We experience this time as massively disorienting because we find ourselves between an old way that we trusted and an unknown new way which has risks. Consequently we find that our frame of reference has distorted, the tokens lost meaning, and our sense of direction seems reversed.
Let us look at where we are in the Civilization Cycle by seeing what our old friend Plato has to say about the psychological changes accrued by democracy:
Well, I said, and how does the change from oligarchy into democracy arise? Is it not on this wise? — The good at which such a State aims is to become as rich as possible, a desire which is insatiable?
The rulers, being aware that their power rests upon their wealth, refuse to curtail by law the extravagance of the spendthrift youth because they gain by their ruin; they take interest from them and buy up their estates and thus increase their own wealth and importance?
To be sure.
There can be no doubt that the love of wealth and the spirit of moderation cannot exist together in citizens of the same State to any considerable extent; one or the other will be disregarded.
That is tolerably clear.
And in oligarchical States, from the general spread of carelessness and extravagance, men of good family have often been reduced to beggary?
And still they remain in the city; there they are, ready to sting and fully armed, and some of them owe money, some have forfeited their citizenship; a third class are in both predicaments; and they hate and conspire against those who have got their property, and against everybody else, and are eager for revolution.
That is true.
On the other hand, the men of business, stooping as they walk, and pretending not even to see those whom they have already ruined, insert their sting — that is, their money — into some one else who is not on his guard against them, and 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.
Yes, he said, there are plenty of them — that is certain.
The evil blazes up like a fire; and they will not extinguish it, either by restricting a man’s use of his own property, or by another remedy:
One which is the next best, and has the advantage of compelling the citizens to look to their characters: — Let there be a general rule that every one shall enter into voluntary contracts at his own risk, and there will be less of this scandalous money-making, and the evils of which we were speaking will be greatly lessened in the State.
Oligarchy, in the Platonic usage, means a libertarian patchwork style society of city-states ruled by the wealthy. As one of these ages and decays, its cynical wealthy adopt the practice of usury, or loans with interest.
Plato notes that the solution here is to end usury through “a general rule that every one shall enter into voluntary contracts at his own risk,” which means that risk cannot be transferred to those making a loan and charging for it.
In doing so, they create a false elite of moneylenders, and the people revolt:
Yes, they will be greatly lessened.
At present the governors, induced by the motives which I have named, treat their subjects badly; while they and their adherents, especially the young men of the governing class, are habituated to lead a life of luxury and idleness both of body and mind; they do nothing, and are incapable of resisting either pleasure or pain.
They themselves care only for making money, and are as indifferent as the pauper to the cultivation of virtue.
Yes, quite as indifferent.
Such is the state of affairs which prevails among them. And often rulers and their subjects may come in one another’s way, whether on a pilgrimage or a march, as fellow-soldiers or fellow-sailors; aye, and they may observe the behaviour of each other in the very moment of danger –for where danger is, there is no fear that the poor will be despised by the rich –and very likely the wiry sunburnt poor man may be placed in battle at the side of a wealthy one who has never spoilt his complexion and has plenty of superfluous flesh –when he sees such an one puffing and at his wit’s end, how can he avoid drawing the conclusion that men like him are only rich because no one has the courage to despoil them? And when they meet in private will not people be saying to one another ‘Our warriors are not good for much’?
Yes, he said, I am quite aware that this is their way of talking.
And, as in a body which is diseased the addition of a touch from without may bring on illness, and sometimes 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, of which the occasions may be very slight, the one party introducing from without their oligarchical, the other their democratical allies, and then the State falls sick, and is at war with herself; and may be at times distracted, even when there is no external cause.
And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.
The habit of making money from doing nothing but lending creates a new elite who are soft, and they live in idleness while they profit from the money they already have, issuing loans to those who need loans to compete in a world where loans are normal, and confiscating their property when they fail.
This allows the moneylenders to destroy the remnants of both the original aristocracy and its remaining genetic component, since in a libertarian society, those who prosper are generally the same as those who were previously aristocrats, since they have higher levels of ability.
Revisiting the first part:
The good at which such a State aims is to become as rich as possible, a desire which is insatiable?
