Writing Catalog

Dylan Berr

Grade: 12

University High School

Instructor: Lee Fallon

Human Livestock and Familial Communism: Plato's Vision of Social Unity

Critical Essay

Human Livestock and Familial Communism: Plato's Vision of Social Unity

In the Republic, Plato bestows upon his readers the self-proclaimed, perfect image of society, the Utopia. He hypothesizes that through the guidance of reluctant rulers, universal education, and a just caste system, political and socioeconomic stability can unanimously be reached. Although many of his ideas appear to be beneficial and revolutionary to those of the modern world (especially those considering education, gender equality, and harmonious co-dependency), what Plato fails to understand is that Utopia most literally translates to "no-place," meaning that it can never come to fruition, and therefore, should not be implemented. In his work, the clearest way in which this holds true is his negligence in acknowledging the human experience. In short, Plato often favors the collective functioning of the state over the emotional stability of the people that reside within it.

Plato blurs the line between man and beast. This is most often seen in his descriptions of the highest level of his three-part caste system, the guardians. In favor of maintaining emotional and therefore, social stability in his guardian class, Plato has devised a plan in order to truly separate mind from body. This of course is the mating ritual, an orgy among the highest rung of society that results in the next generation. Initially, this idea, although unorthodox, is rather understandable. The goal of this procedure is to cut familial ties between individuals. Although this may seem harsh, the merit of this act lies with the fact that without monogamous human relationships, there will be no jealousy to impact the guardians' sense of reason. In addition, Plato emphasizes statewide community, which may be harder to achieve whilst the ones who are meant to uphold the state become more focused on their personal microcosms than on the far more important affairs of the commonwealth. In these ways, the idea of mass, primal reproduction can be beneficial.

Where his plan begins to devolve is with the presence of eugenics. In the context of the Republic, this is a process that attempts to combat the gamble of genetics through a rigged lottery system that favors the most physically and mentally fit individuals. In layman's terms, those that have the most desirable traits receive the most tickets to the sex party. In this way, Plato hijacks the natural process of procreation with his own plan of purifying the state. This can be likened to the way in which farmers breed livestock. The best members of the bunch are bred in order to gain the most favorable traits in the next generation of offspring. But what happens to those that don't meet the expectations of the state? In the process of perfecting the blood of his people, Plato aims to "bring up only the offspring of the best" (173) and murder those who do not fit the mold. In this way, people begin to be looked upon and judged as prize pigs or runts of the state. After all, in Plato's mind, the runts can't be expected to shoulder the burdens of the state. Their skin and bones leave them unequipped to quench the appetite of the state, while those prize pigs feast on the knowledge passed down from PK to PK. They grow more and more valuable as the state feeds them, right up until the inevitable moment in which they regurgitate it all like a mother robin feeding her chicks. In short, this example shows how Plato favors the efficiency of his state, even if it comes at the steep cost of dehumanizing his people.

Simultaneously, Plato's mass breeding garners another con. Although Plato views his guardians as livestock in the context of his mating festivals, he still expects them to live above the typical characteristics of the human race, in this case, namely appetite and jealousy. Unlike the livestock that they are likened to, they may not quench their sexual appetites whenever they are so inclined. In fact, out of context (mating rituals) guardians can be punished for giving into their primal lust. Lust is quite difficult to abstain from, though, as within this society, sex is a currency. When auxiliaries show bravery in battle, they are rewarded with more sex. When guardians show mental prowess and action in the face of injustice, they too are rewarded with more sex. But as they cash in, those who are not chosen for these mating festivals may become jealous by the ubiquity of sex that they cannot take advantage of. Since sex is so valuable and universal in this state, how are guardians expected to rise above these characteristics? In this case, sex is placed in front of men as a steak is placed in front of a dog. When the dog leans down to partake in the delicacy, can anyone blame it? The few "inferior guardians" that do circumvent Plato's orgy, are subjected to punishment and the immediate disposing of their illegitimate children. In Plato's state, as these guardians lean down to partake in the steak, they are met with the sting of crinkled newspaper as it slaps them upside the head. Does anyone hear the word revolt?

Plato also fails to recognize the strength of maternal bonds. Expanding on the nature of the mating ritual, he describes the procedure for garnering the next generation. After the breeding ends, the men return to their daily lives. The female guardians, however, now find themselves expecting. Although most modern readers would attribute great pain and stress to childbirth, Plato states that "childbearing will be an easy job for the guardian's wives" (172). His main defense in saying this is that they will never know their own children, or the sense of burden that comes along with raising them. After the women have pushed them out, the babies are immediately gathered up and taken to a nursery. These children will then be visited by the new mothers, who will breastfeed them (although they will not know which one is theirs). Of course, all of the hard work will be left the nurses and wet nurses. In some cases, though, some children will instead be dropped in a final resting place to be consumed by the elements.

Although this is harsh, on one side of the spectrum, the act of taking one's children can be a benefit to society. Remember that The Republic is a machine. In order to work, all of the gears must fall into a harmonious pace. As an effort to preserve this unity, Plato outlines that with the absence of personal fathers, mothers, and children:

A man will call all males born in the tenth or seventh month after he has been a bridegroom son and all females daughters, and they will call him father; similarly, he will call their children grandchildren, and they will in turn call his marriage-group grandfathers and grandmothers, while all who are born during the period when their mothers and fathers were producing children will call each other brothers and sisters (173).

In this way, the state is not just some oblique, governing social construct, but one unified family. And why would anyone rebel against family…unless of course there is opposition to child abduction?

The elephant in the room is, of course, the matter of human connection. Although familial communism may have its charms, it cannot solve all problems rooted in monogamous bonding. From a distant perspective, Plato expects that without the knowledge of her own children, a woman may live in bliss, as children are often the most stressful aspect of a mother's life. If a child dies, no problem; they've got at least a thousand more that everyone can call their own. In this case, it is important to take into account the speaker. Although Plato may have the ethos to discuss matters of education and more literal construction of the state, he is both single and childless. Furthermore, he is not a woman.

Although it may be an abstract concept to ponder, the bond between mother and child falls beyond that of emotional connections between friends and spouses. For nine months, the mother feels the heartbeat of her child. She feels what it's like to have another being that is completely dependent upon her. In the Republic, after almost a year of physical and emotional bonding, the child is harvested, and the mother finds herself alone with her "family," the state.

If anything, Plato's idea will cause more stress for the state, as mothers will be unable to check up on the well-being of their kids. For all they know, their children are dead. After all, it's quite possible that no matter the charms and physiques of the parents, the child could not match the requirements for those who are fit to live at the expense of the state's grinding gears. Although Plato claims that when children are "held in common" (168) there will be no divided loyalties, he doesn't consider the threat of these fretful mothers. In the end, his idea may backfire, as in trying to prevent the division of loyalty, he may inadvertently be severing the loyalty that is held between these female guardians and the state, leading to structurally compromised foundations.

Although there is merit to Plato's idea of breaking the bonds between individuals through his breeding programs and separation of loyalties, its execution involves dehumanization as well as far too many loopholes for the appearance of jealousy (particularly in the context of eugenics) and stress (particularly in the context of familial separation). In attempting to increase the efficiency and stability of the state, he fails to understand the strength of human emotion, and the cost of severing it, which of course is its inevitable implosion. Even if he did acknowledge human emotion, a new set of problems would rear their ugly heads. Plato, like others who have attempted this might feat, is stuck in the simple, yet complex cycle of "you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't." it is the foundational aspect of human emotion that prevents the perfect utopia from existing. In the end, these innate, unpreventable, shared follies cement the downfall of a perfect state, as a perfect state must only be built from stable bricks.