The Republic of Plato: A Review

About a month ago I read that a classical education indoctrinates a student into Socialism. If The Republic of Plato is held up as the goal of classical education then that is certainly true. Plato’s completely man-centered “ideal society” could very well be the government of the Anti-Christ.

With the idea that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer, I have the Republic on my laptop, on my ebook reader and on CDs so I can listen to it as I drive down the road. This will be my first book review on this blog that is neither positive nor what I consider a “must read.” If you are the type of person who is easily deceived or easily upset when you confront evil, then stay away from the Republic. It advocates the very deceptive form of evil know as collectivism. Plato makes this great evil sound so good, so tempting.

How can the Republic, which opens with “a festival to the goddess” and finishes with a scene in Hades, be man-centered? The goddess is never named. All that Plato talks about are the festivities. The scene in Hades is a form of reincarnation which teaches some form of judgment where your actions and choices in this life determine how you fare in your next incarnation. In other words, it exists in the Republic solely to make people “behave.” That is a method of state control. This vague general “judgment” appears throughout the book. For example, in Book One, it says, “(Cephalus) For let me tell you, Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true…”

In form, The Republic is called a dialogue. Though intended to be read, it is written like a play. A character’s name is written, followed by what is said. It is not as easy to follow as a modern novel, but the names certainly make it easier to know who is speaking. Not every translation includes the names. Also, there is no action like we are used to. Actions can be talked about, but nothing is “shown.” The dialogue is an extended conversation, with lengthy interruptions and arguments. It sounds quite believable, but it does not “flow” smoothly from point to point like a well-written research paper.

Benjamin Jowett translated the most readily available version. I highly recommend it because the opening notes (Introduction) clarify some of the more insidious evils of The Republic. The following are just a few of Plato’s main points. He says that The Republic follows the form of a Greek Tragedy. He believes that through The Republic “Plato reveals to us his own thoughts about divine perfection, which is the idea of good –like the sun in the visible world; –about human perfection, which is justice.” Benjamin Jowett also said, “Plato among the Greeks, like Bacon among the moderns, was the first who conceived a method of knowledge” which we know today as Natural Law. Plato would use education to indoctrinate. “In the ideal State which is constructed by Socrates, the first care of the rulers is to be education.” Jowett makes it clear that Socrates meant to impart much more than mere academic knowledge, just as Natural Law means to teach more than mere Science. Socrates promoted “the conception of a higher State, in which ‘no man calls anything his own,’ and in which there is neither ‘marrying nor giving in marriage,’ and kings are philosophers’ and ‘philosophers are kings;’ and there is another and higher education, intellectual as well as moral and religious, of science as well as of art, and not of youth only but of the whole of life.”

Many know that Plato in his Republic based his state on a philosopher/king. Few, however, are aware that he believed in communism and free love and that these two “natural” principles were to be foundational principles of the state.

Plato says “None of them will have anything specially his or her own.” “Their legislator, having selected the men, will now select the women and give them to them [the legislator gives selected women to selected men]…they must live in common houses and meet at common meals … they will be together … And so they will be drawn by a necessity of their natures to have intercourse with each other…” “… Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes … have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one … cities will never have rest from their evils.”

There are many works about The Republic. Most will mention Socrates, the philosopher/king, and the great illustration of people chained in a cave going their entire lives only seeing shadows on a wall and never seeing reality. The characters are often analyzed in great detail.

The fact that The Republic advocates a rigid class system where laws are enforced by thugs (my word) whom Plato calls “guardians” is rarely, if ever, mentioned. I find Plato’s Republic to be closer to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Animal Farm than Thomas More’s Utopia.

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