The rulers, being aware that their power rests upon their wealth, refuse to curtail by law the extravagance of the spendthrift youth because they gain by their ruin; they take interest from them and buy up their estates and thus increase their own wealth and importance?
It is the need of the state for money, probably in the form of taxes, that pushes it to adopt the scheme of usury. That enables its members to make loans to the youth, then take their inheritances, resulting in a society of many impoverished people and a few cynical leaders as we see in the Third World today.
So what transitions from monarchy to oligarchy? The rise of the middle classes.
What transitions from oligarchy to democracy? The middle classes learn how to control society with debt.
If you wonder why most people end up as wage slaves dependent on government benefits, this explains why government is willing to fund such things. It keeps control over society at large. However, this later backfires, as the transition to democracy produces a fundamental instability.
This instability comes in the form of class warfare, as people notice that their desk-bound elites are not mighty warriors and could easily be replaced. That causes them to reject both hierarchy and tradition, and become egotists who think that they alone are supreme, above all elites.
Yes, he said, that is the nature of democracy, whether the revolution has been effected by arms, or whether fear has caused the opposite party to withdraw.
And now what is their manner of life, and what sort of a government have they? for as the government is, such will be the man.
Clearly, he said.
In the first place, are they not free; and is not the city full of freedom and frankness –a man may say and do what he likes?
‘Tis said so, he replied.
And where freedom is, the individual is clearly able to order for himself his own life as he pleases?
Then in this kind of State there will be the greatest variety of human natures?
This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States.
Yes, my good Sir, and there will be no better in which to look for a government.
Because of the liberty which reigns there –they have a complete assortment of constitutions; and he who has a mind to establish a State, as we have been doing, must go to a democracy as he would to a bazaar at which they sell them, and pick out the one that suits him; then, when he has made his choice, he may found his State.
He will be sure to have patterns enough.
And there being no necessity, I said, for you to govern in this State, even if you have the capacity, or to be governed, unless you like, or go to war when the rest go to war, or to be at peace when others are at peace, unless you are so disposed –there being no necessity also, because some law forbids you to hold office or be a dicast, that you should not hold office or be a dicast, if you have a fancy –is not this a way of life which for the moment is supremely delightful
For the moment, yes.
And is not their humanity to the condemned in some cases quite charming? Have you not observed how, in a democracy, many persons, although they have been sentenced to death or exile, just stay where they are and walk about the world –the gentleman parades like a hero, and nobody sees or cares?
Yes, he replied, many and many a one.
See too, I said, the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the ‘don’t care’ about trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the foundation of the city –as when we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study –how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make a statesman, and promoting to honour any one who professes to be the people’s friend.
Yes, she is of a noble spirit.
These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
You will recognize this society as the condition of America and Europe in the postwar years. Might as well throw in some transgenders, mountains of cocaine, a lügenpresse, mass media blitz, and other End-Days-of-Rome type stuff to show how modernity combines the worst of all previous civilization collapses.
Plato goes on to distinguish necessary parts of life from luxuries and trifles:
We know her well.
Consider now, I said, what manner of man the individual is, or rather consider, as in the case of the State, how he comes into being.
Very good, he said.
Is not this the way –he is the son of the miserly and oligarchical father who has trained him in his own habits?
And, like his father, he keeps under by force the pleasures which are of the spending and not of the getting sort, being those which are called unnecessary?
Would you like, for the sake of clearness, to distinguish which are the necessary and which are the unnecessary pleasures?
Are not necessary pleasures those of which we cannot get rid, and of which the satisfaction is a benefit to us? And they are rightly so, because we are framed by nature to desire both what is beneficial and what is necessary, and cannot help it.
We are not wrong therefore in calling them necessary?
We are not.
And the desires of which a man may get rid, if he takes pains from his youth upwards –of which the presence, moreover, does no good, and in some cases the reverse of good –shall we not be right in saying that all these are unnecessary?
Suppose we select an example of either kind, in order that we may have a general notion of them?
Will not the desire of eating, that is, of simple food and condiments, in so far as they are required for health and strength, be of the necessary class?
That is what I should suppose.
