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GIVING THRASYMACHUS HIS DUE: THE POLITICAL ARGUMENT OF REPUBLIC I AND ITS RECEPTION Cary J.

Nederman1
Abstract: This paper focuses on the first iteration of Thrasymachus claim as reported in Book I of Platos Republic that justice is the interest of the stronger, namely, a political interpretation, according to which justice is the interest of the stronger party in each polis as established in the law. The author contends that this argument is logically and rhetorically distinct from Thrasymachus subsequent restatements of his position in Republic I. The political version of the Thrasymachean position enjoyed currency after the composition of the Republic and in a way that was not entirely negative. The current paper examines two cases of this reception: the first, in Platos own late work, the Laws, where he reengages with the Thrasymachean doctrine; the second, in the De republica Anglorum of Sir Thomas Smith, an early modern theorist who self-consciously defended Thrasymachus theory of justice. The papers immediate purpose is to suggest that Thrasymachus conception of political justice, in particular, has far more coherence and power than the supposed refutation of it in the Republic might leads us to believe.

There is perhaps no more disreputable a figure in the history of Western political philosophy than Thrasymachus of Chalcedon. Courtesy of Platos scathing portrayal of him in Book I of the Republic, Thrasymachus name is so closely and commonly associated with cynical immoralism or ethical nihilism that efforts in later years to recuperate his teaching have done little to eradicate or correct this impression.2 Nor has Thrasymachus tarnished image been restored by the recognition that the extant fragments ascribed to him bear little trace of the main ideas for which he is almost exclusively known. Platos characterization of Thrasymachus bears only passing resemblance

1 Cary J. Nederman, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 778434348. Email: nederman@polisci.tamu.edu 2 For example, T.Y. Henderson, In Defense of Thrasymachus, American Philosophical Quarterly, 7 (1970), pp. 21228; R. Dahrendorf, In Praise of Thrasymachus, Essays in the Theory of Society (Palo Alto, 1968), pp. 12650; and M. Piper, Doing Justice to Thrasymachus, Polis, 22 (2005), pp. 2444. The full bibliography of recent discussions of the Platonic Thrasymachus is far too vast to recite here, and most of it revolves around the moral, rather than political, dimensions of his argument in the Republic. My doctoral student, Daniel Betti, is preparing a full bibliography of Thrasymachus studies in the last century, which will be included in a volume entitled Thrasymachus: Texts and Interpretations that I am presently preparing with David Corey and Jason Maloy.

POLIS. Vol. 24. No. 1, 2007

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to its historical exemplar.3 Thrasymachus reputation appears to be entirely beyond repair. I do not propose in the present paper to attempt directly to rectify this situation. Rather, I am interested in how our impressions of Thrasymachus might change when we consider the afterlife of some elements of the doctrine attributed to him in the Republic. Specifically, I focus on the first iteration of Thrasymachus main claim that justice is the interest of the stronger, namely, a political interpretation, according to which justice is the interest of the stronger party in each polis as established in the law. I contend that this argument is logically and rhetorically distinct from Thrasymachus subsequent restatements of his position in Republic I. (For immediate purposes, it does not matter whether this precept may in any way be identified with the historical Thrasymachus.4) The political version of the Thrasymachean position enjoyed currency after the composition of the Republic and in a way that was not entirely negative and sneering. The paper examines two cases of this reception: the first, in Platos own late work, the Laws, where he reengages with the Thrasymachean view; the second, in the De republica Anglorum of Sir Thomas Smith, an early modern theorist who self-consciously espoused the utility and validity of Thrasymachus theory of justice. My immediate purpose is two-fold. First, I hope to demonstrate that Thrasymachus teachings, having been defeated by Socrates, did not simply go away, but continued to have greater purchase than has been credited. Second, I want to suggest that Thrasymachus conception of political justice, in particular, has far more coherence and power than the supposed refutation of it in the Republic might leads us to believe. I think that adopting two distinct historical lenses one up close (later Plato), the other from afar (Smith) may thereby assist us in grasping the nature of Thrasymachean doctrine as stated in the Republic. Moreover, it provides an illustration of the possibilities for investigating a potentially widespread but unacknowledged underground tradition of Thrasymachean thought in Western political theory.5 My agenda is not simply historical, I should note. I suspect that we may
3 The evidence is collected in R.K. Sprague, The Older Sophists (Columbia, 1972), pp. 8693. 4 Although I once attempted to do so in Thrasymachus and Athenian Politics: Ideology and Political Thought in the Late Fifth Century BC, Historical Reflections/Rflexions Historiques, 8 (1981), pp. 14367. 5 I adapt the phrase underground tradition from my previous scholarship on the diffusion of Aristotles moral and political thought in the Latin Middle Ages prior to the recovery and translation of the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics; see C.J. Nederman, Nature, Ethics, and the Doctrine of Habitus: Aristotelian Moral Psychology in the Twelfth Century, Traditio, 45 (1989/1990), pp. 87110, at 109 and Aristotelian Ethics before the Nicomachean Ethics: Alternative Sources of Aristotles Concept of Virtue in the Twelfth Century, Parergon, 7 (1989), pp. 5575, at 735.

