The passage from the Republic by Plato is prone to different interpretations. To gain full comprehension of the passage the reader is obliged to delve deep into the platonic debate between Socrates and Glaucon. The trajectory of the argument according to Plato, was that democracies are governments ran by fools. The principal argument in the discussion was that democracies elect courses of action without a coherent understanding of the matter they are handling. The overriding argument was that only those who are fully experienced in statecraft should be allowed to rule. ‘Socrates argued that the cobbler and the medical doctor cannot be treated equal in terms of knowledge and skill’. Most of the political decisions are based on guess work, instead of the well thought out decisions of qualified legislators. In the spirit of ensuring that those most qualified in state craft are allowed to rule, Plato suggests the city state which has its equivalence in heaven. Plato argued that the city state should be governed by the philosopher king. Plato suggested the intermarriage between justice and good governance. He further argued ‘that either kings should rule as philosophers or philosophers should rule as kings’. Plato recognizes the weakness of this argument by acknowledging that it would impossible for such a situation to materialize. In the conversation, Socrates responds to Glaucon’s assertion that such a city state does not exist in the world. Socrates responded to Glaucon that there is a heavenly model for the city state. According to Plato, it made no difference whether the city existed or not since the philosopher king’s rule would be pegged on the tenets of the heavenly model.
The existence of the ideal city is greatly compromised by the ideal and heavenly nature of the ideal state. Its existence is further obliterated by Plato’s assertion that the philosopher king would come to rule based on the heavenly model. Elsewhere in The Republic, Plato offers evidence that terminates the doubts that the ideal city state exists. Plato argues that ‘only a god or someone with divine origin could serve as the true philosopher king’. The Ideal political theory proponed by Plato is pegged on the idea of the philosopher’s king. The Philosopher king wields absolute authority over his subjects. The authority of the philosopher king stems right from the roots of justice and they make judgments are strictly guided by the benefit of the city state. Plato was of the view that the complete and adulterated view of justice sanctions the absolute authority that he exercises over his subjects. In the real world the partial understanding of justice disempowers the concept of absolute power in the hands of unwary rulers. For a practical city state, Plato proposes the intermarriage between monarchy and democracy. Plato’s ideal political theory is tethered to concentration of power and the legitimate authority to govern on the few individuals are experienced in government. The prime argument of this paper is that ideal city does not exist. Plato’s political theory presents a web of arguments that are a recipe for a great political argument but turn out to be a disaster in application. The argument lacks the dignity of abiding by the rules of a logical argument and betrays the readers for lack of coherence. The concept of the ideal city state is prone to different interpretation, the paper focuses on some of the leading interpretations by scholars and academic commentators. The last focus of this paper is to explore the issues that are feasible to Plato’s ideas.
The Heavenly model city and the Philosopher King
According to Plato, the ideal city mirrored the nature of the cosmos on one side and the salient nature of the individual on the other. In the Republic it is described as social institution that based on the perfection of justice and the human virtue. The ideal city or the Polis, allowed its citizenry to live maximize their potential serve their fellow citizens selflessly and live in accordance with the universal truths and ideals. Plato offered five-tier classification of how the ideal city ought to be governed. Plato proposed the aristocratic model that was ruled by the Philosopher king. It was the best form of government. The second form of government proposed by Plato was timocracy. The rule of timocracy was by the privileged few who were endowed with the skill of statecraft. It was contrasted the mass of ignorant fools that Plato termed as democracy. Oligarchy according to Plato would be the rule of the few in the society. Power would be concentrated in the hands of the minority. The last two forms of governance Plato suggested them with sheer scorn. Democracy, according to Plato was synonymous with injustice. It equated the unequal and placed the incompetence in control of the competent. Tyranny on the other hand is the least likely to be the rule that would constitute the city state. Tyranny is described by Plato as the aberration of human virtues. According to the Plato’s political theory, only the rule of the philosopher king would constitute the ideal city with its equivalence in a heavenly model. ‘The ideal city is analogous to the soul’. Plato argues that the divisions of the state is equivalent to the divisions of the soul. The just state has their divisions just like the soul. The guardians who are the philosophers and are required by law to govern the city. The auxiliaries who are the soldiers and are charged with the responsibility of guarding the state against external aggression. Finally the producers who are the carpenters and farmers.
