The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, , at sacred-texts.com
How the Greeks lived in a New World, and utopia seemed just round the corner. How Plato, in the Republic, is chiefly concerned with what will hold the ideal city together.
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BEFORE the great empires of Rome and Macedonia began to spread their camps through the length and breadth of the Mediterranean world, there was a time when the vision of an ideal city seems to have been uppermost in the minds of a good many men. Just as the wide expanse of unsettled territory in America caused the people of eighteenth century Europe to think of building a civilization in which the errors and vices and superstitions of the old world might be left behind, so the sparsely settled coasts of Italy, Sicily, and the Ægean Islands, and the shores of the Black Sea, must have given men the hope of being able to turn over a fresh page.
Those years between six hundred and three hundred B. C. were city-building years for the parent cities of Greece. The city of Miletus is supposed to have begotten some three hundred cities, and many of its fellows were possibly not less fruitful. Since new cities could be founded there was plenty of chance for variation and experiment; and those who dreamed of a more, generous social order could set their hands and wits to making a better start "from the bottom up."
Of all the plans and reconstruction programs that must have been put forward during these centuries, only a scant handful remains. Aristotle tells us about an ideal state designed by one, Phaleas, who believed
like Mr. Bernard Shaw in a complete equality of property; and from Aristotle, too, we learn of another utopia which was described by the great architect, city planner, and sociologistHippodamus. Hippodamus was one of the first city planners known to history, and he achieved fame in the ancient world by designing cities on the somewhat monotonous checkerboard design we know so well in America. He realized, apparently, that a city was something more than a collection of houses, streets, markets, and temples; and so, whilst he was putting the physical town to rights, he concerned himself with the more basic problem of the social order. If it adds at all to our sense of reality in going through utopia, let me confess that it is ultimately through the inspiration and example of another HippodamusPatrick Geddes, the town planner for Jerusalem and many other citiesthat this book about utopias came to be written. In many ways the distance between Geddes and Aristotle or Hippodamus seems much less than that which separates Geddes and Herbert Spencer.
When we look at the utopias that Phaleas and Hippodamus and Aristotle have left us, and compare them with the Republic of Plato, the differences between them melt into insignificance and their likenesses are apparent. It is for this reason that I shall confine our examination of the Greek utopia to that which Plato set forth in the Republic, and qualified and broadened in The Laws, The Statesman, and Critias.
Plato's Republic dates roughly from the time of that long and disastrous war which Athens fought with
[paragraph continues] Sparta. In the course of such a war, amid the bombast that patriotic citizens give way to, the people who keep their senses are bound to get pretty well acquainted with their enemy. If you will take the trouble to examine Plutarch's account of the Laws of Lycurgus and Mr. Alfred Zimmern's magnificent description of the Greek Commonwealth you will see how Sparta and Athens form the web and woof of the Republiconly it is an ideal Sparta and an ideal Athens that Plato has in mind.
It is well to remember that Plato wrote in the midst of defeat; a great part of his region, Attica, had been devastated and burned; and he must have felt that makeshift and reform were quite futile when a Peloponnesian war could make the bottom drop out of his world. To Plato an ill-designed ship of state required more than the science of navigation to pull it through stormy waters: if it was in danger of perpetually foundering, it seemed high time to go back to the shipyards and inquire into the principles upon which it had been put together. In such a mood, I suggest parenthetically, we today will turn again to fundamentals.
In describing his ideal community Plato, like a trained workman, begins with his physical foundations. So far from putting his utopia in a mythical island of Avilion, where falls not hail nor rain nor any snow, it is plain that Plato was referring repeatedly to the soil in which Athens was planted, and to the economic life which grew out of that soil. Since he was speaking to his own countrymen, he could let a good many things
pass for common knowledge which we, as strangers, must look into more carefully in order to have a firmer sense of his utopian realities. Let it be understood that in discussing the physical side of the Republic, I am drawing from Aristotle as well as Plato, and from such modern Greek scholars as Messrs. Zimmern, Myres, and Murray.
