Plato's examination of the oligarchic soul in Book VIII of the Republic

History of Political Thought 23 (3):377-400 (2002)


Historically, oligarchy has been a great political and intellectual competitor to democracy. Indeed, much of the early history of political thought centred on the clash between democracy and oligarchy. Unfortunately, while Greek notions of democracy have received much attention from political scientists, correspondingly less has been paid to oligarchy. This article seeks to address that imbalance by examining Plato's treatment of oligarchy in Book VIII of the Republic. It focuses on Socrates' investigation of the oligarchic soul and concludes that for Plato, oligarchy is an enduring political problem because it is an attractive alternative to democracy for a certain kind of acquisitive but morally-serious person. Such people are attracted to oligarchy because they have a particular moral passion that is not satisfied in a democratic political order

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