The ideal city had to be the enlightened one whose adherence to universal truths and principles was unquestionable. The few who would protect and preserve the universal truths should be allowed to reign supreme among man as the philosopher king. Becoming the philosopher king was an arduous task that involved a detailed study that extended to midlife. ‘The ideal ruler would be selected by an inner calling or daimon but not a privilege acquired through birth to royalty or association to power’. According to Plato the Philosopher King was the ruler of the cosmic kallipolis, a true wisdom lover and the ruler of the ideal city if at any point in the future it came into being. The love of wisdom bypassed the mere education that could be easily accorded to lazy mortals. The philosopher king had access to ideas or the archetypal entities as described by Plato that were not crippled by mere physical representations as opposed to reality. ‘Only the philosopher king is best suited to commandeer the ship of the state’.
Aristotle was the first to recognize the excessive idealistic nature of Plato’s political theory. The Plato’s Republic could never exist in the natural world. But it is evident that the Plato’s work was never meant to be used as a masterpiece for statecraft or a political manifesto. It was meant to act as a guiding beacon to those who steer the ships of state across the vast ocean of politics. The Republic in its entirety is a moral philosophy for the leaders and politicians. Plato acknowledged that the ideal city would never exist. In addition, the philosopher king would have a divine nature in order to rule the state in accordance to the principles of justice and in complete adherence to the human virtues. Aristotle postulated other forms of government that make up the state. He identified three ways of ruling the state, the rule of the few, the rule of one person and the rule of the many. Aristotle heavily borrowed from The Republic but acknowledged that the limitations of the ideal city with the idealistic leaders. Later, Philosophers wrote of the ideal city. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Bishop of Hippo wrote about the City of God, which borrowed heavily from the ideal city. In the city of God the people lived in an ordered manner ascribing to the will of the heavenly monarch. Some academic commenters argue that living in the just state would require complete submission to God. Plato’s argument was that a just state would be achieved through selfless service to others.
The metaphor of the ideal city has transformed after centuries of criticism. Although the metaphor might have been transformed the contents of the metaphor remain the same. Plato’s ideal society has similar inclination of the ideal of a despotic government. The laws proposed by Plato in city state are repressive and subjugate the will of the majority but condemning the person to nature’s inclination. A person in the ideal city state is limited to the occupation that is best suited. In this ideal society neither wealth nor poverty is encourage because most of them lead to vices. Life in the ideal city would turn into a horror for women. Plato suggests that ‘men and women should have children in common’ such a move would prevent a man from having excessive love for one woman and ignore the others. In addition to the horrors that women face, they are not supposed to know their children. The children are supposed to be taken away from their mothers at birth. The children are given to other children to suckle so long they have milk. Plato goes further to argue that the ‘best of each sex should be united with each other and the state has a solemn duty to ensure that the weak souls and the inferior of the two sexes never unite and reproduce’. The breeding of the strong male and women should be done in secret with only the knowledge of the state.
On the brighter side Plato argues that women in the same level with me at guardianship should be allowed equal rights and privileged. The men and women should receive similar education so that they can help men in governance and in war. Plato’s lower social classes are faced with other that will be meted out by the just state. The poor and the people from the lower social class should not be allowed to own property so the state can limit the disputes between the social groups to manageable level. There will be no disputes on which property belongs to whom, the owner of a particular property and the father or mother of particular child. Plato is aiming for a state where everyone thinks that the other person is a family member and there are limited social conflicts as a result of disagreements. The reason why the state puts all those limitation is to ensure that the state wants the same thing; that is harmony, temperance and gentleness.
