Plato the Statesman and the Laws

The later form of Plato’s political philosophy, contained in Plato the Statesman and the Laws, belongs a good many years after that contained in the Republic. The two later works show a resemblance and the theory which they contain is in marked contrast with that of the Republic; together they present the final results of Plato’s reflection upon the problems of the city-state.

The Laws was definitely a work of his old age, and all critics agree in finding in it evidence of declining powers, though: this has very often been exaggerated. In respect to literary quality there is no comparison between the Republic and the Laws. The earlier work is conceded to be the greatest literary masterpiece in the whole range of philosophical writing. The Laws, on the other hand, is distinctly hard reading.

It is rambling, even when all allowance is made for the liberties in this regard that the dialogue form permitted; it is wordy and it is repetitious. The tradition that it lacked the author’s final revision is plausible. It contains fine passages -passages which competent scholars consider as fine as any in Plato’s works-but he has lost either the capacity for, or the interest in, sustained literary effect.


Because of its defects of style the Laws has been little read, as compared with the Republic, and there has perhaps been a tendency to confuse its decline in literary quality with a decline in intellectual power. This is certainly a mistake. The political philosophy of the Laws has not the bold sweep of speculative construction that is found in the Republic, but on the other hand in the later form of his theory Plato tried to come to grips with political actualities in a way that he never approached in the earlier work.

This accounts in part for its lack of order; it is developed less upon a single train of thought and more upon the complexities of its subject-matter. The Republic is a book for all time, because the generality of its principles is almost timeless. But the later form of Plato’s thought was more influential in the development of political philosophy by his successors in the ancient world. This is evident in the case of Aristotle, since it is the Statesman and the Laws, rather than the Republic, which formed the point of departure for the Politics.

In respect to its influence on the discussion of specifically political questions in their theoretical aspects such, for example, as the constitution of states, their political organization, and especially the theory of the so-called mixed state-it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the Laws.

The Readmission of Law:-

The line of thought which Plato followed in the Republic yielded a theory in which everything was subordinated to the ideal of the philosopher-king, whose unique claim to authority is the fact that he alone knows what is good for men and states. The working-out of this line of reflection resulted in the exclusion of law altogether from the ideal state and the conception of the state as an educational institution only, in which the majority of the citizens are in a condition of permanent tutelage to the philosopher-ruler.

This ran quite contrary to the deepest convictions of the Greeks about the moral value of freedom under the law and of participation by the citizens in the task of self-government. In this sense the first form of Plato’s political theory was one-sided in its devotion to a single principle and inadequate to express the ideals of the city-state.

This suspicion in the mind of its author was responsible for the direction which his later thought took. As the name of the dialogue indicates, the Laws was written in an attempt to restore law to the place which it occupied in the moral estimation of the Greeks and from which Plato had tried to remove it.

The fundamental difference between the theory of the Republic and that of the Laws is that the ideal state of the former is a government by specially chosen and specially trained men, quite untrammeled by any general regulations, while the state sketched in the latter is a government in which law is supreme, ruler and subject alike being subject to it. But this difference implied drastic changes in all the underlying principles of government, more drastic changes than Plato succeeded in carrying through to a logical conclusion.

It is not uncommon to impute the change from the earlier to the later form of his political theory to the disillusionment which he must have suffered as a consequence of the failure in his attempt to take part in the affairs of Syracuse, and it may well be that this experience brought home to Plato the actualities of political life in an especially poignant fashion. At the same time it is impossible to suppose that he went to Syracuse with the expectation of founding an ideal state ruled by a philosopher-king and then modified his views because he failed. Plato himself in the Seventh Letter says the contrary. In his advice to Dion’s followers he says:

Let not Sicily nor any city anywhere be subject to human masters-such is my doctrine-but to laws. Subjection is bad both for masters and for subjects, for themselves, for their children’s children, and for all their posterity.

And though this was written in 353, Plato says also that the plan which he recommends for a legislative commission to draw up new laws is akin to what he and Dion had intended to carry through together.? It is clear therefore that the venture at Syracuse was from the start designed to issue in a state under the forms of law.

The legislative commission -a common device in Greece for formulating a code for a colony-is the literary device which offers the excuse for the Laws. And if the Statesman was written about the time of Plato’s association with Dion  (367-361), the discussion of the relative merits and demerits of law in government evidently marks a-doubt in his mind about the feasibility of his conclusions in the Republic.

