Plato's Republic

One of Plato's most famous works is called The Republic, wherein he puts forth his political philosophy. Plato, having seen his beloved mentor Socrates unjustly murdered by an out-of-control democracy, has little use for that form of government. After reviewing the following, think about whether you would like to live in Plato's “ideal” sociopolitical state.

Plato did not believe in rugged individualism. He felt that everyone needed to be part of the state and a contributing member of the state. He felt that citizens were cells within a body politic, and that the jobs and responsibilities that people held were to be determined by the state. Plato conveniently assigns classes, or more accurately castes, within which citizens will be organized. Given his chosen profession, it is not a surprise that Plato made the Philosopher class the highest on his societal totem pole. The Philosopher class will rule the state, the Warrior class will protect the state, and the Producer class will serve the state with goods and services and skills.

This “republic” doesn't sound very democratic, does it? It isn't. A ruling class of philosophical aristocrats would be directing the affairs of state, with the famous Platonic concept of the Philosopher-King at its head. The Philosopher class guides the other classes, keeping the military in check and keeping the producers honest, while they contemplate the world of the Forms and try to make reality as Form-friendly as possible.

In a bit of upper-class snobbery toward the workers, the Producer class would be denied the benefits of public schooling. This would be reserved for the Philosopher and Warrior classes.

Though people would study the arts in Plato's Republic, he did not have much respect for the arts. Art was a copy of reality, which in turn is a pale representation of the exalted Forms. He believed that art did not belong in an ideal state. “No Artists Beyond this Point” would be prominently displayed at the gates of Plato's Republic.

Poetry would be banned as well. It speaks of the heart and inflames emotions, things that further entrench people in the material world. And the objective of the citizenry is to strive for the Ideal and avoid the animal passions that enslave people to this seriously flawed reality. Plato did not see art and poetry as inspiring and uplifting the human spirit. He viewed them as corrupting influences.

You probably would not want to live in Plato's Republic, his Utopian vision of the perfect society. There would be a rigid caste system with no upward mobility and all arts would be banned, because they are pale imitations of Truth. The cry “I want my MTV!” would fall on deaf aristocratic ears.

Plato would also have children taken away from their parents and raised in state-run foster homes supervised by the Philosopher class. He believed that the state could do a better job raising (and indoctrinating) children than could their own parents. He also believed in no private property. This applied only to the Philosopher and Warrior classes. The Producer class, the manual laborers and the workers, could keep their kids and their meager possessions, because they did not really matter in any area other than what they could contribute.

Oh, yes, Plato not only believed in community property, but also the communal sharing of wives! Plato's “ideal” hardly sounds ideal to modern ears, yet nevertheless he remains one of the three great sages of antiquity. And just as Socrates mentored Plato, Plato in turned mentored Aristotle.

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