Nowadays when we talk about a state we think of an expanse of territory, to begin with, so broad that we should in most cases be unable to see all its boundaries if we rose five miles above the ground on a clear day. Even if the country is a little one, like the Netherlands or Belgium, it is likely to have possessions that are thousands of miles away; and we think of these distant possessions and of the homeland as part and parcel of the state. There is scarcely any conceivable way in which a Dutchman in Rotterdam, let us say, possesses the Island of Java: he does not live on the island, he is not acquainted with the inhabitants, he does not share their ideas or customs. His interest in Java, if he have an interest at all, is an interest in sugar, coffee, taxes, or missions. His state is not a commonwealth in the sense that it is a common possession.
To the Greek of Plato's time, on the contrary, the commonwealth was something he actively shared with his fellow citizens. It was a definite parcel of land whose limits he could probably see from any convenient hilltop; and those who lived within those limits had common gods to worship, common theaters and gymnasia, and a multitude of common interests that could be satisfied only by their working together, playing together, thinking together. Plato could probably not have conceived of a community with civilized pretensions
in which the population was distributed at the rate of ten per square mile; and if he visited such a territory he would surely have said that the people were barbariansmen whose way of living unfitted them for the graces and duties of citizenship.
Geographically speaking, then, the ideal commonwealth was a city-region; that is, a city which was surrounded by enough land to supply the greater part of the food needed by the inhabitants; and placed convenient to the sea.
Let us stand on a high hill and take a look at this city region; the sort of view that Plato himself might have obtained on some clear spring morning when he climbed to the top of the Acropolis and looked down on the sleeping city, with the green fields and sear upland pastures on one side, and the sun glinting on the distant waters of the sea a few miles away.
It is a mountainous region, this Greece, and within a short distance from mountain top to sea there was compressed as many different kinds of agricultural and industrial life as one could single out in going down the Hudson valley from the Adirondack Mountains to New York Harbor. As the basis for his ideal city, whether Plato knew it or not, he had an "ideal" section of land in his mindwhat the geographer calls the "valley section." He could not have gotten the various groups which were to be combined in his city, had they been settled in the beginning on a section of land like the coastal plain of New Jersey. It was peculiarly in Greece that such a variety of occupations could come together within a small area, beginning at the summit of the valley section with the evergreen trees and the woodcutter, going down the slop to the herdsman and
his flock of goats at pasture, along the valley bottom to the cultivator and his crops, until at length one reaches the river's mouth where the fisher pushes out to sea in his boat and the trader comes in with goods from other lands.
The great civilizations of the world have been nourished in such valley sections. We think of the river Nile and Alexandria; the Tiber and Rome, the Seine and Paris; and so on. It is interesting that our first great utopia should have had an "ideal" section of territory as its base.
In the economic foundations of the Republic, we look in vain for a recognition of the labor problem. Now the labor problem is a fundamental difficulty in our modern life; and it seems on the surface that Plato is a little highbrow and remote in the ease with which he gets over it. When we look more closely into the matter, however, and see the way in which men got their living in the "morning lands"as the Germans call themwe shall find that the reason Plato does not offer a solution is that he was not, indeed, confronted by a problem.
Given a valley section which has not been ruthlessly stript of trees; given the arts of agriculture and herding; given a climate without dangerous extremes of heat and cold; given the opportunity to found new colonies when the old city-region is over-populatedand it is only by an exercise of ingenuity that a labor problem could be invented. A man might become a slave by military capture; he did not become a slave by being compelled, under threat of starvation, to tend a machine.
[paragraph continues] The problem of getting a living was answered by nature as long as men were willing to put up with nature's conditions; and the groundwork of Plato's utopia, accordingly, is the simple agricultural life, the growing of wheat, barley, olives, and grapes, which had been fairly well mastered before he arrived on the scene. As long as the soil was not washed away and devitalized, the problem was not a hard one; and in order to solve it, Plato had only to provide that there should be enough territory to grow food on, and that the inhabitants must not let their wants exceed the bounties of nature.
Plato describes the foundations of his community with a few simple and masterly touches. Those who feel that there is something a little inhuman in his conception of the good life, when he is discussing the education and duties of the ruling classes, may well consider the picture that he paints for us here.