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be able to derive some conclusions of theoretical importance from the ways in which Thrasymachus has endured through history. Setting the Stage: Thrasymachus in Republic I Before we can approach the reception of Thrasymachus, it will be useful to reacquaint ourselves with the details of his teaching concerning justice as presented by Plato. The Republics inquiry into the nature of the just (dik) commences with two arguments (proposed by Cephalus and Polemarchus) that demonstrate a commonsense and uncritical approach to the topic: justice is keeping ones word and paying ones debts; and justice is rendering good to ones friends and harm to ones enemies (332d).6 In the wake of Socrates dismissal of these two views, Thrasymachus of Chalcedon is cajoled by the Platonic Socrates into offering his definition of justice. Thrasymachus initially refuses to do so; he objects to the Socratic method and demands instead of Socrates that he tell what you say the just (dikaion) is (336d). Socrates profession of ignorance does not convince Thrasymachus, but the latter nonetheless ultimately agrees to provide Socrates with his own position on justice (338ac). Thrasymachus claims:
1) The just (dikaion) is the interest or advantage (xumpheron) of the stronger (kreitton) (338c23).

Quite justifiably, Socrates is not satisfied with this statement, and requests from Thrasymachus an elaboration. Thrasymachus responds with two different restatements of 1, which are offered before and after 340. These versions may be expressed by the following two propositions:
1A) Dik is the xumpheron of the established government or rulers (338d339e). 1B) Dik is the other fellows good (agathon), ones own harm (kakon) (343c ff.).

By the time Thrasymachus has completed his presentation and defence of these claims, he has not only introduced most of the important terminological and conceptual apparatus to be employed in Books IIX of the Republic (e.g., agathon, aret, and the concept of ruling as a craft or skill), but also has given the Platonic Socrates precisely the proper springboard from which to plunge into a detailed sketch of the just polis. The fact that Thrasymachus seems to be asserting two rather disparate positions on dik (i.e., lA and 1B), when observed in light of the structural shift which occurs in the flow of the dialogue, has led more than one commentator

6 All references to the Republic follow Paul Shoreys Loeb edition of the Greek and translation (Cambridge, 1930), although I have often altered the English as appropriate.

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to express suspicion.7 Is it possible that Thrasymachus is holding to two incommensurable concepts of justice? Or more pointedly, has Plato intentionally manipulated Thrasymachus arguments by conflating lA with 1B under the umbrella of 1? These questions are not to be taken lightly. Even scholars who staunchly uphold the consistency of Thrasymachus arguments across the entire text admit that there is no ready explanation for the shift in terminology which occurs (e.g., the supplanting of xumpheron by agathon as the term for advantage), nor for the broken and unbalanced logic which pervades the flow of the argument. And those commentators who argue for a fundamental inconsistency are more forceful yet, pointing up the folly of a naive belief that Plato would not tamper with the opinions of his characters merely in order to serve his own purposes. 8 Thrasymachus, say the advocates of incommensurability between lA and 1B, offers two propositions which reflect two distinct classes of statements about justice. This is clear from the fact that lA and 1B are couched in significantly different language and address qualitatively different issues. 1A employs a descriptive terminology to discuss political arrangements and institutions. Thrasymachus concern in stating 1A is with lawful political relations wherever they obtain. 1B, on the other hand, relies on an evaluative vocabulary in order to consider judgments of value or worth. This is most clearly visible when Thrasymachus praises the tyrant and tyranny at 344c by offering a sort of moral justification for that specific political system9 a claim that would have been impossible on the basis of his comments in 338d339e. The conclusion that some commentators have drawn is that Plato engages here in an intentional manipulation. As Harrison points out, Thrasymachus misguided attempt to restate his position conveniently allows Socrates to introduce that strain of idealism which becomes a recurrent feature of the rest of the dialogue.10 Maguires comment is even more succinct: We have moved from a political to a moral (evaluative) context because that is where Plato wants to be.11 Without speculating further on the reasons for such a shift, we must admit the prima facie strength of the arguments for incommensurability. While for the sake of Thrasymachus it may be desirable to arrive at a consistent interpretation of 338c354b, the inconsistency thesis allows us a maximum amount of explanatory power with regard to both
7 See E.L. Harrison, Platos Manipulation of Thrasymachus, Phoenix, 21 (1967), pp. 2760; J.P. Maguire, Thrasymachus Or Plato?, Phronesis,16 (1971), pp. 14263. 8 P.P. Nicholson, Unravelling Thrasymachus Argument in The Republic, Phronesis, 19 (1974), p. 232. 9 Thrasymachus argument is this: if it is better to do good for ones self than to do good for another, then the best man is the tyrant, since he does good only for himself. 10 Harrison, Platos Manipulation of Thrasymachus, p. 31. 11 Maguire, Thrasymachus Or Plato?, p. 152. See also George Klosko, Thrasymachos Eristikos: The Agon Logon in Republic I, Polity, 17 (1984), pp. 529.