It is safe to conclude, therefore, that Plato never made any sudden change in his convictions and that he was aware over a long period of years that the omission of law from the idea state was a cardinal difficulty. On the other hand, it is also a fact that Plato never definitely decided that the theory developed in the Republic was erroneous and had to be abandoned.

He says repeatedly that his purpose in the Laws is to describe a second-best state and he sometimes puts this assertion into conjunction with his strongest statements about the importance of law. Without laws men differ not at all from the most savage beasts, and yet if a competent ruler should arise, they would have no need to be ruled by laws, for no law or ordinance is mightier than knowledge.

To the end, therefore, Plato was convinced that in a truly ideal state the rule of pure reason, embodied in the philosopher-king and unhampered by law or custom, ought to prevail. Perhaps he was never very sure that such an ideal could be realized, but as time went on he became convinced that it could not. The state ruled by law was always a concession to the frailty of human nature and never something which he was willing to accept as having a right to stand on a parity with the ideal.

Still, if the knowledge necessary to make the philosopher-king is unattainable, then Plato is clear that the common moral consciousness is right in believing that a government according to law is better than  government by men, rulers being what they are. The relation between the two theories is highly unsatisfactory; the ideal is logically in reproachable but not attainable in fact, while the second-best state not impossible to attain but is shaky in respect to its credentials.

Now the truth is that this difficulty about the best and the second best state grew directly out of a fundamental problem in Plato’s philosophy which he had to face at many points during the latter part of his life and which he never succeeded in solving. It was not a question merely of making up his mind whether he did or did not have a high opinion of the law as an element in government.

If the line of reasoning followed in the Republic (together with the general body of philosophical principles) was sound, there was no place in the state for law. Conversely, if a place had to be made for law, then there was nothing for it but to modify profoundly the whole philosophical structure and to admit principles which, to say the least, would greatly complicate it.

The situation presented a dilemma and the fact that Plato himself saw and stated it is the true measure of his intellectual greatness. Probably no critic from Aristotle on has ever stated an objection against Plato which he could not have learned from reading Plato.

The exclusion of law from the ideal state resulted from the twofold fact that statesmanship is defined as an art depending upon an exact science and that this science is conceived, after the manner of mathematics, as a rational apprehension of the type to which factual knowledge contributes nothing, or at least nothing beyond illustration.

Behind this theory is the presumption that intelligence and perception are at least disparate and perhaps opposed; knowledge of the type is impossible so long as a thinker is hemmed in and restricted by all the insignificant variability that the senses show, just as true astronomy is impossible so long as the real motions of the planets are believed to be what they seem to be.

On the side of ethics a knowledge of the good implies a like independence of the inclinations and appetites that are most closely associated with the body; this distinction of body and soul, which occasionally grows into an out-and-out Opposition of a lower and higher nature, is a troublesome factor in Plato’s thought, though he is never committed to all the implications of once for all accepting it.

Now in the field of politics, the positive law-law as it actually exists and is practiced by men in an actual community-must be counted on the side of the senses and the inclinations. This was perhaps more obvious to a Greek than it is now, since Greek law was more completely a matter of use and wont than is the case where there exists a professional judiciary and the elements of a are or less scientific jurisprudence.

But in any case the wisdom of the how is the wisdom of experience, feeling its way from precedent to precedent, making its rules to fit cases as they arise and never arriving at a very clear cut knowledge of its principles. In short, it is quite different from what Plato conceived an art to be-the self-conscious application of scientifically ascertained causes to produce a clearly foreseen end.

The problem was inherent in the contrast of nature and convention from which he started. For if the law belongs to convention (in Greek the words are the same) and cannot be ruled out as a factor in government, how can institutions ever be got on a rational basis where they are sure to realize the maximum natural good?

This is no antiquarian problem even today. How is a planned and managed society to make its peace with such enormous psychological forces as those represented by the genius of the Roman Law or the English Common Law? The ordinary business of life, its everyday valuations and expectations, goes on in a matrix of use and wont which changes indeed but changes slowly and which has never been planned or even envisaged as a whole, precisely because it is the matrix in which planning and valuation go on.

In the mass it is not irrational but non-rational, though parts of it are continually coming to the front as precisely the irrational forces of mere convention or custom which stand in the way of any intelligent modification of the existing order is the customary basis of life-the habitual valuations and ideals by which men regulate their personal ambitions and their dealings with other men-to be interpreted as the enemy of intelligence and the great obstacle in the way of an art of living and governing?

