The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Oct 26, 2018 11:31 pm

Chapter 2: Heraclitus

It is not until Heraclitus that we find in Greece theories which could be compared in their historicist character with the doctrine of the chosen people. In Homer's theistic or rather polytheistic interpretation, history is the product of divine will. But the Homeric gods do not lay down general laws for its development. What Homer tries to stress and to explain is not the unity of history, but rather its lack of unity. The author of the play on the Stage of History is not one God; a whole variety of gods dabble in it. What the Homeric interpretation shares with the Jewish is a certain vague feeling of destiny, and the idea of powers behind the scenes. But ultimate destiny, according to Homer, is not disclosed; unlike its Jewish counterpart, it remains mysterious.

The first Greek to introduce a more markedly historicist doctrine was Hesiod, who was probably influenced by oriental sources. He made use of the idea of a general trend or tendency in historical development. His interpretation of history is pessimistic. He believes that mankind, in their development down from the Golden Age, are destined to degenerate, both physically and morally. The culmination of the various historicist ideas proffered by the early Greek philosophers came with Plato, who, in an attempt to interpret the history and social life of the Greek tribes, and especially of the Athenians, painted a grandiose philosophical picture of the world. He was strongly influenced in his historicism by various forerunners, especially by Hesiod; but the most important influence came from Heraclitus.

Heraclitus was the philosopher who discovered the idea of change. Down to this time, the Greek philosophers, influenced by oriental ideas, had viewed the world as a huge edifice of which the material things were the building material. [1] It was the totality of things — the cosmos (which originally seems to have been an oriental tent or mantle). The questions which the philosophers asked themselves were, 'What stuff is the world made of?' or 'How is it constructed, what is its true ground-plan?'. They considered philosophy, or physics (the two were indistinguishable for a long time), as the investigation of 'nature', i.e. of the original material out of which this edifice, the world, had been built. As far as any processes were considered, they were thought of either as going on within the edifice, or else as constructing or maintaining it, disturbing and restoring the stability or balance of a structure which was considered to be fundamentally static. They were cyclic processes (apart from the processes connected with the origin of the edifice; the question 'Who has made it?' was discussed by the orientals, by Hesiod, and by others). This very natural approach, natural even to many of us to-day, was superseded by the genius of Heraclitus. The view he introduced was that there was no such edifice, no stable structure, no cosmos. 'The cosmos, at best, is like a rubbish heap scattered at random', is one of his sayings. [2] He visualized the world not as an edifice, but rather as one colossal process; not as the sum-total of all things, but rather as the totality of all events, or changes, or facts. 'Everything is in flux and nothing is at rest', is the motto of his philosophy.

Heraclitus' discovery influenced the development of Greek philosophy for a long time. The philosophies of Parmenides, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle can all be appropriately described as attempts to solve the problems of that changing world which Heraclitus had discovered. The greatness of this discovery can hardly be overrated. It has been described as a terrifying one, and its effect has been compared with that of 'an earthquake, in which everything ... seems to sway' [3]. And I do not doubt that this discovery was impressed upon Heraclitus by terrifying personal experiences suffered as a result of the social and political disturbances of his day. Heraclitus, the first philosopher to deal not only with 'nature' but even more with ethico-political problems, lived in an age of social revolution. It was in his time that the Greek tribal aristocracies were beginning to yield to the new force of democracy.

In order to understand the effect of this revolution, we must remember the stability and rigidity of social life in a tribal aristocracy. Social life is determined by social and religious taboos; everybody has his assigned place within the whole of the social structure; everyone feels that his place is the proper, the 'natural' place, assigned to him by the forces which rule the world; everyone 'knows his place'.

According to tradition, Heraclitus' own place was that of heir to the royal family of priest kings of Ephesus, but he resigned his claims in favour of his brother. In spite of his proud refusal to take part in the political life of his city, he supported the cause of the aristocrats who tried in vain to stem the rising tide of the new revolutionary forces. These experiences, in the social or political field are reflected in the remaining fragments of his work. [4] 'The Ephesians ought to hang themselves man by man, all the adults, and leave the city to be ruled by infants ...', is one of his outbursts, occasioned by the people's decision to banish Hermodorus, one of Heraclitus 's aristocratic friends. His interpretation of the people's motives is most interesting, for it shows that the stock-in-trade of anti- democratic argument has not changed much since the earliest days of democracy. 'They said: nobody shall be the best among us; and if someone is outstanding, then let him be so elsewhere, and among others.' This hostility towards democracy breaks through everywhere in the fragments: '... the mob fill their bellies like the beasts ... They take the bards and popular belief as their guides, unaware that the many are bad and that only the few are good ... In Priene lived Bias, son of Teutames, whose word counts more than that of other men. (He said: "Most men are wicked.") ... The mob does not care, not even about the things they stumble upon; nor can they grasp a lesson — though they think they do.' In the same vein he says: 'The law can demand, too, that the will of One Man must be obeyed.' Another expression of Heraclitus' conservative and anti-democratic outlook is, incidentally, quite acceptable to democrats in its wording, though probably not in its intention: 'A people ought to fight for the laws of the city as if they were its walls.'

But Heraclitus' fight for the ancient laws of his city was in vain, and the transitoriness of all things impressed itself strongly upon him. His theory of change gives expression to this feeling [5]: 'Everything is in flux', he said; and 'You cannot step twice into the same river.' Disillusioned, he argued against the belief that the existing social order would remain for ever: 'We must not act like children reared with the narrow outlook "As it has been handed down to us".'

This emphasis on change, and especially on change in social life, is an important characteristic not only of Heraclitus' philosophy but of historicism in general. That things, and even kings, change, is a truth which needs to be impressed especially upon those who take their social environment for granted. So much is to be admitted. But in the Heraclitean philosophy one of the less commendable characteristics of historicism manifests itself, namely, an over-emphasis upon change, combined with the complementary belief in an inexorable and immutable law of destiny.

In this belief we are confronted with an attitude which, although at first sight contradictory to the historicist's over-emphasis upon change, is characteristic of most, if not all, historicists. We can explain this attitude, perhaps, if we interpret the historicist's over-emphasis on change as a symptom of an effort needed to overcome his unconscious resistance to the idea of change. This would also explain the emotional tension which leads so many historicists (even in our day) to stress the novelty of the unheard-of revelation which they have to make. Such considerations suggest the possibility that these historicists are afraid of change, and that they cannot accept the idea of change without serious inward struggle. It often seems as if they were trying to comfort themselves for the loss of a stable world by clinging to the view that change is ruled by an unchanging law. (In Parmenides and in Plato, we shall even find the theory that the changing world in which we live is an illusion and that there exists a more real world which does not change.)

In the case of Heraclitus, the emphasis upon change leads him to the theory that all material things, whether solid, liquid, or gaseous, are like flames — that they are processes rather than things, and that they are all transformations of fire; the apparently solid earth (which consists of ashes) is only a fire in a state of transformation, and even liquids (water, the sea) are transformed fire (and may become fuel, perhaps in the form of oil). 'The first transformation of fire is the sea; but of the sea, half is earth, and half hot air.' [6] Thus all the other 'elements' — earth, water, and air — are transformed fire: 'Everything is an exchange for fire, and fire for everything; just as gold for wares, and wares for gold.'

But having reduced all things to flames, to processes, like combustion, Heraclitus discerns in the processes a law, a measure, a reason, a wisdom; and having destroyed the cosmos as an edifice, and declared it to be a rubbish heap, he re-introduces it as the destined order of events in the world-process.

Every process in the world, and especially fire itself, develops according to a definite law, its 'measure' [7]. It is an inexorable and irresistible law, and to this extent it resembles our modern conception of natural law as well as the conception of historical or evolutionary laws of modern historicists. But it differs from these conceptions in so far as it is the decree of reason, enforced by punishment, just as is the law imposed by the state. This failure to distinguish between legal laws or norms on the one hand and natural laws or regularities on the other is characteristic of tribal tabooism: both kinds of law alike are treated as magical, which makes a rational criticism of the man-made taboos as inconceivable as an attempt to improve upon the ultimate wisdom and reason of the laws or regularities of the natural world: 'All events proceed with the necessity of fate . . . The sun will not outstep the measure of his path; or else the goddesses of Fate, the handmaids of Justice, will know how to find him.' But the sun does not only obey the law; the Fire, in the shape of the sun and (as we shall see) of Zeus' thunderbolt, watches over the law, and gives judgement according to it. 'The sun is the keeper and guardian of the periods, limiting and judging and heralding and manifesting the changes and seasons which bring forth all things ... This cosmic order which is the same for all things has not been created, neither by gods nor by men; it always was, and is, and will be, an ever living Fire, flaring up according to measure, and dying down according to measure ... In its advance, the Fire will seize, judge, and execute, everything.'

Combined with the historicist idea of a relentless destiny we frequently find an element of mysticism. A critical analysis of mysticism will be given in chapter 24.
Here I wish only to show the role of anti-rationalism and mysticism in Heraclitus' philosophy [8]: 'Nature loves to hide', he writes, and 'The Lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither reveals nor conceals, but he indicates his meaning through hints.' Heraclitus' contempt of the more empirically minded scientists is typical of those who adopt this attitude: 'Who knows many things need not have many brains; for otherwise Hesiod and Pythagoras would have had more, and also Xenophanes ... Pythagoras is the grandfather of all impostors.' Along with this scorn of scientists goes the mystical theory of an intuitive understanding. Heraclitus' theory of reason takes as its starting point the fact that, if we are awake, we live in a common world. We can communicate, control, and check one another; and herein lies the assurance that we are not victims of illusion. But this theory is given a second, a symbolic, a mystical meaning. It is the theory of a mystical intuition which is given to the chosen, to those who are awake, who have the power to see, hear, and speak: 'One must not act and talk as if asleep . . . Those who are awake have One common world; those who are asleep, turn to their private worlds . . . They are incapable both of listening and of talking . . . Even if they do hear they are like the deaf. The saying applies to them: They are present yet they are not present ... One thing alone is wisdom: to understand the thought which steers everything through everything.' The world whose experience is common to those who are awake is the mystical unity, the oneness of all things which can be apprehended only by reason: 'One must follow what is common to all ... Reason is common to all ... All becomes One and One becomes All . . . The One which alone is wisdom wishes and does not wish to be called by the name of Zeus ... It is the thunderbolt which steers all things.'

So much for the more general features of the Heraclitean philosophy of universal change and hidden destiny. From this philosophy springs a theory of the driving force behind all change; a theory which exhibits its historicist character by its emphasis upon the importance of 'social dynamics' as opposed to 'social statics'. Heraclitus' dynamics of nature in general and especially of social life confirms the view that his philosophy was inspired by the social and political disturbances he had experienced. For he declares that strife or war is the dynamic as well as the creative principle of all change, and especially of all differences between men. And being a typical historicist, he accepts the judgement of history as a moral one [9]; for he holds that the outcome of war is always just [10]: 'War is the father and the king of all things. It proves some to be gods and others to be mere men, turning these into slaves and the former into masters . . . One must know that war is universal, and that justice — the lawsuit — is strife, and that all things develop through strife and by necessity.'

But if justice is strife or war; if 'the goddesses of Fate' are at the same time 'the handmaids of Justice'; if history, or more precisely, if success, i.e. success in war, is the criterion of merit, then the standard of merit must itself be 'in flux'. Heraclitus meets this problem by his relativism, and by his doctrine of the identity of opposites. This springs from his theory of change (which remains the basis of Plato's and even more of Aristotle's theory). A changing thing must give up some property and acquire the opposite property. It is not so much a thing as a process of transition from one state to an opposite state, and thereby a unification of the opposite states [11]: 'Cold things become warm and warm things become cold; what is moist becomes dry and what is dry becomes moist . . . Disease enables us to appreciate health . . . Life and death, being awake and being asleep, youth and old age, all this is identical; for the one turns into the other and the other turns into the one ... What struggles with itself becomes committed to itself: there is a link or harmony due to recoil and tension, as in the bow or the lyre . . . The opposites belong to each other, the best harmony results from discord, and everything develops by strife . . . The path that leads up and the path that leads down are identical . . . The straight path and the crooked path are one and the same ... For gods, all things are beautiful and good and just; men, however, have adopted some things as just, others as unjust . . . The good and the bad are identical.'

But the relativism of values (it might even be described as an ethical relativism) expressed in the last fragment does not prevent Heraclitus from developing upon the background of his theory of the justice of war and the verdict of history a tribalist and romantic ethic of Fame, Fate, and the superiority of the Great Man, all strangely similar to some very modern ideas [12]: 'Who falls fighting will be glorified by gods and by men . . . The greater the fall the more glorious the fate . . . The best seek one thing above all others: eternal fame ... One man is worth more than ten thousand, if he is Great.'

It is surprising to find in these early fragments, dating from about 500 B.C., so much that is characteristic of modern historicist and anti- democratic tendencies. But apart from the fact that Heraclitus was a thinker of unsurpassed power and originality, and that, in consequence, many of his ideas have (through the medium of Plato) become part of the main body of philosophic tradition, the similarity of doctrine can perhaps be explained, to some extent, by the similarity of social conditions in the relevant periods. It seems as if historicist ideas easily become prominent in times of great social change. They appeared when Greek tribal life broke up, as well as when that of the Jews was shattered by the impact of the Babylonian conquest [13]. There can be little doubt, I believe, that Heraclitus' philosophy is an expression of a feeling of drift; a feeling which seems to be a typical reaction to the dissolution of the ancient tribal forms of social life. In modern Europe, historicist ideas were revived during the industrial revolution, and especially through the impact of the political revolutions in America and France [14]. It appears to be more than a mere coincidence that Hegel, who adopted so much of Heraclitus' thought and passed it on to all modern historicist movements, was a mouthpiece of the reaction against the French Revolution.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:52 am

Chapter 3: Plato's Theory of Forms or Ideas

Plato lived in a period of wars and of political strife which was, for all we know, even more unsettled than that which had troubled Heraclitus. While he grew up, the breakdown of the tribal life of the Greeks had led in Athens, his native city, to a period of tyranny, and later to the establishment of a democracy which tried jealously to guard itself against any attempts to reintroduce either a tyranny or an oligarchy, i.e. a rule of the leading aristocratic families [1]. During his youth, democratic Athens was involved in a deadly war against Sparta, the leading city-state of the Peloponnese, which had preserved many of the laws and customs of the ancient tribal aristocracy. The Peloponnesian war lasted, with an interruption, for twenty-eight years. (In chapter 10, where the historical background is reviewed in more detail, it will be shown that the war did not end with the fall of Athens in 404 B.C., as is sometimes asserted [2].) Plato was born during the war, and he was about twenty-four when it ended. It brought terrible epidemics, and, in its last year, famine, the fall of the city of Athens, civil war, and a rule of terror, usually called the rule of the Thirty Tyrants; these were led by two of Plato's uncles, who both lost their lives in the unsuccessful attempt to uphold their regime against the democrats. The re-establishment of the democracy and of peace meant no respite for Plato. His beloved teacher Socrates, whom he later made the main speaker of most of his dialogues, was tried and executed. Plato himself seems to have been in danger; together with other companions of Socrates he left Athens.

Later, on the occasion of his first visit to Sicily, Plato became entangled in the political intrigues which were spun at the court of the older Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, and even after his return to Athens and the foundation of the Academy, Plato continued, along with some of his pupils, to take an active and ultimately fateful part in the conspiracies and revolutions [3] that constituted Syracusan politics.

This brief outline of political events may help to explain why we find in the work of Plato, as in that of Heraclitus, indications that he suffered desperately under the political instability and insecurity of his time. Like Heraclitus, Plato was of royal blood; at least, the tradition claims that his father's family traced its descent from Godrus, the last of the tribal kings of Attica [4]. Plato was very proud of his mother's family which, as he explains in his dialogues (in the Charmides and the Timaeus), was related to that of Solon, the lawgiver of Athens. His uncles, Critias and Charmides, the leading men of the Thirty Tyrants, also belonged to his mother's family. With such a family tradition, Plato could be expected to take a deep interest in public affairs; and indeed, most of his works fulfil this expectation.
He himself relates (if the Seventh Letter is genuine) that he was [5] 'from the beginning most anxious for political activity', but that he was deterred by the stirring experiences of his youth. 'Seeing that everything swayed and shifted aimlessly, I felt giddy and desperate.' From the feeling that society, and indeed 'everything', was in flux, arose, I believe, the fundamental impulse of his philosophy as well as of the philosophy of Heraclitus; and Plato summed up his social experience, exactly as his historicist predecessor had done, by proffering a law of historical development. According to this law, which will be more fully discussed in the next chapter, all social change is corruption or decay or degeneration.

This fundamental historical law forms, in Plato's view, part of a cosmic law — of a law which holds for all created or generated things. All things in flux, all generated things, are destined to decay. Plato, like Heraclitus, felt that the forces which are at work in history are cosmic forces.

It is nearly certain, however, that Plato believed that this law of degeneration was not the whole story. We have found, in Heraclitus, a tendency to visualize the laws of development as cyclic laws; they are conceived after the law which determines the cyclic succession of the seasons. Similarly we can find, in some of Plato's works, the suggestion of a Great Year (its length appears to be 36,000 ordinary years), with a period of improvement or generation, presumably corresponding to Spring and Summer, and one of degeneration and decay, corresponding to Autumn and Winter. According to one of Plato's dialogues (the Statesman), a Golden Age, the age of Cronos — an age in which Cronos himself rules the world, and in which men spring from the earth — is followed by our own age, the age of Zeus, an age in which the world is abandoned by the gods and left to its own resources, and which consequently is one of increasing corruption. And in the story of the Statesman there is also a suggestion that, after the lowest point of complete corruption has been reached, the god will again take the helm of the cosmic ship, and things will start to improve.

It is not certain how far Plato believed in the story of the Statesman. He made it quite clear that he did not believe that all of it was literally true. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that he visualized human history in a cosmic setting; that he believed his own age to be one of deep depravity — possibly of the deepest that can be reached — and the whole preceding historical period to be governed by an inherent tendency toward decay, a tendency shared by both the historical and the cosmical development. [6] Whether or not he also believed that this tendency must necessarily come to an end once the point of extreme depravity has been reached seems to me uncertain. But he certainly believed that it is possible for us, by a human, or rather by a superhuman effort, to break through the fatal historical trend, and to put an end to the process of decay.


Great as the similarities are between Plato and Heraclitus, we have struck here an important difference. Plato believed that the law of historical destiny, the law of decay, can be broken by the moral will of man, supported by the power of human reason.

It is not quite clear how Plato reconciled this view with his belief in a law of destiny. But there are some indications which may explain the matter.

Plato believed that the law of degeneration involved moral degeneration. Political degeneration at any rate depends in his view mainly upon moral degeneration (and lack of knowledge); and moral degeneration, in its turn, is due mainly to racial degeneration. This is the way in which the general cosmic law of decay manifests itself in the field of human affairs.

It is therefore understandable that the great cosmic turning-point may coincide with a turning-point in the field of human affairs — the moral and intellectual field — and that it may, therefore, appear to us to be brought about by a moral and intellectual human effort. Plato may well have believed that, just as the general law of decay did manifest itself in moral decay leading to political decay, so the advent of the cosmic turning-point would manifest itself in the coming of a great law-giver whose powers of reasoning and whose moral will are capable of bringing this period of political decay to a close. It seems likely that the prophecy, in the Statesman, of the return of the Golden Age, of a new millennium, is the expression of such a belief in the form of a myth. However this may be, he certainly believed in both — in a general historical tendency towards corruption, and in the possibility that we may stop further corruption in the political field by arresting all political change. This, accordingly, is the aim he strives for. [7] He tries to realize it by the establishment of a state which is free from the evils of all other states because it does not degenerate, because it does not change. The state which is free from the evil of change and corruption is the best, the perfect state. It is the state of the Golden Age which knew no change. It is the arrested state.


In believing in such an ideal state which does not change, Plato deviates radically from the tenets of historicism which we found in Heraclitus. But important as this difference is, it gives rise to further points of similarity between Plato and Heraclitus.

Heraclitus, despite the boldness of his reasoning, seems to have shrunk from the idea of replacing the cosmos by chaos. He seems to have comforted himself, we said, for the loss of a stable world by clinging to the view that change is ruled by an unchanging law. This tendency to shrink back from the last consequences of historicism is characteristic of many historicists. In Plato, this tendency becomes paramount. (He was here under the influence of the philosophy of Parmenides, the great critic of Heraclitus.) Heraclitus had generalized his experience of social flux by extending it to the world of 'all things', and Plato, I have hinted, did the same. But Plato also extended his belief in a perfect state that does not change to the realm of 'all things'. He believed that to every kind of ordinary or decaying thing there corresponds also a perfect thing that does not decay. This belief in perfect and unchanging things, usually called the Theory of Forms or Ideas [8], became the central doctrine of his philosophy.

Plato's belief that it is possible for us to break the iron law of destiny, and to avoid decay by arresting all change, shows that his historicist tendencies had definite limitations. An uncompromising and fully developed historicism would hesitate to admit that man, by any effort, can alter the laws of historical destiny even after he has discovered them. It would hold that he cannot work against them, since all his plans and actions are means by which the inexorable laws of development realize his historical destiny; just as Oedipus met his fate because of the prophecy, and the measures taken by his father for avoiding it, and not in spite of them. In order to gain a better understanding of this out-and-out historicist attitude, and to analyse the opposite tendency inherent in Plato's belief that he could influence fate, I shall contrast historicism, as we find it in Plato, with a diametrically opposite approach, also to be found in Plato, which may be called the attitude of social engineering [9]. IV The social engineer does not ask any questions about historical tendencies or the destiny of man. He believes that man is the master of his own destiny and that, in accordance with our aims, we can influence or change the history of man just as we have changed the face of the earth. He does not believe that these ends are imposed upon us by our historical background or by the trends of history, but rather that they are chosen, or even created, by ourselves, just as we create new thoughts or new works of art or new houses or new machinery. As opposed to the historicist who believes that intelligent political action is possible only if the future course of history is first determined, the social engineer believes that a scientific basis of politics would be a very different thing; it would consist of the factual information necessary for the construction or alteration of social institutions, in accordance with our wishes and aims. Such a science would have to tell us what steps we must take if we wish, for instance, to avoid depressions, or else to produce depressions; or if we wish to make the distribution of wealth more even, or less even. In other words, the social engineer conceives as the scientific basis of politics something like a social technology (Plato, as we shall see, compares it with the scientific background of medicine), as opposed to the historicist who understands it as a science of immutable historical tendencies.

From what I have said about the attitude of the social engineer, it must not be inferred that there are no important differences within the camp of the social engineers. On the contrary, the difference between what I call 'piecemeal social engineering' and 'Utopian social engineering' is one of the main themes of this book. (Cp. especially chapter 9, where I shall give my reasons for advocating the former and rejecting the latter.) But for the time being, I am concerned only with the opposition between historicism and social engineering. This opposition can perhaps be further clarified if we consider the attitudes taken up by the historicist and by the social engineer towards social institutions, i.e. such things as an insurance company, or a police force, or a government, or perhaps a grocer's shop.

The historicist is inclined to look upon social institutions mainly from the point of view of their history, i.e. their origin, their development, and their present and future significance. He may perhaps insist that their origin is due to a definite plan or design and to the pursuit of definite ends, either human or divine; or he may assert that they are not designed to serve any clearly conceived ends, but are rather the immediate expression of certain instincts and passions; or he may assert that they have once served as means to definite ends, but that they have lost this character. The social engineer and technologist, on the other hand, will hardly take much interest in the origin of institutions, or in the original intentions of their founders (although there is no reason why he should not recognize the fact that 'only a minority of social institutions are consciously designed, while the vast majority have just "grown", as the undesigned results of human actions' [10]). Rather, he will put his problem like this. If such and such are our aims, is this institution well designed and organized to serve them? As an example we may consider the institution of insurance. The social engineer or technologist will not worry much about the question whether insurance originated as a profit- seeking business; or whether its historical mission is to serve the common weal. But he may offer a criticism of certain institutions of insurances, showing, perhaps, how to increase their profits, or, which is a very different thing, how to increase the benefit they render to the public; and he will suggest ways in which they could be made more efficient in serving the one end or the other. As another example of a social institution, we may consider a police force. Some historicists may describe it as an instrument for the protection of freedom and security, others as an instrument of class rule and oppression. The social engineer or technologist, however, would perhaps suggest measures that would make it a suitable instrument for the protection of freedom and security, and he might also devise measures by which it could be turned into a powerful weapon of class rule. (In his function as a citizen who pursues certain ends in which he believes, he may demand that these ends, and the appropriate measures, should be adopted. But as a technologist, he would carefully distinguish between the question of the ends and their choice and questions concerning the facts, i.e. the social effects of any measure which might be taken [11].)

Speaking more generally, we can say that the engineer or the technologist approaches institutions rationally as means that serve certain ends, and that as a technologist he judges them wholly according to their appropriateness, efficiency, simplicity, etc. The historicist, on the other hand, would rather attempt to find out the origin and destiny of these institutions in order to assess the 'true role' played by them in the development of history — evaluating them, for instance, as 'willed by God', or as 'willed by Fate', or as 'serving important historical trends', etc. All this does not mean that the social engineer or technologist will be committed to the assertion that institutions are means to ends, or instruments; he may be well aware of the fact that they are, in many important respects, very different from mechanical instruments or machines. He will not forget, for example, that they 'grow' in a way which is similar (although by no means equal) to the growth of organisms, and that this fact is of great importance for social engineering. He is not committed to an 'instrumentalist' philosophy of social institutions. (Nobody will say that an orange is an instrument, or a means to an end; but we often look upon oranges as means to ends, for example, if we wish to eat them, or, perhaps, to make our living by selling them.)

The two attitudes, historicism and social engineering, occur sometimes in typical combinations. The earliest and probably the most influential example of these is the social and political philosophy of Plato. It combines, as it were, some fairly obvious technological elements in the foreground, with a background dominated by an elaborate display of typically historicist features. The combination is representative of quite a number of social and political philosophers who produced what have been later described as Utopian systems. All these systems recommend some kind of social engineering, since they demand the adoption of certain institutional means, though not always very realistic ones, for the achievement of their ends. But when we proceed to a consideration of these ends, then we frequently find that they are determined by historicism. Plato's political ends, especially, depend to a considerable extent on his historicist doctrines. First, it is his aim to escape the Heraclitean flux, manifested in social revolution and historical decay. Secondly, he believes that this can be done by establishing a state which is so perfect that it does not participate in the general trend of historical development. Thirdly, he believes that the model or original of his perfect state can be found in the distant past, in a Golden Age which existed in the dawn of history; for if the world decays in time, then we must find increasing perfection the further we go back into the past. The perfect state is something like the first ancestor, the primogenitor, of the later states, which are, as it were, the degenerate offspring of this perfect, or best, or 'ideal' state [12]; an ideal state which is not a mere phantasm, nor a dream, nor an 'idea in our mind', but which is, in view of its stability, more real than all those decaying societies which are in flux, and liable to pass away at any moment. Thus even Plato's political end, the best state, is largely dependent on his historicism; and what is true of his philosophy of the state can be extended, as already indicated, to his general philosophy of 'all things', to his Theory of Forms or Ideas. V The things in flux, the degenerate and decaying things, are (like the state) the offspring, the children, as it were, of perfect things. And like children, they are copies of their original primogenitors. The father or original of a thing in flux is what Plato calls its 'Form' or its 'Pattern' or its 'Idea'. As before, we must insist that the Form or Idea, in spite of its name, is no 'idea in our mind'; it is not a phantasm, nor a dream, but a real thing. It is, indeed, more real than all the ordinary things which are in flux, and which, in spite of their apparent solidity, are doomed to decay; for the Form or Idea is a thing that is perfect, and does not perish.

The Forms or Ideas must not be thought to dwell, like perishable things, in space and time. They are outside space, and also outside time (because they are eternal). But they are in contact with space and time; for since they are the primogenitors or models of the things which are generated, and which develop and decay in space and time, they must have been in contact with space, at the beginning of time. Since they are not with us in our space and time, they cannot be perceived by our senses, as can the ordinary changing things which interact with our senses and are therefore called 'sensible things'. Those sensible things, which are copies or children of the same model or original, resemble not only this original, their Form or Idea, but also one another, as do children of the same family; and as children are called by the name of their father, so are the sensible things, which bear the name of their Forms or Ideas; 'They are all called after them', as Aristotle says [13].

As a child may look upon his father, seeing in him an ideal, a unique model, a god-like personification of his own aspiration; the embodiment of perfection, of wisdom, of stability, glory, and virtue; the power which created him before his world began; which now preserves and sustains him; and in 'virtue' of which he exists; so Plato looks upon the Forms or Ideas. The Platonic Idea is the original and the origin of the thing; it is the rationale of the thing, the reason of its existence — the stable, sustaining principle in 'virtue' of which it exists. It is the virtue of the thing, its ideal, its perfection.

The comparison between the Form or Idea of a class of sensible things and the father of a family of children is developed by Plato in the Timaeus, one of his latest dialogues. It is in close agreement [14] with much of his earlier writing, on which it throws considerable light. But in the Timaeus, Plato goes one step beyond his earlier teaching when he represents the contact of the Form or Idea with the world of space and time by an extension of his simile. He describes the abstract 'space' in which the sensible things move (originally the space or gap between heaven and earth) as a receptacle, and compares it with the mother of things, in which at the beginning of time the sensible things are created by the Forms which stamp or impress themselves upon pure space, and thereby give the offspring their shape. 'We must conceive', writes Plato, 'three kinds of things: first, those which undergo generation; secondly, that in which generation takes place; and thirdly, the model in whose likeness the generated things are born. And we may compare the receiving principle to a mother, and the model to a father, and their product to a child.' And he goes on to describe first more fully the models — the fathers, the unchanging Forms or Ideas: 'There is first the unchanging Form which is uncreated and indestructible, . . . invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and which can be contemplated only by pure thought.' To any single one of these Forms or Ideas belongs its offspring or race of sensible things, 'another kind of things, bearing the name of their Form and resembling it, but perceptible to sense, created, always in flux, generated in a place and again vanishing from that place, and apprehended by opinion based upon perception'. And the abstract space, which is likened to the mother, is described thus: 'There is a third kind, which is space, and is eternal, and cannot be destroyed, and which provides a home for all generated things . . . ' [15]

It may contribute to the understanding of Plato's theory of Forms or Ideas if we compare it with certain Greek religious beliefs. As in many primitive religions, some at least of the Greek gods are nothing but idealized tribal primogenitors and heroes — personifications of the 'virtue' or 'perfection' of the tribe. Accordingly, certain tribes and families traced their ancestry to one or other of the gods. (Plato's own family is reported to have traced its descent from the god Poseidon [16].) We have only to consider that these gods are immortal or eternal, and perfect — or very nearly so — while ordinary men are involved in the flux of all things, and subject to decay (which indeed is the ultimate destiny of every human individual), in order to see that these gods are related to ordinary men in the same way as Plato's Forms or Ideas are related to those sensible things which are their copies [17] (or his perfect state to the various states now existing). There is, however, an important difference between Greek mythology and Plato's Theory of Forms or Ideas. While the Greeks venerated many gods as the ancestors of various tribes or families, the Theory of Ideas demands that there should be only one Form or Idea of man [18]; for it is one of the central doctrines of the Theory of Forms that there is only one Form of every 'race' or 'kind' of things. The uniqueness of the Form which corresponds to the uniqueness of the primogenitor is a necessary element of the theory if it is to perform one of its most important functions, namely, to explain the similarity of sensible things, by proposing that the similar things are copies or imprints of one Form. Thus if there were two equal or similar Forms, their similarity would force us to assume that both are copies of a third original which thereby would turn out to be the only true and single Form. Or, as Plato puts it in the Timaeus: 'The resemblance would thus be explained, more precisely, not as one between these two things, but in reference to that superior thing which is their prototype.' [19] In the Republic, which is earlier than the Timaeus, Plato had explained his point even more clearly, using as his example the 'essential bed', i.e. the Form or Idea of a bed: 'God ... has made one essential bed, and only one; two or more he did not produce, and never will . . . For . . . even if God were to make two, and no more, then another would be brought to light, namely the Form exhibited by those two; this, and not those two, would then be the essential bed.' [20]

This argument shows that the Forms or Ideas provide Plato not only with an origin or starting point for all developments in space and time (and especially for human history) but also with an explanation of the similarities between sensible things of the same kind. If things are similar because of some virtue or property which they share, for instance, whiteness, or hardness, or goodness, then this virtue or property must be one and the same in all of them; otherwise it would not make them similar. According to Plato, they all participate in the one Form or Idea of whiteness, if they are white; of hardness, if they are hard. They participate in the sense in which children participate in their father's possessions and gifts; just as the many particular reproductions of an etching which are all impressions from one and the same plate, and hence similar to one another, may participate in the beauty of the original.

The fact that this theory is designed to explain the similarities in sensible things does not seem at first sight to be in any way connected with historicism. But it is; and as Aristotle tells us, it was just this connection which induced Plato to develop the Theory of Ideas. I shall attempt to give an outline of this development, using Aristotle's account together with some indications in Plato's own writings.

If all things are in continuous flux, then it is impossible to say anything definite about them. We can have no real knowledge of them, but, at the best, vague and delusive 'opinions'. This point, as we know from Plato and Aristotle [21], worried many followers of Heraclitus. Parmenides, one of Plato's predecessors who influenced him greatly, had taught that the pure knowledge of reason, as opposed to the delusive opinion of experience, could have as its object only a world which did not change, and that the pure knowledge of reason did in fact reveal such a world. But the unchanging and undivided reality which Parmenides thought he had discovered behind the world of perishable things— was entirely unrelated to this world in which we live and die. It was therefore incapable of explaining it.

With this, Plato could not be satisfied. Much as he disliked and despised this empirical world of flux, he was, at bottom, most deeply interested in it. He wanted to unveil the secret of its decay, of its violent changes, and of its unhappiness. He hoped to discover the means of its salvation. He was deeply impressed by Parmenides' doctrine of an unchanging, real, solid, and perfect world behind this ghostly world in which he suffered; but this conception did not solve his problems as long as it remained unrelated to the world of sensible things. What he was looking for was knowledge, not opinion; the pure rational knowledge of a world that does not change; but, at the same time, knowledge that could be used to investigate this changing world, and especially, this changing society; political change, with its strange historical laws. Plato aimed at discovering the secret of the royal knowledge of politics, of the art of ruling men.

But an exact science of politics seemed as impossible as any exact knowledge of a world in flux; there were no fixed objects in the political field. How could one discuss any political questions when the meaning of words like 'government' or 'state' or 'city' changed with every new phase in the historical development? Political theory must have seemed to Plato in his Heraclitean period to be just as elusive, fluctuating, and unfathomable as political practice.

In this situation Plato obtained, as Aristotle tells us, a most important hint from Socrates. Socrates was interested in ethical matters; he was an ethical reformer, a moralist who pestered all kinds of people, forcing them to think, to explain, and to account for the principles of their actions. He used to question them and was not easily satisfied by their answers. The typical reply which he received — that we act in a certain way because it is 'wise' to act in this way or perhaps 'efficient', or 'just', or 'pious', etc. — only incited him to continue his questions by asking what is wisdom; or efficiency; or justice; or piety. In other words, he was led to enquire into the 'virtue' of a thing. So he discussed, for instance, the wisdom displayed in various trades and professions, in order to find out what is common to all these various and changing 'wise' ways of behaviour, and so to find out what wisdom really is, or what 'wisdom' really means, or (using Aristotle's way of putting it) what its essence is. 'It was natural', says Aristotle, 'that Socrates should search for the essence' [23], i.e. for the virtue or rationale of a thing and for the real, the unchanging or essential meanings of the terms. 'In this connection he became the first to raise the problem of universal definitions.'

