A Synopsis of Plato’s Political Views

Plato, the great philosopher, held a lot of views on different aspects of life. He had opinions about politics, friendship, and love. There are a lot of writings about the various views he held about a lot of issues that were the society during his day, most of which still hold and apply to our modern day society. His views on politics were mostly centered around democracy. He shared his thoughts about the process of choosing leaders in a democracy and how there were no guarantee theses leaders would not one day become tyrants. He also expressed his opinion on the need for politicians to acquire formal education like other professionals.
In this article, we will discuss his views on politics in general.
Plato’s Views of Democracy

  • Criticism of democracy: Plato was one of the first philosophers that first criticized democracy in his writings. Like Socrates, he had significant doubts about the ability of the citizens to make the right choices about running the affairs of the state in Athens and argued that with time it would develop into tyranny. This he claims is as a result of the freedom and political equality that democracy gives which will lead to disobedience to moral and political authority. This will give rise to a conflict of interest between self-desire and that of the public good he argued.
  • The difficulty of ordinary people to understand the common good: Another of his political view on democracy is how difficult it is sometimes for the regular citizens to know the better side of freedom. Plato points this as a failure of democracy because democracy consists of the government of the thoughtless, violent, and cruel. Most people are not best put in the position of leadership because of their failure to picture reality and to free themselves from the physical. It feels it is philosophers that possess the right thinking about how perfect things should be.  This forms the basis he used in arriving on his judgments about how he feels about why knowledge and not the will of the people should prevail.

The point most be noted here that he was not against democracy in itself. What he argues is that it should be able to show that it can make individuals make sound and objective views.  But based upon his assessment of the Athens of his day he arrived at the conclusion that it has proved to lack the qualities to satisfy his thinking. To buttress his point on the ignorance of the citizens, he gave an example about how a doctor and a cook view food. While the desire of the cook is to give his clients satisfaction, the doctor looks at the health benefits to be derived from the food. He likened the cook to a politician whose chief aim is to get votes, and the doctor to a philosopher who thinks of what is best good for the society.

  • Public opinion not a personification of wisdom: Still arguing about democracy he went on to point out that the public sometimes does not mean the opinion is a wise one. He used the keeper of a healthy and big animal for illustration and pointed the fact that the keeper may study and understand all the behaviors of the animal. But he may not be able to tell which of the actions of the animal is bad or good. He then points that a politician that observes the opinion of the public to decide what is right or wrong may err in judgment. The philosopher can discern what is best for the public through reflective thinking without being carried away by the general opinion of the public.

Plato’s Views of Governance

  • No good lives without good government: Plato argued that the citizens cannot enjoy good life without having good government in place. His belief was that good government could only be in place when there are leaders that are intelligent and upright. He used the following example to explain why leaders that are smart and honest are needed in the society. For consideration, Plato used the example of where we go to when we need a solution to a problem. If we need health care, we visit a doctor, for legal counseling we visit a lawyer, and for construction works we contact architects and engineers. But when we want to elect our leaders we then consult everybody including the most ignorant among us. This he argues is not proper. He then points out the need for leaders to have knowledge of various subjects.
  • Only qualified people should govern: Plato holds the idea that only people that have knowledge of government should be allowed to govern the state. He argued that because the society allows every citizen the right to vie for an elective position does not mean anybody can rule the country. He makes an example of a physician who knows nothing about medicine but is practicing medicine because it is a free economy and asked the question if you will visit such a doctor knowing full well that the physician is not a trained one. Therefore if you will not visit an unqualified doctor, then why allow people that have no knowledge of politics to rule? His argument here was that only people that have knowledge about how to govern the state should be authorized to rule as leaders.

Plato held several views about politics most of which a lot of writers have written. He held the view that democracy though good does not allow the most qualified individuals to be elected to steer the affairs of the state. He also held the view that only highly intelligent and morally upright members of the society should be allowed to handle the affairs of the state. His views contain a lot of lessons about good governance and leadership that the community can still benefit from today. It is our strong believe that these lessons are still relevant and should be used as a reference point by leaders of today.
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