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Democracy: Strengths and Weaknesses According to Thucydides and Plato

Introduction

In the period of the Peloponnesian war contribution was made to writing by a writer called Thucydides. He had surpassed Herodotus (regarded as the father of history) in the taking down of events with high accuracy and fairness. He was born from a wealthy Athenian family who was a rhetoric and philosophy graduate. Thucydides found strengths and weaknesses in the Athenian democracy and the general Sparta community. However, he preferred the democracy in Athens and the unity that existed within the different classes. He was a reasonable democrat and thought that people would most often prefer revenge than use diplomatic channels where everyone would benefit. He was referred to as the first real historian and journalist by the people who knew him. This was due to his belief that people acted out of self-belief, self-interest and the situations that surround them socially and not divine guidance as it was thought (Thucydides, 12).

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Thucydides’ history was largely intended to act as a political argument and political education. The Athenians were in search for a political system that would give them equal access to decision making power to all citizens no matter their background. In one of Thucydides writings, he says that their constitution is not copied from that of its neighbors, but it was their neighbors who looked up to them. This is because the Athenian administration was that which favored democracy. The laws of the land enable them to administer democracy as they allow equal rights for all without segregation of class or background. The officials in the administration are purely chosen by merit. Athens had one of the most remarkable philosophical personalities and one of them known as Plato was always against democracy. Coming from a politically active family of aristocrats, he had some political ambitions for political office but was discouraged by the political events which were witnessed in Athens at the beginning of the 4th century. Being a student of the glorified Socrates, he was a force to be reckoned with during those early times to democracy (Plato, 1).

Despite the numerous advantages of democracy, it has its own pitfalls. Looking at the Athenian democracy style, the level of democracy largely depended on the leader that was ruling and his type of leadership style. While other leaders such as Pericles allowed the citizens voting rights, other leaders that came after and some before him did not allow the voting rights. Hence historians such as Thucydides blame this weakness on the democratic style in Athens which he says that having incapable leaders might lead to a disastrous democratic system.

During the Peloponnesian war, there was the Amphipolis battle that was fought between the Athenians and Spartans in 422 BC. The peak of this war was at the start of 424 BC where the Spartans won and took over the city of Amphipolis. At this period was the rise of the statesman Cleon, one of the most violent men in Athens and was also highly connected with the exile of Thucydides. During his exile Thucydides recounts the events that took place during the war. He was highly concerned with the misery brought about by war and critics of the use of such methods of resolving conflicts.

Democracy according to Thucydides and Plato

There are several criticisms by Plato on democracy. Firstly, he claims that it is irrational to believe that a common man has the capability to rule effectively. Athenian democracy at that time provided the freedom for everyone to give their opinion on an issue through the right of voting. Contrary, Plato believed that majority of the people were incapable of living an independent life, and are better off having someone watching over them and telling them what to do and what not to do. Plato believed that the desires of the non famous individuals in the society who are the majority are taken care of by the desires of the famous who are a minority in the society.

The other criticism that Plato had against democracy is its ability to evolution of a state of democracy to anarchy. Plato categorizes governments into three groups. The first is his preferred type is called the Ideal. This type of government had not yet been put into practice anywhere in history and it was based on reason. The next type of government he proposes is the timarchy (government of honor). This type of government is formed as a result of aristocracy, which is his type of government of the best. Under the watch of the honor, this type of government is considered by Plato as having similarities to that of Spartans. The Spartan type of government is considered to have the spirit as superior in the human being. This type of government is composed individuals who have strong personalities but don’t believe in their abilities to manage their own affairs.

A strength that Plato saw in democracy was its ability to give women equal opportunities in the public domain as men. The proposal by Plato concerning women is considered to be revolutionary considering that time of history. He stated that women should be provided equal education opportunities and equal positions in leadership if they have the necessary qualifications. In addition, he adds that women have the ability to perform the same tasks as the men; this was evident as there was no special position in leadership in which a man holds because he is a man or a woman would hold because of her sexuality. Therefore, all the things that are pursued by men are the same things that are pursued by men (Plato, 3).

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According to his book, Thucydides’ character was that of a humorous individual. This is seen through his description of the Athenian plague by commenting that the Athenians would only remember a rhyme which supposed that the Dorian war would be accompanied by great death. Thucydides was a great admirer of Pericles who was a leader at his time and a great speaker. But he did not like his style of democratic leading while he disapproved the democratic mob that followed him. Despite these feelings, Thucydides thought that the type of leadership was only possible when there was a good, capable leader.

Thucydides thought that the strengths of democracy were the constitution which enabled them to govern themselves, making their neighbors who looked up to them. This is because the Athenian administration was that which favored democracy. The laws of the land enable them to administer democracy as they allow equal rights for all without segregation of class or background. The officials in the administration are purely chosen by merit.

The Peloponnesian war was on of the earliest wars to be witnessed by a high caliber historian, Thucydides. It was fought by Sparta and other members of the Peloponnesian Confederacy who included Corinth and Thebes, these countries joined forces to fight against Athens. The war took place from the Rhodes to Thrace and Hellespont and from the coast of Asia Minor to Sicily. It was a war described by historians as a war between agricultural aristocracy and commercial democracy, it is also said to be a war between a land military machines versus a naval superpower.

The basic cause of the war was the underlying fear by Sparta that Athens’ power was growing at a very quick rate. At this time of which Pericles was in power, he consolidated the Athenian naval power to the best compared to its enemies and allies while at the same time monopolizing sea based trade. These threatened the food supply of the Peloponnesians and partly this influenced the Spartans to take up arms. Sparta sent an ultimatum which actually ruined Athens because of the revolts that were going on which had weakened the Athenian military and naval resources.

