Democracy is Anarchy in The Republic

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Our systems are at the breaking point now. We need more roads, more hospitals, more schools, more nurses, more teachers, more police, more fire, more water, more energy, more ports…more, more, more. [1]

I

Socrates apparently maintains a contradiction in his discussion of the democratic constitution in the state and soul. At times he describes democracy as a form of governance, or “rule” (ἀρχόϛ).[2] At other times, however, Socrates describes democracy as lacking rule, or “anarchy” (ἂναρχоϛ).[3] Socrates’ application of both the terms “rule” and “anarchy” to democracy sets a hurdle for any interpretation of democracy in the Republic. [4]

Socrates does not simply mean that democracy is a form of rule and that it is anarchy (not a form of rule).[5] To see through the contradictory appearance, we need an account of “rule” and “anarchy” as applied to democracy. In what follows, I begin with an account of the terms. Then, I turn to Socrates’ account of the soul to specify ruling in the soul. The account of ruling in the soul also applies to political rule. With an account of ruling in the democratic state and soul, I return to Socrates’ claims about rule and anarchy and show that they are consistent.

II

This section lists some occurrences of the term “rule,” and all the occurrences of the term “anarchy” in the Republic. Consider the term “rule,” as applied to democracy. Democracy establishes rule by the people, everybody has “an equal share in ruling under the constitution” (557a4). The democratic constitution involves rule by lot, by the poor, and by the majority (557a2-5). Like democracy, every other constitution that Socrates discusses establishes rule by a certain group and in a certain way. So, Socrates holds that democracy is one way to rule, or govern, a society.

Yet, Socrates also describes the democratic constitution as a form of anarchy:

T1. Then these and others like them are the characteristics of democracy. And it would seem to be a pleasant constitution, which lacks rulers (ἂναρχоϛ), but not variety…(Bk. VIII, 558c4)[6]

In T1, Socrates says that the democracy does not have rulers (ἂναρχоϛ). A constitution that does not have rulers is anarchy (ἂναρχíα). Along similar lines, Socrates says that democracy has “no requirement to rule, even if you are capable of it, or again to be ruled if you don’t want to be” (557e2-4). Democracy holds freedom as the primary good. Democratic freedom has disastrous effects on every inhabitant of the city:

T2. It [freedom] makes its way into private households and in the end breeds anarchy even among the animals. (Bk. VIII, 562e3-5)

Just as democracy establishes anarchy concerning its citizens, it does the same concerning its non-human animals. The practical result of so much freedom is that humans do not limit the freedom of any animal. Under a democratic constitution the animals are “freer than anywhere else” (563c4-5).

Since Socrates argues that political constitutions are analogous to the constitution of the soul, it is no surprise that Socrates’ discussion of the democratic soul contains the same apparent contradiction about rule. Concerning the democratic soul, Socrates maintains, at times, that the democratic soul is one of many forms of rule. In Book IV, he tells us that sometimes appetite “attempts to enslave and rule over the classes it isn’t fit to rule, thereby overturning everyone’s life” (442b1-2). Also, he tells us that spirit and appetite can cause a “civil war…a rebellion by some part against the whole soul in order to rule it inappropriately” (444b1-3). Subsequently, in Book VIII, Socrates calls the democrat a “drone” and then describes his soul:

And didn’t we say that the person we just now called a drone is full of such pleasures and desires, since he is ruled by the unnecessary ones, while the thrifty oligarch is ruled by the necessary desires (Bk. VIII, 559c8-d3).[7]

Socrates states that the democrat is ruled by unnecessary desires. So, he is committed to holding that the democratic soul is ruled.

