University High School
Instructor: Lee Fallon
Converting Plato's Contradictopia to a Eutopia
Converting Plato's Contradictopia to a Eutopia
We have evaluated the guidelines of the ideal state that you have set forth in The Republic. We have come to many conclusions based on the guidelines and find merits in several of the proposals. However, we also have discussed many recommendations to improve the weaknesses in many of those guidelines that we have determined will hurt the unity of the state instead of bettering it. Your ideas of creating a just society are rooted in the idea that "justice consists of minding your own business and not interfering with people" (Plato 137). This argument is persuasive and can bestow great benefits by potentially increasing the societal efficiency and sense of community of the state. These kinds of ideas presented by you are just what our ideal society needs. Therefore, while we should maintain these aspects of your beliefs when creating our perfect society, we should cut out the inferior ideas that can pose harm to its structure.
Your proposition of having intellectually adept rulers in the form of philosopher kings is very fascinating. We agree that a capable leader like the philosopher king should rule the state. The common man is an ineffective leader because he does not see the metaphorical light that a capable ruler would see. While the idea in current times does not seem like the most compelling idea because of its elitist aspects, nonetheless, we should not allow intellectually inadequate rulers to lead. The rulers must be informed and be able to make quick and accurate decisions, and we have determined, like Plato, that the best group for this are the intellectuals. We also find that this step ensures that those leaders who are fit to be leaders will rule instead of having power- hungry, incompetent rulers as seen in the current political climate of the United States.
Thus far we have only praised you Plato. Your ideas even go beyond this attempt to create a unified state under strong leadership and extend to the character and values of your citizens, which we applaud. However, now it is vital that we address some of the problems that arise from your ideas, so that we can resolve the issues. In the case of the aforementioned example, this type of rule of the fittest that you suggest can also lead to fascist beliefs, which we believe can create severe problems in the unity that your republic sets to achieve. Although the type of rule that you set out could work well, it could also turn deadly. Fascist leaders such as Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler were able to take the idea of elitism to deadly levels. What's to say the same thing will not happen in your republic? Not to mention, you have also advocated for the censoring and revising of art forms such as poetry since "Morally, most existing poetry is unsuitable because in its representations of gods and heroes it describes, and so encourages, various forms of moral weakness" (Plato 76). Fascist leaders do the same thing as they try to kill off society's most creative people in order to advance their propaganda. How are you doing anything different, Plato? Thus, we must consider the efficiency and equality of the state and reform it in an attempt to achieve your truly perfect society.
Set aside the errors and circle back to what we find to be some of your strongest merits. You are willing to go against the norms of society, unlike the mocking beliefs held by many individuals of the time like the playwright Aristophanes. You take action when it comes to improving the role of women in society, and you even believe that the only difference between men and women is that "the female bears and the male begets" (Plato 164). We embrace this idea of equality between men and women that you have set forth. Because what you provide is a society where women are expected to do the same work as men, we find this to be very advantageous. It would create a government of efficiency and equality which we have determined to be the two essential components of a perfect society. However, we also find that you go on to contradict this statement by maintaining the belief that women are inherently inferior to men as you write that, "They should share all duties, though we should treat the females as the weaker, the males as the stronger" (Plato 167). Moreover, you continue to go further amiss on the basis of equality when it comes to the division of people based on your gold, bronze, and silver caste system. Through your allegory of the cave, you believe that those who see the light must be able to teach those who do not see it. Those who see it are the philosopher kings, and they must be able to teach those below them to see the light.
What you seem to neglect in all of this is that you have given so much power to these rulers who essentially micromanage the lives of your citizens. This kind of government can turn authoritarian very quickly as the philosopher Karl Popper notes that at the "root of this malign development, behind the usual suspects- Nietzsche for Nazism, Hegel and Marx for communism- lay Plato's Republic" (Logan 1). Therefore, we propose a system that aims to limit the power of these rulers so that they themselves can be checked, because then no one bad actor can take down the rest of the system if they choose to. When it comes to the government, we find that it is agreeable to instill the fittest rulers, but we also find that this ruler should not have so much power and believe that an effective system can be created when this kind of rule incorporates checks and balances.
