Plato the Republic. The imperial ambitions of Athens perished with her defeat in the Peloponnese War, but through her role was changed, her influence upon Greece, and ultimately upon the whole of the ancient world, was by no means diminished. After the loss of her empire, she became more and more the educational center of the Mediterranean world, a position which she retained even after her political independence had vanished and indeed far down into the Christian Era.
Her schools of philosophy and science and rhetoric were the first great institutions in Europe devoted to higher education and to the research which necessarily accompanies advanced instruction, and to them came students from Rome and all parts of the ancient world.
Plato’s Academy was the first of the philosophical schools, though Socrates, who taught especially rhetoric and oratory, probably opened his school a few years earlier. Aristotle’s school at the Lyceum was opened some fifty years later, and the two other great schools, the Epicurean and the Stoic began some thirty years after Aristotle.
Those who have mastered the fine spontaneity, both of life and of art, in the Periclean Age can hardly avoid looking upon this academic specialization of Athenian genius as a decline. Probably it is true that the Greeks would not have turned to philosophy, at least in the manner they did, had the life of Athens remained as happy and as prosperous as it seemed to be when Pericles’s Funeral Oration struck its dominant note. And yet no one can doubt that the teaching of the Athenian Schools played as large a part in European civilization as the art of the fifth century.
For these Schools mark the beginning of European philosophy, especially in its relations with politics and other social studies. In this field, the writings of Plato and Aristotle were the first great pioneering operations of the European intellect. At the start, they have only rudimentary beginnings and nothing that can properly be called a body of sciences, distinguished and classified in the way that now seems obvious.
The subjects and their interrelations were in process of creation. But by the time the corpus of Aristotelian writings was completed in 323, the general outline of knowledge-into philosophy, natural science, the sciences of human conduct, and the criticism of art-was fixed in a form that is recognizable for any later age of European thought. Certainly, no scholar can afford to belittle the advancing specialization and the higher standard of professional accuracy which came with the Schools, even though it brought something academic and remote from civic activity.
The Need For Political Science:-
Plato was born about 427 B.C. of an eminent Athenian family. Many commentators have attributed his critical attitude toward democracy to his aristocratic birth, and it is a fact that one of his relatives was prominently connected with the oligarchic revolt of 404. But the fact can be perfectly well explained otherwise; his distrust of democracy was no greater than Aristotle’s, who was not noble by birth nor even Athenian.
The outstanding fact of Plato’s intellectual development was his association as a young man with Socrates, and from Socrates, he derived what was always the controlling thought of his political philosophy-the idea that virtue is knowledge. Otherwise stated, this meant the belief that there is objectively a good life, both for individuals and for states, which may be made the object of study, which may be defined by methodical intellectual processes, and which may therefore be intelligently pursued.
This in itself explains why Plato must in some sense be an aristocrat since the standard of scholarly attainment can never be left to numbers or popular opinion. Coming to manhood at the conclusion of the Peloponnese War, he could hardly be expected to share Pericles’s enthusiasm for the “happy versatility” of democratic life. His earliest thought on politics, that recorded in the Republic, fell just at the time when an Athenian was most likely to be impressed by the discipline of Sparta, and before the hollowness of that discipline was made evident by the disastrous history of the Spartan Empire.
In the autobiography attached to the Seventh Letter Plato tells how, as a young man, he had hoped for a political career and had even expected that the aristocratic revolt of the Thirty (404 B.C.) would bring substantial reforms in which he might bear a part. But experience with oligarchy soon made democracy seem like a golden age, though forthwith the restored democracy proved its unfitness by the execution of Socrates.
The result was that I, who had at first been full of eagerness for a public career, as gazed upon the whirlpool of public life and saw the incessant movement of shifting currents, at last, felt dizzy and finally saw clearly in regard to all states now existing that without exception their system of government is bad. Their constitutions are almost beyond redemption except through some miraculous plan accompanied by good luck. Hence was forced to say in praise of the correct philosophy that it affords a vantage point from which we can discern in all cases what is just for communities and for individuals, and that accordingly the human race will not see better have until either the stock of those who rightly and genuinely follow philosophy acquire political authority, or else the class who have political control be led by some dispensation of providence to become real philosophers.
It is exceedingly tempting to see in this passage an important reason for the founding of Plato’s School, though rather curiously the School is not mentioned in the Letter. The date must have been within a few years after the conclusion of his rather extensive travels and his return to Athens in 388. Doubtless, the Academy was not founded exclusively for any single purpose and therefore it would be an exaggeration to say that Plato intended to build an institution for the scientific study of politics and the training of statesmen.
Specialization had not yet reached this point, and Plato hardly thought of the need for the philosopher in politics as a need for men trained ad hoc in the professions of administration and legislation. He thought of it rather as a need for men in whom adequate intellectual training had sharpened the perception of the good life and who were, therefore, prepared to discriminate between true and false goods and between adequate and inadequate means of attaining the true good.
The problem was an outgrowth of the distinction between nature and convention which had been before the minds of reflective Greeks during the second half of the fifth century. It was, therefore, in Plato’s conception, an important part of the general problem of discriminating true knowledge from appearance, opinion, and downright illusion. To it no branch of advanced study, such for example as logic or mathematics, was irrelevant.
At the same time, it would be hard to believe that Plato, convinced as he was that such knowledge and its acquisition by rulers was the only salvation for states, did not hope and expect that the Academy would disseminate true knowledge and philosophy, not spurious arts such as rhetoric. Certainly, he believed later that statesmanship is the supreme or “kingly” science.
In 367 and 361, Plato made his famous journeys to Syracuse to aid his friend Dion in the education and guidance of the young king Dionysius in whose accession he saw what he hoped was the auspicious occasion for a radical political reform-a youthful ruler with unlimited power and a willingness to profit by the combined advice of a scholar and of an experienced statesman.
The story is told with great vividness in the Seventh Letter. Plato soon found that he had been wholly misled by the report of Dionysius’s willingness to take advice and to apply himself either to study or to business. The project was a complete failure, and yet it does not appear that there was anything essentially visionary about Plato’s purposes.
The advice contained in his letters to Dion’s followers is sound and moderate, and it seems clear that Dion’s plans were wrecked by his own failure to meet the Syracusans with a conciliatory policy, Some parts of Plato’s Seventh Letter imply that he perceived the great importance for the whole Greek world of a strong Greek power in Sicily to offset the Carthaginians, which was certainly a statesman-like project, and if he believed that an -adequate power was impossible without monarchy, this was a conclusion which the Hellenization of the East by Alexander did much to justify.
So far as the Sicilian adventure concerned Plato personally, he manifestly felt that no serious scholar who, for a generation, had been preaching the doctrine that politics required philosophy could refuse the support which Dion asked.
