Updated: Feb 2
Can I by justice or by deceit ascend a loftier tower which may be a fortress to me all my days?
The Republic is a collection of ten books written by Socrates’ student, Plato, regarding the question of justice.
The discussion is one amongst friends about how a state might be best governed, and how individuals within that country may best serve the needs of the men and women of the nation as a whole.
The conversation takes place principally between Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus regarding an evaluation of the conduct of the rulers of this ideal city-state or Polis.
Socrates outlines how the defense of the city will be the responsibility of leading citizen-soldiers, or Guardians, who maintain a garrison on the periphery of the Polis.
In the pursuit of the protection of the people, the individual Guardian may, at times, sacrifice his or her own personal preferences in order to best address the safety and well-being of the citizens of the state.
In a word, the role of the Guardian is to Protect and to Serve the country. This ideal will generate an environment wherein justice may be effectuated such that all individuals who live in the country may best achieve his or her ideal of happiness.
Aristotle outlines a similar plan within his Nichomachean Ethics, and the Guardians serve as paragons of behavior and conduct for the populace as a whole.
“They tell young people that being just is good and admirable. But the stories they use to illustrate that point always make injustice actually look better. Adeimantus backs all of this up with quotes from Homer and Hesiod and other examples.
Obviously, we don’t go by the same myths that Adeimantus [used] but we could make the same point about media today. When we watch movies or read didactic stories, the moral of the story is often ‘honesty is the best policy’ or that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’
But what these stories usually show is that the crime does pay. Think of how many movies you’ve seen where, at least at in the first half of the movie, the villain is having a great time. Money, excitement, gorgeous women everywhere. Maybe even the respect and admiration of others. And the hero is toiling in obscurity, can’t get a break, is misunderstood. Maybe even he’s being held back because he’s TOO honest.
Then the plot happens. And the villain gets exposed and punished. And the hero finally gets the recognition they deserve. Maybe from society at large… or maybe just from a small but important audience, like a love interest.
The moral here isn’t exactly that crime is bad for you. It’s that getting caught is bad for you. Just like being bad is awesome until you get caught, being good is miserable until you get caught - that is, until, somebody important notices your hard work and you get the recognition you deserve.
So why not get all the advantages of being a bad guy but pretend to be a good guy? This is Adeimantus and Glaucon’s challenge to Socrates. This question… may just sound selfish. They’re spoiled young men saying ‘I can get away with whatever I want. Why should I be good?’”
- Clif, “Good in Theory”
It is for this reason that the Guardians must remain humble in almost every circumstance, as each individual member of the city is only as potent as the team as a whole can be.
The education of the Guardians reflects this objective as well: Guardians are given fewer opportunities to secure wealth than other citizens in the city.
Indeed, the Guardians are not permitted to own any personal property. Even the body of each individual Guardian is considered a possession of the state.
Instead, Guardians participate in a rigorous academic and physical regimen similar to that instituted in the agoge of the ancient Hellenic city-state of Sparta.
These guardians do not have the prerogative to choose where they will live, or even, if Plato is to believe be believed, with whom they will marry. Such decisions are instead to be left to the elders of the Guardian class who will assign the younger members to the locations and the communities where they will be most effective in serving the nation.
The importance of the success of the polity as a whole echoes the New Testament words of the Apostle Paul written within the book of First Corinthians with respect to the unity early Christian church:
“God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body?
But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’”
- 1 Corinthians 12:14-22 CEB
In this way, the city-state as a whole is viewed as one family. The defense of the home and the efficient coordination of the nation may bring about the best outcomes for all denizens of the city.
This is a similar perspective written in Thomas More’s Utopia, which is a fictional account of a city-state in the ‘New World’ which was written in 1516 in part as a critique of inefficient economic practices of the ‘Old World.’
“Each town, you remember, sends three representatives to the annual Parliament at Aircastle. There they collect details of the year’s production, and as soon as it is clear which products are plentiful in each area, and which are in short supply, they arrange for a series of transfers to equalise distribution. These transfers are one-way transactions, requiring nothing in return – but in practice the free gifts that Town A makes to Town B are balanced by the free gifts that it receives from Town C. So the whole island is like one big household.” - Thomas More, Book One of “Utopia”
The word Utopia is a portmanteau of the Greek word prefix u- meaning ‘non’ with the Greek word topia meaning ‘place.’ The literal meaning of Thomas More’s title means ‘nowhere.’
In a clever addition of laconic speech, when the word 'utopia' is spoken the prefix u- may be misheard as eu- which means ‘positive.’ Therefore Thomas More’s title may also be interpreted auditorily as ‘Good Place.'
In his text, Thomas More creates a view of a city-state wherein each citizen has a place in society, where the cities of the nation are safe, and where economic processes are productive for all members of the community.
The creation of this type of polity is the responsibility of the elders of the Guardians. The Guardians act as fathers to the citizens: overseeing all actions within the state, protecting, observing, and directing the development of their citizenry. Joshua J. Marks takes a similar view in his evaluation of the Spartan agoge:
"In the context of the agoge program, it is thought this sort of relationship also deepened the bonds between the younger and older students who thought of themselves all sons of the same father, the state."
- Joshua J. Marks, “Agoge, the Spartan Education Program”
Thus, all members of the city are considered to be the responsibility of the state, and the unity, safety, welfare, and happiness of the people are provided for as though the nation as a whole was one family. The objective of the happiness of the people is the best possible manifestation of justice as defined by Plato in The Republic.
With the above being stated thank you for your time in reading this post and please have a good day.