The ideal city of described by Plato is more of a model of hell than of heaven. When the statement is interested in the context of the entire book, it comes out that the ideal city has all the trappings of hell, a despotic state and a state existing under the cloud of anarchy. The closest a city or nation has ever come to the aforementioned description is the Nazi Germany that caused the death of six million Jews. Plato’s political theory is saddled with numerous inconsistencies. Plato postulated a political theory that cannot be applied in the real world not only because of its reliance of the divine ruler but also because of the atrocities that would shock the human race if the political manifesto is implemented to the letter. Plato greatly undermines the sense of self determination which is akin to justice. Without self-determination the notion of justice would be flawed; providing a glimpse why Plato offers a definition of justice that is way of the terrain of reason in the contemporary world. The citizens in the Plato’s ideal city are forced to the will of the philosopher king. Only the guardians are free to exercise their will and choice. Even in the ideal city thee is social stratification and psychological equilibrium. Those who are low in the social class which feel discontent and inferior and hence the city would not be happy. The need for recognition is one the most fundamental needs of human kind.
Human beings need to see themselves and categorize themselves according to the reactions they receive from other people. Plato argued that the individual would consciously recognize the restrictive limitations that limit his behavior and the way he responds to the external environment. However, only in this state, the individual can achieve a full sense of fulfilment. It is evident that the human nature abhors restrictions no one can feel good about themselves unless his or her behavior stems from his own choices and actions. Genuine recognition in the just state is impossible in the absence of freedom and liberty. It is reasonable to conclude that any social order that does not recognize the inherent need for freedom and liberty results to the unstable social order. Plato’s utopia would collapse as the disgruntled population would unite and rebel against a despotic regime. Plato argued that the community can only be healthy if there are healthy people in the society. The interests of the community and the individual coincide. Plato, however, was wrong to argue that ‘the common good of the community would lead to freedom and liberty’. The sense of self is not automatically appreciated by others in the society.
Plato acknowledges the existence of ‘the war between every man and the state’. Platonic utopia or the ideal city, makes it impossible to achieve the values that it seeks to promote. The utopia, instead of creating justice is promotes injustice, it breeds hatred instead of love. The implementation of the political manifesto would lead to chaos and anarchy. The model of government led by the philosopher king would be an aberration of reason. It is presumed that the philosopher king would have a comprehensive understanding of the justice. ‘The philosopher king would rule according to the universal truths’. He will be called to pilot the ship of the state instead of appointment or through hereditary. The fact that the philosopher king would either be a god or a mortal with the trappings of a deity, underscores the fact that the political theory is impractical.
The politics of the modern world are saddled with the concepts of human rights, fundamental freedoms and justice. There is a well-established judicial system that deals with all the private and personal disputes. Plato’s background was a dysfunctional state and the political affairs of the state. Most of the criticism directed towards Plato’s ideal political theory was unjustified because Plato acknowledged that it was impossible for the proposed political situation to occur. The Utopian government proposed by if implemented it would impossible to implement.
The function of the ideal in Plato’s political theory is to act as a standard measure or as a yardstick for the ideal form of government. Aristotle disagreed with Plato on the version of the ideal society, but concurred with him that the society should formulate social values that should act as a light house to all those who are charged with the responsibility of steering the ship of the state across the tumultuous waters of politics. The notion of the ideal state was adopted by post-modern scholars. Karl max proposed the communist utopia. A society that is free from the yokes of materialism. Each individual in the society is equal to the other and the economic resources are shared equally among the citizens. Marx’s postulation was similar to Plato’s just city in that the ownership of private property is discouraged. Unlike Plato’s political theory, the communist utopian political theory was tried resulted into a tragic failure. All utopian political theories would suffer the same fate including Plato’s political theory succeeds in the definition of the philosopher king. The Philosopher king would make the best political leader and is the most experienced statecraft. The concept of the philosopher king is best postulation of the ideal leader to commandeer a state.
Plato’s theory of the ideal state is crippled by the description of the elements of the ideal state. The jus state according to plats description is a model of hell for the lower members of the society. Women are confined to their traditional roles on their other side the men in the society are expected to lead. The ideal city is a tyranny where the rights of vulnerable groups are trampled by the absolute dictatorship of the ruling class. Children are taken away from their mothers at birth and breeding between the vulnerable groups. Only the strong should be allowed to procreate and produce the future generation. Plato’s political theory crumbles at the weight of its inconsistencies.
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