The pleasure of eating is necessary in two ways; it does us good and it is essential to the continuance of life?
But the condiments are only necessary in so far as they are good for health?
And the desire which goes beyond this, or more delicate food, or other luxuries, which might generally be got rid of, if controlled and trained in youth, and is hurtful to the body, and hurtful to the soul in the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, may be rightly called unnecessary?
May we not say that these desires spend, and that the others make money because they conduce to production?
And of the pleasures of love, and all other pleasures, the same holds good?
And the drone of whom we spoke was he who was surfeited in pleasures and desires of this sort, and was the slave of the unnecessary desires, whereas he who was subject to the necessary only was miserly and oligarchical?
Again, let us see how the democratical man grows out of the oligarchical: the following, as I suspect, is commonly the process.
His point here is that when society becomes rich, its drones (proles, plebs, serfs, peasants) become addicted to distractions, adornments, and luxuries. Contrast this to aristocracy, where such opulence is restrained to those who use it for public benefit, creating great homes and buildings.
In democracy, on the other hand, people are enticed with luxuries and other sensual pleasures:
What is the process?
When a young man who has been brought up as we were just now describing, in a vulgar and miserly way, has tasted drones’ honey and has come to associate with fierce and crafty natures who are able to provide for him all sorts of refinements and varieties of pleasure –then, as you may imagine, the change will begin of the oligarchical principle within him into the democratical?
And as in the city like was helping like, and the change was effected by an alliance from without assisting one division of the citizens, so too the young man is changed by a class of desires coming from without to assist the desires within him, that which is and alike again helping that which is akin and alike?
And if there be any ally which aids the oligarchical principle within him, whether the influence of a father or of kindred, advising or rebuking him, then there arises in his soul a faction and an opposite faction, and he goes to war with himself.
It must be so.
And there are times when the democratical principle gives way to the oligarchical, and some of his desires die, and others are banished; a spirit of reverence enters into the young man’s soul and order is restored.
Yes, he said, that sometimes happens.
And then, again, after the old desires have been driven out, fresh ones spring up, which are akin to them, and because he, their father, does not know how to educate them, wax fierce and numerous.
Yes, he said, that is apt to be the way.
They draw him to his old associates, and holding secret intercourse with them, breed and multiply in him.
At length they seize upon the citadel of the young man’s soul, which they perceive to be void of all accomplishments and fair pursuits and true words, which make their abode in the minds of men who are dear to the gods, and are their best guardians and sentinels.
False and boastful conceits and phrases mount upwards and take their place.
They are certain to do so.
And so the young man returns into the country of the lotus-eaters, and takes up his dwelling there in the face of all men; and if any help be sent by his friends to the oligarchical part of him, the aforesaid vain conceits shut the gate of the king’s fastness; and they will neither allow the embassy itself to enter, private if private advisers offer the fatherly counsel of the aged will they listen to them or receive them. There is a battle and they gain the day, and then modesty, which they call silliness, is ignominiously thrust into exile by them, and temperance, which they nickname unmanliness, is trampled in the mire and cast forth; they persuade men that moderation and orderly expenditure are vulgarity and meanness, and so, by the help of a rabble of evil appetites, they drive them beyond the border.
This creates the psychology of democracy, which is both individualistic and centerless, meaning that the person can indulge his own desires, but none of them have meaning:
Yes, with a will.
And when they have emptied and swept clean the soul of him who is now in their power and who is being initiated by them in great mysteries, the next thing is to bring back to their house insolence and anarchy and waste and impudence in bright array having garlands on their heads, and a great company with them, hymning their praises and calling them by sweet names; insolence they term breeding, and anarchy liberty, and waste magnificence, and impudence courage. And so the young man passes out of his original nature, which was trained in the school of necessity, into the freedom and libertinism of useless and unnecessary pleasures.
Yes, he said, the change in him is visible enough.
After this he lives on, spending his money and labour and time on unnecessary pleasures quite as much as on necessary ones; but if he be fortunate, and is not too much disordered in his wits, when years have elapsed, and the heyday of passion is over –supposing that he then re-admits into the city some part of the exiled virtues, and does not wholly give himself up to their successors –in that case he balances his pleasures and lives in a sort of equilibrium, putting the government of himself into the hands of the one which comes first and wins the turn; and when he has had enough of that, then into the hands of another; he despises none of them but encourages them all equally.
