ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

29. Politics. -- Plato merely touches, without going into, individual and domestic ethics; on the other hand, he compiles an exhaustive code of politics or public ethics (Republic). He puts the individual above the multitude, though there he runs counter to the politics practised by the Greek states: furthermore, it is the moral formation of the individual that mainly occupies his attention. The powerlessness of the isolated individual to provide for the wants of life (second book of the Republic) and to attain to his moral end, is the primordial fact which accounts for the origin, mission, and organization of the State. Men live in society only in order to promote and safeguard the silent and peaceful intercourse of the soul with eternal realities. The State should be a school of education and instruction for inculcating that true virtue which is the knowledge of the Ideas. This is the mission that should inspire all political and social organization. And to secure all this, Plato commits the government of the State to the philosophers, that is to say, to an oligarchy composed of the most select of all aristocracies -- the aristocracy of intellect. The rulers are to be guided not by the will but by the interests of the people. They may be left completely free to stir up revolutions, to rule despotically, to disregard the laws and constitutions, the liberties and even the very lives of the people: even so; if only the true philosopher is invested with this absolute and unlimited power, it will be impossible for him to act otherwise than wisely. Since the State has also the secondary duty of providing for the material well-being of the people and looking after the national defences, it must maintain, along with the philosophers, a class of agriculturists and a class of soldiers.

It is manifest that esthetical considerations influenced all Plato's politico-social theories: they appear in the analogy he draws between the three social classes in the State and the tripartite division of the soul and of the entire cosmos. The State is at once an enlarged likeness of the individual man and a miniature image of the universe. In virtue of their supreme dominion, and to suppress all cause of discord in the State, the philosopher-rulers can decree public education, State-ownership in children, the suppression of all family life, equality of the sexes, community of women and goods, etc. Plato's State is utopian, reared, as it is, on the narrow and exclusive principles of his dialectic.{1}

{1} In his later work, the Laws, written in his old age and apparently retouched by the hand of some disciple, Plato outlines another theory of the State, which is incompatible with his earlier and better-known theory. He admits that his philosophical State did not meet the needs of human nature, that it was made for gods and the children of gods. His second State is based, not on philosophical virtue or the science of Ideas, but on common virtue and the knowledge of the world of sense.

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