In effect this is the assumption behind the ideal state of the Republic, and that presumption forced Plato to become a rebel against the most cherished political ideal of the state which he desired to save. But if use and wont are not the great enemy, if convention is not the opposite of nature, how can the two be interpreted as supplementing one another? Can a man serve two masters? Or must he not hold to one and despise the other? Plato had learned from Socrates-and he never changed his mind -that he must hold to reason, but he became less certain that he must despise convention. And this is the problem of his later political theory, the problem of the place that must be assigned to law in the state.

The Golden Cord of the Law:-

It is the emergence of this problem that can be seen in the Statesman. The dialogue is not indeed primarily a political work but an exercise in definition, the statesman being the subject-matter with which Plato chose to work, but the choice was hardly an accident. It is true also that the conclusion reached is that the statesman is a kind of artist whose chief qualification is knowledge.

The figure used is that of the shepherd who has the control and management of a human flock, of more specifically the head of a household who directs his family for the good of all the members. This argument, it should be noted in passing,forms the starting-point of Aristotle’s Politics, which opens with an attempt to show that the household and the state are distinct kinds of groups and that the family is therefore not a fair analogue for civil government.

The issue is broader than it seems, and it became traditionally a bone of contention between the defenders of absolute government on the one hand and of liberal government on the other. The question, of course, is whether subjects shall be assumed to be dependent upon rulers, as children must be dependent upon their parents, or whether they shall be assumed to be responsible and self-governing. The important point, however, is not so much the sense in which Plato answered the question as the fact that he discussed it.

The Republic had assumed that the statesman is an artist who has the right to rule be-cause he alone knows what is goad. In the Statesman the question is canvassed and the assumption of the Republic is made the subject of an elaborate definition.

The definition is backed up by a strong argument in favor of political absolutism, in case the ruler is really an artist at his work:

Among forms of government that one is preeminently right and is the only real government, in which the rulers are found to be truly possessed of science, not merely to seem to possess it, whether they rule by law or without law, whether their subjects are willing or unwilling. . .

It is indeed a hard saying that government should be carried on without law, but law has to deal roughly with average cases and it is preposterous that a really expert ruler should thus have his hands bound, just as it is preposterous that a physician should be forced to prescribe by the book, if he knows enough about medicine to have written the book.

The argument is that by which enlightened despotism has been justified from Plato’s day to our own. If people are forced, contrary to the written laws and inherited traditions, to do what is juster and nobler and better than what they did before, it is absurd to say that they are ill-used. For not many men can be expected to know what is good for the state.

The assumption of the Republic is thus made explicit and its conclusion is fully accepted. In the ideal state the consent of subjects is no part of the-ruler’s equipment, since the subject’s liberty according to the customs and traditions of the law can only work to hamper the free artistry of the ruler who knows his art.

And yet Plato is not quite willing to take all the consequences of his conclusion, or at least he is well aware that there is another side to the matter. This is apparent from the fact that his definition of the statesman draws a sharp distinction between the king and the tyrant upon precisely the point at issue.

A tyrant rules by force over unwilling subjects, while the true king or statesman has the art of making his rule voluntary. There is no way in which the two positions can be made compatible, but it is apparent that Plato is not willing to abandon either, It is not unjust to force men to be better than their traditions, and yet he cannot conquer the Greek detestation of government that has to depend frankly upon force. The passage recalls the eloquent denunciation of tyranny and the tyrant in Books VIII and IX of the Republic, not least because of the tyrant’s utter lack of piety and reverence toward all normal human relations.

The classification of states which Plato includes in the Statesman shows also that he has moved some distance from the position taken in the Republic. The two noticeable points are, first, that the ideal state is set off definitely from the class of possible states and, second, that democracy is given a more favorable place than in the Republic.

In the earlier work, where little or no attention is given to an effort to classify, the ideal state is placed at the top and actual states are arranged as successive degenerations the one from the other. Thus timocracy, or the military state, is a corruption of the ideal state; oligarchy, or government by the rich, is a corruption of timocracy; democracy arises by the corruption of oligarchy; and tyranny, which is at the bottom of the list, is a corruption of democracy.

