University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Plato’s Republic is to a very large extent totalitarian, or rather on the “surface” appears to be totalitarian in the way he formulates it and lays down it blue prints. This is due to the fact that it seems that Plato is more concerned about the happiness of the state as a whole even if it means some individuals must suffer, the government is not elected by its citizens and the interests of the ruling class rule over the city. These are but a few of the elements of a totalitarian state.
However it can also be argued that even though Plato’s Kallipolis may appear totalitarian, Plato has done so as he would want man to reflect on the ideas he has laid down and whether they are just or not. We can never be too sure as to what Plato truly means in the Republic and what he has just put forward as a stimulus or thinking point. Many argue that Plato’s Kallipolis is not totalitarian as The Republic speaks of not only a happy state but a happy individual as well. This is true.
The degree to which Plato’s Kallipolis can be regarded as totalitarian state depends on the definition of a totalitarian state and this may differ slightly between different sources. Firstly we will describe what a totalitarian state is in general sense and the most supported views of what totalitarianism is. Secondly we will evaluate Plato’s Kallipolis and determine too what extent it fits the profile of a totalitarian state. Thirdly and finally we will evaluate whether it is necessarily a negative thing and whether Plato truly believes the ideas he has put forward.
What is a Totalitarian state? By definition a totalitarian state is “a government that subordinates the individual to the state and strictly controls all aspects of life by coercive measures. ” (wordnetweb. princeton. edu/perl/webwn). As the definition indicates, a totalitarian state is one in which the government strips away individualism to a large extent and uses coercive (often harmful and violent) methods as well as propaganda to do so. In a broader sense, it is a state where the system of government seeks to control almost all aspects of public and private life.
It does so in order to achieve certain goals through the exploitation of the private lives of its citizens, (http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/600435/totalitarianism). The totalitarian government is usually won over due to the charismatic oratory of its leaders, and thus they gain major support. This is seen clearly in the totalitarian states of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin respectively. There governments in the beginning had major support from their citizens due to their charismatic and fiery leadership techniques.
Even though we agree today that their policies we harsh, cruel and unjust, at the time they had great support. This is different from and authoritarian , tyrannical and dictatorial state. Totalitarian goes deeper into private invasion than the other systems of government. In general a totalitarian government pursues a specific goal or ideal. It will pursue this goal or ideal no matter what the cost. This means that anything at all (no matter how absurd or cruel ) that will further this goal is pursued and anything that will cause this goal or ideal not to be achieved is rejected (no matter how right or good it is).
This leads to an ideology which is used to explain everything the government does and rationalizes problems that come into opposition with the ideal, (http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/600435/totalitarianism). Totalitarian states are usually marked with the breaking down of social norms or traditional social institutions. Traditional values or ideals are usually rejected and unaccepted in the totalitarian state. New ideals are formed and institutionalised in the direction and ideals of the state. Generally this has lead to religions and various cultures being oppressed.
This was seen plainly in the Soviet Union where during Stalin’s rule; religion was outlawed and socialism became the “religion” of the time, (http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/600435/totalitarianism). As the “social fabric” is weakened we find that it is easier for people to be swayed and absorbed into following a movement in one direction towards the goal to be achieved. This is aided by the slow death of individualism and pluralism. People lose their individuality and become “faceless” robots in the production line. This leads to easier conformity.
We have seen in modern times that this had lead to large-scale violence becoming acceptable and often ‘necessary’ to keep the drive for the ideal unchallenged and positive. Such instances have been seen in Nazi Germany where Jews were targeted and persecuted in the name of achieving a “pure and successful” Germany. It was also seen in the Soviet Union where the Kulaks were singled out and persecuted. In general it is found that in totalitarian states there are no elections held and that the government imposes itself one the people.
This imposition is masked by the fiery charisma of the leaders (usually). The people are not consulted on policies that are formulated and implemented. It is a system where “what the leader says, goes” and the people comply because they are truly lead to believe that the leader has their best interests at heart. In conclusion a totalitarian state is one in which the government invades private life to the largest extent that is feasible. It strips away individualism and makes sure all its citizens conform to the ideals it lays down in order to achieve the goals its desires.
There no elections no is there any public consultation on the way the government is run and policies are implemented. Simply put by Mussolini (fascist Italian dictator) a totalitarian state can be defined as follows: “All within the state, none outside the state, none against the state. ” (http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/600435/totalitarianism). Plato’s Kallipolis Kallipolis is a Greek word meaning ‘just city’. (http://www. sparknotes. com/philosophy/republic/characters. html). Plato’s Kallipolis comes into formulation due to the inquiry into what justice is.
After trying to determine the attributes of justice and what a just person would be like, Plato moves to describing what a just city is. This arises because Socrates while speaking to Adeimantus claims that there is more justice in a city as it is a larger thing and why may be able to derive justice from this more easily, “Perhaps, then, there is more justice in the larger thing, and it will be easier to learn what it is. ” (BookII, 368 e). Socrates and Adeimantus agree that a city comes into being because none of us are “self-sufficient”, (BookII, 369 b).
