The Republic of Plato/Introduction
The “Republic” of Plato is the longest of his works, with the exception of the “Laws,” and is certainly the greatest of them. There are nearer approaches to modern metaphysics in the “Philebus” and in the “Sophist;” the “Politicus,” or “Statesman,” is more ideal; the form and institutions of the State are more clearly drawn out in the “Laws;” as works of art, the “Symposium” and the “Protagoras” are of higher excellence. But no other dialogue of Plato has the same largeness of view and the same perfection of style; no other shows an equal knowledge of the world, or contains more of those thoughts which are new as well as old, and not of one age only, but of all. Nowhere in Plato is there a deeper irony or a greater wealth of humor or imagery, or more dramatic power. Nor in any other of his writings is the attempt made to interweave life and speculation, or to connect politics with philosophy. The “Republic” is the centre around which the other dialogues may be grouped; here philosophy reaches the highest point (cp. especially in Books V., VI., VII.) to which ancient thinkers ever attained. Plato among the Greeks, like Bacon among the moderns, was the first who conceived a method of knowledge, although neither of them always distinguished the bare outline or form from the substance of truth; and both of them had to be content with an abstraction of science which was not yet realized. He was the greatest metaphysical genius whom the world has seen; and in him, more than in any other ancient thinker, the germs of future knowledge are contained. The sciences of logic and psychology, which have supplied so many instruments of thought to after-ages, are based upon the analyses of Socrates and Plato. The principles of definition, the law of contradiction, the fallacy of arguing in a circle, the distinction between the essence and accidents of a thing or notion, between means and ends, between causes and conditions; also the division of the mind into the rational, concupiscent, and irascible elements, or of pleasures and desires into necessary and unnecessary—these and other great forms of thought are all of them to be found in the “Republic,” and were probably first invented by Plato. The greatest of all logical truths, and the one of which writers on philosophy are most apt to lose sight, the difference between words and things, has been most strenuously insisted on by him (cp. “Rep.” 454 A; “Polit.” 261 E; “Cratyl.” 435, 436 ff.), although he has not always avoided the confusion of them in his own writings. But he does not bind up truth in logical formulas—logic is still veiled in metaphysics; and the science which he imagines to “contemplate all truth and all existence” is very unlike the doctrine of the syllogism which Aristotle claims to have discovered (Soph. “Elenchi,” 33. 18).
Neither must we forget that the “Republic” is but the third part of a still larger design which was to have included an ideal history of Athens, as well as a political and physical philosophy. The fragment of the “Critias” has given birth to a world-famous fiction, second only in importance to the tale of Troy and the legend of Arthur; and is said as a fact to have inspired some of the early navigators of the sixteenth century. This mythical tale, of which the subject was a history of the wars of the Athenians against the island of Atlantis, is supposed to be founded upon an unfinished poem of Solon, to which it would have stood in the same relation as the writings of the logographers to the poems of Homer. It would have told of a struggle for liberty (cp. “Tim.” 25 C), intended to represent the conflict of Persia and Hellas. We may judge from the noble commencement of the “Timæus,” from the fragment of the “Critias” itself, and from the third book of the “Laws,” in what manner Plato would have treated this high argument. We can only guess why the great design was abandoned; perhaps because Plato became sensible of some incongruity in a fictitious history, or because he had lost his interest in it, or because advancing years forbade the completion of it; and we may please ourselves with the fancy that had this imaginary narrative ever been finished, we should have found Plato himself sympathizing with the struggle for Hellenic independence (cp. “Laws,” iii. 698 ff.), singing a hymn of triumph over Marathon and Salamis, perhaps making the reflection of Herodotus (v. 78) where he contemplates the growth of the Athenian Empire—“How brave a thing is freedom of speech, which has made the Athenians so far exceed every other State of Hellas in greatness!” or, more probably, attributing the victory to the ancient good order of Athens and to the favor of Apollo and Athene (cp. Introd. to “Critias”).
Again, Plato may be regarded as the “captain” (ἀρχηγὸς) or leader of a goodly band of followers; for in the “Republic” is to be found the original of Cicero’s “De Republica,” of St. Augustine’s “City of God,” of the “Utopia” of Sir Thomas More, and of the numerous other imaginary States which are framed upon the same model. The extent to which Aristotle or the Aristotelian school was indebted to him in the “Politics” has been little recognized, and the recognition is the more necessary because it is not made by Aristotle himself. The two philosophers had more in common than they were conscious of; and probably some elements of Plato remain still undetected in Aristotle. In English philosophy, too, many affinities may be traced, not only in the works of the Cambridge Platonists, but in great original writers like Berkeley or Coleridge, to Plato and his ideas. That there is a truth higher than experience, of which the mind bears witness to herself, is a conviction which in our own generation has been enthusiastically asserted, and is perhaps gaining ground. Of the Greek authors who at the Renaissance brought a new life into the world Plato has had the greatest influence. The “Republic” of Plato is also the first treatise upon education, of which the writings of Milton and Locke, Rousseau, Jean Paul, and Goethe are the legitimate descendants. Like Dante or Bunyan, he has a revelation of another life; like Bacon, he is profoundly impressed with the unity of knowledge; in the early Church he exercised a real influence on theology, and at the Revival of Literature on politics. Even the fragments of his words when “repeated at second-hand” (“Symp.” 215 D) have in all ages ravished the hearts of men, who have seen reflected in them their own higher nature. He is the father of idealism in philosophy, in politics, in literature. And many of the latest conceptions of modern thinkers and statesmen, such as the unity of knowledge, the reign of law, and the equality of the sexes, have been anticipated in a dream by him.
The argument of the “Republic” is the search after justice, the nature of which is first hinted at by Cephalus, the just and blameless old man—then discussed on the basis of proverbial morality by Socrates and Polemarchus—then caricatured by Thrasymachus and partially explained by Socrates—reduced to an abstraction by Glaucon and Adeimantus, and having become invisible in the individual reappears at length in the ideal State which is constructed by Socrates. The first care of the rulers is to be education, of which an outline is drawn after the old Hellenic model, providing only for an improved religion and morality, and more simplicity in music and gymnastics, a manlier strain of poetry, and greater harmony of the individual and the State. We are thus led on to the conception of a higher State, in which “no man calls anything his own,” and in which there is neither “marrying nor giving in marriage,” and “kings are philosophers” and “philosophers are kings;” and there is another and higher education, intellectual as well as moral and religious, of science as well as of art, and not of youth only, but of the whole of life. Such a State is hardly to be realized in this world, and quickly degenerates. To the perfect ideal succeeds the government of the soldier and the lover of honor, this again declining into democracy, and democracy into tyranny, in an imaginary but regular order having not much resemblance to the actual facts. When “the wheel has come full circle” we do not begin again with a new period of human life; but we have passed from the best to the worst, and there we end. The subject is then changed and the old quarrel of poetry and philosophy which had been more lightly treated in the earlier books of the “Republic” is now resumed and fought out to a conclusion. Poetry is discovered to be an imitation thrice removed from the truth, and Homer, as well as the dramatic poets, having been condemned as an imitator, is sent into banishment along with them. And the idea of the State is supplemented by the revelation of a future life.
The division into books, like all similar divisions, is probably later than the age of Plato. The natural divisions are five in number: (i) Book I. and the first half of Book II. down to p. 368, which is introductory; the first book containing a refutation of the popular and sophistical notions of justice, and concluding, like some of the earlier dialogues, without arriving at any definite result. To this is appended a restatement of the nature of justice according to common opinion, and an answer is demanded to the question, What is justice, stripped of appearances? The second division (2) includes the remainder of the second and the whole of the third and fourth books, which are mainly occupied with the construction of the first State and the first education. The third division (3) consists of the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, in which philosophy rather than justice is the subject of inquiry, and the second State is constructed on principles of communism and ruled by philosophers, and the contemplation of the idea of good takes the place of the social and political virtues. In the eighth and ninth books (4) the perversions of States and of the individuals who correspond to them are reviewed in succession; and the nature of pleasure and the principle of tyranny are further analyzed in the individual man. The tenth book (5) is the conclusion of the whole, in which the relations of philosophy to poetry are finally determined, and the happiness of the citizens in this life, which has now been assured, is crowned by the vision of another.
Or a more general division into two parts may be adopted; the first (Books I.–IV.) containing the description of a State framed generally in accordance with Hellenic notions of religion and morality, while in the second (Books V.–X.) the Hellenic State is transformed into an ideal kingdom of philosophy, of which all other governments are the perversions. These two points of view are really opposed, and the opposition is only veiled by the genius of Plato. The “Republic,” like the “Phædrus” (see Introduction to “Phædrus”), is an imperfect whole; the higher light of philosophy breaks through the regularity of the Hellenic temple, which at last fades away into the heavens (592 B). Whether this imperfection of structure arises from an enlargement of the plan, or from the imperfect reconcilement in the writer’s own mind of the struggling elements of thought which are now first brought together by him, or, perhaps, from the composition of the work at different times—are questions, like the similar question about the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” which are worth asking, but which cannot have a distinct answer. In the age of Plato there was no regular mode of publication, and an author would have the less scruple in altering or adding to a work which was known only to a few of his friends. There is no absurdity in supposing that he may have laid his labors aside for a time, or turned from one work to another; and such interruptions would be more likely to occur in the case of a long than of a short writing. In all attempts to determine the chronological order of the Platonic writings on internal evidence, this uncertainty about any single dialogue being composed at one time is a disturbing element, which must be admitted to affect longer works, such as the “Republic” and the “Laws,” more than shorter ones. But, on the other hand, the seeming discrepancies of the “Republic” may only arise out of the discordant elements which the philosopher has attempted to unite in a single whole, perhaps without being himself able to recognize the inconsistency which is obvious to us. For there is a judgment of after-ages which few great writers have ever been able to anticipate for themselves. They do not perceive the want of connection in their own writings, or the gaps in their systems which are visible enough to those who come after them. In the beginnings of literature and philosophy, amid the first efforts of thought and language, more inconsistencies occur than now, when the paths of speculation are well worn and the meaning of words precisely defined. For consistency, too, is the growth of time; and some of the greatest creations of the human mind have been wanting in unity. Tried by this test, several of the Platonic dialogues, according to our modern ideas, appear to be defective, but the deficiency is no proof that they were composed at different times or by different hands. And the supposition that the “Republic” was written uninterruptedly and by a continuous effort is in some degree confirmed by the numerous references from one part of the work to another.
The second title, “Concerning Justice,” is not the one by which the “Republic” is quoted, either by Aristotle or generally in antiquity, and, like the other second titles of the Platonic dialogues, may therefore be assumed to be of later date. Morgenstern and others have asked whether the definition of justice, which is the professed aim, or the construction of the State is the principal argument of the work. The answer is that the two blend in one, and are two faces of the same truth; for justice is the order of the State, and the State is the visible embodiment of justice under the conditions of human society. The one is the soul and the other is the body, and the Greek ideal of the State, as of the individual, is a fair mind in a fair body. In Hegelian phraseology the State is the reality of which justice is the idea. Or, described in Christian language, the kingdom of God is within, and yet develops into a Church or external kingdom; “the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” is reduced to the proportions of an earthly building. Or, to use a Platonic image, justice and the State are the warp and the woof which run through the whole texture. And when the constitution of the State is completed, the conception of justice is not dismissed, but reappears under the same or different names throughout the work, both as the inner law of the individual soul, and finally as the principle of rewards and punishments in another life. The virtues are based on justice, of which common honesty in buying and selling is the shadow, and justice is based on the idea of good, which is the harmony of the world, and is reflected both in the institutions of States and in motions of the heavenly bodies (cp. “Tim.” 47). The “Timæus,” which takes up the political rather than the ethical side of the “Republic,” and is chiefly occupied with hypotheses concerning the outward world, yet contains many indications that the same law is supposed to reign over the State, over nature, and over man.
