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.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. You should have to pass the citizenship test that naturalized citizens have to take in order to vote. Seems fair to me.

  2. I have a solution to making democracy better their should be a class from elementary- high school that teaches kids about politics and running a country and only those who pass this class will be allowed to vote….sounds reasonable??

  3. Most people in the comment section live in democracies yet think there's a better way for humans to coexist with one another.

  4. Sounds like Socrates wasn't against democracy but just in favor of intellectual democracy over birth right democracy.

  5. The point is not to restrict the vote, universal suffrage is a huge good, as it reflects the whole society but to better educate everyone not create some arbitrary distinction after all, where do you draw the line and how do you prevent a two tiered system coming into effect

  6. Thats the reason I hate the west constant on africa telling them about democracy

    Americans dont have democracy, apart from having a popular vote

  7. "Only those who had though about issues rationally and deeply should be let near a vote" – This is true, im not saying people are like dumb but they are kinda because most of them are easily influenced like through Social Media. Those who are only wise enough should vote im not saying uneducated shouldnt vote but they have(Just like socrates thought about) to think deeply on who their voting. We should judge voters by their intelligence not their appearance or Position in society.

  8. Cursing a system not cursing a system, thats not the point… you are seeing it black or white, thats not the proper thing to do or to think about… it is a system when it fails bring yours… any idea whats the replacement?

  9. If i had the choice to live in a 10 billion$ house or a 10$ rented corner as a bumb i will live as a billioner, some people are fool they want to bring the house down because they found an orangeheaded freak in the coach… fix the problem you cowrds dont run,

  10. While adopting the Democracy, securing the liberty and rights of free expression, we must not forget that we are also taking Social Evils in account. If we make our judicial system concrete and the security forces such as Police Force then we will definitely keep this social evils and anti-social activities suppressed.

  11. Before the election: "democracies are fundamental to our society's progress"

    After the election: "why Socrates hated democracy"

  12. Socrates was killed by guys CALLING themselves democrats. That doesnt mean he hated democracy. It means he critizised the system he lived in – maybe even for not being democracy enough.

    But that does not apply for Plato. Plato was an elitist and totally against democratic elements.

    So the mistake this "schooloflife"-in-not-even-5-minutes is doing – it doesnt set the real Socrates apart from the Socrates character in Plato's books. Just to legitimize its weak arguments.

  13. Since so many people gave one famous quote of Winston Cherchil, let me add another one.
    "Democracy is the worst type of government, exept all the others"

  14. For all of you saying you need to be smart to vote.
    Who measures our intelligence? Who tells us when and when we cannot vote? Democracy has flaws but flaws without a tangible solution.

  15. The same reason anyone with a brain is against MOB RULE, even if it has a nice sounding name like Democracy.

  16. No wonder Indian people are suffering badly, no money, no houses, majority bad education, 99% illiterate politicians and lowest level politician is minimum a millionaire USD, average politicians are having half a billion, top politicians are richer then bill gates

  17. Well correct me if im wrong but didnt sokrates die because of his respect for the democratic choice of athens? When he was sentenced to die many of his friends asked him to just run away and most of those friends also accepted to help his breakout.

  18. Я и сам додумался до того же. Демократия работает хорошо лишь в обществе образованных людей.

  19. Okay I agree…. But the line drawn qualifying one as wise is an arbitrary and subjective one. The reason we have democracy as a birthright is to avoid weaponizing this. I agree we need to scale our political education × a million, but restricting access for the good of the people is the most "doctor" scenario possible and wouldn't work with the dysfunctional logic of society — simply put, this has the very strong potential of doing away with democracy as a whole. If you agree with this video, then become a local political activist. Educate people why local is the most important layer of government, the one that controls most of our lives and that our fundamental rights, negated by federal decisions by state representatives, depend on the political foundation and ecosystem at the local level. If you don't know who represents your city or county and they hold power in higher ranking elections, not to mention that their poor decisions are very likely effecting your reasons for voting at the federal level, then you have a false foundation that will inevitably lead to poor leaders at every level of government. Even if you get a great leader on top, but they have to deal with a broken political climate, than they are extremely limited in what they can do to help you out.