So, what kind of checks and balances do we propose? Further, if the ruler is so knowledgeable and can foresee everything, why would he even have to be checked in the first place? We propose the combining of your system of government with parts of the U.S. government, because it would ensure that no one party has complete control. We know that you would not have agreed with a Democratic government, but we also know that the kind of democracy that you disliked was a very different type of democracy. We know that because you are not very fond of the direct democracy of the Athenians. You will likely be very hesitant of incorporating any part of the United States government into your own government, but you must understand that the U.S, is a representative democracy. We find that if you can integrate checks and balances, it would be promising because then it would limit the power that the philosopher kings hold. We know that you attempt to set up a system like this as you consider the auxiliaries to be the "watchdogs" of the society. However, the problem with the auxiliaries is that they still blindly follow the word of the philosopher kings and do not represent the common people. Even though they do not have the intelligence of the philosopher kings, they should still be able to have some say in the government so that the power of the philosopher kings does not lead to an authoritarian government. Thus, we recommend the creation of a political body consisting of only the bronze class, similar in a way to Tribune during the times of the Romans. This body should have the power to veto any law that the philosopher kings set forth if they believe it would hurt the society in any way. We know that you try to fix this by making the auxiliaries the watchdogs, but we know they are swayed way too easily by your philosopher kings. Even a combined body of auxiliaries and common folk would be effective; we just recommend a system where the philosopher kings can truly be checked and not completely take over. The goal of having a competent leader is respectable, but we believe that the ruler should not have as much power as you give them, Plato, because then the government could turn authoritarian and destroy the perfect society that we have just built.
Now that we have made fixes to the government, let us evaluate efficiency in the state. You make great strides when it comes to the efficiency of the state. Even though you do believe that women are inherently inferior to men, you do allow women to contribute to society and even allow them to be philosopher kings: "We must therefore pick suitable women to share the life and duties of Guardian with men, since they are capable of it and the natures of men and women are akin" (Plato 166). You also try to dismiss the importance of wealth or poverty. You attempt to create an egalitarian state by trying to eliminate excessive wealth or excessive poverty. This would be a great idea if you were trying to create an egalitarian state in all areas of society, but in a way, Plato, you contradict yourself. You think that people should be equal when it comes to their jobs, but then you maintain the belief of the inferiority of women. Doesn't this make the state less efficient? If we can raise the morale of the women in society, then we can increase efficiency as well because women will be more motivated to work in a state where they feel they matter. Certainly, you are really doing a great disservice when you make such claims of the inferiority of women. So, which is it? Do you want a state of efficiency? Because then you should try to create an atmosphere where efficiency thrives. Therefore, by trying to heighten the spirit of women you will be able to create a more efficient state.
To increase equality and efficiency we can also look to your discussion on childhood development. Your idea of creating a meritocracy when it comes to children is a very compelling idea, and we have decided to take this into consideration. We like the idea of allowing children to be placed in a caste system based on their merits instead of their birthright. However, where we take issue with the ideas is when it comes to diminishing the value of the other larger majority of children and only focusing on the most promising few. Yes, it may be true that these children will be the future rulers of the society, but the bulk of the state is going to be made up of those kids who are not as promising and who need greater development. Therefore, it seems clear that in order to improve the efficiency and the equality of the state we must provide a little more care to those kids who do not show as much promise. Maybe we can even allow the promising kids to teach the less promising kids because in the allegory of the cave, those kids that have the most promise have already seen the light and so they must be able to guide the others to see it as well. What other way would be better than allowing them to do it right away, you already advocate for children learning how to fight in war, so why not let them do this now as well because we think that it can foster their development and help the more intellectually challenged children.
A much more concerning point of your ideas is that of trying to limit and control the arts and literature of the state. Your approach to literature and the arts is very similar to that found in Aldous's Huxley's Brave New World. In this work, the World Controller, who is at the highest position of the state, has access to the arts and literature, but he can never tell those at the bottom because it would essentially corrupt them. You take a very similar approach by censoring those stories primarily in poetry that could instill dangerous beliefs in those citizens at the bottom. We take issue with this idea because you are essentially contradicting yourself once again. You want the citizens of the society to improve their intellect and reasoning and gradually achieve enlightenment, but instead of providing the material that can get these people there, you choose to censor it. We believe that you should not ban or censor any type of art because it will likely be able to improve the intellect of those in your society and therefore, you would not need to worry about the issue of ignorance in the first place. In this case, we find that the government should promote art and literature to create the perfect society because we believe that it would improve intellect.
Even though your Republic has some very promising merits, we find that it is also littered with many contradictions. We have determined that to create the perfect society, these contradictions must be resolved, despite such resolutions being difficult to achieve. One of the prime contradictions is found in the name you provide to the ruling class, "philosopher kings." In your ideal world everyone should have their own niche in society, "the principle of one man one job of minding one's own business. In the sense of doing the job for which one is naturally fitted and not interfering with other people" (Plato 130). Hence, how can one person be both philosopher and king? It goes directly against your own logic. Thus, we must attempt to resolve these contradictions, so that we can implement the best parts of your republic to create that truly perfect society.
We believe that to reach the point of a utopian society we must incorporate the merits of your Republic which include the greater efficiency of society and the ruling of the most competent rulers. However, we must also incorporate other outside ideas and revise contradictions in many of your ideas before we can even think about being able to tackle the biggest unsolved mystery that is creating the perfect utopia. Nonetheless, we do strongly believe that if our revisions are taken into consideration that we can become one step closer to achieving that coveted utopia.