Very true, he said.
Neither does he receive or let pass into the fortress any true word of advice; if any one says to him that some pleasures are the satisfactions of good and noble desires, and others of evil desires, and that he ought to use and honour some and chastise and master the others –whenever this is repeated to him he shakes his head and says that they are all alike, and that one is as good as another.
Yes, he said; that is the way with him.
Yes, I said, he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he-is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.
Yes, he replied, he is all liberty and equality.
Yes, I said; his life is motley and manifold and an epitome of the lives of many; –he answers to the State which we described as fair and spangled. And many a man and many a woman will take him for their pattern, and 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.
In this Plato describes the inversion of modern existence, which is that without a goal, we turn to methods and tools as ways of distracting us from the inner voice of a purposeless and moribund but luxurious existence:
He lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a water-drinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he-is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of any one who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.
Plato attacks democracy on two levels: first, he points out that it ends badly; more importantly, it creates the atmosphere of Plato’s Cave, where people are distracted by the impressions and tokens that others use to describe reality, and never connect to real life outside of the human hive-mind and their own narcissistic egos.
From elsewhere in this great book:
Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
In other words, the tool becomes the master; the representation and the tokens used to describe it become the reality recognized by others, and reality itself is forgotten. Social pressures reinforce this reality and force conformity to it, so soon actual realism becomes demonized!
Back to the narrative, Plato now advances the part of his book that everyone basically ignores these days, which is how democracy always becomes tyranny:
Say then, my friend, in what manner does tyranny arise? –that it has a democratic origin is evident.
And does not tyranny spring from democracy in the same manner as democracy from oligarchy –I mean, after a sort?
The good which oligarchy proposed to itself and the means by which it was maintained was excess of wealth –am I not right?
And the insatiable desire of wealth and the neglect of all other things for the sake of money-getting was also the ruin of oligarchy?
And democracy has her own good, of which the insatiable desire brings her to dissolution?
Freedom, I replied; which, as they tell you in a democracy, is the glory of the State –and that therefore in a democracy alone will the freeman of nature deign to dwell.
Yes; the saying is in everybody’s mouth.
I was going to observe, that the insatiable desire of this and the neglect of other things introduces the change in democracy, which occasions a demand for tyranny.
How does democracy do this? As noted above, it ruins its citizens, psychologically. This makes them desire anarchy with babysitters:
When a democracy which is thirsting for freedom has evil cupbearers presiding over the feast, and has drunk too deeply of the strong wine of freedom, then, unless her rulers are very amenable and give a plentiful draught, she calls them to account and punishes them, and says that they are cursed oligarchs.
Yes, he replied, a very common occurrence.
Yes, I said; and loyal citizens are insultingly termed by her slaves who hug their chains and men of naught; she would have subjects who are like rulers, and rulers who are like subjects: these are men after her own heart, whom she praises and honours both in private and public. Now, in such a State, can liberty have any limit?
By degrees the anarchy finds a way into private houses, and ends by getting among the animals and infecting them.
How do you mean?
I mean that the father grows accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom, and metic is equal with the citizen and the citizen with the metic, and the stranger is quite as good as either.
Yes, he said, that is the way.
And these are not the only evils, I said –there are several lesser ones: In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.
Quite true, he said.
The last extreme of popular liberty is when the slave bought with money, whether male or female, is just as free as his or her purchaser; nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other.
Why not, as Aeschylus says, utter the word which rises to our lips?
That is what I am doing, I replied; and I must add that no one who does not know would believe, how much greater is the liberty which the animals who are under the dominion of man have in a democracy than in any other State: for truly, the she-dogs, as the proverb says, are as good as their she-mistresses, and the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of freemen; and they will run at anybody who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them: and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.
When I take a country walk, he said, I often experience what you describe. You and I have dreamed the same thing.
And above all, I said, and as the result of all, see how sensitive the citizens become; they chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, as you know, they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.