In the Statesman a more elaborate classification is attempted. The ideal state, or a pure monarchy ruled by the philosopher-king, is divine and therefore too perfect for human affairs. It is distinguished from all actual states by the fact that in it knowledge rules and there is no need for law. It is the state of the Republic now definitely relegated to its place as a model fixed in the Heavens for human imitation but not for attainment.

The classification of-actual states is reached by crossing two classifications on each other. The traditional threefold division is subdivided in each of its parts into a lawless and a law-abiding form. In this way Plato reaches the sixfold classification, of three law-abiding states and their corresponding lawless corruptions, which Aristotle afterward adopted in the Politics.

Thus the rule of one yields monarchy and tyranny; the rule of a few, aristocracy and oligarchy; while for the first time Plato recognizes two types of democracy, a moderate and an extreme form. More striking still, he now makes democracy the best of the lawless states, though the worst of the law-abiding states. Both forms of democracy are therefore better than oligarchy.

Evidently Plato has moved toward the position later taken in the Laws, in which the second-best state is described as an attempt to combine monarchy with democracy. It is a tacit admission that in the actual state the factors of popular assent and participation cannot be overlooked.

Plato’s new theory, then; is to be frankly a second best, involving the unsatisfactory contrast of the heavenly with the earthly city. The available stock of human intelligence is not great enough to make the of philosopher-king a possibility.

The humanly best solution, therefore, is to rely upon such wisdom as can be embodied in the law and upon the natural piety of men toward the wisdom of use and wont. The bitterness with which Plato accepts this compromise is apparent in the irony with which he remarks that now the execution of Socrates must be justified. The state, with its inherited law, must be conceived as somehow an imitation of the heavenly city. At least there can be no doubt that law is better than caprice and the piety of the law-abiding ruler than the arbitrary will of a tyrant, a plutocracy, or a mob.

Nor is it to be doubted that law is in general a civilizing force without which, human nature being what it is, man would be the worst of savage beasts. And yet this saying, so suggestive of Aristotle, is for Plato an act of faith for which his philosophy, in so far as it contrasts knowledge and opinion, can offer no real justification.

In one of the most Striking passages of the Laws he does not hesitate to say that it is an act of faith:

Let us suppose that each of us living creatures is an ingenious puppet of the gods, whether contrived by way of a toy of theirs or for some serious purpose-for as to that we know nothing; but this we do know, that these inward affections of ours, like sinews or cords, drag us along and, being opposed to each other, pull one against the other to opposite actions; and herein lies the dividing line between goodness and badness. For, as our argument declares, there is one of these pulling forces which every man should always follow and nohow leave hold of, counteracting thereby the pull of the other sinews: it is the leading-string, golden and holy, of calculation, entitled the public law of the State; and whereas the other cords are hard and steely and of every possible shape and semblance, this one is flexible and uniform, since it is of gold. With that most excellent leading string of the law we must needs co-operate always; for since calculation is excellent, but gentle rather than forceful, its leading-string needs helpers to ensure that the golden kind within us may vanquish the other kinds.

The state of Plato’s later theory, then, is to be held together by the “golden cord of the law” and this implies that its ethical principle of organization is different from that in the Republic. The law is now, so to speak, the surrogate for that reason which Plato had sought to make supreme in the ideal state and which he still regarded as the supreme force in nature.

The chief virtue in the ideal state had accordingly been justice, the division of labor and the specialization of functions which puts every man in his proper place and “gives him his due” in the sense that he is enabled to bring all his faculties to their highest development and allowed to put them to the fullest use. In the state of the Laws wisdom is crystallized-perhaps one might even say frozen-in the law no such flexible adjustment of the individual to the state is possible, but the regulations made by the law are assumed to be the best possible on the whole.

Consequently the supreme virtue in such a state is temperance or self-control, which means a law-abiding disposition or a spirit of respect toward the institutions of the state and a readiness to subordinate oneself to its lawful powers.

In the early books of the Laws Plato criticizes pretty sharply those states, like Sparta, which have adopted the fourth virtue, courage, as the chief end of their training and so have made all civic virtue subordinate to military success. The estimate of Sparta is distinctly less favorable than that implied by the account of the timocracy in the Republic and is Outspoken in its condemnation of the futility of war as an end for states.

The end is harmony, both in domestic and foreign relations, and short of the perfect harmony which would issue from specialization of functions in the ideal state, its best guarantee is obedience to law. The state of the Laws, therefore, is a state constructed upon temperance or moderation as its chief virtue and seeking to achieve harmony by fostering the spirit of obedience to law.

