Why Socrates Hated Democracy


We are used to thinking very highly of democracy
– and by extension, of Ancient Athens, the civilisation that gave rise to it. The Parthenon
has become almost a byword for democratic values, which is why so many leaders of democracies
like to be photographed there. It’s therefore very striking to discover
that one of Ancient Greece’s great achievements, Philosophy, was highly suspicious of its other
achievement, Democracy. The founding father of Greek Philosophy
– Socrates – is portrayed, in the dialogues of Plato, as hugely pessimistic about the whole business of democracy. In
Book Six of The Republic, Plato describes Socrates falling into conversation with a
character called Adeimantus and trying to get him to see the flaws of democracy by comparing
a society to a ship. If you were heading out on a journey by sea, asks Socrates, who would
you ideally want deciding who was in charge of the vessel? Just anyone or people educated
in the rules and demands of seafaring? The latter of course, says Adeimantus, so why
then, responds Socrates, do we keep thinking that any old person should be fit to judge
who should be a ruler of a country? Socrates’s point is that voting in an election is a skill,
not a random intuition. And like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people.
Letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge
of a trireme sailing to Samos in a storm. Socrates was to have first hand, catastrophic
experience of the foolishness of voters. In 399 BC, the philosopher was put on trial on
trumped up charges of corrupting the youth of Athens. A jury of 500 Athenians was invited
to weigh up the case and decided by a narrow margin that the philosopher was guilty. He
was put to death by hemlock in a process which is, for thinking people, every bit as tragic
as Jesus’s condemnation has been for Christians. Crucially, Socrates was not elitist in the
normal sense. He didn’t believe that a narrow few should only ever vote. He did, however,
insist that only those who had thought about issues rationally and deeply should be let
near a vote. We have forgotten this distinction between an intellectual democracy and a democracy
by birthright. We have given the vote to all without connecting it to wisdom. And
Socrates knew exactly where that would lead: to a system the Greeks feared above all, demagoguery. Ancient Athens had painful experience of demagogues,
for example, the louche figure of Alcibiades, a rich, charismatic, smooth-talking wealthy
man who eroded basic freedoms and helped to push Athens to its disastrous military adventures
in Sicily. Socrates knew how easily people seeking election could exploit our desire
for easy answers. He asked us to imagine an election debate between two candidates, one
who was like a doctor and the other who was like a sweet shop owner. The sweet shop owner
would say of his rival: Look, this person here has worked many evils on you. He hurts
you, gives you bitter potions and tells you he not to eat and drink whatever you like. He’ll
never serve you feasts of many and varied pleasant things like I will. Socrates asks
us to consider the audience response: Do you think the doctor would be able to reply effectively?
The true answer – ‘I cause you trouble, and go against you desires in order to help
you’ would cause an uproar among the voters, don’t you think? We have forgotten all about
Socrates’s salient warnings against democracy. We have preferred to think of democracy as
an unambiguous good – rather than as something that is only ever as effective as the education
system that surrounds it. As a result, we have elected many sweet shop owners, and very
few doctors.

100 Replies to “Why Socrates Hated Democracy

  1. I feel like this is more of a philosopher criticizing (as they do) democracy, not really "hating" it. Socrates points out the solution: educate the people. Smarter people=smarter voters=better society for everyone. And really with all the bonuses that come with a well educated populus, better voting is more of a fringe benefit. But sometimes, just for the lawlz, I like to put a little tin foil hat on and mutter to myself "the governments probably neglecting education on purpose to control the population better" and then I laugh and cry myself to sleep knowing it's probably true.
    Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

  2. Democracy in ancient greece worked for a small percentage upper society. Rest were slave and had to toil all day long under whip

  3. Democracy gives idiots, racists, rapists, bigots, homophobes, sociopaths, psychopaths, criminals, and xenophobes a power that can be DANGEROUS in their hands.

  4. To your last point about is electing sweet shop owners instead of doctors: this is gonna sound bad but bare with me….. If the doctor is so fucking smart why does he lack the cunning to appear as a sweet shop owner?

