Plato and Aristotle’s view of society differs on many points. For Plato, democracy was a de-civilization of society and it proved that men were not able to live up to the standards of the Ideal City. Plato taught that men must be helped in their society by philosophers (called Guardians) who knew what is best for society and provided stringent rules by which society must abide. In his ideal city, Plato includes the ideas of euthanasia, eugenics, regulated procreation, class division, censorship, indoctrination, the dissolution of the family unit, the need for military conquests and many other concepts of dictatorship. He also realizes however, that such Ideal City could not be established because it would require the erasing of a civilization and the beginning of new one, without past culture and ready to be indoctrinated.
Aristotle on the other hand, considered community life as the one with highest chances of providing good life. Even though he considered monarchy and aristocracy as the best form of government, he recognized that the most acceptable alternative was a mix of oligarchy and democracy. He argued that the state represents a natural evolution of the aggregation of families and that neither families nor individuals could survive on their own. Families find the mutual benefit in their unity, leading to the formation of a state. The challenge with any state, however, is that requires ruling in order to contrast and regulate injustice, whose originating cause resides in owning private property and human selfishness. Aristotle indicates that democracy must be correctly applied and that its main challenge is that those elected to favor the interests of citizens may overpower the people, by manipulation in order to remain in power.
From my perspective, it is interesting to note that both positions find current or past application in many countries. The Ideal City is obviously an extreme solution that deprives humans of free will and assumes an innate inability of self-government. Even though, it includes some benefits, like improved economic and social stability, it does not represent the right solution for societies to achieve well-being.
Aristotle’s democracy, on the other hand, is probably the most accepted form of government today, even though, today’s societies do present exactly the risks and challenges that he described. Conceptually speaking, democracy remains the best form of government, from my point of view, however it is far from being a perfect and satisfying one, especially when masses can be easily manipulated.
St. Thomas Aquinas was a catholic priest who, contrary to the religious culture of his time, believed in the power of reasoning and faith and attempted to reconcile the two, based on Aristotle writings. Thomas Aquinas argued that humans are rules by eternal laws (God’s plan), divine laws (to guide towards eternal happiness), natural laws (the reason placed in everyman to guide in his actions) and human laws (changeable laws created by humans). Aquinas believed that governments and democracy are formed as the effect of natural laws and that governments should work for the common good of its citizens, benefiting all. Unjust governments establish tyranny and as such can be removed by the people. Aquinas indicates that people should not obey the law of tyranny if contrary to the divine or natural laws, thus creating the cultural basis for the revolutions that will follow later in history. Like Aristotle, Aquinas recognizes the need for a good leader, however, rejected the idea of an absolute ruler. The writing and teachings of Aquinas created the basis for later and modern Western democratic thought.