Al-Fārābī on the Democratic City

Khalidi, Muhammad Ali. “Al-Fārābī on the Democratic City.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (3) 2003, pp. 379-394.

Overview: A spirited attempt to show that Alfarabi’s account of democracy resembles modern liberal democracy. Khalidi probably overstates his case, but this intelligent articles remains well-worth reading.


“This essay will explore some of Alfarabi’s paradoxical remarks on the nature and status of the democratic city. In describing this type of non-virtuous city, Alfarabi departs significantly from PLato, according to the democratic city a superior standing and casting it in a more positive light. Even though at one point Farabifollows Plato in considering the timocratic city to be the best of the imperfect cities, at another point he implies that the democratic city occupies this position. Since Alfarabi’s discussion of imperfect cities is derived from Plato’s Republic and follows it in many important respects, I will argue that his departure from Plato in this context is significant and points to some revealing differences between the two philosophers. In order to demonstrate this, I will first set up a comparison between Plato’s conception of the democratic city and Alfarabi’s. Then I will propose three explanations for the greater appreciation that Farabi seems to have for democracy, as well as for the apparent contradiction in Alfarabi’s verdict concerning the second best city.”


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