Yet, Socrates describes the democrat’s soul as anarchy:

T3. Having thus emptied and purged these from the soul of the one they have possessed and initiated in splendid rites, they proceed to return insolence, anarchy, extravagance, and shamelessness from exile in a blazing torchlight, wreathing them in garlands and accompanying them with a vast chorus of followers. They praise the returning exiles and give them fine names, calling insolence good breeding, anarchy freedom, extravagance magnificence, and shamelessness courage. (Bk. VIII, 560d8-561a1)

In this passage, Socrates twice applies the term “anarchy” to the democrat’s soul. The first use of the term sets the stage for the second. In the second use, he tells us that what the democrat calls freedom is actually anarchy. The democrat calls democracy freedom. So, Socrates must mean that the democratic constitution of soul, the freedom loving soul, is actually an anarchic soul.

So, it seems that Socrates offers a contradiction concerning the governance of both the democratic state and soul. These descriptions of the democratic constitution as anarchy stand out among the descriptions of constitutions. Of course he never applies the term “anarchy,” or its cognates, to the aristocratic constitution. More significantly, he never applies the term to the timocratic or oligarchic constitutions.

Socrates does apply the term “anarchy” to the tyrant, once:

T4. But, rather, erotic love lives like a tyrant within him [the tyrannical man], in complete anarchy and lawlessness as a sole ruler (μόναρχоϛ)…, and drives him, as if he were a city, to dare anything that will provide sustenance for itself and the unruly mob around it…(BK. IX, 575a1-2)

In T4, the term “anarchy” is paired with the term “sole ruler,” (μόναρχоϛ) to describe Eros as a ruling monarch. The passage portrays a monarch that rules lawlessly and anarchically. Whatever is involved with this use of “anarchy,” it does not allow for any other part of the soul to rule. Socrates makes the analogous point about tyranny in the state. The only other text, in Republic, that has “monarch,” tells us that the tyrant “achieves sole rule” or “monarchy” (576b8). So, tyrannical “anarchy” differs importantly from democratic “anarchy.” We saw that in democracy everyone gets a chance to rule. Under tyranny there is only one ruler.

T1-T4 hold the only occurrences of the term “anarchy,” or its cognates, to be found anywhere in Republic. They are placed carefully. Of the five occurrences, T1-T3 hold four. These four occurrences of the term “anarchy” apply only to democracy. Socrates holds that democracy is a form of rule that lacks rulers. To unpack this we need to know what democratic rule is.

III

To better understand democratic rule, we need to consider what is involved when one part of the state, or the soul, rules. I start with ruling in the soul and then discuss ruling in politics. Socrates distinguishes the parts of the soul in Book IV, through the principle of opposition (hereafter, PO).[8] “It is obvious that the same thing will never do or suffer opposites, in the same respect, in relation to the same thing, and at the same time” (436b6–7). Socrates’ examples of “opposites” are examples of contraries.[9] He suggests, motion and rest, pleasure and pain, assenting and dissenting, and drawing toward and pushing away (Bk. I. 350b; IV. 436c4 and 437c; IX. 583c). These pairs are contraries, since an agent may be indifferent to an object.[10] PO functions through three conjoined qualifications: A single thing cannot do or suffer opposites; a) in the same respect, b) in relation to the same thing, and c) at the same time. If there is no distinction according to the qualifications a), b), or c), then the subject is not one thing. If the subject is not one thing, then it is “a plurality” (436c1). A “plurality” is complex, or has parts. Socrates understands PO as implying that the same thing can do or suffer opposites, if there is a distinction according to the first, second, or third qualification (436e6).

With PO, Socrates offers a series of illustrations such that one part of the soul opposes another, without qualification. Each part of the soul is a desire, so each case illustrates opposing desires. In one case, the desire not to drink opposes the desire to drink (439b). The prohibitive desire is a rational desire, and the protreptic desire is an appetitive desire. In the second case, the desire not to look opposes the desire to look (439e-440a). The prohibitive desire is a spirited desire and the protreptic desire is an appetitive desire. In the third case, the desire not to kill a group of people opposes the desire to kill them (441a-b). The prohibitive desire is a rational desire and the protreptic desire is a spirited desire. In Book IV, Socrates offers at least these three cases of opposition, reason vs. appetite, spirit vs. appetite, and reason vs. spirit. In each case, when one part rules another it determines what is thought to be good and the corresponding action that realizes that good. According to BK. IV, the desires compete and the result is always that one desire rules the others in both thought and action. So, here are the bipartite possibilities of ruling in the soul:

