University High School
Instructor: Lee Fallon
As portrayed in his Socratic dialogue, The Republic, Plato's fictional society of ancient Greece is a society where three main classes of people work together to create the "perfect" community. These three main classes are producers (craftsmen, farmers, artisans), auxiliaries (warriors), and guardians (rulers/philosopher kings). In Plato's community, these three classes have a defined role, and society is considered "perfect" when each class stays in their lane and performs the tasks that they are assigned, which are given to them when they are very young. According to Plato, efficiency is created when everyone only focuses on their tasks. Due to these rigid caste systems and efficiency-based roles, each person must fulfill their assigned societal duties. However, if anyone asked Plato about the specifics of how people are picked into their caste system, he wouldn't be able to give you a solid response. Neither would he be able to address the consequences for someone who wants changes or who can contribute by doing multiple tasks at the same time. The Republic is written so that Plato has constant support from whomever he is conversing with. Plato believes he cures the evils of Greek politics by restricting people to focus on one duty, teaching citizens to have good traits, who then produce children of better character. Also, he believes in getting rid of familial ties. This would lead to a society where an individual is valued only for their contributions. Although Plato makes some understandable observations, he goes to the extremes, and as a result, his points should not be accepted.
First, Plato believes that justice can be achieved by each person being confined to one task chosen for them at birth. As Plato writes about educating his citizens, he says that with focus, certain members of the society will be able to perfect their duties, enabling them to serve the community more efficiently. This efficiency would create overall benefits. Plato's point could make sense practically as one wouldn't want someone inexperienced to do a job that requires a specific skill set. Simply put, a patient would never want to get a surgery from a shoemaker. Although it is understandable to require some people to develop particular skills for specialized jobs, limiting people to just one field would not create more efficiency as people are naturally curious and can excel at different things. Additionally, individuals can enhance their skill set by doing other activities. Doing multiple things fosters creativity that can lead to finding better solutions. Further, being forced to excel at one skill will lead to dissatisfaction. By not furthering their interests, people will feel limited and wearied as they do the same task every day.
Plato's second point is about educating his citizens on being righteous. Though it's important that Plato wants everyone to be moral, ethical, and just, he compares humans to animals. He says, "By maintaining a sound system of education and upbringing you produce citizens of good character… produce in turn children better than themselves and better able to produce still better children in their turn, as can be seen with animals" (125). In his ideology, the correct teaching creates citizens of good character who produce children of better character, which leads to a long, never-ending chain of new and improved citizens. This point is false as each offspring is different and every child isn't going to be better than their parents. The environment one is raised in and the education one receives plays a vital role in a human's character. This flawed idea goes unquestioned as Plato purposely writes in a dialogue with other characters so that whoever he is talking to rarely disagrees with him. For example, the very next line is "That is likely enough," said by Adeimantus (Plato's younger brother), reinforcing Plato's statements as truth. If Plato had someone willing to debate and counter his points, his ideas could have been more well-thought-out and put together.
Third, Plato believes that everything belongs to the community, and it all should be shared. Each individual is there to support the community, and the community is there to help each individual if needed. "But we agreed that this unanimity was the greatest good a society can enjoy — we compared, you remember, a well-run society to the human body, in which the whole is aware of the pleasure and pain of the part" (179). The idea is that there is nothing that only one person has. This leads to Plato's rejection of individual family relationships and the support of one massive interconnected community. He goes to the extreme and restricts families from being created as he substitutes them for eugenic breeding. He implements eugenics to breed good engaged citizens so that they do not develop any allegiance outside of the state. In Plato's state, nobody knows their actual parents; instead, everyone older is your father or mother, and everyone your age is your brother or sister. This community setting takes away the idea of a family bond that is critical for emotional and human development. The parent-child relationship fosters emotional, social, and cognitive development in children. These children gain problem-solving solid skills due to their positive relationships with their parents. Since Plato strongly believes in everyone providing for the state in the most efficient way possible, the child's skills gained from a parent-child relationship would be lost. A child growing up in a parental relationship would be more efficient, intelligent, and more socially developed than Plato's eugenic-born, state-nursery-raised child. Also, Plato's idea wouldn't work as humans and animals alike look to raise their children rather than sending them off to state nurseries. If Plato thought more deeply about how human nature influences and disrupts his points, he would have realized that a parental relationship would have actually been more effective in creating an efficient and morally sound community which was his ultimate goal.
