Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication
→ Plato’s Republic.
Josiah Ober, edition of July 31, 2003
page 7 of 9
The Laws of Crito, we remember, had claimed that Socrates must either accept his own execution or break his just and voluntary contract with them. The terms of that contract had specified the exchange of obedience to the city’s Laws for Socrates’ having received and accepted specific goods: his birth, nurture (trophe), and education (paideia: Crito 50e). The Republic brings all of this (and therefore the fairness of the contract) into question. In Book 7, when reiterating the absolute responsibility of the philosopher-king of the utopian state of Kallipolis to “return to the cave” and take part in ruling the polis, Socrates allows that the philosopher in “other poleis” has no responsibility to take part in public affairs:
Read about the evidence
Plato (Plat. Rep.).
“We’ll say that when such men [philosophers] come to be in the other poleis it is fitting for them not to participate (metechousi) in the miserable labors (ponon) [of those places], for they [the philosophers] grew themselves up of their own will, and against the will of the politeia in each case (automatoi gar emphuontai akous es t es en hekast ei politeias). So it is just that the nature which is self-made (to autophues) and owes its upbringing (trophe) to no one (medeni troph en opheilon) is less than eager to repay the price of its upbringing (tropheia) to anyone.” (Republic 520a-b)
By contrast, if a philosopher in Kallipolis shows reluctance to leave off the pleasures of pure contemplation and return to the cave, the other philosophers will say to him:
Read about the evidence
Plato (Plat. Rep.).
“But you we have caused to be born (egenn esamen) for your own sake and for the sake of the rest of the polis (tei te all ei polei), like the leaders and kings in beehives. You have been better and more fully educated (pepaideumenos) and are more able to participate (metechein) in both activities [ruling and contemplating].” (520b)
This is very close to the contractual argument that the Laws had pressed upon Socrates in Crito: because “we” are responsible for your birth, upbringing, and education “you” owe us obedience in repayment for goods received, and because of the implied contract you must do that which may not initially seem to you most desirable.
After completing the Republic’s long discussion of the special education required to make a philosopher-king, the reader knows what a genuinely beneficial upbringing and education for a person with Socrates’ innate abilities and character would be like. The upbringing and education that Socrates actually received from the formal laws and informal customary practices of the democratic polis not at all similar to those prescribed for the future rulers of Plato’s ideal state, Kallipolis. Socrates of the Republic has, in effect, explained that he owes nothing to Athens. The democratic polis had contributed nothing positive to his upbringing, and worse, had been “unwilling” to have him bring himself up as a philosopher. Moreover, Socrates of the Republic has explained that the education offered by the assembled masses consisted of raw indoctrination and he has stated bluntly that no private education could hope to stand up to the ideological bombardment of democratic education (492b-e).
If Socrates of the Republic is right about the absence of appropriate upbringing and education offered the philosopher in the real city and the crude indoctrination enforced by the mob, then the Laws of Athens in the Crito are shown to be liars. Their contractual argument is falsified when it is viewed from the rarified heights of Kallipolis. Indeed, the argument of the Republic leads us to suppose that the Laws of Athens had sought to corrupt Socrates’ soul by attempting to teach him to flatter and mimic the masses. When viewed from Kallipolis, the Laws’ argument that Socrates was their “son” and “slave” appears not only false, but sinister. Had Socrates been educated as the Laws of Athens had wished, he (like the unhappy sophist described elsewhere in the Republic) would indeed have been trained to be a slave of the “great beast”—that is, of the democratic assembly. But somehow Socrates had educated himself (automatos) to be a true philosopher. What then becomes of the Laws’ conclusion in the Crito that the fatherland, must always be revered and obeyed and to Socrates’ claim in the Apology that he was duty-bound to try to improve his native polis because of the demands of friendship and kinship?
Socrates of the Republic answers obliquely at the end of Republic Book 9, in the course of a discussion about when it is right to take an active role in politics. The “kingly” man, he says, willingly undertakes political affairs (ta… politika… prattein) “in his own polis, but perhaps not in his native land except by divine providence” (592a). His friend Glaucon grasps his meaning: by “his own polis” you refer our ideal polis of Kallipolis. Socrates affirms this: the model (paradeigma) exists in heaven and by this model the philosopher-king establishes a “political regime” in his own soul. Thus it does not really matter if the ideal polis ever comes into being or not: a perfect individual soul is enough. With this argument, we may suppose that the argument of the Laws of the Crito for the existence of a binding contract is overthrown; not only is the contract fundamentally unfair (in that it demands that substantial harms be repaid by benefits) but outside Kallipolis the philosopher’s “true polis” (the entity he must seek to improve) is his own soul, not his native land and not even the souls of his fellow citizens.
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