The Paradox of Democracy

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"Like the best life, the best system of government is conducted in accordance with excellence.” (Aristotle, N. Ethics 1295a- 25)

In terms of Democracy, Plato and Aristotle differ extensively. For instance, Plato considers Democracy as a fundamentally corrupted form of government, where the possession of power rests upon the will of the masses, which for Plato are incapable of achieving true knowledge. Conversely, Aristotle recognizes Democracy among the best forms of governance. However, he argues that democratic rule, if exercise in the form of Polity, will eventually lead society to pursue the best life. Moreover, for the purpose of this essay I will concentrate in analyzing Plato and Aristotle's works with respect to democracy in terms of: political participation, authority and freedom. Since their interpretations of such concepts are, in my mind, distinctions that can be compared and contrasted alongside. Nevertheless, it is precisely in terms of democracy that we have to acknowledge, and take into account the concerns of perspective and backgrounds that shape the similarities and differences in Plato and Aristotle's judgments of it. For instance, their theory's leading premises can definitely be seen as a major difference in perspective, since while Plato is seeking for the absolute city with the perfect type of society, Aristotle aims for the most attainable form of government with the existent society. Therefore, we shall see how Plato and Aristotle's main doctrines influence their understanding of democracy.

First, in terms of political participation both philosophers differ profoundly. On one hand, Aristotle thinks that a citizen's engagement in political activities is an important feature of a good life. For example, such argument seems implicit, in both, his doctrine that man is a political animal (POL 1253a-8), and his definition of a citizen. Since for him "A citizen in common parlance is the person who has a share in ruling and being ruled; in the best system of government [namely, a polity] on which a citizen is both, able and willing to rule and be ruled in accordance with a life lived with excellence as its aim.” (POL. 1283b-42)

On the other hand, in Plato's conception of good governance, there is not space for political participation. In fact, his Kallipolis portrays a city in which the political activity, if any at all, is relegated only to the philosopher kings. However, we could argue that the reason for the inexistence of political affairs in Plato's city is mostly due to the peculiar understanding of justice, in addition to the city inhabitants' conviction on their role within society.

Additionally, in contrast to Plato's doctrine of political rule, in which the philosopher kings are the only ones capable of exercising power, Aristotle's conceptions of political rulership and power, also expose the value of political participation. For instance, according to Aristotle one of the premises of political rule is precisely the alternation of power among equals, with respect to ruling and being ruled in turn. (POL. 1288a-15)

Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge the fact that neither Plato, nor Aristotle thought about political participation in a truly democratic sense. In fact, while Plato completely disregards a society's necessity of political action. Aristotle argumentation about it, somehow shows an elitist connotation. Specially, if we take into account who he considers able to freely participate in decision making.

Second, in terms of authority, both Aristotle and Plato agree on the belief that in a democracy, authority is exercise the majority who seeks for its own benefit. Additionally, we could argue that most of Plato's dislike with democracy, lays in the fact democracy is precisely the government that leaves its control upon the masses, which for him are incapable of acquiring the Form of the Good. (REP. 330d-5)

On the other hand, while Plato acknowledges...
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