Selective Reading

Plato`s Social Thought: Search of Ideal State

Republic

D. The Elite

[Book III, Socrates and Glaucon, p. 681]

SOCRATES: And not only their [guardians] education, but their habitations, and all that belongs to them, should be such as will neither impair their virtue as guardians, nor tempt them to prey upon the other citizens. Any man of sense must acknowledge that.

GLAUCON: He must.

SOCRATES: Then let us consider what will be their way of life, if they are to realize our idea of them. In the first place, none of them should have any property of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or store closed against any one who has a mind to enter; their provisions should be only such as are required by trained warriors, who are men of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive from the citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year and no more; and they will go to mess and live together like soldiers in a camp. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the source of many unholy deeds, but their own is undefiled. And they alone of all the citizens may not touch or handle silver or gold, or be under the same roof with them, or wear them, or drink from them. And this will be their salvation, and they will be the saviours of the State. But should they ever acquire homes or lands or moneys of their own, they will become housekeepers and husbandmen in stead of guardians, enemies and tyrants instead of allies of the other citizens; hating and being hated, plotting and being pitted against, they will pass their whole life in much greater terror of internal than of external enemies, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and to the rest of the State, will be at hand. For all which reasons may we not say that thus shall our State be ordered, and [next page, 682] that these shall be the regulations appointed by us for our guardians concerning their houses and all other matters?

E. Women in the Military

[Book V, Socrates, Adimantus, and Glaucon, p. 711]

ADEIMANTUS: We have been long expecting that you would tell us something about the family life of your citizens — how they will bring children into the world, and rear them when they have arrived, and in general, what is the nature of this community of women and children — for we are of opinion that the right or wrong management of such matters will have a great and paramount influence on the State for good or for evil. …

GLAUCON: What sort of community of women and children is this which is to prevail among our guardians? and how shall we manage the period between birth and education, which seems to require the greatest care? Tell us how these things will be. …

(Book V, p. 712)

SOCRATES: Well … I suppose that I must retrace my steps and say what I perhaps ought to have said before in the proper place. The part of the men has been played out, and now properly enough comes the turn of the women. Of them I will proceed to speak, and the more readily since I am invited by you.

For men born and educated like our citizens, the only way, in my opinion, of arriving at a right conclusion about the possession and use of women and children is to follow the path on which we originally started, when we said that the men were to be the guardians and watchdogs of the herd. Let us further suppose the birth and education of our women to be subject to similar or nearly similar regulations; then we shall see whether the result accords with our design.

GLAUCON: What do you mean?

SOCRATES: What I mean may be put into the form of a question. … Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling their puppies is labour enough for them?

(Book V, p. 713)

GLAUCON: No … they share alike; the only difference between them is that the males are stronger and the females weaker.

SOCRATES: But can you use different animals for the same purpose, unless they are bred and fed in the same way?

GLAUCON: You cannot.

SOCRATES: Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture and education?

GLAUCON: Yes.

SOCRATES: The education which was assigned to the men was music and gymnastic.

GLAUCON: Yes.

SOCRATES: Then the women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war, which they must practice like the men?

GLAUCON: That is the inference, I suppose.

SOCRATES: … And the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the palaestra, exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they certainly will not be a vision of beauty … But,…we must not fear the jests of the wits which will be directed against this sort of innovation; how they will talk of women’s attainments both in music and gymnastic, and above all about their wearing armour and riding upon horseback!

GLAUCON: Very true …

(Book V, p. 717)

SOCRATES: Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they differ only in their comparative strength or weakness. … and those women who have such qualities are to be selected as the companions and colleagues of men who have similar qualities and whom they resemble in capacity and in character. … Then, as we were saying before, there is nothing unnatural in assigning music and gymnastic to the wives of the guardians.

GLAUCON: Certainly not.

(Book V, p. 718)

SOCRATES: … May we not further say that our guardians are the best of our citizens?

GLAUCON: By far the best.

SOCRATES: And will not their wives be the best women?

GLAUCON: Yes, by far the best.

SOCRATES: And can there be anything better for the interests of the State than that the men and women of a State should be as good as possible?

GLAUCON: There can be nothing better.

SOCRATES: And this is what the arts of music and gymnastic, when present in such manner as we have described, will accomplish?

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then we have made an enactment not only possible but in the highest degree beneficial to the State?

GLAUCON: True.

SOCRATES: Then let the wives of our guardians strip, for their virtue will be their robe, and let them share in the toils of war and the defense of their country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker nature, but in other respects their duties are to be the same. And as for the man who [next page, Book V, p. 719] laughs at naked women exercising their bodies from the best of motives, in his laughter he is plucking “A fruit of unripe wisdom”, and he himself is ignorant of what he is laughing at; for that is, and ever will be, the best of sayings, “That the useful is the noble and the hurtful is the base.” [Epicurean/utilitarian]

GLAUCON: Very true. …

SOCRATES: The law, I said, which is the sequel of this and of all that has preceded, is to the following effect, — “that the wives of our guardians are to be common, and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent.”

(Book V, p. 720)

SOCRATES: I shall now proceed to enquire how the rulers will carry out these arrangements, and I shall demonstrate that our plan, if executed, will be of the greatest benefit to the State and to the guardians.

F. Plato’s Eugenics, Population Control, Day Care Nurseries

[Book V, Socrates and Glaucon, p. 720]

SOCRATES: You … who are their legislator, having selected the men, will now select the women and give them to [the men]; — they must be as far as possible of like nature with them; and they must live in common houses and meet at common meals. None of them will have anything specially his or her own. They will be together, and will be brought up together, and will associate at gymnastic exercises. And so they will be drawn by a necessity of their natures to have intercourse with each other — necessity is not too strong a word, I think?

