Al-fārābi on the democratic city

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (3):379 – 394 (2003)
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This essay will explore some of al-Farabi’s paradoxical remarks on the nature and status of the democratic city (al-madinah al-jama'iyyah). In describing this type of non-virtuous city, Farabi departs significantly from Plato, according the democratic city a superior standing and casting it in a more positive light. Even though at one point Farabi follows Plato in considering the timocratic city to be the best of the imperfect cities, at another point he implies that the democratic city occupies this position. Since Farabi’s discussion of imperfect cities is derived from Plato’s Republic and follows it in many important respects, I will argue that his departure from Plato in this context is significant and points to some revealing differences between the two philosophers. In order to demonstrate this, I will first set up a comparison between Plato’s conception of the democratic city and Farabi’s. Then I will propose three explanations for the greater appreciation that Farabi seems to have for democracy, as well as for the apparent contradiction in Farabi’s verdict concerning the second best city.


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Muhammad Ali Khalidi
CUNY Graduate Center

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