Bipartite Rule

Reason

Appetite

Reason

Spirit

Spirit

Reason

Spirit

Appetite

Appetite

Reason

Appetite

Spirit

 

In the chart, the ruling desire is placed above the ruled desire, linked through a unidirectional-downward-arrow, “↓.” Socrates holds also that there are tripartite possibilities:

Tripartite Rule

Reason

↓        ↓

Appetite        Spirit

Spirit

↓      ↓

Reason      Appetite

Appetite

↓          ↓

Reason          Spirit

The top box represents the aristocratic soul, the middle box represents the timocratic soul, and the bottom box is ambiguous. It represents the three appetitive constitutions, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny.

In Book VIII, Socrates distinguishes the three constitutions. He does so by distinguishing three appetitive desires, which he names the necessary desires, the unnecessary desires, and the base desires. He tells us that the oligarch’s soul is ruled by the necessary desires. Such desires must be satisfied to live, and they are beneficial desires (559b). If you do not satisfy them, you will die. He unequivocally describes the oligarch as ruled in a certain way, “the thrifty oligarch is ruled (ἀρχόμενον) by his necessary desires” (559c8-d2).[11] As I noted earlier, Socrates never applies the term “anarchy,” in any of its forms, to an oligarchy. Furthermore, the oligarch “makes the rational and spirited parts sit on the ground beneath appetite, one on either side reducing them to slaves…” (553d). In the oligarch’s soul there is one ruler, the necessary appetites:

The Oligarchic Soul

Necessary Appetites

Reason

Spirit

Unnecessary Appetites

Lawless

Appetites

 

In Books VIII and IX, Socrates discusses the tyrant. The tyrant is ruled by base desires, such as the desire to eat human flesh, the desire to have sex with one’s own mother, and the desire to have sex with beasts (571c3-d4). We saw, in T4, that Socrates describes the tyrant’s soul as a monarchy. In the lines before T4 Socrates says, “Now, however, under the tyranny of erotic love, he has permanently become while awake what he used to become occasionally while asleep” (574e2-3). Tyranny is a permanent monarchy. Under tyranny, the lawless appetites banish reason. He describes the tyrant as “never getting a taste of either freedom or true friendship” (576a). Under tyranny the tyrant rules alone, without options, helpers, or friends. In this way the tyrant is alone:

The Tyrannical  Soul

Lawless Appetites

Reason

Spirit

Necessary

Appetites

Unnecessary Appetites

 

Though Socrates’ applies the term “monarchy” to the tyrant in a specific way, the term more generally means “sole ruler.” In this way the term simply means that the constitution has no more than one ruler. In which case, a monarch is the one part that rules every other part such that no other part rules. I call these rulers “monarchs” and I call this type of rule “direct rule.” By broadening the term “monarchy,” we see that it applies to every constitution charted so far. Every constitution, thus far, has a monarch, or a direct ruler.

Democracy is not a form of monarchy. Socrates describes rule in the mature democrat:

He…puts his pleasures on equal footing. And so he lives, always surrendering rule over him self to whichever desire comes along, as if chosen by lot. And when that is satisfied, he surrenders rule to another, not disdaining any but satisfying them equally. (561b1-5)

The democratic constitution gives each desire a chance to rule. In this way, the democrat pursues all the desires. He gives rule to whichever desire is momentarily strongest, because he loves freedom and freedom of speech (557b). The freedom at issue, for the democrat, is the freedom to satisfy every desire. The democrat is “a complex man, full of all sorts of characters, fine and multicolored, just like the democratic city” (561e5-7). The image that Socrates offers is rich. It suggests that the democratic constitution includes, in some way, other constitutions. It also suggests that the democratic character includes, in some way, other character types. So, it is not surprising to find Socrates say that democracies are good places to shop for a constitution. Democracy “contains all kinds of constitutions…” (557d4-5). Socrates suggests that the democratic constitution is a constitution that includes, in some way, other constitutions.