The fourth and one of the most critical factors that show how severe, cruel and untrustworthy his ideals are, is his desire to make everyone perfect and healthy. He says there is no need for judges and doctors as everyone is ethical and healthy in his community. "For is it not a strikingly disgraceful sign of bad education if one has to seek justice at the hands of other as one's masters and judges because one lacks it in oneself" (103). For example, the Guardian class doesn't need to have another man tell them what is right and wrong because they have already learned it from their teaching since they were born. Plato expects that through his education, no one will make mistakes. He says that it is outrageous if someone has to go to court because it displays lousy education. For this reason alone, Plato gets rid of law courts and judges as he sees no need for them. However, making mistakes and failing is part of human nature as no human will ever be perfect no matter the amount of education he or she receives on how to be moral.
Plato trusts that the citizen's simple life will also minimize most doctor appointments. However, when one does get profoundly sick and isn't able to do their normal job, they should die as they are useless. "No he thought that no treatment should be given to the man who cannot survive the routine of his ordinary job, and who is therefore no use either to himself or society" (105). He demands that everyone provides for the community, and in return, the community will help the individual. The exact opposite is shown here, as the community clearly doesn't put any effort into saving the individual. Not only is this thinking cruel, but it also shows how unjust Plato's society is for anyone that is suffering. Plato wants people to buy into his society and follow him, but by saying whoever isn't surviving their ordinary routine should die, Plato's cruelty and untrustworthiness is revealed for everyone to see.
The Republic is the ideal city Plato developed due to what he experienced during his time and what his mentor Socrates experienced during his. He outlines his idea of justice, everyone staying in their lane, and explains what he believes could be the most efficient and prosperous community. He saw aspects of other societies that he enjoyed, such as Spartan war-like discipline and simplicity, and saw aspects that he disliked, such as Greek democracy, where uneducated people voted for propositions that they didn't even understand. Based on his judgment, he then put together a story on how his society would run. While he didn't go into many specifics, he still put together a community he believed would thrive no matter the circumstance presented. Though he had some valid points, such as wanting people to develop specific skills for specialized jobs and making sure everyone is moral and ethical, he constantly pushes the boundaries and completely ignores human nature. His ideas limit human advancement in other aspects of life, reject family ties that stunt a child's social and moral growth, and values human life only for what they can provide to the overarching community. These adverse outcomes outweigh the few valid points he does make. In his novel The Republic, Plato debated one of his dreams. He saw a potential for a better state as he dreamed of constructing the perfect Greek society, free of errors seen in communities during his time. Although he is recognized as a great philosopher and considered the founder of Western political philosophy, he offered some ideas that are very dystopian in nature. Despite having good intentions, these ideas would not account for an ideal society if implemented in the real world. While Plato believes he is creating the perfect community that will grow to great lengths, he creates a dystopian society that will crumble and destroy the very "perfect" community he hopes to build. Even though Plato's points are disturbing, his writing is significant as it is the first utopian novel written. He influenced many authors and readers worldwide as now there are many discussions around Utopian and Dystopian societies and how they would function.
Postman's assertion that Huxley's vision better reflects America in 2021 than Orwell's is wrong in many cases. Although many people see novels like 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as futuristic, utopian, and dystopian, we still see many similarities in our modern-day society. Of course, we don't have to go through the same persecution as Oceanic citizens, and we definitely aren't made in a test tube; more situations are similar to our society in Orwell's vision. Due to the similarities in Orwell's novel and the current events of our times, 1984 is more relevant to our contemporary America. Parts of Orwell's novel, such as the telescreens, the slogan of WAR IS PEACE, and the thought police, display how similar his society is to ours.