The Mixed State:-

it is evident, then, that Plato requires a principle of political organization designed to bring about this desired result, one which shall play the part for his later theory that the division of labor and the division of citizens into three classes had played in the Republic. In point of fact he discovered a principle which passed into the later history of political theory and succeeded in gaining the adherence of the majority of thinkers who dealt with the problem of organization over a period of many centuries.

This was the principle of the mixed state; which is designed to achieve harmony by a balance of forces, or by a combination of diverse principles of different tendency in such a way that the various tendencies shall offset each other. Stability is thus a resultant of opposite political strains.

This principle is the ancestor of the famous separation of powers which Montesquieu was to rediscover centuries later as the essence of political wisdom embodied in the English constitution in the case of Plato the mixed state sketched in the Laws is said to be a combination of the monarchic principle of wisdom with the democratic principle of freedom.

It cannot be said, however, that he succeeded in making the combination which he had.in mind or even that he always remained faithful to the ideal of the mixed constitution. Plato’s allegiance was hopelessly divided and in the end he reverted to the more congenial line of thought already developed in the Republic.

Nevertheless, his manner of introducing and defending the principle of the mixed state was in the highest degree significant for the later development of the study. The Laws deals with actual states. Plato accordingly sees that the method of free logical or speculative construction which he had consciously adopted in the Republic is out of place.

The problem concerns now the rise and fall of states and the actual rather than the ideal causes of their greatness and decay. In the third book of the Laws, therefore, Plato makes the first suggestion of the intravenous attempts at a kind of philosophic history, which shall trace the development of human civilization, mark its critical stages, note the causes of progress and decay, and by analysis of the whole derive the laws of political stability which the wise statesman will observe in order to control and direct the changes that beset human society.

He remarks, in a passage that suggests Aristotle, that human life is controlled by God, chance, and art, and art must co-operate with occasion. It is true that Plato’s mythological history contained nothing suggesting canons of accurate investigation.

And yet this suggestion in the Laws, that the study of politics is to be attached to the history of civilization, had more possibilities of fruitfulness than the analytic and deductive method which governed the Republic. It formed the beginning of the authentic tradition of social studies and in particular of the mode of investigation which was to be taken up and perfected by Aristotle.

The plan of Plato’s philosophic history of the race is not very clear cut because it has more than one purpose and combines more than one principle. In the first place it utilizes what was doubtless the current Greek conception of the direction in which their own institutions had developed.

In the beginning men lived as herdsmen in solitary families, lacking the arts that use the metals and also the social distinctions and many of the vices of a civilized life. Plato imagines it to have been a kind of “natural” age, in which men lived at peace since the causes of war that mark a more ambitious society had not yet appeared. Already in Plato the state of nature that long-drawn myth of later political philosophers-has made its appearance.

As men increase in numbers, and as agriculture grows and new manual arts are devised, families are gathered in villages, and finally statesmen arise who unite the villages into cities. It is this line of evolution that Aristotle used in the opening chapters of the Politics to mark off the distinctive function of the city as the bearer of the possibilities of a civilized life.

Plato has, however, at least two other purposes, the one somewhat incidental and the other more closely connected with the emergence of the mixed constitution. Incidentally he points his criticism of Sparta by tracing its downfall to its exclusively military organization, since “ignorance is the ruin of states.” But what he mainly wishes to do is to show how the arbitrary power of monarchy and the tyranny that goes with it has been a cause of decay, as exemplified especially in Persia, and how an unbridled democracy at Athens ruined itself by an excess of liberty.

Either might have been prosperous had it been content to remain moderate, to temper power with wisdom or liberty with order. It is the extreme in both cases that proved ruinous. Here then is the principle upon which a good state must be formed. If not a monarchy it rust at least contain the principle of monarchy, the principle of wise and vigorous government subject to the law. But equally, if not a democracy, it must contain the democratic principle, the principle of freedom and of power shared by the masses, again of course subject to law.

The argument may be generalized. Men have admitted historically several claims to power-the right of parents over children, of age over youth, of freemen over slaves, of well-born over base-born, of strong over weak, and of rulers chosen by lot over other citizens some incompatible with others and hence the cause of factions.

