Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Table of Contents
Socrates' analysis of the relations among the five types of constitutions. He began with the perfect state, aristocracy, and now he proceeds to trace its decline from timocracy, to oligarchy, to democracy, and, finally, to the most wretched constitution, tyranny. He assumes that the best comes first. But he does recognize that there is a serious obstacle to the acceptance of his political theory of progressive degeneration: How can that which is perfect be susceptible to decay?
The just state, by definition, is perfect. And perfection, by definition, cannot undergo change because the term entails completeness, perpetual harmony, absence of destructive forces. Thus, Socrates has to show the presence of destructive forces where it would seem logical to assume that no destruction can occur.
Alas, even in the perfect state, somebody is going to make a mistake. The ideals of the intelligible world cannot long exist in the actual world of ever-changing events and of human passion. Socrates demonstrates how such mistakes come to pass by presenting a mathematical account of the proper times for "divine begettings." He says that all life forms are endowed with a predetermined cycle that somehow corresponds to the cycles of the heavenly bodies. These cycles, he says, can be mathematically calculated and known. Unfortunately, one day it will happen that the rulers of the perfect state will forget or ignore the proper cycles for human conception and beget children out of season. These indiscretions will lead to the decline of civilization. And the fall from aristocracy to degenerate forms of government and souls occurs, it turns out, because of poorly timed sex. Because of the rulers' failure to observe the cycle of divine begettings, iron people mix with silver and bronze people mix with gold (recall the Myth of the Metals in Book III). And the result is a less than perfect society-a timocracy.
But Socrates does not rely on the notion of the cycle of divine begettings alone to explain the eventual decay of the perfect state. He also says that political changes and revolutions occur when dissension arises within the ruling class. The inadequacies of and the quarrels among members of the ruling class often result in changes in governmental organization. The change from the rule of reason to the rule of emotion is the first change Socrates chronicles.
A timocracy is the rule of people who love honor (time is Greek for "honor"). A timocratic state emerges when the auxiliaries, the high-spirited warriors of the just state, begin to usurp the power of the philosopher kings, the lovers of wisdom. The auxiliaries' love of honor engenders in them secret ambitions for power and wealth. Thus, when these warriors become the rulers of the state, they acquire personal possessions and maintain individual families. They begin neglecting their studies of the arts and sciences, and concentrate on physical training. And they don't educate future soldiers and rulers in dialectic (philosophy).
One name describes this first-level degenerate society-Sparta. Sparta had a form of government that Plato admired and it is his model for timocracy. It may have been less than a perfect state but, for Plato, it was as close to perfection as any existing state can become, except for one immensely major detail: Sparta did not encourage philosophy.