Chapter 3 of Book 8

From Oligarchy Into Democracy

by Socrates Icon

Next comes democracy. How does oligarchy change into democracy? Is it wise or not?

Oligarchy aims at a good of becoming as rich as possible. The rulers are aware that their power rests on their wealth. They will refuse to curtail by law the extravagance of the spendthrift youth because they gain from their ruin. They take interest from them. They buy up their estates and increase their own wealth and importance.


The love of wealth and the spirit of moderation cannot exist together in citizens of the same state. One or the other will be disregarded.

In Oligarchical States, men of good family often are reduced to beggary because of the spread of carelessness and extravagance. Yet still they remain in the city, ready to sting and fully armed. Some of them owe money, some have forfeited their citizenship.


A third class are in both predicaments. They hate those who have gotten their property, as well as everybody else, and are eager for revolution.

On the other hand, the men of business stoop as they walk. They pretend not to see those whom they have already ruined. They insert their sting—their money—into someone else who is not on his guard against them. They recover the parent sum many times over multiplied into a family of children.

And so they make drone and pauper to abound in the State. The evil blazes up like a fire. The men of business will not extinguish it, either:

  • by restricting a man’s use of his own property, nor
  • by letting every one enter into voluntary contracts at his own risk.

This will compel the citizens to look at their characters. There will be less of this scandalous money-making. The evils of which we were speaking will be greatly lessened in the State. At present, the governors treat their subjects badly while they and their adherents live in luxury and idleness.

This is especially true for the young men of the governing class. They do nothing, and cannot resist either pleasure or pain. They care only for making money. They are as indifferent as the pauper in cultivating virtue.

Often, rulers and their subjects may come in each other’s way while on a journey or a march. The poor will think that rich men are only rich because no one has the courage to despoil them. People will privately say ‘Our warriors are not good for much’.


In a body which is diseased, an external touch may bring an illness. Even when there is no external provocation, a commotion may arise within. In the same way, wherever there is weakness in the State there is also likely to be illness.

One party introduces from outside their oligarchical or democratical allies. Then the State falls sick. It goes at war with herself even when there is no external cause.

Democracy then comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents. They give an equal share of freedom and power to the remaining rich people. In a democracy, the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.

Glaucon Yes, that is the nature of democracy, whether the revolution has been effected by arms, or whether fear has caused the opposite party to withdraw.

As the government is, such will be the man. The city is full of freedom and frankness—a man may say and do what he likes. Each person can order for himself his own life as he pleases.

In a democratic State, there will be the greatest variety of human natures. This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States. It is like an embroidered robe spangled with every sort of flower which represents mankind’s characters. This is also the best State to look for a government because of the liberty which reigns. This lets them have a complete assortment of constitutions.

A person who wants to establish a government can go to a democracy to pick a constitution to found his State, just as a person goes to a bazaar to pick a suit.

In this State, you do not need to govern if you don’t want to. No law forbids you to hold office. You do not need to go war if others do not want to go to war.

Isn’t this supremely delightful? Their humanity to the condemned people is quite charming.


In a democracy, persons who have been sentenced to death or exile just stay where they are and walk and nobody sees or cares. Democracy grandly tramples on and disregards the fine principles which we laid down at the foundation of the city, through her forgiving spirit, and the ‘don’t care’ about trifles. She never makes the pursuits which make a statesman. She gives honor to anyone who is friendly.

These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy. It is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder. It dispenses a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

How does the democratical man grow out of the oligarchical?

The Democratic Man


The son of the miserly and oligarchical father is trained in the habits of oligarchs.

  • Necessary pleasures are those that we cannot get rid of.
  • Unnecessary pleasures are those that we get rid of.
  • The desire of eating simple food is a necessary pleasure as it is needed for life.
  • The desire of eating more delicate food is hurtful to the body and soul in the pursuit of wisdom and virtue and are unnecessary.

He forcibly keeps down the unnecessary pleasures.

  • The drone was the slave of the unnecessary desires.
  • The miserly and oligarchical only has necessary desires.

The oligarchical principle in a young man will change into the democratical after he tastes the drones’ honey. He has been brought up in a vulgar and miserly way, but has come to associate with fierce and crafty natures who are able to provide him refinements and pleasures.

These external desires assist his unnecessary pleasures, just as like helps like. His father or his family assists the rival oligarchical principle, creating an opposite faction in his soul. He goes to war with himself.

There are times when the democratical principle gives way to the oligarchical. In such a case, some of his desires die or are banished. A spirit of reverence enters into the young man’s soul and order is restored.


After the old desires have been driven out, fresh ones spring up, which are akin to them. They become fierce and numerous because their father does not know how to educate him. They draw him to his old associates and breed and multiply in him until they seize on the young man’s soul. They see it void of all accomplishments, and true words.

False and boastful conceits and phrases mount upwards and take their place. And so the young man returns into the country of the lotus-eaters and lives there.

His real friends send help to the oligarchical part of him, but his vain conceit shuts the gate. His vanity will not allow them to enter. He will not listen to the fatherly counsel of private advisers.

There is a battle and his vain desires will win. They will=

  • call modesty as silliness and exile it
  • call temperance as unmanliness and trample it
  • persuade men that moderation and orderly expenditure are vulgarity and meanness.

By a rabble of evil appetites, they drive them beyond the border. The young man is now under the power of desires. They empty and sweep clean his soul. They initiate him in great mysteries. They then bring back to their house the following with garlands:

  • insolence, which they call ‘breeding’,
  • anarchy, which they call ’liberty',
  • waste, which they call ‘magnificence’,
  • impudence, which they call ‘courage’,

And so the young man passes out of his original nature. From being trained in necessity, he goest into the libertinism of useless and unnecessary pleasures. He spends his money, labour, and time on unnecessary pleasures.


He lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour. Sometimes he is lapped in drink.

  • Then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin.
  • Then he tries gymnastics.
  • Then he lives the life of a philosopher.

Often he is busy with politics. He starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head. His life has neither law nor order. This distracted existence he calls joy and bliss and freedom.

Glaucon Yes, he is all liberty and equality. His life is motley and manifold and an epitome of the lives of many.
Socrates He answers to the State as fair and spangled. Many will take him for their pattern. Many a constitution and many an example of manners is contained in him. Let him then be set over against democracy. He may truly be called the democratic man.


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