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the internal structure of the passage and the structure and development of the Republic as a whole. The significance of Thrasymachus arguments generally becomes considerably more transparent once we adopt the standpoint of a basic incommensurability between IA and 1B. Recognition of this internal incommensurability raises new problems for our understanding of Thrasymachus, however. We may plausibly conclude that the arguments offered in favour of 1B serve as a sort of reverse introduction to the main issues of Books IIX, mirroring back Platos own image of a just polis. Given the evident similarities between the arguments underlying 1B and Platos own theories, it is apparent that he has presented 1B in such a way as to render it of maximal value to his own purposes. We cannot really say as much of IA. Instead, we are still left with a vexing series of questions: What is the relation of 1A to 1? What is the nature of the doctrine of 1A? What is its purpose within the Republic? Thrasymachus begins, as I have said, with the unsatisfactory statement that justice is the interest or advantage of the stronger. Socrates professes ignorance as to the meaning of Thrasymachus claim, inflicting upon it an interpretation regarding bodily strength which, although meant ironically, Thrasymachus angrily rejects (338cd). Thus, Thrasymachus explains his position by arguing through the following set of steps, which we should take to reflect the heart of 1A:
i) ii) Every city has some form of government, whether tyranny or democracy or aristocracy. The basis for the presence of one or another sort of government is the mastery or power (kratei) of a ruling party or governmental authority (to archon serves both these meanings). Each form of government (i.e., each type of constitutional authority) enacts laws ( nomoi ) conducive to its own advantage or interest (xumpheron) a democracy democratic laws, a tyranny tyrannical laws, and so on. By so enacting (themenai) legislation, the government (arch) proclaims that what is to its advantage is what is dik for its subjects, as may be seen from the condemnation of the man who deviates (ekbainonta) as a lawbreaker (paranomounta) and as one who is unjust (adikounta).

iii)

iv)

(Maguire alleges that in proposing statement iii, Thrasymachus is actually maintaining two definitions of justice: justice as the advantage of the government; and justice as obedience to the law, since the lawbreaker is unjust.12 I point out this problem only to illuminate yet another aspect of the text; it is

12

Maguire, Thrasymachus Or Plato?, pp. 1436.

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ancillary to our primary concern here, and Maguires reading has, in any case, been disputed.13)
v) Therefore, dik in all states and for all time is the same: the advantage of the established government or rulers.

(Thrasymachus then concludes his defence with a series of equations and inferences.)
vi) The established government is what holds power (kratei). Hence, it is the stronger (kreitton). Thus, justice is the interest of the stronger.

With his argument complete, Thrasymachus merely reiterates some of his points and confirms his views under the questioning of Socrates. The nub of Socrates criticism of Thrasymachus is that since rulers can be mistaken about their interests and are fallible, there could be an instance in which an act of legislation would be unjust in the sense that the party in power would promulgate a law that would not be to its own advantage. There is, in other words, a potential contradiction between iii and iv (339de). As commentators have pointed out, this criticism is easily countered.14 The fact that Thrasymachus does not pursue any reasonable or obvious line of resistance has been taken as evidence for the intrusion of Platos own aims and purposes into the course of the dialogue.15 Recall that the substance of Thrasymachus statements does not prove straightforwardly that to dikaion is to tou kreittonos xumpheron; rather, what follows logically from the argument is only that the just is to tes kathestekuias arches xumpheron (the advantage of the established government). Since it was admitted in step ii that the government is what has power (kratei), Thrasymachus can only move from the valid conclusion of his argument to a statement about the stronger by equating power and strength definitionally or synonymously, so that what is most powerful is the stronger. To the modern mind, the equivalence of power and strength may seem unproblematic. Fifth-century BC Greek thought, however, had not achieved unanimity on the issue. The sophist Protagoras, for instance, states that he will nowhere admit that the powerful are strong, only that the strong are powerful.16 Power can result from more than one source, on Protagoras account. Those who possess strength (which is a matter of natural constitution and bodily nurture, i.e., physis) are powerful, certainly; but power may also be attained through knowledge, or through madness or passion. Consequently, it is not possible to
13 By D.J. Hadgopoulos, Thrasymachus and Legalism, Phronesis, 18 (1973), pp. 2048. 14 See A.D. Winspear, The Genesis of Platos Thought, 2nd ed. (New York, 1956), pp. 1901. 15 Harrison, Platos Manipulation of Thrasymachus, p. 30; Maguire, Thrasymachus Or Plato?, pp. 1456. 16 Plato, Protagoras 350e351a.