To map out the democratic soul with a direct ruler, just as I have mapped out the others, would be a mistake. The democratic constitution does not have a direct ruler. Since democracy contains constitutions and since constitutions involve a ruling relationship, democracy must contain multiple ruling relations. Though the democrat’s soul is usually in civil war, when it does assume a structure, the democratic structure has one part ruling other parts, which rule still other parts:

The Democratic Soul

 

Unnecessary Appetites

 

Reason

Spirit

Necessary Appetites (NA)

Lawless Appetites

(LA)

Spirit

NA

LA

Reason

NA

LA

Reason

Spirit

LA

Reason

Spirit

NA

In the chart, unnecessary desire is not sole ruler, it rules differently. I use the term “indirect rule” to name a ruler that does not rule directly. Indirect rule can occur in two ways. One way to rule indirectly is to rule without also being ruled. In this way, unnecessary desire rules indirectly. A second way to rule indirectly is to rule and to be ruled. In this way the desires on the middle row rule indirectly. These desires are ruled rulers. We will fill-in the active desires differently in different concrete cases, since the democratic constitution is unstable. In each case, however, a desire may function in the chart only once and some desire other than the unnecessary appetites must rule some other desire.

In the democratic soul, unnecessary desire rules impoverished approximations of the other four character types. The middle row of the table indicates the possible arrangements of the different character subtypes. Reading from left to right on that row, we have the approximation of the aristocrat, the timocrat, the oligarch, and the tyrant. The subtypes fail to fully represent the character types, since they leave out unnecessary appetite. In the aristocrat, for example, reason rules directly. In the democrat, however, reason rules indirectly and it does not rule unnecessary appetite. Here, reason may indirectly rule only spirit, necessary appetite, and the lawless appetite. Socrates describes reason’s indirect rule, when he describes the democrat’s relation to philosophy. He says, “Sometimes he [the democrat] even occupies himself with what he takes to be philosophy” (561d1-2). The democrat is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of none. He is a dabbler and an imposter.[12]

One might object that I treat the three parts of appetite as three parts of the soul, on a par with reason and spirit.[13] The objection goes on to note that in Book VIII Socrates does not invoke PO to distinguish the three parts of appetite. I reply that Socrates does not refuse to apply PO to the parts of appetite, though he does not explicitly apply PO to these parts. Further, he does illustrate opposition between the parts of appetite. He describes the appetitive desires as in “civil war,” as “battling against” each other, and as “pulled in both directions.”[14] Socrates clearly thinks that the parts of appetite are different parts.

PO can help support his position. Here is a quick sketch of how it may work. In Book IV, we are told that the appetites love money. It is plausible to suppose that the necessary appetites could desire not to spend some money in a wasteful way and that the unnecessary appetites could desire to spend the money in a wasteful way. If the opposing desires occur at the same time, in the same relation and respect, then the desires are from different parts of the soul. Again, it is plausible to suppose that the necessary appetites could oppose the lawless appetites over some costly sexual encounter. Finally, it is plausible to suppose that the unnecessary appetites could oppose the lawless appetites over some forbidden food (e.g., human flesh). These indicate plausible illustrations, wherein the parts of appetite oppose each other in the same respect, in relation to the same thing, and at the same time. So, according to PO, the three parts of appetite really are three different parts of the soul.