GLAUCON: Yes .. – necessity, not geometrical, but another sort of necessity which lovers know, and which is far more convincing and constraining to the mass of mankind.

SOCRATES: True …; and this Glaucon, like all the rest, must proceed after an orderly fashion; in a city of the blessed, licentiousness is an unholy thing which the rulers will forbid.”

GLAUCON: Yes … and it ought not to be permitted.

SOCRATES: Then clearly the next thing will be to make matrimony sacred in the highest degree, and what is most beneficial will be deemed sacred?

GLAUCON: Exactly.

SOCRATES: And how can marriages be most beneficial? — that is a question which I put to you, because I see in your house dogs for hunting, and of the nobler sort of birds not a few. Now, I beseech you, do tell me, have you ever attended to their pairing and breeding?

(Book V, p. 721)

GLAUCON: In what particulars?

SOCRATES: Why, in the first place, although they are all of a good sort, are not some better than others?

GLAUCON: True.

SOCRATES: And do you breed from them all indifferently, or do you take care to breed from the best only?

GLAUCON: From the best.

SOCRATES: And do you take the oldest or the youngest, or only those of ripe age?

GLAUCON: I choose only those of ripe age.

SOCRATES: And if care was not taken in the breeding, your dogs and birds would greatly deteriorate?

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And the same of horses and animals in general?

GLAUCON: Undoubtedly.

SOCRATES: Good heavens! my dear friend … what consummate skill will our rulers need if the same principle holds of the human species!

GLAUCON: Certainly, the same principle holds; but why does this involve any particular skill?

SOCRATES: Because … our rulers will often have to practice upon the body corporate with “medicines”. Now you know that when patients do not require medicines, but have only to be put under a regimen, the inferior sort of practitioner is deemed to be good enough; but when medicine has to be given, the doctor should be more of a man … Our rulers will find a considerable dose of falsehood and deceit necessary for the good of their subjects; we were saying that the use of all these things regarded as “medicines” might be of advantage. … And this lawful use of them seems likely to be often needed in the regulations of marriages and births.

GLAUCON: How so?

SOCRATES: … the principle has been already laid down that the best of ether sex should be united with the best often, and the inferior with the inferior, as seldom as possible; and that they should rear the offspring of the one sort of union, but not of the other, if the flock is to be maintained in first-rate condition. Now these goings on must be a secret which the rulers only know, or there will be a further danger of our herd, as the guardians may be termed, breaking out into rebellion.

(Book V, p. 722)

SOCRATES: Had we not better appoint certain festivals at which we will bring together the brides and bridegrooms, and sacrifices will be offered, and suitable hymeneal songs composed by our poets: the number of weddings is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the rulers, whose aim will be to preserve the average of population. There are many other things which they will have to consider, such as the effects of wars and diseases and any similar agencies, in order as far as this is possible to prevent the State from becoming either too large or too small.

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: We shall have to invent some ingenious kind of lots which the less worthy may draw on each occasion of our bringing them together, and then they will accuse their own ill-luck and not the rulers.

GLAUCON: To be sure.

SOCRATES: And I think that our braver and better youth, besides their other honours and rewards, might have greater facilities of intercourse with women given them; their bravery will be a reason, and such fathers ought to have as many sons as possible. …And the proper officers, whether male or female or both, for offices are to be held by women as well as by men. … The proper officers will take the offspring of the good parents to the pen or fold, and there they will deposit them with certain nurses who dwell in a separate quarter; but the offspring of the inferior, or of the better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious, unknown place, as they should be.

GLAUCON: Yes … that must be done if the breed of the guardians is to be kept pure.

SOCRATES: They will provide for their nurture, and will bring the mothers to the fold when they are full of milk, taking the greatest possible care that no mother recognizes her own child; and other wet-nurses may be engaged if more are required. Care will also be taken that the process of suckling shall not be protracted too long; and the mothers will have no getting up at night or other trouble, but will hand over all this sort of thing to the nurses and attendants.

[Jowett’s summary of Plato’s population control in column, Book V, p. 723]: A woman is to bear children from 20 to 40; a man to beget them from 25 – 55. After the prescribed age has been passed, more license is allowed: but all who were born after certain hymeneal festivals at which their parents or grandparents came together must be kept separate.

(Book V, p. 724)

SOCRATES: Such is the scheme, Glaucon, according to which the guardians of our State are to have their wives and families in common.

G. Starting the Ideal State for real with the children

[Book VII, Socrates and Glaucon, p. 800]

SOCRATES: Well, I said, and you would agree … that what has been said about the State and the government is not a mere dream, and although difficult not impossible, but only possible in the way which has been supposed; that is to say, when the true philosopher kings are born in a State, one or more of them, despising the honours of this present world which they deem mean and worthless, esteeming above all things right and the honour that springs from right, and regarding justice as the greatest and most necessary of all things, whose ministers they are, and whose principles will be exalted by them when they set in order their own city.

GLAUCON: How will they proceed?

SOCRATES: They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of the city who are more than ten years old, and will take possession of their children, who will be unaffected by the habits of their parents; these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness, and the nation which has such a constitution will gain most.

GLAUCON: Yes, that will be the best way. And I think, Socrates, that you have very well described how, if ever, such a constitution might come into being.


 Source: The Dialogues of Plato (New York: Random House, 1937; Vol. 1). The dialogues are between Socrates and his disciples Adeimantus and Glaucon

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