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assert by definition that the powerful are strong, for power and strength are not the same.17 The application of Protagoras point to Thrasymachus argument has crucial implications. By admitting that the established government is what has power, we do not also necessarily admit that it is the stronger. It is important to recognize that Thrasymachus is not making the claim (like Critias in his attack on Pericles as reported by Xenophon)18 that all forms of government rule by strength or physical force as a matter of course. The fact that strength is attached to Thrasymachus argument as a sort of afterthought would indicate that the problem of power is specific to the form of government under consideration. If a governing party rules through physical strength, then the conclusion that justice is the interest of the stronger follows from Thrasymachus statements, since the stronger are in power. If, however, a governments power obtains through some other means, then the claim that justice is the interest of the stronger does not follow, since the powerful are not a priori the stronger. Just insofar as we recognize the controversial character of the equation of power and strength, we find that it is not necessary to read 1 as a logical consequence of 1A even thought 1 may be, in certain circumstances, a conclusion legitimately drawn from 1A. Why should we not simply believe that Thrasymachus himself assumed the equation of strength and power? Part of the answer may be referred to Platos previously discussed tendency to manipulate his opponents. Plato often distorted the positions of his adversaries (as in the case of Protagoras)19 by constructing false equations. The mere fact that Thrasymachus line about the stronger is not always a logical conclusion from the body of his doctrine must lead us to consider the possibility that a manipulation is occurring. Such intentional distortion aside, there are other reasons to doubt whether Thrasymachus position admits of the possibility that a government may rule by virtue of strength or physical force alone. Thrasymachus specifically states that ruling powers express their wishes through nomoi. The Thrasymachus passage in Republic 338d339e, when stripped of the catchphrase justice is the interest of the stronger, leads to distinctly political conclusions about the meaning of justice. To know what is just in any city, Thrasymachus argues, one must inquire into the ruling party there, which expresses itself through the constitutional and legal arrangements it establishes. Justice under democracy will mean something different from justice under aristocracy, for instance, precisely because the sorts of advantages sought by the legislation of government differ according to the ruling party in power. Where a democratic
Ibid., 351a. Xenophon, Memorabilia, I.ii.4345. 19 On manipulation in other dialogues, see J.P. Maguire, Protagoras or Plato?, Phronesis, 18 (1973), pp.11538 and Protagoras or Plato? II: The Protagoras, Phronesis, 21 (1976), pp. 10322.
18 17

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regime will open the law-courts and assemblies to all citizens, an aristocratic government may dispense with these institutions altogether, or at least radically reduce their authority or limit eligibility for participation. Thrasymachus views may represent an observation on the relatively rapid succession of constitutional systems in late fifth-century Athens.20 But the primary point here is that the question of justice receives an answer solely by reference to a definite political context; a definition of the just is established purely within the confines of the legal and political system of a given polis. This reading of the Platonic Thrasymachus may be confirmed by further illumination of several points in the text. First, it seems that when Thrasymachus speaks of a democracy enacting democratic laws and so on, he is talking more in terms of constitutional organization than he is of laws pertaining to moral norms and behaviour. As Maguire suggests, any constitution would try to discourage . . . such adika as lying, deception, theft, enslavement, perjury, housebreaking, temple-robbing and homicide.21 Such acts are politically invariable, relating in no way to the nature of the ruling party. Rather, the laws Thrasymachus seems to have in mind pertain to the power and the type of constitution which it imposes. This reading is in no way undermined by Thrasymachus use of the term nomoi, rather than politeia, to describe the legislative enactments of the ruling party. For the period that we are addressing, it seems possible to refer no conceptual distinction to the ordinary usage of nomos and politeia. While Athenians could certainly differentiate between legal matters pertaining to their form of government and other types of laws, it is an anachronism to impose on the terminology of fifth-century BC political life a distinction between constitutional law and . . . laws about contracts or inheritance or assault and battery, as Finley points out.22 In ordinary circumstances, when a political speaker was addressing the form of government or constitution, he would not be misunderstood if he chose the term nomoi instead of politeia to describe it. Similarly, Thrasymachus discussion of democratic or other sorts of nomoi would clearly have meant, in its context, the system of law and administration imposed by the ruling party; we need not be misled by his use of nomos. On Thrasymachus account, then, each party advocates, and given the opportunity will establish, a constitutional system which is to the advantage of the party itself. The variability of constitutions stems from the fact that whatever group is in power will govern on the basis of its own political principles, manifested by the form of government it dictates. Second, it is worth underscoring the point that for Thrasymachus the ruling party expresses its interests solely through its legislative enactments. In essence, Thrasymachus is premising the rule of law as the only form which
Aristotle, Athenain Politeia, 41.2 lists these. Maguire, Thrasymachus Or Plato?, p. 147. 22 M.I. Finley, The Ancestral Constitution, The Use and Abuse of History (New York, 1975), p. 38.
21 20