These attempts of Socrates to discuss ethical terms like 'justice' or 'modesty' or 'piety' have been rightly compared with modern discussions on Liberty (by Mill—, for instance), or on Authority, or on the Individual and Society (by Catlin, for instance). There is no need to assume that Socrates, in his search for the unchanging or essential meaning of such terms, personified them, or that he treated them like things. Aristotle's report at least suggests that he did not, and that it was Plato who developed Socrates' method of searching for the meaning or essence into a method of determining the real nature, the Form or Idea of a thing. Plato retained 'the Heraclitean doctrines that all sensible things are ever in a state of flux, and that there is no knowledge about them', but he found in Socrates' method a way out of these difficulties. Though there 'could be no definition of any sensible thing, as they were always changing', there could be definitions and true knowledge of things of a different kind — of the virtues of the sensible things. 'If knowledge or thought were to have an object, there would have to be some different, some unchanging entities, apart from those which are sensible', says Aristotle [25], and he reports of Plato that 'things of this other sort, then, he called Forms or Ideas, and the sensible things, he said, were distinct from them, and all called after them. And the many things which have the same name as a certain Form or Idea exist by participating in it'.

This account of Aristotle's corresponds closely to Plato's own arguments proffered in the Timaeus [26], and it shows that Plato's fundamental problem was to find a scientific method of dealing with sensible things. He wanted to obtain purely rational knowledge, and not merely opinion; and since pure knowledge of sensible things could not be obtained, he insisted, as mentioned before, on obtaining at least such pure knowledge as was in some way related, and applicable, to sensible things. Knowledge of the Forms or Ideas fulfilled this demand, since the Form was related to its sensible things like a father to his children who are under age. The Form was the accountable representative of the sensible things, and could therefore be consulted in important questions concerning the world of flux.

According to our analysis, the theory of Forms or Ideas has at least three different functions in Plato's philosophy. (1) It is a most important methodological device, for it makes possible pure scientific knowledge, and even knowledge which could be applied to the world of changing things of which we cannot immediately obtain any knowledge, but only opinion. Thus it becomes possible to enquire into the problems of a changing society, and to build up a political science. (2) It provides the clue to the urgently needed theory of change, and of decay, to a theory of generation and degeneration, and especially, the clue to history. (3) It opens a way, in the social realm, towards some kind of social engineering; and it makes possible the forging of instruments for arresting social change, since it suggests designing a 'best state' which so closely resembles the Form or Idea of a state that it cannot decay.

Problem (2), the theory of change and of history, will be dealt with in the next two chapters, 4 and 5, where Plato's descriptive sociology is treated, i.e. his description and explanation of the changing social world in which he lived. Problem (3), the arresting of social change, will be dealt with in chapters 6 to 9, treating Plato's political programme. Problem (1), that of Plato's methodology, has with the help of Aristotle's account of the history of Plato's theory been briefly outlined in the present chapter. To this discussion, I wish to add here a few more remarks.


I use the name methodological essentialism to characterize the view, held by Plato and many of his followers, that it is the task of pure knowledge or 'science' to discover and to describe the true nature of things, i.e. their hidden reality or essence. It was Plato's peculiar belief that the essence of sensible things can be found in other and more real things — in their primogenitors or Forms. Many of the later methodological essentialists, for instance Aristotle, did not altogether follow him in this; but they all agreed with him in determining the task of pure knowledge as the discovery of the hidden nature or Form or essence of things. All these methodological essentialists also agreed with Plato in holding that these essences may be discovered and discerned with the help of intellectual intuition; that every essence has a name proper to it, the name after which the sensible things are called; and that it may be described in words. And a description of the essence of a thing they all called a 'definition'. According to methodological essentialism, there can be three ways of knowing a thing: 'I mean that we can know its unchanging reality or essence; and that we can know the definition of the essence; and that we can know its name. Accordingly, two questions may be formulated about any real thing . . . : A person may give the name and ask for the definition; or he may give the definition and ask for the name.' As an example of this method, Plato uses the essence of 'even' (as opposed to 'odd'): 'Number . . . may be a thing capable of division into equal parts. If it is so divisible, number is named "even"; and the definition of the name "even" is "a number divisible into equal parts"... And when we are given the name and asked about the definition, or when we are given the definition and asked about the name, we speak, in both cases, of one and the same essence, whether we call it now "even" or "a number divisible into equal parts".' After this example, Plato proceeds to apply this method to a 'proof concerning the real nature of the soul, about which we shall hear more later [27].

Methodological essentialism, i.e. the theory that it is the aim of science to reveal essences and to describe them by means of definitions, can be better understood when contrasted with its opposite, methodological nominalism. Instead of aiming at finding out what a thing really is, and at defining its true nature, methodological nominalism aims at describing how a thing behaves in various circumstances, and especially, whether there are any regularities in its behaviour. In other words, methodological nominalism sees the aim of science in the description of the things and events of our experience, and in an 'explanation' of these events, i.e. their description with the help of universal laws [28]. And it sees in our language, and especially in those of its rules which distinguish properly constructed sentences and inferences from a mere heap of words, the great instrument of scientific description [29]; words it considers rather as subsidiary tools for this task, and not as names of essences. The methodological nominalist will never think that a question like 'What is energy?' or 'What is movement?' or ' What is an atom?' is an important question for physics; but he will attach importance to a question like: 'How can the energy of the sun be made useful?' or 'How does a planet move?' or 'Under what condition does an atom radiate light?' And to those philosophers who tell him that before having answered the 'what is' question he cannot hope to give exact answers to any of the 'how' questions, he will reply, if at all, by pointing out that he much prefers that modest degree of exactness which he can achieve by his methods to the pretentious muddle which they have achieved by theirs.

As indicated by our example, methodological nominalism is nowadays fairly generally accepted in the natural sciences. The problems of the social sciences, on the other hand, are still for the most part treated by essentialist methods. This is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons for their backwardness. But many who have noticed this situation [30] judge it differently. They believe that the difference in method is necessary, and that it reflects an 'essential' difference between the 'natures' of these two fields of research.

The arguments usually offered in support of this view emphasize the importance of change in society, and exhibit other aspects of historicism. The physicist, so runs a typical argument, deals with objects like energy or atoms which, though changing, retain a certain degree of constancy. He can describe the changes encountered by these relatively unchanging entities, and does not have to construct or detect essences or Forms or similar unchanging entities in order to obtain something permanent on which he can make definite pronouncements. The social scientist, however, is in a very different position. His whole field of interest is changing. There are no permanent entities in the social realm, where everything is under the sway of historical flux. How, for instance, can we study government? How could we identify it in the diversity of governmental institutions, found in different states at different historical periods, without assuming that they have something essentially in common? We call an institution a government if we think that it is essentially a government, i.e. if it complies with our intuition of what a government is, an intuition which we can formulate in a definition. The same would hold good for other sociological entities, such as 'civilization'. We must grasp their essence, so the historicist argument concludes, and lay it down in the form of a definition.

These modern arguments are, I think, very similar to those reported above which, according to Aristotle, led Plato to his doctrine of Forms or Ideas. The only difference is that Plato (who did not accept the atomic theory and knew nothing about energy) applied his doctrine to the realm of physics also, and thus to the world as a whole. We have here an indication of the fact that, in the social sciences, a discussion of Plato's methods may be topical even to-day.

Before proceeding to Plato's sociology and to the use he made of his methodological essentialism in that field, I wish to make it quite clear that I am confining my treatment of Plato to his historicism, and to his 'best state'. I must therefore warn the reader not to expect a representation of the whole of Plato's philosophy, or what may be called a 'fair and just' treatment of Platonism. My attitude towards historicism is one of frank hostility, based upon the conviction that historicism is futile, and worse than that. My survey of the historicist features of Platonism is therefore strongly critical. Although I admire much in Plato's philosophy, far beyond those parts which I believe to be Socratic, I do not take it as my task to add to the countless tributes to his genius. I am, rather, bent on destroying what is in my opinion mischievous in this philosophy. It is the totalitarian tendency of Plato's political philosophy which I shall try to analyse, and to criticize. [31]
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Part 1 of 2

Plato's Descriptive Sociology

Chapter 4: Change and Rest

Plato was one of the first social scientists and undoubtedly by far the most influential. In the sense in which the term 'sociology' was understood by Comte, Mill, and Spencer, he was a sociologist; that is to say, he successfully applied his idealist method to an analysis of the social life of man, and of the laws of its development as well as the laws and conditions of its stability. In spite of Plato's great influence, this side of his teaching has been little noticed. This seems to be due to two factors. First of all, much of Plato's sociology is presented by him in such close connection with his ethical and political demands that the descriptive elements have been largely overlooked. Secondly, many of his thoughts were taken so much for granted that they were simply absorbed unconsciously and therefore uncritically. It is mainly in this way that his sociological theories became so influential.

Plato's sociology is an ingenious blend of speculation with acute observation of facts. Its speculative setting is, of course, the theory of Forms and of universal flux and decay, of generation and degeneration. But on this idealist foundation Plato constructs an astonishingly realistic theory of society, capable of explaining the main trends in the historical development of the Greek city-states as well as the social and political forces at work in his own day.


The speculative or metaphysical setting of Plato's theory of social change has already been sketched. It is the world of unchanging Forms or Ideas, of which the world of changing things in space and time is the offspring. The Forms or Ideas are not only unchanging, indestructible, and incorruptible, but also perfect, true, real, and good; in fact, 'good' is once, in the Republic [1], explained as 'everything that preserves', and 'evil' as 'everything that destroys or corrupts'. The perfect and good Forms or Ideas are prior to the copies, the sensible things, and they are something like primogenitors or starting points [2] of all the changes in the world of flux. This view is used for evaluating the general trend and main direction of all changes in the world of sensible things. For if the starting point of all change is perfect and good, then change can only be a movement that leads away from the perfect and good; it must be directed towards the imperfect and the evil, towards corruption.

This theory can be developed in detail. The more closely a sensible thing resembles its Form or Idea, the less corruptible it must be, since the Forms themselves are incorruptible. But sensible or generated things are not perfect copies; indeed, no copy can be perfect, since it is only an imitation of the true reality, only appearance and illusion, not the truth. Accordingly, no sensible things (except perhaps the most excellent ones) resemble their Forms sufficiently closely to be unchangeable. 'Absolute and eternal immutability is assigned only to the most divine of all things, and bodies do not belong to this order' [3], says Plato. A sensible or generated thing — such as a physical body, or a human soul — if it is a good copy, may change only very little at first; and the most ancient change or motion — the motion of the soul — is still 'divine' (as opposed to secondary and tertiary changes). But every change, however small, must make it different, and thus less perfect, by reducing its resemblance to its Form. In this way, the thing becomes more changeable with every change, and more corruptible, since it becomes further removed from its Form which is its 'cause of immobility and of being at rest', as Aristotle says, who paraphrases Plato's doctrine as follows: 'Things are generated by participating in the Form, and they decay by losing the Form.' This process of degeneration, slow at first and more rapid afterwards — this law of decline and fall — is dramatically described by Plato in the Laws, the last of his great dialogues. The passage deals primarily with the destiny of the human soul, but Plato makes it clear that it holds for all things that 'share in soul', by which he means all living things. 'All things that share in soul change', he writes, '... and while they change, they are carried along by the order and law of destiny. The smaller the change in their character, the less significant is the beginning decline in their level of rank. But when the change increases, and with it the iniquity, then they fall — down into the abyss and what is known as the infernal regions.' (In the continuation of the passage, Plato mentions the possibility that 'soul gifted with an exceptionally large share of virtue can, by force of its own will if it is in communion with the divine virtue, become supremely virtuous and move to an exalted region'. The problem of the exceptional soul which can save itself — and perhaps others — from the general law of destiny will be discussed in chapter 8.) Earlier in the Laws, Plato summarizes his doctrine of change: 'Any change whatever, except the change of an evil thing, is the gravest of all the treacherous dangers that can befall a thing — whether it is now a change of season, or of wind, or of the diet of the body, or of the character of the soul.' And he adds, for the sake of emphasis: 'This statement applies to everything, with the sole exception, as I said just now, of something evil.' In brief, Plato teaches that change is evil, and that rest is divine. We see now that Plato's theory of Forms or Ideas implies a certain trend in the development of the world in flux. It leads to the law that the corruptibility of all things in that world must continually increase. It is not so much a rigid law of universally increasing corruption, but rather a law of increasing corruptibility; that is to say, the danger or the likelihood of corruption increases, but exceptional developments in the other direction are not excluded. Thus it is possible, as the last quotations indicate, that a very good soul may defy change and decay, and that a very evil thing, for instance a very evil city, may be improved by changing it. (In order that such an improvement should be of any value, we would have to try to make it permanent, i.e. to arrest all further change.)

In full accordance with this general theory is Plato's story, in the Timaeus, of the origin of species. According to this story, man, the highest of animals, is generated by the gods; the other species originate from him by a process of corruption and degeneration. First, certain men — the cowards and villains — degenerate into women. Those who are lacking wisdom degenerate step by step into the lower animals. Birds, we hear, came into being through the transformation of harmless but too easy-going people who would trust their senses too much; 'land animals came from men who had no interest in philosophy' ; and fishes, including shell-fish, 'degenerated from the most foolish, stupid, and ... unworthy' of all men [4].

It is clear that this theory can be applied to human society, and to its history. It then explains Hesiod's [5] pessimistic law of development, the law of historical decay. If we are to believe Aristotle's report (outlined in the last chapter), then the theory of Forms or Ideas was originally introduced in order to meet a methodological demand, the demand for pure or rational knowledge which is impossible in the case of sensible things in flux. We now see that the theory does more than that. Over and above meeting these methodological demands, it provides a theory of change. It explains the general direction of the flux of all sensible things, and thereby the historical tendency to degenerate shown by man and human society. (And it does still more; as we shall see in chapter 6, the theory of Forms determines the trend of Plato's political demands also, and even the means for their realization.) If, as I believe, the philosophies of Plato as well as Heraclitus sprang from their social experience, especially from the experience of class war and from the abject feeling that their social world was going to pieces, then we can understand why the theory of Forms came to play such an important part in Plato's philosophy when he found that it was capable of explaining the trend towards degeneration. He must have welcomed it as the solution of a most mystifying riddle. While Heraclitus had been unable to pass a direct ethical condemnation upon the trend of the political development, Plato found, in his theory of Forms, the theoretical basis for a pessimistic judgement in Hesiod's vein.

But Plato's greatness as a sociologist does not lie in his general and abstract speculations about the law of social decay. It lies rather in the wealth and detail of his observations, and in the amazing acuteness of his sociological intuition. He saw things which had not been seen before him, and which were rediscovered only in our own time. As an example I may mention his theory of the primitive beginnings of society, of tribal patriarchy, and, in general, his attempt to outline the typical periods in the development of social life. Another example is Plato's sociological and economic historicism, his emphasis upon the economic background of the political life and the historical development; a theory revived by Marx under the name 'historical materialism'. A third example is Plato's most interesting law of political revolutions, according to which all revolutions presuppose a disunited ruling class (or 'elite'); a law which forms the basis of his analysis of the means of arresting political change and creating a social equilibrium, and which has been recently rediscovered by the theoreticians of totalitarianism, especially by Pareto.

I shall now proceed to a more detailed discussion of these points, especially the third, the theory of revolution and of equilibrium.


The dialogues in which Plato discusses these questions are, in chronological order, the Republic, a dialogue of much later date called the Statesman (or the Politicus), and the Laws, the latest and longest of his works. In spite of certain minor differences, there is much agreement between these dialogues, which are in some respects parallel, in others complementary, to one another. The Laws [6], for instance, present the story of the decline and fall of human society as an account of Greek prehistory merging without any break into history; while the parallel passages of the Republic give, in a more abstract way, a systematic outline of the development of government; the Statesman, still more abstract, gives a logical classification of types of government, with only a few allusions to historical events. Similarly, the Laws formulate the historicist aspect of the investigation very clearly. 'What is the archetype or origin of a state?' asks Plato there, linking this question with the other: 'Is not the best method of looking for an answer to this question that of contemplating the growth of states as they change either towards the good or towards the evil?' But within the sociological doctrines, the only major difference appears to be due to a purely speculative difficulty which seems to have worried Plato. Assuming as the starting point of the development a perfect and therefore incorruptible state, he found it difficult to explain the first change, the Fall of Man, as it were, which sets everything going [7]. We shall hear, in the next chapter, of Plato's attempt to solve this problem; but first I shall give a general survey of his theory of social development.

According to the Republic, the original or primitive form of society, and at the same time, the one that resembles the Form or Idea of a state most closely, the 'best state', is a kingship of the wisest and most godlike of men. This ideal city-state is so near perfection that it is hard to understand how it can ever change. Still, a change does take place; and with it enters Heraclitus' strife, the driving force of all movement. According to Plato, internal strife, class war, fomented by self-interest and especially material or economic self-interest, is the main force of 'social dynamics'. The Marxian formula 'The history of all hitherto existing societies is a history of class struggle' [8] fits Plato's historicism nearly as well as that of Marx. The four most conspicuous periods or 'landmarks in the history of political degeneration', and, at the same time, 'the most important ... varieties of existing states' [9], are described by Plato in the following order. First after the perfect state comes 'timarchy' or 'timocracy', the rule of the noble who seek honour and fame; secondly, oligarchy, the rule of the rich families; 'next in order, democracy is born', the rule of liberty which means lawlessness; and last comes 'tyranny . . . the fourth and final sickness of the city' [10].

As can be seen from the last remark, Plato looks upon history, which to him is a history of social decay, as if it were the history of an illness: the patient is society; and, as we shall see later, the statesman ought to be a physician (and vice versa) — a healer, a saviour. Just as the description of the typical course of an illness is not always applicable to every individual patient, so is Plato's historical theory of social decay not intended to apply to the development of every individual city. But it is intended to describe both the original course of development by which the main forms of constitutional decay were first generated, and the typical course of social change [11]. We see that Plato aimed at setting out a system of historical periods, governed by a law of evolution; in other words, he aimed at a historicist theory of society. This attempt was revived by Rousseau, and was made fashionable by Comte and Mill, and by Hegel and Marx; but considering the historical evidence then available, Plato's system of historical periods was just as good as that of any of these modern historicists. (The main difference lies in the evaluation of the course taken by history. While the aristocrat Plato condemned the development he described, these modern authors applauded it, believing as they did in a law of historical progress.)

Before discussing Plato's perfect state in any detail, I shall give a brief sketch of his analysis of the role played by economic motives and the class struggle in the process of transition between the four decaying forms of the state. The first form into which the perfect state degenerates, timocracy, the rule of the ambitious noblemen, is said to be in nearly all respects similar to the perfect state itself. It is important to note that Plato explicitly identified this best and oldest among the existing states with the Dorian constitution of Sparta and Crete, and that these two tribal aristocracies did in fact represent the oldest existing forms of political life within Greece. Most of Plato's excellent description of their institutions is given in certain parts of his description of the best or perfect state, to which timocracy is so similar. (Through his doctrine of the similarity between Sparta and the perfect state, Plato became one of the most successful propagators of what I should like to call 'the Great Myth of Sparta' — the perennial and influential myth of the supremacy of the Spartan constitution and way of life.)

The main difference between the best or ideal state and timocracy is that the latter contains an element of instability; the once united patriarchal ruling class is now disunited, and it is this disunity which leads to the next step, to its degeneration into oligarchy. Disunion is brought about by ambition. 'First', says Plato, speaking of the young timocrat, 'he hears his mother complaining that her husband is not one of the rulers.' [12] Thus he becomes ambitious and longs for distinction. But decisive in bringing about the next change are competitive and acquisitive social tendencies. 'We must describe', says Plato, 'how timocracy changes into oligarchy . . . Even a blind man must see how it changes ... It is the treasure house that ruins this constitution. They' (the timocrats) 'begin by creating opportunities for showing off and spending money, and to this end they twist the laws, and they and their wives disobey them and they try to outrival one another.' In this way arises the first class conflict: that between virtue and money, or between the old-established ways of feudal simplicity and the new ways of wealth. The transition to oligarchy is completed when the rich establish a law that 'disqualifies from public office all those whose means do not reach the stipulated amount. This change is imposed by force of arms, should threats and blackmail not succeed . . . '

With the establishment of the oligarchy, a state of potential civil war between the oligarchs and the poorer classes is reached: 'just as a sick body ... is sometimes at strife with itself . . ., so is this sick city. It falls ill and makes war on itself on the slightest pretext, whenever the one party or the other manages to obtain help from outside, the one from an oligarchic city, or the other from a democracy. And does not this sick state break out at times into civil war, even without any such help from outside?' [13] This civil war begets democracy: 'Democracy is born ... when the poor win the day, killing some . . ., banishing others, and sharing with the rest the rights of citizenship and of public offices, on terms of equality . . . '

Plato's description of democracy is a vivid but intensely hostile and unjust parody of the political life of Athens, and of the democratic creed which Pericles had formulated in a manner which has never been surpassed, about three years before Plato was born. (Pericles' programme is discussed in chapter 10, below [14].) Plato's description is a brilliant piece of political propaganda, and we can appreciate what harm it must have done if we consider, for instance, that a man like Adam, an excellent scholar and editor of the Republic, is unable to resist the rhetoric of Plato's denunciation of his native city. 'Plato's description of the genesis of the democratic man', Adam [15] writes, 'is one of the most royal and magnificent pieces of writing in the whole range of literature, whether ancient or modern.' And when the same writer continues: 'the description of the democratic man as the chameleon of the human society paints him for all time,' then we see that Plato has succeeded at least in turning this thinker against democracy, and we may wonder how much damage his poisonous writing has done when presented, unopposed, to lesser minds.

It seems that often when Plato's style, to use a phrase of Adam's [16], becomes a 'full tide of lofty thoughts and images and words', he is in urgent need of a cloak to cover up the rags and tatters of his argumentation, or even, as in the present case, the complete absence of rational arguments. In their stead he uses invective, identifying liberty with lawlessness, freedom with licence, and equality before the law with disorder. Democrats are described as profligate and niggardly, as insolent, lawless, and shameless, as fierce and as terrible beasts of prey, as gratifying every whim, as living solely for pleasure, and for unnecessary and unclean desires. ('They fill their bellies like the beasts', was Heraclitus' way of putting it.) They are accused of calling 'reverence a folly; temperance they call cowardice; moderation and orderly expenditure they call meanness and boorishness'— [17], etc. '
And there are more trifles of this kind', says Plato, when the flood of his rhetorical abuse begins to abate, 'the schoolmaster fears and flatters his pupils and old men condescend to the young ... in order to avoid the appearance of being sour and despotic.' (It is Plato the Master of the Academy who puts this into the mouth of Socrates, forgetting that the latter had never been a schoolmaster, and that even as an old man he had never appeared to be sour or despotic. He had always loved, not to 'condescend' to the young, but to treat them, for instance the young Plato, as his companions and friends. Plato himself, we have reason to believe, was less ready to 'condescend', and to discuss matters with his pupils.) 'But the height of all this abundance of freedom ... is reached', Plato continues, 'when slaves, male as well as female, who have been bought on the market, are every whit as free as those whose property they are . . . And what is the cumulative effect of all this? That the citizens' hearts become so very tender that they get irritated at the mere sight of anything like slavery and do not suffer anybody to submit to its presence ... so that they may have no master over them.' Here, after all, Plato pays homage to his native city, even though he does it unwittingly. It will forever remain one of the greatest triumphs of Athenian democracy that it treated slaves humanely, and that in spite of the inhuman propaganda of philosophers like Plato himself and Aristotle it came, as he witnesses, very close to abolishing slavery. [18]

Of much greater merit, although it too is inspired by hatred, is Plato's description of tyranny and especially of the transition to it. He insists that he describes things which he has seen himself [19]; no doubt, the allusion is to his experiences at the court of the older Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse. The transition from democracy to tyranny, Plato says, is most easily brought about by a popular leader who knows how to exploit the class antagonism between the rich and the poor within the democratic state, and who succeeds in building up a bodyguard or a private army of his own. The people who have hailed him first as the champion of freedom are soon enslaved; and then they must fight for him, in 'one war after another which he must stir up . . . because he must make the people feel the need of a general' [20]. With tyranny, the most abject state is reached.

A very similar survey of the various forms of government can be found in the Statesman, where Plato discusses 'the origin of the tyrant and king, of oligarchies and aristocracies, and of democracies' [21]. Again we find that the various forms of existing governments are explained as debased copies of the true model or Form of the state, of the perfect state, the standard of all imitations, which is said to have existed in the ancient times of Cronos, father of Zeus. One difference is that Plato here distinguishes six types of debased states; but this difference is unimportant, especially if we remember that Plato says in the Republic [22] that the four types discussed are not exhaustive, and that there are some intermediate stages. The six types are arrived at, in the Statesman, by first distinguishing between three forms of government, the rule of one man, of a few, and of the many. Each of these is then subdivided into two types, of which one is comparatively good and the other bad, according to whether or not they imitate 'the only true original' by copying and preserving its ancient laws [23]. In this way, three conservative or lawful and three utterly depraved or lawless forms are distinguished; monarchy, aristocracy, and a conservative form of democracy are the lawful imitations, in order of merit. But democracy changes into its lawless form, and deteriorates further, through oligarchy, the lawless rule of the few, into a lawless rule of the one, tyranny, which, just as Plato has said in the Republic, is the worst of all.

That tyranny, the most evil state, need not be the end of the development is indicated in a passage in the Laws which partly repeats, and partly [24] connects with, the story of the Statesman. 'Give me a state governed by a young tyrant', exclaims Plato there, '... who has the good fortune to be the contemporary of a great legislator, and to meet him by some happy accident. What more could a god do for a city which he wants to make happy?' Tyranny, the most evil state, may be reformed in this way. (This agrees with the remark in the Laws, quoted above, that all change is evil, 'except the change of an evil thing'. There is little doubt that Plato, when speaking of the great lawgiver and the young tyrant, must have been thinking of himself and his various experiments with young tyrants, and especially of his attempts at reforming the younger Dionysius' tyranny over Syracuse. These ill-fated experiments will be discussed later.)

One of the main objects of Plato's analysis of political developments is to ascertain the driving force of all historical change. In the Laws, the historical survey is explicitly undertaken with this aim in view: 'Have not uncounted thousands of cities been born during this time . . . and has not each of them been under all kinds of government? . . . Let us, if we can, get hold of the cause of so much change. I hope that we may thus reveal the secret both of the birth of constitutions, and also of their changes.' [25] As the result of these investigations he discovers the sociological law that internal disunion, class war fomented by the antagonism of economic class interests, is the driving force of all political revolutions. But Plato's formulation of this fundamental law goes even further. He insists that only internal sedition within the ruling class itself can weaken it so much that its rule can be overthrown. 'Changes in any constitution originate, without exception, within the ruling class itself, and only when this class becomes the seat of disunion' [26], is his formula in the Republic, and in the Laws he says (possibly referring to this passage of the Republic): 'How can a kingship, or any other form of government, ever be destroyed by anybody but the rulers themselves? Have we forgotten what we said a while ago, when dealing with this subject, as we did the other day?' This sociological law, together with the observation that economic interests are the most likely causes of disunion, is Plato's clue to history. But it is more. It is also the clue to his analysis of the conditions necessary for the establishment of political equilibrium, i.e. for arresting political change. He assumes that these conditions were realized in the best or perfect state of ancient times. III Plato's description of the perfect or best state has usually been interpreted as the Utopian programme of a progressivist. In spite of his repeated assertions, in the Republic, Timaeus, and Critias, that he is describing the distant past, and in spite of the parallel passages in the Laws whose historical intention is manifest, it is often assumed that it was his intention to give a veiled description of the future. But I think that Plato meant what he said, and that many characteristics of his best state, especially as described in Books Two to Four of the Republic, are intended (like his accounts of primitive society in the Statesman and the Laws) to be historical [27], or perhaps prehistorical. This may not apply to all characteristics of the best state. Concerning, for example, the kingship of the philosophers (described in Books Five to Seven of the Republic), Plato indicates himself that it may be a characteristic only of the timeless world of Forms or Ideas, of the 'City in Heaven'. These intentionally unhistorical elements of his description will be discussed later, together with Plato's ethico-political demands. It must, of course, be admitted that he did not intend, in his description of the primitive or ancient constitutions, to give an exact historical account; he certainly knew that he did not possess the necessary data for achieving anything like that. I believe, however, that he made a serious attempt to reconstruct the ancient tribal forms of social life as well as he could. There is no reason to doubt this, especially since the attempt was, in a good number of its details, very successful. It could hardly be otherwise, since Plato arrived at his picture by an idealized description of the ancient tribal aristocracies of Crete and Sparta. With his acute sociological intuition he had seen that these forms were not only old, but petrified, arrested; that they were relics of a still older form. And he concluded that this still older form had been even more stable, more securely arrested. This very ancient and accordingly very good and very stable state he tried to reconstruct in such a way as to make clear how it had been kept free from disunion; how class war had been avoided, and how the influence of economic interests had been reduced to a minimum, and kept well under control. These are the main problems of Plato's reconstruction of the best state.

How does Plato solve the problem of avoiding class war? Had he been a progressivist, he might have hit on the idea of a classless, equalitarian society; for, as we can see for instance from his own parody of Athenian democracy, there were strong equalitarian tendencies at work in Athens. But he was not out to construct a state that might come, but a state that had been — the father of the Spartan state, which was certainly not a classless society. It was a slave state, and accordingly Plato's best state is based on the most rigid class distinctions. It is a caste state. The problem of avoiding class war is solved, not by abolishing classes, but by giving the ruling class a superiority which cannot be challenged. As in Sparta, the ruling class alone is permitted to carry arms, it alone has any political or other rights, and it alone receives education, i.e. a specialized training in the art of keeping down its human sheep or its human cattle.
(In fact, its overwhelming superiority disturbs Plato a little; he fears that its members 'may worry the sheep', instead of merely shearing them, and 'act as wolves rather than dogs' [28]. This problem is considered later in the chapter.) As long as the ruling class is united, there can be no challenge to their authority, and consequently no class war.

Plato distinguishes three classes in his best state, the guardians, their armed auxiliaries or warriors, and the working class. But actually there are only two castes, the military caste — the armed and educated rulers — and the unarmed and uneducated ruled, the human sheep; for the guardians are no separate caste, but merely old and wise warriors who have been promoted from the ranks of the auxiliaries. That Plato divides his ruling caste into two classes, the guardians and the auxiliaries, without elaborating similar subdivisions within the working class, is largely due to the fact that he is interested only in the rulers. The workers, tradesmen, etc., do not interest him at all, they are only human cattle whose sole function is to provide for the material needs of the ruling class. Plato even goes so far as to forbid his rulers to legislate for people of this class, and for their petty problems. [29] This is why our information about the lower classes is so scanty. But Plato's silence is not wholly uninterrupted. 'Are there not drudges', he asks once, 'who do not possess a spark of intelligence and are unworthy to be admitted into the community, but who have strong bodies for hard labour?' Since this nasty remark has given rise to the soothing comment that Plato does not admit slaves into his city, I may here point out that this view is mistaken. It is true that Plato discusses nowhere explicitly the status of slaves in his best state, and it is even true that he says that the name 'slave' should better be avoided, and that we should call the workers 'supporters' or even 'employers'. But this is done for propagandist reasons. Nowhere is the slightest suggestion to be found that the institution of slavery is to be abolished, or to be mitigated. On the contrary, Plato has only scorn for those 'tenderhearted' Athenian democrats who supported the abolitionist movement. And he makes his view quite clear, for example, in his description of timocracy, the second-best state, and the one directly following the best. There he says of the timocratic man: 'He will be inclined to treat slaves cruelly, for he does not despise them as much as a well-educated man would.' But since only in the best city can education be found which is superior to that of timocracy, we are bound to conclude that there are slaves in Plato's best city, and that they are not treated with cruelty, but are properly despised. In his righteous contempt for them, Plato does not elaborate the point. This conclusion is fully corroborated by the fact that a passage in the Republic which criticizes the current practice of Greeks enslaving Greeks ends up with the explicit endorsement of the enslaving of barbarians, and even with a recommendation to 'our citizens' — i.e. those of the best city — to 'do unto barbarians as Greeks now do unto Greeks'. And it is further corroborated by the contents of the Laws, and the most inhuman attitude towards slaves adopted there.

Since the ruling class alone has political power, including the power of keeping the number of the human cattle within such limits as to prevent them from becoming a danger, the whole problem of preserving the state is reduced to that of preserving the internal unity of the master class. How is this unity of the rulers preserved? By training and other psychological influences, but otherwise mainly by the elimination of economic interests which may lead to disunion. This economic abstinence is achieved and controlled by the introduction of communism, i.e. by the abolition of private property, especially of precious metals. (The possession of precious metals was forbidden in Sparta.) This communism is confined to the ruling class, which alone must be kept free from disunion; quarrels among the ruled are not worthy of consideration. Since all property is common property, there must also be a common ownership of women and children. No member of the ruling class must be able to identify his children, or his parents. The family must be destroyed, or rather, extended to cover the whole warrior class. Family loyalties might otherwise become a possible source of disunion; therefore 'each should look upon all as if belonging to one family' [30]. (This suggestion was neither so novel nor so revolutionary as it sounds; we must remember such Spartan restrictions on the privacy of family life as the ban on private meals, constantly referred to by Plato as the institution of 'common meals'.) But even the common ownership of women and children is not quite sufficient to guard the ruling class from all economic dangers. It is important to avoid prosperity as well as poverty. Both are dangers to unity: poverty, because it drives people to adopt desperate means to satisfy their needs; prosperity, because most change arises from abundance, from an accumulation of wealth which makes dangerous experiments possible. Only a communist system which has room neither for great want nor for great wealth can reduce economic interests to a minimum, and guarantee the unity of the ruling class.

I should like to ask you a question.

What is it?

Would you say that all men are equal in excellence, or is one man better than another?

The latter.

And in the commonwealth which we were founding do you conceive the guardians who have been brought up on our model system to be more perfect men, or the cobblers whose education has been cobbling?

What a ridiculous question!

You have answered me, I replied: Well, and may we not further say that our guardians are the best of our citizens?

By far the best.

And will not their wives be the best women?

Yes, by far the best.

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?

There can be nothing better.  

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


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


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 defence of their country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker natures, but in other respects their duties are to be the same. And as for the man who 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, or what he is about; — for that is, and ever will be, the best of sayings,

That the useful is the noble and the hurtful is the base.

Very true.  

Here, then, is one difficulty in our law about women, which we may say that we have now escaped; the wave has not swallowed us up alive for enacting that the guardians of either sex should have all their pursuits in common; to the utility and also to the possibility of this arrangement the consistency of the argument with itself bears witness.

Yes, that was a mighty wave which you have escaped.

Yes, I said, but a greater is coming; you will of this when you see the next.

Go on; let me see.

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."

Yes, he said, that is a much greater wave than the other; and the possibility as well as the utility of such a law are far more questionable.

I do not think, I said, that there can be any dispute about the very great utility of having wives and children in common; the possibility is quite another matter, and will be very much disputed.

I think that a good many doubts may be raised about both.

You imply that the two questions must be combined, I replied. Now I meant that you should admit the utility; and in this way, as I thought; I should escape from one of them, and then there would remain only the possibility.

But that little attempt is detected, and therefore you will please to give a defence of both.

Well, I said, I submit to my fate. Yet grant me a little favour: let me feast my mind with the dream as day dreamers are in the habit of feasting themselves when they are walking alone; for before they have discovered any means of effecting their wishes — that is a matter which never troubles them — they would rather not tire themselves by thinking about possibilities; but assuming that what they desire is already granted to them, they proceed with their plan, and delight in detailing what they mean to do when their wish has come true — that is a way which they have of not doing much good to a capacity which was never good for much. Now I myself am beginning to lose heart, and I should like, with your permission, to pass over the question of possibility at present. Assuming therefore the possibility of the proposal, 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. First of all, then, if you have no objection, I will endeavour with your help to consider the advantages of the measure; and hereafter the question of possibility.

