THE FIVE REGIMES OF PLATO’S REPUBLIC
In his Republic, Plato identifies five political regimes. In order of importance (from good to worst), these government types are aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Plato also describes how the best government regime deteriorates sequentially from an aristocracy (best) towards tyranny (worst).
At the top of his list, Plato identifies aristocracy as the best form of government. According to Plato, a king rules over this regime. This king must also be a philosopher. And because the king is a philosopher he is wise and a man of reason. Plato identified three classes of people in his aristocracy. First, the philosopher kings who rule the state. Below this class, the soldiers (guardians auxiliaries) is the class that maintains order. And lastly, Plato identifies a third class of producers who produce goods and must support the ruling class.
Plato sees in the philosopher a man who is good, a quality that leads to happiness. This philosopher is not tempted to abuse his power. And he does not seek material goods. By charting all the above qualities, Plato explains why the philosophers are the most qualified class to rule.
Despite all the goodwill the aristocracy eventually degenerates into timocracy. This happens when in subsequent generations, the guardians and the producers start to include people of inferior nature. These people no longer cultivate only virtues but also pursue wealth. A change occurs in the constitution whereby leaders are allowed to pursue their personal interests. The governors of this regime value power which leads them to acquire it by means of force instead of by using their intellectual capacities.
Plato asserts that this regime has both good and bad qualities.
Later the timocratic regime further deteriorates into an oligarchy. This is a system of government that is composed of two classes. Rich and poor people, where rich govern the poor. What leads to this deterioration is the following sequence. Timocrats are allowed to own property and accumulate money. Because the money provides for pleasures, it eventually becomes more valued over virtue. Now the governors rework again the constitution of the state, giving power to the rich only. This is the birth of the oligarchic regime.
Eventually, oligarchy degenerates into democracy. Freedom reigns. The lower class of the poor grows and the poor become winners. Everyone is free to do as they wish. The democratic man has many unnecessary desires and his life has no aim or priorities. He is just interested in what he can buy with his money.
The last phase in the process is tyranny. This is a regime where society without discipline and where chaos reigns. Tyranny establishes itself when the democratic regime loses control as a result of too much freedom. According to Plato, eventually, a so-called champion (later to become tyrant) seizes power and takes control. People eventually start hating the tyrant (champion) but it is too late and they realize that they cannot remove him.
The tyrant is of the worst kind of a person. He is the most unjust and lawless. He will steal or even kill to satisfy his basic desires. This man has no wisdom or reason. Eventually, his lawlessness leads to his demise and self-imprisonment.
Also, read the related Blog posts as follows: Plato’s Academia, Plato and Justice, Plato’s Duality, Plato’s Imitation Theory, The Republic Lead subjects, Art as Imitation, Duality in Plato’s Republic, Plato and Art, Dystopia Connotations, Utopia Connotations, What is Utopia, Plato’s Republic, Who was Plato, Plato’s Visual Utopia book
Featured image artwork, “Different Worlds” – Drawing by Daniel Heller