Too much, however, has been made of this question both in ancient and modern times. There is a stage of criticism in which all works, whether of nature or of art, are referred to design. Now in ancient writings, and, indeed, in literature generally, there remains often a large element which was not comprehended in the original design. For the plan grows under the author’s hand; new thoughts occur to him in the act of writing; he has not worked out the argument to the end before he begins. The reader who seeks to find some one idea under which the whole may be conceived, must necessarily seize on the vaguest and most general. Thus Stallbaum, who is dissatisfied with the ordinary explanations of the argument of the “Republic,” imagines himself to have found the true argument “in the representation of human life in a State perfected by justice, and governed according to the idea of good.” There may be some use in such general descriptions, but they can hardly be said to express the design of the writer. The truth is that we may as well speak of many designs as of one; nor need anything be excluded from the plan of a great work to which the mind is naturally led by the association of ideas, and which does not interfere with the general purpose. What kind or degree of unity is to be sought after in a building, in the plastic arts, in poetry, in prose, is a problem which has to be determined relatively to the subject-matter. To Plato himself, the inquiry, What was the intention of the writer? or, What was the principal argument of the “Republic” (?) would have been hardly intelligible, and therefore had better be at once dismissed (cp. the Introduction to the “Phædrus,” vol. i.).
Is not the “Republic” the vehicle of three or four great truths which, to Plato’s own mind, are most naturally represented in the form of the State? Just as in the Jewish prophets the reign of Messiah, or “the day of the Lord,” or the suffering servant or people of God, or the “Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings,” only convey, to us at least, their great spiritual ideals, so through the Greek State Plato reveals to us his own thoughts about divine perfection, which is the idea of good—like the sun in the visible world; about human perfection, which is justice—about education beginning in youth and continuing in later years—about poets and sophists and tyrants who are the false teachers and evil rulers of mankind—about “the world” which is the embodiment of them—about a kingdom which exists nowhere upon earth, but is laid up in heaven, to be the pattern and rule of human life. No such inspired creation is at unity with itself, any more than the clouds of heaven when the sun pierces through them. Every shade of light and dark, of truth, and of fiction which is the veil of truth, is allowable in a work of philosophical imagination. It is not all on the same plane; it easily passes from ideas to myths and fancies, from facts to figures of speech. It is not prose but poetry, at least a great part of it, and ought not to be judged by the rules of logic or the probabilities of history. The writer is not fashioning his ideas into an artistic whole; they take possession of him and are too much for him. We have no need, therefore, to discuss whether a State such as Plato has conceived is practicable or not, or whether the outward form or the inward life came first into the mind of the writer. For the practicability of his ideas has nothing to do with their truth (v. 472 D); and the highest thoughts to which he attains may be truly said to bear the greatest “marks of design”—justice more than the external frame-work of the State, the idea of good more than justice. The great science of dialectic, or the organization of ideas, has no real content, but is only a type of the method or spirit in which the higher knowledge is to be pursued by the spectator of all time and all existence. It is in the fifth, sixth, and seventh books that Plato reaches the “summit of speculation,” and these, although they fail to satisfy the requirements of a modern thinker, may therefore be regarded as the most important, as they are also the most original, portions of the work.
It is not necessary to discuss at length a minor question which has been raised by Boeckh, respecting the imaginary date at which the conversation was held (the year 411 B.C., which is proposed by him, will do as well as any other); for a writer of fiction, and especially a writer who, like Plato, is notoriously careless of chronology (cp. “Rep.” i. 336; “Symp.” 193 A, etc.), only aims at general probability. Whether all the persons mentioned in the “Republic” could ever have met at any one time is not a difficulty which would have occurred to an Athenian reading the work forty years later, or to Plato himself at the time of writing (any more than to Shakespeare respecting one of his own dramas), and need not greatly trouble us now. Yet this may be a question having no answer “which is still worth asking,” because the investigation shows that we cannot argue historically from the dates in Plato; it would be useless therefore to waste time in inventing far-fetched reconcilements of them in order to avoid chronological difficulties, such, for example, as the conjecture of C. F. Hermann, that Glaucon and Adeimantus are not the brothers, but the uncles, of Plato (cp. “Apol.” 34 A), or the fancy of Stallbaum that Plato intentionally left anachronisms indicating the dates at which some of his dialogues were written.
The principal characters in the “Republic” are Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Cephalus appears in the Introduction only, Polemarchus drops at the end of the first argument, and Thrasymachus is reduced to silence at the close of the first book. The main discussion is carried on by Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Among the company are Lysias (the orator) and Euthydemus, the sons of Cephalus and brothers of Polemarchus, an unknown Charmantides—these are mute auditors; also there is Cleitophon, who once interrupts (340 A), where, as in the dialogue which bears his name, he appears as the friend and ally of Thrasymachus.
Cephalus, the patriarch of the house, has been appropriately engaged in offering a sacrifice. He is the pattern of an old man who has almost done with life, and is at peace with himself and with all mankind. He feels that he is drawing nearer to the world below, and seems to linger around the memory of the past. He is eager that Socrates should come to visit him, fond of the poetry of the last generation, happy in the consciousness of a well-spent life, glad at having escaped from the tyranny of youthful lusts. His love of conversation, his affection, his indifference to riches, even his garrulity, are interesting traits of character. He is not one of those who have nothing to say, because their whole mind has been absorbed in making money. Yet he acknowledges that riches have the advantage of placing men above the temptation to dishonesty or falsehood. The respectful attention shown to him by Socrates, whose love of conversation, no less than the mission imposed upon him by the Oracle, leads him to ask questions of all men, young and old alike (cp. i. 328 A), should also be noted. Who better suited to raise the question of justice than Cephalus, whose life might seem to be the expression of it? The moderation with which old age is pictured by Cephalus as a very tolerable portion of existence is characteristic, not only of him, but of Greek feeling generally, and contrasts with the exaggeration of Cicero in the “De Senectute.” The evening of life is described by Plato in the most expressive manner, yet with the fewest possible touches. As Cicero remarks (“Ep. ad Attic.” iv. 16), the aged Cephalus would have been out of place in the discussion which follows, and which he could neither have understood nor taken part in without a violation of dramatic propriety (cp. Lysimachus in the “Laches,” 89).
His “son and heir” Polemarchus has the frankness and impetuousness of youth; he is for detaining Socrates by force in the opening scene, and will not “let him off” (v. 449 B) on the subject of women and children. Like Cephalus, he is limited in his point of view, and represents the proverbial stage of morality which has rules of life rather than principles; and he quotes Simonides (cp. Aristoph. “Clouds,” 1355 ff.) as his father had quoted Pindar. But after this he has no more to say; the answers which he makes are only elicited from him by the dialectic of Socrates. He has not yet experienced the influence of the Sophists like Glaucon and Adeimantus, nor is he sensible of the necessity of refuting them; he belongs to the pre-Socratic or pre-dialectical age. He is incapable of arguing, and is bewildered by Socrates to such a degree that he does not know what he is saying. He is made to admit that justice is a thief, and that the virtues follow the analogy of the arts (i. 333 E). From his brother Lysias (contra “Eratosth.” p. 121) we learn that he fell a victim to the Thirty Tyrants, but no allusion is here made to his fate, nor to the circumstance that Cephalus and his family were of Syracusan origin, and had migrated from Thurii to Athens.
The “Chalcedonian giant,” Thrasymachus, of whom we have already heard in the “Phædrus” (267 D), is the personification of the Sophists, according to Plato’s conception of them, in some of their worst characteristics. He is vain and blustering, refusing to discourse unless he is paid, fond of making an oration, and hoping thereby to escape the inevitable Socrates, but a mere child in argument, and unable to foresee that the next “move” (to use a Platonic expression) will “shut him up” (vi. 487 B). He has reached the stage of framing general notions, and in this respect is in advance of Cephalus and Polemarchus. But he is incapable of defending them in a discussion, and vainly tries to cover his confusion with banter and insolence. Whether such doctrines as are attributed to him by Plato were really held either by him or by any other Sophist is uncertain; in the infancy of philosophy serious errors about morality might easily grow up—they are certainly put into the mouths of speakers in Thucydides; but we are concerned at present with Plato’s description of him, and not with the historical reality. The inequality of the contest adds greatly to the humor of the scene. The pompous and empty Sophist is utterly helpless in the hands of the great master of dialectic, who knows how to touch all the springs of vanity and weakness in him. He is greatly irritated by the irony of Socrates, but his noisy and imbecile rage only lays him more and more open to the thrusts of his assailant. His determination to cram down their throats, or put “bodily into their souls” his own words, elicits a cry of horror from Socrates. The state of his temper is quite as worthy of remark as the process of the argument. Nothing is more amusing than his complete submission when he has been once thoroughly beaten. At first he seems to continue the discussion with reluctance, but soon with apparent good-will, and he even testifies his interest at a later stage by one or two occasional remarks (v. 450 A, B). When attacked by Glaucon (vi. 498 C, D) he is humorously protected by Socrates “as one who has never been his enemy and is now his friend.” From Cicero and Quintilian and from Aristotle’s “Rhetoric” (iii. i. 7; ii. 23. 29) we learn that the Sophist whom Plato has made so ridiculous was a man of note whose writings were preserved in later ages. The play on his name which was made by his contemporary Herodicus (Aris. “Rhet.” ii. 23, 29), “thou wast ever bold in battle,” seems to show that the description of him is not devoid of verisimilitude.
When Thrasymachus has been silenced, the two principal respondents, Glaucon and Adeimantus, appear on the scene; here, as in Greek tragedy (cp. Introd. to “Phædo”), three actors are introduced. At first sight the two sons of Ariston may seem to wear a family likeness, like the two friends Simmias and Cebes in the “Phædo.” But on a nearer examination of them the similarity vanishes, and they are seen to be distinct characters. Glaucon is the impetuous youth who can “just never have enough of fechting” (cp. the character of him in Xen. “Mem.” iii. 6); the man of pleasure who is acquainted with the mysteries of love (v. 474 D); the “juvenis qui gaudet canibus,” and who improves the breed of animals (v. 459 A); the lover of art and music (iii. 398 D, E) who has all the experiences of youthful life. He is full of quickness and penetration, piercing easily below the clumsy platitudes of Thrasymachus to the real difficulty; he turns out to the light the seamy side of human life, and yet does not lose faith in the just and true. It is Glaucon who seizes what may be termed the ludicrous relation of the philosopher to the world, to whom a state of simplicity is “a city of pigs,” who is always prepared with a jest (iii. 398 C, 407 A; v. 450, 451, 468 C; vi. 509 C; ix. 586) when the argument offers him an opportunity, and who is ever ready to second the humor of Socrates and to apprecate the ridiculous, whether in the connoisseurs of music (vii. 531 A) or in the lovers of theatricals (v. 475 D) or in the fantastic behavior of the citizens of democracy (viii. 557 foll.). His weaknesses are several times alluded to by Socrates (iii. 402 E; v. 474 D, 475 E), who, however, will not allow him to be attacked by his brother Adeimantus (viii. 548 D, E). He is a soldier, and, like Adeimantus, has been distinguished at the battle of Megara (368 A, anno 456?)…. The character of Adeimantus is deeper and graver, and the profounder objections are commonly put into his mouth. Glaucon is more demonstrative, and generally opens the game; Adeimantus pursues the argument further. Glaucon has more of the liveliness and quick sympathy of youth; Adeimantus has the maturer judgment of a grown-up man of the world. In the second book, when Glaucon insists that justice and injustice shall be considered without regard to their consequences, Adeimantus remarks that they are regarded by mankind in general only for the sake of their consequences; and in a similar vein of reflection he urges at the beginning of the fourth book that Socrates fails in making his citizens happy, and is answered that happiness is not the first, but the second thing, not the direct aim, but the indirect consequence of the good government of a State. In the discussion about religion and mythology, Adeimantus is the respondent (iii. 376–398); but at p. 398 C, Glaucon breaks in with a slight jest, and carries on the conversation in a lighter tone about music and gymnastics to the end of the book. It is Adeimantus again who volunteers the criticism of commonsense on the Socratic method of argument (vi. 487 B), and who refuses to let Socrates pass lightly over the question of women and children (v. 449). It is Adeimantus who is the respondent in the more argumentative, as Glaucon in the lighter and more imaginative, portions of the dialogue. For example, throughout the greater part of the sixth book, the causes of the corruption of philosophy and the conception of the idea of good are discussed with Adeimantus. At p. 506 C, Glaucon resumes his place of principal respondent; but he has a difficulty in apprehending the higher education of Socrates, and makes some false hits in the course of the discussion (526 D, 527 D). Once more Adeimantus returns (viii. 548) with the allusion to his brother Glaucon whom he compares to the contentious State; in the next book (ix. 576) he is again superseded, and Glaucon continues to the end (x. 621 B).
