In this BBC Newsnight segment, Viewpoint: What can Plato teach us about Donald Trump?, they attribute a number of quotes to Plato and Aristotle that could be interpreted as predicting a scenario similar to one we are experiencing in US politics.

It is these quotes I am interested in:

Socrates apparently said:

"Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy"

He then warns:

"It's freedoms multiply, until it becomes a many-coloured clock decorated in all hues. Men are interchangeable with women, and all their natural differences forgotten. Animals have rights. Foreigners can come and work just like citizens. Children boss their parents around. Teachers are afraid of their students. The rich try to look just like the poor."

"Soon every kind of inequality is despised. The wealthy are particularly loathed. And elites in general are treated as suspect, perpetuating inequality and representing injustice."

And apparently Plato said this:

"It's when a democracy has evolved into this, that a would-be tyant would seize his moment. He is usually of the elite but is intune with the time. Given over to random pleasures and whims. Feasting on food, and especially sex."

"He makes his move by taking over a particularly obedient mob, and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. He is a traitor to his class, and soon his elite enemies find a way to appease him or are forced to flee."

"Eventually he stands alone, offering the addled, distracted, self indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy's endless choices and insecurities."

"He rides a backlash to success. Too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery. He offers himself as the personified answer to all problems. To replace the elites, and rule alone on behalf of the masses. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, impetuously, repeals itself."

I was wondering if this is a fairly accurate translation, or if liberties have been taken, or if this was mostly made up.

  • Was this a piece put together and presented by Newsnight, or comments by a guest? – DJClayworth Jan 22 '17 at 2:56
  • @DJClayworth: I'm not entirely sure I understand your question. Does the first 30 seconds of this video, which introduces the piece, answer it? – Oddthinking Jan 22 '17 at 11:23
  • @DJClayworth It was part of comments by a guest, in the form of an animated video. The day before they had an animation saying Trump on his first day should undo every single executive action from Obama with no exceptions. Part of a series of invited commentaries from a wide range of political views, one per day. – gerrit Jan 23 '17 at 11:06
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    All of Socrates is attributed to Plato's writing. – K Dog Jan 23 '17 at 16:30
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    @Mawg That was a part that stood out to me. It's not clear what a 'clock' would mean to Socrates. A sundial? – JimmyJames Jan 23 '17 at 18:14
up vote 9 down vote accepted
  1. "Tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy"-This is recorded in The Republic of Plato by Allan Bloom and viewed here as a Socratic dialogue with some creative liberties. However, the original Socratic quote is "And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty" which is recorded here.

  2. "It's freedoms multiply, until it becomes a many-coloured cloak decorated in all hues".-This is recorded in The Republic of Plato by Allan Bloom and viewed here as a Socratic dialogue with some creative liberties. However, the original Socratic quote is "This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States" as recorded here.

  3. "It's when a democracy has evolved into this, that a would-be tyant would seize his moment. He is usually of the elite but is intune with the time. Given over to random pleasures and whims. Feasting on food, and especially sex. He makes his move by taking over a particularly obedient mob, and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. He is a traitor to his class, and soon his elite enemies find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually he stands alone, offering the addled, distracted, self indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy's endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to success. Too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery. He offers himself as the personified answer to all problems. To replace the elites, and rule alone on behalf of the masses. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, impetuously, repeals itself."

Several quotes like these are excerpts from the article 'Democracies end when they are too democratic' by Andrew Sullivan as viewed here and youtube video shared by the OP also mentions this animation as an argument by the British-American author and blogger Andrew Sullivan about lessons to be learnt from Plato.

I didn't find an exact translation using those words, but those fragments (at least some of them) do appear on the "Republic", by Plato, beginning from the 563a.

"It's freedoms multiply, until it becomes a many-coloured clock decorated in all hues."

"Men are interchangeable with women, and all their natural differences forgotten."

"And I almost forgot to mention the spirit of freedom and equal rights in the relation of men to women and women to men"

"Animals have rights."

"Foreigners can come and work just like citizens."

"And the resident alien feels himself equal to the citizen and the citizen to him, and the foreigner likewise"

"Children boss their parents around."

"And in general the young ape their elders and vie with them in speech and action, while the old, accommodating themselves to the young, are full of pleasantry and graciousness, imitating the young for fear they may be thought disagreeable and authoritative" [4]

"Teachers are afraid of their students."

"The teacher in such case fears and fawns upon the pupils, and the pupils pay no heed to the teacher or to their overseers either."

"The rich try to look just like the poor."

"Soon every kind of inequality is despised. The wealthy are particularly loathed. And elites in general are treated as suspect, perpetuating inequality and representing injustice."

Source: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D8%3Asection%3D563a

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1497/pg1497.txt the full text of Plato's republic is available online. You can CTRL+F for "democracy" or "tyranny" and see that the precise quotes from that bit don't seem to be in there.

However, if you dig a little more around the CTRL+F you can see things that might represent what the BBC piece was referring to for example:

There remains still the finest and fairest of all men and all States--tyranny and the tyrant. Tyranny springs from democracy much as democracy springs from oligarchy. Both arise from excess; the one from excess of wealth, the other from excess of freedom. 'The great natural good of life,' says the democrat, 'is freedom.' And this exclusive love of freedom and regardlessness of everything else, is the cause of the change from democracy to tyranny.

he continues:

The State demands the strong wine of freedom, and unless her rulers give her a plentiful draught, punishes and insults them; equality and fraternity of governors and governed is the approved principle. Anarchy is the law, not of the State only, but of private houses, and extends even to the animals. Father and son, citizen and foreigner, teacher and pupil, old and young, are all on a level; fathers and teachers fear their sons and pupils, and the wisdom of the young man is a match for the elder, and the old imitate the jaunty manners of the young because they are afraid of being thought morose. Slaves are on a level with their masters and mistresses, and there is no difference between men and women. Nay, the very animals in a democratic State have a freedom which is unknown in other places. The she-dogs are as good as their she-mistresses, and horses and asses march along with dignity and run their noses against anybody who comes in their way.

then there is this which, in my opinion closely resembles the anti SJW sentiment:

At last the citizens become so sensitive that they cannot endure the yoke of laws, written or unwritten; they would have no man call himself their master. Such is the glorious beginning of things out of which tyranny springs. 'Glorious, indeed; but what is to follow?' The ruin of oligarchy is the ruin of democracy; for there is a law of contraries; the excess of freedom passes into the excess of slavery, and the greater the freedom the greater the slavery.

the prediction of an incoming war:

In the early days of his tyranny he smiles and beams upon everybody; he is not a 'dominus,' no, not he: he has only come to put an end to debt and the monopoly of land. Having got rid of foreign enemies, he makes himself necessary to the State by always going to war. He is thus enabled to depress the poor by heavy taxes, and so keep them at work;

All things considered I'd say the summary from the BBC version is actually pretty good. Quite a bit clearer and elegant. Though I'd suggest reading the section yourself. If you search for any of these sections on page you'll get right into the area that describes this.

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