I feared to see myself at last altogether nothing but words, so to speak-a man who would never willingly lay hand to any concrete task.
Matters more or less connected with political philosophy are discussed in many of Plato’s Dialogues, but there are three which deal mainly with the subject, and from these, his theories must be mainly gathered. These are the Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws. The Republic was written in Plato’s mature but comparatively early manhood, probably within a decade of the opening of his School.
Though it was certainly intended to be a unit and has so impressed its best critics, its composition may well have extended over several years, and there is good stylistic evidence that the discussion of justice in Book is relatively early. The Laws, on the other hand, was the work of Plato’s old age and according to the tradition he was still at work on it when he died in 347.
Thirty years (or possibly even more) elapsed, therefore, between the writing of the Republic and the writing of the Laws. It is plausible to see in the former work the enthusiasm of Plato’s first maturity, of the time which saw the founding of the School, and in the latter the disillusionment which came with age, perhaps accentuated by the failure of his venture in Syracuse. The Statesman was written between the other two dialogues, but probably nearer the Laws than the Republic.
Virtue is Knowledge:-
The Republic is a book that defies classification. It fits into none of the categories either of modern social studies or of modern science. In it, practically every side of Plato’s philosophy is touched upon or developed, and its range of subject-matter is such that it may be said to deal with the whole of human life. It has to do with the good man and the good life, which for Plato connoted life in a good state, and with the means for knowing what these are and for attaining them. And to a problem so general no side of individual or social activity is alien.
Hence the Republic is not a treatise of any sort, nor does it belong ta politics, or ethics, or economics, or psychology, though it includes all these and more, for art and education and philosophy are not excluded. For this breadth of subject-matter, which is a little disconcerting to an academically trained reader, several facts account. The mere literary mechanics of the dialogue-form which Plato used permitted inclusiveness and freedom of arrangement which a treatise could not tolerate.
Moreover, when Plato wrote, the various “sciences” mentioned above did not yet have the distinctness that was later somewhat artificially assigned to them. But more important than either literary or scientific technique is the fact to which reference has already been made, that in the city-state life itself was not classified and subdivided so much as it now is. Since all of a man’s activities were pretty intimately connected with his citizenship, since his religion was the religion of the state, and his art very largely a civic art, there could be no very sharp separation of these questions.
The good man must be a good citizen; a good man could hardly exist except in a good state, and it would be idle to discuss what was good for the man without considering also what was good for the city. For this reason, an interweaving of psychological and social questions, of ethical and political considerations, was intrinsic to what Plato was trying to do.
The richness and variety of the problems and subject-matter that figure in the Republic did not prevent the political theory contained in the work from being highly unified and rather simple in its logical structure. The main positions developed, and those most characteristic of Plato, may be reduced to a few propositions, and all these propositions were not only dominated by a single point of view but were deduced pretty rigorously by a process of abstract reasoning which was not, indeed, divorced from the observation of actual institutions but did not profess to depend upon it.
To this statement, the classification of forms of government in Books VIII and IX is in some degree an exception, but the discussion of actual states was introduced to point the contrast with the ideal state and may therefore be neglected in considering the central argument of the Republic. Aside from this, the theory of the state is developed in a closely concatenated line of thought which is both unified and simple. Indeed, it is necessary to insist that this theory is far too much dominated by a single idea and far toes simple to do justice to Plato’s: subject, the political life of the city-state, This explains why he felt obliged to formulate a second theory-without however admitting the unsoundness of the first-and also why the greatest of his students, Aristotle while accepting some of the most general conclusions of the Republic, stood much closer on the whole to the form of political philosophy developed in the Statesman and the Laws than to the ideal state of the Republic. The over-simplification of the political theory contained in the earlier work made it, except in respect of very general principles, an episode in the development of the subject.
The fundamental idea of the Republic came to Plato in the form of his master’s doctrine that virtue is knowledge. His own unhappy political experience reenforced the idea and crystallized it in the founding of the Academy to inculcate the spirit of true knowledge as the foundation for philosophic statecraft. But the proposition that virtue knowledge implies that there is an objective good to be known and that it can in fact be known by rational or logical investigation rather than by intuition, guesswork, or luck.
The good is objectively real, whatever anybody thinks about it, and it ought to be realized not because men want it but because it is good. In other words, will come into the matter only secondarily; what men want depends upon how much they see of the good but nothing is good merely because they want it. From this, it follows that the man who knows-the philosopher or scholar or scientist-ought to have decisive power in government and that it is his knowledge alone which entitles him to this. This is the belief which underlies everything else in the Republic and causes Plato to sacrifice every aspect of the state that cannot be brought under the principle of enlightened despotism.
Upon examination, however, this principle is more broadly based than might at first be supposed. For it appears upon analysis that the association of man with man in society depends upon reciprocal needs and the resulting exchange of goods and services. Consequently, the philosopher’s claim to power is only a very important case of what is found wherever men live together, namely, that any co-operative enterprise depends upon everyone attending to his own part of the work, In order to see what this involves for the state, it is necessary to know What sorts of work are essential, an investigation which leads to the three classes of which the philosopher-ruler will obviously be the most important. But this dividing of tasks and securing the most perfect performance of each-the specialization of function which is the root of society–depends upon two factors, natural aptitude, and training. The first is innate and the second is a matter of experience and education.
As a practical enterprise, the state depends on controlling and inter. relating these two factors; in other words, upon getting the best human capacity and developing it by the best education. The whole analysis reinforces the initial conception: there is no hope for states unless power lies in the hands of those who know-who know, first, what tasks the good state requires, and, second, what heredity and education will supply the citizens fitted to perform them.
Plato’s theory is, therefore, divisible into two main parts or theses: first, that government ought to be an art depending on exact knowledge and, second, that society is a mutual satisfaction of needs by persons whose capacities supplement each other. Logically the second proposition is a premise for the first. But since Plato presumably derived the first almost ready-formed from Socrates, it is reasonable to suppose that temporally the second was a generalization or extension of the first. The Socratic principle that virtue is knowledge proved to have larger applicability than appeared on its face.
The Incompetence of Opinion:-
The thesis that the good is a matter of exact knowledge descends to Plato directly from the already ancient distinction of nature and convention and the quarrel between Socrates and the Sophists. Unless something is good, really and objectively, and unless reasonable men can agree about it, there is no standard for the art of statesmanship such as Plato hoped to found.