I have no objection; proceed.

First, I think that if our rulers and their auxiliaries are to be worthy of the name which they bear, there must be willingness to obey in the one and the power of command in the other; the guardians must themselves obey the laws, and they must also imitate the spirit of them in any details which are entrusted to their care.

That is right, he said.

You, I said, who are their legislator, having selected the men, will now select the women and give them to them; — they must be as far as possible of like natures 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?

Yes, he said; — necessity, not geometrical, but another sort of necessity which lovers know, and which is far more convincing and constraining to the mass of mankind.

True, I said; 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.

Yes, he said, and it ought not to be permitted.

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


And how can marriages be made 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?

In what particulars?

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


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

From the best.

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

I choose only those of ripe age.

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


And the same of horses and animals in general?


Good heavens! my dear friend, I said, what consummate skill will our rulers need if the same principle holds of the human species!

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

Because, I said, our rulers will often have to practise 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, then the doctor should be more of a man.

That is quite true, he said; but to what are you alluding?  

I mean, I replied, that 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 we were very right.

And this lawful use of them seems likely to be often needed in the regulations of marriages and births.

How so?

Why, I said, the principle has been already laid down that the best of either sex should be united with the best as 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.

Very true.

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.

Certainly, he replied.  

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.

To be sure, he said.

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 —

Yes —

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.

Yes, he said, that must be done if the breed of the guardians is to be kept pure.

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.

You suppose the wives of our guardians to have a fine easy time of it when they are having children.

Why, said I, and so they ought. Let us, however, proceed with our scheme. We were saying that the parents should be in the prime of life?

Very true.

And what is the prime of life? May it not be defined as a period of about twenty years in a woman's life, and thirty in a man's?

Which years do you mean to include?

A woman, I said, at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty; a man may begin at five-and-twenty, when he has passed the point at which the pulse of life beats quickest, and continue to beget children until he be fifty-five.

Certainly, he said, both in men and women those years are the prime of physical as well as of intellectual vigour.

Any one above or below the prescribed ages who takes part in the public hymeneals shall be said to have done an unholy and unrighteous thing; the child of which he is the father, if it steals into life, will have been conceived under auspices very unlike the sacrifices and prayers, which at each hymeneal priestesses and priest and the whole city will offer, that the new generation may be better and more useful than their good and useful parents, whereas his child will be the offspring of darkness and strange lust.

Very true, he replied.

And the same law will apply to any one of those within the prescribed age who forms a connection with any woman in the prime of life without the sanction of the rulers; for we shall say that he is raising up a bastard to the State, uncertified and unconsecrated.

Very true, he replied.

This applies, however, only to those who are within the specified age: after that we allow them to range at will, except that a man may not marry his daughter or his daughter's daughter, or his mother or his mother's mother; and women, on the other hand, are prohibited from marrying their sons or fathers, or son's son or father's father, and so on in either direction. And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any embryo which may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.

That also, he said, is a reasonable proposition. But how will they know who are fathers and daughters, and so on?

They will never know. The way will be this: — dating from the day of the hymeneal, the bridegroom who was then married will call all the male children who are born in the seventh and tenth month afterwards his sons, and the female children his daughters, and they will call him father, and he will call their children his grandchildren, and they will call the elder generation grandfathers and grandmothers. All who were begotten at the time when their fathers and mothers came together will be called their brothers and sisters, and these, as I was saying, will be forbidden to inter-marry. This, however, is not to be understood as an absolute prohibition of the marriage of brothers and sisters; if the lot favours them, and they receive the sanction of the Pythian oracle, the law will allow them.

Quite right, he replied.

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

-- "The Republic," by Plato

The communism of the ruling caste of his best city can thus be derived from Plato's fundamental sociological law of change; it is a necessary condition of the political stability which is its fundamental characteristic. But although an important condition, it is not a sufficient one. In order that the ruling class may feel really united, that it should feel like one tribe, i.e. like one big family, pressure from without the class is as necessary as are the ties between the members of the class. This pressure can be secured by emphasizing and widening the gulf between the rulers and the ruled. The stronger the feeling that the ruled are a different and an altogether inferior race, the stronger will be the sense of unity among the rulers. We arrive in this way at the fundamental principle, announced only after some hesitation, that there must be no mingling between the classes [31]: 'Any meddling or changing over from one class to another', says Plato, 'is a great crime against the city and may rightly be denounced as the basest wickedness.' But such a rigid division of the classes must be justified, and an attempt to justify it can only proceed from the claim that the rulers are superior to the ruled. Accordingly, Plato tries to justify his class division by the threefold claim that the rulers are vastly superior in three respects — in race, in education, and in their scale of values. Plato's moral valuations, which are, of course, identical with those of the rulers of his best state, will be discussed in chapters 6 to 8; I may therefore confine myself here to describing some of his ideas concerning the origin, the breeding, and the education of his ruling class. (Before proceeding to this description, I wish to express my belief that personal superiority, whether racial or intellectual or moral or educational, can never establish a claim to political prerogatives, even if such superiority could be ascertained. Most people in civilized countries nowadays admit racial superiority to be a myth; but even if it were an established fact, it should not create special political rights, though it might create special moral responsibilities for the superior persons. Analogous demands should be made of those who are intellectually and morally and educationally superior; and I cannot help feeling that the opposite claims of certain intellectualists and moralists only show how little successful their education has been, since it failed to make them aware of their own limitations, and of their Pharisaism.)
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Sat Oct 27, 2018 10:46 pm

Part 2 of 2


If we want to understand Plato's views about the origin, breeding, and education of his ruling class, we must not lose sight of the two main points of our analysis. We must keep in mind, first of all, that Plato is reconstructing a city of the past, although one connected with the present in such a way that certain of its features are still discernible in existing states, for instance, in Sparta; and secondly, that he is reconstructing his city with a view to the conditions of its stability, and that he seeks the guarantees for this stability solely within the ruling class itself, and more especially, in its unity and strength.

Regarding the origin of the ruling class, it may be mentioned that Plato speaks in the Statesman of a time, prior even to that of his best state, when 'God himself was the shepherd of men, ruling over them exactly as man ... still rules over the beasts. There was ... no ownership of women and children' [32]. This is not merely the simile of the good shepherd; in the light of what Plato says in the Laws, it must be interpreted more literally than that. For there we are told that this primitive society, which is prior even to the first and best city, is one of nomad hill shepherds under a patriarch: 'Government originated', says Plato there of the period prior to the first settlement, '... as the rule of the eldest who inherited his authority from his father or mother; all the others followed him like a flock of birds, thus forming one single horde ruled by that patriarchal authority and kingship which of all kingships is the most just.' These nomad tribes, we hear, settled in the cities of the Peloponnese, especially in Sparta, under the name of 'Dorians'. How this happened is not very clearly explained, but we understand Plato's reluctance when we get a hint that the 'settlement' was in fact a violent subjugation. This, for all we know, is the true story of the Dorian settlement in the Peloponnese. We therefore have every reason to believe that Plato intended his story as a serious description of prehistoric events; as a description not only of the origin of the Dorian master race but also of the origin of their human cattle, i.e. the original inhabitants. In a parallel passage in the Republic, Plato gives us a mythological yet very pointed description of the conquest itself, when dealing with the origin of the 'earthborn', the ruling class of the best city. (The Myth of the Earthborn will be discussed from a different point of view in chapter 8.) Their victorious march into the city, previously founded by the tradesmen and workers, is described as follows: 'After having armed and trained the earthborn, let us now make them advance, under the command of the guardians, till they arrive in the city. Then let them look round to find out the best place for their camp — the spot that is most suitable for keeping down the inhabitants, should anyone show unwillingness to obey the law, and for holding back external enemies who may come down like wolves on the fold.' This short but triumphant tale of the subjugation of a sedentary population by a conquering war horde (who are identified, in the Statesman, with the nomad hill shepherds of the period before the settlement) must be kept in mind when we interpret Plato's reiterated insistence that good rulers, whether gods or demigods or guardians, are patriarchal shepherds of men, and that the true political art, the art of ruling, is a kind of herdsmanship, i.e. the art of managing and keeping down the human cattle. And it is in this light that we must consider his description of the breeding and training of 'the auxiliaries who are subject to the rulers like sheep-dogs to the shepherds of the state'.

The breeding and the education of the auxiliaries and thereby of the ruling class of Plato's best state is, like their carrying of arms, a class symbol and therefore a class prerogative [33]. And breeding and education are not empty symbols but, like arms, instruments of class rule, and necessary for ensuring the stability of this rule. They are treated by Plato solely from this point of view, i.e. as powerful political weapons, as means which are useful for herding the human cattle, and for unifying the ruling class.

To this end, it is important that the master class should feel as one superior master race. 'The race of the guardians must be kept pure' [34], says Plato (in defence of infanticide), when developing the racialist argument that we breed animals with great care while neglecting our own race, an argument which has been repeated ever since. (Infanticide was not an Athenian institution; Plato, seeing that it was practised at Sparta for eugenic reasons, concluded that it must be ancient and therefore good.) He demands that the same principles be applied to the breeding of the master race as are applied, by an experienced breeder, to dogs, horses, or birds. 'If you did not breed them in this way, don't you think that the race of your birds or dogs would quickly degenerate?' Plato argues; and he draws the conclusion that 'the same principles apply to the race of men'. The racial qualities demanded from a guardian or from an auxiliary are, more specifically, those of a sheep-dog. 'Our warrior-athletes ... must be vigilant like watch-dogs', demands Plato, and he asks: 'Surely, there is no difference, so far as their natural fitness for keeping guard is concerned, between a gallant youth and a well-bred dog?' In his enthusiasm and admiration for the dog, Plato goes so far as to discern in him a 'genuine philosophical nature'; for 'is not the love of learning identical with the philosophical attitude?'

The main difficulty which besets Plato is that guardians and auxiliaries must be endowed with a character that is fierce and gentle at the same time. It is clear that they must be bred to be fierce, since they must 'meet any danger in a fearless and unconquerable spirit'. Yet 'if their nature is to be like that, how are they to be kept from being violent against one another, or against the rest of the citizens?' [35] Indeed, it would be 'simply monstrous if the shepherds should keep dogs ... who would worry the sheep, behaving like wolves rather than dogs'. The problem is important from the point of view of the political equilibrium, or rather, of the stability of the state, for Plato does not rely on an equilibrium of the forces of the various classes, since that would be unstable. A control of the master class, its arbitrary powers, and its fierceness, through the opposing force of the ruled, is out of the question, for the superiority of the master class must remain unchallenged. The only admissible control of the master class is therefore self-control. Just as the ruling class must exercise economic abstinence, i.e. refrain from an excessive economic exploitation of the ruled, so it must also be able to refrain from too much fierceness in its dealings with the ruled. But this can only be achieved if the fierceness of its nature is balanced by its gentleness. Plato finds this a very serious problem, since 'the fierce nature is the exact opposite of the gentle nature'. His speaker, Socrates, reports that he is perplexed, until he remembers the dog again. 'Well-bred dogs are by nature most gentle to their friends and acquaintances, but the very opposite to strangers', he says. It is therefore proved 'that the character we try to give our guardians is not contrary to nature'. The aim of breeding the master race is thus established, and shown to be attainable. It has been derived from an analysis of the conditions which are necessary for keeping the state stable.

Plato's educational aim is exactly the same. It is the purely political aim of stabilizing the state by blending a fierce and a gentle element in the character of the rulers. The two disciplines in which children of the Greek upper class were educated, gymnastics and music (the latter, in the wider sense of the word, included all literary studies), are correlated by Plato with the two elements of character, fierceness and gentleness. 'Have you not observed', asks Plato [36], 'how the character is affected by an exclusive training in gymnastics without music, and how it is affected by the opposite training? ... Exclusive preoccupation with gymnastics produces men who are fiercer than they ought to be, while an analogous preoccupation with music makes them too soft . . . But we maintain that our guardians must combine both of these natures ... This is why I say that some god must have given man these two arts, music and gymnastics; and their purpose is not so much to serve soul and body respectively, but rather to tune properly the two main strings', i.e. to bring into harmony the two elements of the soul, gentleness and fierceness. 'These are the outlines of our system of education and training', Plato concludes in his analysis.

In spite of the fact that Plato identifies the gentle element of the soul with her philosophic disposition, and in spite of the fact that philosophy is going to play such a dominant role in the later parts of the Republic, he is not at all biased in favour of the gentle element of the soul, or of musical, i.e. literary, education. The impartiality in balancing the two elements is the more remarkable as it leads him to impose the most severe restrictions on literary education, compared with what was, in his time, customary in Athens. This, of course, is only part of his general tendency to prefer Spartan customs to Athenian ones. (Crete, his other model, was even more anti-musical than Sparta [37].) Plato's political principles of literary education are based upon a simple comparison. Sparta, he saw, treated its human cattle just a little too harshly; this is a symptom or even an admission of a feeling of weakness [38], and therefore a symptom of the incipient degeneration of the master class. Athens, on the other hand, was altogether too liberal and slack in her treatment of slaves. Plato took this as proof that Sparta insisted just a little too much on gymnastics, and Athens, of course, far too much on music. This simple estimate enabled him readily to reconstruct what in his opinion must have been the true measure or the true blend of the two elements in the education of the best state, and to lay down the principles of his educational policy. Judged from the Athenian viewpoint, it is nothing less than the demand that all literary education be strangled [39] by a close adherence to the example of Sparta with its strict state control of all literary matters. Not only poetry but also music in the ordinary sense of the term are to be controlled by a rigid censorship, and both are to be devoted entirely to strengthening the stability of the state by making the young more conscious of class discipline [40], and thus more ready to serve class interests. Plato even forgets that it is the function of music to make the young more gentle, for he demands such forms of music as will make them braver, i.e. fiercer. (Considering that Plato was an Athenian, his arguments concerning music proper appear to me almost incredible in their superstitious intolerance, especially if compared with a more enlightened contemporary criticism [41]. But even now he has many musicians on his side, possibly because they are flattered by his high opinion of the importance of music, i.e. of its political power. The same is true of educationists, and even more of philosophers, since Plato demands that they should rule; a demand which will be discussed in chapter 8.)

The political principle that determines the education of the soul, namely, the preservation of the stability of the state, determines also that of the body. The aim is simply that of Sparta. While the Athenian citizen was educated to a general versatility, Plato demands that the ruling class shall be trained as a class of professional warriors, ready to strike against enemies from without or from within the state. Children of both sexes, we are told twice, 'must be taken on horseback within the sight of actual war; and provided it can be done safely, they must be brought into battle, and made to taste blood; just as one does with young hounds' [42]. The description of a modern writer, who characterizes contemporary totalitarian education as 'an intensified and continual form of mobilization', fits Plato's whole system of education very well indeed.

This is an outline of Plato's theory of the best or most ancient state, of the city which treats its human cattle exactly as a wise but hardened shepherd treats his sheep; not too cruelly, but with the proper contempt ... As an analysis both of Spartan social institutions and of the conditions of their stability and instability, and as an attempt at reconstructing more rigid and primitive forms of tribal life, this description is excellent indeed. (Only the descriptive aspect is dealt with in this chapter. The ethical aspects will be discussed later.) I believe that much in Plato's writings that has been usually considered as mere mythological or Utopian speculation can in this way be interpreted as sociological description and analysis. If we look, for instance, at his myth of the triumphant war hordes subjugating a settled population, then we must admit that from the point of view of descriptive sociology it is most successful. In fact, it could even claim to be an anticipation of an interesting (though possibly too sweeping) modern theory of the origin of the state, according to which centralized and organized political power generally originates in such a conquest [43]. There may be more descriptions of this kind in Plato's writings than we can at present estimate.

It is impossible that such governments as have hitherto existed in the world, could have commenced by any other means than a total violation of every principle sacred and moral. The obscurity in which the origin of all the present old governments is buried, implies the iniquity and disgrace with which they began. The origin of the present government of America and France will ever be remembered, because it is honourable to record it; but with respect to the rest, even Flattery has consigned them to the tomb of time, without an inscription.

It could have been no difficult thing in the early and solitary ages of the world, while the chief employment of men was that of attending flocks and herds, for a banditti of ruffians to overrun a country, and lay it under contributions. Their power being thus established, the chief of the band contrived to lose the name of Robber in that of Monarch; and hence the origin of Monarchy and Kings.

The origin of the Government of England, so far as relates to what is called its line of monarchy, being one of the latest, is perhaps the best recorded. The hatred which the Norman invasion and tyranny begat, must have been deeply rooted in the nation, to have outlived the contrivance to obliterate it. Though not a courtier will talk of the curfew-bell, not a village in England has forgotten it.

Those bands of robbers having parcelled out the world, and divided it into dominions, began, as is naturally the case, to quarrel with each other. What at first was obtained by violence was considered by others as lawful to be taken, and a second plunderer succeeded the first. They alternately invaded the dominions which each had assigned to himself, and the brutality with which they treated each other explains the original character of monarchy. It was ruffian torturing ruffian. The conqueror considered the conquered, not as his prisoner, but his property. He led him in triumph rattling in chains, and doomed him, at pleasure, to slavery or death. As time obliterated the history of their beginning, their successors assumed new appearances, to cut off the entail of their disgrace, but their principles and objects remained the same. What at first was plunder, assumed the softer name of revenue; and the power originally usurped, they affected to inherit.

From such beginning of governments, what could be expected but a continued system of war and extortion? It has established itself into a trade. The vice is not peculiar to one more than to another, but is the common principle of all. There does not exist within such governments sufficient stamina whereon to engraft reformation; and the shortest and most effectual remedy is to begin anew on the ground of the nation.  

What scenes of horror, what perfection of iniquity, present themselves in contemplating the character and reviewing the history of such governments! If we would delineate human nature with a baseness of heart and hypocrisy of countenance that reflection would shudder at and humanity disown, it is kings, courts and cabinets that must sit for the portrait. Man, naturally as he is, with all his faults about him, is not up to the character.

Can we possibly suppose that if governments had originated in a right principle, and had not an interest in pursuing a wrong one, the world could have been in the wretched and quarrelsome condition we have seen it? What inducement has the farmer, while following the plough, to lay aside his peaceful pursuit, and go to war with the farmer of another country? or what inducement has the manufacturer? What is dominion to them, or to any class of men in a nation? Does it add an acre to any man's estate, or raise its value? Are not conquest and defeat each of the same price, and taxes the never-failing consequence? -- Though this reasoning may be good to a nation, it is not so to a government. War is the Pharo-table of governments, and nations the dupes of the game.

If there is anything to wonder at in this miserable scene of governments more than might be expected, it is the progress which the peaceful arts of agriculture, manufacture and commerce have made beneath such a long accumulating load of discouragement and oppression. It serves to show that instinct in animals does not act with stronger impulse than the principles of society and civilisation operate in man. Under all discouragements, he pursues his object, and yields to nothing but impossibilities.

-- The Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine


To sum up. In an attempt to understand and to interpret the changing social world as he experienced it, Plato was led to develop a systematic historicist sociology in great detail. He thought of existing states as decaying copies of an unchanging Form or Idea. He tried to reconstruct this Form or Idea of a state, or at least to describe a society which resembled it as closely as possible. Along with ancient traditions, he used as material for his reconstruction the results of his analysis of the social institutions of Sparta and Crete — the most ancient forms of social life he could find in Greece — in which he recognized arrested forms of even older tribal societies. But in order to make a proper use of this material, he needed a principle for distinguishing between the good or original or ancient traits of the existing institutions and their symptoms of decay. This principle he found in his law of political revolutions, according to which disunion in the ruling class, and their preoccupation with economic affairs, are the origin of all social change. His best state was therefore to be reconstructed in such a way as to eliminate all the germs and elements of disunion and decay as radically as this could be done; that is to say, it was to be constructed out of the Spartan state with an eye to the conditions necessary for the unbroken unity of the master class, guaranteed by its economic abstinence, its breeding, and its training.

Interpreting existing societies as decadent copies of an ideal state, Plato furnished Hesiod's somewhat crude views of human history at once with a theoretical background and with a wealth of practical application. He developed a remarkably realistic historicist theory which found the cause of social change in Heraclitus' disunion, and in the strife of classes in which he recognized the driving as well as the corrupting forces of history. He applied these historicist principles to the story of the Decline and Fall of the Greek city-states, and especially to a criticism of democracy, which he described as effeminate and degenerate. And we may add that later, in the Laws [44], he applied them also to a story of the Decline and Fall of the Persian Empire, thus making the beginning of a long series of Decline-and-Fall dramatizations of the histories of empires and civilizations. (O. Spengler's notorious Decline of the West is perhaps the worst but not the last— of them.) All this, I think, can be interpreted as an attempt, and a most impressive one, to explain, and to rationalize, his experience of the breakdown of the tribal society; an experience analogous to that which had led Heraclitus to develop the first philosophy of change.

But our analysis of Plato's descriptive sociology is still incomplete. His stories of the Decline and Fall, and with it nearly all the later stories, exhibit at least two characteristics which we have not discussed so far. He conceived these declining societies as some kind of organism, and the decline as a process similar to ageing. And he believed that the decline is well deserved, in the sense that moral decay, a fall and decline of the soul, goes hand in hand with that of the social body. All this plays an important role in Plato's theory of the first change — in the Story of the Number and of the Fall of Man. This theory, and its connection with the doctrine of Forms or Ideas, will be discussed in the next chapter.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Sun Oct 28, 2018 6:06 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 5: Nature and Convention

Plato was not the first to approach social phenomena in the spirit of scientific investigation. The beginning of social science goes back at least to the generation of Protagoras, the first of the great thinkers who called themselves 'Sophists'. It is marked by the realization of the need to distinguish between two different elements in man's environment — his natural environment and his social environment. This is a distinction which is difficult to make and to grasp, as can be inferred from the fact that even now it is not clearly established in our minds. It has been questioned ever since the time of Protagoras. Most of us, it seems, have a strong inclination to accept the peculiarities of our social environment as if they were 'natural'.

It is one of the characteristics of the magical attitude of a primitive tribal or 'closed' society that it lives in a charmed circle [1] of unchanging taboos, of laws and customs which are felt to be as inevitable as the rising of the sun, or the cycle of the seasons, or similar obvious regularities of nature. And it is only after this magical 'closed society' has actually broken down that a theoretical understanding of the difference between 'nature' and 'society' can develop. An analysis of this development requires, I believe, a clear grasp of an important distinction. It is the distinction between (a) natural laws, or laws of nature, such as the laws describing the movements of the sun, the moon, and the planets, the succession of the seasons, etc., or the law of gravity or, say, the laws of thermodynamics and, on the other hand, (b) normative laws, or norms, or prohibitions and commandments, i.e. such rules as forbid or demand certain modes of conduct; examples are the Ten Commandments or the legal rules regulating the procedure of the election of Members of Parliament, or the laws that constitute the Athenian Constitution.

Since the discussion of these matters is often vitiated by a tendency to blur this distinction, a few more words may be said about it. A law in sense (a) — a natural law — is describing a strict, unvarying regularity which either in fact holds in nature (in this case, the law is a true statement) or does not hold (in this case it is false). If we do not know whether a law of nature is true or false, and if we wish to draw attention to our uncertainty, we often call it an 'hypothesis'. A law of nature is unalterable; there are no exceptions to it. For if we are satisfied that something has happened which contradicts it, then we do not say that there is an exception, or an alteration to the law, but rather that our hypothesis has been refuted, since it has turned out that the supposed strict regularity did not hold, or in other words, that the supposed law of nature was not a true law of nature, but a false statement. Since laws of nature are unalterable, they can be neither broken nor enforced. They are beyond human control, although they may possibly be used by us for technical purposes, and although we may get into trouble by not knowing them, or by ignoring them.

All this is very different if we turn to laws of the kind (b), that is, to normative laws. A normative law, whether it is now a legal enactment or a moral commandment, can be enforced by men. Also, it is alterable. It may be perhaps described as good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable; but only in a metaphorical sense can it be called 'true' or 'false', since it does not describe a fact, but lays down directions for our behaviour.
If it has any point or significance, then it can be broken; and if it cannot be broken then it is superfluous and without significance. 'Do not spend more money than you possess' is a significant normative law; it may be significant as a moral or legal rule, and the more necessary as it is so often broken. 'Do not take more money out of your purse than there was in it' may be said to be, by its wording, also a normative law; but nobody would consider seriously such a rule as a significant part of a moral or legal system, since it cannot be broken. If a significant normative law is observed, then this is always due to human control — to human actions and decisions. Usually it is due to the decision to introduce sanctions — to punish or restrain those who break the law.

I believe, in common with a great number of thinkers, and especially with many social scientists, that the distinction between laws in sense (a), i.e. statements describing regularities of nature, and laws in sense (b), i.e. norms such as prohibitions or commandments, is a fundamental one, and that these two kinds of law have hardly more in common than a name. But this view is by no means generally accepted; on the contrary, many thinkers believe that there are norms — prohibitions or commandments — which are 'natural' in the sense that they are laid down in accordance with natural laws in sense (a). They say, for example, that certain legal norms are in accordance with human nature, and therefore with psychological natural laws in sense (a), while other legal norms may be contrary to human nature; and they add that those norms which can be shown to be in accordance with human nature are really not very different from natural laws in sense (a). Others say that natural laws in sense (a) are really very similar to normative laws since they are laid down by the will or decision of the Creator of the Universe — a view which, undoubtedly, lies behind the use of the originally normative word 'law' for laws of the kind (a). All these views may be worthy of being discussed. But in order to discuss them, it is necessary first to distinguish between laws in the sense of (a) and laws in the sense of (b), and not to confuse the issue by a bad terminology. Thus we shall reserve the term 'natural laws' exclusively for laws of type (a), and we shall refuse to apply this term to any norms which are claimed to be, in some sense or other, 'natural'. The confusion is quite unnecessary since it is easy to speak of 'natural rights and obligations' or of 'natural norms' if we wish to stress the 'natural' character of laws of type (b).


I believe that it is necessary for the understanding of Plato's sociology to consider how the distinction between natural and normative laws may have developed. I shall first discuss what seem to have been the starting point and the last step of the development, and later what seem to have been three intermediate steps, which all play a part in Plato's theory. The starting point can be described as a naive monism. It may be said to be characteristic of the 'closed society'. The last step, which I describe as critical dualism (or critical conventionalism), is characteristic of the 'open society'. The fact that there are still many who try to avoid making this step may be taken as an indication that we are still in the midst of the transition from the closed to the open society. (With all this, compare chapter 10.)

The starting point which I have called 'naive monism' is the stage at which the distinction between natural and normative laws is not yet made.
Unpleasant experiences are the means by which man learns to adjust himself to his environment. No distinction is made between sanctions imposed by other men, if a normative taboo is broken, and unpleasant experiences suffered in the natural environment. Within this stage, we may further distinguish between two possibilities. The one can be described as a naive naturalism. At this stage regularities, whether natural or conventional, are felt to be beyond the possibility of any alteration whatever. But I believe that this stage is only an abstract possibility which probably was never realized. More important is a stage which we can describe as a naive conventionalism — a stage at which both natural and normative regularities are experienced as expressions of, and as dependent upon, the decisions of man-like gods or demons. Thus the cycle of the seasons, or the peculiarities of the movements of the sun, the moon, and the planets, may be interpreted as obeying the 'laws' or 'decrees' or 'decisions' which 'rule heaven and earth', and which were laid down and 'pronounced by the creator-god in the beginning' [2]. It is understandable that those who think in this way may believe that even the natural laws are open to modifications, under certain exceptional circumstances; that with the help of magical practices man may sometimes influence them; and that natural regularities are upheld by sanctions, as if they were normative. This point is well illustrated by Heraclitus' saying: 'The sun will not outstep the measure of his path; or else the goddesses of Fate, the handmaids of Justice, will know how to find him.'

The breakdown of magic tribalism is closely connected with the realization that taboos are different in various tribes, that they are imposed and enforced by man, and that they may be broken without unpleasant repercussions if one can only escape the sanctions imposed by one's fellow-men. This realization is quickened when it is observed that laws are altered and made by human lawgivers. I have in mind not only such lawgivers as Solon, but also the laws which were made and enforced by the common people of democratic cities. These experiences may lead to a conscious differentiation between the man-enforced normative laws, based on decisions or conventions, and the natural regularities which are beyond his power. When this differentiation is clearly understood, then we can describe the position reached as a critical dualism, or critical conventionalism. In the development of Greek philosophy this dualism of facts and norms announces itself in terms of the opposition between nature and convention. [3]

Here, 25 centuries ago, on the island of Samos, and in the other Greek colonies that had grown up in the busy Aegean sea, there was a glorious awakening. Suddenly, there were people who believed everything was made of atoms, that human beings and other animals had evolved from simpler forms, that diseases were not caused by demons or the gods, that the earth was only a planet going around a sun which was very far away.

This revolution made Cosmos out of Chaos. Here, in the 6th Century B.C., a new idea developed, one of the great ideas of the human species. It was argued that the universe was knowable. Why? Because it was ordered, because there are regularities in nature which permitted secrets to be uncovered. Nature was not entirely unpredictable. There were rules that even she had to obey. This ordered and admirable character of the universe was called Cosmos, and it was set in stark contradiction to the idea of Chaos. This was the first conflict of which we know between science and mysticism, between nature and the gods.

By why here? Why in these remote islands and inlets of the Eastern Mediterranean? Why not in the great cities of India or Egypt, Babylon, China, Mesoamerica? Because they were all at the center of old empires. They were set in their ways. Hostile to new ideas. But here in Ionia were a multitude of newly colonized islands and city states. Isolation, even if incomplete, promotes diversity. No single concentration of power could enforce conformity. Free inquiry became possible. They were beyond the frontiers of the empires. The merchants and tourists and sailors of Africa, Asia, and Europe met in the harbors of Ionia to exchange goods and stories and ideas. It was a vigorous and heady interaction of many traditions, prejudices, languages and gods.

These people were ready to experiment. Once you are open to questioning rituals and time-honored practices, you find that one question leads to another. What do you do when you're faced with several different gods, each claiming the same territory? The Babylonian Marduk and the Greek Zeus were each considered King of the Gods, Master of the Sky. You might decide that since they otherwise had rather different attributes, that one of them was merely invented by the priests. But if one, why not both?

So here it was that the great idea arose, the realization that there might be a way to know the world without the god hypothesis, that there might be principles, forces, laws of nature through which the world might be understood without attributing the fall of every sparrow to the direct intervention of Zeus. This is the place where science was born. That's why we're here.

-- A Personal Voyage: The Backbone of Night, by Carl Sagan

In spite of the fact that this position was reached a long time ago by the Sophist Protagoras, an older contemporary of Socrates, it is still so little understood that it seems necessary to explain it in some detail. First, we must not think that critical dualism implies a theory of the historical origin of norms. It has nothing to do with the obviously untenable historical assertion that norms in the first place were consciously made or introduced by man, instead of having been found by him to be simply there (whenever he was first able to find anything of this kind). It therefore has nothing to do with the assertion that norms originate with man, and not with God, nor does it underrate the importance of normative laws. Least of all has it anything to do with the assertion that norms, since they are conventional, i.e. man-made, are therefore 'merely arbitrary'. Critical dualism merely asserts that norms and normative laws can be made and changed by man, more especially by a decision or convention to observe them or to alter them, and that it is therefore man who is morally responsible for them; not perhaps for the norms which he finds to exist in society when he first begins to reflect upon them, but for the norms which he is prepared to tolerate once he has found out that he can do something to alter them. Norms are man-made in the sense that we must blame nobody but ourselves for them; neither nature, nor God. It is our business to improve them as much as we can, if we find that they are objectionable. This last remark implies that by describing norms as conventional, I do not mean that they must be arbitrary, or that one set of normative laws will do just as well as another. By saying that some systems of laws can be improved, that some laws may be better than others, I rather imply that we can compare the existing normative laws (or social institutions) with some standard norms which we have decided are worthy of being realized. But even these standards are of our making in the sense that our decision in favour of them is our own decision, and that we alone carry the responsibility for adopting them. The standards are not to be found in nature. Nature consists of facts and of regularities, and is in itself neither moral nor immoral. It is we who impose our standards upon nature, and who in this way introduce morals into the natural world [4], in spite of the fact that we are part of this world. We are products of nature, but nature has made us together with our power of altering the world, of foreseeing and of planning for the future, and of making far-reaching decisions for which we are morally responsible. Yet responsibility, decisions, enter the world of nature only with us.


It is important for the understanding of this attitude to realize that these decisions can never be derived from facts (or from statements of facts), although they pertain to facts. The decision, for instance, to oppose slavery does not depend upon the fact that all men are born free and equal, and that no man is born in chains. For even if all were born free, some men might perhaps try to put others in chains, and they may even believe that they ought to put them in chains. And conversely, even if men were born in chains, many of us might demand the removal of these chains. Or to put this matter more precisely, if we consider a fact as alterable — such as the fact that many people are suffering from diseases — then we can always adopt a number of different attitudes towards this fact: more especially, we can decide to make an attempt to alter it; or we can decide to resist any such attempt; or we can decide not to take action at all.

All moral decisions pertain in this way to some fact or other, especially to some fact of social life, and all (alterable) facts of social life can give rise to many different decisions. Which shows that the decisions can never be derivable from these facts, or from a description of these facts.

But they cannot be derived from another class of facts either; I mean those natural regularities which we describe with the help of natural laws. It is perfectly true that our decisions must be compatible with the natural laws (including those of human physiology and psychology), if they are ever to be carried into effect; for if they run counter to such laws, then they simply cannot be carried out. The decision that all should work harder and eat less, for example, cannot be carried out beyond a certain point for physiological reasons, i.e. because beyond a certain point it would be incompatible with certain natural laws of physiology. Similarly, the decision that all should work less and eat more also cannot be carried out beyond a certain point, for various reasons, including the natural laws of economics. (As we shall see below, in section iv of this chapter, there are natural laws in the social sciences also; we shall call them 'sociological laws'.)

Thus certain decisions may be eliminated as incapable of being executed, because they contradict certain natural laws (or 'unalterable facts'). But this does not mean, of course, that any decision can be logically derived from such 'unalterable facts'. Rather, the situation is this. In view of any fact whatsoever, whether it is alterable or unalterable, we can adopt various decisions — such as to alter it; to protect it from those who wish to alter it; not to interfere, etc. But if the fact in question is unalterable — either because an alteration is impossible in view of the existing laws of nature, or because an alteration is for other reasons too difficult for those who wish to alter it — then any decision to alter it will be simply impracticable; in fact, any decision concerning such a fact will be pointless and without significance.

Critical dualism thus emphasizes the impossibility of reducing decisions or norms to facts; it can therefore be described as a dualism of facts and decisions.

But this dualism seems to be open to attack. Decisions are facts, it may be said. If we decide to adopt a certain norm, then the making of this decision is itself a psychological or sociological fact, and it would be absurd to say that there is nothing in common between such facts and other facts. Since it cannot be doubted that our decisions about norms, i.e. the norms we adopt, clearly depend upon certain psychological facts, such as the influence of our upbringing, it seems to be absurd to postulate a dualism of facts and decisions, or to say that decisions cannot be derived from facts. This objection can be answered by pointing out that we can speak of a 'decision' in two different senses. We may speak of a certain decision which has been submitted, or considered, or reached, or been decided upon; or alternatively, we may speak of an act of deciding and call this a 'decision'. Only in the second sense can we describe a decision as a fact. The situation is analogous with a number of other expressions. In one sense, we may speak of a certain resolution which has been submitted to some council, and in the other sense, the council's act of taking it may be spoken of as the council's resolution. Similarly, we may speak of a proposal or a suggestion before us, and on the other hand of the act of proposing or suggestion something, which may also be called 'proposal' or 'suggestion'. An analogous ambiguity is well known in the field of descriptive statements. Let us consider the statement: 'Napoleon died on St. Helena.' It will be useful to distinguish this statement from the fact which it describes, and which we may call the primary fact, viz. the fact that Napoleon died at St. Helena. Now a historian, say Mr. A, when writing the biography of Napoleon, may make the statement mentioned. In doing so, he is describing what we called the primary fact. But there is also a secondary fact, which is altogether different from the primary one, namely the fact that he made this statement; and another historian, Mr. B, when writing the biography of Mr. A, may describe this second fact by saying: 'Mr. A stated that Napoleon died on St. Helena.' The secondary fact described in this way happens to be itself a description. But it is a description in a sense of the word that must be distinguished from the sense in which we called the statement 'Napoleon died on St. Helena' a description. The making of a description, or of a statement, is a sociological or psychological fact. But the description made is to be distinguished from the fact that it has been made. It cannot even be derived from this fact; for that would mean that we can validly deduce 'Napoleon died on St. Helena' from 'Mr. A stated that Napoleon died on St. Helena', which obviously we cannot.