The formulation of a Kallipolis is used in an analogy with a just soul, which leads us to determine how a just individual would behave. As the soul has three parts so dies the city and as a person is just when the three parts are in harmony so is a city just when its corresponding three parts are in harmony, resulting from each part playing its role and fulfilling its function. Socrates then explains the kind of life the citizens in a just city would have, “They’ll produce bread, wine, clothes and shoes, won’t they? They’ll build houses, work naked and barefoot in the summer, wear adequate clothing and shoes in the winter.
For food, they’ll knead and cook the flour and meal they’ve made from wheat and barley… They’ll enjoy sex with one another but bear no more children than their resources allow, lest they fall into either poverty or war. ”, (BookII, 372 b). This is the first “blue-print” as such, of Plato’s just city. The formulation of this first city is criticized by Glaucon who calls it a “ city for pigs” as there is no “luxury” to living or comforts. It is a city that just fulfils basic human needs. There seems to be no real to joy to life, there is no culture, no philosophy and no science.
What Glaucon means when he says it is a city for pigs is that it is a city of ignorance. There is then a formulation of a second city in which “unnecessary pleasures” are included. It comes after Glaucon points out that, “If they aren’t to suffer hardship, they should recline on proper couches, dine at a table and have the delicacies and desserts that people have nowadays. ”, (BookII, 372 d). Generally these items (couches and dining tables) mark the transition from a primitive lifestyle to a modern one, (Burnyeat, 1997, 233). This implies that Plato’s first city is primitive and needs to include modern comforts and trends.
Socrates, after taking into account what Glaucon says states, “Then we must enlarge our city for the health one is no longer adequate. We must increase its size and fill it with a multitude of things that go beyond what is necessary for a city- hunters for example and artists…”, (BookII, 373 b). Plato’s Kallipolis, he believes should be run by Guardians. Plato’s discussion about the “myth of metals” and the way in which people are divided into different professions or classes is another long debate which we will not divulge into in this essay.
The basic Principle however is that people are born with certain characteristics and by those characteristics they are sorted into different classes. Guardians are people who have a personality that is incorruptible and kind find a balance between traits such as fierceness and gentleness; courage and cowardice and so forth. The most important attribute of guardians is that they bear reason and thus the city will be able to better achieve justice. Guardians should be people with the right characteristics but who do not want or desire to lead. he next class is the auxiliary class which is the class that contains the army. The final classes are those of merchants and farmers and other similar professions. The education of the Guardians and auxiliaries is very important and these citizens need to be moulded from a young age. It is due to this that Socrates states that music, art and the like should be outlawed as it may cause them to grow up in the wrong way. Guardians will also be responsible for passing judgment and there will be no need for a court as the guardian exercises reason in his/her calculations before delivering a sentence.
The Guardians will not be able to own any private property or accumulate wealth by means of other professions as that would detract from their ability to be guardians. All their basic needs will be provided for by the state. Glaucon claims that the guardians will lead miserable lives. Socrates response to this is “It would not surprise me at all if these people were the happiest just as they are, The function of a city is not to make any particular person happy or group of persons outstandingly happy, but making the city as whole happy. ” (BookIV, 420 b-c).
Plato also believes that children should be raised by the state in order to promote unity and brotherhood. They should not know who their parents are. This is so that unity may occur and justice according to Socrates is found in unity. Plato also has a “weakest-link” theory whereby he believes that people who are terminally ill, disabled, or will negatively effect the happiness of the city should be left to die as it will promote their happiness and the happiness of the city. To summarise; Plato’s Kallipolis is one in which the leaders are chosen in a kind of “natural selection” process.
The citizens are grouped into classes beyond their control or choice. It is a city in which the social norms (the nuclear family structure) have been broken down and replaced by a new ideology. It sometimes employs harsh methods to achieve its goals of ultimate happiness for the individual and the city as a whole. To what degree is Plato’s Kallipolis Totalitarian? The idea that Plato’s Kallipolis is totalitarian has the most support in Karl Poppers The Open Society and its Enemies.
In volume one titled “The Spell of Plato” he argues that Plato’s The Republic is a totalitarian manifesto (http://www. enterforfutureconsciousness. com/pdf_files/2008_Essays/Plato%20s%20Republic-Just%20Society%20or%20Totalitarian%20State. pdf) written with the aim of persuading the public into following the totalitarian ideals by claiming that his Kallipolis is a just city, “Why did Plato claim, in the Republic, that justice meant inequality if in general usage, it meant equality? To me the only likely reply seems to be that he wanted to make propaganda for his totalitarian state by persuading the people that it was the ‘just’ state. “, (http://lachlan. bluehaze. om. au ). The first totalitarian feature we will look at is the control guardians have over private life.
The “noble lie” is a worrying factor as it shows how guardians are allowed to manipulate reality to achieve a certain goal, (http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/plato-ethics-politics/#4. 4) This is similar to totalitarian propaganda used to persuade the citizens into moving in one direction. The noble lie is used to rationalise the social inequalities formed by the Kallipolis. This is a strongly totalitarian element found in Plato’s Kallipolis.