The question in its various ramifications is spread at large over Plato’s earlier dialogues, in the continually recurring analogy between the statesman and the physician or the skilled artisan, in the counter comparison in the Gorgias of oratory to the pampering of appetite by cookery, in the lack of method and the pretentiousness attributed to the teaching of the Sophists in the Protagoras, and on a more speculative level in the frequently recurring question about the relative positions of reason and inspiration, or of methodical knowledge and intuition.
In the same category belong the long discussions of art in the Republic and the not very flattering estimate of artists as men who get an effect without knowing how or why. This parallels precisely the charge that statesmen, even the greatest of them, have governed by a kind of ‘‘divine madness.” Obviously, no one can seriously hope to teach divine madness.
The difficulties of the city-state, however, are not in Plato’s opinion the result of defective education alone and still less of moral deficiencies in its statesmen or its teachers. They arise rather from a sickness of the whole body-public and of human nature itself. The public itself, he said, is the great sophist. A constantly recurring note in his ethics is the conviction that human nature is at war with itself, that there is a lower man from whom the higher man must at all costs save himself. It was this which made Plato seem to the Fathers of the Church almost a Christian. Quite gone is the faith in “happy versatility” so magnificently praised in the Funeral Oration.
The happy confidence of a generation that had created both spontaneously and successfully has given place to the doubt and uncertainty of a more critical age. In Plato, the hope still persisted that it may be possible to recapture the happier frame of mind, but only through methodical self-examination and rigid self-discipline.
In origin, therefore, the Republic was a critical study of the city-state as it actually was, with all the concrete defects that Plato saw in it, though for special reasons he chose to cast his theory in the form of an ideal city. This ideal was to reveal those eternal principles of nature which existing cities tried to defy.
Chief among the abuses that Plato attacked was the ignorance and incompetence of politicians, which is the special curse of democracies. Artisans have to know their trades, but politicians know nothing at all unless it is the ignoble art of pandering to the great beast. After the disastrous outcome of the Peloponnesian War, the generation in which the Republic was written was peculiarly a time in which Athenians would be likely to admire the thoroughness and discipline of Sparta.
Xenophon went farther than Plato in this direction, and indeed Plato never could have admired whole-heartedly a one-sided military education like that at Sparta, however much he might admire the devotion to duty that it produced. But it is noticeable that he was more sharply critical of Sparta at the end of his life when he wrote the Laws than he was in the Republic.
Moreover, the idea of expert skill professionally trained was one which, in Plato’s day, was just dawning upon Greece. Not many years before the Academy was opened a professional soldier, Iphicrates had astonished the world by showing what a body of light-armed, professionally trained troops could do even against the heavy infantry of Sparta. Professional oratory may be said to have started about the same time as the School of Isocrates. Thus Plato was ~ merely making explicit an idea that was already growing up.
What he rightly perceived was that the whole question is much larger than the training of soldiers or orators, or even than training itself. Behind training lies the need of knowing what to teach and what to train men to do. It cannot be assumed that somebody already has the knowledge which shall be taught; what is most urgently needed is more knowledge.
The really distinctive thing in Plato is the coupling of training with the investigation, or of professional standards of skill with scientific standards of knowledge. Herein lies the originality of his theory of higher education in the Republic and something of this sort, it is tempting to believe, he must have tried to realize in the founding of the Academy.
Incompetence is a special fault of democratic states but there is another defect which Plato saw in all existing forms of government equally. This is the extreme violence and selfishness of party-struggles, which might at any time cause a faction to prefer its own advantage above that of the state itself.
The harmony of political life-that adjustment of public and private interests that Pericles boasted had been achieved in Athens-was indeed, as Plato perceived, for the most part, an ideal. Loyalty to the city was at best a precariously founded virtue, while the political virtue of ordinary custom was likely to be loyalty to some type of class-government.
The aristocrat was loyal to an oligarchical form of constitution, the man of common birth to a democratic constitution, and both alike were only too likely to make common cause with their own kind in another state. Practices which by standards of modern political ethics would be counted treasonable were in Greek politics rather common.
The best-known example, but by no means the worst, is Alcibiades, who did not hesitate to intrigue against Athens both with Sparta and Persia, in order to re-establish his own political influence and that of his party. Sparta, which was oligarchic in its form of government, was regularly looked to for support by the oligarchic party of all the cities within her sphere of influence, and in the same way, Athens made common cause with the popular factions.
This fierce spirit of factionalism and party-selfishness was manifestly a chief cause of the relative instability of government in the city-state. Plato attributed it largely to the discrepancy of economic interests between those who have a property and those who have none.
The oligarch is interested in the protection of his property and the collection of his debts whatever hardship this works upon the poor. The democrat is prone to schemes for supporting idle and indigent citizens at public expense, that is, with money taken from the well-to-do.
Thus in even the smallest city, there are, Plato said, two cities, a city of the rich and a city of the poor, eternally at war with each other, So serious is this cons edition that Plato can see no cure for factionalism in Greek politics unless there is a profound change in the institution of private property. As a root-and-branch remedy, he would abolish it outright, but at the very least he believes it necessary to do away with the great extremes of poverty and wealth. And the edurc>tics of citizens to prefer civic welfare before everything else is hardly less important than the education of rulers. Incompetence and factionalism are two fundamental political evils that any plan for perfecting the city-state must meet.
The State as a Type:-
The theoretical or scientific implications of Plato’s principle are not fessed important for him than the critical. There is a good both for men and for states and to grasp this good, to see what it is and by what means it may be enjoyed, is a matter of knowledge.
Men have, indeed, all sorts of opinions about it and all sorts of impressionistic notions about how to reach it, but of opinions, there is no end and among them, there is little to choose. Knowledge about the good, if it could be attained, would be quite a different sort of thing.
There would, in the first place, be some rational guarantee for it; it would justify itself to some faculty other than that by which men hold opinions. And in the second place, it would be one and unchanging, not one thing at Athens and another at Sparta, but the same always and everywhere. In short, it would belong to nature and not to the shifting winds of custom and convention. In man as in other parts of the world there is so anything permanent, a “nature” as distinct from an appearance, and to grasp nature is just what discriminates knowledge from opinion.
When Plato says that it is the philosopher who knows the goad, this is no boast of omniscience; it is merely the assertion that there is an objective standard and that knowledge is better than guess-work. The analogy of professional or scientific knowledge is never far from Plato’s mind. The statesman ought to know the good of a state as the physician knows health, and similarly, he should-understand the operation of disturbing or preserving causes. It is knowledge alone, which distinguishes the true statesman from the false, as it is the knowledge that distinguishes the physician from the quack.
To Plato when he wrote the Republic this determination to be scientific implied that his theory must sketch an ideal state and not merely describe an existing state. Though it may seem paradoxical, it is literally true that the Republic pictures a utopia not because it is a “romance,” as Dunning imagines, but because Plato intended it to be the start of a scientific attack upon the “idea of the good.”
