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Socrates/Plato's Discussion
of Character and the Cycle
of Civilizations Followed
by a Christian Apology

Voir cette page traduite en français.

Introduction

This is a slightly changed posted comment on the Google's Answers Service in response to the following question: How does Timarchic, Oligarchic, Democratic personalities differ from the ideal Aristocratic personality? Distinction between necessary and unnecessary desires which is helpful for distinction for trying to characterize these three types of personality.–pittsburgh-ga

Pittsburgh, 

Speaking as the son of professor of Social Psychology, to take advantage of modern day knowledge and while it's not necessary to have a master's degree in psychology , philosophy or criminal justice degree online to understand the discussion below, it is my hope that the reader has an interest in the merits of psychology too as applied to political inquiry.

Sytlized picture of Jerusalem.I will start with the one personality you did not mention, the Tyrant, and move more specifically to your question soon afterwards. At the end I will add a spiritual point of view. Socrates/Plato saw the seeking of the overall good of society as the only necessary desire. He saw the desires for honor, money, freedom, and love as unnecessary. When exercised in fact, the desire to be loved according to Socrates/Plato becomes the master passion unleashing the other unnecessary desires in force. This is the Tyrant. Because all these desires are unnecessary to the happiness of a human, the human who has all these desires raging is the least happy of all humans. For some it may be hard to understand today, but the idea is that the only truly happy man is he who is looking out for the good of everyone: "Love your neighbor as yourself". The Tyrant wants everything to come to him, but since he gives nothing in return, he must rely on increasingly criminal means to get what he wants. He always sees himself as being wronged and thus justified in doing whatever is necessary to get his desires filled. He despises himself and others because he and they won't give except under force, i.e. never willingly. He goes mad. The maddest of all becomes the leader, and the Tyrannical society is born. The good people, of course, leave rather than be persecuted and the society just gets worse (as I suggest later the best stay or comeback and sacrifice themselves, these martyrs are the seeds of the rebirth of society). Eventually the mad leader takes on the worst criminals to protect him (i.e. - the body guards) and a fury is unleashed. Plato seemed to be able to quite accurately depict how (at least in Western societies) would go through a series of stages to an end stage of tyranny, but he seems to have less to say about how to rescue a Tyrannical society from its state. He has some ideas but doesn't get into specifics of how a natural evolution might occur from the preponderance of the Tyrannical man and a state of Tyranny, back to the Aristocratic (the man of merit) and the Aristocratic society. Perhaps he implies that a conscious effort must be made to restore a destroyed Tyrannical society to an Aristocracy (Meritocracy). I will make a case that this conscious effort starts with a belief in a good and loving God.

Meritocracy (Aristocracy?)

Picture of a Monk at a Church DoorWhat we mean by aristocrat may be entirely different than what Socrates/Plato means by it. Below I will provide an expansion of my understanding on the topic of Plato's Republic and his ideas about the five types of personalities. I want to warn you that at the end, I provide a Christian "Apology". Aristocratic personalities in the (8th?) 9th and 10th book of the Republic could really be retermed Meritocratic, because they are the personalities with the most merit. The term Aristocracy is used today in a different way than the one in the Republic. The goal of the Aristocrat/Meritocrat is to seek the greatest good for all. They only take power under protest and not under selfish ambition. This could characterize the power of the monks and priests during the "Dark Ages".

Timocracy (Hereditary Aristocracy?) 

Timarchic personalities could be retermed the untimidic or courageous personality or perhaps even the military personality. Their highest good is honor. The society ruled by the Timarchic Class is characterized by a rule of a few elite who have the most honor, or are held in the most honor. Honor could be characterized perhaps as human respect for a kind of selflessness that is not true selflessness, but arises out of selfish ambition. It is selflessness out of a desire for fame, renown and human rather divine regard. This characterized the Medieval period in European history dominated by the crusades and knights of honor. Timarchic personalities are respected. The "Aristocratic" or Meritocratic personalities are instead loved for true selflessness. The Meritocratic person may not even be aware that he is loved. I am honestly a bit unclear as to how Plato describes that a Timocratic man and a Timocracy develops from the "Aristocratic" society.  

Oligarchy

Oligarchic personalities according to Plato and Socrates are the next step down in de-evolution of personalities. The Oligarchic man's chief aim in life is the accumulation of money. Plato/Socrates delineates that the child of a Timocratic person becomes disgusted with how his father's funneling of all his resources into doing noble things has left the family in poverty, and that the society is unappreciative of the father's efforts to begin with. The father is sort of made fun of behind his back by the society at large and is considered a fool in a Don Quixote sort of way. The son thus sees the pursuit of honor as futile (it doesn't work i.e. - no one appreciates it and you only fool yourself) and it even threatens your very existence with poverty. The Oligarchic society is one where the society is ruled by the rich. This would characterize the Renaissance where families like the Medici's ruled the land. The Oligarchic personality subsumes all his other desires in the aim of making money. 

