Righting the Ship of State

One of the most prominent critics of democracy was, of course, Plato, who along the way gave us the metaphor of "the ship of state." Democracy, he argued, was akin to a ship being steered and navigated by the passengers. Different potential captains would sell themselves to the passengers by pandering to their desires rather than based upon their seamanship. Such a voyage could not but end badly, Plato thought.

The argument for a mixed constitution flows pretty naturally from this metaphor, I think, although Plato did not pursue it in that direction. While it's true we don't want the passengers picking which channel to attempt or when to tack, we also don't fancy the notion of the captain essentially kidnapping the passengers and dragging them anywhere on the seven seas he wishes to go. A mixed constitution tries to balance sound seamanship and individual autonomy.


  1. Anonymous12:06 AM

    Plato's idea of government seemed to be very bad. The 'Republic' was far worse than the Spartan tyranny. It was a good thing he never had the power to implement his ideas. Artistotle seemed to be a much more 'moderate' man.

    1. Read Voegelin on Plato. I understand why you think this way, but it is really a superficial view.

  2. Anonymous3:01 AM

    "In a Democracy, the real rulers are the dexterous manipulators of votes...The history of mankind bears witness that the most necessary and fruitful reforms--the most durable measures--emanated from the supreme will of statesmen, or from a minority enlightened by lofty ideas and deep knowledge, and that, on the contrary, the extension of the representative principle is accompanied by the abasement of political ideas." Konstantin Pobedonostsev (The Russian Statesman, 'The New Democracy' pg. 27)


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