That, in turn, initiates perpetual class warfare:
The ruin of oligarchy is the ruin of democracy; the same disease magnified and intensified by liberty overmasters democracy –the truth being that the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction; and this is the case not only in the seasons and in vegetable and animal life, but above all in forms of government.
The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.
Yes, the natural order.
And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?
As we might expect.
That, however, was not, as I believe, your question-you rather desired to know what is that disorder which is generated alike in oligarchy and democracy, and is the ruin of both?
Just so, he replied.
Well, I said, I meant to refer to the class of idle spendthrifts, of whom the more courageous are the-leaders and the more timid the followers, the same whom we were comparing to drones, some stingless, and others having stings.
A very just comparison.
These two classes are the plagues of every city in which they are generated, being what phlegm and bile are to the body. And the good physician and lawgiver of the State ought, like the wise bee-master, to keep them at a distance and prevent, if possible, their ever coming in; and if they have anyhow found a way in, then he should have them and their cells cut out as speedily as possible.
Yes, by all means, he said.
Then, in order that we may see clearly what we are doing, let us imagine democracy to be divided, as indeed it is, into three classes; for in the first place freedom creates rather more drones in the democratic than there were in the oligarchical State.
That is true.
And in the democracy they are certainly more intensified.
Because in the oligarchical State they are disqualified and driven from office, and therefore they cannot train or gather strength; whereas in a democracy they are almost the entire ruling power, and while the keener sort speak and act, the rest keep buzzing about the bema and do not suffer a word to be said on the other side; hence in democracies almost everything is managed by the drones.
Very true, he said.
Then there is another class which is always being severed from the mass.
What is that?
They are the orderly class, which in a nation of traders sure to be the richest.
They are the most squeezable persons and yield the largest amount of honey to the drones.
Why, he said, there is little to be squeezed out of people who have little.
And this is called the wealthy class, and the drones feed upon them.
That is pretty much the case, he said.
The people are a third class, consisting of those who work with their own hands; they are not politicians, and have not much to live upon. This, when assembled, is the largest and most powerful class in a democracy.
True, he said; but then the multitude is seldom willing to congregate unless they get a little honey.
And do they not share? I said. Do not their leaders deprive the rich of their estates and distribute them among the people; at the same time taking care to reserve the larger part for themselves?
Why, yes, he said, to that extent the people do share.
And the persons whose property is taken from them are compelled to defend themselves before the people as they best can?
What else can they do?
And then, although they may have no desire of change, the others charge them with plotting against the people and being friends of oligarchy? True.
And the end is that when they see the people, not of their own accord, but through ignorance, and because they are deceived by informers, seeking to do them wrong, then at last they are forced to become oligarchs in reality; they do not wish to be, but the sting of the drones torments them and breeds revolution in them.
That is exactly the truth.
Then come impeachments and judgments and trials of one another.
The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness.
Yes, that is their way.
This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears above ground he is a protector.
The compulsion for “freedom” causes people to demand socialism, or subsidies from the wealthy, at which point the wealthy withdraw, setting up a cycle of conflict. The wealthy want to return to oligarchy; the proles and the shopkeepers want more democracy.
Out of this crisis, a protector arises, or someone who promises more democracy with subsidies:
How then does a protector begin to change into a tyrant? Clearly when he does what the man is said to do in the tale of the Arcadian temple of Lycaean Zeus.
The tale is that he who has tasted the entrails of a single human victim minced up with the entrails of other victims is destined to become a wolf. Did you never hear it?
And the protector of the people is like him; having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the favourite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizen; some he kills and others he banishes, at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf –that is, a tyrant?
This, I said, is he who begins to make a party against the rich?
After a while he is driven out, but comes back, in spite of his enemies, a tyrant full grown.
His war against the rich consists of socialism — “hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands” — and makes him popular with the masses, but hated by those who know how an economy operates. Consequently, he demands power against those who threaten him:
That is clear.
And if they are unable to expel him, or to get him condemned to death by a public accusation, they conspire to assassinate him.
Yes, he said, that is their usual way.
