Plato’s Warning Against Mob Rule

By Jeff Rutherford

Here’s a portion of Book VIII of Plato’s Republic (written in 381 BC), as helpfully paraphrased by Will Durant in his popular 1926 book The Story of Philosophy. The numbers refer to the pages in Plato’s original Greek manuscript.

Maybe this can help us remember again why America’s Founders did NOT want our government to be a pure democracy (mob rule), but instead they constructed a Constitutional Republic that embodies some democratic principles, but also has separation of powers and checks & balances. It can also remind us why it’s important for each American citizen to actually work to understand what the hell is going on around them and why. Our Founders were just recalling Plato’s wisdom from 2168 years earlier. Now, 2400 years later, I’m doing the same:

“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle. Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious scramble for immediate wealth. In either case the end is revolution. When revolution comes it may seem to arise from little causes and petty whims; but though it may spring from slight occasions it is the precipitate result of grave and accumulated wrongs; when a body is weakened by neglected ills, the merest exposure may bring serious disease (556). Then democracy comes: the poor overcome their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing the rest; and give to the people an equal share of freedom and power (557).

But even democracy ruins itself by excess — of democracy. Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy. This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses (588). As to the people they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them; to get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play [the mass media of ancient Greece]. Mob rule is a rough sea for the ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course. The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery, it is so hungry for honey, that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power (565).”

A free pdf download of Allan Bloom’s very readable 1968 translation of Plato’s Republic is available here. Click the link and you can be reading Plato’s wisdom yourself in about 3 minutes.


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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8 Responses to Plato’s Warning Against Mob Rule

  1. Tricia says:

    Wow, good stuff here Jeff. That last paragraph is especially prophetic for our world today. I’ve never read Plato’s Cave but I hear so much about I’m gonna at least read the download you provided. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kelli Whitehall says:

    Jeff I agree that if more people do not get involved in government we can not change the course we are on. The latest example is the election of another radical politician in New York who is championing socialism. We can post our opinions, explanations, and beliefs but until the moderate population enters back into both elected and non- elected positions of government, changing our course will be hopeless. Of course most of the moderate population is consumed with working hard to support their families and in many cases just survive. It seems to me the best area to target to restore our course back to our founding principles is the area of the education system. To take back our school systems and teach our upcoming generations real history and help them properly analyze our constitutional foundation and principles of our republic. In my opinion, step one is to reduce or even remove the perverted power of the unions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kelli, a couple weeks ago I read an article that hinted at a possible surprise outcome in that Queens NY district race you’re talking about. The losing incumbent Joe Crowley may be working to execute an end around the normal primary process to get a 2nd chance to hold his seat. I haven’t been following up on it, but here’s that article:

      Of course, like you, I have been following the 3 weeks of vapid, empty-noggin’ed things that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been saying. The primary she won was a very low turnout — that was Joe Crowley’s fault for thinking he had it in the bag without bothering to try. While he was sleeping, Ocasio-Cortez was doing what teachers’ unions do with school board elections: she was banking on a low turnout, stoked with mostly HER political fan club that would sneak her through while most voters weren’t even looking.

      Since there’s no chance that a Republican will ever win that district, I’d love to see Joe Crowley come back (via a 3rd party) and snatch her political breakthrough from her, indicating that there are enough liberal voters in Queens who are now jolted awake and aren’t willing to be yanked all the way into the far-left ditch by an airhead such as Ocasio-Cortez.

      – Jeff


    • Also, Kelli, regarding this:

      In my opinion, step one is to reduce or even remove the perverted power of the unions.

      The Janus supreme court case was a landmark event that will pivot America away from the unchecked public union power we’ve been held hostage to. The ideological war between left and right will never go away — ever. But the times they are a-changin’.

      – Jeff


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