Plato believed that governments were as varied as the people that were part of them. He taught that governments and their citizens were reflections of one another. He also taught that, like people, they change over time. For the purpose of categorization, he divided them into 5 major types of Government.
1. Timocracy or Timarchy
Timocracy, or Timarchy was the ideal state according to Plato, as it embodied the rule by those who possessed the character of leadership and particularly a love of honor. This concept has become so foreign to our culture that it probably deserves a posting of its own. Suffice to say, this is a rule by the benevolent people who are willing and able to do so for the good of all.
This perfect state of government cannot remain forever though because everything changes. In Plato's mind, the rule should be passed down through families and this left it vulnerable to the fate of when children were born and how they were raised. When the leaders of children do not share the same values as their parents (as is many times the case), they are sometimes able to use their family influence to change things in ways that are not always for the best. Thus Timocracies over time will become Aristocracies.
Aristocracies begin to crumble further as desire for power and profit increase and the concern for virtue decreases. Plato specifically identifies this with the decrease of music and sports activities for everyone. It should be noted that he was probably not referring to simply watching others play music and sports, but the actual participation in them by all people. As we let our muscles and minds go, our appetites take over and we begin to focus entirely on accumlating wealth in whatever form it takes. This marks the onset of the Oligarchy.
Oligarchy is marked by competition - specifically for status. This is obtained primarilly through wealth but also by imposing your will upon others through forceful means. Honor is sought above all else, but it is rarely given except in trade. This is the governing done by merchants and company leaders who seek the best for themselves.
Oligarchies become democracies as those in power give begin to sell out their authority as loans to the common man. How is that a democracy? We elect officials who make and enforce our laws and the price we pay is taxes and our own service as citizens. We choose to abide by those rules, pledging our allegience to those we have entrusted with authority over us. So, instead of people just claiming power by having wealth, we contract with them to make that power blessed by the populace. Therefore it is not just rule by the rich, it is rule by the rich AND famous as they lead us around by our appetites.
Eventually an individual or group of individuals will gather enough wealth, popularity, and authority and will remove all their opposition. This is what constitutes Tyranny.
As we celebrate the founding of our nation tonight, which of these categories best describes what the Founding Fathers hoped to build? Which category best describes what we are today?
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
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