Thus in a succession of characters Plato represents the successive stages of morality, beginning with the Athenian gentleman of the olden time, who is followed by the practical man of that day regulating his life by proverbs and saws; to him succeeds the wild generalization of the Sophists, and lastly come the young disciples of the great teacher, who know the sophistical arguments but will not be convinced by them, and desire to go deeper into the nature of things. These, too, like Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, are clearly distinguished from one another. Neither in the “Republic,” nor in any other dialogue of Plato, is a single character repeated.
The delineation of Socrates in the “Republic” is not wholly consistent. In the first book we have more of the real Socrates, such as he is depicted in the “Memorabilia” of Xenophon, in the earliest dialogues of Plato, and in the “Apology.” He is ironical, provoking, questioning, the old enemy of the Sophists, ready to put on the mask of Silenus as well as to argue seriously. But in the sixth book his enmity toward the Sophists abates; he acknowledges that they are the representatives rather than the corrupters of the world (vi. 492 A). He also becomes more dogmatic and constructive, passing beyond the range either of the political or the speculative ideas of the real Socrates. In one passage (vi. 506 C) Plato himself seems to intimate that the time had now come for Socrates, who had passed his whole life in philosophy, to give his own opinion and not to be always repeating the notions of other men. There is no evidence that either the idea of good or the conception of a perfect state were comprehended in the Socratic teaching, though he certainly dwelt on the nature of the universal and of final causes (cp. Xen. “Mem.” i. 4; “Phædo” 97); and a deep thinker like him, in his thirty or forty years of public teaching, could hardly have failed to touch on the nature of family relations, for which there is also some positive evidence in the “Memorabilia” (“Mem.” i. 2, 51 foll.). The Socratic method is nominally retained; and every inference is either put into the mouth of the respondent or represented as the common discovery of him and Socrates. But anyone can see that this is a mere form, of which the affectation grows wearisome as the work advances. The method of inquiry has passed into a method of teaching in which by the help of interlocutors the same thesis is looked at from various points of view. The nature of the process is truly characterized by Glaucon, when he describes himself as a companion who is not good for much in an investigation, but can see what he is shown (iv. 432 C), and may, perhaps, give the answer to a question more fluently than another (v. 474 A; cp. 389 A).
Neither can we be absolutely certain that Socrates himself taught the immortality of the soul, which is unknown to the disciple Glaucon in the “Republic” (x. 608 D; cp. vi. 498 D, E; “Apol.” 40, 41); nor is there any reason to suppose that he used myths or revelations of another world as a vehicle of instruction, or that he would have banished poetry or have denounced the Greek mythology. His favorite oath is retained, and a slight mention is made of the dæmonium, or internal sign, which is alluded to by Socrates as a phenomenon peculiar to himself (vi. 496 C). A real element of Socratic teaching, which is more prominent in the “Republic” than in any of the other dialogues of Plato, is the use of example and illustration (τὰ φορτικὰ αὐτῷ προσφέροντες, iv. 442 E): “Let us apply the test of common instances.” “You,” says Adeimantus, ironically, in the sixth book, “are so unaccustomed to speak in images.” And this use of examples, or images, though truly Socratic in origin, is enlarged by the genius of Plato into the form of an allegory or parable, which embodies in the concrete what has been already described, or is about to be described, in the abstract. Thus the figure of the cave in Book VII. is a recapitulation of the divisions of knowledge in Book VI. The composite animal in Book IX. is an allegory of the parts of the soul. The noble captain and the ship and the true pilot in Book VI. are a figure of the relation of the people to the philosophers in the State which has been described. Other figures, such as the dog (ii. 375 A, D; iii. 404 A, 416 A; v. 451 D), or the marriage of the portionless maiden (vi. 495, 496), or the drones and wasps in the eighth and ninth books, also form links of connection in long passages, or are used to recall previous discussions.
Plato is most true to the character of his master when he describes him as “not of this world.” And with this representation of him the ideal State and the other paradoxes of the “Republic” are quite in accordance, though they cannot be shown to have been speculations of Socrates. To him, as to other great teachers both philosophical and religious, when they looked upward, the world seemed to be the embodiment of error and evil. The common-sense of mankind has revolted against this view, or has only partially admitted it. And even in Socrates himself the sterner judgment of the multitude at times passes into a sort of ironical pity or love. Men in general are incapable of philosophy, and are therefore at enmity with the philosopher; but their misunderstanding of him is unavoidable (vi. 494 foll.; ix. 589 D): for they have never seen him as he truly is in his own image; they are only acquainted with artificial systems possessing no native force of truth—words which admit of many applications. Their leaders have nothing to measure with, and are therefore ignorant of their own stature. But they are to be pitied or laughed at, not to be quarrelled with; they mean well with their nostrums, if they could only learn that they are cutting off a hydra’s head (iv. 426 D, E). This moderation toward those who are in error is one of the most characteristic features of Socrates in the “Republic” (vi. 499–502). In all the different representations of Socrates, whether of Xenophon or Plato, and amid the differences of the earlier or later dialogues, he always retains the character of the unwearied and disinterested seeker after truth, without which he would have ceased to be Socrates. ·······
There still remain to be considered some points which have been intentionally reserved to the end: (I) The Janus-like character of the “Republic,” which presents two faces one a Hellenic State, the other a kingdom of philosophers. Connected with the latter of the two aspects are (II) the paradoxes of the “Republic,” as they have been termed by Morgenstern: (α) the community of property; (β) of families; (γ) the rule of philosophers; (δ) the analogy of the individual and the State, which, like some other analogies in the “Republic,” is carried too far. We may then proceed to consider (III) the subject of education as conceived by Plato, bringing together in a general view the education of youth and the education of after-life; (IV) we may note further some essential differences between ancient and modern politics which are suggested by the “Republic;” (V) we may compare the “Politicus” and the “Laws;” (VI) we may observe the influence exercised by Plato on his imitators; and (VII) take occasion to consider the nature and value of political, and (VIII) of religious ideals.
I. Plato expressly says that he is intending to found a Hellenic State (Book v. 470 E). Many of his regulations are characteristically Spartan; such as the prohibition of gold and silver, the common meals of the men, the military training of the youth, the gymnastic exercises of the women. The life of Sparta was the life of a camp (“Laws” ii. 666 E), enforced even more rigidly in time of peace than in war; the citizens of Sparta, like Plato’s, were forbidden to trade—they were to be soldiers and not shopkeepers. Nowhere else in Greece was the individual so completely subjected to the State; the time when he was to marry, the education of his children, the clothes which he was to wear, the food which he was to eat, were all prescribed by law. Some of the best enactments in the “Republic,” such as the reverence to be paid to parents and elders, and some of the worst, such as the exposure of deformed children, are borrowed from the practice of Sparta. The encouragement of friendships between men and youth, or of men with one another, as affording incentives to bravery, is also Spartan; in Sparta, too, a nearer approach was made than in any other Greek State to equality of the sexes, and to community of property; and while there was probably less of licentiousness in the sense of immorality, the tie of marriage was regarded more lightly than in the rest of Greece. The suprema lex was the preservation of the family and the interest of the State. The coarse strength of a military government was not favorable to purity and refinement; and the excessive strictness of some regulations seems to have produced a reaction. Of all Hellenes the Spartans were most accessible to bribery; several of the greatest of them might be described in the words of Plato as having a “fierce secret longing after gold and silver.” Though not in the strict sense communists, the principle of communism was maintained among them in their division of lands, in their common meals, in their slaves, and in the free use of one another’s goods. Marriage was a public institution; and the women were educated by the State, and sang and danced in public with the men.
Many traditions were preserved at Sparta of the severity with which the magistrates had maintained the primitive rule of music and poetry; as in the “Republic” of Plato, the newfangled poet was to be expelled. Hymns to the gods, which are the only kind of music admitted into the ideal State, were the only kind which was permitted at Sparta. The Spartans, though an unpoetical race, were nevertheless lovers of poetry; they had been stirred by the Elegiac strains of Tyrtæus, they had crowded around Hippias to hear his recitals of Homer; but in this they resembled the citizens of the timocratic rather than of the ideal State (548 E). The council of elder men also corresponds to the Spartan gerousia; and the freedom with which they are permitted to judge about matters of detail agrees with what we are told of that institution. Once more, the military rule of not despoiling the dead or offering arms at the temples; the moderation in the pursuit of enemies; the importance attached to the physical well-being of the citizens; the use of warfare for the sake of defence rather than of aggression—are features probably suggested by the spirit and practice of Sparta.
To the Spartan type the ideal State reverts in the first decline; and the character of the individual timocrat is borrowed from the Spartan citizen. The love of Lacedæmon not only affected Plato and Xenophon, but was shared by many undistinguished Athenians; there they seemed to find a principle which was wanting in their own democracy. The εὐκοσμία of the Spartans attracted them, that is to say, not the goodness of their laws, but the spirit of order and loyalty which prevailed. Fascinated by the idea, citizens of Athens would imitate the Lacedæmonians in their dress and manners; they were known to the contemporaries of Plato as “the persons who had their ears bruised,” like the Roundheads of the commonwealth. The love of another church or country when seen at a distance only, the longing for an imaginary simplicity in civilized times, the fond desire of a past which never has been, or of a future which never will be—these are aspirations of the human mind which are often felt among ourselves. Such feelings meet with a response in the “Republic” of Plato.
But there are other features of the Platonic “Republic,” as, for example, the literary and philosophical education, and the grace and beauty of life, which are the reverse of Spartan. Plato wishes to give his citizens a taste of Athenian freedom as well as of Lacedæmonian discipline. His individual genius is purely Athenian, although in theory he is a lover of Sparta; and he is something more than either—he has also a true Hellenic feeling. He is desirous of humanizing the wars of Hellenes against one another; he acknowledges that the Delphian god is the grand hereditary interpreter of all Hellas. The spirit of harmony and the Dorian mode are to prevail, and the whole State is to have an external beauty which is the reflex of the harmony within. But he has not yet found out the truth which he afterwards enunciated in the “Laws” (i. 628 D)—that he was a better legislator who made men to be of one mind than he who trained them for war. The citizens, as in other Hellenic States, democratic as well as aristocratic, are really an upper class; for, although no mention is made of slaves, the lower classes are allowed to fade away into the distance, and are represented in the individual by the passions. Plato has no idea either of a social State in which all classes are harmonized, or of a federation of Hellas or the world in which different nations or States have a place. His city is equipped for war rather than for peace, and this would seem to be justified by the ordinary condition of Hellenic States. The myth of the earth-born men is an embodiment of the orthodox tradition of Hellas, and the allusion to the four ages of the world is also sanctioned by the authority of Hesiod and the poets. Thus we see that the Republic is partly founded on the ideal of the old Greek polis, partly on the actual circumstances of Hellas in that age. Plato, like the old painters, retains the traditional form, and like them he has also a vision of a city in the clouds.