Then comes the famous request for a bodyguard, which is the device of all those who have got thus far in their tyrannical career –‘Let not the people’s friend,’ as they say, ‘be lost to them.’
The people readily assent; all their fears are for him –they have none for themselves.
And when a man who is wealthy and is also accused of being an enemy of the people sees this, then, my friend, as the oracle said to Croesus,
By pebbly Hermus’ shore he flees and rests not and is not ashamed to be a coward.
And quite right too, said he, for if he were, he would never be ashamed again.
But if he is caught he dies.
And he, the protector of whom we spoke, is to be seen, not ‘larding the plain’ with his bulk, but himself the overthrower of many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his hand, no longer protector, but tyrant absolute.
Since he has removed all other contenders to power, he stands absolute, and has total control. He exercises this power by manufacturing crises and making citizens into tax-slaves.
At first, in the early days of his power, he is full of smiles, and he salutes every one whom he meets; –he to be called a tyrant, who is making promises in public and also in private! liberating debtors, and distributing land to the people and his followers, and wanting to be so kind and good to every one!
Of course, he said.
But when he has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.
To be sure.
Has he not also another object, which is that they may be impoverished by payment of taxes, and thus compelled to devote themselves to their daily wants and therefore less likely to conspire against him? Clearly.
And if any of them are suspected by him of having notions of freedom, and of resistance to his authority, he will have a good pretext for destroying them by placing them at the mercy of the enemy; and for all these reasons the tyrant must be always getting up a war.
He secures his power by destroying the competent and replacing them with the masses, then importing diversity to serve along with the impoverished lumpenproletariat as his loyal audience:
And therefore he must look about him and see who is valiant, who is high-minded, who is wise, who is wealthy; happy man, he is the enemy of them all, and must seek occasion against them whether he will or no, until he has made a purgation of the State.
Yes, he said, and a rare purgation.
Yes, I said, not the sort of purgation which the physicians make of the body; for they take away the worse and leave the better part, but he does the reverse.
If he is to rule, I suppose that he cannot help himself.
What a blessed alternative, I said: –to be compelled to dwell only with the many bad, and to be by them hated, or not to live at all!
Yes, that is the alternative.
And the more detestable his actions are to the citizens the more satellites and the greater devotion in them will he require?
And who are the devoted band, and where will he procure them?
They will flock to him, he said, of their own accord, if lie pays them.
By the dog! I said, here are more drones, of every sort and from every land.
Yes, he said, there are.
But will he not desire to get them on the spot?
How do you mean?
He will rob the citizens of their slaves; he will then set them free and enrol them in his bodyguard.
These “new citizens” guarantee his popularity against those who might have a clue about leadership:
What a blessed creature, I said, must this tyrant be; he has put to death the others and has these for his trusted friends.
Yes, he said; they are quite of his sort.
Yes, I said, and these are the new citizens whom he has called into existence, who admire him and are his companions, while the good hate and avoid him.
Expect constant riots:
But they will continue to go to other cities and attract mobs, and hire voices fair and loud and persuasive, and draw the cities over to tyrannies and democracies.
Moreover, they are paid for this and receive honour –the greatest honour, as might be expected, from tyrants, and the next greatest from democracies; but the higher they ascend our constitution hill, the more their reputation fails, and seems unable from shortness of breath to proceed further.
If history has a “you are here” marker, we are somewhere in the range described by this article. We overthrew our kings and set up a principled aristocracy, combining the Roman system with the Athenian system described, and now that has cultivated the conditions for tyranny.
These words quoted here were written 2400 years ago; I read them in high school, and they informed my outlook for what was coming. Nothing has changed about humanity, so nothing has changed in our predictable stumbling from one system of decay to another.
Our only way out consists of inverting the inversion: instead of assuming that the wealthy and powerful are good, find the good and assign to them wealth and power, mostly for safekeeping from the rest of us. They will use it sparsely, knowing that their only success and glory comes from making a successful society.
The West went down this path because we succeeded and produced a large number of people as waste product. These people could not succeed without civilization, and this enraged them, so they set about destroying it through a process of narcissistic revenge which led us to oligarchy and eventually democracy.