The unjust constitutions of soul each involve an “over-reaching,” or “pleonexia” (πλεоνεξíα), by one part of the soul (359c5). Socrates uses “pleonexia” to name the desire for more, or the desire for the most of something. In the oligarch, the desire for more is narrowed to the desire for more money, or wealth. The oligarch suffers from a particular kind of pleonexia. He suffers from what amounts to the desire for as much money as possible. The tyrant suffers from what amounts to be the desire for as much lawless pleasure as possible. The democrat desires freedom and so he desires as much freedom as possible. As it turns out the democrat suffers differently from the others. The freedom that he desires is the freedom to satisfy any and every desire. So, he suffers from what amounts to be a desire for the most desire. The conclusions about the democratic soul imply analogous conclusions concerning the democratic state. The democratic state includes impoverished approximations of the other states. When the democratic state seeks freedom, it seeks to satisfy the desires of every state.

IV

With this interpretation of “ruling” in the democratic state and soul, I return to Socrates’ claims about democratic “anarchy.” We saw, in T1 (reprinted in the footnote below), that Socrates described the democratic constitution as “lacking rulers but not variety.”[15] He goes on to say “…and which distributes a kind of equality to both equals and unequals alike” (558c5-6). Socrates links the concept of democratic anarchy to the equality that democracy distributes in ruling as it does. The democratic constitution has many rulers. The previous interpretation charts the distribution of equality under democracy. By distributing equality in ruling, as it does, the democratic constitution fails to have a direct ruler. Every other constitution, in contrast, has a direct ruler. The chart that represents democratic constitution shows that the democrat has indirect rulers. Socrates expresses this difference by calling democratic rule “anarchy.”

In T2, Socrates claimed that democracy “breeds anarchy even among the animals.”[16] Socrates goes on at length about the lack of rule in democracy. For example, convicted criminals walk about freely, because the decisions of courts mean nothing. He holds that democratic rule is not substantive. The previous interpretation I offered shows that democracy establishes indirect rule. Democracy embodies, at best, impoverished approximations of the other constitutions. Democratic rule fails to establish direct rule. In this way, it fails to establish rule.

We saw that T3 contains the term “anarchy” twice.[17] In the first occurrence of the term, Socrates says that the democratic soul ushers in “anarchy.” He names a host of other features, such as “insolence,” “extravagance,” and “shamelessness.” The previous interpretation of ruling shows that the democrat is free to indulge any desire without shame or rebuke. Since, neither reason, nor spirit, nor necessary appetite directly rules the other parts. In T3, Socrates pairs-up the features. He tells us that the democrat calls “insolence good breeding, anarchy freedom, extravagance magnificence, and shamelessness courage.” We saw that democratic freedom amounts to a freedom from direct rule. It is the freedom to desire the most desires. As I chart the democratic constitution, it does just this. It maximizes the combinations of desires, and it lacks a direct ruler.

If the previous discussion hits the mark, it shows that a democratic constitution is both a form of rule and anarchy. The democratic constitution does establish indirect rule. It lacks, however, a direct ruler, which every other constitution has. So, Socrates does not forward a contradiction in holding that a democratic constitution is both “rule” and “anarchy.”

 

Notes

[1] The quote is from the Governor of California, A. Schwarzenegger, in his State of the State Address (2006). For the complete text, see “http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite.”

[2] Socrates uses the noun “arxos” and its various cognates to expresses the presence of rule.

[3] The term “anarxos” is a compound of a prefix,  “an” meaning not, and “arxos” meaning rule. So, literally the term means “no rule.” All references to the lexical meaning of Greek terms are drawn from, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) 51, and 62.

[4] To recall, Socrates ranks the constitutions in the following descending order; the aristocracy, timocracy oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Accordingly, the character types are ruled by the desires of reason, spirit, the necessary appetites, the unnecessary appetites, and the lawless appetites.