  20. But do they "deserve" a good president? Democracy doesn't give you the president you need but the president you deserve

  21. That is nice and all, but what is the alternative? How could you possibly choose who is fit to vote, without being corrupted? It's not that simple.

  22. So true that the common public of any country is going to be too ignorant to apply a meaningful vote and why modern politics has become as morally bereft as the borderline fraudulent marketers and advertisers of products and services.

  23. Democracy is the only evolved and fair way to hold power accountable. We need much more of it spread throughout our society. If people are ill-informed, then improve their education. Only holy royal conmen and their witless jesters ever argued that people were too stupid for democracy.

  24. Sounds like the debate between conservatives and liberals for the last 30 years. Conservatives are the doctors.

  25. I share the same consternation Socrates had concerning Democracy. Given a deeply flawed public educational system which produces very few independent and critical thinkers, it regrettably produces a multitude of citizens unqualified to make sound choices.

  26. Socrates didn’t like politics as a whole and preferred a “philosopher king” just as Plato did. The philosopher king was one who was a lover of wisdom and intelligence and also loved to a simple life rather than a lavish one. He found politics to be corrupt even in 4th century BC. Socrates also chose to drink the potion that inevitably killed him after he was announced guilty of corrupting the youth. He could have been exiled instead or left with friends away from Athens and not go back there as his punishment.

  27. well, that's why we have the educational system. To educate as many people as possible so as the educated individual, out populates the uneducated. A simple tweak, really.

  28. Socrates was put to death because he was closely associated with the pro-Spartan oligarchy that seized power in Athens when Athens was defeated in the long war with Sparta. I F Stone wrote a wonderful book on this subject. The Trial Of Socrates. Socrates (Plato) was contemptuous of the common people. At his trial, he treated the jury with such arrogance that they voted to put him to death. He practically goaded them into doing it.

  29. When he says people not educated in the law or the the things requires for it. So wait is Trump a commoner or am I over thinking this?

  30. Currently happening in India.
    Religious fanatics are in majority and they choose another fanatic as their leader.
    Result: failure in economy.
    Failure in health sector.
    Increased communal violence.

  31. Socrates didnt leave behind any literature on his own. We only know of him through Plato, who was an aristocrat. Therefore its pure speculation to say that Socrates hated democracy. King regards

  32. Democracy is a form of Government where some uneducated and corrupted leaders are elected by some uneducated random people who don't even know their fundamental rights,and meaning of Government.

  33. Socrates: democracy won't work if you don't educate voters first
    Comments in this video: so democracy bad
    Socrates: no, educate people into having common sense before letting them vote
    Comments: so democracy… bad

  34. We now have tons of “sweetshop owners instead of doctors” here in the Philippines from our previous election due to this demagoguery.

  35. I completely agree with sokratis (and I've actually had this discussion with friends) and I was enjoying the video, until I saw your hidden agenda ("make Athens great again), so I disliked it.
    Stop pushing your political views on us.
    The timing of that quote was clearly to say people who voted for trump were wrong. Which is false. Trump was the better candidate, go get your liberal brain checked.

  36. Because of the universal franchise the populism is growing. Take the BREXIT, rational leaders decision was taken by the peoples who doesn't know the finance or it's consequences. Because of this the rightist trend is growing with its intolerance, racism and insecurity also.

  37. This is exactly why it is so important to have high quality education available to every citizen. The problem Socrates laments about is that many voters are ignorant and don't give enough thought to what they're doing. Education fixes that.

  38. So the Left has corrupted schools so the new generation only vote for Left? I have officially read between the lines 😅

  39. So democracy only works if people are smart an educated

    Yeah I think America failed in educating people about morals and obesity

  40. And who decides what the adequate education is, the agreeable ideology is, the passable status is, for enfranchisement!? No, democracy is not perfect, and you know best that other of your videos teach that perfect is not real. But it is the only way to ensure that the rich don’t tyrannize the poor. The best democracy would be one without elections, where each citizen serves in a leadership domaine of their interest for s short period and on a rotating basis.

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