Plato's society arises out of the needs of mankind; because none of us is self-sufficing and all have many wants; and since there are many wants, many kinds of people must supply them. When all these helpers and partners and co-operators are gathered together in a city the body of inhabitants is termed a state; and so its members work and exchange goods with one another for their mutual advantagethe herdsman gets barley for his cheese and so on down to the complicated interchanges that occur in the city. What sort of physical life will arise out of this in the region that Plato describes?
Well, the people will "produce corn and wine and clothes and shoes and build houses for themselves. . . . They will work in summer commonly stript and barefoot,
but in winter substantially clothed and shod. They will feed on barley and wheat, baking the wheat and kneading the flour, making noble puddings and loaves; these they will serve up on a mat of reeds or clean leaves; themselves reclining the while upon beds of yew or myrtle boughs. And they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and having the praises of the gods on their lips, living in sweet society, and having a care that their families do not exceed their means; for they will have an eye to poverty or war."
So Socrates, in this dialogue on the Republic, describes to his hearers the essential physical elements of the good life. One of his hearers, Glaucon, asks him to elaborate it a little, for Socrates has limited himself to bare essentials. It is the same sort of objection, by the way, that M. Poincaré, the physicist, made to the philosophy of Tolstoy. Socrates answers that a good state would have the healthy constitution which he has just described; but that he has no objection to looking at an "inflamed constitution." What Socrates describes as an inflamed constitution is a mode of life which all the people of Western Europe and America at the present dayno matter what their religion, economic status, or political creed may bebelieve in with almost a single mind; and so, although it is the opposite of Plato's ideal state, I go on to present it, for the light it throws on our own institutions and habits.
The unjust state comes into existence, says Plato through the mouth of Socrates, by the multiplication of wants and superfluities. As a result of increasing wants, we must enlarge our borders, for the original
healthy state is too small. Now the city will fill up with a multitude of callings which go beyond those required by any natural want; there will be a host of parasites and "supers"; and our country, which was big enough to support the original inhabitants, will want a slice of our neighbor's land for pasture and tillage; and they will want a slice of ours if, like ourselves, they exceed the limits of necessity and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth. "And then we shall go to warthat will be the next thing."
The sum of this criticism is that Plato saw clearly that an ideal community must have a common physical standard of living; and that boundless wealth or unlimited desires and gratifications had nothing to do with a good standard. The good was what was necessary; and what was necessary was not, essentially, many goods.
Like Aristotle, Plato wanted a mode of life which was neither impoverished nor luxurious: those who have read a little in Greek history will see that this Athenian ideal of the good life fell symbolically enough between Sparta and Corinth, between the cities which we associate respectively with a hard, military life and with a soft, super-sensuous æstheticism.
Should we moderate our wants or should we increase production? Plato had no difficulty in answering this question. He held that a reasonable man would moderate his wants; and that if he wished to live like a good farmer or a good philosopher he would not attempt to copy the expenditures of a vulgar gambler who has just made a corner in wheat, or a vulgar courtesan who has just made a conquest of the vulgar gambler who has made a corner in wheat. Wealth and
poverty, said Plato, are the two causes of deterioration in the arts: both the workman and his works are likely to degenerate under the influence of either poverty or wealth, "for one is the parent of luxury and indolence, and the other of meanness and viciousness, and both of discontent."
Nor does Plato have one standard of living for his ruling classes and another for the common people. To each person he would give all the material things necessary for sustenance; and from each he would be prepared to strip all that was not essential. He realized that the possession of goods was not a means of getting happiness, but an effort to make up for a spiritually depauperate life: for Plato, happiness was what one could put into life and not what one could loot out of it: it was the happiness of the dancer rather than the happiness of the glutton. Plato pictured a community living a sane, continent, athletic, clear-eyed life; a community that would be always, so to say, within bounds. There is a horror of laxity and easy living in his Republic. His society was stripped for action. The fragrance that permeates his picture of the good life is not the heavy fragrance of rose-petals and incense falling upon languorous couches: it is the fragrance of the morning grass, and the scent of crushed mint or marjoram beneath the feet.
How big is Plato's community, how are the people divided, what are their relations? Now that we have discussed the lay out of the land, and have inquired into the physical basis of this utopia, we are ready to turn
our attention to the people; for it is out of the interaction of folk, work, and place that every communitygood or bad, real or fanciedexists and perpetuates itself.