[5] Interpreters disagree about rule in the democratic constitution. Cooper holds that the democrat is ruled by unnecessary desires. See, Cooper’s, Reason and Emotion, Princeton University Press (1997), 127. T. Penner does not take the three parts of appetite as parts of the soul, equal to reason and spirit. See, “Thought and Desire in Plato,” Penner, Chapter 6 in Plato Vol. II. ed. Gregory Vlastos. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press (1971), 112. AE Taylor thinks the three parts of soul are not to be taken seriously. See A.E. Taylor’s, Plato, The Man and His Work, New York: The Dial Press Inc. (1936), 281-282. White stresses the lack of rule by describing the democratic constitution as a “jumble of desires.” See, A Companion to Plato’s Republic, N. White, Hackett Press: Indianapolis (1979) 214. I argue that the three parts of appetite are three different parts of the soul, and I specify just how the democratic constitution is a “jumble of desires.”

[6] This is the first textual reference to the term “anarchy.” Since I will refer to this passage again, I name it text number one, or “T1.” Translations are drawn from the Grube translation as found in, Plato Complete Works, Cooper ed. Hackett (1997), 971-1223.

[7] Since this text does not include the term “anarchy,” I do not name it.

[8] Interpreters do not agree either on what to call this principle, or on what this principle means. Some call it a “principle of conflict,” some call it a “principle of non–contrary doings,” others call it a “principle of non–contradiction,” and still others call it a “principle of opposition.” See, Stalley, R.F. 1975. “Plato’s Argument for the Division of the Reasoning and Appetitive Elements within the Soul.” Phronesis: 75, vol. XX, (1975), 110; and see “Human Nature, Psychic Energy, and Self-Actualization in Plato’s Republic.” Teloh, Henry, The Southern Journal of Philosophy. vol. XIV, no. 3, Fall (1976) 347. Since contraries and contradictories are importantly different, we can see that these descriptions are also importantly different. The principle refers to two propositions that are contraries. Since Plato refers to the propositions as opposites, and he has an account of opposition, I call it  “the principle of opposition.” Stalley discusses some surmountable difficulties involved with Plato’s concept of opposites (120–122).

[9] Two propositions are contraries iff, both of them cannot be true and both of them can be false. Two propositions are contradictory iff, both of them cannot be true, and both of them cannot be false.

[10] If the agent is indifferent and sits still, then he neither draws an object to himself nor pushes it away. Thus, the two members cannot be contradictories. Still, if one member of a pair is true of an agent, then the other cannot be true of him in the same respect, in relation to the same thing, and at the same time.

[11] The context shows that the participle “arxomenon” (559d1) applies to both the oligarch and the democrat. As we saw in section two of this paper, the democrat is “ruled” by the unnecessary desires.

[12] Socrates has reason to think that the democrat is preferable to the tyrant. The democrat never directly devotes himself, or rules himself, under lawless desires.

[13] See Penner, 112.

[14] The first two quotes come from Bk. VIII, 560a-c. The third quote comes from Bk. IX, 572c-d. In addition, Socrates describes opposition between the appetitive parts at 573b.

[15] T1. Then these and others like them are the characteristics of democracy. And it would seem to be a pleasant constitution, which lacks rulers, but not variety… (558c4)

[16] T2. It (democracy) makes its way into private households and in the end breeds anarchy even among the animals. (562e3-5)

[17] T3. Having thus emptied and purged these from the soul of the one they have possessed and initiated in splendid rites, they proceed to return insolence, anarchy, extravagance, and shamelessness from exile in a blazing torchlight, wreathing them in garlands and accompanying them with a vast chorus of followers. They praise the returning exiles and give them fine names, calling insolence good breeding, anarchy freedom, extravagance magnificence, and shamelessness courage. (560d8-561a1)

 

“Democracy is Anarchy in The Republic,” originally published with the title “Classical Democracy and Culture,” in Democracy: Pluralism and Utah, Lee Trepanier, ed. Southern Utah University Press, 2006, pp. 7–20.

Kirk Fitzpatrick

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Kirk Fitzpatrick is an Associate Editor of VoegelinView, an Associate Professor of Philosophy, and former Director of the Grace A. Tanner Center at Southern Utah University (2012-16). He is author of A Philosophical Reader on Moral Weakness: Akrasia, Weakness of Will, and Practical Irrationality (Linus, 2009).