[DRAFT – Please send comments, thoughts, suggestions, edits, to amikkelsen@yahoo.

com ] The Politics of Plunder in Plato’s Republic

Introduction Constructing the Polis Glaucon’s Luxurious Polis How Justice and Injustice Originate Glaucon’s Worldview The Implications of Glaucon’s Ideas or Lack Thereof Corruption of Athens What is Justice? Conclusion

Introduction There is solid evidence that Plato’s Republic is an exposition of the logical consequences of basing civic and personal life on injustice. It condemns political life based institutionalized injustice – specifically theft and plunder. This evidence contradicts the idea that the discussion of an imaginary Polis – Greek city-state – is a model for an ideal just society. The title is The Republic, or Politeia in Greek, yet the primary theme is not politics. The work is a dialog about Justice and whether the unjust man is happier than the just man. The middle of the dialog contains a discussion of politics and a hypothetical Polis, in order to define Justice. When the dialog is viewed as a whole, there is clear evidence that Plato’s fictional Socrates is using irony to ridicule the views of Justice expressed by the Athenians in the dialog. The dialog contains strong, short, and often overlooked statements by Socrates that the imagined “ideal” Polis is based on injustice and crime—specifically theft and plunder. Socrates demonstrates that a Polis featuring tyranny, lying, censorship, elitism, and communism is the logical implication of both the Greek character’s illformed ideas of Justice and their undeveloped love of Justice. Constructing the Polis The dialogue begins with the characters discussing Justice. They have trouble defining Justice and question the benefit of Justice for man. Socrates says he will create an imaginary ideal polis as a teaching device. The polis will help them understand justice and injustice by showing them on a larger scale.

The Polis did not mean to the Greeks only the city-state’s government. It meant the city in all its aspects, in the sense of the community or society, as well as what we call “government” or “The State." Socrates’ discussion runs as follows: exchange is the root of the Polis. A basic community is composed of people living together and producing for their “needs,” including food, shelter, clothing. The Polis is a purely economic arrangement. The argument continues: division of labor is key. A community requires many members to meet the basic needs of everyone. Farmers need people who make tools. Retailers and merchants are required. Even with large numbers there is dependence on outside imports just to provide the basic needs, defined as food, shelter, and clothing. There is no mention of priests, rulers, nobles, kings, officials, slaves, taxes, censors, guardians, philosopher kings, etc. Hearing no objections, Socrates tells the audience he has illustrated Justice. He makes this clear by asking, “Where is justice and where is injustice? What is their origin in this arrangement?” The reply is, “In the dealings and interaction of individuals.”This is a key point— everyone is living justly in a society of free cooperation, free enterprise, and free trade. Socrates goes on to state that the people will live within their means and will not have too many children, "having an eye to poverty or war." Socrates emphasizes this is a functioning community with farmers, tradesmen, and paid laborers cooperating to supply basic wants, with no need for slaves and rulers. Justice has been illustrated in Book II. Yet the dialog will continue for many more books because his audience is not satisfied with Justice. Glaucon’s Luxurious Polis Glaucon does not see the value of the just Polis. His reaction to this Polis is scornful: “if you were providing for a city of pigs, how else would you feed the beasts?” He says, “you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.” He is intensely interested in living in what was then the lap of luxury. Socrates says when we see how a “luxurious state” is created “we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection.” Socrates is clear that Glaucon’s luxurious State is undesirable—it is at a “fever heat,” and is opposed to a “healthy constitution.” Socrates plays along with

