Socrates & The Problem With Democracy

Athens, the birthplace of democracy. From the confines of southern Greece this system of governance has spread to every corner of the globe and shapes the world as we know it today.

Democracy gives man the right to choose his own future. It allows unparalleled freedoms for the common man and has given mankind a chance to thrive in societies that are inclusive, diverse and elevating in nature. The problem with democracy however, its inherent flaw, is that decisions lie in the hands of the people; and sometimes people cannot be trusted.

This statement is not my own, this mindset, this belief, was embedded in the mind of Socrates, the father of western philosophy. Socrates was by no means opposed to democracy, but you could say he was frightened of it, of what it can become if those granted such power do not know how to use it.


In Plato's Republic, a conversation between Socrates and an Athenian citizen by the name of Adamantius presents an interesting situation. If you were to travel by sea, yet had to choose those commanding the ship, would you choose any old individual, or someone with an extensive knowledge of seafaring?

Naturally, Adamantius chooses the latter. Why then, Socrates asks, should "any old person be fit to judge the ruler of a nation?"

Socrates' logic here points toward the skill required not only to choose a valid candidate to rule, but also to have the rational mindset that rejects sensationalism and cheap tricks. At the centre of this lies education. Socrates believed education to be crucial to the maintenance of any democracy.

He argued that if the uneducated could vote then this leaves the door open to demagoguery, to those who are willing to exploit our need for easy answers, those who will grant you your hearts desires and lead you down a dangerous path. Voting is a skill, something that requires teaching from an early age to see the warning signs and have a basic understanding of politics and the world around you. Any democracy without an adequate education system was an irresponsible one in his eyes and destined to fail.

It is worth pointing out that Socrates did not support the idea that only a select few could vote, but that without an informed and educated populace, it was rendered useless. To suggest that in 2017 those who are poorly educated cannot vote would be absurd and highly discriminatory; You can bet your life that many within the political elite would like this however.

It is fascinating, isn't it? The thought of Socrates, in the 4th century BC, presenting these dilemmas and asking these questions. Questions that today, it appears we still do not have the answers to.


We have witnessed demagogues many times since Socrates' death in 399BC; His death, in a cruel twist of fate, decided by a vote in a hatchet-job of a trial in which he was accused of sewing dissent among youths. In 2017 we are very much living through a time of demagoguery; leaders elected and referendums decided by the great masses, who at times themselves admit they knew nothing of what they were voting for, merely doing so in a fervour of patriotism or fear of the unknown.

Socrates warned us of these perils. Our governments continue to dismantle our education systems, maintaining ignorance is their greatest weapon and earns them votes with every campaign slogan and chant at rallies on the campaign trail.

In the past, Socrates' home of Athens had seen demagoguery. The smooth talking, charismatic individual by the name of Alcibiades who upon entering office, began eroding personal liberties and led Athens to a military disaster in Sicily.

Ultimately Socrates believed a democracy could only be effective if the education system within it worked. The two are intertwined and if one fails, the other is destined to do so afterwards. Politicians across the western world claim to value education and often run campaigns focused on improving it, but this rarely comes to fruition.


If this pattern is to continue, then by Socrates' logic our political leaders of the future will grow ever bolder in their tactics to trick the public. A public that is ill-informed, denies intellectualism and factual information and instead allows itself to be whipped up into a nationalistic, and at times, xenophobic or bigoted fever.

despite the picture above…if you are wondering who the modern day demagogues I am alluding to are, then you probably voted for them, and history will place the blame for their actions at your feet.






6 thoughts on “Socrates & The Problem With Democracy

Add yours

  1. I wonder who you could be alluding to. Looking at the final picture reminds me of a TV programme called Catchphrase. “Say what you see.” I like what you are saying here my Catchphrase usually after an election is, “Good old British Public.” I have been known to be sarcastic at times πŸ˜€Thank you for this, really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve made me realise a spelling error at the end there with ‘alluding’ – Thank you πŸ˜‚ We do sarcasm on different levels in Scotland, it’s difficult to understand when people are being serious 🀘🏼

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ross.
    Thanks for following my other blog, redflagflying. That is much appreciated.
    Democracy? It’s a bit like Christianity. Good idea, but doesn’t work once the establishment gets to control it.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Afternoon good sir!

      I am inclined to agree with you unfortunately. Democracy is a great system, but can be easily manipulated. Sadly, it is the general public that often bear the brunt of the failings of any political or ideological system; We appear to be living through such times.

      Liked by 1 person

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