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Education and Theory of Communism under Plato's Ideal State: Analytical Essay on The Republic

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Chapter one: Introduction

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” – Plato

Plato (427–347 B.C.E.) is, by any reckoning, one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy. An Athenian citizen of high status, he displays in his works his absorption in the political events and intellectual movements of his time, but the questions he raises are so profound and the strategies he uses for tackling them are so richly suggestive and provocative that educated readers of nearly every period have in some way been influenced by him, and in practically every age there have been philosophers who count themselves Platonists in some important respects. He was not the first thinker or writer to whom the word “philosopher” should be applied. But he was so self-conscious about how philosophy should be conceived, and what its scope and ambitions properly are, and he so transformed the intellectual currents with which he grappled, that the subject of philosophy, as it is often conceived—a rigorous and systematic examination of ethical, political, metaphysical, and epistemological issues, armed with a distinctive method—can be called his invention. Few other authors in the history of Western philosophy approximate him in depth and range: perhaps only Aristotle (who studied with him), Aquinas, and Kant would be generally agreed to be of the same rank. There are varying degrees of controversy over which of Plato’s works are authentic, and in what order they were written, due to their antiquity and the manner of their preservation through time. Nonetheless, his earliest works are generally regarded as the most reliable of the ancient sources on Socrates, and the character Socrates that we know through these writings is considered to be one of the greatest of the ancient philosophers. Plato’s middle to later works, including his most famous work, the Republic, are generally regarded as providing Plato’s own philosophy, where the main character in effect speaks for Plato himself. These works blend ethics, political philosophy, moral psychology, epistemology, and metaphysics into an interconnected and systematic philosophy. It is most of all from Plato that we get the theory of Forms, according to which the world we know through the senses is only an imitation of the pure, eternal, and unchanging world of the Forms. Plato’s works also contain the origins of the familiar complaint that the arts work by inflaming the passions, and are mere illusions. Along with The Republic, other famous works include The Statesman and The Laws. Plato suspected that most people did not know what they claimed to know, and hence wondered why rigorous qualifications for rulers did not exist. Challenging the Sophists’ claims that knowledge and truth were relative to the perspective of each individual, Plato developed an epistemology and metaphysics that suggested an absolute truth that could only be gleaned through rigorous self-examination and the development of reason–skills crucial for enlightened political leaders. Plato posits that the human race will have no respite from evils until those who are really philosophers acquire political power or until, through some divine dispensation, those who rule and have political authority in the cities become real philosophers. Plato came to the conclusion that all existing governments were bad and almost beyond redemption thus he theorized for an Ideal State. Though open to many objections, Plato’s Ideal State was an imagination of the man’s best and noblest self and represented the frame within which an individual found his best self.

Research Methodology

The research methodology which was followed while attempting this project draws its strengths mainly from books of political science, dedicated websites such as JSTOR to the topic matter, research papers targeting the specific topics that are discussed, along with articles and PDFs related to the main theme. Search Engines have also been used to recover specific trivia about the ideas proposed and to make the project a more interesting read. The Internet also has been a great help while researching for the topic by providing with many articles on various issues. Not to forget mentioning, discussions with the political science professor have been of considerable help while researching for the said topic. In the project, the researcher in his attempt to narrow the field and widen the understanding of the topic has specifically researched into Plato’s theory of education and communism. The existence of the principles of the ancient theory in modern states such as Nazi Germany is also analyzed.

Chapter two: Education and theory of communism under Plato’s ideal state

In his most celebrated book The Republic, Plato gives the theory of an ideal state. As far as a state is concerned, Plato gives ideas about how to build an Ideal commonwealth, who should be the rulers of the Ideal state, and how to achieve justice in the Ideal state. Plato finds the state as a more suitable place to discuss about morality than an individual because everything is easier to see in the large than in the small. A state, says Plato, is a man ‘writ’ large against the sky. The elements that make up a city correspond to the elements that constitute the individual human soul. Plato’s political Philosophy is a blend of rigorous social nihilism and political affirmation. The nihilism springs from his desire to cleanse the political State of all the influences he saw as destructive of political unity. The mission of the Political community is the means whereby all the native powers and excellences of the individual are brought to fruition. Although large parts of the Republic are devoted to the description of an ideal state ruled by philosophers and its subsequent decline, the chief theme of the dialogue is justice. It is fairly clear that Plato does not introduce his fantastical political innovation, which Socrates describes as a city in speech, a model in heaven, for the purpose of practical implementation. The vision of the ideal state is used rather to illustrate the main thesis of the dialogue that justice, understood traditionally as virtue and related to goodness, is the foundation of good political order, and as such is in everyone’s interest. Justice, if rightly understood, Plato argues, is not to the exclusive advantage of any of the city’s factions, but is concerned with the common good of the whole political community, and is to the advantage of everyone. It provides the city with a sense of unity, and thus, is a basic condition for its health. “Injustice causes civil war, hatred, and fighting, while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose.” Plato was influenced of the Pythagorean theory of human nature. Pythagoras classifies human nature in three sections that are reason, courage, and appetite. Plato says that a state is a living body and a state represents the same features at a large level, that an individual represents at a small level. Individuals are the organs of the state. As an organ cannot survive without a body, similarly, an individual is nothing out of the state. The state is composed of classes and these classes are its parts. He based his ideal state on the three major classes. The ruling class, highly educated in philosophy, is to administer the state. A military class, having the courage and physical strength, is to defend the state while a professional class is needed to be ruled and to deal with the ordinary or common daily affairs of the state. So, he bases his ideal state on the three major classes, which are the ruling class, the military class, and the professional class. These classes are also known as the guiding class, auxiliary class, and professional class.

