Chapter 1

Aristocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, Tyranny

by Socrates Icon

In the perfect State:

  • the wives and children of guardians are to be in common
  • all education and war and peace are also to be common
  • the best philosophers and the bravest warriors are to be their kings
  • the governors, when appointed themselves, will take their soldiers and place them in common houses and contain nothing private.

None of them are to have any of the ordinary possessions. They are to be warrior-athletes and guardians. They receive from the other citizens, in lieu of annual payment, only their maintenance. They are to take care of themselves and the State.


You said that such a State was good and the man was good who answered to it.

I asked you the four forms of government or your ‘four constitutions’.


The four governments are:

  1. Those of Crete and Sparta [Aristocracy]. These are generally applauded.
  2. Oligarchy comes next. This is not equally approved as it is a form of government which teems with evils.
  3. Democracy, which naturally follows oligarchy, although very different.
  4. Tyranny is fourth. It is great and famous and differs from them all. It is the worst disorder of a State.

There are lordships and principalities which are bought and sold, and some other intermediate forms of government. But these are nondescripts and may be found equally among Hellenes and barbarians.

Glaucon Yes, we hear of many curious forms of government among them.

Governments vary as the dispositions of men vary. There must be as many of the one as there are of the other. States are not made of ‘oak and rock.’ They are made out of the human natures which are in them. These, in a figure, turn the scale and draw other things after them. If the constitutions of States are five, the dispositions of individual minds will also be five.

  1. The aristocracy is made up of those who are right and good.
  2. The Spartan polity [timocratical] is made up of the contentious and ambitious
  3. The oligarchical
  4. The democratical
  5. The tyrannical

Let us place the most just beside the most unjust so that we can compare:

  • the happiness of the person who lives in pure justice, and
  • the unhappiness the person living in pure injustice.

This will then help us choose whether to pursue justice, or to pursue injustice, as Thrasymachus advises. We shall follow our old plan and take the State first, then proceed to the individual.



We shall begin with the government of honour which is called timocracy, or perhaps timarchy. We will:

  • compare with this the like character in the individual, then
  • consider oligarchy and the oligarchical man, then
  • consider democracy and the democratical man, and
  • lastly, tyranny and the tyrant’s soul.

First, how does timocracy (the government of honour) arise out of aristocracy (the government of the best)?

The Decline in the Morals and the Rise of Ego of Aristocrats leads to Timocrats


All political changes originate in divisions of the actual governing power. A government which is united, however small, cannot be moved. How then, will our city be moved? How will the two classes of auxiliaries and rulers disagree among themselves or with one another?

Everything that has a beginning has also an end. Even a constitution such as yours will not last forever. The fertility and sterility of the soul and body of plants and animals occur when the circumferences of the circles of each are completed.

  • Short lives pass over a short space.
  • Long lives pass over a long space.

But all the wisdom and education of your rulers will not attain the knowledge of human fecundity and sterility. The laws which regulate them will not be discovered by any sense-based intelligence. The rulers will bring children into the world when they should not.

Divine birth has a period which is contained in a perfect number. But human birth has a period of 3 intervals and 4 numbers of like or waxing and unlike or waning. These make all the terms commensurable and agreeable to one another. The base of these, with a third added, when combined with 5 and raised to the 3rd power creates two harmonies:

  • The first is a square which is 100 times as great.
  • The other is a shape having one side equal to the former, but oblong. It consists of 100 numbers squared upon rational diameters of a square, the side of which is five. Each side is less by one or less by two perfect squares of irrational diameters. This number represents a shape which has control over the good and evil of births.

Aristocracy is destryoed when the Four Castes become unequal


When your guardians are ignorant of the law of births, and unite bride and bridegroom out of season, the children will not be goodly or fortunate. Only the best of them will be appointed by their predecessors. But they will be unworthy to hold their fathers’ places.

When they come into power as guardians, they will fail to take care of us and the Muses, first by under-valuing music. This neglect will soon extend to gymnastics. Hence, the young men of your State will be less cultivated. In the succeeding generation, the rulers will be appointed.

They would lose the guardian power of testing the metal of your different races, which, like Hesiod’s, are of gold and silver and brass and iron. And so, iron will be mingled with silver, and brass with gold. Hence there will arise dissimilarity and inequality and irregularity. These always and everywhere are causes of hatred and war.