The statesman was really to know what the good is and consequently what is required to make a good state. He must know also what the state is, not in its accidental variations but as it is intrinsically or essentially. Incidentally, the philosopher’s right to rule could only be vindicated if this were shown to be implied by the nature of the state.
Plato’s state must be a “state as such,” a type or model of all states. No, merely a descriptive account of existing states would serve his purpose, and no merely utilitarian argument would vindicate the philosopher’s right. The genera| nature of the state as a kind or type is the subject of the book, and it is a secondary question whether actual states live up to the model or not.
This procedure accounts for the rather cavalier way in which Pilato treats questions of practicability, which are likely to bother the modern reader. It is easy to exaggerate his remoteness from actual conditions, but as he understood the problem, the question of whether his ideal state could be produced really was irrelevant.
He was trying to show what in principle a state must be; if the facts are not like the principle, so much the worse for the facts. Or to put it a little differently, he was assuming that the good is what it objectively is; whether men like it or can be persuaded to want it is another matter. To be sure, if virtue is knowledge, it may be presumed that men will want the good when they find out what it is, but the goodwill is none the better for that.
Plato’s way of proceeding here will be much more intelligible if it is realized that his conception of what would make a satisfactory science of politics is, in a way harking back to the ancient Egyptians, built upon the procedure of geometry. The relation of his philosophy to Greek mathematics was exceedingly close, both because of the influence upon him of the Pythagoreans and because of the inclusion in his own School of at least two of the most important mathematicians and astronomers of the day. There is a tradition, indeed, that he refused to admit students who had not studied geometry.
Moreover, Plato himself propounded to his students the problem of reducing the apparently erratic motions of the planets to simple geometric figures, and the problem was solved by Eudoxus of Cnidos. This feat produced a scientific theory of the planetary system and also an approximation to a mathematical explanation of any natural phenomenon.
In short, the method and the ideal of exact scientific explanation, which appeared in Greek geometry and astronomy and which reappeared in the astronomy and mathematical physics of the seventeenth century, is one strand in the great Platonic tradition. It has its beginning precisely in the generation which saw the founding of the Academy and the writing of the Republic.
It is in no way surprising, therefore, that Plato should have imagined that progress in the rational understanding of the good life lay along a similar line. It was obvious to him that the precision of exact science depended upon a grasp of types; there is no geometry unless one is content to deal with idealized figures, neglecting the divergences and complications that occur in every representation of the type.
All that empirical fact can claim, for example in astronomy, is that the types used shall “save the appearances”; in short, that the astronomer’s deductions shall yield a result in agreement with what apparently is happening in the heavens.
Manifestly the astronomer’s types-his true circles and triangles-tell what is ‘really’ happening. In the same manner, the Republic aims not to describe states but to find what is essential or typical in them-the general sociological principles upon which any society of human beings depends, in so far as it aims at a good life.
The line of thought is substantially similar to that which caused Herbert Spencer to argue for a deductive “Absolute Ethics,” applying to the perfectly adapted man in the completely evolved society, as an ideal standard of reference for descriptive social studies.
The utility or even the possibility of such a project, as conceived either by Plato or Spencer, may be doubted, but it is a gross error to think that Plato intended to lose his imagination for a flight into the regions of fancy.
Reciprocal Needs and Division of Labor:-
The proposition that the statesman should be a scientist who knows the idea of the good supplied Plato with a point of view from which he could criticize the city-state and also with a method that led to the ideal state. From this point, he was led directly to his analysis of the typical state, and here again, he found that he could follow the rule of specialization.
The frequent analogies between the statesman and other kinds of skilled workers, artisans, or professional men, are in truth more than analogies. This is true because societies arise in the first place out of the needs of men, which can be satisfied only as they supplement each other. Men have many wants and no man is self-sufficient.
Accordingly, they take helpers and exchange with one another. The simplest example is, of course, the production and exchange of food and the other means of physical maintenance, but the argument can be extended far beyond the economic needs of society. For Plato, it afforded a general analysis of all associations of men in social groups. Wherever there is society there is some sort of satisfaction of needs and some exchange of services for this purpose.
This analysis, introduced so simply and unobtrusively by Plato into his construction of the ideal state, was one of the profound discoveries which his social philosophy contains. It brought to light an aspect of society that is admittedly of the greatest importance for any social theory and it stated once for all a point of view which the social theory of the city-state never abandoned. Briefly stated it amounts to this society is to be conceived as a system of services in which every member both gives and receives.
What the state takes cognizance of is this mutual exchange and what it tries to arrange is the most adequate satisfaction of needs and the most harmonious interchange of services. Men figure in such a system as the performers of a needed task and their social importance depends upon the value of the work they do, What the individual possesses, therefore, is first and foremost a status in which he is privileged to act, and the freedom which the state secures him is not so much for the exercise of his free will as for the practice of, his calling.
Such a theory differs from the one which pictures social relations in terms of contract or agreement and which therefore conceives the state as primarily concerned with maintaining the liberty of choice. A theory of the latter sort occurs, as was pointed out in the last chapter, both in the fragment of Antiphon the Sophist and in the remarks on justice by Glaucon early in the second book of the Republic.
But Plato rejected it because the agreement, resting solely upon the will, can never show that justice is intrinsically a virtue. Social arrangements can be shown to rest on nature rather than convention only if it can be shown that what a man does has meaning beyond the mere fact that he wants to do it.
How convincing the argument was found is shown by the fact that Aristotle, who was not greatly influenced by most of Plato’s argument for his ideal state, was quite at one with him in this. The analysis of the community in the opening pages of the Politics was merely a new version of Plato’s argument that society depends upon mutual needs.
But the exchange of services implies another principle of almost equal importance; the division of labor and the specialization of tasks. For if needs are satisfied by exchange, each must have more than the needs of the commodity which he offers, just as he must have less than the needs of that which he receives. It is clearly necessary, therefore, that there should be some specialization. The farmer produces more food than he needs while the shoemaker produces more shoes than he can wear.
Hence it is advantageous to both that each should produce for the other since both will be better fed and better clothed by working together than by each dividing his work to make all the various things he needs. This rests, according to Plato, upon two fundamental facts of human psychology, first, that different men have different aptitudes and so do some kinds of work better than others and, second, that skill is gained only where men apply themselves steadily to the work for which they are naturally fitted.
We must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time and leaves other things.
Upon this brief but exceedingly penetrating analysis of society and of human nature Plato’s further construction of the state depends.