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governmental power can take, since the determination of what is just flows directly from the consideration of what laws the established government proclaims. Thus, the party in power has the advantage precisely insofar as it legislates and may thereby command what is just and unjust, legal and illegal. Ruling and legislating are understood to be one and the same act: Thrasymachus position does not allow us to suppose that the function of government is anything else than the enactment and enforcement of law. Law is the single tool which any ruling party employs in expressing its own interest and gaining advantage. This is because it defines the very activity of ruling regardless of who rules as oriented towards the constitutional governing and administration of the political community. To say that the rule of a tyrant occurs through the promulgation of legislation, for instance, is to say that even tyranny is founded on some political principle, a claim quite out of keeping with both Thrasymachus later description of the tyrant at Republic 344ac and Platos own extended comments on tyranny at 566d580c. A third observation follows from my two initial points. Thrasymachus use of the term xumpheron appears vague, in the sense that he never specifies what sorts of advantages pertain to ruling. But on my reading, the interests of the ruling party may be understood as essentially political interests. In other words, the activities of the party in power are aimed at the goal of maintaining and reinforcing the existing political system by commanding and controlling the political apparatus. If a democracy, for instance, institutes laws requiring payment of citizens for court-duty or attendance at the assembly, it does not do so to enrich or reward members of the ruling party. Rather, its aim in such legislation is to encourage the participation of all citizens in the political affairs of the city, which is one of the fundamental tenets of any democratic party. Similarly, if an empowered aristocracy erects property qualifications for office-holding, it is merely putting into practice a principal characteristic of aristocratic factions. The advantage of the ruling party, expressed in the constitution and laws of the city, is really the privileged access of a given party to the legislative process, its ability to impose its own political principles on all citizens. On this interpretation, Thrasymachus talk about each form of government enacting laws to its own xumpheron a democracy democratic laws, etc. (338e13) is perfectly reasonable. For the advantage which the ruling party has over the citizens of the city is the capacity to legislate and compel assent to the political policies and programs essential or endemic to that party. In turn, the party or parties not in power are at a decided disadvantage; aristocrats in a democracy must behave in accordance with the laws of the democracy, even if their own political commitments stand opposed to any or all of these laws. Democratic rule is disadvantageous to the aristocrat, whereas the dominance of an aristocratic party by way of an oligarchic constitution is to his interest. Xumpheron clearly denotes for

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Thrasymachus the privileged access of the ruling party to the political and legislative system and processes of the city. In sum, Thrasymachus insistence that justice is the advantage of the established government in the argument of 1A signifies that his doctrine is one of political justice. Parties rule within a definite system of legal and constitutional organization; legislation is the sole form which their expression of power adopts; and their advantage is composed precisely of their authority over the political system in line with their avowed political principles. Thrasymachus Returns: The Laws The name of Thrasymachus is never encountered in Platos corpus outside of the Republic, except for what may be a passing reference to him in the Phaedrus 267c. Not so Thrasymachus doctrine. In Book IV of the Laws, a work composed perhaps two decades after the Republic, Plato returns to the problem of how organized political institutions ground their systems of law on claims of justice.23 As he commences the description of the principal political structures of Magnesia (the best practicable system of rule), Plato distinguishes his operative ideal from other, real world constitutions. The latter which, according to him, are not really deserving of the title politeia at all are just a number of ways of running a polis, all of which involve some citizens living in subjection to others like slaves, and the polis is named after the ruling class in each case (712e713a). Magnesia, by contrast, is a synthesis of the various (pseudo-)constitutions that is not reducible to their component parts, but instead rises to the level of the quasi-divine rule of law that stands above the manipulation of people or classes (whether tyrants, the wealthy, or the masses) (712de, 713e714a). For a constitution to be truly deserving of the endorsement of citizens, it must overcome the arbitrariness that merely partial rule necessarily entails. Otherwise, instability and conflict will be endemic to the political community, as different parties struggle for predominance. Magnesia distinguishes itself because its laws do not reflect any given segment of its population. In order to support his point, Plato observes that (pseudo-)constitutions do indeed disseminate their own legal systems, but that such laws equate simply to partisan-based conceptions of justice. Here the unmistakable doctrine of
23 In the following, I generally accept the English rendering of the Laws by T. Saunders (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1975), while occasionally diverging from it on the basis of the Greek text in the Loeb edition by R.G. Bury (Cambridge, 1926). Surprisingly, I have found only one previous commentator on Thrasymachus who even notes the recurrence of the interest of the stronger doctrine in the Laws, and he then sees it merely as indirect corroboration of his own interpretation of the text; see G.F. Hourani, Thrasymachus Definition of Justice in Platos Republic, Phronesis, 7 (1962), pp. 11020, at p. 113.

