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Literary Notes - The Republic


“Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils – no, nor the human race, as I believe – and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.” (Pg. 180)

Page numbers correspond to the Barnes & Noble Classics Series version. Direct quotes are in quotations, while paraphrases are not.

Philosophers, and people in general, can be likened to seeds which grow throughout their lives. They must be given proper nutriment and a proper environment in which to live in so that they can grow to their full potential. If people are given poor education, likened to improper nutriment, then they turn evil. However, if they are properly educated, they will mature and become virtuous and proper people, giving them the chance to be true philosophers. (Pg. 199)

Those who are accustomed to living in the dark (metaphorically speaking) always ridicule and reject the proclamations of those who see the world as it truly is. And, seeing the truth as ridiculous, they will be even more convinced that their own conceptions are the truth. Most people live in this blind state, and when it comes their turn to rule over others, they are unable to do so with true virtue because they see the world through their own visions. (Pg. 227 onwards)

On Democracy & Its Faults-

“And democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.” (Pg. 274)

“These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.” Note that Plato was a believer that some people were naturally better than others. (Pg. 276)

Democracies usually come about from revolutions against oligarchies. Thus, they maintain the greediness of oligarchic culture, despite trying to be rid of it early on. “There is a battle and they gain the day, and then modesty, which they call silliness, is ignominiously thrust into exile by them, and temperance, which they nick-name unmanliness, is trampled in the mire and cast forth.” Then democracies see their cultures become obsessed with “unnecessary pleasures” and become wasteful, rude, rebellious and shameless with pride in this new culture they have formed. (Pgs. 278-279)

“He (the democratic man) lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; and then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head . . . His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.” (Pg. 280)

“Freedom, which, as they tell you in a democracy, is the glory of the State – and that therefore in a democracy alone will the freeman of nature deign to dwell.” (Pg. 281)

The rich and powerful in democracies take from the poor and downtrodden, and they distribute their takings amongst themselves and the other people. Then, the victims of these thieves try to defend themselves, but are deemed enemies of democracy. (Pg. 285)

On Revolution & The Rise of the Tyrant-

“And the end is that when they see the people, not of their own accord, but through ignorance, and because they are deceived by informers, seeking to do them wrong, then at last they are forced to become oligarchs in reality; they do not wish to be, but the sting of the drones torments them and breeds revolution in them . . . Then come impeachments and judgments and trials of one another . . . The people have always some champion (a demagogue) whom they set over them and nurse into greatness . . . This, and no other, is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector.” (Pg. 285)

“And the protector of the people . . . having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the  favorite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow-citizens; some he kills and others he banishes, t the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf – that is, a tyrant?” Plato continues to describe the path of a tyrant who has hijacked a democratic state. (Pg. 286)

“At first, in the early days of his power, he is full of smiles, and he salutes everyone whom he meets; he is to be called a tyrant, who is making promises in public and also in private! Liberating debtors, and distributing land to the people and his followers, and wanting to be so kind and good to everyone!” (Pg. 287)

“Those, then, who know not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony and sensuality, go down and up again as far as the mean; and in this region they move at random throughout life, but they never pass into the true upper world; thither they neither look, nor do they ever find their way, neither are they truly filled with true being, nor do they taste of pure and abiding pleasure. Like cattle, with their eyes always looking down and their heads stooping to the earth, that is, to the dining-table, they fatten and feed and breed, and, in their excessive love of these delights, they kick and butt at one another with horns and hoofs which are made of iron; and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust. For they fill themselves with that which is not substantial, and the part of themselves which they fill is also unsubstantial and incontinent . . . Their pleasures are mixed with pains – how can they be otherwise? For they are mere shadows and pictures of the true, and are colored by contrast, which exaggerates both light and shade, and so they implant in the minds of fools insane desires of themselves.” (Pg. 310)

“A man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest, coming upon tyrannies and similar villainies, he do irremediable wrongs to others and suffer yet worse himself; but let him know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible, not only in this life but in all that which is to come. For this is the way of happiness.” (Pg. 349)

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