In the field of decisions, the situation is analogous. The making of a decision, the adoption of a norm or of a standard, is a fact. But the norm or standard which has been adopted, is not a fact. That most people agree with the norm 'Thou shalt not steal' is a sociological fact. But the norm 'Thou shalt not steal' is not a fact, and can never be inferred from sentences describing facts.
This will be seen most clearly when we remember that there are always various and even opposite decisions possible with respect to a certain relevant fact. For instance, in face of the sociological fact that most people adopt the norm 'Thou shalt not steal', it is still possible to decide either to adopt this norm, or to oppose its adoption; it is possible to encourage those who have adopted the norm, or to discourage them, and to persuade them to adopt another norm. To sum up, it is impossible to derive a sentence stating a norm or a decision or, say, a proposal for a policy from a sentence stating a fact; this is only another way of saying that it is impossible to derive norms or decisions or proposals from facts. [5]

The statement that norms are man-made (man-made not in the sense that they were consciously designed, but in the sense that men can judge and alter them — that is to say, in the sense that the responsibility for them is entirely ours) has often been misunderstood. Nearly all misunderstandings can be traced back to one fundamental misapprehension, namely, to the belief that 'convention' implies 'arbitrariness'; that if we are free to choose any system of norms we like, then one system is just as good as any other. It must, of course, be admitted that the view that norms are conventional or artificial indicates that there will be a certain element of arbitrariness involved, i.e. that there may be different systems of norms between which there is not much to choose (a fact that has been duly emphasized by Protagoras). But artificiality by no means implies full arbitrariness. Mathematical calculi, for instance, or symphonies, or plays, are highly artificial, yet it does not follow that one calculus or symphony or play is just as good as any other. Man has created new worlds — of language, of music, of poetry, of science; and the most important of these is the world of the moral demands, for equality, for freedom, and for helping the weak [6]. When comparing the field of morals with the field of music or of mathematics, I do not wish to imply that these similarities reach very far. There is, more especially, a great difference between moral decisions and decisions in the field of art. Many moral decisions involve the life and death of other men. Decisions in the field of art are much less urgent and important. It is therefore most misleading to say that a man decides for or against slavery as he may decide for or against certain works of music and literature, or that moral decisions are purely matters of taste. Nor are they merely decisions about how to make the world more beautiful, or about other luxuries of this kind; they are decisions of much greater urgency. (With all this, cp. also chapter 9.) Our comparison is only intended to show that the view that moral decisions rest with us does not imply that they are entirely arbitrary.

The view that norms are man-made is also, strangely enough, contested by some who see in this attitude an attack on religion. It must be admitted, of course, that this view is an attack on certain forms of religion, namely, on the religion of blind authority, on magic and tabooism. But I do not think that it is in any way opposed to a religion built upon the idea of personal responsibility and freedom of conscience. I have in mind, of course, especially Christianity, at least as it is usually interpreted in democratic countries; that Christianity which, as against all tabooism, preaches, 'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time . . . But I say unto you . . . ' ; opposing in every case the voice of conscience to mere formal obedience and the fulfilment of the law.

I would not admit that to think of ethical laws as being man-made in this sense is incompatible with the religious view that they are given to us by God. Historically, all ethics undoubtedly begin with religion; but I do not now deal with historical questions. I do not ask who was the first ethical lawgiver. I only maintain that it is we, and we alone, who are responsible for adopting or rejecting some suggested moral laws; it is we who must distinguish between the true prophets and the false prophets. All kinds of norms have been claimed to be God-given. If you accept the 'Christian' ethics of equality and toleration and freedom of conscience only because of its claim to rest upon divine authority, then you build on a weak basis; for it has been only too often claimed that inequality is willed by God, and that we must not be tolerant with unbelievers. If, however, you accept the Christian ethics not because you are commanded to do so but because of your conviction that it is the right decision to take, then it is you who have decided. My insistence that we make the decisions and carry the responsibility must not be taken to imply that we cannot, or must not, be helped by faith, and inspired by tradition or by great examples. Nor does it imply that the creation of moral decisions is merely a 'natural' process, i.e. of the order of physico-chemical processes. In fact, Protagoras, the first critical dualist, taught that nature does not know norms, and that the introduction of norms is due to man, and the most important of human achievements. He thus held that 'institutions and conventions were what raised men above the brutes', as Burnet [7] puts it. But in spite of his insistence that man creates norms, that it is man who is the measure of all things, he believed that man could achieve the creation of norms only with supernatural help. Norms, he taught, are superimposed upon the original or natural state of affairs by man, but with the help of Zeus. It is at Zeus' bidding that Hermes gives to men an understanding of justice and honour; and he distributes this gift to all men equally. The way in which the first clear statement of critical dualism makes room for a religious interpretation of our sense of responsibility shows how little critical dualism is opposed to a religious attitude. A similar approach can be discerned, I believe, in the historical Socrates (see chapter 10 ) who felt compelled, by his conscience as well as by his religious beliefs, to question all authority, and who searched for the norms in whose justice he could trust. The doctrine of the autonomy of ethics is independent of the problem of religion, but compatible with, or perhaps even necessary for, any religion which respects individual conscience.


So much concerning the dualism of facts and decisions, or the doctrine of the autonomy of ethics, first advocated by Protagoras and Socrates [8]. It is, I believe, indispensable for a reasonable understanding of our social environment. But of course this does not mean that all 'social laws', i.e. all regularities of our social life, are normative and man-imposed. On the contrary, there are important natural laws of social life also. For these, the term sociological laws seems appropriate. It is just the fact that in social life we meet with both kinds of laws, natural and normative, which makes it so important to distinguish them clearly.

In speaking of sociological laws or natural laws of social life, I do not think so much of the alleged laws of evolution in which historicists such as Plato are interested, although if there are any such regularities of historical developments, their formulations would certainly fall under the category of sociological laws. Nor do I think so much of the laws of 'human nature', i.e. of psychological and socio-psychological regularities of human behaviour. I have in mind, rather, such laws as are formulated by modern economic theories, for instance, the theory of international trade, or the theory of the trade cycle.
These and other important sociological laws are connected with the functioning of social institutions. (Cp. chapters 3 and 9.) These laws play a role in our social life corresponding to the role played in mechanical engineering by, say, the principle of the lever. For institutions, like levers, are needed if we want to achieve anything which goes beyond the power of our muscles. Like machines, institutions multiply our power for good and evil. Like machines, they need intelligent supervision by someone who understands their way of functioning and, most of all, their purpose, since we cannot build them so that they work entirely automatically. Furthermore, their construction needs some knowledge of social regularities which impose limitations upon what can be achieved by institutions [9]. (These limitations are somewhat analogous, for instance, to the law of conservation of energy, which amounts to the statement that we cannot build a perpetual motion machine.) But fundamentally, institutions are always made by establishing the observance of certain norms, designed with a certain aim in mind. This holds especially for institutions which are consciously created; but even those — the vast majority — which arise as the undesigned results of human actions (cp. chapter 14) are the indirect results of purposive actions of some kind or other; and their functioning depends, largely, on the observance of norms. (Even mechanical engines are made, as it were, not only of iron, but by combining iron and norms; i.e. by transforming physical things, but according to certain normative rules, namely their plan or design.) In institutions, normative laws and sociological, i.e. natural, laws are closely interwoven, and it is therefore impossible to understand the functioning of institutions without being able to distinguish between these two. (These remarks are intended to suggest certain problems rather than to give solutions. More especially, the analogy mentioned between institutions and machines must not be interpreted as proposing the theory that institutions are machines — in some essentialist sense. Of course they are not machines. And although the thesis is here proposed that we may obtain useful and interesting results if we ask ourselves whether an institution does serve any purpose, and what purposes it may serve, it is not asserted that every institution serves some definite purpose — its essential purpose, as it were.)


As indicated before, there are many intermediate steps in the development from a naive or magical monism to a critical dualism which clearly realizes the distinction between norms and natural laws. Most of these intermediate positions arise from the misapprehension that if a norm is conventional or artificial, it must be wholly arbitrary. To understand Plato's position, which combines elements of them all, it is necessary to make a survey of the three most important of these intermediate positions. They are (1) biological naturalism, (2) ethical or juridical positivism, and (3) psychological or spiritual naturalism. It is interesting that every one of these positions has been used for defending ethical views which are radically opposed to each other; more especially, for defending the worship of power, and for defending the rights of the weak.

(1) Biological naturalism, or more precisely, the biological form of ethical naturalism, is the theory that in spite of the fact that moral laws and the laws of states are arbitrary, there are some eternal unchanging laws of nature from which we can derive such norms. Food habits, i.e. the number of meals, and the kind of food taken, are an example of the arbitrariness of conventions, the biological naturalist may argue; yet there are undoubtedly certain natural laws in this field. For instance, a man will die if he takes either insufficient or too much food. Thus it seems that just as there are realities behind appearances, so behind our arbitrary conventions there are some unchanging natural laws and especially the laws of biology.

Biological naturalism has been used not only to defend equalitarianism, but also to defend the anti-equalitarian doctrine of the rule of the strong. One of the first to put forward this naturalism was the poet Pindar, who used it to support the theory that the strong should rule. He claimed [10] that it is a law, valid throughout nature, that the stronger does with the weaker whatever he likes. Thus laws which protect the weak are not merely arbitrary but artificial distortions of the true natural law that the strong should be free and the weak should be his slave. The view is discussed a good deal by Plato;
it is attacked in the Gorgias, a dialogue which is still much influenced by Socrates; in the Republic, it is put in the mouth of Thrasymachus, and identified with ethical individualism (see the next chapter); in the Laws, Plato is less antagonistic to Pindar's view; but he still contrasts it with the rule of the wisest, which, he says, is a better principle, and just as much in accordance with nature (see also the quotation later in this chapter).

The first to put forward a humanitarian or equalitarian version of biological naturalism was the Sophist Antiphon. To him is due also the identification of nature with truth, and of convention with opinion (or 'delusive opinion' [11]). Antiphon is a radical naturalist. He believes that most norms are not merely arbitrary, but directly contrary to nature. Norms, he says, are imposed from outside, while the rules of nature are inevitable. It is disadvantageous and even dangerous to break man- imposed norms if the breach is observed by those who impose them; but there is no inner necessity attached to them, and nobody needs to be ashamed of breaking them; shame and punishment are only sanctions arbitrarily imposed from outside. On this criticism of conventional morals, Antiphon bases a utilitarian ethics. 'Of the actions here mentioned, one would find many to be contrary to nature. For they involve more suffering where there should be less, and less pleasure where there could be more, and injury where it is unnecessary.' [12] At the same time, he taught the need for self-control. His equalitarianism he formulates as follows: 'The nobly born we revere and adore; but not the lowly born. These are barbarous habits. For as to our natural gifts, we are all on an equal footing, on all points, whether we now happen to be Greeks or Barbarians . . . We all breathe the air through our mouths and nostrils.'

Before anything can be reasoned upon to a conclusion, certain facts, principles, or data, to reason from, must be established, admitted, or denied. Mr. Burke with his usual outrage, abused the Declaration of the Rights of Man, published by the National Assembly of France, as the basis on which the constitution of France is built. This he calls "paltry and blurred sheets of paper about the rights of man." Does Mr. Burke mean to deny that man has any rights? If he does, then he must mean that there are no such things as rights anywhere, and that he has none himself; for who is there in the world but man? But if Mr. Burke means to admit that man has rights, the question then will be: What are those rights, and how man came by them originally?

The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him. But of titles I shall speak hereafter.

We are now got at the origin of man, and at the origin of his rights. As to the manner in which the world has been governed from that day to this, it is no farther any concern of ours than to make a proper use of the errors or the improvements which the history of it presents. Those who lived an hundred or a thousand years ago, were then moderns, as we are now. They had their ancients, and those ancients had others, and we also shall be ancients in our turn. If the mere name of antiquity is to govern in the affairs of life, the people who are to live an hundred or a thousand years hence, may as well take us for a precedent, as we make a precedent of those who lived an hundred or a thousand years ago. The fact is, that portions of antiquity, by proving everything, establish nothing. It is authority against authority all the way, till we come to the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. Here our enquiries find a resting-place, and our reason finds a home. If a dispute about the rights of man had arisen at the distance of an hundred years from the creation, it is to this source of authority they must have referred, and it is to this same source of authority that we must now refer.

-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine

A similar equalitarianism was voiced by the Sophist Hippias, whom Plato represents as addressing his audience: 'Gentlemen, I believe that we are all kinsmen and friends and fellow-citizens; if not by conventional law, then by nature. For by nature, likeness is an expression of kinship; but conventional law, the tyrant of mankind, compels us to do much that is against nature.'— [13]This spirit was bound up with the Athenian movement against slavery (mentioned in chapter 4) to which Euripides gave expression: 'The name alone brings shame upon the slave who can be excellent in every way and truly equal to the free born man.' Elsewhere, he says: 'Man's law of nature is equality.' And Alcidamas, a disciple of Gorgias and a contemporary of Plato, wrote: 'God has made all men free; no man is a slave by nature.' Similar views are also expressed by Lycophron, another member of Gorgias' school: 'The splendour of noble birth is imaginary, and its prerogatives are based upon a mere word. '
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Sun Oct 28, 2018 6:07 am

Part 2 of 2

Reacting against this great humanitarian movement — the movement of the 'Great Generation', as I shall call it later ( chapter 10 ) — Plato, and his disciple Aristotle, advanced the theory of the biological and moral inequality of man. Greeks and barbarians are unequal by nature; the opposition between them corresponds to that between natural masters and natural slaves. The natural inequality of men is one of the reasons for their living together, for their natural gifts are complementary. Social life begins with natural inequality, and it must continue upon that foundation. I shall discuss these doctrines later in more detail. At present, they may serve to show how biological naturalism can be used to support the most divergent ethical doctrines. In the light of our previous analysis of the impossibility of basing norms upon facts this result is not unexpected.

Such considerations, however, are perhaps not sufficient to defeat a theory as popular as biological naturalism; I therefore propose two more direct criticisms. First, it must be admitted that certain forms of behaviour may be described as more 'natural' than other forms; for instance, going naked or eating only raw food; and some people think that this in itself justifies the choice of these forms. But in this sense it certainly is not natural to interest oneself in art, or science, or even in arguments in favour of naturalism. The choice of conformity with 'nature' as a supreme standard leads ultimately to consequences which few will be prepared to face; it does not lead to a more natural form of civilization, but to beastliness [14]. The second criticism is more important. The biological naturalist assumes that he can derive his norms from the natural laws which determine the conditions of health, etc., if he does not naively believe that we need adopt no norms whatever but simply live according to the 'laws of nature'. He overlooks the fact that he makes a choice, a decision; that it is possible that some other people cherish certain things more than their health (for instance, the many who have consciously risked their lives for medical research). And he is therefore mistaken if he believes that he has not made a decision, or that he has derived his norms from biological laws.

(2) Ethical positivism shares with the biological form of ethical naturalism the belief that we must try to reduce norms to facts. But the facts are this time sociological facts, namely, the actual existing norms. Positivism maintains that there are no other norms but the laws which have actually been set up (or 'posited') and which have therefore a positive existence. Other standards are considered as unreal imaginations. The existing laws are the only possible standards of goodness: what is, is good. (Might is right.) According to some forms of this theory, it is a gross misunderstanding to believe that the individual can judge the norms of society; rather, it is society which provides the code by which the individual must be judged.

As a matter of historical fact, ethical (or moral, or juridical) positivism has usually been conservative, or even authoritarian; and it has often invoked the authority of God. Its arguments depend, I believe, upon the alleged arbitrariness of norms. We must believe in existing norms, it claims, because there are no better norms which we may find for ourselves. In reply to this it might be asked: What about this norm 'We must believe etc.'? If this is only an existing norm, then it does not count as an argument in favour of these norms; but if it is an appeal to our insight, then it admits that we can, after all, find norms ourselves. And if we are told to accept norms on authority because we cannot judge them, then neither can we judge whether the claims of the authority are justified, or whether we may not follow a false prophet. And if it is held that there are no false prophets because laws are arbitrary anyhow, so that the main thing is to have some laws, then we may ask ourselves why it should be so important to have laws at all; for if there are no further standards, why then should we not choose to have no laws? (These remarks may perhaps indicate the reasons for my belief that authoritarian or conservative principles are usually an expression of ethical nihilism; that is to say, of an extreme moral scepticism, of a distrust of man and of his possibilities.)

While the theory of natural rights has, in the course of history, often been proffered in support of equalitarian and humanitarian ideas, the positivist school was usually in the opposite camp. But this is not much more than an accident. As has been shown, ethical naturalism may be used with very different intentions. (It has recently been used for confusing the whole issue by advertising certain allegedly 'natural' rights and obligations as 'natural laws'.) Conversely, there are also humanitarian and progressive positivists. For if all norms are arbitrary, why not be tolerant? This is a typical attempt to justify a humanitarian attitude along positivist lines.

(3) Psychological or spiritual naturalism is in a way a combination of the two previous views, and it can best be explained by means of an argument against the one-sidedness of these views. The ethical positivist is right, this argument runs, if he emphasizes that all norms are conventional, i.e. a product of man, and of human society; but he overlooks the fact that they are therefore an expression of the psychological or spiritual nature of man, and of the nature of human society. The biological naturalist is right in assuming that there are certain natural aims or ends, from which we can derive natural norms; but he overlooks the fact that our natural aims are not necessarily such aims as health, pleasure, or food, shelter or propagation. Human nature is such that man, or at least some men, do not want to live by bread alone, that they seek higher aims, spiritual aims. We may thus derive man's true natural aims from his own true nature, which is spiritual, and social. And we may, further, derive the natural norms of life from his natural ends.

This plausible position was, I believe, first formulated by Plato, who was here under the influence of the Socratic doctrine of the soul, i.e. of Socrates' teaching that the spirit matters more than the flesh [15]. Its appeal to our sentiments is undoubtedly very much stronger than that of the other two positions. It can however be combined, like these, with any ethical decision; with a humanitarian attitude as well as with the worship of power. For we can, for instance, decide to treat all men as participating in this spiritual human nature; or we can insist like Heraclitus, that the many 'fill their bellies like the beasts', and are therefore of an inferior nature, and that only a few elect ones are worthy of the spiritual community of men. Accordingly, spiritual naturalism has been much used, and especially by Plato, to justify the natural prerogatives of the 'noble' or 'elect' or 'wise' or of the 'natural leader'. (Plato's attitude is discussed in the following chapters.) On the other hand, it has been used by Christian and other [16] humanitarian forms of ethics, for instance by Paine and by Kant, to demand the recognition of the 'natural rights' of every human individual. It is clear that spiritual naturalism can be used to defend any 'positive', i.e. existing, norm. For it can always be argued that these norms would not be in force if they did not express some traits of human nature. In this way, spiritual naturalism can, in practical problems, become one with positivism, in spite of their traditional opposition. In fact, this form of naturalism is so wide and so vague that it may be used to defend anything. There is nothing that has ever occurred to man which could not be claimed to be 'natural'; for if it were not in his nature, how could it have occurred to him?

Looking back at this brief survey, we may perhaps discern two main tendencies which stand in the way of adopting a critical dualism. The first is a general tendency towards monism [17], that is to say, towards the reduction of norms to facts. The second lies deeper, and it possibly forms the background of the first. It is based upon our fear of admitting to ourselves that the responsibility for our ethical decisions is entirely ours and cannot be shifted to anybody else; neither to God, nor to nature, nor to society, nor to history. All these ethical theories attempt to find somebody, or perhaps some argument, to take the burden from us [18]. But we cannot shirk this responsibility. Whatever authority we may accept, it is we who accept it. We only deceive ourselves if we do not realize this simple point.


We now turn to a more detailed analysis of Plato's naturalism and its relation to his historicism. Plato, of course, does not always use the term 'nature' in the same sense. The most important meaning which he attaches to it is, I believe, practically identical with that which he attaches to the term 'essence'. This way of using the term 'nature' still survives among essentialists even in our day; they still speak, for instance, of the nature of mathematics, or of the nature of inductive inference, or of the 'nature of happiness and misery' [19]. When used by Plato in this way, 'nature' means nearly the same as 'Form' or 'Idea'; for the Form or Idea of a thing, as shown above, is also its essence. The main difference between natures and Forms or Ideas seems to be this. The Form or Idea of a sensible thing is, as we have seen, not in that thing, but separated from it; it is its forefather, its primogenitor; but this Form or father passes something on to the sensible things which are its offspring or race, namely, their nature. This 'nature' is thus the inborn or original quality of a thing, and in so far, its inherent essence; it is the original power or disposition of a thing, and it determines those of its properties which are the basis of its resemblance to, or of its innate participation in, its Form or Idea.

'Natural' is, accordingly, what is innate or original or divine in a thing, while 'artificial' is that which has been later changed by man or added or imposed by him, through external compulsion. Plato frequently insists that all products of human 'art' at their best are only copies of 'natural' sensible things. But since these in turn are only copies of the divine Forms or Ideas, the products of art are only copies of copies, twice removed from reality, and therefore less good, less real, and less true [20] than even the (natural) things in flux. We see from this that Plato agrees with Antiphon [21] in at least one point, namely in assuming that the opposition between nature and convention or art corresponds to that between truth and falsehood, between reality and appearance, between primary or original and secondary or man-made things, and to that between the objects of rational knowledge and those of delusive opinion.
The opposition corresponds also, according to Plato, to that between 'the offspring of divine workmanship' or 'the products of divine art', and 'what man makes out of them, i.e. the products of human art'. [22] All those things whose intrinsic value Plato wishes to emphasize he therefore claims to be natural as opposed to artificial. Thus he insists in the Laws that the soul has to be considered prior to all material things, and that it must therefore be said to exist by nature: 'Nearly everybody ... is ignorant of the power of the soul, and especially of her origin. They do not know that she is among the first of things, and prior to all bodies . . . In using the word "nature" one wants to describe the things that were created first; but if it turns out that it is the soul which is prior to other things (and not, perhaps, fire or air), . . . then the soul, beyond all others, may be asserted to exist by nature, in the truest sense of the word.' [23] (Plato here re-affirms his old theory that the soul is more closely akin to the Forms or Ideas than the body; a theory which is also the basis of his doctrine of immortality.)

But Plato not only teaches that the soul is prior to other things and therefore exists 'by nature'; he uses the term 'nature', if applied to man, frequently also as a name for spiritual powers or gifts or natural talents, so that we can say that a man's 'nature' is much the same as his 'soul'; it is the divine principle by which he participates in the Form or Idea, in the divine primogenitor of his race. And the term 'race', again, is frequently used in a very similar sense. Since a 'race' is united by being the offspring of the same primogenitor, it must also be united by a common nature. Thus the terms 'nature' and 'race' are frequently used by Plato as synonyms, for instance, when he speaks of the 'race of philosophers' and of those who have 'philosophic natures'; so that both these terms are closely akin to the terms 'essence' and 'soul'.

Plato's theory of 'nature' opens another approach to his historicist methodology. Since it seems to be the task of science in general to examine the true nature of its objects, it is the task of a social or political science to examine the nature of human society, and of the state. But the nature of a thing, according to Plato, is its origin; or at least it is determined by its origin. Thus the method of any science will be the investigation of the origin of things (of their 'causes'). This principle, when applied to the science of society and of politics, leads to the demand that the origin of society and of the state must be examined. History therefore is not studied for its own sake but serves as the method of the social sciences. This is the historicist methodology.

What is the nature of human society, of the state? According to historicist methods, this fundamental question of sociology must be reformulated in this way: what is the origin of society and of the state? The reply given by Plato in the Republic as well as in the Laws [24], agrees with the position described above as spiritual naturalism. The origin of society is a convention, a social contract. But it is not only that; it is, rather, a natural convention, i.e. a convention which is based upon human nature, and more precisely, upon the social nature of man.

This social nature of man has its origin in the imperfection of the human individual. In opposition to Socrates [25], Plato teaches that the human individual cannot be self-sufficient, owing to the limitations inherent in human nature. Although Plato insists that there are very different degrees of human perfection, it turns out that even the very few comparatively perfect men still depend upon others (who are less perfect); if for nothing else, then for having the dirty work, the manual work, done by them [26]. In this way, even the 'rare and uncommon natures' who approach perfection depend upon society, upon the state. They can reach perfection only through the state and in the state; the perfect state must offer them the proper 'social habitat', without which they must grow corrupt and degenerate. The state therefore must be placed higher than the individual since only the state can be self-sufficient ('autark'), perfect, and able to make good the necessary imperfection of the individual.

Society and the individual are thus interdependent. The one owes its existence to the other. Society owes its existence to human nature, and especially to its lack of self-sufficiency; and the individual owes his existence to society, since he is not self-sufficient. But within this relationship of interdependence, the superiority of the state over the individual manifests itself in various ways; for instance, in the fact that the seed of the decay and disunion of a perfect state does not spring up in the state itself, but rather in its individuals; it is rooted in the imperfection of the human soul, of human nature; or more precisely, in the fact that the race of men is liable to degenerate. To this point, the origin of political decay, and its dependence upon the degeneration of human nature, I shall return presently; but I wish first to make a few comments on some of the characteristics of Plato's sociology, especially upon his version of the theory of the social contract, and upon his view of the state as a super-individual, i.e. his version of the biological or organic theory of the state.

Whether Protagoras first proposed a theory that laws originate with a social contract, or whether Lycophron (whose theory will be discussed in the next chapter) was the first to do so, is not certain. In any case, the idea is closely related to Protagoras' conventionalism. The fact that Plato consciously combined some conventionalist ideas, and even a version of the contract theory, with his naturalism, is in itself an indication that conventionalism in its original form did not maintain that laws are wholly arbitrary; and Plato's remarks on Protagoras confirm this [27]. How conscious Plato was of a conventionalist element in his version of naturalism can be seen from a passage in the Laws. Plato there gives a list of the various principles upon which political authority might be based, mentioning Pindar's biological naturalism (see above), i.e. 'the principle that the stronger shall rule and the weaker be ruled', which he describes as a principle 'according to nature, as the Theban poet Pindar once stated'. Plato contrasts this principle with another which he recommends by showing that it combines conventionalism with naturalism: 'But there is also a . . . claim which is the greatest principle of all, namely, that the wise shall lead and rule, and that the ignorant shall follow; and this, O Pindar, wisest of poets, is surely not contrary to nature, but according to nature; for what it demands is not external compulsion but the truly natural sovereignty of a law which is based upon mutual consent.' [28]

In the Republic we find elements of the conventionalist contract theory in a similar way combined with elements of naturalism (and utilitarianism). 'The city originates', we hear there, 'because we are not self-sufficient; ... or is there another origin of settlement in cities? ... Men gather into one settlement many . . . helpers, since they need many things ... And when they share their goods with one another, the one giving, the other partaking, does not every one expect in this way to further his own interest?' [29] Thus the inhabitants gather in order that each may further his own interest; which is an element of the contract theory. But behind this stands the fact that they are not self-sufficient, a fact of human nature; which is an element of naturalism. And this element is developed further. 'By nature, no two of us are exactly alike. Each has his peculiar nature, some being fit for one kind of work and some for another ... Is it better that a man should work in many crafts or that he should work in one only? . . . Surely, more will be produced and better and more easily if each man works in one occupation only, according to his natural gifts.'

In this way, the economic principle of the division of labour is introduced (reminding us of the affinity between Plato's historicism and the materialist interpretation of history). But this principle is based here upon an element of biological naturalism, namely, upon the natural inequality of men. At first, this idea is introduced inconspicuously and, as it were, innocently. But we shall see in the next chapter that it has far- reaching consequences; indeed, the only really important division of labour turns out to be that between rulers and ruled, claimed to be based upon the natural inequality of masters and slaves, of wise and ignorant.

We have seen that there is a considerable element of conventionalism as well as of biological naturalism in Plato's position; an observation which is not surprising when we consider that this position is, on the whole, that of spiritual naturalism which, because of its vagueness, easily allows for all such combinations. This spiritual version of naturalism is perhaps best formulated in the Laws. 'Men say', says Plato, 'that the greatest and most beautiful things are natural ... and the lesser things artificial.' So far he agrees; but he then attacks the materialists who say 'that fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature ... and that all normative laws are altogether unnatural and artificial and based upon superstitions which are not true.' Against this view, he shows first, that it is not bodies nor elements, but the soul which truly 'exists by nature'— (I have quoted this passage above); and from this he concludes that order, and law, must also be by nature, since they spring from the soul: 'If the soul is prior to the body, then things dependent upon the soul' (i.e. spiritual matters) 'are also prior to those dependent upon body . . . And the soul orders and directs all things.' This supplies the theoretical background for the doctrine that 'laws and purposeful institutions exist by nature, and not by anything lower than nature, since they are born of reason and true thought.' This is a clear statement of spiritual naturalism; and it is combined as well with positivist beliefs of a conservative kind: 'Thoughtful and prudent legislation will find a most powerful help because the laws will remain unchanged once they have been laid down in writing. '

From all this it can be seen that arguments derived from Plato's spiritual naturalism are quite incapable of helping to answer any question which may arise concerning the 'just' or 'natural' character of any particular law. Spiritual naturalism is much too vague to be applied to any practical problem. It cannot do much beyond providing some general arguments in favour of conservativism. In practice, everything is left to the wisdom of the great lawgiver (a godlike philosopher, whose picture, especially in the Laws, is undoubtedly a self-portrait; see also chapter 8). As opposed to his spiritual naturalism, however, Plato's theory of the interdependence of society and the individual furnishes more concrete results; and so does his anti-equalitarian biological naturalism.


It has been indicated above that because of its self-sufficiency, the ideal state appears to Plato as the perfect individual, and the individual citizen, accordingly, as an imperfect copy of the state. This view which makes of the state a kind of super-organism or Leviathan introduces into the Occident the so-called organic or biological theory of the state.
The principle of this theory will be criticized later [31]. Here I wish first to draw attention to the fact that Plato does not defend the theory, and indeed hardly formulates it explicitly. But it is clearly enough implied; in fact, the fundamental analogy between the state and the human individual is one of the standard topics of the Republic. It is worth mentioning, in this connection, that the analogy serves to further the analysis of the individual rather than that of the state. One could perhaps defend the view that Plato (perhaps under the influence of Alcmaeon) does not offer so much a biological theory of the state as a political theory of the human individual [32]. This view, I think, is fully in accordance with his doctrine that the individual is lower than the state, and a kind of imperfect copy of it. In the very place in which Plato introduces his fundamental analogy, it is used in this way; that is to say, as a method of explaining and elucidating the individual. The city, it is said, is greater than the individual, and therefore easier to examine. Plato gives this as his reason for suggesting that 'we should begin our inquiry' (namely, into the nature of justice) 'in the city, and continue it afterwards in the individual, always watching for points of similarity ... May we not expect in this way to discern more easily what we are looking for?'

From his way of introducing it we can see that Plato (and perhaps his readers) took his fundamental analogy for granted. This may well be a symptom of nostalgia, of a longing for a unified and harmonious, an 'organic' state: for a society of a more primitive kind. (See chapter 10.) The city state ought to remain small, he says, and should grow only as long as its increase does not endanger its unity. The whole city should, by its nature, be one, and not many. [33] Plato thus emphasizes the 'oneness' or individuality of his city. But he also emphasizes the 'manyness' of the human individual. In his analysis of the individual soul, and of its division into three parts, reason, energy, and animal instincts, corresponding to the three classes of his state, the guardians, warriors, and workers (who still continue to 'fill their bellies like the beasts', as Heraclitus had said), Plato goes so far as to oppose these parts to one another as if they were 'distinct and conflicting persons' [34]. 'We are thus told', says Grote, 'that though man is apparently One, he is in reality Many . . . though the perfect Commonwealth is apparently Many, it is in reality One.' It is clear that this corresponds to the Ideal character of the state of which the individual is a kind of imperfect copy. Such an emphasis upon oneness and wholeness — especially of the state; or perhaps of the world — may be described as 'holism'. Plato's holism, I believe, is closely related to the tribal collectivism mentioned in earlier chapters. Plato was longing for the lost unity of tribal life. A life of change, in the midst of a social revolution, appeared to him unreal. Only a stable whole, the permanent collective, has reality, not the passing individuals. It is 'natural' for the individual to subserve the whole, which is no mere assembly of individuals, but a 'natural' unit of a higher order.

Plato gives many excellent sociological descriptions of this 'natural', i.e. tribal and collectivist, mode of social life: 'The law', he writes in the Republic, ' ... is designed to bring about the welfare of the state as a whole, fitting the citizens into one unit, by means of both persuasion and force. It makes them all share in whatever benefit each of them can contribute to the community. And it is actually the law which creates for the state men of the right frame of mind; not for the purpose of letting them loose, so that everybody can go his own way, but in order to utilize them all for welding the city together.' [35] That there is in this holism an emotional aestheticism, a longing for beauty, can be seen, for instance, from a remark in the Laws: 'Every artist . . . executes the part for the sake of the whole, and not the whole for the sake of the part.' At the same place, we also find a truly classical formulation of political holism: 'You are created for the sake of the whole, and not the whole for the sake of you.' Within this whole, the different individuals, and groups of individuals, with their natural inequalities, must render their specific and very unequal services.

All this would indicate that Plato's theory was a form of the organic theory of the state, even if he had not sometimes spoken of the state as an organism. But since he did this, there can be no doubt left that he must be described as an exponent, or rather, as one of the originators, of this theory. His version of this theory may be characterized as a personalist or psychological one, since he describes the state not in a general way as similar to some organism or other, but as analogous to the human individual, and more specifically to the human soul. Especially the disease of the state, the dissolution of its unity, corresponds to the disease of the human soul, of human nature. In fact, the disease of the state is not only correlated with, but is directly produced by, the corruption of human nature, more especially of the members of the ruling class. Every single one of the typical stages in the degeneration of the state is brought about by a corresponding stage in the degeneration of the human soul, of human nature, of the human race. And since this moral degeneration is interpreted as based upon racial degeneration, we might say that the biological element in Plato's naturalism turns out, in the end, to have the most important part in the foundation of his historicism. For the history of the downfall of the first or perfect state is nothing but the history of the biological degeneration of the race of men.


It was mentioned in the last chapter that the problem of the beginning of change and decay is one of the major difficulties of Plato's historicist theory of society. The first, the natural and perfect city-state, cannot be supposed to carry within itself the germ of dissolution, 'for a city which carries within itself the germ of dissolution is for that very reason imperfect' [36]. Plato tries to get over the difficulty by laying the blame on his universally valid historical, biological, and perhaps even cosmological, evolutionary law of degeneration, rather than on the particular constitution of the first or perfect city [37]: 'Everything that has been generated must decay.' But this general theory does not provide a fully satisfactory solution, for it does not explain why even a sufficiently perfect state cannot escape the law of decay. And indeed, Plato hints that historical decay might have been avoided [38], had the rulers of the first or natural state been trained philosophers. But they were not. They were not trained (as he demands that the rulers of his heavenly city should be) in mathematics and dialectics; and in order to avoid degeneration, they would have needed to be initiated into the higher mysteries of eugenics, of the science of 'keeping pure the race of the guardians', and of avoiding the mixture of the noble metals in their veins with the base metals of the workers. But these higher mysteries are difficult to reveal. Plato distinguishes sharply, in the fields of mathematics, acoustics, and astronomy, between mere (delusive) opinion which is tainted by experience, and which cannot reach exactness, and is altogether on a low level, and pure rational knowledge, which is free from sensual experience and exact. This distinction he applies also to the field of eugenics. A merely empirical art of breeding cannot be precise, i.e. it cannot keep the race perfectly pure. This explains the downfall of the original city which is so good, i.e. so similar to its Form or Idea, that 'a city thus constituted can hardly be shaken'. 'But this', Plato continues, 'is the way it dissolves', and he proceeds to outline his theory of breeding, of the Number, and of the Fall of Man.

