Plato is a classical representative of the European philosophical tradition. His theoretical achievements are relevant in every historical epoch due to the variety of questions posed by this thinker. One of the prominent topics in his philosophy is a problem of a just and ideal state. Plato examines the model of the utopian state order, an idea of a social structure that cannot have a realization in the social actuality. His speculations are the gist of the dialogue The Republic. In this research paper, I am going to demonstrate that, although the philosophical community acknowledges Plato’s concept of an ideal state, it cannot be fruitful and relevant in the contemporary world due to the static and closed character of the described republic.
The Republic is a dialogue that consists of ten books, which deal with the description of different peculiarities of the state’s structure, organization, values, culture, and the role of philosophers in the development of the republic. The central figure of the dialogue is Socrates, who becomes more than a historical personality but a bright representative of Plato and his philosophy. Therefore, Socrates as the central character of the dialogue seems to be also the coauthor of the idea of the State as the embodiment of wisdom and justice. It means that as the coordinator of the dialogue, Socrates does not oppose Plato’s thoughts. On the contrary, as a philosopher, he supports Plato’s theory, thus, justifies and welcomes the utopian model of The Republic. To consider Socrates’ attitude towards The Republic more precisely, it is necessary to examine central ideas of the dialogue.
Socrates would want to live in the republic, in which a leader of the state sacrifices his personal interests for the sake of the community and state’s profit. Socrates as a philosopher, who criticizes sophists for their commercial attitude towards the education and wisdom, supports Plato’s idea that a leader of the republic has to be indifferent to temptations and illusions, which the pursuit of profit brings. According to Plato, in order to find the one, “we must look for some men who are the best guardians of their conviction that they must do what on each occasion seems best for the city”.
In addition, Socrates considers the life in the republic to be happy due to the analogy between the state and structure of the human soul. In particular, the city itself has to be an organization that is based on the division of labor. There have to be three classes: the artisans, the guardians, and the philosophers as the state leaders, who can guide other people towards the truth and correct realization of their nature. Plato devotes much attention to the description of the second estate that has to guarantee the stability of the republic and be the medium in the dialogue between the population and philosophers due to the embodiment of both strivings for the cognition and wisdom and physical perfection. Such division of labor and vocations as the foundation of the republic ensures its justice that makes it an ideal construction.
Furthermore, Socrates believes the perfect state to be the embodiment of all values because of the Good and Wisdom as the guiding principles for its citizens. As a genuine ancient person and thinker, Socrates understands the unity of the Beauty, Good, and Truth as the ultimate striving of everything in a perfect universe. Therefore, the state that proclaims these values to be the most fundamental is the perfect one. The art has to be the mouthpiece of this crucial idea, “Rhythm and harmony most of all insinuate themselves into the inmost part of the soul and most vigorously lay hold of it in bringing grace with them; and they make a man graceful if he is correctly reared, if not, the opposite”.
In accordance with Socrates’ philosophical views, Plato emphasizes four virtues of the ideal state, which correlate with the traits of the human soul that seeks for the truth. These virtues are wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. Therefore, Socrates would be happy to see the realization of his ideas in the actual state and make efforts to approach the republic to the ideal model of a social structure. The hierarchy of the virtues stresses the goal to make every individual happy that would maximize the happiness in the whole state, “This power that consists in each man's minding his own business in the city is a rival to wisdom, moderation, and courage».
At the first sight, everybody would dream about life in the utopian republic, in which every person can follow the own vocation, feel safe, strive for the self-perfection, and be happy. However, in my opinion, a thorough analysis of the model of the republic suggested by Plato reveals the hidden dangers of the actual implementation of the philosopher’s ideas in practice in the modern society. Without any doubt, Plato’s emphasis on the vocation of a philosopher to be a leader of an ideal state seems to be plausible and evident because every nation deserves to delegate the strivings of its representatives on the most talented and worthy people, who can sacrifice their personal interests for the sake of others. However, the dangers occur if to conceive the social structure of the ideal state and the opportunities of its flexibility and development.
First, the republic of Plato seems to be a kind of a closed society. It means that its existence does not presuppose interactions with other states with the view to sharing the experience. The others may be only enemies. Moreover, the static character of the utopian state does not seem to have possible changes that point to the obstacles in the way of the political and social evolution. In other words, this model is not appropriate to the actual life because it is not flexible and sensitive to the environment with its eventual crises or controversial situations.
Secondly, the existence of strict control over the methods of education contradicts intersubjective democratic principles. According to Plato, “If play becomes lawless itself and the children along with it, it's not possible that they'll grow up to be law-abiding, good men”. It means that the state in the figure of its leader not only prescribes the laws as the foundations of the public sphere but also regulates the personal sphere of life of its citizens. Such policy contradicts the contemporary views on the role of the state and the necessity of its limitation.
Finally, the argument against the advantage to be a citizen of the utopian republic is the commonness of wives and children. According to Plato, “All these women are to belong to all these men in common, and no woman is to live privately with any man. And the children, in their turn, will be in common, and neither will a parent know his own offspring, nor a child his parent”. Such an approach results in the depersonalization and interchangeability of citizens that, in their turn, negate the dignity and importance of people as unique individuals.
Such skeptical position towards the organization of Plato’s republic is suggested by Karl Popper. According to this prominent scientist and philosopher, a strict social stratification and identification of the state’s destiny with the activity of the ruling class can result in the supervision of its citizens by the state, collectivization, and socialization of individual interests. In addition, Popper argues that although the ruling class possesses an exclusive domain of the military valor and the right to carry the weapons, it does not have an obligation to be a subject of the economic activity to earn money.
Furthermore, the propaganda is also a disadvantage of the utopian republic that aims at preventing any innovations in the educational, legislative, and religious spheres. However, the social development is impossible without the progress. If a state exists in its unchangeable form, it degrades with time. Moreover, representatives of three classes cannot move to others in the ideal republic, which prohibits any changes. Such a law undermines the democracy as the freedom of individuals, who have natural rights to realize their personality and skills.
To sum up, even though Socrates and Plato, as well as many other prominent thinkers and historical personalities, consider The Republic an example that has to guide people in their political and social life due to the embodiment of the highest values and perfect state’s organization, the evaluation of this philosophical project as a possible actual scenery is ambiguous. Although Plato’s doctrine considers the state a source of happiness of all people due to the wise government, it rejects the natural striving for the personal liberty and the freedom of every individual to act in accordance with the own outlook. On the contrary, the republic as the project is not reasonable to the contemporary world because it negates the achievements of social movements and political struggle of previous centuries.