It turns out, therefore, that the philosopher-ruler is not peculiar but that his claim to power is justified by the same principle which is at work throughout all society. Banish specialization entirely and all social interchange is banished with it. Imagine men with no difference in natural aptitude and the basis for specialization is gone.
Take away all training by which natural aptitude is perfected into developed skill and specialization becomes meaningless. These, then, are the forces in human nature upon which society and with it the state have to rely. The question, then, is not whether they shall be used but only whether they shall be used well.
Shall men be divided according to their real aptitudes? Shall these aptitudes be wisely and adequately trained to bring them to their most perfect form? Shall the needs which men seek to satisfy cooperatively be their highest and most genuine needs, or merely the wants of their lower and more luxurious natures?
These questions can be answered only in the light of what Plato calls inclusively a knowledge of the good. To know the good is to know how to answer them. And this is the special function of the philosopher. His knowledge is at once his right and his duty to rule.
Classes and Souls:-
It will be clear upon reflection that this argument makes an important assumption that is not explicitly stated by Plato. Individual Capacities are assumed to be of such a sort that, when developed by a properly devised and controlled education, they will result in a harmonious social group. The difficulty with existing states has been that education has been wrong; or at all events, if better breeding is needed -and Plato believes that is-an an improvement of existing strains will accomplish the purpose.
In other words, he takes for granted that there is nothing radically unsocial or antisocial in well-bred human beings which might result in disharmony precisely because of the complete and perfect development of individual powers. This assumption is not obviously true and many thinkers since Plato have questioned it; some have even gone to the length of supposing the opposite, namely, that socialized training must be more or less repressive of individual self-expression.
But this possibility does not enter into Plato’s calculations. While the assumption just mentioned is not explicitly stated, it does enter into the argument of the Republic at one point which is likely, without explanation, to be a little puzzling. This is the point at which the state is assumed to be merely the individual writ large and at which, accordingly, the question about justice is transformed from the search for an individual virtue into the search for a property of the state.
The difficulty of the transition, which seems to a modern reader a little artificial, is masked for Plato by the presumption that there is an inherent fitness of human nature for society and of society for human nature, and this fitness he interprets as parallelism. Both man and the state have a single underlying structure that prevents the good for one from being essentially different from the good for the other.
It must be admitted that this assumption is responsible for much that is most attractive in the ethical ideal of the city-state and in Plato’s representation of it. It explains why, in Plato’s ethics, there is no ultimate cleft between inclination and duty or between the interests of individuals and those of the society to which they belong. Where such conflicts arise-and the Republic was written because they do arise the problem is one of development and adjustment, not of repression and force.
What the unsocial individual needs is a better understanding of his own nature and a fuller development of his powers in accordance with that knowledge. His internal conflict is not unappeasable strife between what he wants to do and what he ought to do, because in the last resort the full expression of his natural powers is both what he really wants and what he is entitled to have.
On the other. hand, what the inharmonious society needs is to provide just those possibilities of complete development for its citizens which their needs demand. The problem of the good state and of the good man are two sides of the same question, and the answer to one must at the same time give the answer to the other.
Morality ought to be at once private and public and if it is not so, the solution lies in correcting the state and improving the individual until they reach their possible harmony. It may very well be doubted whether, in general terms, any better moral ideal than this has ever been stated.
At the same time, Plato’s attempt to make one analysis do duty for both the state and the individual yields him a theory much too simple to solve his problem. The analysis of the state shows that there are three necessary functions to be performed. The underlying physical needs must be supplied and the state must be protected and governed. The principle of specialization demands that essential services should be distinguished, and it follows that there are three classes the workers who produce and the guardians, who in turn are divided, though not so sharply, into the soldiers and the rulers, or the philosopher-king if he is a single ruler.
But since the division of functions rests on the difference of aptitude, the three classes depend upon the fact that there are three kinds of men, those who are fitted by nature to work but not to rule, those who are fit to rule but only under the control and direction of others, and finally those who are fit for the highest duties of statesmanship such as the final choice of means and ends.
These three aptitudes imply on the psychological side three vital powers or souls, that which includes the appetitive or nutritive faculties and which Plato supposes to reside below the diaphragm, that which is executive or spirited and which resides in the chest, and that which knows or thinks, the rational soul which is situated in the head.
It would seem natural that each soul should have its own special excellence or virtue, and Plato does in fact carry out this plan in part. Wisdom is the excellence of the rational soul and courage of the active, but he hesitates to say that temperance can be confined to the nutritive soul. Justice is the proper interrelation of the three functions, whether of the classes in the state ox of the faculties in an individual.
It would probably be a mistake to put too much stress upon this theory of the three souls. Plato seems never to have tried seriously to develop it and often in the psychological discussion he does not use it Moreover, it is certainly not true that in the Republic the three classes so sharply separated as his schematic statement the theory would is id one to expect.
The classes are certainly not castes, for membership in them is not hereditary. On the contrary, his ideal seems to be a society in which every child born is given the highest training that his natural powers permit him to profit by, and in which every individual is advanced to the highest position in the state that his achievements (his capacity plus his education and experience) enable him to fill adequately.
Plato in the Republic showed himself remarkably free from temperamental class-prejudice, much freer than Aristotle, for example, and freer than he seems to be in the outline of the second-best state in the Laws. But when all these allowances are made, the fact remains that the parallelism assumed between mental capacities and social classes is a restricting influence that prevented him from doing justice in the Republic to the complexity of the political problems under discussion ie theory obliged him ta assume that all the intelligence in the state was concentrated in the rulers, though his repeated references to the skill of the artisans in their own kind of work show that he did not literally believe this.
On the other hand, in their political capacity, the workers have nothing to do but obey, which is nearly the same thing as to say that they have no properly political capacity at all. The position to which they are assigned cannot be corrected even by education, Because they seem not to need education for a civic activity or for participation in the self-governing activities of the community. In this part nf the state’s like, they are onlookers.
This result has often been attributed, as for example by Edward Zeller, to contempt for artisans and the handicrafts as compared with intellectual labor, but in truth, Plato showed more genuine admiration for manual skill than Aristotle.
The explanation is to be found rather in the assumption that good government is nothing but a matter of knowledge and that knowledge is always the possession of a class of experts, like the practice of medicine. According to Plato, most men are permanently in the relation to their rulers of a patient to his physician, Aristotle asked a-pertinent question on this point when he inquired whether there are not cases where experience is a better guide than, the knowledge of an expert. A man who has to live in a house need not rely on a builder to tell him whether it is commodious or not. But Plato’s ideas about sound knowledge when he wrote the Republic allowed little importance to experience.
The result was that he failed to grasp one of the most significant political aspects of the city-state whose civil life he desired to perfect. His distrust of “happy versatility” was so great that he swung to the opposite extreme and allowed artisans no capacity for public service except their trades.