All plants and animals, he tells us, must be bred according to definite periods of time, if barrenness and degeneration are to be avoided. Some knowledge of these periods, which are connected with the length of the life of the race, will be available to the rulers of the best state, and they will apply it to the breeding of the master race. It will not, however, be rational, but only empirical knowledge; it will be 'calculation aided by (or based on) perception' (cp. the next quotation). But as we have just seen, perception and experience can never be exact and reliable, since its objects are not the pure Forms or Ideas, but the world of things in flux; and since the guardians have no better kind of knowledge at their disposal, the breed cannot be kept pure, and racial degeneration must creep in. This is how Plato explains the matter: 'Concerning your own race' (i.e. the race of men, as opposed to animals), 'the rulers of the city whom you have trained may be wise enough; but since they are using calculation aided by perception, they will not hit, accidentally, upon the way of getting either good offspring, or none at all.' Lacking a purely rational method,— 'they will blunder, and some day they will beget children in the wrong way'. In what follows next, Plato hints, rather mysteriously, that there is now a way to avoid this through the discovery of a purely rational and mathematical science which possesses in the 'Platonic Number' (a number determining the True Period of the human race) the key to the master law of higher eugenics. But since the guardians of old times were ignorant of Pythagorean number-mysticism, and with it, of this key to the higher knowledge of breeding, the otherwise perfect natural state could not escape decay. After partially revealing the secret of his mysterious Number, Plato continues: 'This ... number is master over better or worse births; and whenever these guardians of yours — who are ignorant of these matters — unite bride and bridegroom in the wrong manner [40], the children will have neither good natures nor good luck. Even the best of them . . . will prove unworthy when succeeding to the power of their fathers; and as soon as they are guardians, they will not listen to us any more' — that is, in matters of musical and gymnastic education, and, as Plato especially emphasizes, in the supervision of breeding. 'Hence rulers will be appointed who are not altogether fit for their task as guardians; namely to watch, and to test, the metals in the races (which are Hesiod's races as well as yours), gold and silver and bronze and iron. So iron will mingle with silver and bronze with gold and from this mixture, Variation will be born and absurd Irregularity; and whenever these are born they will beget Strife and Hostility. And this is how we must describe the ancestry and birth of Dissension, wherever she arises.'

This is Plato's story of the Number and of the Fall of Man. It is the basis of his historicist sociology, especially of his fundamental law of social revolutions discussed in the last chapter [41]. For racial degeneration explains the origin of disunion in the ruling class, and with it, the origin of all historical development. The internal disunion of human nature, the schism of the soul, leads to the schism of the ruling class. And as with Heraclitus, war, class war, is the father and promoter of all change, and of the history of man, which is nothing but the history of the breakdown of society. We see that Plato's idealist historicism ultimately rests not upon a spiritual, but upon a biological basis; it rests upon a kind of meta- biology [42] of the race of men. Plato was not only a naturalist who proffered a biological theory of the state, he was also the first to proffer a biological and racial theory of social dynamics, of political history. 'The Platonic Number', says Adam [43], 'is thus the setting in which Plato's "Philosophy of History" is framed.'

It is, I think, appropriate to conclude this sketch of Plato's descriptive sociology with a summary and an evaluation.

Plato succeeded in giving an astonishingly true, though of course somewhat idealized, reconstruction of an early Greek tribal and collectivist society similar to that of Sparta. An analysis of the forces, especially the economic forces, which threaten the stability of such a society, enables him to describe the general policy as well as the social institutions which are necessary for arresting it. And he gives, furthermore, a rational reconstruction of the economic and historical development of the Greek city-states.

These achievements are impaired by his hatred of the society in which he was living, and by his romantic love for the old tribal form of social life. It is this attitude which led him to formulate an untenable law of historical development, namely, the law of universal degeneration or decay. And the same attitude is also responsible for the irrational, fantastic, and romantic elements of his otherwise excellent analysis. On the other hand, it was just his personal interest and his partiality which sharpened his eye and so made his achievements possible. He derived his historicist theory from the fantastic philosophical doctrine that the changing visible world is only a decaying copy of an unchanging invisible world. But this ingenious attempt to combine a historicist pessimism with an ontological optimism leads, when elaborated, to difficulties. These difficulties forced upon him the adoption of a biological naturalism, leading (together with 'psychologism' [44], i.e. the theory that society depends on the 'human nature' of its members) to mysticism and superstition, culminating in a pseudo-rational mathematical theory of breeding. They even endangered the impressive unity of his theoretical edifice.  


Looking back at this edifice, we may briefly consider its ground-plan [45]. This ground-plan, conceived by a great architect, exhibits a fundamental metaphysical dualism in Plato's thought. In the field of logic, this dualism presents itself as the opposition between the universal and the particular. In the field of mathematical speculation, it presents itself as the opposition between the One and the Many. In the field of epistemology, it is the opposition between rational knowledge based on pure thought, and opinion based on particular experiences. In the field of ontology, it is the opposition between the one, original, invariable, and true, reality, and the many, varying, and delusive, appearances; between pure being and becoming, or more precisely, changing. In the field of cosmology, it is the opposition between that which generates and that which is generated, and which must decay. In ethics, it is the opposition between the good, i.e. that which preserves, and the evil, i.e. that which corrupts. In politics, it is the opposition between the one collective, the state, which may attain perfection and autarchy, and the great mass of the people — the many individuals, the particular men who must remain imperfect and dependent, and whose particularity is to be suppressed for the sake of the unity of the state (see the next chapter). And this whole dualist philosophy, I believe, originated from the urgent wish to explain the contrast between the vision of an ideal society, and the hateful actual state of affairs in the social field — the contrast between a stable society, and a society in the process of revolution.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

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Part 1 of 2

Plato's Political Programme

Chapter 6: Totalitarian Justice

The analysis of Plato's sociology makes it easy to present his political programme. His fundamental demands can be expressed in either of two formulae, the first corresponding to his idealist theory of change and rest, the second to his naturalism. The idealist formula is: Arrest all political change! Change is evil, rest divine [1]. All change can be arrested if the state is made an exact copy of its original, i.e. of the Form or Idea of the city. Should it be asked how this is practicable, we can reply with the naturalistic formula: Back to nature! Back to the original state of our forefathers, the primitive state founded in accordance with human nature, and therefore stable; back to the tribal patriarchy of the time before the Fall, to the natural class rule of the wise few over the ignorant many.

I believe that practically all the elements of Plato's political programme can be derived from these demands. They are, in turn, based upon his historicism; and they have to be combined with his sociological doctrines concerning the conditions for the stability of class rule. The principal elements I have in mind are:

(A) The strict division of the classes; i.e. the ruling class consisting of herdsmen and watch-dogs must be strictly separated from the human cattle.

(B) The identification of the fate of the state with that of the ruling class; the exclusive interest in this class, and in its unity; and subservient to this unity, the rigid rules for breeding and educating this class, and the strict supervision and collectivization of the interests of its members.

From these principal elements, others can be derived, for instance the following:

(C) The ruling class has a monopoly of things like military virtues and training, and of the right to carry arms and to receive education of any kind; but it is excluded from any participation in economic activities, and especially from earning money.

(D) There must be a censorship of all intellectual activities of the ruling class, and a continual propaganda aiming at moulding and unifying their minds. All innovation in education, legislation, and religion must be prevented or suppressed.

(E) The state must be self-sufficient. It must aim at economic autarchy; for otherwise the rulers would either be dependent upon traders, or become traders themselves. The first of these alternatives would undermine their power, the second their unity and the stability of the state.

This programme can, I think, be fairly described as totalitarian.
And it is certainly founded upon a historicist sociology.

But is that all? Are there no other features of Plato's programme, elements which are neither totalitarian nor founded upon historicism? What about Plato's ardent desire for Goodness and Beauty, or his love of Wisdom and of Truth? What about his demand that the wise, the philosophers, should rule? What about his hopes of making the citizens of his state virtuous as well as happy? And what about his demand that the state should be founded upon Justice? Even writers who criticize Plato believe that his political doctrine, in spite of certain similarities, is clearly distinguished from modern totalitarianism by these aims of his, the happiness of the citizens, and the rule of justice. Grossman, for instance, whose critical attitude can be gauged from his remark that 'Plato's philosophy is the most savage and most profound attack upon liberal ideas which history can show' [2], seems still to believe that Plato's plan is 'the building of a perfect state in which every citizen is really happy'. Another example is Joad who discusses the similarities between Plato's programme and that of fascism at some length, but who asserts that there are fundamental differences, since in Plato's best state 'the ordinary man ... achieves such happiness as appertains to his nature', and since this state is built upon the ideas of 'an absolute good and an absolute justice'.

In spite of such arguments I believe that Plato's political programme, far from being morally superior to totalitarianism, is fundamentally identical with it. I believe that the objections against this view are based upon an ancient and deep-rooted prejudice in favour of idealizing Plato. That Grossman has done much to point out and to destroy this inclination may be seen from this statement: 'Before the Great War ... Plato ... was rarely condemned outright as a reactionary, resolutely opposed to every principle of the liberal creed. Instead he was elevated to a higher rank, . . . removed from practical life, dreaming of a transcendent City of God.' [3] Grossman himself, however, is not free from that tendency which he so clearly exposes. It is interesting that this tendency could persist for such a long time in spite of the fact that Grote and Gomperz had pointed out the reactionary character of some doctrines of the Republic and the Laws. But even they did not see all the implications of these doctrines; they never doubted that Plato was, fundamentally, a humanitarian. And their adverse criticism was ignored, or interpreted as a failure to understand and to appreciate Plato who was by Christians considered a 'Christian before Christ', and by revolutionaries a revolutionary. This kind of complete faith in Plato is undoubtedly still dominant, and Field, for instance, finds it necessary to warn his readers that 'we shall misunderstand Plato entirely if we think of him as a revolutionary thinker'. This is, of course, very true; and it would clearly be pointless if the tendency to make of Plato a revolutionary thinker, or at least a progressivist, were not fairly widespread. But Field himself has the same kind of faith in Plato; for when he goes on to say that Plato was 'in strong opposition to the new and subversive tendencies' of his time, then surely he accepts too readily Plato's testimony for the subversiveness of these new tendencies. The enemies of freedom have always charged its defenders with subversion. And nearly always they have succeeded in persuading the guileless and well-meaning.

The idealization of the great idealist permeates not only the interpretations of Plato's writings, but also the translations. Drastic remarks of Plato's which do not fit the translator's views of what a humanitarian should say are frequently either toned down or misunderstood. This tendency begins with the translation of the very title of Plato's so-called 'Republic'. What comes first to our mind when hearing this title is that the author must be a liberal, if not a revolutionary. But the title 'Republic' is, quite simply, the English form of the Latin rendering of a Greek word that had no associations of this kind, and whose proper English translation would be 'The Constitution' or 'The City State' or 'The State'. The traditional translation 'The Republic' has undoubtedly contributed to the general conviction that Plato could not have been a reactionary.

In view of all that Plato says about Goodness and Justice and the other Ideas mentioned, my thesis that his political demands are purely totalitarian and anti-humanitarian needs to be defended. In order to undertake this defence, I shall, for the next four chapters, break off the analysis of historicism, and concentrate upon a critical examination of the ethical Ideas mentioned, and of their part in Plato's political demands. In the present chapter, I shall examine the Idea of Justice; in the three following chapters, the doctrine that the wisest and best should rule, and the Ideas of Truth, Wisdom, Goodness, and Beauty.


What do we really mean when we speak of 'Justice'? I do not think that verbal questions of this kind are particularly important, or that it is possible to make a definite answer to them, since such terms are always used in various senses. However, I think that most of us, especially those whose general outlook is humanitarian, mean something like this: (a) an equal distribution of the burden of citizenship, i.e. of those limitations of freedom which are necessary in social life [4]; (b) equal treatment of the citizens before the law, provided, of course, that (c) the laws show neither favour nor disfavour towards individual citizens or groups or classes; (d) impartiality of the courts of justice; and (e) an equal share in the advantages (and not only in the burden) which membership of the state may offer to its citizens. If Plato had meant by 'justice' anything of this kind, then my claim that his programme is purely totalitarian would certainly be wrong and all those would be right who believe that Plato's politics rested upon an acceptable humanitarian basis. But the fact is that he meant by 'justice' something entirely different.

What did Plato mean by 'justice'? I assert that in the Republic he used the term 'just' as a synonym for 'that which is in the interest of the best state'. And what is in the interest of this best state? To arrest all change, by the maintenance of a rigid class division and class rule. If I am right in this interpretation, then we should have to say that Plato's demand for justice leaves his political programme at the level of totalitarianism; and we should have to conclude that we must guard against the danger of being impressed by mere words.

Justice is the central topic of the Republic; in fact, 'On Justice' is its traditional sub-title. In his enquiry into the nature of justice, Plato makes use of the method mentioned [5] in the last chapter; he first tries to search for this Idea in the state, and then attempts to apply the result to the individual. One cannot say that Plato's question 'What is justice?' quickly finds an answer, for it is only given in the Fourth Book. The considerations which lead up to it will be analysed more fully later in this chapter. Briefly, they are these.

The city is founded upon human nature, its needs, and its limitations [6]. 'We have stated, and, you will remember, repeated over and over again that each man in our city should do one work only; namely, that work for which his nature is naturally best fitted.' From this Plato concludes that everyone should mind his own business; that the carpenter should confine himself to carpentering, the shoemaker to making shoes. Not much harm is done, however, if two workers change their natural places. 'But should anyone who is by nature a worker (or else a member of the money- earning class) . . . manage to get into the warrior class; or should a warrior get into the class of the guardians, without being worthy of it; ... then this kind of change and of underhand plotting would mean the downfall of the city.' From this argument which is closely related to the principle that the carrying of arms should be a class prerogative, Plato draws his final conclusion that any changing or intermingling within the three classes must be injustice, and that the opposite, therefore, is justice: 'When each class in the city minds its own business, the money-earning class as well as the auxiliaries and the guardians, then this will be justice.' This conclusion is reaffirmed and summed up a little later: 'The city is just . . . if each of its three classes attends to its own work.' But this statement means that Plato identifies justice with the principle of class rule and of class privilege. For the principle that every class should attend to its own business means, briefly and bluntly, that the state is just if the ruler rules, if the worker works, and [7] if the slave slaves.

It will be seen that Plato's concept of justice is fundamentally different from our ordinary view as analysed above. Plato calls class privilege 'just', while we usually mean by justice rather the absence of such privilege. But the difference goes further than that. We mean by justice some kind of equality in the treatment of individuals, while Plato considers justice not as a relationship between individuals, but as a property of the whole state, based upon a relationship between its classes. The state is just if it is healthy, strong, united — stable.


But was Plato perhaps right? Does 'justice' perhaps mean what he says? I do not intend to discuss such a question. If anyone should hold that 'justice' means the unchallenged rule of one class, then I should simply reply that I am all for injustice. In other words, I believe that nothing depends upon words, and everything upon our practical demands or upon the proposals for framing our policy which we decide to adopt. Behind Plato's definition of justice stands, fundamentally, his demand for a totalitarian class rule, and his decision to bring it about.

But was he not right in a different sense? Did his idea of justice perhaps correspond to the Greek way of using this word? Did the Greeks perhaps mean by 'justice', something holistic, like the 'health of the state', and is it not utterly unfair and unhistorical to expect from Plato an anticipation of our modern idea of justice as equality of the citizens before the law? This question, indeed, has been answered in the affirmative, and the claim has been made that Plato's holistic idea of 'social justice' is characteristic of the traditional Greek outlook, of the 'Greek genius' which 'was not, like the Roman, specifically legal', but rather 'specifically metaphysical' [8]. But this claim is untenable. As a matter of fact, the Greek way of using the word 'justice' was indeed surprisingly similar to our own individualistic and equalitarian usage.

In order to show this, I may first refer to Plato himself who, in the dialogue Gorgias (which is earlier than the Republic), speaks of the view that 'justice is equality' as one held by the great mass of the people, and as one which agrees not only with 'convention', but with 'nature itself'. I may further quote Aristotle, another opponent of equalitarianism, who, under the influence of Plato's naturalism, elaborated among other things the theory that some men are by nature born to slave [9]. Nobody could be less interested in spreading an equalitarian and individualistic interpretation of the term 'justice'. But when speaking of the judge, whom he describes as 'a personification of that which is just', Aristotle says that it is the task of the judge to 'restore equality'. He tells us that 'all men think justice to be a kind of equality', an equality, namely, which 'pertains to persons'.
He even thinks (but here he is wrong) that the Greek word for 'justice' is to be derived from a root that means 'equal division'. (The view that 'justice' means a kind of 'equality in the division of spoils and honours to the citizens' agrees with Plato's views in the Laws, where two kinds of equality in the distribution of spoils and honours are distinguished — 'numerical' or 'arithmetical' equality and 'proportionate' equality; the second of which takes account of the degree in which the persons in question possess virtue, breeding, and wealth — and where this proportionate equality is said to constitute 'political justice'.) And when Aristotle discusses the principles of democracy, he says that 'democratic justice is the application of the principle of arithmetical equality (as distinct from proportionate equality).' All this is certainly not merely his personal impression of the meaning of justice, nor is it perhaps only a description of the way in which the word was used, after Plato, under the influence of the Gorgias and the Laws', it is, rather, the expression of a universal and ancient as well as popular use of the word 'justice'. [10]

In view of this evidence, we must say, I think, that the holistic and anti-equalitarian interpretation of justice in the Republic was an innovation, and that Plato attempted to present his totalitarian class rule as 'just' while people generally meant by 'justice' the exact opposite.

This result is startling, and opens up a number of questions. Why did Plato claim, in the Republic, that justice meant inequality if in general usage, it meant equality? To me the only likely reply seems to be that he wanted to make propaganda for his totalitarian state by persuading the people that it was the 'just' state. But was such an attempt worth his while, considering that it is not words but what we mean by them that matters? Of course it was worth while; this can be seen from the fact that he fully succeeded in persuading his readers, down to our own day, that he was candidly advocating justice, i.e. that justice they were striving for. And it is a fact that he thereby spread doubt and confusion among equalitarians and individualists who, under the influence of his authority, began to ask themselves whether his idea of justice was not truer and better than theirs. Since the word 'justice' symbolizes to us an aim of such importance, and since so many are prepared to endure anything for it, and to do all in their power for its realization, the enlistment of these humanitarian forces, or at least, the paralysing of equalitarianism, was certainly an aim worthy of being pursued by a believer in totalitarianism. But was Plato aware that justice meant so much to men? He was; for he writes in the Republic: 'When a man has committed an injustice, ... is it not true that his courage refuses to be stirred? . . . But when he believes that he has suffered injustice, does not his vigour and his wrath flare up at once? And is it not equally true that when fighting on the side of what he believes to be just, he can endure hunger and cold, and any kind of hardship? And does he not hold on until he conquers, persisting in his exalted state until he has either achieved his aim, or perished?' [11]

Reading this, we cannot doubt that Plato knew the power of faith, and, above all, of a faith in justice. Nor can we doubt that the Republic must tend to pervert this faith, and to replace it by a directly opposite faith. And in the light of the available evidence, it seems to me most probable that Plato knew very well what he was doing. Equalitarianism was his arch-enemy, and he was out to destroy it; no doubt in the sincere belief that it was a great evil and a great danger. But his attack upon equalitarianism was not an honest attack. Plato did not dare to face the enemy openly.

I proceed to present the evidence in support of this contention.


The Republic is probably the most elaborate monograph on justice ever written. It examines a variety of views about justice, and it does this in a way which leads us to believe that Plato omitted none of the more important theories known to him. In fact, Plato clearly implies [12] that because of his vain attempts to track it down among the current views, a new search for justice is necessary. Yet in his survey and discussion of the current theories, the view that justice is equality before the law ('isonomy') is never mentioned. This omission can be explained only in two ways. Either he overlooked the equalitarian theory [13], or he purposely avoided it. The first possibility seems very unlikely if we consider the care with which the Republic is composed, and the necessity for Plato to analyse the theories of his opponents if he was to make a forceful presentation of his own. But this possibility appears even more improbable if we consider the wide popularity of the equalitarian theory. We need not, however, rely upon merely probable arguments since it can be easily shown that Plato was not only acquainted with the equalitarian theory but well aware of its importance when he wrote the Republic. As already mentioned in this chapter (in section II), and as will be shown in detail later (in section VIII), equalitarianism played a considerable role in the earlier Gorgias where it is even defended; and in spite of the fact that the merits or demerits of equalitarianism are nowhere seriously discussed in the Republic, Plato did not change his mind regarding its influence, for the Republic itself testifies to its popularity. It is there alluded to as a very popular democratic belief; but it is treated only with scorn, and all we hear about it consists of a few sneers and pin-pricks [14], well matched with the abusive attack upon Athenian democracy, and made at a place where justice is not the topic of the discussion. The possibility that the equalitarian theory of justice was overlooked by Plato is therefore ruled out, and so is the possibility that he did not see that a discussion of an influential theory diametrically opposed to his own was requisite. The fact that his silence in the Republic is broken only by a few jocular remarks (apparently he thought them too good to be suppressed [15]) can be explained only as a conscious refusal to discuss it. In view of all that, I do not see how Plato's method of impressing upon his readers the belief that all important theories have been examined can be reconciled with the standards of intellectual honesty;
though we must add that his failure is undoubtedly due to his complete devotion to a cause in whose goodness he firmly believed.

In order to appreciate fully the implications of Plato's practically unbroken silence on this issue, we must first see clearly that the equalitarian movement as Plato knew it represented all he hated, and that his own theory, in the Republic and in all later works, was largely a reply to the powerful challenge of the new equalitarianism and humanitarianism. To show this, I shall discuss the main principles of the humanitarian movement, and contrast them with the corresponding principles of Platonic totalitarianism.

The humanitarian theory of justice makes three main demands or proposals, namely (a) the equalitarian principle proper, i.e. the proposal to eliminate 'natural' privileges, (b) the general principle of individualism, and (c) the principle that it should be the task and the purpose of the state to protect the freedom of its citizens. To each of these political demands or proposals there corresponds a directly opposite principle of Platonism, namely (a[1]) the principle of natural privilege, (4[1]) the general principle of holism or collectivism, and (c[1]) the principle that it should be the task and the purpose of the individual to maintain, and to strengthen, the stability of the state. — I shall discuss these three points in order, devoting to each of them one of the sections iv, v, and vi of this chapter.


Equalitarianism proper is the demand that the citizens of the state should be treated impartially. It is the demand that birth, family connection, or wealth must not influence those who administer the law to the citizens. In other words, it does not recognize any 'natural' privileges, although certain privileges may be conferred by the citizens upon those they trust. This equalitarian principle had been admirably formulated by Pericles a few years before Plato's birth, in an oration which has been preserved by Thucydides [16]. It will be quoted more fully in chapter 10, but two of its sentences may be given here: 'Our laws', said Pericles, 'afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward for merit; and poverty is not a bar ...' These sentences express some of the fundamental aims of the great equalitarian movement which, as we have seen, did not even shrink from attacking slavery. In Pericles' own generation, this movement was represented by Euripides, Antiphon, and Hippias, who have all been quoted in the last chapter, and also by Herodotus [17]. In Plato's generation, it was represented by Alcidamas and Lycophron, both quoted above; another supporter was Antisthenes, who had been one of Socrates' closest friends.

Plato's principle of justice was, of course, diametrically opposed to all this. He demanded natural privileges for the natural leaders.
But how did he contest the equalitarian principle? And how did he establish his own demands?

It will be remembered from the last chapter that some of the best-known formulations of the equalitarian demands were couched in the impressive but questionable language of 'natural rights', and that some of their representatives argued in favour of these demands by pointing out the 'natural', i.e. biological, equality of men. We have seen that the argument is irrelevant; that men are equal in some important respects, and unequal in others; and that normative demands cannot be derived from this fact, or from any other fact. It is therefore interesting to note that the naturalist argument was not used by all equalitarians, and that Pericles, for one, did not even allude to it [18].

Plato quickly found that naturalism was a weak spot within the equalitarian doctrine, and he took the fullest advantage of this weakness. To tell men that they are equal has a certain sentimental appeal. But this appeal is small compared with that made by a propaganda that tells them that they are superior to others, and that others are inferior to them. Are you naturally equal to your servants, to your slaves, to the manual worker who is no better than an animal? The very question is ridiculous! Plato seems to have been the first to appreciate the possibilities of this reaction, and to oppose contempt, scorn, and ridicule to the claim to natural equality. This explains why he was anxious to impute the naturalistic argument even to those of his opponents who did not use it; in the Menexenus, a parody of Pericles' oration, he therefore insists on linking together the claims to equal laws and to natural equality: 'The basis of our constitution is equality of birth', he says ironically. 'We are all brethren, and are all children of one mother; ... and the natural equality of birth induces us to strive for equality before the law.' [19]

Later, in the Laws, Plato summarizes his reply to equalitarianism in the formula: 'Equal treatment of unequals must beget inequity' [20]; and this was developed by Aristotle into the formula 'Equality for equals, inequality for unequals'. This formula indicates what may be termed the standard objection to equalitarianism; the objection that equality would be excellent if only men were equal, but that it is manifestly impossible since they are not equal, and since they cannot be made equal. This apparently very realistic objection is, in fact, most unrealistic, for political privileges have never been founded upon natural differences of character. And, indeed, Plato does not seem to have had much confidence in this objection when writing the Republic, for it is used there only in one of his sneers at democracy when he says that it 'distributes equality to equals and unequals alike.' [21] Apart from this remark, he prefers not to argue against equalitarianism, but to forget it.

Summing up, it can be said that Plato never underrated the significance of the equalitarian theory, supported as it was by a man like Pericles, but that, in the Republic, he did not treat it at all; he attacked it, but not squarely and openly.

But how did he try to establish his own anti-equalitarianism, his principle of natural privilege? In the Republic, he proffered three different arguments, though two of them hardly deserve the name. The first [22] is the surprising remark that, since all the other three virtues of the state have been examined, the remaining fourth, that of 'minding one's own business', must be 'justice'. I am reluctant to believe that this was meant as an argument; but it must be, for Plato's leading speaker, 'Socrates', introduces it by asking: 'Do you know how I arrive at this conclusion?' The second argument is more interesting, for it is an attempt to show that his anti-equalitarianism can be derived from the ordinary (i.e. equalitarian) view that justice is impartiality. I quote the passage in full. Remarking that the rulers of the city will also be its judges, 'Socrates' says [23]: 'And will it not be the aim of their jurisdiction that no man shall take what belongs to another, and shall be deprived of what is his own?' — 'Yes', is the reply of 'Glaucon', the interlocutor, 'that will be their intention.' — 'Because that would be just?' — 'Yes.' — 'Accordingly, to keep and to practise what belongs to us and is our own will be generally agreed upon to be justice.' Thus it is established that 'to keep and to practise what is one's own' is the principle of just jurisdiction, according to our ordinary ideas of justice. Here the second argument ends, giving way to the third (to be analysed below) which leads to the conclusion that it is justice to keep one's own station (or to do one's own business), which is the station (or the business) of ones own class or caste.

The sole purpose of this second argument is to impress upon the reader that 'justice', in the ordinary sense of the word, requires us to keep our own station, since we should always keep what belongs to us. That is to say, Plato wishes his readers to draw the inference: 'It is just to keep and to practise what is one's own. My place (or my business) is my own. Thus it is just for me to keep to my place (or to practise my business).' This is about as sound as the argument: 'It is just to keep and to practise what is one's own. This plan of stealing your money is my own. Thus it is just for me to keep to my plan, and to put it into practice, i.e. to steal your money.' It is clear that the inference which Plato wishes us to draw is nothing but a crude juggle with the meaning of the term 'one's own'. (For the problem is whether justice demands that everything which is in some sense 'our own', e.g. 'our own' class, should therefore be treated, not only as our possession, but as our inalienable possession. But in such a principle Plato himself does not believe; for it would clearly make a transition to communism impossible. And what about keeping our own children?) This crude juggle is Plato's way of establishing what Adam calls 'a point of contact between his own view of Justice and the popular ... meaning of the word'. This is how the greatest philosopher of all time tries to convince us that he has discovered the true nature of justice.

The third and last argument which Plato offers is much more serious. It is an appeal to the principle of holism or collectivism, and is connected with the principle that it is the purpose of the individual to maintain the stability of the state.
It will therefore be discussed, in this analysis, below, in sections v and vi.

But before proceeding to these points, I wish to draw attention to the 'preface' which Plato places before his description of the 'discovery' which we are here examining. It must be considered in the light of the observations we have made so far. Viewed in this light, the 'lengthy preface' — this is how Plato himself describes it — appears as an ingenious attempt to prepare the reader for the 'discovery of justice' by making him believe that there is an argument going on when in reality he is only faced with a display of dramatic devices, designed to soothe his critical faculties. Having discovered wisdom as the virtue proper to the guardians and courage as that proper to the auxiliaries, 'Socrates' announces his intention of making a final effort to discover justice. 'Two things are left' [24], he says, 'which we shall have to discover in the city: temperance, and finally that other thing which is the main object of all our investigations, namely justice.' — 'Exactly', says Glaucon. Socrates now suggests that temperance shall be dropped. But Glaucon protests and Socrates gives in, saying that 'it would be wrong' (or 'crooked') to refuse. This little dispute prepares the reader for the re-introduction of justice, suggests to him that Socrates possesses the means for its 'discovery', and reassures him that Glaucon is carefully watching Plato's intellectual honesty in conducting the argument which he, the reader himself, need not therefore watch at all [25].

Socrates next proceeds to discuss temperance which he discovers to be the only virtue proper to the workers. (By the way, the much debated question whether Plato's 'justice' is distinguishable from his 'temperance' can be easily answered. Justice means to keep ones place; temperance means to know ones place — that is to say, more precisely, to be satisfied with it. What other virtue could be proper to the workers who fill their bellies like the beasts?) When temperance has been discovered, Socrates asks: 'And what about the last principle? Obviously it will be justice.' — 'Obviously', replies Glaucon. 'Now, my dear Glaucon', says Socrates, 'we must, like hunters, surround her cover and keep a close watch, and we must not allow her to escape, and to get away; for surely, justice must be somewhere near this spot. You had better look out and search the place. And if you are the first to see her, then give me a shout!' Glaucon, like the reader, is of course unable to do anything of the sort, and implores Socrates to take the lead. 'Then offer your prayers with me', says Socrates, 'and follow me.' But even Socrates finds the ground 'hard to traverse, since it is covered with underwood; it is dark, and difficult to explore ... But', he says, 'we must go on with it'. And instead of protesting 'Go on with what? With our exploration, i.e. with our argument? But we have not even started. There has not been a glimmer of sense in what you have said so far', Glaucon, and the naive reader with him replies meekly: 'Yes, we must go on.' Now Socrates reports that he has 'got a glimpse' (we have not), and gets excited. 'Hurray! Hurray!' he cries, 'Glaucon! There seems to be a track! I think now that the quarry will not escape us!' — 'That is good news', replies Glaucon. 'Upon my word', says Socrates, 'we have made utter fools of ourselves. What we were looking for at a distance, has been lying at our very feet all the time! And we never saw it!' With exclamations and repeated assertions of this kind, Socrates continues for a good while, interrupted by Glaucon, who gives expression to the reader's feelings and asks Socrates what he has found. But when Socrates says only 'We have been talking of it all the time, without realizing that we were actually describing it', Glaucon expresses the reader's impatience and says: 'This preface gets a bit lengthy; remember that I want to hear what it is all about.' And only then does Plato proceed to proffer the two 'arguments' which I have outlined.

Glaucon's last remark may be taken as an indication that Plato was conscious of what he was doing in this 'lengthy preface'. I cannot interpret it as anything but an attempt — it proved to be highly successful — to lull the reader's critical faculties, and, by means of a dramatic display of verbal fire-works, to divert his attention from the intellectual poverty of this masterly piece of dialogue. One is tempted to think that Plato knew its weakness, and how to hide it.

7. Not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- the reason Bush gave for the Iraqi invasion -- was a pretty serious matter. Right? Certainly not something that Bush, of all people, should want to joke about. Wrong. At the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2004, Bush showed the audience photographic slides on a big screen of himself on his hands and knees in the Oval Office looking under furniture and behind curtains for the missing weapons. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he cracked to the audience. "Nope, no weapons over there, maybe over here." Here we have Bush having fun about the alleged basis for his war, a war with over 100,000 people dead. And this is funny? It was to Bush. Just another fun-filled evening for Bush as the blood continued to flow in far-off Iraq.

-- The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, by Vincent Bugliosi


The problem of individualism and collectivism is closely related to that of equality and inequality.
Before going on to discuss it, a few terminological remarks seem to be necessary.

The term 'individualism' can be used (according to the Oxford Dictionary) in two different ways: (a) in opposition to collectivism, and (b) in opposition to altruism. There is no other word to express the former meaning, but several synonyms for the latter, for example 'egoism' or 'selfishness'. This is why in what follows I shall use the term 'individualism' exclusively in sense (a), using terms like 'egoism' or 'selfishness' if sense (b) is intended. A little table may be useful:

(a) Individualism is opposed to (a') Collectivism.

(b) Egoism is opposed to (b') Altruism.

Now these four terms describe certain attitudes, or demands, or decisions, or proposals, for codes of normative laws. Though necessarily vague, they can, I believe, be easily illustrated by examples and so be used with a precision sufficient for our present purpose. Let us begin with collectivism [26], since this attitude is already familiar to us from our discussion of Plato's holism. His demand that the individual should subserve the interests of the whole, whether this be the universe, the city, the tribe, the race, or any other collective body, was illustrated in the last chapter by a few passages. To quote one of these again, but more fully [27]: 'The part exists for the sake of the whole, but the whole does not exist for the sake of the part . . . You are created for the sake of the whole and not the whole for the sake of you.' This quotation not only illustrates holism and collectivism, but also conveys its strong emotional appeal of which Plato was conscious (as can be seen from the preamble to the passage). The appeal is to various feelings, e.g. the longing to belong to a group or a tribe; and one factor in it is the moral appeal for altruism and against selfishness, or egoism. Plato suggests that if you cannot sacrifice your interests for the sake of the whole, then you are selfish.

Now a glance at our little table will show that this is not so. Collectivism is not opposed to egoism, nor is it identical with altruism or unselfishness. Collective or group egoism, for instance class egoism, is a very common thing (Plato knew [28] this very well), and this shows clearly enough that collectivism as such is not opposed to selfishness. On the other hand, an anti-collectivist, i.e. an individualist, can, at the same time, be an altruist; he can be ready to make sacrifices in order to help other individuals. One of the best examples of this attitude is perhaps Dickens. It would be difficult to say which is the stronger, his passionate hatred of selfishness or his passionate interest in individuals with all their human weaknesses; and this attitude is combined with a dislike, not only of what we now call collective bodies or collectives [29], but even of a genuinely devoted altruism, if directed towards anonymous groups rather than concrete individuals. (I remind the reader of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House, 'a lady devoted to public duties'.) These illustrations, I think, explain sufficiently clearly the meaning of our four terms; and they show that any of the terms in our table can be combined with either of the two terms that stand in the other line (which gives four possible combinations).