  5. Democracy is an excuse for imposing controll over third world countries that don't know how to utilise there resources

  6. People have stopped looking at what candidates actually stand for, instead listening to emotions and charisma. Look at 2016. No one knew what Trump stood for other then "wall, Mexico bad", and no one really knew what Hillary stood for other than "Orange man bad, I'm not orange man."

  7. Who are the gatekeepers then, might I remind you policing who votes will end up looking like a poll tax. It is better to accept human being are flawed and will act, vote, and pass their flaws on to the next generation. Then to become a police of society, then a gatekeeper of what passes for common sense, and then ultimately a monster of despotic rule and authoritarian regime. Democracy is not perfect, but it is the people, and why should any rule be perfect, as its subjects fall to it.

  8. Every loser here who thinks democracy is bad hadn't experience life in a true autocracy. Not all autocrats are automatically benevolent, humans are humans and power corrupts.

    Corruption occurs even in the best democracies under supervision by the free press and its citizens, now imagine throwing every single governmental power and media control onto one man who's accountable to no one but himself.

    The worst democracies turn into de facto oligarchies, like Russia, kinda bad but still very livable and stable as long as you stay away from politics, while the worst dictatorships turn into places like North Korea, food? What's food? Might as well die, but, hey! The state's only news agency told me that I'm supposed to be happy because American and European capitalist pig dogs has it way worse than I am under their godless dictatorships, North Korea best Korea!

  9. Mandatory military service prior to a voting license. Before being allowed in certain professions, or being allowed a children birthing license. Gotta give before you can take. That sounds a lot more fair… Somehow I doubt these anti-democracy proponents would agree. (Their opinion is granted due to democracy btw!)

  10. The right to pick your leader no matter your education and intelligence is crucial to a society run by the people

  11. All forms of government are good.
    Because the competent will find a way to power regardless if you live in a theocracy republic dictatorship or whatever…
    The only problem is and always has been in mankind is that these competent people are not always the most ethical bunch. Many were power hungry megalomaniacs….
    And few were good leaders.
    Which means, the leaders will always get to lead.
    Only pray they will be good leaders!

  12. He probably hated it because he probably thought that democracy gave stupid , ignorant and uneducated people a chance to decide.. one of these people are those who voted for Brexit and then Googled "what is the European Union?"

  13. From what gathered from book 6 regarding the pitfalls of democracy is that a democratic society gives basically full freedom to it's citizens, but eventually more and more sects/people/groups of people demand more and more freedom until the main priority of government (and expectation of the citizens) becomes dedicated to sureing up these rights and freedom acts, that it eventually becomes ineffective in governing the primary principles/pillars of society therefore a slow decent into chaos begins. A savior to the people will emerge to control the chaotic society but this person will have to seize control on the state and potentially could become a tyrant. Democracy leads to tyranny. Each regime evolves to another, Socrates seemed to greatly favour an Aristocracy system lead by the highest wisdom and supported by the education of the people.

  14. Honestly, this makes sense and why we allowed women to ruin our systems. Now we reap this awful nation and it's sow. Bums and druggies for Bernie and racist and Jews for trump. Ugh

  15. The Founding Fathers of the US hated democracy too. They feared that if the common man had the right to vote they'd vote for someone who would take away their wealth. This is why the US is not a Democratic Republic, but a constitutional one.

  16. Best example is Indian PM hon'ble Mr. Narendra Modi.

    Modi has no BA qualification.when someone filled RTI on it, even that university denied to give details about modi's education. You know what, we indians vote for uneducated one, who believes in ganesha's plastic surgery and doesn't know how to read (a+b) ²( modi reads it as "a+b × () ², in words " a+b into whole square". What a B. A qualified or you can say graduated PM India have!

  17. My allegiance is to the Republic! To DEMOCRACY!

    That being said, citizens of the Galaxy, please educate yourselves on your local politicians. (Also vote for clone rights/ retirement funds)

  18. This is one of the more fucking stupid comment sections I’ve ever wandered into, most of these dick wads are over here acting like there is a better outcome for people then what people want

  19. Good thing the US is actually a Democratic Republic. A Constitutionally Representative Democratic Republic to be exact.