In Plato’s opinion, of course, the only “natural” claim to power is that of the wise over the less wise, but this belongs to the ideal state. In the second-best state the problem is to select and combine these admitted claims in order to get on the whole the most law-abiding rule. In effect this means some approximation to wisdom by favoring age, good birth, or property, which may be taken perhaps as primacy symptoms of better than average ability, with some concession to the lot for the sake of democracy. This Plato describes, not very aptly, as a mixture of monarchy and democracy.

The founding of a city to meet these specifications evidently requires attention to the underlying physical, econometric, and social factors upon which the political constitution depends, since Plato’s mixed state is not a balance of merely political forces. He begins accordingly by discussing the geographical situation of the city and the conditions of climate and soil which are most favorable. Here again he introduced what became a favorite and indeed almost a traditional part of the political the are of the philosophic historian, the influence of which was immediate, as may be seen in Aristotle’s remarks preparatory to sketching the best state.

The best site is not, Plato thinks, upon the coast, because of the corruptions introduced by foreign commerce and more especially because foreign trade means a navy and a navy means power for the democratic masses. This view is built upon the history of Athens and the condemnation of the abuses of naval power is a companion piece to the earlier condemnation of the abuse of military power by Sparta.

The ideal is a mainly agricultural community, on a soil that is self-sufficing but rugged, since this is the nurse of the hardiest and most temperate kind of population. This recalls the admiration which many theorists of the eighteenth century felt for the Swiss and shows the same distrust of commercialism and industrialism. He believes also that common race, language, law, and religion are desirable, provided they do not give too great a weight to custom.

Social and Political Institutions:-

Of all social institutions that which is politically most significant is the ownership and use of property. This had been Plato’s view in the + Republic-though there he had tried to make a state that would put education into first place-and it is doubly true where he is trying to deal with actual states. In the Laws he makes no secret of the fact that the still thinks communism the ideal arrangement but too good for human nature.

Accordingly he concedes to human frailty the two chief points and leaves private ownership and the private family standing. He still retains his plan for the equal education of women and for their sharing in military and other civic duties, though he now says nothing of their holding office.

Permanent monogamous unions-with an intolerable amount of public supervision-are accepted as the lawful form of marriage. With his concession of the private ownership of property Plato unites the most stringent regulation of its amount and use, following in general the regulations in effect at Sparta.

The number of citizens is fixed at 5040 and the and is divided into an equal number of allotments, which pass by inheritance but can be neither divided nor alienated. The produce of the land is to be consumed in common at a public mess. Property in land is therefore equalized. The cultivation of the land is to be done by slaves, or possibly a more descriptive word would be serfs, who pay a rental in the form of a share of the produce.

Personal property, on the other hand, is permitted to be unequal but its amount is limited; that is, Plato would prohibit to any citizen the ownership of personal property in excess of four times the value of a lot of land. The purpose is to exclude from the state those excessive differences between rich and poor which Greek experience had shown be the chief causes of civic contention.

In fact, however, the use of personal property is restricted as stringently as its amount. Citizens are not to be permitted to engage either in industry or trade, to have a craft of a business. All these activities, in so far as they cannot be dispensed with, are to be in the hands of resident aliens, who are freemen but not citizens.

The state is to have only a token-currency (perhaps like the iron money of Sparta); the taking of interest for loans is prohibited even the possession of gold and silver is forbidden. The citizen’s “ownership” of his property is made by every restriction that Plato can think of strictly a Barmecide feast.

Analysis of the social arrangements described in the Laws shows that Plato has not really abandoned the division of labor which, in the Republic, he had offered as the basic principle of all society. He has merely offered a new division of labor, replacing the three classes of citizens in the earlier theory. The new division is broader in that it applies to the whole population of the state but it is just as exclusive.

Thus agriculture is set down as the special function of the slaves, trade and industry as that of a class of freemen who are not citizens, while all political functions are the prerogative of the citizens. It is evident also that this plan, like the one in the Republic, gives up the fundamental problem instead of solving it. The problem is one of participation; as Pericles had said in the Funeral Oration, to find a way by which the mass of men can attend to their private affairs and yet have a hand in the public business.

Nominally this is the solution that Plato is seeking, but what he arrives at is a state in which citizenship is frankly restricted to a class of privileged persons who can afford to turn over their private business-the sordid job of earning a living-to slaves and foreigners.

And this is what the democracy of Pericles’s day emphatically was not. The lines of class-cleavage in the Republic are less overtly significant than those in the Laws, for the former were lines between citizens, even if Plato had not thought the problem through very carefully.