There is yet another thread which is interwoven in the texture of the work; for the Republic is not only a Dorian State, but a Pythagorean league. The “way of life” which was connected with the name of Pythagoras, like the Catholic monastic orders, showed the power which the mind of an individual might exercise over his contemporaries, and may have naturally suggested to Plato the possibility of reviving such “mediæval institutions.” The Pythagoreans, like Plato, enforced a rule of life and a moral and intellectual training. The influence ascribed to music, which to us seems exaggerated, is also a Pythagorean feature; it is not to be regarded as representing the real influence of music in the Greek world. More nearly than any other government of Hellas, the Pythagorean league of 300 was an aristocracy of virtue. For once in the history of mankind the philosophy of order or κόσμος, expressing and consequently enlisting on its side the combined endeavors of the better part of the people, obtained the management of public affairs and held possession of it for a considerable time (until about B.C. 500). Probably only in States prepared by Dorian institutions would such a league have been possible. The rulers, like Plato’s φύλακες, were required to submit to a severe training in order to prepare the way for the education of the other members of the community. Long after the dissolution of the order, eminent Pythagoreans, such as Archytas of Tarentum, retained their political influence over the cities of Magna Græcia. There was much here that was suggestive to the kindred spirit of Plato, who had doubtless meditated deeply on the “way of life of Pythagoras” (“Rep.” x. 600 B) and his followers. Slight traces of Pythagoreanism are to be found in the mystical number of the State, in the number which expresses the interval between the king and the tyrant, in the doctrine of transmigration, in the music of the spheres, as well as in the great though secondary importance ascribed to mathematics in education.
But as in his philosophy, so also in the form of his State, he goes far beyond the old Pythagoreans. He attempts a task really impossible, which is to unite the past of Greek history with the future of philosophy, analogous to that other impossibility, which has often been the dream of Christendom, the attempt to unite the past history of Europe with the kingdom of Christ. Nothing actually existing in the world at all resembles Plato’s ideal State; nor does he himself imagine that such a State is possible. This he repeats again and again; e. g., in the “Republic” (ix. sub fin.), or in the “Laws” (Book v. 739), where, casting a glance back on the “Republic,” he admits that the perfect state of communism and philosophy was impossible in his own age, though still to be retained as a pattern. The same doubt is implied in the earnestness with which he argues in the “Republic” (v. 472 D) that ideals are none the worse because they cannot be realized in fact, and in the chorus of laughter, which like a breaking wave will, as he anticipates, greet the mention of his proposals; though like other writers of fiction, he uses all his art to give reality to his inventions. When asked how the ideal polity can come into being, he answers ironically, “When one son of a king becomes a philosopher;” he designates the fiction of the earth-born men as “a noble lie;” and when the structure is finally complete, he fairly tells you that his republic is a vision only, which in some sense may have reality, but not in the vulgar one of a reign of philosophers upon earth. It has been said that Plato flies as well as walks, but this falls short of the truth; for he flies and walks at the same time, and is in the air and on firm ground in successive instants.
Niebuhr has asked a trifling question, which may be briefly noticed in this place—Was Plato a good citizen? If by this is meant, Was he loyal to Athenian institutions?—he can hardly be said to be the friend of democracy: but neither is he the friend of any other existing form of government; all of them he regarded as “states of faction” (“Laws” viii. 832 C); none attained to his ideal of a voluntary rule over voluntary subjects, which seems indeed more nearly to describe democracy than any other; and the worst of them is tyranny. The truth is that the question has hardly any meaning when applied to a great philosopher whose writings are not meant for a particular age and country, but for all time and all mankind. The decline of Athenian politics was probably the motive which led Plato to frame an ideal State, and the Republic may be regarded as reflecting the departing glory of Hellas. As well might we complain of St. Augustine, whose great work “The City of God” originated in a similar motive, for not being loyal to the Roman Empire. Even a nearer parallel might be afforded by the first Christians, who cannot fairly be charged with being bad citizens because, though “subject to the higher powers,” they were looking forward to a city which is in heaven.
II. The idea of the perfect State is full of paradox when judged of according to the ordinary notions of mankind. The paradoxes of one age have been said to become the commonplaces of the next; but the paradoxes of Plato are at least as paradoxical to us as they were to his contemporaries. The modern world has either sneered at them as absurd, or denounced them as unnatural and immoral; men have been pleased to find in Aristotle’s criticisms of them the anticipation of their own good sense. The wealthy and cultivated classes have disliked and also dreaded them; they have pointed with satisfaction to the failure of efforts to realize them in practice. Yet since they are the thoughts of one of the greatest of human intelligences, and of one who has done most to elevate morality and religion, they seem to deserve a better treatment at our hands. We may have to address the public, as Plato does poetry, and assure them that we mean no harm to existing institutions. There are serious errors which have a side of truth and which therefore may fairly demand a careful consideration: there are truths mixed with error of which we may indeed say, “The half is better than the whole.” Yet “the half” may be an important contribution to the study of human nature.
(α) The first paradox is the community of goods, which is mentioned slightly at the end of the third book, and seemingly, as Aristotle observes, is confined to the guardians; at least no mention is made of the other classes. But the omission is not of any real significance, and probably arises out of the plan of the work, which prevents the writer from entering into details.
Aristotle censures the community of property much in the spirit of modern political economy, as tending to repress industry, and as doing away with the spirit of benevolence. Modern writers almost refuse to consider the subject, which is supposed to have been long ago settled by the common opinion of mankind. But it must be remembered that the sacredness of property is a notion far more fixed in modern than in ancient times. The world has grown older, and is therefore more conservative. Primitive society offered many examples of land held in common, either by a tribe or by a township, and such may probably have been the original form of landed tenure. Ancient legislators had invented various modes of dividing and preserving the divisions of land among the citizens; according to Aristotle there were nations who held the land in common and divided the produce, and there were others who divided the land and stored the produce in common. The evils of debt and the inequality of property were far greater in ancient than in modern times, and the accidents to which property was subject from war, or revolution, or taxation, or other legislative interference, were also greater. All these circumstances gave property a less fixed and sacred character. The early Christians are believed to have held their property in common, and the principle is sanctioned by the words of Christ himself, and has been maintained as a counsel of perfection in almost all ages of the Church. Nor have there been wanting instances of modern enthusiasts who have made a religion of communism; in every age of religious excitement notions like Wycliffe’s “Inheritance of Grace” have tended to prevail. A like spirit, but fiercer and more violent, has appeared in politics. “The preparation of the gospel of peace” soon becomes the red flag of republicanism.
We can hardly judge what effect Plato’s views would have upon his own contemporaries; they would perhaps have seemed to them only an exaggeration of the Spartan Commonwealth. Even modern writers would acknowledge that the right of private property is based on expediency, and may be interfered with in a variety of ways for the public good. Any other mode of vesting property which was found to be more advantageous, would in time acquire the same basis of right; “the most useful,” in Plato’s words, “would be the most sacred.” The lawyers and ecclesiastics of former ages would have spoken of property as a sacred institution. But they only meant by such language to oppose the greatest amount of resistance to any invasion of the rights of individuals and of the Church.
When we consider the question, without any fear of immediate application to practice, in the spirit of Plato’s “Republic,” are we quite sure that the received notions of property are the best? Is the distribution of wealth which is customary in civilized countries the most favorable that can be conceived for the education and development of the mass of mankind? Can “the spectator of all time and all existence” be quite convinced that one or two thousand years hence, great changes will not have taken place in the rights of property, or even that the very notion of property, beyond what is necessary for personal maintenance, may not have disappeared? This was a distinction familiar to Aristotle, though likely to be laughed at among ourselves. Such a change would not be greater than some other changes through which the world has passed in the transition from ancient to modern society, for example, the emancipation of the serfs in Russia, or the abolition of slavery in America and the West Indies; and not so great as the difference which separates the Eastern village community from the Western world. To accomplish such a revolution in the course of a few centuries, would imply a rate of progress not more rapid than has actually taken place during the last fifty or sixty years. The Empire of Japan underwent more change in five or six years than Europe in five or six hundred. Many opinions and beliefs which have been cherished among ourselves quite as strongly as the sacredness of property have passed away; and the most untenable propositions respecting the right of bequests or entail have been maintained with as much fervor as the most moderate. Someone will be heard to ask whether a state of society can be final in which the interests of thousands are perilled on the life or character of a single person. And many will indulge the hope that our present condition may, after all, be only transitional, and may conduct to a higher, in which property, beside ministering to the enjoyment of the few, may also furnish the means of the highest culture to all, and will be a greater benefit to the public generally, and also more under the control of public authority. There may come a time when the saying, “Have I not a right to do what I will with my own?” will appear to be a barbarous relic of individualism; when the possession of a part may be a greater blessing to each and all than the possession of the whole is now to anyone.
Such reflections appear visionary to the eye of the practical statesman, but they are within the range of possibility to the philosopher. He can imagine that in some distant age or clime, and through the influence of some individual, the notion of common property may or might have sunk as deep into the heart of a race, and have become as fixed to them, as private property is to ourselves. He knows that this latter institution is not more than four or five thousand years old: may not the end revert to the beginning? In our own age even Utopias affect the spirit of legislation, and an abstract idea may exercise a great influence on practical politics.
The objections that would be generally urged against Plato’s community of property are the old ones of Aristotle, that motives for exertion would be taken away, and that disputes would arise when each was dependent upon all. Every man would produce as little and consume as much as he liked. The experience of civilized nations has hitherto been adverse to socialism. The effort is too great for human nature; men try to live in common, but the personal feeling is always breaking in. On the other hand it may be doubted whether our present notions of property are not conventional, for they differ in different countries and in different states of society. We boast of an individualism which is not freedom, but rather an artificial result of the industrial state of modern Europe. The individual is nominally free, but he is also powerless in a world bound hand and foot in the chains of economic necessity. Even if we cannot expect the mass of mankind to become disinterested, at any rate we observe in them a power of organization which fifty years ago would never have been suspected. The same forces which have revolutionized the political system of Europe may effect a similar change in the social and industrial relations of mankind. And if we suppose the influence of some good as well as neutral motives working in the community, there will be no absurdity in expecting that the mass of mankind having power, and becoming enlightened about the higher possibilities of human life, when they learn how much more is attainable for all than is at present the possession of a favored few, may pursue the common interest with an intelligence and persistency which mankind have hitherto never seen.
Now that the world has once been set in motion, and is no longer held fast under the tyranny of custom and ignorance; now that criticism has pierced the veil of tradition and the past no longer overpowers the present—the progress of civilization may be expected to be far greater and swifter than heretofore. Even at our present rate of speed the point at which we may arrive in two or three generations is beyond the power of imagination to foresee. There are forces in the world which work, not in an arithmetical, but in a geometrical ratio of increase. Education, to use the expression of Plato, moves like a wheel with an ever-multiplying rapidity. Nor can we say how great may be its influence, when it becomes universal—when it has been inherited by many generations—when it is freed from the trammels of superstition and rightly adapted to the wants and capacities of different classes of men and women. Neither do we know how much more the co-operation of minds or of hands may be capable of accomplishing, whether in labor or in study. The resources of the natural sciences are not half developed as yet; the soil of the earth, instead of growing more barren, may become many times more fertile than hitherto; the uses of machinery far greater and also more minute than at present. New secrets of physiology may be revealed, deeply affecting human nature in its innermost recesses. The standard of health may be raised and the lives of men prolonged by sanitary and medical knowledge. There may be peace, there may be leisure, there may be innocent refreshments of many kinds. The ever-increasing power of locomotion may join the extremes of earth. There may be mysterious workings of the human mind, such as occur only at great crises of history. The East and the West may meet together, and all nations may contribute their thoughts and their experience to the common stock of humanity. Many other elements enter into a speculation of this kind. But it is better to make an end of them. For such reflections appear to the majority far-fetched, and, to men of science, commonplace.