  20. It s good to address the disadvantaged of democracy. In terms of preventing cruel dictatorship and respecting individual s rights, democracy is a good choice. But in terms of real good governance, democracy needs fine-tuning still. At least we have moved from having butchers to sweet shop owners.

  21. Read Ťhe Pŕesent åt the wėbsitė of the globaltruthproject and discover all the answers of the big questions about life.

  22. I said this before and I will say it again, America is not only just a democracy ruled by every single legal US citizen, but it is also a Republic in which we the general people elect a specific few intelligent leaders to guide us!

  23. This video seems to forget to mention that democracy in ancient greek had a complete different meaning then it has now today, to me this video seems irrelevant to current day democracy.

  24. The problem with democracy is that it is a unrealistic concept that can be easily manipulated.
    Democracy relies on the masses and their belief that they have a say in what happens to them .They call that freedom when in truth whether u live in a democracy or totalitarian society , unless u are in a forced coma or dead u are actually free.
    Case and point is that no average blue collar citizen has ever been elected president of the United States.
    The closest to it is Donald Trump, who unlike all past presidents has absolutely no political or legal qualifications whatsoever.
    Speaking of Trump this leads us into the way democracy is easily manipulated. In 2008 America was in a recession caused by corporate greed that it recovered from. Fast forward into 2016 a corporate businessman comes, plays off their fears and prejudices and convinces them that he can lead them to a better economic and social future.
    That is how easy it is to manipulate an average person and being that democracy is “ we the people “ , that is how easy it is to manipulate democracy.
    🥂 to Plato for foreseeing the future.

  25. Because a complete useless moron would have the same power with his vote as a true genius It is that not enough ,jeez!!!!

  26. Well what happens when the qualified intellectuals vote and choose in such as to what favours them whilst the the less lucky of the time genetically may face oppression and exploitation for a long time?

  27. Yes the whole damn system is corrupt it doesn’t matter what type of government if men rule over it they will corrupt it

  28. I know this is just a YouTube video but I feel compelled to point out that there have been and still are many great thinkers who are also Christian. The statement at the 2:00 mark comparing Socrates' execution to Christ's crucifixion paints the categories of "thinkers" and "Christians" as opposed to one another though they are not.

  29. Socrates was hardly the founder of Greek philosophy, generation before him Parmenides (whom Plato lets meet young Socrates in one of his writings) had significant influence to later Greek philosophy for example.

  30. Socrates believed that there is a divide between people’s intelligence when in reality people all are misguided by their emotions and bias. Democracy is successful (yet not perfect) because “dumb” or “smart” every person knows how they want to be treated. Only from understanding the minds of all will humans become smart.

  31. This is literally whats wrong with America. No one is educated enough, inclined towards or sometimes even able to vote.

  32. Democracy's ok as long as a SMART 'noble elite' does much of the real ruling. But when it gets infected with pathological ideology, and attendant greed and hubris, it becomes Democrazi.

  33. Socrates didn't hate democracy, he just knew that it required an educated and informed populace. If we can create a system where all can vote then we can build one in which all understand the implications of their vote.

  34. The real middle name of Jesus Christ was #MAXIMUS and what was so great about him during Roman times? Something as simple as the cure for cancer. You bathe in pure ice water 20 minutes a day during winter, that's it. That's why I say the army of 300 Spartans were really an army of 300 Jesus Christs. They had the cure for cancer and ever since there's been life on earth there's the cure for cancer. Look what lies do!!!!!

  35. What a comforting notion to learn of, that both BORIS JOHNSON AND DONALD TRUMP are "NOT DOCTORS but SWEET SHOP OWNERS ".

  36. The problem with American laws (and democracy in general…. actually almost any government) is that governments are based on a system of creating laws rather than a system in which all necessary laws are already in place. Because of this, countries develop more and more laws until their economy becomes weak. Then a new ruler emerges who is very popular, promises unrealistic things, is granted too much power, and then collapses the state while murdering his/her political opponents.

  37. 2: 38 Demagogues? LMFAO. This is where the word Demogorgon comes from? That's hilarious! That said I totally agree with Socrates. Why let all the dumb morons vote, I bet it's all just an illusion. Those votes don't mean shit and none can prove otherwise.

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