Plato and More: A Discussion on Democracy

(Plato appears in Sir Thomas More’s chamber in Henry VIII’s castle)

More: So we meet again, Plato.

Plato: Greetings, Sir More.

M: So what shall the topic be for today’s cross-time continuum conversation?

P: I was thinking about discussing the topic of democracy today.

M: Why not. I’ll let you begin.

P: Let us first define the term democracy. Democracy is a state where freedom reigns supreme as the defining characteristic; the people may live life as they please, may take up any profession they please, and may speak without fear of unlawful censorship or persecution. They also are entitled to private property, where…

M: Private property? Ah, how amusing!

P: Is that so? I’m interested in your thoughts, More.

M: Well, I believe that the concept of private property is the source of class inequalities, thus creating injustice in society. It causes not only a sense of materialism but also the division of society into two classes: the rich and the poor. The rich develop a culture of buying and selling goods, or private property, that the poor laborers produce. Thus, the poor work for the benefit of the rich, causing inequality.

P: That is true. Seeing as how this system does not work, what shall you propose instead?

M: Private property should belong to the central government and be shared by all. This creates a society where all classes, while retaining individuality, combine their talents to produce property for the good of the entire State.

P: A truly just society…that is what you have just described. Where each man fulfills his/her role for the good of the State.

M: A truly just society is what democracy is NOT. In democracy, the poor work for the benefit of the few rich instead of the State as a whole. Justice can only be achieved by eliminating the freedom that paradoxically leads to inequality. Now tell me, Plato, what are your ideas of democracy?

P: I think that democracy, as defined by us earlier, is made unworthy of being called perfect by any means, as you have described it. However, I believe that the true downfall of democracy is the lack of proper leadership that exists because of it. If freedom is to thrive as the dominant quality of a democratic government, then there will be little chance of the people being willing to give in to a leader unless he/she stands for their direct interests. While a leader should definitely listen to his people, is he/ really acting in their interests by doing whatever they want him to do? I believe that because of this, an effective leader is unable of being chosen directly from the people; therefore, democracy at its core is unable of achieving true leadership.

M: Perhaps a form of indirect representation is needed? Where the people are represented by properly educated public officials, who nominate and elect the leaders based on the interests of the people? Anyways, it seems that according to both of us, pure democracy is unfit to be the government of a truly ideal State, even if it be due to different reasons.

P: At least at its core. There are many aspects of democracy that can be adapted to form an ideal government style. I see it as a step towards achieving a perfect society. Isn’t that something you’ve speculated upon, More, seeing as you invented the word “utopia”?

M: Oh come, now. Utopia, in its Greek context, means “a good place”; you of all people should know that. Furthermore, I wrote Utopia as a satire; merely a criticism against the governments of the time. Though many may argue otherwise, saying that it was intended as a “blueprint” for a perfect State or whatnot, I insist that criticism was my original intent. I believe a perfect society is impossible.

P: Even if a perfect society is possible, we can at least both agree that it does not take the form of pure democracy.

M: Indeed.

P: Well it has been enjoyable having a conversation with you, Sir More, but I must be getting back to my time. Until next time, my friend.

M: Farewell.

(Plato disappears from the room)

Dialogue on democracy between Plato and More on a friday night over a drink.

Robert Ekblom

Professor Qualls

Utopias/Dystopias Seminar


Dialogue on democracy between Plato and More on a friday night over a drink.


M(ore): What is your opinion on social freedom and individual role in society?

P(lato): I believe in three classes. There will be those who rule, the warriors, and the masses. The masses will work, and will not involve themselves with ruling or responsibilities of the society, and a select group will take on the responsibility of leading the society for the good of the whole.

M: I don’t agree with your position.

P: Please, elaborate.

M: Should the masses not have a voice? A chance to raise the issues they feel are important?

P: The rulers will address the important issues, for the good of the society, without the masses rising. If people have the power of voice, that is all they need to overthrow rulers.

M: Should an able leader not take into consideration what their subjects feel or think?

P: An able leader should not need to consolidate with their subjects. An able leader knows the needs of their subjects, and does not need them to repeat their concerns.

M: I disagree. No leader can know all the wishes or concerns of their subjects.

P: So what you suggest is that the people have the option of voicing their concerns and having a role in governing the society?

M: Precisely.

P: If they have this power, can they not attempt to overthrow those in power? Can they not decide they are never content with the decisions of the rulers? Does the power you suggest not permit uprising?

M: The rulers and those in power will make decisions for the good of everyone in the society. The difference between our proposed states is that the masses in mine are able to voice the concerns that the rulers might overlook.

P: I can understand your point of overlooking issues; however, I would be concerned giving the freedom and power nevertheless. It is the responsibility of the rulers to govern the state as they see fit. The decisions the rulers make should be the final verdict, for the good of the whole. Once you permit the masses to address their concerns, you permit the masses to govern. Hypothetically, an issue arises and the masses raise the issue to those with responsibility. Should the ruler not be able to rectify the issue, the masses would begin to question their leadership, and consequently, chaos will pursue.

M: Only prosperity would pursue by allowing the masses to speak. The masses would see no reason to rise against their leaders if they are part of constructing their society. With the people having the ability to work alongside their leaders, and help in building their ideal community, the people would not rise up, solely because they would themselves be to blame for any mistakes. However, clearly we do not, and will not, see eye to eye on this matter. We should agree to disagree.

P: Agreed. How’s the wife?