It follows almost inevitably from what we have said of Plato's environment, that his ideal community was not to be unlimited in population. Quite the contrary. Plato said that "the city may increase to any size which is consistent with its unity; that is the limit." The modern political scientist, who lives within a national state of millions of people, and who thinks of the greatness of states largely in terms of their population, has scoffed without mercy at the fact that Plato limited his community to an arbitrary number, 5,040, about the number that can be conveniently addressed by a single orator. As a matter of fact there is nothing ridiculous in Plato's definition: he was not speaking of a horde of barbarians: he was laying down the foundations for an active polity of citizens: and it is plain enough in all conscience that when you increase the number of people in a community you decrease the number of things that they can share in common. Plato could not anticipate the wireless telephone and the daily newspaper; still less would he have been likely to exaggerate the difference which these instrumentalities have made in the matters that most intimately concern us; and when he set bounds to the population his city would contain, he was anticipating by more than two thousand years the verdict of modern town planners like Mr. Raymond Unwin.
People are not the members of a community because
they live under the same system of political government or dwell in the same country. They become genuine citizens to the extent that they share certain institutions and ways of life with similarly educated people. Plato was primarily concerned with providing conditions which would make a community hold together without being acted upon by any external forceas the national state is acted upon today by war or the threat of war. This concern seems to underlie every line of the Republic. In attacking his problem, the business of supplying the physical wants of the city seemed relatively unimportant; and even though Greece in the time of Plato traded widely with the whole Mediterranean region, Plato did not mistake commercial unity for civic unity. Hence in his scheme of things the work of the farmer and the merchant and the trader was subordinate. The important thing to consider was the general conditions under which all the individuals and groups in a community might live together harmoniously. This is a long cry from the utopias of the nineteenth century, which we will examine later; and that is why it is important to understand Plato's point of view and follow his argument.
To Plato, a good community was like a healthy body; a harmonious exercise of every function was the condition of its strength and vitality. Necessarily then a good community could not be simply a collection of individuals, each one of whom insists upon some private and particular happiness without respect to the welfare and interests of his fellows. Plato believed that goodness
and happinessfor he would scarcely admit that there was any distinct line of cleavage between these qualitiesconsisted in living according to nature; that is to say, in knowing one's self, in finding one's bent, and in fulfilling the particular work which one had the capacity to perform. The secret of a good community, therefore, if we may translate Plato's language into modern political slang, is the principle of function.
Every kind of work, says Plato, requires a particular kind of aptitude and training. If we wish to have good shoes, our shoes must be made by a shoemaker and not by a weaver; and in like manner, every man has some particular calling to which his genius leads him, and he finds a happiness for himself and usefulness to his fellows when he is employed in that calling. The good life must result when each man has a function to perform, and when all the necessary functions are adjusted happily to each other. The state is like the physical body. "Health is the creation of a natural order and government in the parts of the body, and the creation of disease is the creation of a state of things in which they are at variance with the natural order." The supreme virtue in the commonwealth is justice; namely, the due apportionment of work or function under the rule of "a place for every man and every man in his place."
Has any such society ever come into existence? Do not too hastily answer No. The ideal in Plato's mind is carried out point for point in the organization of a modern symphony orchestra.
Now Plato was not unaware that there were other formulas for happiness. He expressly points out however that in founding the Republic he does not wish to
make any single person or group happier beyond the rest; he desires rather that the whole city should be in the happiest condition. It would be easy enough "to array the husbandmen in rich and costly robes and to enjoin them to cultivate the ground only with a view to their pleasure," and so Plato might have conferred a spurious kind of felicity upon every individual. If this happened, however, there would be a brief period of ease and revelry before the whole works went to pot. In this Plato is a thoroughgoing realist: he is not looking for a short avenue of escape; he is ready to face the road with all its ups and downs, with its steep climbs as well as its wide vistas; and he does not think any the worse of life because he finds that its chief enjoyments rest in activity, and not, as the epicureans of all sorts have always believed, in a release from activity.