(β) Neither to the mind of Plato nor of Aristotle did the doctrine of community of property present at all the same difficulty, or appear to be the same violation of the common Hellenic sentiment, as the community of wives and children. This paradox he prefaces by another proposal, that the occupations of men and women shall be the same, and that to this end they shall have a common training and education. Male and female animals have the same pursuits—why not also the two sexes of man?
But have we not here fallen into a contradiction? for we were saying that different natures should have different pursuits. How then can men and women have the same? And is not the proposal inconsistent with our notion of the division of labor? These objections are no sooner raised than answered; for, according to Plato, there is no organic difference between men and women, but only the accidental one that men beget and women bear children. Following the analogy of the other animals, he contends that all natural gifts are scattered about indifferently among both sexes, though there may be a superiority of degree on the part of the men. The objection on the score of decency to their taking part in the same gymnastic exercises, is met by Plato’s assertion that the existing feeling is a matter of habit.
That Plato should have emancipated himself from the ideas of his own country and from the example of the East, shows a wonderful independence of mind. He is conscious that women are half the human race, in some respects the more important half (“Laws” vi. 781 B); and for the sake both of men and women he desires to raise the woman to a higher level of existence. He brings, not sentiment, but philosophy to bear upon a question which both in ancient and modern times has been chiefly regarded in the light of custom or feeling. The Greeks had noble conceptions of womanhood in the goddesses Athene and Artemis, and in the heroines Antigone and Andromache. But these ideals had no counterpart in actual life. The Athenian woman was in no way the equal of her husband; she was not the entertainer of his guests or the mistress of his house, but only his housekeeper and the mother of his children. She took no part in military or political matters; nor is there any instance in the later ages of Greece of a woman becoming famous in literature. “Hers is the greatest glory who has the least renown among men” is the historian’s conception of feminine excellence. A very different ideal of womanhood is held up by Plato to the world; she is to be the companion of the man, and to share with him in the toils of war and in the cares of government. She is to be similarly trained both in bodily and mental exercises. She is to lose as far as possible the incidents of maternity and the characteristics of the female sex.
The modern antagonist of the equality of the sexes would argue that the differences between men and women are not confined to the single point urged by Plato; that sensibility, gentleness, grace are the qualities of women, while energy, strength, higher intelligence are to be looked for in men. And the criticism is just: the differences affect the whole nature, and are not, as Plato supposes, confined to a single point. But neither can we say how far these differences are due to education and the opinions of mankind, or physically inherited from the habits and opinions of former generations. Women have been always taught, not exactly that they are slaves, but that they are in an inferior position, which is also supposed to have compensating advantages; and to this position they have conformed. It is also true that the physical form may easily change in the course of generations through the mode of life; and the weakness or delicacy, which was once a matter of opinion, may become a physical fact. The characteristics of sex vary greatly in different countries and ranks of society, and at different ages in the same individuals. Plato may have been right in denying that there was any ultimate difference in the sexes of man other than that which exists in animals, because all other differences may be conceived to disappear in other states of society, or under different circumstances of life and training.
The first wave having been passed, we proceed to the second—community of wives and children. “Is it possible? Is it desirable?” For, as Glaucon intimates, and as we far more strongly insist, “great doubts may be entertained about both these points.” Any free discussion of the question is impossible, and mankind are perhaps right in not allowing the ultimate bases of social life to be examined. Few of us can safely inquire into the things which nature hides, any more than we can dissect our own bodies. Still, the manner in which Plato arrived at his conclusions should be considered. For here, as Mr. Grote has remarked, is a wonderful thing, that one of the wisest and best of men should have entertained ideas of morality which are wholly at variance with our own. And if we would do Plato justice, we must examine carefully the character of his proposals. First, we may observe that the relations of the sexes supposed by him are the reverse of licentious: he seems rather to aim at an impossible strictness. Secondly, he conceives the family to be the natural enemy of the State; and he entertains the serious hope that a universal brotherhood may take the place of private interests—an aspiration which, although not justified by experience, has possessed many noble minds. On the other hand, there is no sentiment or imagination in the connections which men and women are supposed by him to form; human beings return to the level of the animals, neither exalting to heaven nor yet abusing the natural instincts. All that world of poetry and fancy which the passion of love has called forth in modern literature and romance would have been banished by Plato. The arrangements of marriage in the Republic are directed to one object—the improvement of the race. In successive generations a great development both of bodily and mental qualities might be possible. The analogy of animals tends to show that mankind can within certain limits receive a change of nature. And as in animals we should commonly choose the best for breeding, and destroy the others, so there must be a selection made of the human beings whose lives are worthy to be preserved.
We start back horrified from this Platonic ideal, in the belief, first, that the higher feelings of humanity are far too strong to be crushed out; secondly, that if the plan could be carried into execution we should be poorly recompensed by improvements in the breed for the loss of the best things in life. The greatest regard for the weakest and meanest of human beings—the infant, the criminal, the insane, the idiot—truly seems to us one of the noblest results of Christianity. We have learned, though as yet imperfectly, that the individual man has an endless value in the sight of God, and that we honor Him when we honor the darkened and disfigured image of Him (cp. “Laws” xi. 931 A). This is the lesson which Christ taught in a parable when he said, “Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” Such lessons are only partially realized in any age; they were foreign to the age of Plato, as they have very different degrees of strength in different countries or ages of the Christian world. To the Greek the family was a religious and customary institution binding the members together by a tie inferior in strength to that of friendship, and having a less solemn and sacred sound than that of country. The relationship which existed on the lower level of custom, Plato imagined that he was raising to the higher level of nature and reason; while from the modern and Christian point of view we regard him as sanctioning murder and destroying the first principles of morality.
The great error in these and similar speculations is that the difference between man and the animals is forgotten in them. The human being is regarded with the eye of a dog or bird-fancier (v. 459 A), or at best of a slave-owner; the higher or human qualities are left out. The breeder of animals aims chiefly at size or speed or strength; in a few cases at courage or temper; most often the fitness of the animal for food is the great desideratum. But mankind are not bred to be eaten, nor yet for their superiority in fighting or in running or in drawing carts. Neither does the improvement of the human race consist merely in the increase of the bones and flesh, but in the growth and enlightenment of the mind. Hence there must be “a marriage of true minds” as well as of bodies, of imagination and reason as well as of lusts and instincts. Men and women without feeling or imagination are justly called brutes; yet Plato takes away these qualities and puts nothing in their place, not even the desire of a noble offspring, since parents are not to know their own children. The most important transaction of social life, he who is the idealist philosopher converts into the most brutal. For the pair are to have no relation to one another, except at the hymeneal festival; their children are not theirs, but the State’s; nor is any tie of affection to unite them. Yet here the analogy of the animals might have saved Plato from a gigantic error, if he had “not lost sight of his own illustration” (ii. 375 D). For the “nobler sort of birds and beasts” (v. 459 A) nourish and protect their offspring and are faithful to one another.
An eminent physiologist thinks it worth while “to try and place life on a physical basis.” But should not life rest on the moral rather than upon the physical? The higher comes first, then the lower; first the human and rational, afterward the animal. Yet they are not absolutely divided; and in times of sickness or moments of self-indulgence they seem to be only different aspects of a common human nature which includes them both. Neither is the moral the limit of the physical, but the expansion and enlargement of it—the highest form which the physical is capable of receiving. As Plato would say, the body does not take care of the body, and still less of the mind, but the mind takes care of both. In all human action not that which is common to man and the animals is the characteristic element, but that which distinguishes him from them. Even if we admit the physical basis, and resolve all virtue into health of body—“le façon que notre sang circule,” still on merely physical grounds we must come back to ideas. Mind and reason and duty and conscience, under these or other names, are always reappearing. There cannot be health of body without health of mind; nor health of mind without the sense of duty and the love of truth (cp. “Charm.” 156 D, E).
That the greatest of ancient philosophers should in his regulations about marriage have fallen into the error of separating body and mind, does, indeed, appear surprising. Yet the wonder is not so much that Plato should have entertained ideas of morality which to our own age are revolting, but that he should have contradicted himself to an extent which is hardly credible, falling in an instant from the heaven of idealism into the crudest animalism. Rejoicing in the newly found gift of reflection, he appears to have thought out a subject about which he had better have followed the enlightened feeling of his own age. The general sentiment of Hellas was opposed to his monstrous fancy. The old poets, and in later time the tragedians, showed no want of respect for the family, on which much of their religion was based. But the example of Sparta, and perhaps in some degree the tendency to defy public opinion, seem to have misled him. He will make one family out of all the families of the State. He will select the finest specimens of men and women, and breed from these only.
Yet because the illusion is always returning (for the animal part of human nature will from time to time assert itself in the disguise of philosophy as well as of poetry), and also because any departure from established morality, even where this is not intended, is apt to be unsettling, it may be worth while to draw out a little more at length the objections to the Platonic marriage. In the first place, history shows that wherever polygamy has been largely allowed the race has deteriorated. One man to one woman is the law of God and nature. Nearly all the civilized peoples of the world at some period before the age of written records have become monogamists; and the step when once taken has never been retraced. The exceptions occurring among Brahmins or Mahometans or the ancient Persians, are of that sort which may be said to prove the rule. The connections formed between superior and inferior races hardly ever produce a noble offspring, because they are licentious; and because the children in such cases usually despise the mother, and are neglected by the father, who is ashamed of them. Barbarous nations when they are introduced by Europeans to vice die out; polygamist peoples either import and adopt children from other countries, or dwindle in numbers, or both. Dynasties and aristocracies which have disregarded the laws of nature have decreased in numbers and degenerated in stature; mariages de convenance leave their enfeebling stamp on the offspring of them (cp. “King Lear,” Act i. Sc. 2). The marriage of near relations, or the marrying in and in of the same family, tends constantly to weakness or idiocy in the children, sometimes assuming the form as they grow older of passionate licentiousness. The common prostitute rarely has any offspring. By such unmistakable evidence is the authority of morality asserted in the relations of the sexes: and so many more elements enter into this “mystery” than are dreamed of by Plato and some other philosophers.
Recent inquiries have, indeed, arrived at the conclusion that among primitive tribes there existed a community of wives as of property, and that the captive taken by the spear was the only wife or slave whom any man was permitted to call his own. The partial existence of such customs among some of the lower races of man, and the survival of peculiar ceremonies in the marriages of some civilized nations, are thought to furnish a proof of similar institutions having been once universal. There can be no question that the study of anthropology has considerably changed our views respecting the first appearance of man upon the earth. We know more about the aborigines of the world than formerly, but our increasing knowledge shows above all things how little we know. With all the helps which written monuments afford, we do but faintly realize the condition of man 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. Of what his condition was when removed to a distance 200,000 or 300,000 years, when the majority of mankind were lower and nearer the animals than any tribe now existing upon the earth, we cannot even entertain conjecture. Plato (“Laws” iii. 676 foll.) and Aristotle (“Metaph.” xi. 8, §§ 19, 20) may have been more right than we imagine in supposing that some forms of civilization were discovered and lost several times over. If we cannot argue that all barbarism is a degraded civilization, neither can we set any limits to the depth of degradation to which the human race may sink through war, disease, or isolation. And if we are to draw inferences about the origin of marriage from the practice of barbarous nations, we should also consider the remoter analogy of the animals. Many birds and animals, especially the carnivorous, have only one mate, and the love and care of offspring which seem to be natural are inconsistent with the primitive theory of marriage. If we go back to an imaginary state in which men were almost animals and the companions of them, we have as much right to argue from what is animal to what is human as from the barbarous to the civilized man. The record of animal life on the globe is fragmentary—the connecting links are wanting and cannot be supplied; the record of social life is still more fragmentary and precarious. Even if we admit that our first ancestors had no such institution as marriage, still the stages by which men passed from outer barbarism to the comparative civilization of China, Assyria, and Greece, or even of the ancient Germans, are wholly unknown to us.
