laws (books 1 - 6)
Cle. I believe that he would.
Ath. "Come, legislator," we will say to him; "what are the
conditions which you require in a state before you can organize it?"
How ought he to answer this question? Shall I give his answer?
Ath. He will say-"Give me a state which is governed by a tyrant, and
let the tyrant be young and have a good memory; let him be quick at
learning, and of a courageous and noble nature; let him have that
quality which, as I said before, is the inseparable companion of all
the other parts of virtue, if there is to be any good in them."
Cle. I suppose, Megillus, that this companion virtue of which the
Stranger speaks, must be temperance?
Ath. Yes, Cleinias, temperance in the vulgar sense; not that which
in the forced and exaggerated language of some philosophers is
called prudence, but that which is the natural gift of children and
animals, of whom some live continently and others incontinently, but
when isolated, was as we said, hardly worth reckoning in the catalogue
of goods. I think that you must understand my meaning.
Ath. Then our tyrant must have this as well as the other
qualities, if the state is to acquire in the best manner and in the
shortest time the form of government which is most conducive to
happiness; for there neither is nor ever will be a better or
speedier way of establishing a polity than by a tyranny.
Cle. By what possible arguments, Stranger, can any man persuade
himself of such a monstrous doctrine?
Ath. There is surely no difficulty in seeing, Cleinias, what is in
accordance with the order of nature?
Cle. You would assume, as you say, a tyrant who was young,
temperate, quick at learning, having a good memory, courageous, of a
Ath. Yes; and you must add fortunate; and his good fortune must be
that he is the contemporary of a great legislator, and that some happy
chance brings them together. When this has been accomplished, God
has done all that he ever does for a state which he desires to be
eminently prosperous; He has done second best for a state in which
there are two such rulers, and third best for a state in which there
are three. The difficulty increases with the increase, and
diminishes with the diminution of the number.
Cle. You mean to say, I suppose, that the best government is
produced from a tyranny, and originates in a good lawgiver and an
orderly tyrant, and that the change from such a tyranny into a perfect
form of government takes place most easily; less easily when from an
oligarchy; and, in the third degree, from a democracy: is not that
Ath. Not so; I mean rather to say that the change is best made out
of a tyranny; and secondly, out of a monarchy; and thirdly, out of
some sort of democracy: fourth, in the capacity for improvement, comes
oligarchy, which has the greatest difficulty in admitting of such a
change, because the government is in the hands of a number of
potentates. I am supposing that the legislator is by nature of the
true sort, and that his strength is united with that of the chief
men of the state; and when the ruling element is numerically small,
and at the same time very strong, as in a tyranny, there the change is
likely to be easiest and most rapid.
Cle. How? I do not understand.
Ath. And yet I have repeated what I am saying a good many times; but
I suppose that you have never seen a city which is under a tyranny?
Cle. No, and I cannot say that I have any great desire to see one.
Ath. And yet, where there is a tyranny, you might certainly see that
of which I am now speaking.
Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. I mean that you might see how, without trouble and in no very
long period of time, the tyrant, if he wishes, can change the