Plato provided for a state-regulated education system i.e. an education system run by the state. His three classes of the state are the output of his educational scheme. Plato holds that body is in need of food and the soul is in need of education. He wanted a welfare and model state having its foundation on his education system. In the age range 1-6 years, children are told stories to enable them to differentiate in good and bad. In the age range, 6-18 years are given physical and mental education and physically they are trained in athletics, gymnastics, and music while mentally special courses of logic, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy are given. In the age ranging from 18-20 years, and the citizens are philosophically educated. The described limit is enough for the professional class. In secondary education, the physically strong are given physical education for ten years and it produces military class while the mentally strong are given mental education to produce the administrators like teachers, collectors, magistrates, etc. Those who are very intelligent in secondary mental education are specially educated in detailed philosophy for up to 50 years and then they become the rulers.

Rousseau made an observation about The Republic, which though not precise, contains much truth. He said: ‘The Republic is the finest treatise on education ever written. The Republic is not a treatise on education; nevertheless, education occupies much importance in it. It is a treatise on life as a whole. It sketches an ideal life with its varied aspects. Education as a means to attain that end, hence, predominates the book.

In Plato’s system, Education occupied a far more important place. Plato wanted to provide the positive and negative conditions for good citizenship. The communism of property and women eliminates the special hindrance to good citizenship; through the device of the eugenic system, he gets the best talents and trains them to bring the best out of them. In the whole plan of the Ideal State he places his main reliance on education He devotes quite a large part of his book to it and studies the problem in detail. He himself called it ‘one great thing”. Plato having concluded with the basic character of the guardians goes on to talk about the kind of education suitable to them. He thought it of paramount importance. His concern was to train the character as the mind. He makes the matter of education the concern of the state. He subdivided education into reading and writing, physical education, and what we may call secondary or literary education. He holds that they are to be educated when young since the minds of the young are very impressionable. They are to be taught the five mathematical disciplines of arithmetic, plane and solid geometry, astronomy, harmonics, and pure philosophy or dialectic which will all train the mind and character. Also, the curriculum must be controlled and defined by the state. He, therefore, proposed a rigid control that applies to school textbooks, arts, and literature. His reason was that most of the literature works told falsehoods, especially about gods, of their heinous crimes, weaknesses, and so on and if the guardians are exposed to this, they might feel that if such gods and heroes could do such things, then they are not too perfect not to fall to mistake.

But, we come across to a paradox in Plato’s argument. A cursory glance over the plan of education will make it clear that it has been designed to discover the philosopher-king. At the same time, Plato argues that it is the philosopher king who shall translate the scheme into practice. An educational system cannot be implemented unless we have the philosopher-king and he cannot be discovered without having himself come through an educational system. Hence, Plato was confronted with an irresoluble vicious circle. He tried to realize his Ideal state in the Syracusan adventure but could not find the philosopher-king in the person of Dionysius, because he was not completely educated.

Plato’s theory of communism was certainly a corollary of his conception of justice. He believed that without communism there would be a clash of ideas and interests between reason and appetite. Plato’s communism is based on the premise that property, family instincts, and private interests would distract man’s attention from his obligations to the community. He strongly opined that family and property are always impediments not only to a philosopher king but also to a commoner in his discharge of duties. As property and family relationships seemed to be the main source of dissension in society, Plato stated that neither of them must be given any recognition in an ideal state. Therefore, a sort of communism of family and property was essential to offset the consequences of Plato’s design of the ideal state. The example of Sparta, wherein the citizens were denied the use of money and the privilege of engaging in trade, undoubtedly influenced Plato in reaching this conclusion. The main reason for Plato to emphasize on the communism of property was to bring about a greater degree of unity in the state. The improvement of the race demands a more controlled and more selective type of union. Finally, the abolition of marriage was probably an implied criticism of the position of women in Athens, where her activities were summed up in keeping the house and rearing children. To this, Plato denied that the state serves half of its potential guardians. Plato’s communism of property is in no way related to modern communism or socialism because there was no mention of socialization of the means of production. Plato’s approach was mainly concerned with one factor of production, that is, property that has to be socialized. Plato’s scheme of communism deprived the guardian class not only of property but also a private life or a family because family introduced an element of thine and mine. Thus, Plato’s communism of wives provided social, political, and psychological bases for the ideal state. Plato believed that such communism of family would remove the conflict between personal interests and the objectives of the state.