The old free give and take of the town-meeting and the council are utterly gone, and this side of human personality, which the Athenian democrat valued above everything, must be quite eradicated from the masses. So far-as the higher activities of life are concerned, they live in a state of tutelage to wiser men.
The theory of the state in the Republic culminates in the conception of justice. Justice is the bond that holds a society together, a harmonious union of individuals each of whom has found his lifework in accordance with his natural fitness and his training. It is both a public and a private virtue because the highest good both of the state and of its members is thereby conserved. There is nothing better for a man than to have his work and to be fitted to do it; there is nothing better for other men and for the whole society than that each should thus be filling the station to which he is entitled.
Social justice thus may be defined as the principle of a society, consisting of different types of men. Those who have combined under the impulse of their need for one another, and by their combination in one society, and their concentration on their separate functions, have made a whole which is perfect because of itis the product and the image of the whole of the human mind.
This is Plato’s elaboration of the prima facie definition of justice as giving to every man his due. For what is due to him is that he should be treated as what he is, in the light of his capacity and his training, while what is due from him is the honest performance of those tasks which the place accorded him requires.
To a modern reader, such a definition of justice is at least as striking for what it omits as for what it includes. In no sense is it a juristic definition. For it lacks the notion, connoted by the Latin word ius and the English word right, of powers of voluntary action in the exercise of which a man will be protected by law and supported by the authority of the state. Lacking this conception Plato does not mean justice, except remotely, the maintenance of public peace and order; at least, external order is but a small part of the harmony which makes the state.
What the state provides its citizens is not so much freedom and protection as a life-all the opportunities for social interchange which make up the necessities and the amenities of civilized existence. It is true that in such a social life there are rights, just as there are duties, but they can hardly be said to belong in any peculiar sense to individuals. They are inherent rather in the services or functions that individuals perform. Resting as it does upon the principle that the state is created by mutual needs, the analysis runs necessarily in terms of services and not of powers.
Even the ruler is no exception, for he has merely the special function to which his wisdom entitles him. The notion of authority or sovereign power, such as the Roman attached to his magistracies, has practically no part in Plato’s political theory, nor indeed in _ that of any Greek philosopher.
This completes the general outline of Plato’s theory of the state. Starting from the conception that the good must be known by methodical study, the theory constructs society around this idea by showing that the principle’s implicit in all society. The division of labor and the specialization of tasks are the conditions of social co-operation, and the problem of the philosopher-king is to arrange these matters in the most advantageous way.
Because human nature is innately and inherently social, the maximum advantage to the state means also the maximum advantage to Citizens. The goal is therefore a perfect adjustment of human beings to the possibilities of significant employment that the state affords. The remainder of Plato’s argument might almost be described as a corollary.
The only remaining question concerns the means by which the statesman can bring about the adjustment required. Broadly speaking there are only two ways to take hold of this problem. Either the special hindrances to good citizenship may be removed or the positive conditions of good citizenship may be developed the first in the theory of communism and the second in the theory of educations.
Property and the Family:-
Plato’s communism takes two main forms which meet in the abolition of the family. The first is the prohibition of private property whether houses or land or money, to the rulers and the provision that they shall live in barracks and have their meals at a common table.
The second is the abolition of a permanent monogamous sexual relationship and the substitution of regulated breeding at the behest of the rulers for the purpose of securing the best possible offspring. This bracketing of the two social functions of procreating children and of producing and owning goods was more obvious in a society that lived mainly under a household economy than it is now.
A radical innovation in respect to the one coalesced readily with innovation with respect to the other. Communism in the Republic, however, applies only to the guardian class, that is, to the soldiers and rulers, while the artisans are: to be left in possession of their private families, both property and wives.
How this is to be made consistent with promotion from the lower rank to the higher is not explained. But the truth is that Plato does not take the trouble to work out his plan in much detail. Still more striking is the fact that, in connection with his theory of private property, he does not have anything to say about slaves. It is a fact that Plato’s state seemingly might exist without slavery, since no work especially to be done by slaves is mentioned, a respect in which the state of the Laws is strikingly different.
This has led Constantin Ritter to argue that in the Republic slavery is in principle abolished. But it is almost incredible that Plato intended to abolish a universal institution without mentioning it. It is more probable that he merely regarded slavery as unimportant.
Plato was in no way unique in believing that an economic cleavage between the citizens of a state is the most dangerous political condition. In general, the Greeks were quite frank in admitting that economic motives are very influential in determining political action and political affiliation.
Long before the Republic was written Euripides had divided Citizens into three classes, the useless rich who are always greedy for more, the poor who have nothing and are devoured by envy, and the middle class, the sturdy yeomanry, who save states. The oligarchical state to a Greek meant a state governed by and in the interest of the well-born among whom the possession of the property is hereditary while a democratic state was one governed by and for the “many,” who have neither birth nor property.
The economic difference was the key to the political distinction, as is quite clear from Plato’s account of oligarchy. The importance of economic causes in politics was, therefore, no new idea, and in believing that great diversity of wealth was inconsistent with good government Plato was following a common conviction which represented Greek experience through many generations. The causes of civic unrest in Athens had been mainly of this sort from at least the days of Solon.
So firmly was Plato convinced of the pernicious effects of wealth upon the government that he saw no way to abolish the evil except by abolishing wealth itself, so far as soldiers and rulers are concerned. To cure the greed of rulers there is no way short of denying them the right to call anything their own. Devotion to their civic calling admits no private rival.
The example of Sparta, where citizens were denied the use of money and the privilege of engaging in trade, doubtless weighed with Plato in reaching this conclusion. His reasons, however, should be carefully noted. He was not in the least concerned to do away with inequalities of wealth because they are unjust to the individuals concerned. His purpose was to produce the greatest degree of unity in the state, and private property is incompatible with this.
The emphasis is characteristic of Greek thought, for when Aristotle criticizes communism, he does so not on the ground that it is unfair but on the ground that it would not in fact produce the unity desired. Plato’s communism has, therefore, a strictly political purpose. The order of ideas is exactly the reverse of that which has mainly animated modern socialist utopias; he does not mean to use government to equalize wealth, but he equalizes wealth in order to remove a disturbing influence in government.
The same is true also of Plato’s purpose in abolishing marriage since he regards family affection, directed toward particular persons as another potent rival to the state in competing for the loyalty of rulers. Anxiety for one’s children is a form of self-seeking more insidious than the desire for property, and the training of children in private homes he regards as poor preparation for the whole-souled devotion which the state has a right to demand. But in the case of marriage, Plato had other purposes as well.
