The theme of The Republic
is very complicated in some ways, yet it comes together perfectly to formulate
Plato's attitudes about society and government. The title of the discourse, The
Republic, is ironic in itself, since Plato is adamantly opposed to democracy
on any level. Indeed he doesn't trust man's animal instincts because he thinks
they ruin society and lead to anarchy. Only philosophers can serve as just kings
because only this select group of people have knowledge of the Forms, a vague,
otherworldly kind of absolute truth.
Much like Huxley's Brave
New World, Plato's ideal city gives total control to the government. This
government, envisioned by philosopher kings and directed by their assistants,
enforces a strict set of moral standards aimed at teaching virtue and goodness
to the common people.
Yet the ruling class doesn't
live the life of luxury. Indeed many would consider it a very dull life. Private
property is curtailed severely, and possessing riches is strictly forbidden.
Plato takes these pains to ensure that the philosophers don't grow corrupt from
amassing great quantities of wealth. Money, to Plato, is a concession to the
base appetites of soul, which must be controlled.
The other parts of the soul
include the spirit, or devotion to honor, and the rational side, devoted to
reason and logic. The rulers, or guardians of the people, are best able to find
a balance between these competing interests, and thus are suppose to lead and
educate the others.
Plato argues that living
justly is far superior to living unjustly because justice breeds happiness. The
soul is happy because all three parts of it are moderated, doing their own jobs
but no more. This is Plato's idealistic vision of the city in general. Each
class of people has specific tasks to complete in order for the community to
find the greatest amount of good. Everyone lives for everyone else; class bias
and pursuit of riches are not issues.
Many critics of Plato,
including his best student Aristotle, cite Plato's ideal city as something
unattainable by humans. Plato's lack of practicality often serves to discredit
his ideas, yet his beliefs have had great influence on world philosophy. Many of
Plato's ideas would be resurrected in the nineteenth century with Karl Marx.