This submission begins by first briefly describing who Socrates was and his contribution to philosophy. This submission would then move to highlight Socrates’ conception of democracy and describe from various aspects, his view of democracy with regards to whether democracy is wrong and offensive or right and useful. The paper then moves to highlight some of the key challenges to his conception of democracy as well as some of the criticisms by other philosophers and give the positions of those critics. This submission submits that Socrates conception hence his understanding of democracy was that the same was inefficient, ineffective and a defective form of government. It is imperative to appreciate that Socrates was a classical Greek Philosopher and has been given credit as among those who founded the western philosophy. Socrates has been portrayed as a brilliant mind in the field of philosophy by his students Plato and Xenophon who also became classical writers in philosophy. Socrates further contributed to the field of ethics and his works have largely remained relevant to date.
The word Democracy is derived from two Greek words which mean People and Rule. Democracy thus can be defined as rule by the people. Democracy is a form of government whereby the subjects exercise their powers of running the state through elected representatives. The concept of democracy is arguably a Greek development considering that the constituting words forming the word democracy were actually Greek words: demos and kratos. There are also speculations that Sumerians and Indians had started practising the concept and methods of Democracy way before the Greeks. In Athens, all male citizens gathered in one place and elected their leaders. Their leaders were elected by way of allotment.
Socrates developed a set of thoughts and a way of thinking that was not common among the people of Athens. Socrates did not believe in democracy and argued that the people of Athens ought not to have the power to rule. He argued that when the people decide who rules them and become self-governing then they were like a herd of sheep; but the heard of sheep needed a wise shepherd. He further argued that citizens lacked basic virtues to shape the Athenian society into a sober and desirable one. His take on the same was that the virtues required to shape a good society cannot be attained by ordinary citizens. Further, he criticized the rights the males had to address the Athenian assembly.
Writing by Diogenes Laertius in the Third Century reported that Socrates used to discuss his unpopular views and thoughts with the members of the public in workshops and market places. His views often agitated the listeners who from time to time descended upon him violently with some of the offended Athenians even pulling and plucking his hair. Playwright Aristophanes in his play Clouds, presents Socrates as a comic master of ‘thinkery’ and portrays him walking barefoot in the streets of Athens while gazing up the skies; and looking at the Skies thinking that the clouds were more harmless than a town character that was a threat to Athenian democracy.
Socrates thoughts and way of looking at things put him in jeopardy twice when the Athenian democracy was overthrown by two of his students in the Anti-democratic movements the latter championed. It was obvious that it was Socrates ways of thinking, passed on to the youths and his students, that was to blame for the coup on Athenian democracy. There were speculations that Socrates’ favourite politician, Alcibiades, could have been the one who actually spearheaded the first attack on the Athenian democracy. However the said attacks were largely attributed to Socrates’ influence. Socrates’ teachings were no longer seen, as was the position before, as harmless preaching but rather a threat to social order and a stability of the Athenian Government. Moreover, his teachings not only threatened the stability of the Athenian Government but also threatened the peace of Greece as a whole. Some of his students developed dictatorial tendencies; some banished women and children and did not care about human life. One of his students in the said category was Critias, considered the worst among his students. The latter took an extreme position of Socrates’ conception.
Socrates was of the opinion that citizens were just ordinary people who lacked the basic values. In turn, they were not capable of attaining values that were required to run a government and shape the society in a good way. It was his opinion that for there to be a leader who could shape the society in a good way, such a leader could not just be elected by the people by way of allotment.
Not many critics came up to challenge Socrates’ conception of democracy and or defend democracy with the same passion that Socrates hated and criticized it. In fact the tough stance Socrates assumed at trial reflects his adamant character and belief in his own conception. Modern philosophers have attempted to challenge his conception based solely on contradictory evidence as to what transpired during Socrates’ time. They cite the fact that Socrates’ thoughts, conceptions and beliefs, including his teachings have largely been studied through the works by his students such as Plato and Stone as a reason for exercise of caution.
In conclusion, Socrates had his own thoughts and beliefs about democracy which was contrary to the traditional system of democracy as embraced by the majority of the citizens in Athens. Socrates did not like the democratic system of government mainly because it involved the running of the government by ordinary citizens whom he claimed lacked the basic values to effectively shape the Athenian Society into a good society. Plato and other students of Socrates adapted this conception of democracy and took up his (Socrates) work of criticizing democracy. This submission maintains that Socrates’ conception of democracy was that it was in inefficient, ineffective and a very defective form of government.
Plato, and Allan Bloom. The Republic. Translated, With Notes and an Interpretive Essay, by Allan Bloom. New York: Utopias, 1968.