The Timeless Tyrant
What is Socrates’ critique of the tyrant’s way of life? Do you find it convincing? Why or why not?
Is the power of tyranny not the ultimate freedom? An individual who holds absolute authority over others and possesses the ability to fulfill his or her every wish would surly be the happiest of persons. In The Republic Socrates seems to disagree. In fact he claims, “He who is the real tyrant…is the real slave.”(238) The tyrant’s life is in fact the least desirable; he or she lies at the negative end of a spectrum, opposite of the philosopher. He who seems to enjoy complete control is, in reality, the most tormented and imprisoned of humans. Yet, it is argued that Socrates’ views are outdated and restricted to the ancient Greeks’ understanding of tyrants. Many believe that he fails to explain the more modern “tyrants” who were seemingly driven by motivations not proscribed to them by Socrates. They feel that The Republic failed to consider the idea that reason could be used by the unjust to oppress and do evil. But those who would disregard with Socrates’ critique of the tyrant fail to see that modern tyrants confirm The Republic’s elegant and ostensibly simple arguments.
Socrates definition of a tyrant is one who fulfills in public what everyone desires in private. To illustrate what he means Socrates explains that we are all tyrants in our sleep. “There is a lawless wild-beast nature, which peers out in sleep” when “the reasoning and human and ruling power is asleep.”(231) We see here that Socrates equates the behaviors of a tyrant with a loss of reason and power before he even describes how such a man comes into being.
Socrates explains that the tyrant is born to a democratic father who himself was born to an oligarchic father. The democratic father was prevented from falling into “vulgar passion” by the “saving appetites” he inherited from his father. But the son has
been exposed to no such appetites and he falls under bad influences that lead him “into a perfectly lawless life.” He develops what Socrates referred to as a “master passion” and he has “purged away temperance and brought in madness to the full.”(231,232) Having described the development of a tyrant Socrates begins to outline his behavior. “He becomes drunken, lustful, passionate” and spends all of his money trying to quench his insatiable desires. He goes into debt, and then he begins to defraud others of their property. He begins to utilize his parent’s wealth, first by deceiving them, and then he “will use force and plunder them.” After abusing his own parents he breaks into a house and eventually robs a temple. He comes to the point that he will “commit the foulest murder, or eat forbidden food, or be guilty of any other horrid act.” Socrates states “love is his tyrant and lives lordly in him and lawlessly.”(233) And thus the theme of the tyrant who is in fact slave to his own desires begins to service. Socrates begins his critique, “[Tyrants] are always either the masters or servants and never the friends of anybody; the tyrant never tastes of true freedom or friendship [because] such men [are] treacherous.” So we see that the life of a tyrant is a lonely one, for a tyrant’s only companion is his own erotic love and appetite. The tyrant is “utterly unjust” according to what Socrates and his colleagues had concluded to be justice; that is the love and pursuit of truth through knowledge and reason. It would then follow that the tyrant cares nothing for truth and possess no capacity for reason or knowledge; his only concern is his own satisfaction. The men then conclude that the “wickedest” is also the “most miserable.” Socrates explains that each type of man mirrors the corresponding type of government so that a tyrannical man is like the tyrannical state. The men all agree that the city that they created, ruled by a king, and the tyrannical state were diametrically
Cited: Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The Republic. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000. Print.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document