Plato arrives at his apportionment of functions by a method which is old-fashioned, and which anybody versed in modern psychology would regard as a "rationalization." Plato is trying to give a firm basis to the division of classes which he favored; and so he compares the community to a human being, possessed of the virtues of wisdom, valour, temperance, and justice. Each of these virtues Plato relates to a particular class of people.
Wisdom is appropriate to the rulers of the city. Thus arises the class of guardians.
Valour is the characteristic of the defenders of the city and hence a military class, called auxiliaries, appears.
Temperance, or agreement, is the virtue which relates to all classes.
Finally, there comes justice. "Justice is the ultimate cause and condition of all of them. . . . If a question should arise as to which of these four qualities contributed most by their presence to the excellence of the State whether the agreement of rulers and subjects or the preservation in the soldiers of the opinion which the law ordains about the true nature of dangers, or wisdom and watchfulness in the rulers would claim the palm, or whether this which I am about to mention," namely, "everyone doing his own work and not being a busybodythe question would not be easily determined." Nevertheless, it is plain that justice is the keystone of the Platonic utopia.
We must not misunderstand Plato's division of classes. Aristotle criticizes Plato in terms of a more simple system of democracy; but Plato did not mean to institute a fixed order; within his Republic the Napoleonic mottola carrière est ouverte aux talentswas the guiding principle. What lay beneath Plato's argument was a belief which present-day studies in psychology seem likely to confirm; a belief that children come into the world with a bent already well marked in their physical and mental constitutions. Plato advocated, it is true, an aristocracy or government by the best people; but he did not believe in fake aristocracies that are perpetuated through hereditary wealth and position. Having determined that his city was to contain three classes, rulers, warriors, and workers, his capital difficulty still remained to be faced; how was each individual to find his way to the right class,
and under what conditions would he best fulfill his functions there?
The answers to these questions bring us to the boldest and most original sections of the Republic: the part that has provoked the greatest amount of antagonism and aversion, because of its drastic departure from the rut of many established institutionsin particular, individual marriages and individual property.
In order to perpetuate his ideal constitution Plato relies upon three methods: breeding, education, and a discipline for the daily life. Let us consider the effect of these methods upon each of the classes.
We may dismiss the class of artisans and husbandmen very briefly. It is not quite clear whether Plato meant his system of marriage to extend to the members of this class. As for education, it is clear that he saw nothing to find fault with in the system of apprenticeship whereby the smith or the potter or the farmer trained others to follow his calling; and so he had no reason for departing from methods which had proved, on the whole, very satisfactory. How satisfactory that system was, indeed, we have only to look at an Athenian ruin or vase or chalice to find out. Any improvements that might come about in these occupations would result from the Platonic rule of justice; and Plato followed his own injunction strictly enough to keep away from other people's business.
This of course seems an odd and hasty manner of treatment, as I said before, to those of us who live in a world where the affairs of industry and the tendencies of the labor movement are forever on the carpet. But Plato justifies his treatment by saying that "when shoemakers become bad, and are degenerate, and profess to
be shoemakers when they are not, no great mischief happens to the state; but when the guardians of the law and the State are not so in reality, but only in appearance, you see how they entirely destroy the whole constitution, if they alone shall have the privilege of an affluent and happy life." Hence Plato concentrates his attack upon the point of greatest danger: while the shoemaker, as a rule, knows how to mind his own business, the statesman is for the most part unaware of the essential business which he has to mind; and tends to be negligent even when he has some dim notion as to what it may bebeing all too ready to sacrifice it to golf or the favors of a beautiful woman. As we saw in Plato's original description of the State, the common folk would doubtless have a good many of the joys and delights traditional in the Greek cities; and doubtless, although Plato says nothing one way or the other, they would be permitted to own such property as might be needed for the conduct of their business or the enjoyment of their homes. The very fact that no definite rule was prescribed for them, makes us suspect that Plato was willing to let these things go on in the usual way.
