Plato, Hegel, and Democracy

Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain 53:24-50 (2006)
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Abstract

Nearly every major philosophy, from Plato to Hegel and beyond, has argued that democracy is an inferior form of government, at best. Yet, virtually every contemporary political philosophy working today - whether in an analytic or postmodern tradition - endorses democracy in one variety or another. Should we conclude then that the traditional canon is meaningless for helping us theorize about a just state? In this paper, I will take up the criticisms and positive proposals of two such canonical figures in political philosophy: Plato and Hegel. At first glance, each is rather disdainful, if not outright hostile, to democracy. This is also how both have been represented traditionally. However, if we look behind the reasons for their rejection of (Athenian) democracy and the reasons behind their alternatives to democracy, I believe we can uncover a new theory of government that does two things. First, it maps onto the so-called Schumpeterian tradition of elite theories of democracy quite well. Second, perhaps surprisingly, it actually provides an improved justification for democratic government as we practice it today than rival theories of democracy. Thus, not only are Plato and Hegel not enemies of modern democratic thought after all, but each is actually quite useful for helping us develop democratic theory in a positive, not negative, manner.

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Thom Brooks
Durham University

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