Telescreens are the main staple of Big Brother's control over Oceania. Described as large tv screens, the telescreen's sole purpose is to monitor every movement and capture every conversation between Party members, whether at home, work, or in public. "Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; … There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment (Pg. 3)". Obviously, we don't have a screen in America that constantly records everything we say and waits until we mess up. However, we still feel the threat of constant surveillance. Our private cell phone conversations are being recorded, every action and comment we make is being logged into a database. Instead of being watched by a tv screen, we are being monitored by social media companies and hackers across the globe. In our society, we can see the scandals of the government's breaching of our data and privacy. With recent website breaches and the number of hackers worldwide, our private data is clearly not protected. This raises many questions about our society and how it is controlled through constant surveillance. In 1984, telescreens acted as cameras, allowing the Party to watch every citizen. This same surveillance can be translated to our social media presence where we interact with other people but also share private information unknowingly, which can be accessed easily by the government to determine who supports who. Although one might say that this problem isn't affecting people physically, the data accessed online can reveal crucial information and details about one's whole life. This data is then shared with random people around the world. For example, some advertisements tell us what to do and what to buy before we even think of doing anything at all. Once a group knows who or what you support, they can feed propaganda and fake news to make someone so unconscious of the truths. This data breach doesn't just affect individual people; it can affect governments as people can persuade someone on who to vote for and, more importantly, who not to vote for. Voting should be based on someone's opinion on who is the best fit for the country, not on the fake news and propaganda pushed down people's throats. Instead of telescreens, we have a social media presence that constantly records, logs, and remembers everything we have ever said.
WAR IS PEACE is the first of three main slogans the Party uses. In 1984, Big Brother used the motto "WAR IS PEACE" to mention the constant state of war and hatred Oceania seems to always be in. Big Brother channels the public's hatred away from the complaints about the Party itself to a foreign force or objects to create uniform hate against something alien. "A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture … turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic (Pg. 14)". This manipulation of hate is similar to what has happened in America, as many Americans don't want to accept immigrants from foreign countries despite the good, they bring. The recent president's well-known saying was "Build that Wall" regarding a wall that would block immigrants from coming to America. Some of the public already hates immigrants because they are seen as unknown and dangerous. The Party in 1984 and many people in our country both use a scapegoat to hide their wrongdoings.
The thought police are Orwell's way of controlling the public through constant fear. They detect, persecute, and eventually eliminate people that doubt or contradict the Party. Most of the time, they catch people that have committed thoughtcrime, an offense of unorthodox thinking. The punishment for this is death. Since it is impossible to be "normal" and always in support of the Party, many people fear getting caught as the sentence is beyond harsh. "The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself — anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide (Pg. 62)". Like the thought police, America has gone through a series of excessive and unwarranted use of force by law enforcement. Over the past years, people have been attacked and have had their civil rights violated. In many communities across America, people are constantly afraid of being attacked and wrongfully persecuted by police officers. Like 1984, both citizens of Oceania and America are scared of authority because of the excessive punishments and random strikes.
Although Huxley says that it is easier to rule by constant pleasure than constant hatred and fear, he goes to the extremes as his society is obsessed with happiness and relaxation. Huxley promotes sedatives as Soma, the relaxing drug, is freely distributed and given to all ages. In America, recreational drugs have been a considerable debate, and most are banned throughout the country. "And there's always Soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering… Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. (Pg. 238)". Additionally, in Huxley's BNW, sex is consequence-free as there are no ties. Everyone is for everyone. In America, the portrayal of people sleeping with multiple strangers is highly frowned upon and not accepted by the whole.
By understanding Huxley's and Orwell's viewpoints, many similarities are brought up in our modern America. As Orwell's ideas are seen and recognized in modern America and worldwide, Huxley's vision isn't relevant and doesn't correctly reflect America in 2021. Orwell's ideas transformed our world as he opened the gates to show us how regimes work and how they control the vast numbers of citizens.