The next class is known as the warriors, or auxiliaries. They are different in character from the guardians who rule the state; but frequently Plato refers to the guardians as a single class, including the auxiliaries; and it seems that they figured in his mind as the temporal arm of that class. At any rate, the auxiliaries as they are painted in the Critias, which was the dialogue in which Plato attempted to show his Republic in action, dwelt by themselves within a single enclosure; and had common meals and common
temples of their own; and so we may surmise that their way of life was to be similar to that of the higher guardians, but that it was not capable of being pushed to the same pitch of development on the intellectual side. These warriors of Plato are, after all, not so very much unlike the regular or standing army in a modern State: they have a life of their own within the barracks, they are trained and drilled to great endurance, and they are taught to obey without question the Government. When you examine the naked business of the warriors and artisans, you discover that Plato is not, for all the difference in scale, so very far away from modern realities. Apart from the fact that women were permitted an equal place with men in the life of the camp and the gymnasium and the academy, the real difference comes in the matter of breeding and selection. At last we approach the Governors, or the Guardians.
How does the Guardian achieve his position and power? Plato is a little chary of answering this question; he hints that it can only happen at the beginning if a person with the brains of a philosopher happen to be born with the authority of a king. Let us pass this by. How are the Guardians born and bred? This is the manner.
For the well-being of the state the Guardians have the power to administer medicinal lies. One of these is to be told to the youth when their education has reached a point at which it becomes possible for the Guardians to determine their natural talents and aptitudes.
"Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some
of you have the power to command, and these he has composed of gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honor; others of silver, to be auxiliaries; others again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has made of brass and iron; and the species will generally be preserved in the children. But as you are of the same original family, a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son. And God proclaims to the rulers, as a first principle, that before all things they should watch over their offspring, and see what elements mingle in their nature, for if the son of a golden or silver parent has an admixture of brass and iron, then nature orders a transposition of the ranks; and the eye of the ruler must not be pitiful towards his child because he has to descend in the scale and will become a husbandman or artisan, just as there may be others sprung from the artisan class who are raised to honor, and become guardians and auxiliaries."
As the safeguard of this principle of natural selection of functions, Plato proposed a system of common marriage. "The wives of these guardians are to be common, and their children are also common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor any child his parent." Starting from the day of the hymeneal, the bridegroom who was then married will call all the male children who are born ten and seven months afterwards his sons, and the female children his daughters, and they will call him father. . . . And those who were born at the same time they will term brothers and sisters, and they are not to intermarry." One of the features of this system is that the best stocksthe strongest and wisest and most beautifulare to he encouraged to reproduce themselves. But this is not
worked out in detail. There is to be complete freedom of sexual selection among the guardians; and those who are most distinguished in their services are to have access to a great number of women; but beyond encouraging the guardians to be prolific, Plato did not apparently consider the possibilities of cross-breeding between the various classes.
On the whole, one may say that Plato puts it up to the Guardians to perpetuate themselves properly, and indicates that this is to be one of their main concerns. His good breeding was biological breeding, not social breeding. He recognizedas some of our modern eugenists have failed tothat good parents might throw poor stock, on occasion, and that abject parents might have remarkably good progeny. Even if the Guardians are to be encouraged to have good children, Plato provides that the children themselves must prove their goodness before they are in turn recognized as Guardians. As for the children of the baser sortwell, they were to be rigorously limited to the needs and resources of the community. Plato lived at a time when a great many children were born only to be murdered through "exposure" as it was called; and he had no qualms, apparently, about letting the Guardians send the children with a bad heredity into the discard. If his population could not grow properly in the sunlight without getting rid of the weeds, he was prepared to get rid of the weeds. People who were physically or spiritually too deformed to take part in the good life were to be eliminated. Plato, like a robust Athenian, was for killing or curing a disease; and he gave short shrift to the constitutional invalids.
But to breed Guardians is only one-half the problem. The other half comes under the heads of education and discipline; and when Plato discusses these things, he is not speaking, as a modern college president perhaps would, of book-learning alone; he is referring to all the activities that mold a person's life. He follows the older philosopher, Pythagoras, and anticipates the great organizer, Benedict, by laying down a rule of life for his guardians. He did not imagine that disinterested activities, spacious thoughts, and clear vision would arise in people who normally put their personal comfort and "happiness" above the necessities of their office.
