQuest
Schofield, Malcolm. Plato: Political Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.
Vlastos, Gregory. “Justice and Equality.” Ed. Richard Brandt. Social Justice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, A Spectrum Book (1962). 31-72.
Williams, Bernard. “The Analogy of City and Soul in Plato’s Republic.” 1973. Ed.
Ellen Wagner. Essays on Plato’s Psychology. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001. 157-168.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell, 1958. par. 127, p.50e.