Democracy in Plato's Laws

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2004


This article discusses Plato's view of democracy based on the book The Laws. The most obvious example of the more positive treatment of democracy in The Laws is that Plato presents monarchy and democracy as the mothers of regimes, or the foundation of all the other types. This foundation is also democratic in that the Athenian Stranger incorporates a certain degree of participation into the best possible regime. Participation is required to elect rulers and fill offices, and the Council. And in order to maximize equality of representation, the three hundred and sixty persons on the Council are divided into four divisions that correspond to classes in society. The graduated fines for non-participation are also significant, insofar as the wealthy incur great penalties for shirking civic duties, although voting remains voluntary for the poorer members of the city. The primary purpose of these measures is an oligarchic check on the electorate, but it is striking that the poor are given special considerations for duty and payment, while receiving equal access when they so desire. Participation is also used to ensure against faction and as a means to foster the civic responsibility necessary for maintaining an army. The inclusion of democratic principles in the regime is not necessarily a matter of politics and participation. Rather, its chief purpose seems to be developing a spirit of community and a sense of friendship.