Now it is interesting that for Plato, and for most Platonists, an altruistic individualism (as for instance that of Dickens) cannot exist. According to Plato, the only alternative to collectivism is egoism; he simply identifies all altruism with collectivism, and all individualism with egoism. This is not a matter of terminology, of mere words, for instead of four possibilities, Plato recognized only two. This has created considerable confusion in speculation on ethical matters, even down to our own day.

Plato's identification of individualism with egoism furnishes him with a powerful weapon for his defence of collectivism as well as for his attack upon individualism. In defending collectivism, he can appeal to our humanitarian feeling of unselfishness; in his attack, he can brand all individualists as selfish, as incapable of devotion to anything but themselves. This attack, although aimed by Plato against individualism in our sense, i.e. against the rights of human individuals, reaches of course only a very different target, egoism. But this difference is constantly ignored by Plato and by most Platonists.

Why did Plato try to attack individualism? I think he knew very well what he was doing when he trained his guns upon this position, for individualism, perhaps even more than equalitarianism, was a stronghold in the defences of the new humanitarian creed. The emancipation of the individual was indeed the great spiritual revolution which had led to the breakdown of tribalism and to the rise of democracy. Plato's uncanny sociological intuition shows itself in the way in which he invariably discerned the enemy wherever he met him.

Individualism was part of the old intuitive idea of justice. That justice is not, as Plato would have it, the health and harmony of the state, but rather a certain way of treating individuals, is emphasized by Aristotle, it will be remembered, when he says 'justice is something that pertains to persons' [30]. This individualistic element had been emphasized by the generation of Pericles. Pericles himself made it clear that the laws must guarantee equal justice 'to all alike in their private disputes'; but he went further. 'We do not feel called upon', he said, 'to nag at our neighbour if he chooses to go his own way.' (Compare this with Plato's remark [31] that the state does not produce men 'for the purpose of letting them loose, each to go his own way ...'.) Pericles insists that this individualism must be linked with altruism: 'We are taught ... never to forget that we must protect the injured'; and his speech culminates in a description of the young Athenian who grows up 'to a happy versatility, and to self-reliance.'  

This individualism, united with altruism, has become the basis of our western civilization. It is the central doctrine of Christianity ('love your neighbour', say the Scriptures, not 'love your tribe'); and it is the core of all ethical doctrines which have grown from our civilization and stimulated it. It is also, for instance, Kant's central practical doctrine ('always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as mere means to your ends'). There is no other thought which has been so powerful in the moral development of man.

Plato was right when he saw in this doctrine the enemy of his caste state; and he hated it more than any other of the 'subversive' doctrines of his time. In order to show this even more clearly, I shall quote two passages from the Laws [32] whose truly astonishing hostility towards the individual is, I think, too little appreciated. The first of them is famous as a reference to the Republic, whose 'community of women and children and property' it discusses. Plato describes here the constitution of the Republic as 'the highest form of the state'. In this highest state, he tells us, 'there is common property of wives, of children, and of all chattels. And everything possible has been done to eradicate from our life everywhere and in every way all that is private and individual. So far as it can be done, even those things which nature herself has made private and individual have somehow become the common property of all. Our very eyes and ears and hands seem to see, to hear, and to act, as if they belonged not to individuals but to the community. All men are moulded to be unanimous in the utmost degree in bestowing praise and blame, and they even rejoice and grieve about the same things, and at the same time. And all the laws are perfected for unifying the city to the utmost.' Plato goes on to say that 'no man can find a better criterion of the highest excellence of a state than the principles just expounded'; and he describes such a state as 'divine', and as the 'model' or 'pattern' or 'original' of the state, i.e. as its Form or Idea. This is Plato's own view of the Republic, expressed at a time when he had given up hope of realizing his political ideal in all its glory.

The second passage, also from the Laws, is, if possible, even more outspoken. It should be emphasized that the passage deals primarily with military expeditions and with military discipline, but Plato leaves no doubt that these same militarist principles should be adhered to not only in war, but also 'in peace, and from the earliest childhood on'. Like other totalitarian militarists and admirers of Sparta, Plato urges that the all- important requirements of military discipline must be paramount, even in peace, and that they must determine the whole life of all citizens; for not only the full citizens (who are all soldiers) and the children, but also the very beasts must spend their whole life in a state of permanent and total mobilization [33]. 'The greatest principle of all', he writes, 'is that nobody, whether male or female, should ever be without a leader. Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative, neither out of zeal, nor even playfully. But in war and in the midst of peace — to his leader he shall direct his eye, and follow him faithfully. And even in the smallest matters he should stand under leadership. For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals [34] . . . only if he has been told to do so ... In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it. In this way the life of all will be spent in total community. There is no law, nor will there ever be one, which is superior to this, or better and more effective in ensuring salvation and victory in war. And in times of peace, and from the earliest childhood on should it be fostered — this habit of ruling others, and of being ruled by others. And every trace of anarchy should be utterly eradicated from all the life of all the men, and even of the wild beasts which are subject to men.' These are strong words. Never was a man more in earnest in his hostility towards the individual. And this hatred is deeply rooted in the fundamental dualism of Plato's philosophy; he hated the individual and his freedom just as he hated the varying particular experiences, the variety of the changing world of sensible things. In the field of politics, the individual is to Plato the Evil One himself.

This attitude, anti-humanitarian and anti-Christian as it is, has been consistently idealized. It has been interpreted as humane, as unselfish, as altruistic, and as Christian. E. B. England, for instance, calls [35] the first of these two passages from the Laws 'a vigorous denunciation of selfishness'. Similar words are used by Barker, when discussing Plato's theory of justice. He says that Plato's aim was 'to replace selfishness and civil discord by harmony', and that 'the old harmony of the interests of the State and the individual ... is thus restored in the teachings of Plato; but restored on a new and higher level, because it has been elevated into a conscious sense of harmony'.
Such statements and countless similar ones can be easily explained if we remember Plato's identification of individualism with egoism; for all these Platonists believe that anti-individualism is the same as selflessness. This illustrates my contention that this identification had the effect of a successful piece of anti-humanitarian propaganda, and that it has confused speculation on ethical matters down to our own time. But we must also realize that those who, deceived by this identification and by high-sounding words, exalt Plato's reputation as a teacher of morals and announce to the world that his ethics is the nearest approach to Christianity before Christ, are preparing the way for totalitarianism and especially for a totalitarian, anti-Christian interpretation of Christianity. And this is a dangerous thing, for there have been times when Christianity was dominated by totalitarian ideas. There was an Inquisition; and, in another form, it may come again.

It may therefore be worth while to mention some further reasons why guileless people have persuaded themselves of the humaneness of Plato's intentions. One is that when preparing the ground for his collectivist doctrines, Plato usually begins by quoting a maxim or proverb (which seems to be of Pythagorean origin): 'Friends have in common all things they possess.' [36] This is, undoubtedly, an unselfish, high-minded and excellent sentiment. Who could suspect that an argument starting from such a commendable assumption would arrive at a wholly anti-humanitarian conclusion? Another and important point is that there are many genuinely humanitarian sentiments expressed in Plato's dialogues, particularly in those written before the Republic when he was still under the influence of Socrates. I mention especially Socrates' doctrine, in the Gorgias, that it is worse to do injustice than to suffer it. Clearly, this doctrine is not only altruistic, but also individualistic; for in a collectivist theory of justice like that of the Republic, injustice is an act against the state, not against a particular man, and though a man may commit an act of injustice, only the collective can suffer from it. But in the Gorgias we find nothing of the kind. The theory of justice is a perfectly normal one, and the examples of injustice given by 'Socrates' (who has here probably a good deal of the real Socrates in him) are such as boxing a man's ears, injuring, or killing him. Socrates' teaching that it is better to suffer such acts than to do them is indeed very similar to Christian teaching, and his doctrine of justice fits in excellently with the spirit of Pericles. (An attempt to interpret this will be made in chapter 10.)

Now the Republic develops a new doctrine of justice which is not merely incompatible with such an individualism, but utterly hostile towards it. But a reader may easily believe that Plato is still holding fast to the doctrine of the Gorgias. For in the Republic, Plato frequently alludes to the doctrine that it is better to suffer than to commit injustice, in spite of the fact that this is simply nonsense from the point of view of the collectivist theory of justice proffered in this work. Furthermore, we hear in the Republic the opponents of 'Socrates' giving voice to the opposite theory, that it is good and pleasant to inflict injustice, and bad to suffer it. Of course, every humanitarian is repelled by such cynicism, and when Plato formulates his aims through the mouth of Socrates: 'I fear to commit a sin if I permit such evil talk about Justice in my presence, without doing my utmost to defend her' [37], then the trusting reader is convinced of Plato's good intentions, and ready to follow him wherever he goes.

The effect of this assurance of Plato's is much enhanced by the fact that it follows, and is contrasted with, the cynical and selfish speeches [38] of Thrasymachus, who is depicted as a political desperado of the worst kind. At the same time, the reader is led to identify individualism with the views of Thrasymachus, and to think that Plato, in his fight against it, is fighting against all the subversive and nihilistic tendencies of his time. But we should not allow ourselves to be frightened by an individualist bogy such as Thrasymachus (there is a great similarity between his portrait and the modern collectivist bogy of 'bolshevism') into accepting another more real and more dangerous because less obvious form of barbarism. For Plato replaces Thrasymachus' doctrine that the individual's might is right by the equally barbaric doctrine that right is everything that furthers the stability and the might of the state.

To sum up. Because of his radical collectivism, Plato is not even interested in those problems which men usually call the problems of justice, that is to say, in the impartial weighing of the contesting claims of individuals. Nor is he interested in adjusting the individual's claims to those of the state. For the individual is altogether inferior. 'I legislate with a view to what is best for the whole state', says Plato, ' . . . for I justly place the interests of the individual on an inferior level of value.' [39] He is concerned solely with the collective whole as such, and justice, to him, is nothing but the health, unity, and stability of the collective body.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Nov 02, 2018 2:30 am


So far, we have seen that humanitarian ethics demands an equalitarian and individualistic interpretation of justice; but we have not yet outlined the humanitarian view of the state as such. On the other hand, we have seen that Plato's theory of the state is totalitarian; but we have not yet explained the application of this theory to the ethics of the individual. Both these tasks will be undertaken now, the second first; and I shall begin by analysing the third of Plato's arguments in his 'discovery' of justice, an argument which has so far been sketched only very roughly. Here is Plato's third argument [40]:

'Now see whether you agree with me', says Socrates. 'Do you think it would do much harm to the city if a carpenter started making shoes and a shoemaker carpentering?' — 'Not very much.' — 'But should one who is by nature a worker, or a member of the money-earning class . . . manage to get into the warrior class; or should a warrior get into the guardians' class without being worthy of it; then this kind of change and of underhand plotting would mean the downfall of the city?' — 'Most definitely it would.' — 'We have three classes in our city, and I take it that any such plotting or changing from one class to another is a great crime against the city, and may rightly be denounced as the utmost wickedness?' — 'Assuredly.' — 'But you will certainly declare that utmost wickedness towards one's own city is injustice?' — 'Certainly.' — 'Then this is injustice. And conversely, we shall say that when each class in the city attends to its own business, the money-earning class as well as the auxiliaries and the guardians, then this will be justice.'

Now if we look at this argument, we find (a) the sociological assumption that any relaxing of the rigid caste system must lead to the downfall of the city; (b) the constant reiteration of the one argument that what harms the city is injustice; and (c) the inference that the opposite is justice. Now we may grant here the sociological assumption (a) since it is Plato's ideal to arrest social change, and since he means by 'harm' anything that may lead to change; and it is probably quite true that social change can be arrested only by a rigid caste system. And we may further grant the inference (c) that the opposite of injustice is justice. Of greater interest, however, is (b); a glance at Plato's argument will show that his whole trend of thought is dominated by the question: does this thing harm the city? Does it do much harm or little harm? He constantly reiterates that what threatens to harm the city is morally wicked and unjust.

We see here that Plato recognizes only one ultimate standard, the interest of the state. Everything that furthers it is good and virtuous and just; everything that threatens it is bad and wicked and unjust. Actions that serve it are moral; actions that endanger it, immoral. In other words, Plato's moral code is strictly utilitarian; it is a code of collectivist or political utilitarianism. The criterion of morality is the interest of the state. Morality is nothing but political hygiene.

This is the collectivist, the tribal, the totalitarian theory of morality: 'Good is what is in the interest of my group; or my tribe; or my state.' It is easy to see what this morality implied for international relations: that the state itself can never be wrong in any of its actions, as long as it is strong; that the state has the right, not only to do violence to its citizens, should that lead to an increase of strength, but also to attack other states, provided it does so without weakening itself. (This inference, the explicit recognition of the amorality of the state, and consequently the defence of moral nihilism in international relations, was drawn by Hegel.)

From the point of view of totalitarian ethics, from the point of view of collective utility, Plato's theory of justice is perfectly correct. To keep one's place is a virtue. It is that civil virtue which corresponds exactly to the military virtue of discipline. And this virtue plays exactly that role which 'justice' plays in Plato's system of virtues. For the cogs in the great clockwork of the state can show 'virtue' in two ways. First, they must be fit for their task, by virtue of their size, shape, strength, etc.; and secondly, they must be fitted each into its right place and must retain that place. The first type of virtues, fitness for a specific task, will lead to a differentiation, in accordance with the specific task of the cog. Certain cogs will be virtuous, i.e. fit, only if they are ('by their nature') large; others if they are strong; and others if they are smooth. But the virtue of keeping to one's place will be common to all of them; and it will at the same time be a virtue of the whole: that of being properly fitted together — of being in harmony. To this universal virtue Plato gives the name 'justice'. This procedure is perfectly consistent and it is fully justified from the point of view of totalitarian morality. If the individual is nothing but a cog, then ethics is nothing but the study of how to fit him into the whole.

I wish to make it clear that I believe in the sincerity of Plato's totalitarianism. His demand for the unchallenged domination of one class over the rest was uncompromising, but his ideal was not the maximum exploitation of the working classes by the upper class; it was the stability of the whole. The reason, however, which he gives for the need to keep the exploitation within limits, is again purely utilitarian. It is the interest of stabilizing the class rule. Should the guardians try to get too much, he argues, then they will in the end have nothing at all. 'If they are not satisfied with a life of stability and security, . . . and are tempted, by their power, to appropriate for themselves all the wealth of the city, then surely they are bound to find out how wise Hesiod was when he said, "the half is more than the whole".' [41] But we must realize that even this tendency to restrict the exploitation of class privileges is a fairly common ingredient of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is not simply amoral. It is the morality of the closed society — of the group, or of the tribe; it is not individual selfishness, but it is collective selfishness.

Considering that Plato's third argument is straightforward and consistent, the question may be asked why he needed the 'lengthy preface' as well as the two preceding arguments. Why all this uneasiness? (Platonists will of course reply that this uneasiness exists only in my imagination. That may be so. But the irrational character of the passages can hardly be explained away.) The answer to this question is, I believe, that Plato's collective clockwork would hardly have appealed to his readers if it had been presented to them in all its barrenness and meaninglessness. Plato was uneasy because he knew and feared the strength and the moral appeal of the forces he tried to break. He did not dare to challenge them, but tried to win them over for his own purposes. Whether we witness in Plato's writings a cynical and conscious attempt to employ the moral sentiments of the new humanitarianism for his own purposes, or whether we witness rather a tragic attempt to persuade his own better conscience of the evils of individualism, we shall never know. My personal impression is that the latter is the case, and that this inner conflict is the main secret of Plato's fascination. I think that Plato was moved to the depths of his soul by the new ideas, and especially by the great individualist Socrates and his martyrdom. And I think that he fought against this influence upon himself as well as upon others with all the might of his unequalled intelligence, though not always openly. This explains also why from time to time, amid all his totalitarianism, we find some humanitarian ideas. And it explains why it was possible for philosophers to represent Plato as a humanitarian.

A strong argument in support of this interpretation is the way in which Plato treated, or rather, maltreated, the humanitarian and rational theory of the state, a theory which had been developed for the first time in his generation.

In a clear presentation of this theory, the language of political demands or of political proposals (cp. chapter 5, III) should be used; that is to say, we should not try to answer the essentialist question: What is the state, what is its true nature, its real meaning? Nor should we try to answer the historicist question: How did the state originate, and what is the origin of political obligation? We should rather put our question in this way: What do we demand from a state? What do we propose to consider as the legitimate aim of state activity? And in order to find out what our fundamental political demands are, we may ask: Why do we prefer living in a well-ordered state to living without a state, i.e. in anarchy? This way of asking our question is a rational one. It is a question which a technologist must try to answer before he can proceed to the construction or reconstruction of any political institution. For only if he knows what he wants can he decide whether a certain institution is or is not well adapted to its function.

Now if we ask our question in this way, the reply of the humanitarian will be: What I demand from the state is protection; not only for myself, but for others too. I demand protection for my own freedom and for other people's. I do not wish to live at the mercy of anybody who has the larger fists or the bigger guns. In other words, I wish to be protected against aggression from other men. I want the difference between aggression and defence to be recognized, and defence to be supported by the organized power of the state. (The defence is one of a status quo, and the principle proposed amounts to this — that the status quo should not be changed by violent means, but only according to law, by compromise or arbitration, except where there is no legal procedure for its revision.) I am perfectly ready to see my own freedom of action somewhat curtailed by the state, provided I can obtain protection of that freedom which remains, since I know that some limitations of my freedom are necessary; for instance, I must give up my 'freedom' to attack, if I want the state to support defence against any attack. But I demand that the fundamental purpose of the state should not be lost sight of; I mean, the protection of that freedom which does not harm other citizens. Thus I demand that the state must limit the freedom of the citizens as equally as possible, and not beyond what is necessary for achieving an equal limitation of freedom.

Something like this will be the demand of the humanitarian, of the equalitarian, of the individualist. It is a demand which permits the social technologist to approach political problems rationally, i.e. from the point of view of a fairly clear and definite aim.

Against the claim that an aim like this can be formulated sufficiently clearly and definitely, many objections have been raised. It has been said that once it is recognized that freedom must be limited, the whole principle of freedom breaks down, and the question what limitations are necessary and what are wanton cannot be decided rationally, but only by authority. But this objection is due to a muddle. It mixes up the fundamental question of what we want from a state with certain important technological difficulties in the way of the realization of our aims. It is certainly difficult to determine exactly the degree of freedom that can be left to the citizens without endangering that freedom whose protection is the task of the state. But that something like an approximate determination of that degree is possible is proved by experience, i.e. by the existence of democratic states. In fact, this process of approximate determination is one of the main tasks of legislation in democracies. It is a difficult process, but its difficulties are certainly not such as to force upon us a change in our fundamental demands. These are, stated very briefly, that the state should be considered as a society for the prevention of crime, i.e. of aggression. And the whole objection that it is hard to know where freedom ends and crime begins is answered, in principle, by the famous story of the hooligan who protested that, being a free citizen, he could move his fist in any direction he liked; whereupon the judge wisely replied: 'The freedom of the movement of your fists is limited by the position of your neighbour's nose.'

The view of the state which I have sketched here may be called 'protectionism'. The term 'protectionism' has often been used to describe tendencies which are opposed to freedom. Thus the economist means by protectionism the policy of protecting certain industrial interests against competition; and the moralist means by it the demand that officers of the state shall establish a moral tutelage over the population. Although the political theory which I call protectionism is not connected with any of these tendencies, and although it is fundamentally a liberal theory, I think that the name may be used to indicate that, though liberal, it has nothing to do with the policy of strict non-intervention (often, but not quite correctly, called 'laissez-faire'). Liberalism and state-interference are not opposed to each other. On the contrary, any kind of freedom is clearly impossible unless it is guaranteed by the state [42]. A certain amount of state control in education, for instance, is necessary, if the young are to be protected from a neglect which would make them unable to defend their freedom, and the state should see that all educational facilities are available to everybody. But too much state control in educational matters is a fatal danger to freedom, since it must lead to indoctrination. As already indicated, the important and difficult question of the limitations of freedom cannot be solved by a cut and dried formula. And the fact that there will always be borderline cases must be welcomed, for without the stimulus of political problems and political struggles of this kind, the citizens' readiness to fight for their freedom would soon disappear, and with it, their freedom. (Viewed in this light, the alleged clash between freedom and security, that is, a security guaranteed by the state, turns out to be a chimera. For there is no freedom if it is not secured by the state; and conversely, only a state which is controlled by free citizens can offer them any reasonable security at all.)

Stated in this way, the protectionist theory of the state is free from any elements of historicism or essentialism. It does not say that the state originated as an association of individuals with a protectionist aim, or that any actual state in history was ever consciously ruled in accordance with this aim. And it says nothing about the essential nature of the state, or about a natural right to freedom. Nor does it say anything about the way in which states actually function. It formulates a political demand, or more precisely, a proposal for the adoption of a certain policy. I suspect, however, that many conventionalists who have described the state as originating from an association for the protection of its members, intended to express this very demand, though they did it in a clumsy and misleading language — the language of historicism. A similar misleading way of expressing this demand is to assert that it is essentially the function of the state to protect its members; or to assert that the state is to be defined as an association for mutual protection. All these theories must be translated, as it were, into the language of demands or proposals for political actions before they can be seriously discussed. Otherwise, endless discussions of a merely verbal character are unavoidable.

An example of such a translation may be given. A criticism of what I call protectionism has been proffered by Aristotle [43], and repeated by Burke, and by many modern Platonists. This criticism asserts that protectionism takes too mean a view of the tasks of the state which is (using Burke's words) 'to be looked upon with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature'. In other words, the state is said to be something higher or nobler than an association with rational ends; it is an object of worship. It has higher tasks than the protection of human beings and their rights. It has moral tasks. 'To take care of virtue is the business of a state which truly deserves this name', says Aristotle. If we try to translate this criticism into the language of political demands, then we find that these critics of protectionism want two things. First, they wish to make the state an object of worship. From our point of view, there is nothing to say against this wish. It is a religious problem; and the state-worshippers must solve for themselves how to reconcile their creed with their other religious beliefs, for example, with the First Commandment. The second demand is political. In practice, this demand would simply mean that officers of the state should be concerned with the morality of the citizens, and that they should use their power not so much for the protection of the citizens' freedom as for the control of their moral life. In other words, it is the demand that the realm of legality, i.e. of state-enforced norms, should be increased at the expense of the realm of morality proper, i.e. of norms enforced not by the state but by our own moral decisions — by our conscience. Such a demand or proposal can be rationally discussed; and it can be said against it that those who raise such demands apparently do not see that this would be the end of the individual's moral responsibility, and that it would not improve but destroy morality. It would replace personal responsibility by tribalistic taboos and by the totalitarian irresponsibility of the individual. Against this whole attitude, the individualist must maintain that the morality of states (if there is any such thing) tends to be considerably lower than that of the average citizen, so that it is much more desirable that the morality of the state should be controlled by the citizens than the opposite. What we need and what we want is to moralize politics, and not to politicize morals.

It should be mentioned that, from the protectionist point of view, the existing democratic states, though far from perfect, represent a very considerable achievement in social engineering of the right kind. Many forms of crime, of attack on the rights of human individuals by other individuals, have been practically suppressed or very considerably reduced, and courts of law administer justice fairly successfully in difficult conflicts of interest. There are many who think that the extension of these methods [44] to international crime and international conflict is only a Utopian dream; but it is not so long since the institution of an effective executive for upholding civil peace appeared Utopian to those who suffered under the threats of criminals, in countries where at present civil peace is quite successfully maintained. And I think that the engineering problems of the control of international crime are really not so difficult, once they are squarely and rationally faced. If the matter is presented clearly, it will not be hard to get people to agree that protective institutions are necessary, both on a regional and on a world-wide scale. Let the state-worshippers continue to worship the state, but demand that the institutional technologists be allowed not only to improve its internal machinery, but also to build up an organization for the prevention of international crime.


Returning now to the history of these movements, it seems that the protectionist theory of the state was first proffered by the Sophist Lycophron, a pupil of Gorgias. It has already been mentioned that he was (like Alcidamas, also a pupil of Gorgias) one of the first to attack the theory of natural privilege. That he held the theory which I have called 'protectionism' is recorded by Aristotle, who speaks about him in a manner which makes it very likely that he originated it. From the same source we learn that he formulated it with a clarity which has hardly been attained by any of his successors.

Aristotle tells us that Lycophron considered the law of the state as a 'covenant by which men assure one another of justice' (and that it has not the power to make citizens good or just). He tells us furthermore [45] that Lycophron looked upon the state as an instrument for the protection of its citizens against acts of injustice (and for permitting them peaceful intercourse, especially exchange), demanding that the state should be a 'co-operative association for the prevention of crime'. It is interesting that there is no indication in Aristotle's account that Lycophron expressed his theory in a historicist form, i.e. as a theory concerning the historical origin of the state in a social contract. On the contrary, it emerges clearly from Aristotle's context that Lycophron's theory was solely concerned with the end of the state; for Aristotle argues that Lycophron has not seen that the essential end of the state is to make its citizens virtuous. This indicates that Lycophron interpreted this end rationally, from a technological point of view, adopting the demands of equalitarianism, individualism, and protectionism.

In this form, Lycophron's theory is completely secure from the objections to which the traditional historicist theory of the social contract is exposed. It is often said, for instance by Barker [46], that the contract theory 'has been met by modern thinkers point by point'. That may be so; but a survey of Barker's points will show that they certainly do not meet the theory of Lycophron, in whom Barker sees (and in this point I am inclined to agree with him) the probable founder of the earliest form of a theory which has later been called the contract theory. Barker's points can be set down as follows: (a) There was, historically, never a contract; (b) the state was, historically, never instituted; (c) laws are not conventional, but arise out of tradition, superior force, perhaps instinct, etc.; they are customs before they become codes; (d) the strength of the laws does not lie in the sanctions, in the protective power of the state which enforces them, but in the individual's readiness to obey them, i.e. in the individual's moral will.

It will be seen at once that objections (a), (b), and (c), which in themselves are admittedly fairly correct (although there have been some contracts) concern the theory only in its historicist form and are irrelevant to Lycophron's version. We therefore need not consider them at all. Objection (d), however, deserves closer consideration. What can be meant by it? The theory attacked stresses the 'will', or better the decision of the individual, more than any other theory; in fact, the word 'contract' suggests an agreement by 'free will'; it suggests, perhaps more than any other theory, that the strength of the laws lies in the individual's readiness to accept and to obey them. How, then, can (d) be an objection against the contract theory? The only explanation seems to be that Barker does not think the contract to spring from the 'moral will' of the individual, but rather from a selfish will; and this interpretation is the more likely as it is in keeping with Plato's criticism. But one need not be selfish in order to be a protectionist. Protection need not mean self- protection; many people insure their lives with the aim of protecting others and not themselves, and in the same way they may demand state protection mainly for others, and to a lesser degree (or not at all) for themselves. The fundamental idea of protectionism is: protect the weak from being bullied by the strong. This demand has been raised not only by the weak, but often by the strong also. It is, to say the least of it, misleading to suggest that it is a selfish or an immoral demand.

Lycophron's protectionism is, I think, free of all these objections. It is the most fitting expression of the humanitarian and equalitarian movement of the Periclean age. And yet, we have been robbed of it. It has been handed down to later generations only in a distorted form; as the historicist theory of the origin of the state in a social contract; or as an essentialist theory claiming that the true nature of the state is that of a convention; and as a theory of selfishness, based on the assumption of the fundamentally immoral nature of man. All this is due to the overwhelming influence of Plato's authority.


There can be little doubt that Plato knew Lycophron's theory well, for he was (in all likelihood) Lycophron's younger contemporary. And, indeed, this theory can be easily identified with one which is mentioned first in the Gorgias and later in the Republic. (In neither place does Plato mention its author; a procedure often adopted by him when his opponent was alive.) In the Gorgias, the theory is expounded by Callicles, an ethical nihilist like the Thrasymachus of the Republic. In the Republic, it is expounded by Glaucon. In neither case does the speaker identify himself with the theory he presents.

The two passages are in many respects parallel. Both present the theory in a historicist form, i.e. as a theory of the origin of 'justice'. Both present it as if its logical premises were necessarily selfish and even nihilistic; i.e. as if the protectionist view of the state was upheld only by those who would like to inflict injustice, but are too weak to do so, and who therefore demand that the strong should not do so either; a presentation which is certainly not fair, since the only necessary premise of the theory is the demand that crime, or injustice, should be suppressed.

So far, the two passages in the Gorgias and in the Republic run parallel, a parallelism which has often been commented upon. But there is a tremendous difference between them which has, so far as I know, been overlooked by commentators. It is this. In the Gorgias, the theory is presented by Callicles as one which he opposes; and since he also opposes Socrates, the protectionist theory is, by implication, not attacked but rather defended by Plato. And, indeed, a closer view shows that Socrates upholds several of its features against the nihilist Callicles. But in the Republic, the same theory is presented by Glaucon as an elaboration and development of the views of Thrasymachus, i.e. of the nihilist who takes here the place of Callicles; in other words, the theory is presented as nihilist, and Socrates as the hero who victoriously destroys this devilish doctrine of selfishness.

Thus the passages in which most commentators find a similarity between the tendencies of the Gorgias and the Republic reveal, in fact, a complete change of front. In spite of Callicles' hostile presentation, the tendency of the Gorgias is favourable to protectionism; but the Republic is violently against it.

Here is an extract from Callicles' speech in the Gorgias [47]: 'The laws are made by the great mass of the people which consists mainly of the weak men. And they make the laws ... in order to protect themselves and their interests. Thus they deter the stronger men ... and all others who might get the better of them, from doing so; ... and they mean by the word "injustice" the attempt of a man to get the better of his neighbours; and being aware of their inferiority, they are, I should say, only too glad if they can obtain equality.' If we look at this account and eliminate what is due to Callicles' open scorn and hostility, then we find all the elements of Lycophron's theory: equalitarianism, individualism, and protection against injustice. Even the reference to the 'strong' and to the 'weak' who are aware of their inferiority fits the protectionist view very well indeed, provided the element of caricature is allowed for. It is not at all unlikely that Lycophron's doctrine explicitly raised the demand that the state should protect the weak, a demand which is, of course, anything but ignoble. (The hope that this demand will one day be fulfilled is expressed by the Christian teaching: 'The meek shall inherit the earth.')

Callicles himself does not like protectionism; he is in favour of the 'natural' rights of the stronger. It is very significant that Socrates, in his argument against Callicles, comes to the rescue of protectionism; for he connects it with his own central thesis — that it is better to suffer injustice than to inflict it. He says, for instance [48]: 'Are not the many of the opinion, as you were lately saying, that justice is equality? And also that it is more disgraceful to inflict injustice than to suffer it?' And later: nature itself, and not only convention, affirms that to inflict injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it, and that justice is equality.' (In spite of its individualistic and equalitarian and protectionist tendencies, the Gorgias also exhibits some leanings which are strongly anti-democratic. The explanation may be that Plato when writing the Gorgias had not yet developed his totalitarian theories; although his sympathies were already anti-democratic, he was still under Socrates' influence. How anybody can think that the Gorgias and the Republic can be both at the same time true accounts of Socrates' opinions, I fail to understand.)

Let us now turn to the Republic, where Glaucon presents protectionism as a logically more stringent but ethically unchanged version of Thrasymachus' nihilism. 'My theme', says Glaucon [49], 'is the origin of justice, and what sort of thing it really is. According to some it is by nature an excellent thing to inflict injustice upon others, and a bad thing to suffer it. But they hold that the badness of suffering injustice much exceeds the desirability of inflicting it. For a time, then, men will inflict injustice on one another, and of course suffer it, and they will get a good taste of both. But ultimately, those who are not strong enough to repel it, or to enjoy inflicting it, decide that it is more profitable for them to join in a contract, mutually assuring one another that no one should inflict injustice, or suffer it. This is the way in which laws were established . . . And this is the nature and the origin of justice, according to that theory.'

As far as its rational content goes, this is clearly the same theory; and the way in which it is represented also resembles in detail [50] Callicles' speech in the Gorgias. And yet, Plato has made a complete change of front. The protectionist theory is now no longer defended against the allegation that it is based on cynical egoism; on the contrary. Our humanitarian sentiments, our moral indignation, already aroused by Thrasymachus' nihilism, are utilized for turning us into enemies of protectionism. This theory, whose humanitarian character has been indicated in the Gorgias, is now made by Plato to appear as anti- humanitarian, and indeed, as the outcome of the repulsive and most unconvincing doctrine that injustice is a very good thing — for those who can get away with it. And he does not hesitate to rub this point in. In an extensive continuation of the passage quoted, Glaucon elaborates in much detail the allegedly necessary assumptions or premises of protectionism. Among these he mentions, for instance, the view that the inflicting of injustice is 'the best of all things' [51]; that justice is established only because many men are too weak to commit crimes; and that to the individual citizen, a life of crime would be most profitable. And 'Socrates', i.e. Plato, vouches explicitly [52] for the authenticity of Glaucon's interpretation of the theory presented. By this method, Plato seems to have succeeded in persuading most of his readers, and at any rate all Platonists, that the protectionist theory here developed is identical with the ruthless and cynical selfishness of Thrasymachus [53]; and, what is more important, that all forms of individualism amount to the same, namely, selfishness. But it was not only his admirers he persuaded; he even succeeded in persuading his opponents, and especially the adherents of the contract theory. From Carneades [54] to Hobbes, they not only adopted his fatal historicist presentation, but also Plato's assurances that the basis of their theory was an ethical nihilism.

Now it must be realized that the elaboration of its allegedly selfish basis is the whole of Plato's argument against protectionism; and considering the space taken up by this elaboration, we may safely assume that it was not his reticence which made him proffer no better argument, but the fact that he had none. Thus protectionism had to be dismissed by an appeal to our moral sentiments — as an affront against the idea of justice, and against our feelings of decency.

This is Plato's method of dealing with a theory which was not only a dangerous rival of his own doctrine, but also representative of the new humanitarian and individualistic creed, i.e. the arch-enemy of everything that was dear to Plato. The method is clever; its astonishing success proves it. But I should not be fair if I did not frankly admit that Plato's method appears to me dishonest. For the theory attacked does not need any assumption more immoral than that injustice is evil, i.e. that it should be avoided, and brought under control. And Plato knew quite well that the theory was not based on selfishness, for in the Gorgias he had presented it not as identical with the nihilistic theory from which it is 'derived' in the Republic, but as opposed to it.

Summing up, we can say that Plato's theory of justice, as presented in the Republic and later works, is a conscious attempt to get the better of the equalitarian, individualistic, and protectionist tendencies of his time, and to re-establish the claims of tribalism by developing a totalitarian moral theory. At the same time, he was strongly impressed by the new humanitarian morality; but instead of combating equalitarianism with arguments, he avoided even discussing it. And he successfully enlisted the humanitarian sentiments, whose strength he knew so well, in the cause of the totalitarian class rule of a naturally superior master race.

These class prerogatives, he claimed, are necessary for upholding the stability of the state. They constitute therefore the essence of justice. Ultimately, this claim is based upon the argument that justice is useful to the might, health, and stability of the state; an argument which is only too similar to the modern totalitarian definition: right is whatever is useful to the might of my nation, or my class, or my party.

But this is not yet the whole story. By its emphasis on class prerogative, Plato's theory of justice puts the problem 'Who should rule?' in the centre of political theory. His reply to this question was that the wisest, and the best, should rule. Does not this excellent reply modify the character of his theory?
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7: The Principle of Leadership

The wise shall lead and rule, and the ignorant shall follow. -- Plato.

Certain objections [1] to our interpretation of Plato's political programme have forced us into an investigation of the part played, within this programme, by such moral ideas as Justice, Goodness, Beauty, Wisdom, Truth, and Happiness. The present and the two following chapters are to continue this analysis, and the part played by the idea of Wisdom in Plato's political philosophy will occupy us next.