Such speculations are apt to be unsettling, because they seem to show that an institution which was thought to be a revelation from heaven, is only the growth of history and experience. We ask, What is the origin of marriage? and we are told that like the right of property, after many wars and contests, it has gradually arisen out of the selfishness of barbarians. We stand face to face with human nature in its primitive nakedness. We are compelled to accept, not the highest, but the lowest account of the origin of human society. But on the other hand we may truly say that every step in human progress has been in the same direction, and that in the course of ages the idea of marriage and of the family has been more and more defined and consecrated. The civilized East is immeasurably in advance of any savage tribes; the Greeks and Romans have improved upon the East; the Christian nations have been stricter in their views of the marriage relation than any of the ancients. In this as in so many other things, instead of looking back with regret to the past, we should look forward with hope to the future. We must consecrate that which we believe to be the most holy, and that “which is the most holy will be the most useful.” There is more reason for maintaining the sacredness of the marriage tie, when we see the benefit of it, than when we only felt a vague religious horror about the violation of it. But in all times of transition, when established beliefs are being undermined, there is a danger that in the passage from the old to the new we may insensibly let go the moral principle, finding an excuse for listening to the voice of passion in the uncertainty of knowledge, or the fluctuations of opinion. And there are many persons in our own day who, enlightened by the study of anthropology, and fascinated by what is new and strange, some using the language of fear, others of hope, are inclined to believe that a time will come when through the self-assertion of women, or the rebellious spirit of children, by the analysis of human relations, or by the force of outward circumstances, the ties of family life may be broken or greatly relaxed. They point to societies in America and elsewhere which tend to show that the destruction of the family need not necessarily involve the overthrow of all morality. Whatever we may think of such speculations, we can hardly deny that they have been more rife in this generation than in any other; and whither they are tending who can predict?
To the doubts and queries raised by these “social reformers” respecting the relation of the sexes and the moral nature of man, there is a sufficient answer, if any is needed. The difference between them and us is really one of fact. They are speaking of man as they wish or fancy him to be, but we are speaking of him as he is. They isolate the animal part of his nature; we regard him as a creature having many sides, or aspects, moving between good and evil, striving to rise above himself and to become “a little lower than the angels.” We also, to use a Platonic formula, are not ignorant of the dissatisfactions and incompatibilities of family life, of the meannesses of trade, of the flatteries of one class of society by another, of the impediments which the family throws in the way of lofty aims and aspirations. But we are conscious that there are evils and dangers in the background greater still, which are not appreciated, because they are either concealed or suppressed. What a condition of man would that be, in which human passions were controlled by no authority, divine or human, in which there was no shame or decency, no higher affection overcoming or sanctifying the natural instincts, but simply a rule of health! Is it for this that we are asked to throw away the civilization which is the growth of ages?
For strength and health are not the only qualities to be desired; there are the more important considerations of mind and character and soul. We know how human nature may be degraded; we do not know how by artificial means any improvement in the breed can be effected. The problem is a complex one, for if we go back only four steps (and these at least enter into the composition of a child), there are commonly thirty progenitors to be taken into account. Many curious facts, rarely admitting of proof, are told us respecting the inheritance of disease or character from a remote ancestor. We can trace the physical resemblances of parents and children in the same family—
“Sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat;”
but scarcely less often the differences which distinguish children both from their parents and from one another. We are told of similar mental peculiarities running in families, and again of a tendency, as in the animals, to revert to a common or original stock. But we have a difficulty in distinguishing what is a true inheritance of genius or other qualities, and what is mere imitation or the result of similar circumstances. Great men and great women have rarely had great fathers and mothers. Nothing that we know of in the circumstances of their birth or lineage will explain their appearance. Of the English poets of the last and two preceding centuries scarcely a descendant remains—none have ever been distinguished. So deeply has nature hidden her secret, and so ridiculous is the fancy which has been entertained by some that we might in time by suitable marriage arrangements or, as Plato would have said, “by an ingenious system of lots,” produce a Shakespeare or a Milton. Even supposing that we could breed men having the tenacity of bulldogs, or, like the Spartans, “lacking the wit to run away in battle,” would the world be any the better? Many of the noblest specimens of the human race have been among the weakest physically. Tyrtæus or Æsop, or our own Newton, would have been exposed at Sparta; and some of the fairest and strongest men and women have been among the wickedest and worst. Not by the Platonic device of uniting the strong and fair with the strong and fair, regardless of sentiment and morality, nor yet by his other device of combining dissimilar natures (“Statesman” 310 A), have mankind gradually passed from the brutality and licentiousness of primitive marriage to marriage Christian and civilized.
Few persons would deny that we bring into the world an inheritance of mental and physical qualities derived first from our parents, or through them from some remoter ancestor, secondly from our race, thirdly from the general condition of mankind into which we are born. Nothing is commoner than the remark that “So-and-so is like his father or his uncle;” and an aged person may not unfrequently note a resemblance in a youth to a long-forgotten ancestor, observing that “Nature sometimes skips a generation.” It may be true also that if we knew more about our ancestors, these similarities would be even more striking to us. Admitting the facts which are thus described in a popular way, we may, however, remark that there is no method of difference by which they can be defined or estimated, and that they constitute only a small part of each individual. The doctrine of heredity may seem to take out of our hands the conduct of our own lives, but it is the idea, not the fact, which is really terrible to us. For what we have received from our ancestors is only a fraction of what we are or may become. The knowledge that drunkenness or insanity has been prevalent in a family may be the best safeguard against their recurrence in a future generation. The parent will be most awake to the vices or diseases in his child of which he is most sensible within himself. The whole of life may be directed to their prevention or cure. The traces of consumption may become fainter, or be wholly effaced: the inherent tendency to vice or crime may be eradicated. And so heredity, from being a curse, may become a blessing. We acknowledge that in the matter of our birth, as in our nature generally, there are previous circumstances which affect us. But upon this platform of circumstances or within this wall of necessity, we have still the power of creating a life for ourselves by the informing energy of the human will.
There is another aspect of the marriage question to which Plato is a stranger. All the children born in his State are foundlings. It never occurred to him that the greater part of them, according to universal experience, would have perished. For children can only be brought up in families. There is a subtle sympathy between the mother and the child which cannot be supplied by other mothers, or by “strong nurses one or more” (“Laws” vii. 789 E). If Plato’s “pen” was as fatal as the crèches of Paris, or the foundling hospital of Dublin, more than nine-tenths of his children would have perished. There would have been no need to expose or put out of the way the weaklier children, for they would have died of themselves. So emphatically does nature protest against the destruction of the family.
What Plato had heard or seen of Sparta was applied by him in a mistaken way to his ideal commonwealth. He probably observed that both the Spartan men and women were superior in form and strength to the other Greeks; and this superiority he was disposed to attribute to the laws and customs relating to marriage. He did not consider that the desire of a noble offspring was a passion among the Spartans, or that their physical superiority was to be attributed chiefly, not to their marriage customs, but to their temperance and training. He did not reflect that Sparta was great, not in consequence of the relaxation of morality, but in spite of it, by virtue of a political principle stronger far than existed in any other Grecian State. Least of all did he observe that Sparta did not really produce the finest specimens of the Greek race. The genius, the political inspiration of Athens, the love of liberty all that has made Greece famous with posterity, were wanting among the Spartans. They had no Themistocles, or Pericles, or Æschylus, or Sophocles, or Socrates, or Plato. The individual was not allowed to appear above the State; the laws were fixed, and he had no business to alter or reform them. Yet whence has the progress of cities and nations arisen, if not from remarkable individuals, coming into the world we know not how, and from causes over which we have no control? Something too much may have been said in modern times of the value of individuality. But we can hardly condemn too strongly a system which, instead of fostering the scattered seeds or sparks of genius and character, tends to smother and extinguish them.
Still, while condemning Plato, we must acknowledge that neither Christianity nor any other form of religion and society has hitherto been able to cope with this most difficult of social problems, and that the side from which Plato regarded it is that from which we turn away. Population is the most untamable force in the political and social world. Do we not find, especially in large cities, that the greatest hindrance to the amelioration of the poor is their improvidence in marriage?—a small fault truly, if not involving endless consequences. There are whole countries, too, such as India, or, nearer home, Ireland, in which a right solution of the marriage question seems to lie at the foundation of the happiness of the community. There are too many people on a given space, or they marry too early and bring into the world a sickly and half-developed offspring; or owing to the very conditions of their existence, they become emaciated and hand on a similar life to their descendants. But who can oppose the voice of prudence to the “mightiest passions of mankind” (“Laws” viii. 835 C), especially when they have been licensed by custom and religion? In addition to the influences of education, we seem to require some new principles of right and wrong in these matters, some force of opinion, which may, indeed, be already heard whispering in private, but has never affected the moral sentiments of mankind in general. We unavoidably lose sight of the principle of utility, just in that action of our lives in which we have the most need of it. The influences which we can bring to bear upon this question are chiefly indirect. In a generation or two, education, emigration, improvements in agriculture and manufactures, may have provided the solution. The State physician hardly likes to probe the wound: it is beyond his art; a matter which he cannot safely let alone, but which he dare not touch:
“We do but skin and film the ulcerous place.”
When again in private life we see a whole family one by one dropping into the grave under the Ate of some inherited malady, and the parents perhaps surviving them, do our minds ever go back silently to that day twenty-five or thirty years before on which under the fairest auspices, amid the rejoicings of friends and acquaintances, a bride and bridegroom joined hands with one another? In making such a reflection we are not opposing physical considerations to moral, but moral to physical; we are seeking to make the voice of reason heard, which drives us back from the extravagance of sentimentalism on commonsense. The late Dr. Combe is said by his biographer to have resisted the temptation to marriage, because he knew that he was subject to hereditary consumption. One who deserved to be called a man of genius, a friend of my youth, was in the habit of wearing a black ribbon on his wrist, in order to remind him that, being liable to outbreaks of insanity, he must not give way to the natural impulses of affection: he died unmarried in a lunatic asylum. These two little facts suggest the reflection that a very few persons have done from a sense of duty what the rest of mankind ought to have done under like circumstances, if they had allowed themselves to think of all the misery which they were about to bring into the world. If we could prevent such marriages without any violation of feeling or propriety, we clearly ought; and the prohibition in the course of time would be protected by a horror naturalis similar to that which, in all civilized ages and countries, has prevented the marriage of near relations by blood. Mankind would have been the happier if some things which are now allowed had from the beginning been denied to them; if the sanction of religion could have prohibited practices inimical to health; if sanitary principles could in early ages have been invested with a superstitious awe. But, living as we do far on in the world’s history, we are no longer able to stamp at once with the impress of religion a new prohibition. A free agent cannot have his fancies regulated by law; and the execution of the law would be rendered impossible, owing to the uncertainty of the cases in which marriage was to be forbidden. Who can weigh virtue, or even fortune, against health, or moral and mental qualities against bodily? Who can measure probabilities against certainties? There has been some good as well as evil in the discipline of suffering; and there are diseases, such as consumption, which have exercised a refining and softening influence on the character. Youth is too inexperienced to balance such nice considerations; parents do not often think of them, or think of them too late. They are at a distance and may probably be averted; change of place, a new state of life, the interests of a home may be the cure of them. So persons vainly reason when their minds are already made up and their fortunes irrevocably linked together. Nor is there any ground for supposing that marriages are to any great extent influenced by reflections of this sort, which seem unable to make any head against the irresistible impulse of individual attachment.