Let us recognize the depth of Plato's insight. It is plain that he did not despise what a modern psychologist would call "the normal biological career." For the great majority of people happiness consisted in learning a definite trade or profession, in doing one's daily work, in mating, and when the tension of the day relaxed, in getting enjoyment and recreation in the simple sensualities of eating, drinking, singing, lovemaking, and what not. This normal biological career is associated with a home, and with the limited horizons of a home; and a host of small loyalties and jealousies and interests are woven into the very texture of that life.
Each home, each small circle of relatives and friends, tends to be a miniature utopia; there is a limited community of goods, a tendency to adjust one's actions to the welfare of the little whole, and a habit of banding together against the world at large. But the good,
contrary to the proverb, is frequently the enemy of the better; and the little utopia of the family is the enemyindeed the principal enemyof the beloved community. This fact is notorious. The picture of a trade union leader which Mr. John Galsworthy portrays in Strife, whose power to act firmly in behalf of his group is sapped by the demands made by family ties, could be matched in a thousand places. In order to have the freedom to act for the sake of a great institution, a person must be stript of a whole host of restraining ties and sentimentalities. Jesus commanded his followers to leave their families and abandon their worldly goods; and Plato, in order to preserve his ideal commonwealth, laid down a similar rule. For those who as guardians were to apply the science of government to public affairs, a private life, private duties, private interests, were all to be left behind.
As to the education of the Guardians, I have scarcely the space to treat the more formal part of it in detail; for among other things, as Jowett points out, the Republic is a treatise on education; and Plato presents a fairly elaborate plan. The two branches of Greek education, music and gymnastic, applied in the student's early years to the culture of the body and the culture of the mind; and both branches were to be followed in common by both sexes. Instruction during the early part of a child's life was to be communicated through play activities, as it is today in the City and Country School in New York; and only with manhood did the student approach his subjects in a more formal and systematic manner. In the course of this education the students were to be tested again and again with respect to their mental keenness and tenacity and fortitude;
and only those who came through the fire purified and strengthened were to be admitted to the class of guardians.
The daily life of the Guardians is a rigorous, military regime. They live in common barracks, and in order to avoid paying attention to private affairs, instead of minding the good of the whole community, no one is allowed to "possess any substance privately, unless there be a great necessity for it"; next, Plato continues, none shall have any dwelling or storehouse into which whoever inclines may not enter; and as for necessaries, they shall be only such as brave and temperate warriors may require, and as they are supported by other citizens, they shall receive such a reward of their guardianship as to have neither an overplus nor a deficit at the end of the year. They shall have public meals, as in encampments, and live in common. They are to refrain from using gold and silver, as all the gold and silver they require is in their souls.
All these regulations, of course, are for the purpose of keeping the Guardians disinterested. Plato believed that the majority of people did not know how to mind public business; for it seemed to him that the ordering of a community's life required a measure of science which the common man could not possibly possess. Indeed, in a city of a thousand men he did not see the possibility of getting as many as fifty men who would be sufficiently well versed in what we should today call sociology to deal intelligently with public affairsfor there would scarcely be that many first-rate draughts players. At the same time, if the government is to h' entrusted to a few, the few must be genuinely disinterested. If they possessed lands and houses and money
in a private way they would become landlords and farmers instead of Guardians; they would be hateful masters instead of allies of the citizens; and so "hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against, more afraid of the enemies within than the enemies without, they would drag themselves and the rest of the state to speedy destruction."
It remains to take a glance at the manhood and later life of the Guardians.
As young men, the Guardians belong to the auxiliaries; and since they are not permitted to perform any of the manual artsfor skill in any of the trades tended to make a man warped and one-sided, like the symbolic blacksmith god, Hephæstostheir physical edge was maintained by the unceasing discipline of the gymnasium and "military" expeditions. I put military in quotation marks, because a greater part of the warriors' time is spent not in war but in preparation for war; and it is plain that Plato looked upon war as an unnecessary evil, for it arose out of the unjust state; and therefore he must have resorted to warlike discipline for the educational values he found in it. From thirty-five to fifty the potential Guardians undertake practical activities, commanding armies and gaining experience of life. After fifty, those who are qualified devote themselves to philosophy: out of their experience and their inner reflection they figure the essential nature of the good community; and on occasion each guardian abandons divine philosophy for a while, takes his turn at the helm of the state, and trains his successors.