Chapter three: Reflection of platonic communism in Hitler’s Germany and other modern states

Over the course of the most famous work of political science ever written, The Republic, Plato (through the eyes of Socrates) outlines what he envisions to be the “ideal city” or “kallipolis,” a population aligned by a strict caste system, production dominated by specialization, and a ruling class of thinkers with one great Philosopher-King (or Queen) at the top of the social pyramid.

Two important points of Plato’s system include the equality of women in the workplace and the rigid censorship controlling the poetry, music, and art of the people. In the years since Plato wrote this defining text, aspects of his hypothetical regime can be seen in almost every political system that has emerged, including Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba, and the present-day United States of America.

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Just as members of Plato’s society were to specialize in the one thing that they did best, so too were the women of Hitler’s society raised with the sole purpose of producing as many healthy, happy children as possible over the course of their marriage. While both Plato and Hitler would agree that specialization is the key to success, they had very different ideas of a woman’s role in society: Plato tried to maximize efficiency by allowing women to specialize in anything as long as it was their calling in life, whereas Hitler essentially cut his workforce and talent pool in half by keeping women out of work and politics and instead focusing on rearing children for the Reich. When taken in the context of Plato’s equality, it seems almost humorous that Hitler would declare men and women equal because “both sexes have their rights, their tasks, and these tasks were in the case of each equal in dignity and value, and therefore man and woman were on equality”. According to Plato, however, manipulative statements are characteristic of the tyrant, so this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. What is surprising, however, is a holiday that the Nazis celebrated, August 12th, which had been Hitler’s mother’s birthday. On this day, the prestigious Motherhood Cross was awarded to women based on how many children they had birthed: eight children earned a gold cross, six a silver cross, and four a bronze cross. This metal system seems to be taken straight out of The Republic and modified for the demands of the Reich. While Hitler was on the right track with specialization, his definition of equality certainly needed some refining in order to comply with Plato’s ideals.

If Plato was correct in asserting that men are generally more able than women, then the self-correcting, self-adjusting capitalist system of America would pay women less because they are worth less. A more reasonable explanation based on Plato is that

Perhaps, the natural difference in abilities between men and women allows men to occupy higher-paid positions in today’s society; departing from this idea, women could and probably will be equal to men in the United States workplace, in a few years.

On the topic of women and mothers, it is important to note an absurd aspect of Plato’s city which is absent not only from these three communities but also from any regime ever, the idea of the communal family experience, whereby children are produced in mating festivals, the parents of each individual are unknown, and the children are raised together in a unit. No matter what society is examined, the women would riot at the implementation of this policy. Suggestions such as this certainly cast doubt on the possibility of Plato’s ideal city ever working as described; as seen with female equality in a different society, parts of Plato’s city are certainly feasible, but other suggestions are impossible.

Plato considered himself to be a philosopher, literally a “lover of wisdom,” but he believed that freedom of expression was a dangerous thing in the hands of the masses.[footnoteRef:18] The Nazis seemed to agree with Plato’s idea of banning anything that hurt the cause of the city, although again, Hitler and Socrates had different definitions of “harmful” in mind. The Nazi party labeled any modern art which failed to support the Nazi ideals “degenerate art” and would display it publicly for mockery. As museums were stripped of their avant-garde garbage, it was replaced by Heroic Art, a type of propaganda that was meant to exemplify the German race through “racially pure, the corruption-free expression”. Literature and general speech also suffered heavily under Nazi occupation. The Hitler Jugend, the network of carefully controlled, fanatical youth groups, was infamous for raiding libraries and burning any books written by racially inferior authors or containing dangerous or “incorrect” ideas. When the Nazi army invaded a new territory, radios, newspapers, and publishers were immediately shut down or replaced by the unstoppable propaganda machine, responsible for promoting the atrocious actions of the Nazi party. This caused the illegal press to flourish, however, as papers and newsletters were published underground by groups of activists struggling to retain their basic human rights of expression and information.