When discord arose, the two castes were drawn different ways:

  • The iron and brass fell to acquiring money, land, houses, gold and silver.
  • But the gold and silver races, do not want money as they have the true riches in their own nature. They inclined towards virtue and the ancient order of things.

Previously, the upper caste formerly protected the freemen as their friends and maintainers. But there was a battle between the lower caste and the upper caste. In the end, the upper caste enslaved the freemen by making them servants and then distributing their land and houses. The upper caste went to war against the freemen.


The new government which arises will be in between oligarchy and aristocracy (the perfect State). The new State will partly follow one and partly the other. This State will resemble the aristocracy in:

  • the honour given to rulers,
  • the abstinence of the warrior class from agriculture, handicrafts, and trade in general,
  • the institution of common meals
  • the attention paid to gymnastics and military training.

This State will resemble the oligarchy in:

  • the fear of admitting philosophers, who are now made up of mixed elements no longer simple and earnest, to power
  • turning to passionate and less complex characters, who are by nature fitted for war rather than peace
  • the value set by war-like people on military strategy
  • the waging of everlasting wars

Men of this stamp will be covetous of money, like those who live in oligarchies. They will have:

  • a fierce secret longing after gold and silver
  • magazines and treasuries to hoard such things
  • castles as nests for their eggs
  • wives or on any others whom they please to spend on

They are miserly because they cannot openly acquire the money that they want. They will spend other people’s money on:

  • the gratification of their desires
  • stealing their pleasures
  • running away like children from their father.

They have been schooled by force because they:

  • have neglected reason and philosophy, the true Muse
  • have honoured gymnastic more than music.
Glaucon The form of government which you describe is a mix of good and evil.
Socrates Only one thing is predominant—the spirit of contention and ambition. These are due to the prevalence of the willpower. How did the person in this government come into being? What is he like?

Glaucon Adeimantus= I think that in the spirit of contention which characterises him, he is like Glaucon.

Perhaps, but he is very different in other respects. He should:

  • have more of self-assertion
  • be less cultivated
  • yet be a friend of culture
  • be a good listener, but not a speaker.

Such a person tends to be rough with slaves, unlike the educated man, who is too proud for that. He:

  • will also be courteous to freemen
  • will be remarkably obedient to authority
  • is a lover of power and honour, gymnastic exercises
  • will claim to be a ruler, not because he is eloquent but because he is a soldier.
Adeimantus Yes, that is the type of character which answers to timocracy.

Such an person will despise riches only when he is young. But as he gets older he will be more and more attracted to them, because he:

  • has a piece of the avaricious nature in him
  • is not single-minded towards virtue, having lost philosophy, tempered with music.

Philosophy was his best guardian. Riches comes and takes up her abode in a man. It is the only saviour of his virtue throughout life. Such is the timocratical youth, and he is like the timocratical State. He often starts as the son of a brave father who dwells in an ill-governed city. His father declines the honours and offices and will not go to law, nor exert himself in any way. But he is ready to waive his rights to may escape trouble. How does the son come into being?


The son’s character begins to develop when he hears his mother complaining that her husband has no place in the government. This will make her have no precedence among other women. She will be annoyed at her husband who is:

  • not very eager about money
  • battling in the law courts or assembly
  • has thoughts always centred in himself, while he treats her indifferently.

She says to her son that his father is only half a man and far too easy-going. She will add all the other complaints about her own ill-treatment which women are so fond of rehearsing. Yes, they give us plenty of them, and their complaints are so like themselves.


The old servants also are attached to the family.

From time to time talk privately in the same strain to the son. If they see any one who owes money to his father, or is wronging him in any way, and he fails to prosecute them, they tell the youth that when he grows up he must retaliate and be more of a man than his father.


He goes abroad and hears and sees the same thing. Those who do their own business in the city are called simpletons They are held in no esteem, while the busy-bodies are honoured and applauded.

This will make the young man having a narrower view of his way of life. He compares himself and others and is drawn in opposite ways.

While his father is watering and nourishing the rational principle in his soul, the others are encouraging the passionate and appetitive.


He is not originally of a bad nature.

But having kept bad company, he is at last brought by their joint influence to a middle point. He gives up the kingdom which is within him to the middle principle of contentiousness and passion.

He becomes arrogant and ambitious. Oligarchy follows next in order.

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