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Thrasymachus is introduced into the discussion. The anonymous interlocutor known only as the Athenian remarks,
You realize that some people maintain that there are as many different kinds of laws as there are political systems? . . . These people take the line that legislation should be directed not to waging war or to attaining complete virtue, but to safeguarding the interest of the established political system, whatever that is, so that it is never overthrown and remains permanently in power. They say that the definition of justice that measures up to the facts is best formulated like this [:] . . . Whatever serves the interest of the strong (714bc).

Nor does the Athenian stop at the mere restatement of the Thrasymachean position. Rather, he reconstructs the logical steps supporting the political interpretation of the claim that justice is the interest of the stronger precisely as given in Republic I. To wit:
1) 2) The party in control lays down the law. The party with constitutional power (the masses in a democracy and so on) never passes laws (except under pressure) other than those designed to further its interests and reinforce the continuation of its hegemony. The established party calls its laws just and those who break its statutes unjust. Hence, the laws of the dominant party amount to justice (714cd).

3) 4)

The Cretan respondent, Cleinias, instantly agrees that the argument stated in this form is valid (714d) an intriguing contrast to the (problematic) challenge posed to it by Socrates in the Republic. This does not mean, of course, that Plato wishes us to endorse its philosophical validity. Rather, the Athenian points out that the Thrasymachean position begs the still more serious issue of whether those who are designated as rulers within a given constitutional regime ought in principle to rule. That is, does de facto power confer de jure authority? The Athenian insists that power has nothing whatsoever to do with the right to rule. Referring to a debate already resolved in Book III concerning the necessity of distinguishing in any regime between those people who govern and those who are governed (690bc), the Athenian asserts that all such claims of political supremacy lack ultimate grounding in the law of nature (pace the supposed view of Pindar to the contrary) (714e). Rather, when individuals and groups are positioned to compete for office within the civic body (that is, seek hegemony over political institutions), their main goal will always be political self-interest, viz., denying power to their opponents and ensuring that a revolution does not occur (715ab). As the Athenian remarks, This is the sort of thing that has happened thousands of times (715a). But

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any political system based on the quest for predominance, he adds, is very far from being a genuine constitution; we maintain that laws which are not established for the good of the whole polis are bogus laws, and when they favour particular sections of the community, their authors are not citizens but partisans; and people who say these laws have a [moral] claim to be obeyed are wasting their breath (715b). Thus, the problem with the political version of the claim that justice is the interest of the stronger is that it fails to apply to certain sorts of political arrangements, namely, those in which the laws are designed to reflect a common good that transcends sectarian rivalries and consequently possess a moral (as opposed to a merely prudential) reason to be obeyed. Of course, Plato imagines Magnesia to constitute exactly such a polis (715bd). Yet viewed from the perspective of Thrasymachus thought, we might say that the Laws has inadvertently conceded a great deal to the opposing camp. Plato admits the conceptual validity of Thrasymachus political doctrine limiting its sphere of application in the case of ideal constitutions but acknowledging its accuracy in instances of actually existing constitutional forms. While this does not restore Thrasymachus to Platos good graces by any means, it removes him from the charge of utter moral depravity that characterizes the Republics restatement of the interest of the stronger argument as ones own injury, anothers good. Perhaps more importantly, Platos own admission that, as a matter of logical coherence, the political interpretation stands without the need for restatement at all represents his own implicit revelation of the intellectual manipulation that later scholars have identified in Republic I. In any case, it suggests a path available to succeeding thinkers who might wish to re-evaluate Thrasymachus ideas in relation to their own constitutional doctrines. A Modern Reception: Thomas Smiths Thrasymachean Moment The text of Platos Republic was largely unavailable to the Latin speaking world for the first 1500 years or so of the Common Era; Cicero knew the Republic directly, St. Augustine most probably did not. Familiarity with the contents of the work during the European Middle Ages depended upon the reports of intermediary sources such as Aristotles Politics and Platos own Timaeus (the beginning of which summarizes the discussion of the Republic).24 Thrasymachus is mentioned by name in Calcidius commentary on the Timaeus, and through this source at least his basic doctrine was known during the Latin Middle Ages. At present, however, I wish to examine the case of one early modern author who actually read the Republic (in its original Greek) once it had re-entered circulation in the West: the Elizabethan political and
24 See J.H. Waszink, ed., Timaeus a Calcidio translatus commentarioque instructus, second ed., Plato Latinus (London and Leiden, 1975), vol. IV, p. 59.

