Rule of Law and Tyranny in Modern Democracy

Essay by porcupinetree October 2008

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Rule of Law and Tyranny in Modern DemocracyOne of the most significant obstacles to using Plato as а guide to modern politics is his view of democracy. Plato has much to say on the subject of selfgovernment, and little of it seems good. Although many interpreters have gone so far as to turn Plato into an enthusiastic democrat, we need to be cautious lest our methodology become mere wishful thinking.

Although the mix of democracy and monarchy is said to be the most desirable, the Athenian does admit that the most perfect origin of а city is tyrannical; the most desirable way for а lawgiver to implement legislation is to do so after the rule of а tyrant. "Let no one persuade us, friends, that there will ever be а quicker or easier way for а city to change its laws than through the hegemony of all-powerful rulers," he says.

"This is the case now and it will always be so." (Strauss, 231) The Athenian lists the order of desirability as tyranny, monarchy, democracy, and oligarchy.

Concerning the administration and aim of а political community, Plato is more favorably disposed to democracy and democratic principles than he is typically given credit for. Although Plato does not endorse а pure democracy, it appears that, concerning the origins of regimes and purposes of government, many well-governed and desirable polities have elements of democracy at their founding; and, to some extent, these regimes adhere to democratic principles, such as equality and participation.

Democracy is second only to oligarchy as the regime most resistant to the establishment of good laws, а defect that is only relevant at the founding. Although democracy and monarchy are later presented as good regimes, tyranny is most desirable when founding а city. Tyranny may not be the most virtuous...