The trial of Socrates which took place in 399 BC included the court trial and the execution of Socrates who was a renowned philosopher. This was after his ill reputation which had succeeded his trial. After the trial, he was found guilty of not believing in the ancestral Athenian gods and misleading the youth. It was during a difficult period in Athens where a Spartan influenced group had taken over the city’s participatory democracy and wanted to introduce oligarchy. As described by Plato, the death of Socrates helped inspire philosophers and writers in the modern world. The execution demonstrated that a democratic rule could be unreliable but this action is a justifiable defense for modern democracy.

Democratic Societies Today

The highly developed constitutional system of the United States is a confusing part of life in America. While some Americans think that they understand the constitution and work to make it even better, many of them do not understand it. The American constitutional system like that of many other democracies is made up of the Judiciary, legislature and the executive arms of the government. The history of the American constitution bears its origin in history from the combination of three type of leadership: the democracy, aristocracy, and the monarchy.

For a longtime this democracy has been considered the role model for other governments to follow. But the question that lingers is that will this success continue into the future or it may lead to destruction. In the appraisal of the strength of a country in the long term, the key aspect that is looked at is its military muscle. But what is not considered is the effectiveness of the weapons that are being considered, the dedication and courage of the men and women who wield them, the economy that supplies this equipment and lastly, the social system that supports the morale of those using the equipment.

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The distinguishing feature of a totalitarian system is its ability to overlook the standard of the resources being used by making the best use of whatever is available because of the superior organization in their use. The effectiveness of such machinery is massive because it does away with the time wasted in debates and the misunderstandings that are involved in the political system. When decisions are made quickly, there is the perception especially from outsiders that there is unity. On the other hand this would also be a sign of suppression of democracy as quick implementation of orders is a clear sign of dictatorial regimes (Farrar, 37).

On the other hand, weakness in a democracy is characterized by the differences in ideologies, objectives which add up and create a great sense of disunity. It is true that the freedom to choose can bring up enterprising individuals who are energetic in what they do, but if these strengths are always pulling the opposite way, the collective strength is made weaker. The power of a democracy can only be seen when the free government allows events to go by in a way that all the thoughts are unified to some degree and focused to a common goal.

It is actually possible to practice democracy without doing away with necessary basic freedom and rights while at the same time not leading to destruction in the long-run. This can be done by improving effectiveness in a democracy. The fear that a government may become too big, too concentrated or too powerful is hence unwarranted. The American democracy can be used as an example of a democracy that not only becomes stronger because of improved effectiveness of the constitution and the various arms of the government. This has come a long way and will get even better with time due to constant adjustments and additions to these instruments that make up government and the constitution which helps regulate the government and guide citizens (Farrar, 37).

Conclusion

Two thousand four hundred years has passed for the period when Athens’ Golden Age was experienced. Despite this huge difference in time, the innovations they came up with in that period largely affect the experiences in democratic societies today. The ancient Greek civilization handed the world a model of democracy that has been borrowed by many democratic societies globally up to the modern times. As a result democracy creates the basis of most civilizations today including model democracies such as the UK and the US. But as depicted by the ancient Athenian civilization democracy has it pitfalls such as a decline in the issuance of voting rights and the abuse of power by the leadership class denying the citizens the perfect democracy.

The analysis of history is more effective when it tends to inform the political leadership such as the one described by Thucydides. The account of the Pericles’ democratic type of leadership is meant to educate today’s generation that to be always ready to reconsider their positions about a type of policy in a democratic rule; this is because this type of system does not obviously work just because people are doing what they would like to do. According to Thucydides, democracy is not good because in tends to lean towards institutionalized remedies for judgment and reason. On the other hand, Thucydides accepts some level of democracy because it allows equal rights for all without segregation of class or background. The officials in the administration are purely chosen by merit.

Plato is also a philosopher who was against democracy for reasons such as its ability to changes from democracy to anarchy in the future. This he stated would be as a result of the inability of a democratic rule to check itself. In addition, he does not agree with the ability of an ordinary citizen to provide an effective. The only positive thing he finds in democracy which can be traced to him is the ability of a good democracy to give equal chances to people no matter their gender.

The changes and improvement of functions, authority, and jurisdiction of those in power in various governments are just some of the things that make regimes different from one term of leadership to another. Every improvement in brings with it new responsibilities and hence new possibilities for democracy in democratic societies worldwide. A democratic government is meant to bring about positive change in an orderly and considerable way while and not prevent it. It main aim is not to make existing policies permanent but to create changes when they are needed through constitutional review processes. A democratic leadership should also be able to prevent violent revolutionary changes by creating open channels to address dissatisfaction and room for readjustments within the constitution.

Works Cited

Connor, Robert. Thucydides. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984

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Crane, Gregory. Thucydides and the Ancient Simplicity: The Limits of Political Realism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Farrar, Cynthia. Origins of Democratic Thinking: The Invention of Politics in Classical Athens. Cambridge, U.K., and New York; Cambridge University Press, 1988..

Plato & Allen, RE. The Dialogues of Plato, Volume 1: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Gorgias, Menexenus. Yale University Press, 1989.

Thucydides, S. Robert, B. et al. The landmark Thucydides: a comprehensive guide to the Peloponnesian War. Simon & Schuster, 1998.

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StudyCorgi. "Democracy: Strengths and Weaknesses According to Thucydides and Plato." November 5, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/democracy-strengths-and-weaknesses-according-to-thucydides-and-plato/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Democracy: Strengths and Weaknesses According to Thucydides and Plato." November 5, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/democracy-strengths-and-weaknesses-according-to-thucydides-and-plato/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Democracy: Strengths and Weaknesses According to Thucydides and Plato'. 5 November.

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