Glaucon. He mentions all the luxuries people will desire, including gold and ivory that must be procured. Glaucon agrees this is important—he wants to know how people will be given luxuries. The word “give” is actually used. Glaucon does not ask how the people can gain these luxuries through their own efforts or how they are produced in the first place. Socrates leads Glaucon through a chain of arguments: This luxurious state requires many more people to create all the luxuries. The country is now too small. The Polis will inevitably go to war to seize its neighbors’ land to gain wealth. Glaucon finds none of this objectionable How Justice and Injustice Originate Glaucon agrees that going to war to seize land is necessary. Typically seizing land is considered as stealing and unjust, and this is a dialog about Justice. This may have been even more unjust to Greek ears than it would be, say, to those Europeans of the modern era reading Plato and used to the numerous wars waged by kings for land, and the idea of the right of conquest. Greek culture, like many others, saw the basis of all morality and religion in respect for boundaries and limits. Greek society was based on private farms and sacredly independent Polis. Polis never unified or merged. It is hard to imagine anything more immoral to Greeks than using force to overturn sacred boundaries and limits. Greeks did not fight wars of conquest the way European kings did. Socrates’ modest proposal to seize land appears ironic and outrageous; similar to proposals seen as outrageous today such as invading countries for their oil or space for living and selling enemies into slavery. Yet in this dialog on Justice seizing land is not justified, but agreed to as a necessity by Glaucon. Socrates condemns seizing land - “now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public.” Much later in the dialog Socrates defines Justice with the question: "are suits decided on any other ground, but that a man may neither take what is another's, nor be deprived of what is his own?” Clearly Socrates believes seizing land is unjust. In the previous Polis we saw where justice originated. Now we see where injustice originates: people like Glaucon believe we should war against our neighbors for gain. Socrates has switched from exploring a Polis based on acquiring wealth through the economic means to one acquiring it via the political. To illustrate justice and injustice Socrates proceeds to expand on the luxurious Polis. The radical ideas on politics are the logical implications of the idea that the Polis is to be based on plunder. Logically Plato is saying Politics is essentially plunder—an idea associated

more with Frédéric Bastiat and Voltaire and classical liberal class analysis than ancient Greeks. Glaucon’s Worldview It is not stated directly why Glaucon eagerly agrees that wars of conquest are logical and necessary. We can speculate and use evidence from the text. It is likely Glaucon sees wealth as something to be “given” to the people. Wealth cannot be created by the people, it must come from an outside source. A zero sum world view makes sense in ancient Greece: most histories tell us that even well to do Greeks in cosmopolitan free cities lived fairly Spartan lives. The world was very poor. Nowadays, by contrast, impoverished places like Hong Kong can in a few decades become quite wealthy through voluntary integration with the world economy. While Socrates gives evidence that he is simply an ascetic who condemns wealth, numerous citizens living in luxury required slaves or other subjects creating wealth for their masters. From reading the beginning of the dialog we do have a good sense of Glaucon’s general worldview. This can help explain why Glaucon does not step back when Socrates suggests stealing land to fund Glaucon’s Polis or when he says that war and almost all other evils in the polis stem from the same cause. Earlier Glaucon says: They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good... This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice; --it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation. Socrates can be seen as playing with Glaucon, as he does with many others in order to expose their ideas. Socrates knows Glaucon will accept a Polis based on plunder and full of extreme ideas, because the residents of this hypothetical Polis would suffer no injustice - which would be an evil. On the contrary, they gain by injustice which is seen as good. For Glaucon justice is not good in itself, but a compromise to avoid evil. The highest good would be to commit injustice with impunity. Socrates uses aspects of the Polis, similar to what we call “The State”, to illustrate the corruption of justice in the minds of Athenians. He takes advantage of the human tendency to excuse actions ostensibly done for public gain and that would be condemned if done for private gain.

The Implications of Glaucon’s Ideas or Lack Thereof Glaucon believes that the highest good would be to commit injustice with impunity, including fighting wars to seize wealth. How then can a state survive with impunity? Socrates continues his argument roughly as follows: war requires men to fight, and the division of labor means a soldier class is the most effective. These are called Guardians. They will keep the Polis safe from enemies seeking revenge or plunder. Socrates points out the inherent potential for class conflict, the Guardians could plunder the Polis itself. He asks how we keep the fierce soldier class from being a threat to the community itself. This gives Glaucon cause for concern. The idea of a separate class of soldiers was also unusual in Greece—citizens were the soldiers. Socrates keeps pushing the logical implications. He suggests that education and ideas must be censored. He compares the Guardians to dogs. He says that Guardians cannot lead normal lives with possessions such as money, houses, and families. Viewed ironically, these proposals are intended to startle a complacent reader into thinking. Plato suggests in his other works that those who regulate and have power in the state should not use money. Money and wealth corrupt. The powerful will use their power to gain wealth. Plato apparently also thinks little of money being in the hand of any citizens. In a society where citizens were the small class who wielded political power, Plato probably saw that the combination of citizens’ power and love of money corrupts the citizens. It is possible Plato even put made the explicit argument that if citizens did not want to give up power, they would have to give up money. In The Republic too Plato argues through Socrates that the Guardians lack of possessions like money, houses, and families prevents the Guardians from being corrupted by the desire for possessions. Glaucon’s Polis requires the creation of an entire class of people with lives radically different from those of free Greeks, and that no longer shall free men, citizens, and those who fight and bear arms be one and the same. The dialog continues from there with well-known results. Because Glaucon believes there is no way for the community to achieve wealth and luxuries without seizing wealth, the dialog’s hypothetical community is distorted unrecognizably. Ironically the Polis’ most important member live in a state of communism - there is little luxurious about the state for them. Socrates even discusses the decline of the Polis, which would not happen if the Polis was a healthily functioning ideal. Corruption of Athens Socrates opponents throughout the dialog are incapable of recognizing or objecting to legalized or institutionalized injustice. They were earlier incapable of seeing the benefits of justice in itself. His opponents have no sense of justice—and no way to resist Socrates arguments. Socrates is well-known for using irony to expose his