Lastly, no one can have observed the first rising flood of the passions in youth, the difficulty of regulating them, and the effects on the whole mind and nature which follow from them, the stimulus which is given to them by the imagination, without feeling that there is something unsatisfactory in our method of treating them. That the most important influence on human life should be wholly left to chance or shrouded in mystery, and instead of being disciplined or understood should be required to conform only to an external standard of propriety, cannot be regarded by the philosopher as a safe or satisfactory condition of human things. And still those who have the charge of youth may find a way by watchfulness, by affection, by the manliness and innocence of their own lives, by occasional hints, by general admonitions which everyone can apply for himself, to mitigate this terrible evil which eats out the heart of individuals and corrupts the moral sentiments of nations. In no duty toward others is there more need of reticence and self-restraint. So great is the danger lest he who would be the counsellor of another should reveal the secret prematurely, lest he should get another too much into his power, or fix the passing impression of evil by demanding the confession of it.
Nor is Plato wrong in asserting that family attachments may interfere with higher aims. If there have been some who “to party gave up what was meant for mankind,” there have certainly been others who to family gave up what was meant for mankind or for their country. The cares of children, the necessity of procuring money for their support, the flatteries of the rich by the poor, the exclusiveness of caste, the pride of birth or wealth, the tendency of family life to divert men from the pursuit of the ideal or the heroic, are as lowering in our own age as in that of Plato. And if we prefer to look at the gentle influences of home, the development of the affections, the amenities of society, the devotion of one member of a family to the good of the others, which form one side of the picture, we must not quarrel with him, or perhaps ought rather to be grateful to him, for having presented to us the reverse. Without attempting to defend Plato on grounds of morality, we may allow that there is an aspect of the world which has not unnaturally led him into error.
We hardly appreciate the power which the idea of the State, like all other abstract ideas, exercised over the mind of Plato. To us the State seems to be built up out of the family, or sometimes to be the framework in which family and social life is contained. But to Plato in his present mood of mind the family is only a disturbing influence which, instead of filling up, tends to disarrange the higher unity of the State. No organization is needed except a political, which, regarded from another point of view, is a military one. The State is all-sufficing for the wants of man, and, like the idea of the Church in later ages, absorbs all other desires and affections. In time of war the thousand citizens are to stand like a rampart impregnable against the world or the Persian host; in time of peace the preparation for war and their duties to the State, which are also their duties to one another, take up their whole life and time. The only other interest which is allowed to them besides that of war is the interest of philosophy. When they are too old to be soldiers they are to retire from active life and to have a second novitiate, of study and contemplation. There is an element of monasticism even in Plato’s communism. If he could have done without children, he might have converted his republic into a religious order. Neither in the “Laws” (v. 739 B), when the daylight of common-sense breaks in upon him, does he retract his error. In the State of which he would be the founder, there is no marrying or giving in marriage: but because of the infirmity of mankind, he condescends to allow the law of nature to prevail.
(γ) But Plato has an equal, or, in his own estimation, even greater paradox in reserve, which is summed up in the famous text, “Until kings are philosophers or philosophers are kings, cities will never cease from ill.” And by philosophers he explains himself to mean those who are capable of apprehending ideas, especially the idea of good. To the attainment of this higher knowledge the second education is directed. Through a process of training which has already made them good citizens they are now to be made good legislators. We find with some surprise (not unlike the feeling which Aristotle in a well-known passage describes the hearers of Plato’s lectures as experiencing, when they went to a discourse on the idea of good, expecting to be instructed in moral truths, and received instead of them arithmetical and mathematical formulæ) that Plato does not propose for his future legislators any study of finance or law or military tactics, but only of abstract mathematics, as a preparation for the still more abstract conception of good. We ask, with Aristotle, What is the use of a man knowing the idea of good, if he does not know what is good for this individual, this State, this condition of society? We cannot understand how Plato’s legislators or guardians are to be fitted for their work of statesmen by the study of the five mathematical sciences. We vainly search in Plato’s own writings for any explanation of this seeming absurdity.
The discovery of a great metaphysical conception seems to ravish the mind with a prophetic consciousness which takes away the power of estimating its value. No metaphysical inquirer has ever fairly criticised his own speculations; in his own judgment they have been above criticism; nor has he understood that what to him seemed to be absolute truth may reappear in the next generation as a form of logic or an instrument of thought. And posterity have also sometimes equally misapprehended the real value of his speculations. They appear to them to have contributed nothing to the stock of human knowledge. The idea of good is apt to be regarded by the modern thinker as an unmeaning abstraction; but he forgets that this abstraction is waiting ready for use, and will hereafter be filled up by the divisions of knowledge. When mankind do not as yet know that the world is subject to law, the introduction of the mere conception of law or design or final cause, and the far-off anticipation of the harmony of knowledge, are great steps onward. Even the crude generalization of the unity of all things leads men to view the world with different eyes, and may easily affect their conception of human life and of politics, and also their own conduct and character (“Tim.” 90 A). We can imagine how a great mind like that of Pericles might derive elevation from his intercourse with Anaxagoras (“Phædr.” 270 A). To be struggling toward a higher but unattainable conception is a more favorable intellectual condition than to rest satisfied in a narrow portion of ascertained fact. And the earlier, which have sometimes been the greater ideas of science, are often lost sight of at a later period. How rarely can we say of any modern inquirer, in the magnificent language of Plato, that “He is the spectator of all time and of all existence!”
Nor is there anything unnatural in the hasty application of these vast metaphysical conceptions to practical and political life. In the first enthusiasm of ideas men are apt to see them everywhere, and to apply them in the most remote sphere. They do not understand that the experience of ages is required to enable them to fill up “the intermediate axioms.” Plato himself seems to have imagined that the truths of psychology, like those of astronomy and harmonics, would be arrived at by a process of deduction, and that the method which he has pursued in the fourth book, of inferring them from experience and the use of language, was imperfect and only provisional. But when, after having arrived at the idea of good, which is the end of the science of dialectic, he is asked, What is the nature, and what are the divisions of the science? he refuses to answer, as if intending by the refusal to intimate that the state of knowledge which then existed was not such as would allow the philosopher to enter into his final rest. The previous sciences must first be studied, and will, we may add, continue to be studied till the end of time, although in a sense different from any which Plato could have conceived. But we may observe, that while he is aware of the vacancy of his own ideal, he is full of enthusiasm in the contemplation of it. Looking into the orb of light, he sees nothing, but he is warmed and elevated. The Hebrew prophet believed that faith in God would enable him to govern the world; the Greek philosopher imagined that contemplation of the good would make a legislator. There is as much to be filled up in the one case as in the other, and the one mode of conception is to the Israelite what the other is to the Greek. Both find a repose in a divine perfection, which, whether in a more personal or impersonal form, exists without them and independently of them, as well as within them.
There is no mention of the idea of good in the “Timæus,” nor of the divine Creator of the world in the “Republic;” and we are naturally led to ask in what relation they stand to one another. Is God above or below the idea of good? or is the Idea of Good another mode of conceiving God? The latter appears to be the truer answer. To the Greek philosopher the perfection and unity of God was a far higher conception than his personality, which he hardly found a word to express, and which to him would have seemed to be borrowed from mythology. To the Christian, on the other hand, or to the modern thinker in general, it is difficult, if not impossible, to attach reality to what he terms mere abstraction; while to Plato this very abstraction is the truest and most real of all things. Hence, from a difference in forms of thought, Plato appears to be resting on a creation of his own mind only. But if we may be allowed to paraphrase the idea of good by the words “intelligent principle of law and order in the universe, embracing equally man and nature,” we begin to find a meeting-point between him and ourselves.The question whether the ruler or statesman should be a philosopher is one that has not lost interest in modern times. In most countries of Europe and Asia there has been someone in the course of ages who has truly united the power of command with the power of thought and reflection, as there have been also many false combinations of these qualities. Some kind of speculative power is necessary both in practical and political life; like the rhetorician in the “Phædrus,” men require to have a conception of the varieties of human character, and to be raised on great occasions above the commonplaces of ordinary life. Yet the idea of the philosopher-statesman has never been popular with the mass of mankind; partly because he cannot take the world into his confidence or make them understand the motives from which he acts, and also because they are jealous of a power which they do not understand. The revolution which human nature desires to effect step by step in many ages is likely to be precipitated by him in a single year or life. They are afraid that in the pursuit of his greater aims he may disregard the common feelings of humanity. He is too apt to be looking into the distant future or back into the remote past, and unable to see actions or events which, to use an expression of Plato’s, “are tumbling out at his feet.” Besides, as Plato would say, there are other corruptions of these philosophical statesmen. Either “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,” and at the moment when action above all things is required he is undecided, or general principles are enunciated by him in order to cover some change of policy; or his ignorance of the world has made him more easily fall a prey to the arts of others; or in some cases he has been converted into a courtier, who enjoys the luxury of holding liberal opinions, but was never known to perform a liberal action. No wonder that mankind have been in the habit of calling statesmen of this class pedants, sophisters, doctrinaires, visionaries. For, as we may be allowed to say, a little parodying the words of Plato, “they have seen bad imitations of the philosopher-statesman.” But a man in whom the powers of thought and action are perfectly balanced, equal to the present, reaching forward to the future, “such a one,” ruling in a constitutional State, “they have never seen.”
But as the philosopher is apt to fail in the routine of political life, so the ordinary statesman is also apt to fail in extraordinary crises. When the face of the world is beginning to alter, and thunder is heard in the distance, he is still guided by his old maxims, and is the slave of his inveterate party prejudices; he cannot perceive the signs of the times; instead of looking forward he looks back; he learns nothing and forgets nothing; with “wise saws and modern instances” he would stem the rising tide of revolution. He lives more and more within the circle of his own party, as the world without him becomes stronger. This seems to be the reason why the old order of things makes so poor a figure when confronted with the new, why churches can never reform, why most political changes are made blindly and convulsively. The great crises in the history of nations have often been met by an ecclesiastical positiveness, and a more obstinate reassertion of principles, which have lost their hold upon a nation. The fixed ideas of a reactionary statesman may be compared to madness; they grow upon him, and he becomes possessed by them; no judgment of others is ever admitted by him to be weighed in the balance against his own.
(δ) Plato, laboring under what to modern readers appears to have been a confusion of ideas, assimilates the State to the individual, and fails to distinguish ethics from politics. He thinks that to be most of a State which is most like one man, and in which the citizens have the greatest uniformity of character. He does not see that the analogy is partly fallacious, and that the will or character of a State or nation is really the balance or rather the surplus of individual wills, which are limited by the condition of having to act in common. The movement of a body of men can never have the pliancy or facility of a single man; the freedom of the individual, which is always limited, becomes still more straitened when transferred to a nation. The powers of action and feeling are necessarily weaker and more balanced when they are diffused through a community; whence arises the often-discussed question, “Can a nation, like an individual, have a conscience?” We hesitate to say that the characters of nations are nothing more than the sum of the characters of the individuals who compose them; because there may be tendencies in individuals which react upon one another. A whole nation may be wiser than any one man in it; or may be animated by some common opinion or feeling which could not equally have affected the mind of a single person, or may have been inspired by a leader of genius to perform acts more than human. Plato does not appear to have analyzed the complications which arise out of the collective action of mankind. Neither is he capable of seeing that analogies, though specious as arguments, may often have no foundation in fact, or of distinguishing between what is intelligible or vividly present to the mind, and what is true. In this respect he is far below Aristotle, who is comparatively seldom imposed upon by false analogies. He cannot disentangle the arts from the virtues—at least he is always arguing from one to the other. His notion of music is transferred from harmony of sounds to harmony of life: in this he is assisted by the ambiguities of language as well as by the prevalence of Pythagorean notions. And having once assimilated the State to the individual, he imagines that he will find the succession of States paralleled in the lives of the individuals.