However, in both Germany and Cuba, strong underground resistance formed almost immediately after the freedom of speech was taken away; how does Plato contend with the inevitable human thirst for taboo topics? He doesn’t have to; as far as the masses are concerned, it doesn’t exist. One of the beauties of Plato’s system is that everyone is controlled, essentially brainwashed from a young age to read, watch, and listen to only what the philosophers prescribe. Everything else ceased to exist, as far as Plato’s masses are concerned. In reality, however, it would be nearly impossible to create this system; Plato absurdly suggests that everyone except for the 10-year-olds and the philosophers leave the city, another instance of an impossible necessity of his kallipolis. Without anyone capable of producing goods for necessary consumption or protecting the city, this city would instantly crumble, either to an enemy or on itself. Exactly like the case of women’s equality, some aspects of Plato’s city have been utilized over the course of history, whereas others are undoubtedly impossible.

By examining only two of the many topics discussed by Socrates and friends in The Republic, a “crack” emerges in each argument—the ideas of communal family units and the city’s inauguration of ten-year-olds and elders. Because of these slight cracks, which are prevalent throughout the text, It is believed that Plato wrote The Republic less as a blueprint for utopia and more as a city of speech, a warning to future political leaders and citizens about the dangers of trying to reach perfection: these cracks seem to mirror the cracks in human nature that would prevent a city like the ideal city from ever seeing the light of day. The real magic of the text, however, lies in the careful blend of these cracks and the plethora of legitimately genius ideas and observations Socrates makes about human nature. For this reason, The Republic is a timeless text that, while not the answer to the question of utopia, will remain immortal in the hearts and minds of men forever.

Chapter four: Critical analysis

Western thought, one might say, has been either Platonic or anti-Platonic, but hardly ever non-Platonic. – Popper.

Plato was the first systematic political theorist and a study of the Western philosophical traditions begins with his masterpiece, the Republic, He was the first to create a body of writing that spanned many areas- art, epistemology, ethics, language, love, mathematics, political theory, religion, and science. He was credited for establishing philosophy as a unified and complex discipline, proposing radical solutions to the political community and human life. Utopian thought in the West also begins with Plato. While the Republic would always remain a timeless classic, Plato influenced successive generations of followers with his the Statesman and the Laws, for Aristotle made the latter two the starting point of his inquiry.

Plato emphasized that a good political community was one that promoted the general well-being of all its citizens. Plato’s society was highly structured, ordered, hierarchical, regimented, and meritocratic, where everyone was expected to perform the duties that were allotted. He ruled out wealth, gender, and birth as criteria for distributing privileges and favors. The fact that Plato recommended state-controlled compulsory education implied that he rejected its privatization and commercialization. Interestingly, since Plato, this idea has remained a cornerstone of Western societies. Plato was the first to allow women to become rulers and legislators. He advocated sexual equality with the purpose of utilizing women’s resources for the benefit and development of the community as a whole.

Plato’s Ideal State has been both an inspiration and a warning for subsequent efforts in utopian projects. Plato’s attempt cautions us against utopianism, for utopianism has led to totalitarianism. At the heart of a utopian project is the chimerical idea of finality, which is inherently incompatible in a world that is essentially pluralistic, and unamenable to complete solutions. Any effort to depict a perfect blueprint is not only methodologically unsound but also politically dangerous. It is not possible to foresee everything and plan accordingly. Even assuming if it was, then a question arises as to who will plan the planners. In order to attain perfection, society has seen its planners going rogue with the prime example of Hitler’s devilish principles of Nazism.

Bibliography/references

Books:

  1. N. Jayapalan, Comprehensive History of Political Thought, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2001.
  2. G. H. Sabine and T. L. Thorson, A History Of Political Theory, Oxford & IBH Publishing Co., New Delhi, 1973.
  3. S. Mukherjee and S. Ramaswamy, A History Of Political Thought – Plato To Marx, Prentice-Hall of India Private Limited, New Delhi, 2006.

Articles:

  1. C. Bradford Welles, “The Background of Plato’s Communism”, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2113567.
  2. R.S. Bluck, “Plato’s ‘Ideal’ State”, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/637646.
  3. Patrick A. Sullivan, “Plato and Modern Education”, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4342183.
  4. Susan Moller Okin, “Philosopher Queens and Private Wives: Plato on Women and the Family”, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2264947.
  5. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, “Plato’s Counsel on Education”, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3752074.
  6. Z. M. Quraishi, “Plato’s Theory of Education”, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/42743379.
  7. Hamilton Ackerman, “The Republic in the World”, available at http://www.bu.edu/av/core/journal/xv/vol15-Ackerman-The%20Republic%20in%20the%20World.pdf.
  8. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato
  9. www.jstor.org

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