He was appalled at the casualness of human mating, which, as he says, would not be tolerated in the breeding of any domestic animal. The improvement of the race demands a more controlled and more selective type of union. Finally, the abolition of marriage was probably an implied criticism of the position of women in Athens, where her activities were summed up in keeping the house and rearing her children. To Plato, this seemed to deny to the state the services of half its potential guardians.
Moreover, he was unable to see that there is anything in the natural capacity of women that corresponds to the Athenian practice, since many. women are as well qualified as men to take part in political or even military duties. The women of the guardian class will consequently share all the work of the men; which makes it necessary both that they shall receive the same education and be free from strictly domestic duties.
To a modern taste, there is something a little startling about the coolly unsentimental way in which Plato argues from the breeding of domestic animals to the sexual relations of men and women. It is not that he regards sex casually, for the reverse is emphatically true; in fact, he demands a degree of control and of self-control that has never been realized among any large population.
The point is rather that he carries out a line of thought relentlessly and with little regard for difficulties that are manifest to feeling even, when they are not explicitly stated. The unity of the state is to be secured; property and family stand in the way; therefore property and marriage must go.
There can be no doubt that here Plato spoke the authentic language of doctrinaire radicalism, which is prepared to follow the argument where it may lead. On the score of commonsense, Aristotle’s answer left nothing to be said. It is possible, he pointed out, to unify a state to the point where it ceases to 9e a State. A family is one thing and a state is something different, and it is better that one should not try to ape the other.
However much importance Plato attached to communism as a Means for removing hindrances from the path of the statesman, it was not upon communism but upon education that he placed his main reliance. For education is the positive means by which the ruler can shape human nature in the right direction to produce a harmonious state.
A modern reader cannot fail to be astonished at the amount of space devoted to education, at the meticulous care with which the effect of different studies is discussed, or at the way in which Plato frankly assumes that the state is first and foremost an educational institution.
He himself called it the one great thing; if the citizens are well educated they will readily see through the difficulties that beset them and mee! emergencies as they arise. So striking is the part played in Plato’s idea! state by education that some have considered this to be the chief top of the Republic. Rousseau said that the book was hardly a political work at all, but was the greatest work on education ever written. Obviously, this was no accident but a logical result of the point of view from which the work was written.
If virtue is knowledge, it can be taught, and the educational system to teach it is the one indispensable part of a good state. From Plato’s point of view, with a good system of education almost any improvement is possible; if education is neglected, it matters little what else the state does.
This degree of importance being conceded, it follows as a matter of course that the state cannot leave education to private demand and a commercialized source of supply but must itself provide the needed means, must see that citizens actually get the training they require and must be sure that the education supplied is consonant with the harmony and well-being of the state.
Plato’s plan is therefore for a state-controlled system of compulsory education. His educational scheme falls naturally into two parts, elementary education, which includes the training of young persons up to about the age of twenty and cult nates at the beginning of military service, and higher education. intended for those selected persons of both sexes who are to be members of the two ruling classes and extending from the age of twenty to thirty-five. It is necessary to consider these two branches of education separately, as Plato himself does.
The plan for a compulsory, state-directed scheme of education was probably the most important innovation upon an Athenian practice which Plato had to suggest, and his insistence upon it in the Republic may be interpreted as a running criticism upon the democratic custom of leaving every man to purchase for his children such education as he fancies or as the market affords.
In the Protagoras, he broadly implied that often they give less thought to train their children than to breaking a good colt. The Athenian exclusion of women from education falls under the same criticism. Since Plato believed that there was no difference in kind between the native capacities of boys and girls, he logically concluded that both should receive the same kind of instruction and that women should be eligible for the same offices as men.
This, of course, is in no sense an argument for women’s rights but merely a plan for making the whole supply of natural capacity available to the state. In view of the importance which education has in the state, it is extraordinary that Plato never discusses the training of the artisans and does not even make clear how, if at all, they are to be included in the plan of elementary instruction. This fact illustrates again the surprising looseness and generality of his conclusions since his unquestionable intention to promote promising children born of artisan parents seems to be wholly unworkable unless a competitive educational system made election possible.
On the other hand, he did not exclude the artisans and it is an open question whether those commentators especially Zeller, are right who regard the omission as evidence of Plato’s aristocratic contempt for the workers. It is at least true that he set no great store by general education, mu¢h as he relied on selective education for the more gifted youth.
The plan of elementary education sketched in the Republic was rather a reform of existing practice than the invention of a wholly new system. The reform may be said roughly to consist in combining the training usually given to the son of an Athenian gentleman with the state-controlled training given to a youthful Spartan and in revising pretty drastically the content of both.
The curriculum was therefore divided into two parts, gymnastics for training the body and “music” for training the mind. By music, Plato meant especially the study and interpretation of the masterpieces of poetry, as well as singing and playing the lyre. It is easy to exaggerate the influence of Sparta upon Plato’s theory of education.
It’s most genuinely Spartan feature was the dedication of education exclusively to civic training. Its content was typically Athenian, and its purpose was dominated by the end of moral and intellectual cultivation. This is true even of gymnastics, which aims only secondarily at giving physical prowess. Gymnastics might be called training of the mind through the body, as distinguished from direct training of the mind by music.
It is meant to teach such soldierly qualities as self-control and courage, a physical keenness tempered by gentleness, as Plato himself defines it. Plato’s plan of training represents therefore an Athenian, not a Spartan, the conception of what constitutes an educated man. Any other conclusion would have been unthinkable for a philosopher who believed that the only salvation for states lay in the exercise of trained intelligence.
But while the content of elementary education was mainly poetry and the higher forms of literature, it cannot be said that Plato desired particularly an esthetic appreciation of these works.
He regarded them rather as a means of moral and religious education, somewhat in the way that Christians have regarded the Bible.” For this reason, he proposed not only to expurgate drastically the poets of the past but to submit the poets of the future to censorship by the rulers of the state, in order that nothing of bad moral influence might fall into the hands of the young.
For a man who was a consummate artist himself, Plato had a singularly philistine conception of art. Or perhaps it would be truer to say that when he wrote about the moral purpose of art a certain puritanical, almost an ascetic, strain is apparent which seems in general out of character for a fourth-century Greek, though it is a strain which appears elsewhere in Plato.
In rejecting the poetic form for the dialogue form Plato is perhaps suggesting that poetry stresses the emotional side of human behavior while the more prose-like dialogue highlights the rational. Philosophically this is connected with the very sharp contrast of mind and body, most evident in the Phaedo, which passed from Plato to Christianity.