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legal theorist Sir Thomas Smith. Smith is perhaps best known for De republica Anglorum, a brief (100-page long) treatise primarily devoted to describing and providing the foundations for the English system of governance and the institutions that comprise it.25 Although concentrating on the social, legal, and constitutional arrangement of England, Smith prefaces his analysis with some observations concerning the nature of government more generally. He accepts the common Greek classification of constitutions according to size of their ruling part the one, the few, and the many and he divides commonwealths up according to the six-fold classification found in Platos later political writings and in Aristotle of kingship/tyranny, aristocracy/oligarchy, and polity/democracy.26 Yet beyond these similarities of language, Smiths approach to political rule is decidedly unplatonic.27 First, Smith maintains that there is no single normatively best or ideal regime. Rather, kingship, aristocracy, and polity all have equally legitimate foundations in nature. Kingship has its naturall beginning in the growth of the household;28 aristocracy, in the multiplication of households;29 polity, in the increase of the offspring from the multiple households.30 None can claim an absolute priority or optimality. Instead, each constitution is to be judged according to its appropriateness to time and place:
And as all these iii. kindes of common wealthes are naturall, so when to ech partie or espece and kinde of the people that is geaven which agreeth as ye would putt a garment fyt to a mans bodie or a shoe fyt to a mans foot, so the bodie politique is in quiet, and findeth ease, pleasure and profit thereby. But if a contrary form be given to a contrary maner of people, as when the shew is too little or too great for the foote, it doth hurt and encumber and letteth the convenient use thereof 31

25 On Smith and his thought generally, see M. Dewar, Sir Thomas Smith: A Tudor Intellectual in Office (London, 1964); N. Wood, Foundations of Political Economy: Some Early Tudor Views on State and Society (Berkeley, 1987), pp. 191235; N. Wood, Avarice and Civil Unity: The Contribution of Sir Thomas Smith, History of Political Thought, 18 (1997), pp. 2442; and A. McLaren, Reading Sir Thomas Smiths De republica Anglorum as Protestant Apologetic, The Historical Journal, 42 (1999), pp. 91139. 26 Sir Thomas Smith, De republica Anglorum, ed. M. Dewar (Cambridge, 1970), Chaps. 1, 3. 27 As McLaren remarks, . . . in De republica anglorum Smith expressly disavowed the Platonic tradition of political thought . . . the project, that is, of identifying the ideally best commonwealth (Reading Sir Thomas Smiths De republica Anglorum as Protestant Apologetic, p. 937). 28 Smith, De republica Anglorum, ch. 12. 29 Ibid., ch. 13. 30 Ibid., ch. 14. 31 Ibid., ch. 15.

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Smith goes on to assert that the emergence of tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy can be explained in this way: they occur when the constitutional form does not suit the body politic upon which it is being imposed. And he supports his explanation with ample evidence from both recent and ancient examples drawn from throughout Europe. For Smith, constitutional change is a natural and inevitable fact of human politics. As the social composition and size of the community alters both in growth and decay so should the constitution appropriate to it alternate:
For the nature of man is never to stand still in one maner of estate, but to grow from the lesse to the more, and so to decay from the more againe to the lesse, till it come to the fatal end and destruction, from many turnes and turmoyles of sicknesse and recovering, seldome standing in a perfect health, neither of a mans bodie it selfe, nor of the politique bodie, which is compact of the same By this processe and discourse it doth appeare that the mutations and changes of fashions of government of common wealthes be naturall, and do not always come of ambition or malice: And that according to the nature of the people, so the commonwealth is to it fit and proper.32

The italicized passage is especially significant, it seems to me. Plato (and ancient political theorists generally) tended to regard constitutional transformation (Aristotles stasis) as a sign of a defect that can be traced to the partisan nature of rule. By contrast, Smith contends that such political change is often a function of natural and proper fluctuations in the community that cannot be ascribed to sectarian conflict or jealousy. Rather than seeking to eliminate constitutional mutations which apparently cannot be accomplished in any case the political theorist should understand their causes and embrace their occurrence when they accord with natural conditions. These considerations in turn shape Smiths conception of constitutional rule. In all constitutions, he says,
to rule, is understoode to have the supreme and highest authoritie of commaundment. That part or member of the common wealth is said to rule which doth controwle, correct, all other members of the common wealth. That part which doth rule, define and command according to the forme of government, is taken to be just and lawe; as a rule is always to be understoode to be straight, and to which all workes are to be confirmed, and by it to be judged.33

Unlike Plato, Smith holds that every constitution necessarily has a ruling part to which the other segments of the community must submit. This is not a fault of constitutional systems, but a virtue, since the specific organization of law and justice are requisites of its distinctive natural character. That is, since there are divergent fashions of government by nature, there must likewise be divergent ruling parties and legal structures. Moreover, as Smith goes on to
32 33

Ibid., ch. 4, 15; italics mine. Ibid., ch. 1.