Democracy

The Democratic personality chief goal is freedom. According to Plato and Socrates, the Democratic man sees how miserable the life of his Oligarchic father has been since he has subsumed all his unnecessary desires for the purpose of making money. The Democratic man says a little pleasure won't hurt. The Democratic societies appear to be the best kind of societies, but they are a prelude to the worst, Tyranny. According to Plato/Socrates, Democratic societies are characterized by the freeing of slaves, women's rights movements, the finding of all varieties of people, criminals are let go with light sentences, and all problems are blamed on the rich (e.g. - the rich corporate lobbyists in the U.S.). Yes, that stuff - except for the lobbyist specifics - is really in the Republic in the (8th?) 9th and 10th book. This kind of society is found in the "Industrialized Democracies" today.

Tyranny

I know I haven't done too good a job at defining necessary and unnecessary and desires I know you have not asked for it but the last step in the downward path is the Tyrannical Personality. The chief aim of the Tyrannical personality is power and unconditional love. According to Socrates/Plato the desire for love is actually implanted by in the sons of the Democratic by idle sons of Oligarchs that still exist in the Democracy. Note again that Democracy includes all the types of personalities including maligned Oligarchs. It is as if the sons of the rich take advantage of the idealism and innocence of the sons of young Democrats. They plant the ideal or encourage the young men to seek Romantic love, even though the Oligarchic sons don't believe in it. Maybe they seek revenge for their loss of power and prestige that occurs in the Democracy, but the idle children of the richest Oligarchs (they can afford to be idle) are puppeteers to the most innocent and idealistic of the sons of Democrats. This desire for Romantic Love drives the once Democratic mad, because it is an unnecessary desire and an unleasher of all the others.

Picture of Nero.My own spiritual and psychological explanation of the derivation of the madness follows. If your chief goal in life is to find someone who will love you unconditionally, and you subsume everything to this, you will die. You will die at least to reason, and sometimes physically. This is because perfect love is unattainable in this life apart from the love of God. No person will sacrifice himself/herself completely for another human imperfect human being unless he/she knows that God loves him/her and that God wants him/her to sacrifice himself for that person and by doing so attain eternal life. The budding Tyrannical person has no relationship with God (the Oligarchs and Democrats have removed it from him) but is going around looking for an angel who will sacrifice himself/herself for him. The sacrificing person he is looking for is very rare, and since humans are essentially sinners, even the most selfless saint of a human being does not have enough love and resources to satisfy the atheist-budding tyrant. The tyrant is the least happy and needs more and more human love to fill his vacant atheist heart, however the more he attempts to get people to love him the more people turn him away as a needy person. Since he only believes in human love not divine, he becomes more and more disenchanted with human beings and their ability to love and with more disenchantment people love him even less. It's a vicious cycle that leads to despair, mental illness and even suicide. Perhaps out of the ashes of despair comes the will to power, to control people into loving him even though he does not love back. Basically the tyrant becomes a big baby.

Christianity

Colore in picture of Jesus which I believe was pulled from the Shroud of Turin.What follows I'm afraid is a bit of a spiritual polemic. You can see how the children of the rich manipulate the media in the rich Democratic societies today, in two ways. Way one: the idea that romantic love will save you and solve all your problems (just listen to the radio or turn on the TV). Way two: the undermining of the belief that God exists, he loves us and we should seek to please him by doing good. The second way is seen in the secular idea that man will figure out everything through science, and man is the master of his destiny along with a creeping despair that perhaps man will be not be able to solve his political, energy, and environmental problems in time to prevent him from destroying himself. Put to you slightly differently, there are increasing amounts of "madness" or mental illness in our society today, because people have been indoctrinated to believe that human love is the answer to all their problems along with a creeping anxiety that man can't solve his problems and there is no God who can. The obsession with Romantic love at least is a "natural" progression of history according to Socrates/Plato but from my point of view it s totally wrongheaded. We are led to believe that until we find someone who will love us for who we really are, we will not truly live. Unfortunately the truth is nobody will love us for whom we truly are, unless we love and are a seeker of the good. No one can be that way until he believes in God and believes God loves him unconditionally. Society today tries to remove in every way possible the belief in God, thus we go mad and die. "The Culture of Death" as Pope John Paul II puts it.

I'm afraid we are in for a period of Tyranny in history. Tyranny in the worst way existed around the time of Christ's birth. The only salvation from the despotism in that time came from...the Christians. That is those who believed in God, believed God loved them, and sacrificed themselves willingly for their enemies, neighbors and friends. They loved unconditionally even though it meant their death, but their deaths allowed Western society to experience a rebirth. Their leader, the example they followed. is Christ. It is hard to imagine that this whole movement could have gotten started if the early Christians had made up the key parts of his life. The very fact that Western society exists today and is so vibrant is a testament to this one man, his Words, his deeds and his resurrection. We would not be alive today if Christ had not existed, spoke, went through his crucifixion and was raised again. Believing these things are, what Christ said, are the work that God the father has given mankind. In fact in doing this work of believing, we are co-creators with God. In doing the work of believing we are furthering the work of creation. I believe in someway God created the universe and it was good, but man through the sin of believing in the fallen devil's words caused the universe to fall and go into the entropy and decay we see today. The purpose of life is to restore the creation of God through the work that he has given us, which is to believe. Work is painful, even the work of belief and it must overcome many, many obstacles. The words of the Bible guarantee us of the eventual success of restoring the paradise of creation; however, we will not be part of that restored creation unless we are part of restoring that creation through the work of belief. As Christ said "If you abide in my word, you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free".