In the Laws the economic part of the population is not composed of citizens at all, and the state is therefore based frankly on economic privilege. This is none the less true because the kind of privilege that Plato prefers is security rather than wealth.

It is unnecessary to go into details of the political constitution which Plato erects upon his social system. He provides for the main kinds of institutions-town-meeting, council, and magistrates-which existed in every Greek city. The point to be noted is the way in which he tries to carry out the idea of a mixed constitution. The mode of choosing magistrates is by election-according to Greek ideas an aristocratic method-and the duties of the general assembly of citizens are practically exhausted in these elections.

The chief board cf magistrates to called now by Plato the “guardians of the law” instead of guardianship group of thirty-seven, chosen by a threefold election consisting of a nominating ballot by which three hundred candidates are selected, second ballot by which a hundred are selected from the three hundred, and a final ballot by which thirty-seven are selected from the hundred.

But the most characteristic bit of electoral machinery is that by which the council of 360 is chosen. This plan is frankly devised to weight the votes of the better-to-do. The citizens are divided into four classes according to the amount of their personal property, a device which Plato adopted from the Athenian constitution introduced by,Solon and antedating the democracy.

Since personal property may not exceed four times the value of a lot of land, there are four property-classes, the lowest class being composed of those whose personal property does not exceed the value of their land, the next of those above this amount but not exceeding twice the value of their land, and so on.

Presumably the lowest class would be much the most numerous, and the highest much the smallest, yet Plato assigns to each class one-fourth of the members of the council, much as the former Prussian constitution allocated the choice of electors for members of the chamber of deputies to three groups each of which paid one-third of the taxes.

He further weights the votes of the more opulent citizens by providing a penalty for nonvoting which does not apply to the lowest property-classes. The system of property-classes has an effect on the constitution also because certain offices can be filled only from the highest group or groups. In the case of the council there is only one concession to democracy: the number of persons elected is double the number of places to be filled and the final choice is made by lot.

It is rather incomprehensible that Plato should have regarded this constitution, the practically effective part of which is surely the system of property-classes, as a combination of monarchy and democracy. The Concession to democracy was certainly very slight and was grudgingly made on account of the discontent of the masses.

Moreover, Aristotle, at least, thought that there was no element of monarchy whatever in the constitution described in the Laws. It is nothing but oligarchy and democracy, leaning rather to oligarchy. It is true that what Plato Intends is to secure the preponderance of the law-abiding elements and an equality proportioned to merit, but the effect of his constitution is ta Rive the preponderance to those who have the most personal property.

Yet he himself says that a niggardly man, who is certainly not good, will Probably be richer than a good man who likes spending for noble purposes. it is not clear, therefore, that he would have agreed with Aristotle, who also used the property-qualification for his middle-class State, in believing that the well-to-do are on the average better than the poor.

It is a fact also, as has been pointed out, that in the Statesman he places even the lawless democracy higher than the oligarchy. It is impossible to make Plato’s plan of government square with his intentions, Apparently when he came to constitution-making he found that differences of property are overt and usable while differences of virtue are not.

Educational and Religious Institutions:-

It is unnecessary to say much about Plato’s later plan of education, which still occupies a great share of his attention in the Laws. The general outline of the curriculum, as including music and gymnastic, remains very similar to that in the Republic; his distrust of the poets still issues in the most rigorous censorship of literature and art; the education of women equally with men remains an important part of the plan; and the education of all citizens is still compulsory.

The changes are chiefly that he gives more attention to the organization of education and, since the whole state is no longer an educational institution, that he is obliged to consider the articulation of the system of education with the rest of government. In respect to the first it is noteworthy that he now undertakes to outline a system of publicly regulated schools with paid teachers to provide a fully outlined course of instruction for the elementary and secondary grades.

In respect to the relations of this system to the state, he makes the magistrate who has charge of the schools the chief of all the magistrates. The theory of education in the Laws, unlike that of the Republic, is the theory of a system of educational institutions.

A similar inclination to institutionalize appears in Plato’s account of religion and its relation to the state. Perhaps it was a sign of old age that he should have showed so much more interest in religion, a subject which he had passed over with scarcely more than a reference in the Republic.