What is the business of the Guardian? How does
Plato's ideal statesman differ from Julius Caesar or Mr. Theodore Roosevelt?
The business of the Guardian is to manufacture liberty. The petty laws, regulations, and reforms with which the ordinary statesman occupies himself had nothing to do, in Plato's mind, with the essential business of the ruler. So Plato expressly foregoes making laws to regulate marketing, the affairs of industry, graft, bribery, theft, and so forth; and he leaves these matters with the curt indication that men can be left to themselves to devise on a voluntary basis the rules of the game for the different occupations; and that it is not the business of the Guardian to meddle in such matters. In a well-founded state, a great number of minor maladjustments would simply fall out of existence; whilst in any other state, all the tinkering and reforming in the world is quite powerless to amend its organic defects. Those make-believe statesmen who try their hand at legislation and "are always fancying that by reforming they will make an end of the dishonesties and rascalities of mankind," do not know that in reality they are trying to cut away the heads of a hydra.
The real concern of the Guardians is with the essential constitution of the state. The means that they employ to perfect this constitution are breeding, vocational selection, and education. "If once a republic is set a-going, it proceeds happily, increasing as a circle. And whilst good education and nurture are preserved, they produce good geniuses; and good geniuses, partaking of such education, produce still better than the former, as well in other respects, as with reference to propagation, as in the case of other animals."
[paragraph continues] All the activities of the Republic are to be patterned after the utopia which the Guardians see with their inward eye. So gradually the community becomes a living unity; and it exhibits the health of that which is organically sound.
What do we miss when we look around this utopia of Plato's? Contacts with the outside world? We may take them for granted. Downy beds, Corinthian girls, luxurious furniture? We can well spare them. The opportunity for a satisfactory intellectual and physical life? No: both of these are here.
What Plato has left out are the poets, dramatists, and painters. Literature and music, in order to contribute to the noble education of the Guardians, are both severely restricted in theme and in treatment. Plato has his limitations; and here is the principal one: Plato distrusted the emotional life, and whilst he was prepared to do full homage to man's obvious sensualities, he feared the emotions as a tight-rope walker fears the wind; for they threatened his balance. In one significant passage he classifies "love" with disease and drunkenness, as a vulgar misfortune; and though he was ready to permit the active expression of the emotions, as in the dance or the sexual act, he treated the mere play upon the feelings, without active participation, as a form of intemperance. Hence a great deal of music and dramatic mimicry was taboo. Foreign as this doctrine sounds to the modern reader, there is perhaps more than a grain of sense in it: William James used to teach that no one should passively
experience an emotion at a concert or a play without trying to express that emotion actively as soon as he could make the opportunity. At any rate, let us leave this problem which Plato opens up with a free mind; and note here in passing that in the utopia of William Morris novels drop naturally out of existence because life is too active an ectasy to be fed with the pathetic, the maudlin, and the diseased.
As we leave this little city of Plato's, nestling in the hills, and as the thin, didactic voice of Plato, who has been perpetually at our elbows, dies away from our earswhat impression do we finally carry away?
In the fields, men are perhaps plowing the land for the autumn sowing; on the terraces, a band of men, women, and children are plucking the olives carefully from the trees, one by one; in the gymnasium on the top of the Acropolis, men and youths are exercising, and as they practice with the javelin now and then it catches the sun and glints into our eye; apart from these groups, in a shaded walk that overlooks the city, a Guardian is pacing back and forth, talking in quick, earnest tones with his pupils.
These are occupations which, crudely or elaborately, men have always engaged in; and here in the Republic they engage in them still. What has changed? What has profoundly changed is not the things that men do, but the relations they bear to one another in doing them. In Plato's community, servitude and compulsion and avarice and indolence are gone. Men mind their business for the sake of living well, in just relations
to the whole community of which they are a part. They live, in the strictest sense, according to nature; and because no one can enjoy a private privilege, each man can grow to his full stature and enter into every heritage of his citizenship. When Plato says no to the institutions and ways of life that men have blindly fostered, his eyes are open, and he is facing the light.