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observe, the proper function of these institutions is something like self-maintenance or self-regulation: it is profitable to everie common wealth (as it is to every thing generally and particularly) to be kept in her perfect estate . . . and the commaundment of that part which doest rule on that sort, is to be accepted in every common wealth respectively to be just.34 Smiths Thraysmachean proclivities, on display throughout his constitutional theory, are thus rendered explicit:
. . . it must needes follow, that the definition which Thrasimachus did make, that is just which is the profite of the ruling and most strong part (if it be meant of the Citie or common wealth) is not so farre out of the way, (if it be civillle understanded) as Plato would make it . . . For inasmuch as he attempteth to do contrarie to the Lawe which is already put, he be by the lawe justly condemned. If he be to be accompted justly condemned who is condemned for doing contrarie to the lawe and the ordinance of that part which doth commaunde.35

Starting from his unplatonic premises, Smith winds up producing a perfectly plausible defence of Thrasymachus position that does not tar him with the brush of immoralism or even the amoralism of extreme political realism. Rather, Smiths point is that Thrasymachus has received an unfair hearing from Plato. If one concerns oneself not with unobtainable ideals, and acknowledges the historical and natural conditions that contribute to constitutional diversity, Thrasymachus makes perfect sense and it is Plato whose theories are troubling. That Smith then moves on to the application of an essentially Thrasymachean doctrine to the analysis of the English system of government only reinforces the utility of the Thrasymachus first principles in contrast with Platos. What are we to make of Smiths re-evaluation and re-valuation of Thrasymachus? It would be easy enough to put his remarks down to the emphasis on power politics often regarded to typify post-Machiavellian modernity and the rise of raison dtat ideology. But Smith was no absolutist and certainly not an immoralist; his devotion to constitutionalism is well recorded.36 Rather, I would speculate that the intellectual link connecting Smith back to Thrasymachus may ultimately remind us about something important about the nature of constitutional thought itself, namely, that the still common contrast between the virtue-based constitutionalism of the ancients and the power- (or liberty-) based constitutionalism of the moderns may be overdrawn. This comports well with the conclusions that various

Ibid., ch. 2. Ibid. 36 See H.A. Lloyd, Constitutionalism, in The Cambridge History of Political Thought 14501700, ed. J.H. Burns and M. Goldie (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 25479.
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recent historians of political thought have emphasized in varying degrees and ways.37 Conclusion There are at least two lessons to be gleaned about the political understanding of the doctrine that justice is the interest of the stronger as evinced in Platos Laws and Smiths De republica Anglorum. First, it becomes clear that the distinction identified above between 1A and 1B is not simply a novel invention of modern textual hermeneutics. Plato and Smith both recognized that the political version of Thrasymachus argument, founded on observations about the operation of constitutional systems, formed a separate and distinct teaching that could be examined and evaluated on its own merits. Of course, Plato and Smith each derived quite divergent conclusions from the Thrasymachean position, determined by their different theoretical agendas. Plato found reasons to reject the political Thrasymachus, since a conception of justice grounded entirely on interest fails to take account of the possibility of an overriding common good that all members of a polis might share. Platos engagement with this argument, then, was both more direct and more philosophically compelling than the supposed refutation by Socrates in the Republic. Smiths premises lead him to sympathize with the Thrasymachean view, since he values a conception of political change and stability that stands at some remove from Platonic idealism. Yet such divergence ought not to distract us from realizing that both authors engage with Thrasymachus political idea of justice as a coherent and self-contained doctrine that does not require (indeed, seems irrelevant to) to the supposed elaboration that forms 1B. Second, the treatments of Thrasymachus argument by Plato and Smith demonstrate that we need not fall prey to the commonplace interpretation of the definition of justice as the interest of the stronger as a statement of crude realism of a Calliclean or even proto-Machiavellian variety that seems to laud the equation of might with right. Rather, the Thrasymachus of 1A presents a conception of political power that merits a place in the history of constitutional thought. Thrasymachus teaches that constitutions inherently reflect the needs and aims of the segments of the population that create and sustain them. He thus encourages us to be sceptical of claims (such as those we find in many republicans and advocates of so-called mixed systems, modern as well as ancient, in addition to liberal advocates of the neutrality of the state) that it is possible to identify an overarching interest that unites disparate groups within the political community, a true res publica. Whatever we think of this assertion, it represents a continuing objection and challenge to political theorists who believe that constitutional design can remedy the conflict and instability
37 See Q. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1978); also V.B. Sullivan, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the Formation of a Liberal Republicanism in England (Cambridge, 2004).

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engendered by social divisions. Thrasymachus thereby remains as relevant to contemporary debates about the realization of political order in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic or multi-religious regimes as he surely was to the disputes in ancient Greece about the relation between constitutions and the contending socio-economic classes that favoured them.38 Cary J. Nederman TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

38 A version of this essay was presented to a panel at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, September 14, 2005. Thanks are due to the participants in that session, and to an anonymous reader for this journal, for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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