Plato also seems to only describe the daily life of the Guardians and auxiliaries but does not give us much insight about the lower classes. “Plato’s harmonious society is thus one in which basic needs are provided for by classes of people who agree to be ruled but who are “given no credit for a full understanding of the principles on which the society is based” (White 59). This has been seen in many modern totalitarian states (USSR). The lower classes that are generally uneducated are exploited by leader on that fact and made to believe that because they rulers are educated they will rule more effectively.
A second totalitarian feature is that of the selection process of leaders. Socrates states that because philosophers know reason, a city will not be just until “philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers”. The most vivid element of a totalitarian state is that political power is concentrated in one specific bloc. In this regard, Plato’s Kallipolis is plainly totalitarian, (http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/plato-ethics-politics/#4. 4). Power is concentrated within the guardian class and not leveled in any way.
There are no elections held, but rather leaders are chosen from a specific group and meet specific criteria. The guardians come from a specific class and only guardians may be rulers. This is somewhat totalitarian. We find that in totalitarian states the government is not elected by a general election, it usually imposes itself on the people. However according to Socrates Guardians do not want to nor do they desire to lead. They are forced into it. This is in contradiction to totalitarian leader of modern totalitarian states.
It has been argued that another totalitarian feature is that it tends to strip away individualism. This can be found to a large extent in Plato’s Kallipolis. Citizens cannot choose what class they belong too; they cannot choose the type of families they would like. Artists, musicians and the like cannot express themselves if it will in any minute way disrupt the positive upbringing of the guardians and auxiliaries. Therefore the individual is not in harmony but rather in unity. However there have been arguments in response to this claim that Plato speaks of the happiness of the individual as well as the city.
This somewhat addresses the issue but not to the full extent, because when an individual compromises the happiness of the city, that individual is treated like and individual, who opposes the state in a totalitarian state, would be treated. Plato’s Kallipolis also breaks down social norms and institutions. We see this when Socrates states that children should be raised by the state and that population growth should come about only as a result of mating festivals. This concept is a totalitarian one in likeness. The freedom for people to procreate at will is removed.
The fact that only people from the same classes may procreate in order to keep the guardian class ‘pure’ sounds like a type of eugenics program. This is further made clear by the fact that Socrates states that people who are disabled, terminally ill or babies that cause over population should be left to die or killed. Popper accuses Plato of a type of ‘social engineering’ and too a large extent I agree with Popper. This obsession with keeping classes separate and being able to distinguish between them is a type of social engineering and is certainly elementally totalitarian.
This harsh course of action is in accordance with the coercive measures used by totalitarian governments to achieve their goals. To answer the question then: to what degree is Plato’s Kallipolis totalitarian? It is totalitarian on the surface while also going a little deeper into the workings of the Kallipolis. It is a state founded on class privilege and with the concentration of political power in one bloc. It strips away individualism and autonomous freedom while it also breaks down social norms and institutions. In these respects it is totalitarian.
The idea that anything and almost everything that needs to be sacrificed for the ood of the city, should be is a dangerous and totalitarian principle. We find that like in all totalitarian systems where there is an ideal or goal which replaces all beliefs, the achievement of unity and happiness in the Kallipolis serves this purpose. Even though this may sound like a positive goal , the methods which are used to achieve it could end up being totalitarian. However Socrates does stress on the importance of the happiness of the individual as well as the city.
However these two can very easily come into conflict with one another. Is it necessarily a bad thing if the Kallipolis is totalitarian ? the intuitive answer to this question is yes. History has shown us that modern totalitarian has lead to mass bloodshed and suffering. The situations of the citizens have not been made bettering any way. It can be argued that this is a result of the totalitarian leaders not being philosophers or able to use pure reason in their actions. But even so, this point seems overly confident. Is it possible to find a person who can balance out characteristics and be incorruptible while being reasonable as well. Such a person is yet to exist and be taken seriously.
The ruthlessness that Socrates has described in order to maintain a functioning city can only be intuitively bad. Humans are emotional creatures whether Plato agrees or not, and this in my opinion will always lead to such methods bringing unhappiness. However considering all this it is still agreed that Plato’s Republic is a genius piece o work. It stimulates us to think about the type of society we wish to live in and who to find justice and whether justice is indeed important.
Conclusion In conclusion, given my description of a totalitarian state, I believe Plato’s republic to be to a very large extent totalitarian in its elements. Even though it may not initially be outright totalitarian it has a great potential to degrade into a totalitarian state. As discussed in this essay we see the elements of the Kallipolis very often coincide with those of totalitarianism. However I do not believe that Plato intended for it to be outright totalitarian , but hen anyone who has ever read the republic know that it is not so easy to discern what Plato intents or is trying to say exactly. There are some redeeming features in the Kallipolis which one may use to argue that it is not totalitarian. However in my opinion, it is not enough.