Plato's five regimes

Plato's five regimes

The Classical Greek philosopher Plato discusses five types of regimes. They are Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny. Plato also assigns a man to each of these regimes to illustrate what they stand for. The tyrannical man would represent Tyranny for example. These five regimes progressively degenerate starting with Aristocracy at the top and Tyranny at the bottom. Each regime below aristocracy is worse than the one before. Aristocracy is considered the best.


Aristocracy is the republic. This regime is ruled by philosophers/kings. Aristocracy then degenerates into timocracy where members of the highest class value honor and force above all else. This happens when rulers begin to disagree with each other. In timocracy, war and their own protection are the main priority. Honor and victory are considered the most important things.


Timocracy then degenerates into oligarchy where money is the highest goal. Wealthy people are respected and the poor are looked down upon. One needs to have possessions to participate in government affairs. Oligarchy is rule by the rich or the property owners.


Oligarchy then degenerates into democracy where freedom is the supreme good but freedom is also slavery. In democracy, the lower class grows bigger and bigger. The poor become the winners. Diversity is supreme. People are free to do what they want and live how they want. People can even break the law if they so chose. This appears to be very similar to anarchy.


Democracy then degenerates into tyranny where no one has discipline and society exists in chaos. Democracy is taken over by the longing for freedom. Power must be seized to maintain order. A champion will come along and experience power, which will cause him to become a tyrant. The people will start to hate him and eventually try to remove him but will realize they are not able to.

"The Democratic Man"

Plato uses the "democratic man" to represent democracy. The democratic man is the son of the oligarchic man. Unlike his father, the democratic man is consumed with unnecessary desires. Plato describes necessary desires as desires that we have out of instinct or desires that we have in order to survive. Unnecessary desires are desires we can teach ourselves to resist such as the desire for riches. The democratic man takes great interest in all the things he can buy with his money. He does whatever he wants whenever he wants to do it. His life has no order or priority.

"The Tyrannical Man"

The tyrannical man is the son of the democratic man. He is the worst form of man. He is consumed by lawless desires which cause him to do many terrible things such as sleeping with his own mother or murdering someone unjustly. He comes closest to complete lawlessness. The idea of moderation does not exist to him. He is consumed by the pleasures in life. He spends all of his money and becomes poor and leads a miserable life.

When Plato says the tyrant is a prisoner to the lawless master he means that if the tyrant should lose his power for any reason his life and the life of his family would be in great danger. The tyrant always runs the risk of being killed in revenge for all the unjust things he has done. He becomes afraid to leave his own home and becomes trapped inside. Therefore his lawless behavior leads to his own self-imprisonment.


*Cahn, Steven M. "Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy", Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 01951140915

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