Certainly the rather extended development of religious law in the tenth book of the Laws, while not without the impressiveness that goes with intense conviction, is the most lamentable thing that his genius produced. Religion, from the point of view of the Laws, must be subject to the regulation and supervision of the state, just as education is.

Consequently Plato forbids any kind of private religious exercises and enacts that rites may be performed only in public temples and by authorized priests. In this he is influenced partly by his dislike of certain disorderly forms of religion to which, as he remarks, hysterical persons and especially women are prone, and partly by the feeling that a private religion withdraws men from their allegiance to the state.

His regulation of religion does not stop with ceremonial. He has become convinced that religious belief is closely related to moral behavior or, more specifically, that certain forms of disbelief are definitely of an immoral tendency. Accordingly he thinks it necessary to provide religion with a kind of creed and the state with a law of heresy for the punishment of disbelievers.

The creed is simple. What it forbids is atheism, of which Plato distinguishes three kinds: denial of the existence of the gods, denial that they concern themselves with human conduct, and the belief that they are easily placated for a sin committed. Imprisonment, and, for the worst cases, death are the penalties attached to atheism. These proposals are strongly out of keeping with the practice of the Greeks and give to the Laws the bad per-eminence of being the first reasoned defense of religious persecution.

The Laws closes on a note which is entirely out of keeping with the purpose which Plato has been following and with the state which he has sketched in accordance with that purpose. In the last few pages he adds to the state another institution, barely mentioned before, which not only fails to articulate in any way with the other institutions of the state but also contradicts the purpose of planning a state in which the law is supreme. This Plato calls the Nocturnal Council-a body composed of the ten eldest of the thirty-seven guardians, the director of education, and certain priests chosen specially for their virtue.

This Council is quite outside the law and yet is given a power to control and direct all the legal institutions of the state. Its members are supposed to have the knowledge needed for the salvation of the state and Plato’s final conclusion is that the Council must first be founded and the state placed in its hands. It is evident that the Nocturnal Council stands in the place of the philosopher-king of the Republic and that its inclusion in the Laws is a flagrant violation of loyalty to the second-best state.

But it is not quite the philosopher-king. Coming as it does after the creation of a crime of heresy and a class of authorized priests there is a disagreeable flavor of clericalism about the Nocturnal Council which is heightened by the evidently religious nature of the wisdom which Plato imputes to its members.

Plato The Republic and the Laws:-

If Plato’s political philosophy be considered as a whole and in relation to the immediate development of the subject, the theory of the State contained in the Republic must be regarded as having made a false start. What the Republic supplied to the theory of the city-state was consummate analysis of the mast general principles underlying society its nature as a mutual exchange of services in which human capacity is developed equally to the end of personal satisfaction and of achieving the highest type of social life.

In the Republic, however, this conception was developed almost wholly in terms of the Socratic doctoring that virtue is knowledge of the good, and knowledge was conceive upon the analogy of the exact, deductive procedure of mathematics For this reason Plato thought of the relation between rulers and subjects as a relation between the learned and the ignorant.

This in turn resulted in eliminating law from the state, since there was no place in Plato’s theory of knowledge at this stage of his thought for the gradual growth of wisdom through experience and custom. Yet the omission of law falsified the moral ideal of free citizenship which was the very essence of the city-state.

The effort in Plato’s later philosophy to restore law to its place in the state was always in some degree half-heated and inconclusive, as was indicated by the unsatisfactory compromise which made him describe the later version as only a second-best.

The real difficulty was that the revision called for a complete reconstruction of his psychology to make a significant place for habit and of his theory of knowledge to make a place for experience and custom. Yet it was the study of the state in the Laws that suggested the nature of the revisions required.

For here Plato turned to a really careful analysis of actual institutions and laws, and suggested the attachment of such studies to history. In the Laws also he suggested the principle of balance-of a mutual adjustment of claims and interests-as the proper means for forming a constitutional state.

Far more than the abstract type-state of the Republic, this was a serious attack upon the problem of the city-state-the conciliation of the interests of property with the democratic interest represented by numbers. It was-from these beginnings in the Laws that Aristotle started.

Without abandoning the general principles stated in the Republic, which still provide the materials for his theory of the community, he adopted in almost every case the hints thrown out in the Laws, enriching them with more painstaking and more extensive examinations of the empirical and historical evidence.

And in the general system of his philosophy Aristotle sought to provide a consistent body of logical principles to explain and justify the procedure which he followed.

Leave a Comment