We have seen that Plato's idea of justice demands, fundamentally, that the natural rulers should rule and the natural slaves should slave. It is part of the historicist demand that the state, in order to arrest all change, should be a copy of its Idea, or of its true 'nature'. This theory of justice indicates very clearly that Plato saw the fundamental problem of politics in the question: Who shall rule the state?


It is my conviction that by expressing the problem of politics in the form 'Who should rule?' or 'Whose will should be supreme?', etc., Plato created a lasting confusion in political philosophy. It is indeed analogous to the confusion he created in the field of moral philosophy by his identification, discussed in the last chapter, of collectivism and altruism. It is clear that once the question 'Who should rule?' is asked, it is hard to avoid some such reply as 'the best' or 'the wisest' or 'the born ruler' or 'he who masters the art of ruling' (or, perhaps, 'The General Will' or 'The Master Race' or 'The Industrial Workers' or 'The People'). But such a reply, convincing as it may sound — for who would advocate the rule of 'the worst' or 'the greatest fool' or 'the born slave'? — is, as I shall try to show, quite useless.

First of all, such a reply is liable to persuade us that some fundamental problem of political theory has been solved. But if we approach political theory from a different angle, then we find that far from solving any fundamental problems, we have merely skipped over them, by assuming that the question 'Who should rule?' is fundamental. For even those who share this assumption of Plato's admit that political rulers are not always sufficiently 'good' or 'wise' (we need not worry about the precise meaning of these terms), and that it is not at all easy to get a government on whose goodness and wisdom one can implicitly rely. If that is granted, then we must ask whether political thought should not face from the beginning the possibility of bad government; whether we should not prepare for the worst leaders, and hope for the best. But this leads to a new approach to the problem of politics, for it forces us to replace the question: Who should rule? by the new [2] question: How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?

Those who believe that the older question is fundamental, tacitly assume that political power is 'essentially' unchecked. They assume that someone has the power — either an individual or a collective body, such as a class. And they assume that he who has the power can, very nearly, do what he wills, and especially that he can strengthen his power, and thereby approximate it further to an unlimited or unchecked power. They assume that political power is, essentially, sovereign. If this assumption is made, then, indeed, the question 'Who is to be the sovereign?' is the only important question left.

I shall call this assumption the theory of (unchecked) sovereignty, using this expression not for any particular one of the various theories of sovereignty, proffered more especially by such writers as Bodin, Rousseau, or Hegel, but for the more general assumption that political power is practically unchecked, or for the demand that it ought to be so; together with the implication that the main question left is to get this power into the best hands. This theory of sovereignty is tacitly assumed in Plato's approach, and has played its role ever since. It is also implicitly assumed, for instance, by those modern writers who believe that the main problem is: Who should dictate? The capitalists or the workers?

Without entering into a detailed criticism, I wish to point out that there are serious objections against a rash and implicit acceptance of this theory. Whatever its speculative merits may appear to be, it is certainly a very unrealistic assumption. No political power has ever been unchecked, and as long as men remain human (as long as the 'Brave New World' has not materialized), there can be no absolute and unrestrained political power. So long as one man cannot accumulate enough physical power in his hands to dominate all others, just so long must he depend upon his helpers. Even the most powerful tyrant depends upon his secret police, his henchmen and his hangmen. This dependence means that his power, great as it may be, is not unchecked, and that he has to make concessions, playing one group off against another. It means that there are other political forces, other powers besides his own, and that he can exert his rule only by utilizing and pacifying them. This shows that even the extreme cases of sovereignty are never cases of pure sovereignty. They are never cases in which the will or the interest of one man (or, if there were such a thing, the will or the interest of one group) can achieve his aim directly, without giving up some of it in order to enlist powers which he cannot conquer. And in an overwhelming number of cases, the limitations of political power go much further than this.

I have stressed these empirical points, not because I wish to use them as an argument, but merely in order to avoid objections. My claim is that every theory of sovereignty omits to face a more fundamental question — the question, namely, whether we should not strive towards institutional control of the rulers by balancing their powers against other powers.
This theory of checks and balances can at least claim careful consideration. The only objections to this claim, as far as I can see, are (a) that such a control is practically impossible, or (b) that it is essentially inconceivable since political power is essentially sovereign [3]. Both of these dogmatic objections are, I believe, refuted by the facts; and with them fall a number of other influential views (for instance, the theory that the only alternative to the dictatorship of one class is that of another class).

In order to raise the question of institutional control of the rulers, we need not assume more than that governments are not always good or wise. But since I have said something about historical facts, I think I should confess that I feel inclined to go a little beyond this assumption. I am inclined to think that rulers have rarely been above the average, either morally or intellectually, and often below it. And I think that it is reasonable to adopt, in politics, the principle of preparing for the worst, as well as we can, though we should, of course, at the same time try to obtain the best. It appears to me madness to base all our political efforts upon the faint hope that we shall be successful in obtaining excellent, or even competent, rulers. Strongly as I feel in these matters, I must insist, however, that my criticism of the theory of sovereignty does not depend on these more personal opinions. Apart from these personal opinions, and apart from the above mentioned empirical arguments against the general theory of sovereignty, there is also a kind of logical argument which can be used to show the inconsistency of any of the particular forms of the theory of sovereignty; more precisely, the logical argument can be given different but analogous forms to combat the theory that the wisest should rule, or else the theories that the best, or the law, or the majority, etc., should rule. One particular form of this logical argument is directed against a too naive version of liberalism, of democracy, and of the principle that the majority should rule; and it is somewhat similar to the well-known 'paradox of freedom' which has been used first, and with success, by Plato. In his criticism of democracy, and in his story of the rise of the tyrant, Plato raises implicitly the following question: What if it is the will of the people that they should not rule, but a tyrant instead? The free man, Plato suggests, may exercise his absolute freedom, first by defying the laws and ultimately by defying freedom itself and by clamouring for a tyrant [4]. This is not just a far-fetched possibility; it has happened a number of times; and every time it has happened, it has put in a hopeless intellectual position all those democrats who adopt, as the ultimate basis of their political creed, the principle of the majority rule or a similar form of the principle of sovereignty. On the one hand, the principle they have adopted demands from them that they should oppose any but the majority rule, and therefore the new tyranny; on the other hand, the same principle demands from them that they should accept any decision reached by the majority, and thus the rule of the new tyrant. The inconsistency of their theory must, of course, paralyse their actions [5]. Those of us democrats who demand the institutional control of the rulers by the ruled, and especially the right of dismissing the government by a majority vote, must therefore base these demands upon better grounds than a self- contradictory theory of sovereignty. (That this is possible will be briefly shown in the next section of this chapter.)

Plato, we have seen, came near to discovering the paradoxes of freedom and of democracy. But what Plato and his followers overlooked is that all the other forms of the theory of sovereignty give rise to analogous inconsistencies. All theories of sovereignty are paradoxical. For instance, we may have selected 'the wisest' or 'the best' as a ruler. But 'the wisest' in his wisdom may find that not he but 'the best' should rule, and 'the best' in his goodness may perhaps decide that 'the majority' should rule. It is important to notice that even that form of the theory of sovereignty which demands the 'Kingship of the Law' is open to the same objection. This, in fact, has been seen very early, as Heraclitus' remark [6] shows: 'The law can demand, too, that the will of One Man must be obeyed. '

In summing up this brief criticism, one can, I believe, assert that the theory of sovereignty is in a weak position, both empirically and logically. The least that can be demanded is that it must not be adopted without careful consideration of other possibilities.


And indeed, it is not difficult to show that a theory of democratic control can be developed which is free of the paradox of sovereignty. The theory I have in mind is one which does not proceed, as it were, from a doctrine of the intrinsic goodness or righteousness of a majority rule, but rather from the baseness of tyranny; or more precisely, it rests upon the decision, or upon the adoption of the proposal, to avoid and to resist tyranny.

For we may distinguish two main types of government. The first type consists of governments of which we can get rid without bloodshed — for example, by way of general elections; that is to say, the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled, and the social traditions [7] ensure that these institutions will not easily be destroyed by those who are in power. The second type consists of governments which the ruled cannot get rid of except by way of a successful revolution — that is to say, in most cases, not at all. I suggest the term 'democracy' as a shorthand label for a government of the first type, and the term 'tyranny' or 'dictatorship' for the second. This, I believe, corresponds closely to traditional usage. But I wish to make clear that no part of my argument depends on the choice of these labels; and should anybody reverse this usage (as is frequently done nowadays), then I should simply say that I am in favour of what he calls 'tyranny', and object to what he calls 'democracy'; and I should reject as irrelevant any attempt to discover what 'democracy' 'really' or 'essentially' means, for example, by translating the term into 'the rule of the people'. (For although 'the people' may influence the actions of their rulers by the threat of dismissal, they never rule themselves in any concrete, practical sense.)

If we make use of the two labels as suggested, then we can now describe, as the principle of a democratic policy, the proposal to create, develop, and protect, political institutions for the avoidance of tyranny. This principle does not imply that we can ever develop institutions of this kind which are faultless or foolproof, or which ensure that the policies adopted by a democratic government will be right or good or wise — or even necessarily better or wiser than the policies adopted by a benevolent tyrant. (Since no such assertions are made, the paradox of democracy is avoided.) What may be said, however, to be implied in the adoption of the democratic principle is the conviction that the acceptance of even a bad policy in a democracy (as long as we can work for a peaceful change) is preferable to the submission to a tyranny, however wise or benevolent. Seen in this light, the theory of democracy is not based upon the principle that the majority should rule; rather, the various equalitarian methods of democratic control, such as general elections and representative government, are to be considered as no more than well-tried and, in the presence of a widespread traditional distrust of tyranny, reasonably effective institutional safeguards against tyranny, always open to improvement, and even providing methods for their own improvement.

He who accepts the principle of democracy in this sense is therefore not bound to look upon the result of a democratic vote as an authoritative expression of what is right. Although he will accept a decision of the majority, for the sake of making the democratic institutions work, he will feel free to combat it by democratic means, and to work for its revision. And should he live to see the day when the majority vote destroys the democratic institutions, then this sad experience will tell him only that there does not exist a foolproof method of avoiding tyranny. But it need not weaken his decision to fight tyranny, nor will it expose his theory as inconsistent.  


Returning to Plato, we find that by his emphasis upon the problem 'who should rule', he implicitly assumed the general theory of sovereignty. The question of an institutional control of the rulers, and of an institutional balancing of their powers, is thereby eliminated without ever having been raised. The interest is shifted from institutions to questions of personnel, and the most urgent problem now becomes that of selecting the natural leaders, and that of training them for leadership. In view of this fact some people think that in Plato's theory, the welfare of the state is ultimately an ethical and spiritual matter, depending on persons and personal responsibility rather than on the construction of impersonal institutions. I believe that this view of Platonism is superficial. All long-term politics are institutional. There is no escape from that, not even for Plato. The principle of leadership does not replace institutional problems by problems of personnel, it only creates new institutional problems. As we shall see, it even burdens the institutions with a task which goes beyond what can be reasonably demanded from a mere institution, namely, with the task of selecting the future leaders. It would be therefore a mistake to think that the opposition between the theory of balances and the theory of sovereignty corresponds to that between institutionalism and personalism. Plato's principle of leadership is far removed from a pure personalism since it involves the working of institutions; and indeed it may be said that a pure personalism is impossible. But it must be said that a pure institutionalism is impossible also. Not only does the construction of institutions involve important personal decisions, but the functioning of even the best institutions (such as democratic checks and balances) will always depend, to a considerable degree, on the persons involved. Institutions are like fortresses. They must be well designed and manned.

This distinction between the personal and the institutional element in a social situation is a point which is often missed by the critics of democracy. Most of them are dissatisfied with democratic institutions because they find that these do not necessarily prevent a state or a policy from falling short of some moral standards or of some political demands which may be urgent as well as admirable. But these critics misdirect their attacks; they do not understand what democratic institutions may be expected to do, and what the alternative to democratic institutions would be. Democracy (using this label in the sense suggested above) provides the institutional framework for the reform of political institutions. It makes possible the reform of institutions without using violence, and thereby the use of reason in the designing of new institutions and the adjusting of old ones. It cannot provide reason. The question of the intellectual and moral standard of its citizens is to a large degree a personal problem. (The idea that this problem can be tackled, in turn, by an institutional eugenic and educational control is, I believe, mistaken; some reasons for my belief will be given below.) It is quite wrong to blame democracy for the political shortcomings of a democratic state. We should rather blame ourselves, that is to say, the citizens of the democratic state. In a non-democratic state, the only way to achieve reasonable reforms is by the violent overthrow of the government, and the introduction of a democratic framework. Those who criticize democracy on any 'moral' grounds fail to distinguish between personal and institutional problems. It rests with us to improve matters. The democratic institutions cannot improve themselves. The problem of improving them is always a problem for persons rather than for institutions. But if we want improvements, we must make clear which institutions we want to improve.

There is another distinction within the field of political problems corresponding to that between persons and institutions. It is the one between the problems of the day and the problems of the future. While the problems of the day are largely personal, the building of the future must necessarily be institutional. If the political problem is approached by asking 'Who should rule?', and if Plato's principle of leadership is adopted — that is to say, the principle that the best should rule — then the problem of the future must take the form of designing institutions for the selection of future leaders.

This is one of the most important problems in Plato's theory of education. In approaching it I do not hesitate to say that Plato utterly corrupted and confused the theory and practice of education by linking it up with his theory of leadership. The damage done is, if possible, even greater than that inflicted upon ethics by the identification of collectivism with altruism, and upon political theory by the introduction of the principle of sovereignty. Plato's assumption that it should be the task of education (or more precisely, of the educational institutions) to select the future leaders, and to train them for leadership, is still largely taken for granted. By burdening these institutions with a task which must go beyond the scope of any institution, Plato is partly responsible for their deplorable state.
But before entering into a general discussion of his view of the task of education, I wish to develop, in more detail, his theory of leadership, the leadership of the wise.


I think it most likely that this theory of Plato's owes a number of its elements to the influence of Socrates. One of the fundamental tenets of Socrates was, I believe, his moral intellectualism. By this I understand (a) his identification of goodness and wisdom, his theory that nobody acts against his better knowledge, and that lack of knowledge is responsible for all moral mistakes; (b) his theory that moral excellence can be taught, and that it does not require any particular moral faculties, apart from the universal human intelligence.

Socrates was a moralist and an enthusiast. He was the type of man who would criticize any form of government for its shortcomings (and indeed, such criticism would be necessary and useful for any government, although it is possible only under a democracy) but he recognized the importance of being loyal to the laws of the state. As it happened, he spent his life largely under a democratic form of government, and as a good democrat he found it his duty to expose the incompetence and windbaggery of some of the democratic leaders of his time. At the same time, he opposed any form of tyranny; and if we consider his courageous behaviour under the Thirty Tyrants then we have no reason to assume that his criticism of the democratic leaders was inspired by anything like anti- democratic leanings [8]. It is not unlikely that he demanded (like Plato) that the best should rule, which would have meant, in his view, the wisest, or those who knew something about justice. But we must remember that by 'justice' he meant equalitarian justice (as indicated by the passages from the Gorgias quoted in the last chapter), and that he was not only an equalitarian but also an individualist — perhaps the greatest apostle of an individualistic ethics of all time. And we should realize that, if he demanded that the wisest men should rule, he clearly stressed that he did not mean the learned men; in fact, he was sceptical of all professional learnedness, whether it was that of the philosophers of the past or of the learned men of his own generation, the Sophists. The wisdom he meant was of a different kind. It was simply the realization: how little do I know! Those who did not know this, he taught, knew nothing at all. (This is the true scientific spirit. Some people still think, as Plato did when he had established himself as a learned Pythagorean sage [9], that Socrates' agnostic attitude must be explained by the lack of success of the science of his day. But this only shows that they do not understand this spirit, and that they are still possessed by the pre-Socratic magical attitude towards science, and towards the scientist, whom they consider as a somewhat glorified shaman, as wise, learned, initiated. They judge him by the amount of knowledge in his possession, instead of taking, with Socrates, his awareness of what he does not know as a measure of his scientific level as well as of his intellectual honesty.)

It is important to see that this Socratic intellectualism is decidedly equalitarian. Socrates believed that everyone can be taught; in the Meno, we see him teaching a young slave a version— [10] of the now so-called theorem of Pythagoras, in an attempt to prove that any uneducated slave has the capacity to grasp even abstract matters. And his intellectualism is also anti-authoritarian. A technique, for instance rhetoric, may perhaps be dogmatically taught by an expert, according to Socrates; but real knowledge, wisdom, and also virtue, can be taught only by a method which he describes as a form of midwifery. Those eager to learn may be helped to free themselves from their prejudice; thus they may learn self- criticism, and that truth is not easily attained. But they may also learn to make up their minds, and to rely, critically, on their decisions, and on their insight. In view of such teaching, it is clear how much the Socratic demand (if he ever raised this demand) that the best, i.e. the intellectually honest, should rule, differs from the authoritarian demand that the most learned, or from the aristocratic demand that the best, i.e. the most noble, should rule. (Socrates' belief that even courage is wisdom can, I think, be interpreted as a direct criticism of the aristocratic doctrine of the nobly born hero.)

But this moral intellectualism of Socrates is a two-edged sword. It has its equalitarian and democratic aspect, which was later developed by Antisthenes. But it has also an aspect which may give rise to strongly anti-democratic tendencies. Its stress upon the need for enlightenment, for education, might easily be misinterpreted as a demand for authoritarianism. This is connected with a question which seems to have puzzled Socrates a great deal: that those who are not sufficiently educated, and thus not wise enough to know their deficiencies, are just those who are in the greatest need of education. Readiness to learn in itself proves the possession of wisdom, in fact all the wisdom claimed by Socrates for himself; for he who is ready to learn knows how little he knows. The uneducated seems thus to be in need of an authority to wake him up, since he cannot be expected to be self-critical. But this one element of authoritarianism was wonderfully balanced in Socrates' teaching by the emphasis that the authority must not claim more than that. The true teacher can prove himself only by exhibiting that self- criticism which the uneducated lacks. 'Whatever authority I may have rests solely upon my knowing how little I know': this is the way in which Socrates might have justified his mission to stir up the people from their dogmatic slumber. This educational mission he believed to be also a political mission. He felt that the way to improve the political life of the city was to educate the citizens to self-criticism. In this sense he claimed to be 'the only politician of his day' [11], in opposition to those others who flatter the people instead of furthering their true interests.

This Socratic identification of his educational and political activity could easily be distorted into the Platonic and Aristotelian demand that the state should look after the moral life of its citizens. And it can easily be used for a dangerously convincing proof that all democratic control is vicious. For how can those whose task it is to educate be judged by the uneducated? How can the better be controlled by the less good? But this argument is, of course, entirely un-Socratic. It assumes an authority of the wise and learned man, and goes far beyond Socrates' modest idea of the teacher's authority as founded solely on his consciousness of his own limitations. State-authority in these matters is liable to achieve, in fact, the exact opposite of Socrates' aim. It is liable to produce dogmatic self- satisfaction and massive intellectual complacency, instead of critical dissatisfaction and eagerness for improvement. I do not think that it is unnecessary to stress this danger which is seldom clearly realized. Even an author like Grossman, who, I believe, understood the true Socratic spirit, agrees [12] with Plato in what he calls Plato's third criticism of Athens: 'Education, which should be the major responsibility of the State, had been left to individual caprice . . . Here again was a task which should be entrusted only to the man of proven probity. The future of any State depends on the younger generation, and it is therefore madness to allow the minds of children to be moulded by individual taste and force of circumstances. Equally disastrous had been the State's laissez-faire policy with regard to teachers and schoolmasters and sophist-lecturers.' [13] But the Athenian state's laissez-faire policy, criticized by Grossman and Plato, had the invaluable result of enabling certain sophist-lecturers to teach, and especially the greatest of them all, Socrates. And when this policy was later dropped, the result was Socrates' death. This should be a warning that state control in such matters is dangerous, and that the cry for the 'man of proven probity' may easily lead to the suppression of the best. (Bertrand Russell's recent suppression is a case in point.) But as far as basic principles are concerned, we have here an instance of the deeply rooted prejudice that the only alternative to laissez-faire is full state responsibility. I certainly believe that it is the responsibility of the state to see that its citizens are given an education enabling them to participate in the life of the community, and to make use of any opportunity to develop their special interests and gifts; and the state should certainly also see (as Grossman rightly stresses) that the lack of 'the individual's capacity to pay' should not debar him from higher studies. This, I believe, belongs to the state's protective functions. To say, however, that 'the future of the state depends on the younger generation, and that it is therefore madness to allow the minds of children to be moulded by individual taste', appears to me to open wide the door to totalitarianism. State interest must not be lightly invoked to defend measures which may endanger the most precious of all forms of freedom, namely, intellectual freedom. And although I do not advocate 'laissez-faire with regard to teachers and schoolmasters', I believe that this policy is infinitely superior to an authoritative policy that gives officers of the state full powers to mould minds, and to control the teaching of science, thereby backing the dubious authority of the expert by that of the state, ruining science by the customary practice of teaching it as an authoritative doctrine, and destroying the scientific spirit of inquiry — the spirit of the search for truth, as opposed to the belief in its possession.

I have tried to show that Socrates' intellectualism was fundamentally equalitarian and individualistic, and that the element of authoritarianism which it involved was reduced to a minimum by Socrates' intellectual modesty and his scientific attitude. The intellectualism of Plato is very different from this. The Platonic 'Socrates' of the Republic— is the embodiment of an unmitigated authoritarianism. (Even his self- deprecating remarks are not based upon awareness of his limitations, but are rather an ironical way of asserting his superiority.) His educational aim is not the awakening of self-criticism and of critical thought in general. It is, rather, indoctrination — the moulding of minds and of souls which (to repeat a quotation from the Laws [15]) are 'to become, by long habit, utterly incapable of doing anything at all independently'. And Socrates' great equalitarian and liberating idea that it is possible to reason with a slave, and that there is an intellectual link between man and man, a medium of universal understanding, namely, 'reason', this idea is replaced by a demand for an educational monopoly of the ruling class, coupled with the strictest censorship, even of oral debates.

Socrates had stressed that he was not wise; that he was not in the possession of truth, but that he was a searcher, an inquirer, a lover of truth. This, he explained, is expressed by the word 'philosopher', i.e. the lover of wisdom, and the seeker for it, as opposed to 'Sophist', i.e. the professionally wise man.
If ever he claimed that statesmen should be philosophers, he could only have meant that, burdened with an excessive responsibility, they should be searchers for truth, and conscious of their limitations.

How did Plato convert this doctrine? At first sight, it might appear that he did not alter it at all, when demanding that the sovereignty of the state should be invested in the philosophers; especially since, like Socrates, he defined philosophers as lovers of truth. But the change made by Plato is indeed tremendous. His lover is no longer the modest seeker, he is the proud possessor of truth. A trained dialectician, he is capable of intellectual intuition, i.e. of seeing, and of communicating with, the eternal, the heavenly Forms or Ideas. Placed high above all ordinary men, he is 'god-like, if not ... divine' [16], both in his wisdom and in his power. Plato's ideal philosopher approaches both to omniscience and to omnipotence. He is the Philosopher-King. It is hard, I think, to conceive a greater contrast than that between the Socratic and the Platonic ideal of a philosopher. It is the contrast between two worlds — the world of a modest, rational individualist and that of a totalitarian demi-god.

Plato's demand that the wise man should rule — the possessor of truth, the 'fully qualified philosopher ' [17] — raises, of course, the problem of selecting and educating the rulers. In a purely personalist (as opposed to an institutional) theory, this problem might be solved simply by declaring that the wise ruler will in his wisdom be wise enough to choose the best man for his successor. This is not, however, a very satisfactory approach to the problem. Too much would depend on uncontrolled circumstances; an accident may destroy the future stability of the state. But the attempt to control circumstances, to foresee what might happen and to provide for it, must lead here, as everywhere, to the abandonment of a purely personalist solution, and to its replacement by an institutional one. As already stated, the attempt to plan for the future must always lead to institutionalism.


The institution which according to Plato has to look after the future leaders can be described as the educational department of the state. It is, from a purely political point of view, by far the most important institution within Plato's society. It holds the keys to power. For this reason alone it should be clear that at least the higher grades of education are to be directly controlled by the rulers. But there are some additional reasons for this. The most important is that only 'the expert and ... the man of proven probity', as Grossman puts it, which in Plato's view means only the very wisest adepts, that is to say, the rulers themselves, can be entrusted with the final initiation of the future sages into the higher mysteries of wisdom. This holds, above all, for dialectics, i.e. the art of intellectual intuition, of visualizing the divine originals, the Forms or Ideas, of unveiling the Great Mystery behind the common man's everyday world of appearances.

What are Plato's institutional demands regarding this highest form of education? They are remarkable. He demands that only those who are past their prime of life should be admitted. 'When their bodily strength begins to fail, and when they are past the age of public and military duties, then, and only then, should they be permitted to enter at will the sacred field ...' [18] namely, the field of the highest dialectical studies. Plato's reason for this amazing rule is clear enough. He is afraid of the power of thought. 'All great things are dangerous' [19] is the remark by which he introduces the confession that he is afraid of the effect which philosophic thought may have upon brains which are not yet on the verge of old age. (All this he puts into the mouth of Socrates, who died in defence of his right of free discussion with the young.) But this is exactly what we should expect if we remember that Plato's fundamental aim was to arrest political change. In their youth, the members of the upper class shall fight. When they are too old to think independently, they shall become dogmatic students to be imbued with wisdom and authority in order to become sages themselves and to hand on their wisdom, the doctrine of collectivism and authoritarianism, to future generations.

It is interesting that in a later and more elaborate passage which attempts to paint the rulers in the brightest colours, Plato modifies his suggestion. Now [20] he allows the future sages to begin their preparatory dialectical studies at the age of thirty, stressing, of course, 'the need for great caution' and the dangers of 'insubordination ... which corrupts so many dialecticians'; and he demands that 'those to whom the use of arguments may be permitted must possess disciplined and well-balanced natures'. This alteration certainly helps to brighten the picture. But the fundamental tendency is the same. For, in the continuation of this passage, we hear that the future leaders must not be initiated into the higher philosophical studies — into the dialectic vision of the essence of the Good — before they reach, having passed through many tests and temptations, the age of fifty.

This is the teaching of the Republic. It seems that the dialogue Parmenides [21] contains a similar message, for here Socrates is depicted as a brilliant young man who, having dabbled successfully in pure philosophy, gets into serious trouble when asked to give an account of the more subtle problems of the theory of ideas. He is dismissed by the old Parmenides with the admonition that he should train himself more thoroughly in the art of abstract thought before venturing again into the higher field of philosophical studies. It looks as if we had here (among other things) Plato's answer — 'Even a Socrates was once too young for dialectics' — to his pupils who pestered him for an initiation which he considered premature.

Why is it that Plato does not wish his leaders to have originality or initiative? The answer, I think, is clear. He hates change and does not want to see that re-adjustments may become necessary. But this explanation of Plato's attitude does not go deep enough. In fact, we are faced here with a fundamental difficulty of the leader principle. The very idea of selecting or educating future leaders is self-contradictory. You may solve the problem, perhaps, to some degree in the field of bodily excellence. Physical initiative and bodily courage are perhaps not so hard to ascertain. But the secret of intellectual excellence is the spirit of criticism; it is intellectual independence. And this leads to difficulties which must prove insurmountable for any kind of authoritarianism. The authoritarian will in general select those who obey, who believe, who respond to his influence. But in doing so, he is bound to select mediocrities. For he excludes those who revolt, who doubt, who dare to resist his influence. Never can an authority admit that the intellectually courageous, i.e. those who dare to defy his authority, may be the most valuable type. Of course, the authorities will always remain convinced of their ability to detect initiative. But what they mean by this is only a quick grasp of their intentions, and they will remain forever incapable of seeing the difference. (Here we may perhaps penetrate the secret of the particular difficulty of selecting capable military leaders. The demands of military discipline enhance the difficulties discussed, and the methods of military advancement are such that those who do dare to think for themselves are usually eliminated. Nothing is less true, as far as intellectual initiative is concerned, than the idea that those who are good in obeying will also be good in commanding [22]. Very similar difficulties arise in political parties: the 'Man Friday' of the party leader is seldom a capable successor.)

We are led here, I believe, to a result of some importance, and to one which can be generalized. Institutions for the selection of the outstanding can hardly be devised. Institutional selection may work quite well for such purposes as Plato had in mind, namely for arresting change. But it will never work well if we demand more than that, for it will always tend to eliminate initiative and originality, and, more generally, qualities which are unusual and unexpected. This is not a criticism of political institutionalism. It only re-affirms what has been said before, that we should always prepare for the worst leaders, although we should try, of course, to get the best. But it is a criticism of the tendency to burden institutions, especially educational institutions, with the impossible task of selecting the best. This should never be made their task. This tendency transforms our educational system into a race-course, and turns a course of studies into a hurdle-race. Instead of encouraging the student to devote himself to his studies for the sake of studying, instead of encouraging in him a real love for his subject and for inquiry [23], he is encouraged to study for the sake of his personal career; he is led to acquire only such knowledge as is serviceable in getting him over the hurdles which he must clear for the sake of his advancement. In other words, even in the field of science, our methods of selection are based upon an appeal to personal ambition of a somewhat crude form. (It is a natural reaction to this appeal if the eager student is looked upon with suspicion by his colleagues.) The impossible demand for an institutional selection of intellectual leaders endangers the very life not only of science, but of intelligence.

It has been said, only too truly, that Plato was the inventor of both our secondary schools and our universities. I do not know a better argument for an optimistic view of mankind, no better proof of their indestructible love for truth and decency, of their originality and stubbornness and health, than the fact that this devastating system of education has not utterly ruined them. In spite of the treachery of so many of their leaders, there are quite a number, old as well as young, who are decent, and intelligent, and devoted to their task. 'I sometimes wonder how it was that the mischief done was not more clearly perceptible,' says Samuel Butler [24], 'and that the young men and women grew up as sensible and goodly as they did, in spite of the attempts almost deliberately made to warp and stunt their growth. Some doubtless received damage, from which they suffered to their life's end; but many seemed little or none the worse, and some almost the better. The reason would seem to be that the natural instinct of the lads in most cases so absolutely rebelled against their training, that do what the teachers might they could never get them to pay serious heed to it.'

It may be mentioned here that, in practice, Plato did not prove too successful as a selector of political leaders. I have in mind not so much the disappointing outcome of his experiment with Dionysius the Younger, tyrant of Syracuse, but rather the participation of Plato's Academy in Dio's successful expedition against Dionysius. Plato's famous friend Dio was supported in this adventure by a number of members of Plato's Academy. One of them was Callippus, who became Dio's most trusted comrade. After Dio had made himself tyrant of Syracuse he ordered Heraclides, his ally (and perhaps his rival), to be murdered. Shortly afterwards he was himself murdered by Callippus who usurped the tyranny, which he lost after thirteen months. (He was, in turn, murdered by the Pythagorean philosopher Leptines.) But this event was not the only one of its kind in Plato's career as a teacher. Clearchus, one of Plato's (and of Isocrates') disciples, made himself tyrant of Heraclea after having posed as a democratic leader. He was murdered by his relation, Chion, another member of Plato's Academy. (We cannot know how Chion, whom some represent as an idealist, would have developed, since he was soon killed.) These and a few similar experiences of Plato's [25] — who could boast a total of at least nine tyrants among his onetime pupils and associates — throw light on the peculiar difficulties connected with the selection of men who are to be invested with absolute power. It is hard to find a man whose character will not be corrupted by it. As Lord Acton says — all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

To sum up. Plato's political programme was much more institutional than personalist; he hoped to arrest political change by the institutional control of succession in leadership. The control was to be educational, based upon an authoritarian view of learning — upon the authority of the learned expert, and 'the man of proven probity'. This is what Plato made of Socrates' demand that a responsible politician should be a lover of truth and of wisdom rather than an expert, and that he was wise only [26] if he knew his limitations.  
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8: The Philosopher King

And the state will erect monuments ... to commemorate them. And sacrifices will be offered to them as demigods, ... as men who are blessed by grace, and godlike.

-- Plato.

The contrast between the Platonic and the Socratic creed is even greater than I have shown so far. Plato, I have said, followed Socrates in his definition of the philosopher. 'Whom do you call true philosophers? — Those who love truth', we read in the Republic [1]. But he himself is not quite truthful when he makes this statement. He does not really believe in it, for he bluntly declares in other places that it is one of the royal privileges of the sovereign to make full use of lies and deceit: 'It is the business of the rulers of the city, if it is anybody's, to tell lies, deceiving both its enemies and its own citizens for the benefit of the city; and no one else must touch this privilege.'

'For the benefit of the city', says Plato. Again we find that the appeal to the principle of collective utility is the ultimate ethical consideration. Totalitarian morality overrules everything, even the definition, the Idea, of the philosopher. It need hardly be mentioned that, by the same principle of political expediency, the ruled are to be forced to tell the truth. 'If the ruler catches anyone else in a lie ... then he will punish him for introducing a practice which injures and endangers the city . . . ' [3] Only in this slightly unexpected sense are the Platonic rulers — the philosopher kings — lovers of truth. [2]


Plato illustrates this application of his principle of collective utility to the problem of truthfulness by the example of the physician. The example is well chosen, since Plato likes to visualize his political mission as one of the healer or saviour of the sick body of society. Apart from this, the role which he assigns to medicine throws light upon the totalitarian character of Plato's city where state interest dominates the life of the citizen from the mating of his parents to his grave. Plato interprets medicine as a form of politics, or as he puts it himself, he 'regards Aesculapius, the god of medicine, as a politician' [4]. Medical art, he explains, must not consider the prolongation of life as its aim, but only the interest of the state. 'In all properly ruled communities, each man has his particular work assigned to him in the state. This he must do, and no one has time to spend his life in falling ill and getting cured.' Accordingly, the physician has 'no right to attend to a man who cannot carry out his ordinary duties; for such a man is useless to himself and to the state'. To this is added the consideration that such a man might have 'children who would probably be equally sick', and who also would become a burden to the state. (In his old age, Plato mentions medicine, in spite of his increased hatred of individualism, in a more personal vein. He complains of the doctor who treats even free citizens as if they were slaves, 'issuing his orders like a tyrant whose will is law, and then rushing off to the next slave-patient' [5], and he pleads for more gentleness and patience in medical treatment, at least for those who are not slaves.) Concerning the use of lies and deceit, Plato urges that these are 'useful only as a medicine' [6]; but the ruler of the state, Plato insists, must not behave like some of those 'ordinary doctors' who have not the courage to administer strong medicines. The philosopher king, a lover of truth as a philosopher, must, as a king, be 'a more courageous man', since he must be determined 'to administer a great many lies and deceptions' — for the benefit of the ruled, Plato hastens to add. Which means, as we already know, and as we learn here again from Plato's reference to medicine, 'for the benefit of the state'. (Kant remarked once in a very different spirit that the sentence 'Truthfulness is the best policy' might indeed be questionable, whilst the sentence 'Truthfulness is better than policy' is beyond dispute [7].)

What kind of lies has Plato in mind when he exhorts his rulers to use strong medicine? Grossman rightly emphasizes that Plato means 'propaganda, the technique of controlling the behaviour of ... the bulk of the ruled majority' [8]. Certainly, Plato had these first in his mind; but when Grossman suggests that the propaganda lies were only intended for the consumption of the ruled, while the rulers should be a fully enlightened intelligentsia, then I cannot agree. I think, rather, that Plato's complete break with anything resembling Socrates' intellectualism is nowhere more obvious than in the place where he twice expresses his hope that even the rulers themselves, at least after a few generations, might be induced to believe his greatest propaganda lie; I mean his racialism, his Myth of Blood and Soil, known as the Myth of the Metals in Man and of the Earthborn. Here we see that Plato's utilitarian and totalitarian principles overrule everything, even the ruler's privilege of knowing, and of demanding to be told, the truth. The motive of Plato's wish that the rulers themselves should believe in the propaganda lie is his hope of increasing its wholesome effect, i.e. of strengthening the rule of the master race, and ultimately, of arresting all political change.