The poverty which Plato exacts of his rulers perhaps shows the same tendency, as do also the preference which he expressed for a very primitive (non-luxurious) sort of state at the beginning of his construction of the ideal state, and the suggestion accompanying the Myth of the Den that the philosopher may have to be forced to descend from a life of contemplation to take part in the affairs of man. Obviously, the rule of philosophers might easily become the rule of saints. Probably the closest analog that has ever existed to Plato’s ideal state is a monastic order.
Undoubtedly the most original as well as the most characteristic proposal in the Republic is the system of higher education, by which selected students are to be prepared, between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, for the highest positions in the guardian class.
The relation of such a conception of higher education to the founding of the Academy and to the whole plan for a science and art of statesmanship has been sufficiently stressed. Unless it is the Academy, there was nothing in Greek education upon which Plato could have built; the idea was entirely and characteristically his own.
The higher education of the guardians was in purpose professional and for his curriculum, Plato chose the only scientific studies known to him-mathematics, astronomy, and logic. Beyond doubt, he believed that these most exact studies ire the only adequate introduction to the study of philosophy, and here is little reason to doubt that he expected the philosopher’s special object of the study-the idea of the good-to yield results of comparable precision and exactness.
For this reason, the outline of the ideal state properly culminates in the plan for an education in which such studies would be fostered, in which new investigations would be undertaken and new knowledge placed at the disposal of rulers. In order to appreciate the greatness of such a conception, it is not necessary to believe that Plato was right in hoping for a science of politics as exact as mathematics.
It is hardly fair to demand more of him than that he should have tried to follow the lead which, in his own hands and those of his students, was created in mathematics perhaps the truest monument to human intelligence.
The Omission of Law:-
Few books that claim to be treatises on politics are so closely reasoned or so well co-ordinated as the Republic. None perhaps contains a line of thought so bold, so original, or so provocative. It is this quality which has made it a book for all time, from which later ages have drawn the most varied inspiration.
For the same reason, its greatest importance is general and diffused, rather than the result of specific imitation. The Republic was, in the eyes of some, the greatest of utopias, and the whole tribe of utopian philosophers followed it, but this phase of the book interested Plato so little that he was almost careless in carrying through the details of the plan.
The true romance of the Republic is the romance of free intelligence, unbound by custom, untrammeled by human stupidity and self-will, able to direct the forces even of custom and stupidity themselves along the road to a rational life.
The Republic is eternally the voice of the scholar, the profession of faith of the intellectual, who sees in knowledge and enlightenment the forces upon which social progress must rely. And indeed, who can say what are the limits of knowledge as a political force, and what society has yet brought to bear upon its problems the full power of trained scientific intelligence?
Yet it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that in the Republic Plato, like most intellectuals, simplified his problem beyond what the province of human relations will bear. An enlightened despotism-and Plato is right when he concludes that government by intelligence must be governed by the few-cannot be merely assumed to be the last word in politics.
The presumption that government is purely a matter of scientific knowledge, which the mass of men can resign into the hands of a few highly trained experts; leaves out of account the profound conviction that there are some decisions which a man must make for himself. This is no argument certainly for “muddling through” in cases where muddling means only the bungling choice of means for recognized ends.
But Plato’s argument assumes that the choice of ends is exactly comparable with the choice of means for an end already agreed upon, and this appears to be simply not true. His comparison of government to medicine carried through to its farthest extreme reduces politics to something that is not politics.
An adult, responsible human being, even though he be something less than a philosopher, is certainly not a sick man who requires nothing but expert care. Among other things, he requires the privilege of taking care of himself and of acting responsibly with others like responsible human beings. A principle that reduces political subordination to one type, the relation of those who know to those who do not know, is simpler than the facts.
Not the least significant aspect of the Republic is what it omits, namely, law and the influence of public opinion. The omission is perfectly logical, for Plato’s argument is unanswerable if his premise is granted. If rulers are qualified merely by their superior knowledge, either the judgment of public opinion upon their acts is irrelevant, or else the pretense of consulting it is a mere piece of political Jesuitry which the “discontent of the masses” is held in check. Similarly, it is as foolish to bind the hands of the philosopher-king with the rules of law as to force an expert physician to copy his prescription from the recipes in a medical textbook.
But in reality, the argument begs the question. For it assumes that public opinion is nothing but a muddled representation of what the ruler already knows more clearly, and that law has no meaning other than to give the least bungling rule that will fit an average case. And this is not a description but a caricature.
As Aristotle said, the knowledge of a thing in use and by direct experience is different in kind from a scientist’s knowledge about it, and presumably, it is just this immediate experience of the pressures and burdens of government, of their bearing upon human interests and ends, that public opinion expresses. Presumably, also the law contains not merely an average rule but also an accumulation of the results of applying intelligence to concrete cases and also an ideal of equitable treatment of like cases.
At all events, the ideal state of the Republic was simply a denial of the political faith of the city-state, with its ideal of free citizenship and its hope that every man, within the limits of his powers, might be made a sharer in the duties and privileges of government.
For this ideal was founded on the conviction that there is an ineradicable moral distinction between subjection to the law and subjection to the will of another human being, even though that other be a wise and beneficent despot. The difference is that the first is compatible with a sense of freedom and dignity while the second is not.
The sense of his own freedom under the law was precisely the element in the city-state upon which the Greek set the highest moral valuation and which made the difference, to his mind, between a Greek and a barbarian. And this conviction, it must be acknowledged, has passed from the Greeks into the moral ideals of most European governments.
It was expressed in the principle that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and vague as the meaning of consent is, it is hard to imagine that the ideal itself will disappear. For this reason, Plato’s omission of law from his ideal state cannot be interpreted otherwise than as a failure to perceive a striking moral aspect of the very society which he desired to perfect.
At the same time, it is clear that Plato could not have included the law as an essential element of the state without reconstructing the whole philosophical framework of which the ideal state is a part. Its omission was not a matter of caprice but a logical consequence of the philosophy itself. For if scientific knowledge has always the superiority to popular opinion which Plato supposes, there is no ground for that respect for law which would make it the sovereign power in the state.
Law belongs to the class of convention; it rises through use and won’t; it is the product of experience growing slowly from precedent to precedent. The wisdom which arises by rational Insight Into nature cannot abdicate its claims before the claim of law unless the law itself has access to a kind of wisdom different from that which scientific reason possesses.
If then, Plato is wrong in trying to make the state over into an educational institution, if this puts a load upon education which it is not able to bear, the philosophical principles-especially the sharp contrast of nature and convention and of reason and experience-need to be re-examined.
It is the suspicion that this might be the case, at least the sense that the theory in the Republic had not got to the bottom of all the problems involved, that led Plato in his later years to canvass the place of law in the state-and to formulate in the Laws another type of state in which law rather than knowledge should be the ruling force.