“The Old Oligarch”

Cited in an old “History of Western Philosophy” textbook:

What it comes to, therefore, is that a state founded on democratic institutions will not be the best state; but … the People does not demand that the city should be well governed and itself a slave. It desires to be free and to be master. As to bad legislation, it does not concern itself about that. In fact, what you [the “better sort”] call bad legislation is the very source of the People’s strength and freedom. If you seek for good legislation [it will be necessary to restrict the franchise to] the cleverer members of the community who will lay down laws for the best …. The better class will deliberate in behalf of the state and not suffer crack-brained fellows to sit in council, or to speak or vote in the assemblies. No doubt; but under the very weight of such blessings the People will in a very short time be reduced to slavery. (from “A History of Western Philosophy,” W. T. Jones, (c) 1952; pg 11.)

Jones summarizes: “In a word, the Old Oligarch concluded, it must be allowed that universal suffrage and direct democracy result in inefficient administration of the state’s business. But this is not an important objection since some things (at least from the people’s point of view) are more valuable than efficiency. A state has to choose between freedom and good government.”

Footnote: This account was written after the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war, by someone known only as Old Oligarch.” His name is unknown. He is called the Old Oligarch because of his evident political sympathies.

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