Plato introduces his Myth of Blood and Soil with the blunt admission that it is a fraud. 'Well then', says the Socrates of the Republic, 'could we perhaps fabricate one of those very handy lies which indeed we mentioned just recently? With the help of one single lordly lie we may, if we are lucky, persuade even the rulers themselves — but at any rate the rest of the city.' [9] It is interesting to note the use of the term 'persuade'. To persuade somebody to believe a lie means, more precisely, to mislead or to hoax him; and it would be more in tune with the frank cynicism of the passage to translate 'we may, if we are lucky, hoax even the rulers themselves'. But Plato uses the term 'persuasion' very frequently, and its occurrence here throws some light on other passages. It may be taken as a warning that in similar passages he may have propaganda lies in his mind; more especially where he advocates that the statesman should rule 'by means of both persuasion and force' [10].

After announcing his 'lordly lie', Plato, instead of proceeding directly to the narration of his Myth, first develops a lengthy preface, somewhat similar to the lengthy preface which precedes his discovery of justice; an indication, I think, of his uneasiness. It seems that he did not expect the proposal which follows to find much favour with his readers. The Myth itself introduces two ideas. The first is to strengthen the defence of the mother country; it is the idea that the warriors of his city are autochthonous, 'born of the earth of their country', and ready to defend their country which is their mother. This old and well-known idea is certainly not the reason for Plato's hesitation (although the wording of the dialogue cleverly suggests it). The second idea, however, 'the rest of the story', is the myth of racialism: 'God ... has put gold into those who are capable of ruling, silver into the auxiliaries, and iron and copper into the peasants and the other producing classes.' [11] These metals are hereditary, they are racial characteristics. In this passage, in which Plato, hesitatingly, first introduces his racialism, he allows for the possibility that children may be born with an admixture of another metal than those of their parents; and it must be admitted that he here announces the following rule: if in one of the lower classes 'children are born with an admixture of gold and silver, they shall ... be appointed guardians, and . . . auxiliaries'. But this concession is rescinded in later passages of the Republic (and also in the Laws), especially in the story of the Fall of Man and of the Number [12], partially quoted in chapter 5 above. From this passage we learn that any admixture of one of the base metals must be excluded from the higher classes. The possibility of admixtures and corresponding changes in status therefore only means that nobly born but degenerate children may be pushed down, and not that any of the base born may be lifted up. The way in which any mixing of metals must lead to destruction is described in the concluding passage of the story of the Fall of Man: 'Iron will mingle with silver and bronze with gold, and from this mixture variation will be born and absurd irregularity; and whenever these are born they will beget struggle and hostility. And this is how we must describe the ancestry and birth of Dissension, wherever she arises' [13]. It is in this light that we must consider that the Myth of the Earthborn concludes with the cynical fabrication of a prophecy by a fictitious oracle 'that the city must perish when guarded by iron and copper' [14]. Plato's reluctance to proffer his racialism at once in its more radical form indicates, I suppose, that he knew how much it was opposed to the democratic and humanitarian tendencies of his time.

If we consider Plato's blunt admission that his Myth of Blood and Soil is a propaganda lie, then the attitude of the commentators towards the Myth is somewhat puzzling. Adam, for instance, writes: 'Without it, the present sketch of a state would be incomplete. We require some guarantee for the permanence of the city . . . ; and nothing could be more in keeping with the prevailing moral and religious spirit of Plato's ... education than that he should find that guarantee in faith rather than in reason.'— [15] I agree (though this is not quite what Adam meant) that nothing is more in keeping with Plato's totalitarian morality than his advocacy of propaganda lies. But I do not quite understand how the religious and idealistic commentator can declare, by implication, that religion and faith are on the level of an opportunist lie. As a matter of fact, Adam's comment is reminiscent of Hobbes' conventionalism, of the view that the tenets of religion, although not true, are a most expedient and indispensable political device. And this consideration shows us that Plato, after all, was more of a conventionalist than one might think. He does not even stop short of establishing a religious faith 'by convention' (we must credit him with the frankness of his admission that it is only a fabrication), while the reputed conventionalist Protagoras at least believed that the laws, which are our making, are made with the help of divine inspiration. It is hard to understand why those of Plato's commentators [16] who praise him for fighting against the subversive conventionalism of the Sophists, and for establishing a spiritual naturalism ultimately based on religion, fail to censure him for making a convention, or rather an invention, the ultimate basis of religion. In fact, Plato's attitude towards religion as revealed by his 'inspired lie' is practically identical with that of Critias, his beloved uncle, the brilliant leader of the Thirty Tyrants who established an inglorious blood-regime in Athens after the Peloponnesian war. Critias, a poet, was the first to glorify propaganda lies, whose invention he described in forceful verses eulogizing the wise and cunning man who fabricated religion, in order to 'persuade' the people, i.e. to threaten them into submission. [17]

'Then came, it seems, that wise and cunning man. The first inventor of the fear of gods . . . He framed a tale, a most alluring doctrine, Concealing truth by veils of lying lore. He told of the abode of awful gods. Up in revolving vaults, whence thunder roars And lightning's fearful flashes blind the eye ... He thus encircled men by bonds of fear; Surrounding them by gods in fair abodes. He charmed them by his spells, and daunted them — And lawlessness turned into law and order.'

In Critias' view, religion is nothing but the lordly lie of a great and clever statesman. Plato's views are strikingly similar, both in the introduction of the Myth in the Republic (where he bluntly admits that the Myth is a lie) and in the Laws where he says that the installation of rites and of gods is 'a matter for a great thinker' [18]. — But is this the whole truth about Plato's religious attitude? Was he nothing but an opportunist in this field, and was the very different spirit of his earlier works merely Socratic? There is of course no way of deciding this question with certainty, though I feel, intuitively, that there may sometimes be a more genuine religious feeling expressed even in the later works. But I believe that wherever Plato considers religious matters in their relation to politics, his political opportunism sweeps all other feelings aside. Thus Plato demands, in the Laws, the severest punishment even for honest and honourable people [19] if their opinions concerning the gods deviate from those held by the state. Their souls are to be treated by a Nocturnal Council of inquisitors [20], and if they do not recant or if they repeat the offence, the charge of impiety means death. Has he forgotten that Socrates had fallen a victim to that very charge?

That it is mainly state interest which inspires these demands, rather than interest in the religious faith as such, is indicated by Plato's central religious doctrine. The gods, he teaches in the Laws, punish severely all those on the wrong side in the conflict between good and evil, a conflict which is explained as that between collectivism and individualism [21]. And the gods, he insists, take an active interest in men, they are not merely spectators. It is impossible to appease them. Neither through prayers nor through sacrifices can they be moved to abstain from punishment [22]. The political interest behind this teaching is clear, and it is made even clearer by Plato's demand that the state must suppress all doubt about any part of this politico-religious dogma, and especially about the doctrine that the gods never abstain from punishment.

Plato's opportunism and his theory of lies makes it, of course, difficult to interpret what he says. How far did he believe in his theory of justice? How far did he believe in the truth of the religious doctrines he preached? Was he perhaps himself an atheist, in spite of his demand for the punishment of other (lesser) atheists? Although we cannot hope to answer any of these questions definitely, it is, I believe, difficult, and methodologically unsound, not to give Plato at least the benefit of the doubt. And especially the fundamental sincerity of his belief that there is an urgent need to arrest all change can, I think, hardly be questioned. (I shall return to this in chapter 10.) On the other hand, we cannot doubt that Plato subjects the Socratic love of truth to the more fundamental principle that the rule of the master class must be strengthened.

It is interesting, however, to note that Plato's theory of truth is slightly less radical than his theory of justice. Justice, we have seen, is defined, practically, as that which serves the interest of his totalitarian state. It would have been possible, of course, to define the concept of truth in the same utilitarian or pragmatist fashion. The Myth is true, Plato could have said, since anything that serves the interest of my state must be believed and therefore must be called 'true'; and there must be no other criterion of truth. In theory, an analogous step has actually been taken by the pragmatist successors of Hegel; in practice, it has been taken by Hegel himself and his racialist successors. But Plato retained enough of the Socratic spirit to admit candidly that he was lying. The step taken by the school of Hegel was one that could never have occurred, I think, to any companion of Socrates [23].


So much for the role played by the Idea of Truth in Plato's best state. But apart from Justice and Truth, we have still to consider some further Ideas, such as Goodness, Beauty, and Happiness, if we wish to remove the objections, raised in chapter 6, against our interpretation of Plato's political programme as purely totalitarian, and as based on historicism. An approach to the discussion of these Ideas, and also to that of Wisdom, which has been partly discussed in the last chapter, can be made by considering the somewhat negative result reached by our discussion of the Idea of Truth. For this result raises a new problem: Why does Plato demand that the philosophers should be kings or the kings philosophers, if he defines the philosopher as a lover of truth, insisting, on the other hand, that the king must be 'more courageous', and use lies?

The only reply to this question is, of course, that Plato has, in fact, something very different in mind when he uses the term 'philosopher'. And indeed, we have seen in the last chapter that his philosopher is not the devoted seeker for wisdom, but its proud possessor. He is a learned man, a sage. What Plato demands, therefore, is the rule of learnedness — sophocracy, if I may so call it. In order to understand this demand, we must try to find what kind of functions make it desirable that the ruler of Plato's state should be a possessor of knowledge, a 'fully qualified philosopher', as Plato says. The functions to be considered can be divided into two main groups, namely those connected with the foundation of the state, and those connected with its preservation.


The first and the most important function of the philosopher king is that of the city's founder and lawgiver. It is clear why Plato needs a philosopher for this task. If the state is to be stable, then it must be a true copy of the divine Form or Idea of the State. But only a philosopher who is fully proficient in the highest of sciences, in dialectics, is able to see, and to copy, the heavenly Original. This point receives much emphasis in the part of the Republic in which Plato develops his arguments for the sovereignty of the philosophers [24]. Philosophers 'love to see the truth', and a real lover always loves to see the whole, not merely the parts. Thus he does not love, as ordinary people do, sensible things and their 'beautiful sounds and colours and shapes', but he wants 'to see, and to admire the real nature of beauty' — the Form or Idea of Beauty. In this way, Plato gives the term philosopher a new meaning, that of a lover and a seer of the divine world of Forms or Ideas.
As such, the philosopher is the man who may become the founder of a virtuous city [25]: 'The philosopher who has communion with the divine' may be 'overwhelmed by the urge to realize ... his heavenly vision', of the ideal city and of its ideal citizens. He is like a draughtsman or a painter who has 'the divine as his model'. Only true philosophers can 'sketch the ground-plan of the city', for they alone can see the original, and can copy it, by 'letting their eyes wander to and fro, from the model to the picture, and back from the picture to the model'.

As 'a painter of constitutions' [26], the philosopher must be helped by the light of goodness and of wisdom. A few remarks will be added concerning these two ideas, and their significance for the philosopher in his function as a founder of the city.

Plato's Idea of the Good is the highest in the hierarchy of Forms. It is the sun of the divine world of Forms or Ideas, which not only sheds light on all the other members, but is the source of their existence [27]. It is also the source or cause of all knowledge and all truth [28]. The power of seeing, of appreciating, of knowing the Good is thus indispensable [29] to the dialectician. Since it is the sun and the source of light in the world of Forms, it enables the philosopher-painter to discern his objects. Its function is therefore of the greatest importance for the founder of the city. But this purely formal information is all we get. Plato's Idea of the Good nowhere plays a more direct ethical or political role; never do we hear which deeds are good, or produce good, apart from the well-known collectivist moral code whose precepts are introduced without recourse to the Idea of Good. Remarks that the Good is the aim, that it is desired by every man [30], do not enrich our information. This empty formalism is still more marked in the Philebus, where the Good is identified [31] with the Idea of 'measure' or 'mean'. And when I read the report that Plato, in his famous lecture 'On the Good', disappointed an uneducated audience by defining the Good as 'the class of the determinate conceived as a unity', then my sympathy is with the audience. In the Republic, Plato says frankly [32] that he cannot explain what he means by 'the Good'. The only practical suggestion we ever get is the one mentioned at the beginning of chapter 4 — that good is everything that preserves, and evil everything that leads to corruption or degeneration. ('Good' does not, however, seem to be here the Idea of Good, but rather a property of things which makes them resemble the ideas.) Good is, accordingly, an unchanging, an arrested state of things; it is the state of things at rest.

The morality now prevailing ‘gilds, deifies, transports beyond the tomb, the non-egoistical instincts of compassion, self-denial, and self-sacrifice.’ But this morality of compassion ‘is humanity’s great danger, the beginning of the end, the halting, the backward-glancing fatigue of the will, turning against life.’ ‘We need a criticism of moral values. The value of these values is first of all itself to be put in question. There has hitherto been no hesitation in setting up good as of higher value than evil, of higher value in the sense of advancement, utility, prosperity, as regards man in general, including the future of man. What if truth lay in the contrary? What if good were a symptom of retrogression, a danger, a seduction, a poison, a narcotic, by means of which the present should live at the cost of the future? Perhaps more comfortably, less dangerously, but also on a smaller scale, more basely? So that precisely morality would be to blame for the fact that the highest might and splendour possible to the human type should never be attained? So that morality should be precisely the danger of dangers?’

Nietzsche replies to these questions thrown out by him in the preface to the book Zur Genealogie der Moral, in developing his idea of the genesis of present morality.

He sees at the beginnings of civilization ‘a beast of prey, a magnificent blond brute, ranging about and lusting for booty and victory.’ These ‘unchained beasts of prey were free from every social restraint; in the innocence of their wild-beast conscience they returned as exultant monsters from a horrible train of murder, incendiarism, rapine, torture, with an arrogance and composure as if nothing but a student’s freak had been perpetrated.’ The blond beasts constituted the noble races. They fell upon the less noble races, conquered them, and made slaves of them. ‘A herd of blond beasts of prey, a race of conquerors and masters, with military organization’ (this word ‘organization’ should be noticed; we shall have to revert to it), ‘with the power to organize, unscrupulously placing their fearful paws upon a population perhaps vastly superior in numbers, but still amorphous and wandering—this herd founded the State. The dream is dispelled which made the State begin with a contract. What has he to do with contracts, who can[422] command, who is master by nature, who comes on the scene with violence in deed and demeanour?’

In the State, then, thus established there were a race of masters and a race of slaves. The master-race first created moral ideas. It distinguished between good and evil. Good was with it synonymous with noble; evil with vulgar. All their own qualities they felt as good; those of the subject race as evil. Good meant severity, cruelty, pride, courage, contempt of danger, joy in risk, extreme unscrupulousness. Bad meant ‘the coward, the nervous, the mean, the narrow utilitarian, and also the distrustful with his disingenuous glance, the self-abasing, the human hound who allows himself to be abused, the begging flatterer—above all, the liar.’ Such is the morality of the masters. The radical meaning of the words now expressing the concept ‘good’ reveals what men represented to themselves as ‘good’ when the moral of the masters still held sway. ‘The Latin bonus I believe I may venture to interpret as “the warrior.” Provided I rightly trace bonus to a more ancient duonus (compare bellum, duellum, duen-lum, in which it seems to me that duonus is contained). Bonus, then, as a man of discord, of disunion (duo), as warrior: whereby it is seen what in ancient Rome constituted the “goodness” of a man.’

The subjugated race had naturally an opposing morality—the morality of the slaves. ‘The slave looks with envy on the virtues of the powerful; he is sceptical and distrustful; he has the cunning of distrust towards everything honoured by them as “good.” Conversely, those qualities were distinguished and glorified which served to ameliorate the existence of sufferers. Here the place of honour is given to compassion, to the complaisant hand ready to help, to the warm heart, to patience, diligence, humility, friendliness, for those are here the most useful qualities, and almost the only means by which the burden of existence can be borne. Slave-morality is essentially utilitarian morality.’

For a certain period the morality of masters and slaves subsisted side by side, or, more accurately, the one above the other. Then an extraordinary event occurred—slave-morality rebelled against master-morality, conquered and dethroned it, and set itself in the place thereof. Then ensued a new valuation of all moral concepts. (In his insane gibberish Nietzsche names this ‘transvaluation of values’—Umwerthung der Werthe.) That which, under the master-morals, had passed for good was now esteemed bad, and vice versâ. Weakness was meritorious, cruelty a crime; self-sacrifice, pity for the pain of others, unselfishness, were virtues. That is what Nietzsche terms ‘the slave revolt in morality.’

-- Degeneration, by Max Nordau

This does not seem to carry us very far beyond Plato's political totalitarianism; and the analysis of Plato's Idea of Wisdom leads to equally disappointing results. Wisdom, as we have seen, does not mean to Plato the Socratic insight into one's own limitations; nor does it mean what most of us would expect, a warm interest in, and a helpful understanding of, humanity and human affairs. Plato's wise men, highly preoccupied with the problems of a superior world, 'have no time to look down at the affairs of men they look upon, and hold fast to, the ordered and the measured'. It is the right kind of learning that makes a man wise: 'Philosophic natures are lovers of that kind of learning which reveals to them a reality that exists for ever and is not harassed by generation and degeneration.' It does not seem that Plato's treatment of wisdom can carry us beyond the ideal of arresting change.


Although the analysis of the functions of the city's founder has not revealed any new ethical elements in Plato's doctrine, it has shown that there is a definite reason why the founder of the city must be a philosopher. But this does not fully justify the demand for the permanent sovereignty of the philosopher. It only explains why the philosopher must be the first lawgiver, but not why he is needed as the permanent ruler, especially since none of the later rulers must introduce any change. For a full justification of the demand that the philosophers should rule, we must therefore proceed to analyse the tasks connected with the city's preservation.

We know from Plato's sociological theories that the state, once established, will continue to be stable as long as there is no split in the unity of the master class. The bringing up of that class is, therefore, the great preserving function of the sovereign, and a function which must continue as long as the state exists. How far does it justify the demand that a philosopher must rule? To answer this question, we distinguish again, within this function, between two different activities: the supervision of education, and the supervision of eugenic breeding.

Why should the director of education be a philosopher? Why is it not sufficient, once the state and its educational system are established, to put an experienced general, a soldier-king, in charge of it? The answer that the educational system must provide not only soldiers but philosophers, and therefore needs philosophers as well as soldiers as supervisors, is obviously unsatisfactory; for if no philosophers were needed as directors of education and as permanent rulers, then there would be no need for the educational system to produce new ones. The requirements of the educational system cannot as such justify the need for philosophers in Plato's state, or the postulate that the rulers must be philosophers. This would be different, of course, if Plato's education had an individualistic aim, apart from its aim to serve the interest of the state; for example, the aim to develop philosophical faculties for their own sake. But when we see, as we did in the preceding chapter, how frightened Plato was of permitting anything like independent thought [33]; and when we now see that the ultimate theoretical aim of this philosophic education was merely a 'Knowledge of the Idea of the Good' which is incapable of giving an articulate account of this Idea, then we begin to realize that this cannot be the explanation. And this impression is strengthened if we remember chapter 4, where we have seen that Plato also demanded restrictions in the Athenian 'musical' education. The great importance which Plato attaches to a philosophical education of the rulers must be explained by other reasons — by reasons which must be purely political.

The main reason I can see is the need for increasing to the utmost the authority of the rulers. If the education of the auxiliaries functions properly, there will be plenty of good soldiers. Outstanding military faculties may therefore be insufficient to establish an unchallenged and unchallengeable authority. This must be based on higher claims. Plato bases it upon the claims of supernatural, mystical powers which he develops in his leaders. They are not like other men. They belong to another world, they communicate with the divine. Thus the philosopher king seems to be, partly, a copy of a tribal priest-king, an institution which we have mentioned in connection with Heraclitus. (The institution of tribal priest-kings or medicine-men or shamans seems also to have influenced the old Pythagorean sect, with their surprisingly naive tribal taboos. Apparently, most of these were dropped even before Plato. But the claim of the Pythagoreans to a supernatural basis of their authority remained.) Thus Plato's philosophical education has a definite political function. It puts a mark on the rulers, and it establishes a barrier between the rulers and the ruled. (This has remained a major function of 'higher' education down to our own time.) Platonic wisdom is acquired largely for the sake of establishing a permanent political class rule. It can be described as political 'medicine', giving mystic powers to its possessors, the medicine-men. [34]

But this cannot be the full answer to our question of the functions of the philosopher in the state. It means, rather, that the question why a philosopher is needed has only been shifted, and that we would have now to raise the analogous question of the practical political functions of the shaman or the medicine-man. Plato must have had some definite aim when he devised his specialized philosophic training. We must look for a permanent function of the ruler, analogous to the temporary function of the lawgiver. The only hope of discovering such a function seems to be in the field of breeding the master race.


The best way to find out why a philosopher is needed as a permanent ruler is to ask the question: What happens, according to Plato, to a state which is not permanently ruled by a philosopher? Plato has given a clear answer to this question. If the guardians of the state, even of a very perfect one, are unaware of Pythagorean lore and of the Platonic Number, then the race of the guardians, and with it the state, must degenerate.

Racialism thus takes up a more central part in Plato's political programme than one would expect at first sight. Just as the Platonic racial or nuptial Number provides the setting for his descriptive sociology, 'the setting in which Plato's Philosophy of History is framed' (as Adam puts it), so it also provides the setting of Plato's political demand for the sovereignty of the philosophers. After what has been said in chapter 4 about the graziers' or cattle breeders' background of Plato's state, we are perhaps not quite unprepared to find that his king is a breeder king. But it may still surprise some that his philosopher turns out to be a philosophic breeder. The need for scientific, for mathematico-dialectical and philosophical breeding is not the least of the arguments behind the claim for the sovereignty of the philosophers.

It has been shown in chapter 4 how the problem of obtaining a pure breed of human watch-dogs is emphasized and elaborated in the earlier parts of the Republic. But so far we have not met with any plausible reason why only a genuine and fully qualified philosopher should be a proficient and successful political breeder. And yet, as every breeder of dogs or horses or birds knows, rational breeding is impossible without a pattern, an aim to guide him in his efforts, an ideal which he may try to approach by the methods of mating and of selecting. Without such a standard, he could never decide which offspring is 'good enough'; he could never speak of the difference between 'good offspring' and 'bad offspring'. But this standard corresponds exactly to a Platonic Idea of the race which he intends to breed.

Just as only the true philosopher, the dialectician, can see, according to Plato, the divine original of the city, so it is only the dialectician who can see that other divine original — the Form or Idea of Man. Only he is capable of copying this model, of calling it down from Heaven to Earth [35], and of realizing it here. It is a kingly Idea, this Idea of Man. It does not, as some have thought, represent what is common to all men; it is not the universal concept 'man'. It is, rather, the godlike original of man, an unchanging superman; it is a super-Greek, and a super-master. The philosopher must try to realize on earth what Plato describes as the race of 'the most constant, the most virile, and, within the limits of possibilities, the most beautifully formed men . . . : nobly born, and of awe-inspiring character' [36]. It is to be a race of men and women who are 'godlike if not divine ... sculptured in perfect beauty ' [37] — a lordly race, destined by nature to kingship and mastery.

We see that the two fundamental functions of the philosopher king are analogous: he has to copy the divine original of the city, and he has to copy the divine original of man. He is the only one who is able, and who has the urge, 'to realize, in the individual as well as in the city, his heavenly vision' [38].

Now we can understand why Plato drops his first hint that a more than ordinary excellence is needed in his rulers in the same place where he first claims that the principles of animal breeding must be applied to the race of men. We are, he says, most careful in breeding animals. 'If you did not breed them in this way, don't you think that the race of your birds or your dogs would quickly degenerate?' When inferring from this that man must be bred in the same careful way, 'Socrates' exclaims: 'Good heavens! ... What surpassing excellence we shall have to demand from our rulers, if the same principles apply to the race of men!'— [39] This exclamation is significant; it is one of the first hints that the rulers may constitute a class of 'surpassing excellence' with status and training of their own; and it thus prepares us for the demand that they ought to be philosophers. But the passage is even more significant in so far as it directly leads to Plato's demand that it must be the duty of the rulers, as doctors of the race of men, to administer lies and deception. Lies are necessary, Plato asserts, 'if your herd is to reach highest perfection'; for this needs 'arrangements that must be kept secret from all but the rulers, if we wish to keep the herd of guardians really free from disunion'. Indeed, the appeal (quoted above) to the rulers for more courage in administering lies as a medicine is made in this connection; it prepares the reader for the next demand, considered by Plato as particularly important. He decrees [40] that the rulers should fabricate, for the purpose of mating the young auxiliaries, 'an ingenious system of balloting, so that the persons who have been disappointed . . . may blame their bad luck, and not the rulers', who are, secretly, to engineer the ballot. And immediately after this despicable advice for dodging the admission of responsibility (by putting it into the mouth of Socrates, Plato libels his great teacher), 'Socrates' makes a suggestion [41] which is soon taken up and elaborated by Glaucon and which we may therefore call the Glauconic Edict. I mean the brutal law [42] which imposes on everybody of either sex the duty of submitting, for the duration of a war, to the wishes of the brave: 'As long as the war lasts, ... nobody may say "No" to him. Accordingly, if a soldier wishes to make love to anybody, whether male or female, this law will make him more eager to carry off the price of valour.' The state, it is carefully pointed out, will thereby obtain two distinct benefits — more heroes, owing to the incitement, and again more heroes, owing to the increased numbers of children from heroes. (The latter benefit, as the most important one from the point of view of a long-term racial policy, is put into the mouth of 'Socrates'.)


No special philosophical training is required for this kind of breeding. Philosophical breeding, however, plays its main part in counteracting the dangers of degeneration. In order to fight these dangers, a fully qualified philosopher is needed, i.e. one who is trained in pure mathematics (including solid geometry), pure astronomy, pure harmonics, and, the crowning achievement of all, in dialectics. Only he who knows the secrets of mathematical eugenics, of the Platonic Number, can bring back to man, and preserve for him, the happiness enjoyed before the Fall [43].
All this should be borne in mind when, after the announcement of the Glauconic Edict (and after an interlude dealing with the natural distinction between Greeks and Barbarians, corresponding, according to Plato, to that between masters and slaves), the doctrine is enunciated which Plato carefully marks as his central and most sensational political demand — the sovereignty of the philosopher king. This demand alone, he teaches, can put an end to the evils of social life; to the evil rampant in states, i.e., political instability, as well as to its more hidden cause, the evil rampant in the members of the race of men, i.e. racial degeneration. This is the passage. [44]

'Well,' says Socrates, 'I am now about to dive into that topic which I compared before to the greatest wave of all. Yet I must speak, even though I foresee that this will bring upon me a deluge of laughter. Indeed, I can see it now, this very wave, breaking over my head into an uproar of laughter and defamation ...' — 'Out with the story!' says Glaucon. 'Unless,' says Socrates, 'unless, in their cities, philosophers are vested with the might of kings, or those now called kings and oligarchs become genuine and fully qualified philosophers; and unless these two, political might and philosophy, are fused (while the many who nowadays follow their natural inclination for only one of these two are suppressed by force), unless this happens, my dear Glaucon, there can be no rest; and the evil will not cease to be rampant in the cities — nor, I believe, in the race of men.' (To which Kant wisely replied: 'That kings should become philosophers, or philosophers kings, is not likely to happen; nor would it be desirable, since the possession of power invariably debases the free judgement of reason. It is, however, indispensable that a king — or a kingly, i.e. self-ruling, people — should not suppress philosophers but leave them the right of public utterance.' [45])

This important Platonic passage has been quite appropriately described as the key to the whole work. Its last words, 'nor, I believe, in the race of men', are, I think, an afterthought of comparatively minor importance in this place. It is, however, necessary to comment upon them, since the habit of idealizing Plato has led to the interpretation [46] that Plato speaks here about 'humanity', extending his promise of salvation from the scope of the cities to that of 'mankind as a whole'. It must be said, in this connection, that the ethical category of 'humanity' as something that transcends the distinction of nations, races, and classes, is entirely foreign to Plato. In fact, we have sufficient evidence of Plato's hostility towards the equalitarian creed, a hostility which is seen in his attitude towards Antisthenes [47] , an old disciple and friend of Socrates. Antisthenes also belonged to the school of Gorgias, like Alcidamas and Lycophron, whose equalitarian theories he seems to have extended into the doctrine of the brotherhood of all men, and of the universal empire of men [48]. This creed is attacked in the Republic by correlating the natural inequality of Greeks and Barbarians to that of masters and slaves; and it so happens that this attack is launched [49] immediately before the key passage we are here considering. For these and other reasons [50], it seems safe to assume that Plato, when speaking of the evil rampant in the race of men, alluded to a theory with which his readers would be sufficiently acquainted at this place, namely, to his theory that the welfare of the state depends, ultimately, upon the 'nature' of the individual members of the ruling class; and that their nature, and the nature of their race, or offspring, is threatened, in turn, by the evils of an individualistic education, and, more important still, by racial degeneration. Plato's remark, with its clear allusion to the opposition between divine rest and the evil of change and decay, foreshadows the story of the Number and the Fall of Man [51].

It is very appropriate that Plato should allude to his racialism in this key passage in which he enunciates his most important political demand. For without the 'genuine and fully qualified philosopher', trained in all those sciences which are prerequisite to eugenics, the state is lost. In his story of the Number and the Fall of Man, Plato tells us that one of the first and fatal sins of omission committed by the degenerate guardians will be their loss of interest in eugenics, in watching and testing the purity of the race: 'Hence rulers will be ordained who are altogether unfit for their task as guardians; namely, to watch, and to test, the metals in the races (which are Hesiod's races as well as yours), gold and silver and bronze and iron.' [52]

It is ignorance of the mysterious nuptial Number which leads to all that. But the Number was undoubtedly Plato's own invention. (It presupposes pure harmonics, which in turn presupposes solid geometry, a new science at the time when the Republic was written.) Thus we see that nobody but Plato himself knew the secret of, and held the key to, true guardianship. But this can mean only one thing. The philosopher king is Plato himself, and the Republic is Plato's own claim for kingly power — to the power which he thought his due, uniting in himself, as he did, both the claims of the philosopher and of the descendant and legitimate heir of Codrus the martyr, the last of Athens' kings, who, according to Plato, had sacrificed himself 'in order to preserve the kingdom for his children'.
VIII Once this conclusion has been reached, many things which otherwise would remain unrelated become connected and clear. It can hardly be doubted, for instance, that Plato's work, full of allusions as it is to contemporary problems and characters, was meant by its author not so much as a theoretical treatise, but as a topical political manifesto. 'We do Plato the gravest of wrongs', says A. E. Taylor, 'if we forget that the Republic is no mere collection of theoretical discussions about government . . . but a serious project of practical reform put forward by an Athenian set on fire, like Shelley, with a "passion for reforming the world".' [53] This is undoubtedly true, and we could have concluded from this consideration alone that, in describing his philosopher kings, Plato must have thought of some of the contemporary philosophers. But in the days when the Republic was written, there were in Athens only three outstanding men who might have claimed to be philosophers: Antisthenes, Isocrates, and Plato himself. If we approach the Republic with this in mind, we find at once that, in the discussion of the characteristics of the philosopher kings, there is a lengthy passage which is clearly marked out by Plato as containing personal allusions. It begins [54] with an unmistakable allusion to a popular character, namely Alcibiades, and ends by openly mentioning a name (that of Theages), and with a reference of 'Socrates' to himself [55]. Its upshot is that only very few can be described as true philosophers, eligible for the post of philosopher king. The nobly born Alcibiades, who was of the right type, deserted philosophy, in spite of Socrates' attempts to save him. Deserted and defenceless, philosophy was claimed by unworthy suitors. Ultimately, 'there is left only a handful of men who are worthy of being associated with philosophy' . From the point of view we have reached, we would have to expect that the 'unworthy suitors' are Antisthenes and Isocrates and their school (and that they are the same people whom Plato demands to have 'suppressed by force', as he says in the key passage of the philosopher king). And, indeed, there is some independent evidence corroborating this expectation [56]. Similarly, we should expect that the 'handful of men who are worthy' includes Plato and, perhaps, some of his friends (possibly Dio); and, indeed, a continuation of this passage leaves little doubt that Plato speaks here of himself: 'He who belongs to this small band ... can see the madness of the many, and the general corruption of all public affairs. The philosopher ... is like a man in a cage of wild beasts. He will not share the injustice of the many, but his power does not suffice for continuing his fight alone, surrounded as he is by a world of savages. He would be killed before he could do any good, to his city or to his friends . . . Having duly considered all these points, he will hold his peace, and confine his efforts to his own work ...' [57]. The strong resentment expressed in these sour and most un-Socratic [58] words marks them clearly as Plato's own. For a full appreciation, however, of this personal confession, it must be compared with the following: 'It is not in accordance with nature that the skilled navigator should beg the unskilled sailors to accept his command; nor that the wise man should wait at the doors of the rich . . . But the true and natural procedure is that the sick, whether rich or poor, should hasten to the doctor's door. Likewise should those who need to be ruled besiege the door of him who can rule; and never should a ruler beg them to accept his rule, if he is any good at all.' Who can miss the sound of an immense personal pride in this passage? Here am I, says Plato, your natural ruler, the philosopher king who knows how to rule. If you want me, you must come to me, and if you insist, I may become your ruler. But I shall not come begging to you.

Did he believe that they would come? Like many great works of literature, the Republic shows traces that its author experienced exhilarating and extravagant hopes of success [59], alternating with periods of despair. Sometimes, at least, Plato hoped that they would come; that the success of his work, the fame of his wisdom, would bring them along. Then again, he felt that they would only be incited to furious attacks; that all he would bring upon himself was 'an uproar of laughter and defamation' — perhaps even death.

Was he ambitious? He was reaching for the stars — for god-likeness. I sometimes wonder whether part of the enthusiasm for Plato is not due to the fact that he gave expression to many secret dreams [60]. Even where he argues against ambition, we cannot but feel that he is inspired by it. The philosopher, he assures us [61], is not ambitious; although 'destined to rule, he is the least eager for it'. But the reason given is — that his status is too high. He who has had communion with the divine may descend from his heights to the mortals below, sacrificing himself for the sake of the interest of the state. He is not eager; but as a natural ruler and saviour, he is ready to come. The poor mortals need him. Without him the state must perish, for he alone knows the secret of how to preserve it — the secret of arresting degeneration.

I think we must face the fact that behind the sovereignty of the philosopher king stands the quest for power. The beautiful portrait of the sovereign is a self-portrait. When we have recovered from the shock of this finding, we may look anew at the awe-inspiring portrait; and if we can fortify ourselves with a small dose of Socrates' irony then we may cease to find it so terrifying. We may begin to discern its human, indeed, its only too human features. We may even begin to feel a little sorry for Plato, who had to be satisfied with establishing the first professorship, instead of the first kingship, of philosophy; who could never realize his dream, the kingly Idea which he had formed after his own image. Fortified by our dose of irony, we may even find, in Plato's story, a melancholy resemblance to that innocent and unconscious little satire on Platonism, the story of the Ugly Dachshund, of Tono, the Great Dane, who forms his kingly Idea of 'Great Dog' after his own image (but who happily finds in the end that he is Great Dog himself) [62].

What a monument of human smallness is this idea of the philosopher king. What a contrast between it and the simplicity and humaneness of Socrates, who warned the statesman against the danger of being dazzled by his own power, excellence, and wisdom, and who tried to teach him what matters most — that we are all frail human beings. What a decline from this world of irony and reason and truthfulness down to Plato's kingdom of the sage whose magical powers raise him high above ordinary men; although not quite high enough to forgo the use of lies, or to neglect the sorry trade of every shaman — the selling of spells, of breeding spells, in exchange for power over his fellow-men.
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