opponent’s ideas as ridiculous. Accepting one outrageous proposal after another, their moral vacuum is betrayed. While Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth, there is much to illustrate that Athens was corrupt to the core. Solon also noted the Athenians’ desire for plunder : “The ambition of the rich knows no bounds; the most wealthy wish to grow yet more so. Who may be able to assuage this insatiable greed! They respect neither sacred property nor public treasure; they plunder all, in defiance of the sacred laws of justice.”1 What is Justice? Socrates does in fact reach a conclusion about Justice: "Yes, we often said that one man should do one thing only. Further, we affirmed that justice was doing one's own business, and not being a busybody; we said so again and again, and many others have said the same to us. " He follows with: - And are suits decided on any other ground, but that a man may neither take what is another's, nor be deprived of what is his own? - Yes, that is their principle. - Which is a just principle? Followed by: "And is not the creation of justice the institution of a natural order and government of one by another in the parts of the soul, and the creation of injustice the production of a state of things at variance with the natural order?" As we can see this conclusion about Justice implies that a Polis based upon theft of neighbors’ land is unjust and therefore undesirable. Conclusion Socrates does the following in The Republic: He uses the Polis to illustrate Justice. His healthy Polis is rejected by Glaucon who wants luxuries. Socrates creates a new feverish Polis to illustrate Justice and Injustice. This new Polis depends on theft of neighbors’ land for prosperity--an action defined by Socrates as injustice. Glaucon accepts this policy of theft, caring more for luxury than Justice and failing to see how prosperity might flow from Justice. Socrates then shows Glaucon the logical implications of his ideas by illustrating how a Polis that benefits the citizens at the expense of others would work. These many ideas are radical and shocking to his Greek audience. Many of the unorthodox measures such as communism that Socrates suggests are required to prevent class conflict, where one class of citizens in the Polis directly exploits the other citizens. Ironically the state is not very luxurious for the elite forced to live under communism. The decline of the Polis

through various stages down to Tyranny is discussed. When Socrates has finished exposing the logical consequences of his audience’s ideas, Socrates returns to the concept of Justice. He neatly illustrates Justice as each man’s right to his own property and injustice as taking or depriving a man of his property. Socrates points out that this is the ground on which lawsuits are decided in court. Socrates’ conversation illustrates the logic of the politics of plunder and a lack of Justice in the Polis. Socrates is able to do this because of his audience’s lack of a definition of Justice. Some may find it hard to believe that Socrates would spend so much time on an ideal city that he condemns, but the Socratic Method depends upon demonstrating ideas by walking the student through the steps and allowing bad ideas to reach their logical illogical conclusion. The audience is unable to reject ideas that Greeks and many other people found to be shocking and radical. Socrates can be seen as piling injustice on top of injustice till his audience opens its eyes to what they believe. While the dialog may contain sections showing that Socrates’ hypothetical Polis was a blueprint for Plato’s ideal Polis, the dialog contains clear statements that strongly condemn the feverish and luxurious Polis. Plato’s Republic can be seen as an exposition of an unjust social order, one that ostensibly uses plunder to benefit the people. Plato’s Politics is a Politics of Plunder.

1 Solon is quoted from Francis Neilson’s discussion of Plato’s Republic in his book The Eleventh Commandment. The discussion was discovered on the web in the midst of writing this essay. It makes many of same arguments as this essay. http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/neilson-francis_on-plato.html The Irony of The Republic is further discussed here. http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Anci/AnciBout.htm

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