Still, through this fallacious medium, a real enlargement of ideas is attained. When the virtues as yet presented no distinct conception to the mind, a great advance was made by the comparison of them with the arts; for virtue is partly art, and has an outward form as well as an inward principle. The harmony of music affords a lively image of the harmonies of the world and of human life, and may be regarded as a splendid illustration which was naturally mistaken for a real analogy. In the same way the identification of ethics with politics has a tendency to give definiteness to ethics, and also to elevate and ennoble men’s notions of the aims of government and of the duties of citizens; for ethics from one point of view may be conceived as an idealized law and politics; and politics, as ethics reduced to the conditions of human society. There have been evils which have arisen out of the attempt to identify them, and this has led to the separation or antagonism of them, which has been introduced by modern political writers. But we may likewise feel that something has been lost in their separation, and that the ancient philosophers who estimated the moral and intellectual well-being of mankind first, and the wealth of nations and individuals second, may have a salutary influence on the speculations of modern times. Many political maxims originate in a reaction against an opposite error; and when the errors against which they were directed have passed away, they in turn become errors.
III. Plato’s views of education are in several respects remarkable; like the rest of the “Republic,” they are partly Greek and partly ideal, beginning with the ordinary curriculum of the Greek youth, and extending to after-life. Plato is the first writer who distinctly says that education is to comprehend the whole of life, and to be a preparation for another in which education begins again (vi. 498 D). This is the continuous thread which runs through the “Republic,” and which more than any other of his ideas admits of an application to modern life.
He has long given up the notion that virtue cannot be taught; and he is disposed to modify the thesis of the “Protagoras,” that the virtues are one, and not many. He is not unwilling to admit the sensible world into his scheme of truth. Nor does he assert in the “Republic” the involuntariness of vice, which is maintained by him in the “Timæus,” “Sophist,” and “Laws” (cp. “Protag.” 345 foll, 352, 355; “Apol.” 25 E; “Gorg.” 468, 509 E). Nor do the so-called Platonic ideas recovered from a former state of existence affect his theory of mental improvement. Still we observe in him the remains of the old Socratic doctrine, that true knowledge must be elicited from within, and is to be sought for in ideas, not in particulars of sense. Education, as he says, will implant a principle of intelligence which is better than 10,000 eyes. The paradox that the virtues are one, and the kindred notion that all virtue is knowledge, are not entirely renounced; the first is seen in the supremacy given to justice over the rest; the second in the tendency to absorb the moral virtues in the intellectual, and to centre all goodness in the contemplation of the idea of good. The world of sense is still depreciated and identified with opinion, though admitted to be a shadow of the true. In the “Republic” he is evidently impressed with the conviction that vice arises chiefly from ignorance and may be cured by education; the multitude are hardly to be deemed responsible for what they do (v. 499 E). A faint allusion to the doctrine of reminiscence occurs in the tenth book (621 A); but Plato’s views of education have no more real connection with a previous state of existence than our own; he only proposes to elicit from the mind that which is there already. Education is represented by him, not as the filling of a vessel, but as the turning the eye of the soul toward the light.
He treats first of music or literature, which he divides into true and false, and then goes on to gymnastics; of infancy in the “Republic” he takes no notice, though in the “Laws” he gives sage counsels about the nursing of children and the management of the mothers, and would have an education which is even prior to birth. But in the “Republic” he begins with the age at which the child is capable of receiving ideas, and boldly asserts, in language which sounds paradoxical to modern ears, that he must be taught the false before he can learn the true. The modern and ancient philosophical world are not agreed about truth and falsehood; the one identifies truth almost exclusively with fact, the other with ideas. This is the difference between ourselves and Plato, which is, however, partly a difference of words (cp. supra, p. xxxviii). For we too should admit that a child must receive many lessons which he imperfectly understands; he must be taught some things in a figure only, some, too, which he can hardly be expected to believe when he grows older; but we should limit the use of fiction by the necessity of the case. Plato would draw the line differently; according to him the aim of early education is not truth as a matter of fact, but truth as a matter of principle; the child is to be taught first simple religious truths, and then simple moral truths, and insensibly to learn the lesson of good manners and good taste. He would make an entire reformation of the old mythology; like Xenophanes and Heracleitus he is sensible of the deep chasm which separates his own age from Homer and Hesiod, whom he quotes and invests with an imaginary authority, but only for his own purposes. The lusts and treacheries of the gods are to be banished; the terrors of the world below are to be dispelled; the misbehavior of the Homeric heroes is not to be a model for youth. But there is another strain heard in Homer which may teach our youth endurance; and something may be learned in medicine from the simple practice of the Homeric age. The principles on which religion is to be based are two only: first, that God is true; secondly, that he is good. Modern and Christian writers have often fallen short of these; they can hardly be said to have gone beyond them.
The young are to be brought up in happy surroundings, out of the way of sights or sounds which may hurt the character or vitiate the taste. They are to live in an atmosphere of health; the breeze is always to be wafting to them the impressions of truth and goodness. Could such an education be realized, or if our modern religious education could be bound up with truth and virtue and good manners and good taste, that would be the best hope of human improvement. Plato, like ourselves, is looking forward to changes in the moral and religious world, and is preparing for them. He recognizes the danger of unsettling young men’s minds by sudden changes of laws and principles, by destroying the sacredness of one set of ideas when there is nothing else to take their place. He is afraid, too, of the influence of the drama, on the ground that it encourages false sentiment, and therefore he would not have his children taken to the theatre; he thinks that the effect on the spectators is bad, and on the actors still worse. His idea of education is that of harmonious growth, in which are insensibly learned the lessons of temperance and endurance, and the body and mind develop in equal proportions. The first principle which runs through all art and nature is simplicity; this also is to be the rule of human life.
The second stage of education is gymnastics, which answers to the period of muscular growth and development. The simplicity which is enforced in music is extended to gymnastics; Plato is aware that the training of the body may be inconsistent with the training of the mind, and that bodily exercise may be easily overdone. Excessive training of the body is apt to give men a headache or to render them sleepy at a lecture on philosophy, and this they attribute not to the true cause, but to the nature of the subject. Two points are noticeable in Plato’s treatment of gymnastics: First, that the time of training is entirely separated from the time of literary education. He seems to have thought that two things of an opposite and different nature could not be learned at the same time. Here we can hardly agree with him; and, if we may judge by experience, the effect of spending three years between the ages of fourteen and seventeen in mere bodily exercise would be far from improving to the intellect. Secondly, he affirms that music and gymnastics are not, as common opinion is apt to imagine, intended, the one for the cultivation of the mind and the other of the body, but that they are both equally designed for the improvement of the mind. The body, in his view, is the servant of the mind; the subjection of the lower to the higher is for the advantage of both. And doubtless the mind may exercise a very great and paramount influence over the body, if exerted not at particular moments and by fits and starts, but continuously, in making preparation for the whole of life. Other Greek writers saw the mischievous tendency of Spartan discipline (Arist. “Pol.” viii. 4, § 1 foll.; Thuc. ii. 37, 39). But only Plato recognized the fundamental error on which the practice was based.
The subject of gymnastics leads Plato to the sister-subject of medicine, which he further illustrates by the parallel of law. The modern disbelief in medicine has led in this, as in some other departments of knowledge, to a demand for greater simplicity; physicians are becoming aware that they often make diseases “greater and more complicated” by their treatment of them (“Rep.” iv. 426 A). In 2,000 years their art has made but slender progress; what they have gained in the analysis of the parts is in a great degree lost by their feebler conception of the human frame as a whole. They have attended more to the cure of diseases than to the conditions of health; and the improvements in medicine have been more than counterbalanced by the disuse of regular training. Until lately they have hardly thought of air and water, the importance of which was well understood by the ancients; as Aristotle remarks, “Air and water, being the elements which we most use, have the greatest effect upon health” (“Polit.” vii. II, § 4). For ages physicians have been under the dominion of prejudices which have only recently given way; and now there are as many opinions in medicine as in theology, and an equal degree of scepticism and some want of toleration about both. Plato has several good notions about medicine; according to him, “the eye cannot be cured without the rest of the body, nor the body without the mind” (“Charm.” 156 E). No man of sense, he says in the “Timæus,” would take physic; and we heartily sympathize with him in the “Laws” when he declares that “the limbs of the rustic worn with toil will derive more benefit from warm baths than from the prescriptions of a not over wise doctor” (vi. 761 C). But we can hardly praise him when, in obedience to the authority of Homer, he depreciates diet, or approves of the inhuman spirit in which he would get rid of invalid and useless lives by leaving them to die. He does not seem to have considered that the “bridle of Theages” might be accompanied by qualities which were of far more value to the State than the health or strength of the citizens; or that the duty of taking care of the helpers might be an important element of education in a State. The physician himself (this is a delicate and subtle observation) should not be a man in robust health; he should have, in modern phraseology, a nervous temperament; he should have experience of disease in his own person, in order that his powers of observation may be quickened in the case of others.
The perplexity of medicine is paralleled by the perplexity of law; in which, again, Plato would have men follow the golden rule of simplicity. Greater matters are to be determined by the legislator or by the oracle of Delphi, lesser matters are to be left to the temporary regulation of the citizens themselves. Plato is aware that laissez faire is an important element of government. The diseases of a State are like the heads of a hydra; they multiply when they are cut off. The true remedy for them is not extirpation, but prevention. And the way to prevent them is to take care of education, and education will take care of all the rest. So in modern times men have often felt that the only political measure worth having—the only one which would produce any certain or lasting effect, was a measure of national education. And in our own more than in any previous age the necessity has been recognized of restoring the ever-increasing confusion of law to simplicity and common-sense.
When the training in music and gymnastics is completed, there follows the first stage of active and public life. But soon education is to begin again from a new point of view. In the interval between the fourth and seventh books we have discussed the nature of knowledge, and have thence been led to form a higher conception of what was required of us. For true knowledge, according to Plato, is of abstractions, and has to do, not with particulars or individuals, but with universals only; not with the beauties of poetry, but with the ideas of philosophy. And the great aim of education is the cultivation of the habit of abstraction. This is to be acquired through the study of the mathematical sciences. They alone are capable of giving ideas of relation, and of arousing the dormant energies of thought.
Mathematics in the age of Plato comprehended a very small part of that which is now included in them; but they bore a much larger proportion to the sum of human knowledge. They were the only organon of thought which the human mind at that time possessed, and the only measure by which the chaos of particulars could be reduced to rule and order. The faculty which they trained was naturally at war with the poetical or imaginative; and hence to Plato, who is everywhere seeking for abstractions and trying to get rid of the illusions of sense, nearly the whole of education is contained in them. They seemed to have an inexhaustible application, partly because their true limits were not yet understood. These Plato himself is beginning to investigate; though not aware that number and figure are mere abstractions of sense, he recognizes that the forms used by geometry are borrowed from the sensible world (vi. 510, 511). He seeks to find the ultimate ground of mathematical ideas in the idea of good, though he does not satisfactorily explain the connection between them; and in his conception of the relation of ideas to numbers, he falls very far short of the definiteness attributed to him by Aristotle (“Met.” i. 8, § 24; ix. 17). But if he fails to recognize the true limits of mathematics, he also reaches a point beyond them; in his view, ideas of number become secondary to a higher conception of knowledge. The dialectician is as much above the mathematician as the mathematician is above the ordinary man (cp. vii. 526 D, 531 E). The one, the self-proving, the good which is the higher sphere of dialectic, is the perfect truth to which all things ascend, and in which they finally repose.
This self-proving unity or idea of good is a mere vision of which no distinct explanation can be given, relative only to a particular stage in Greek philosophy. It is an abstraction under which no individuals are comprehended, a whole which has no parts (cf. Arist. “Nic. Eth.” i. 4). The vacancy of such a form was perceived by Aristotle, but not by Plato. Nor did he recognize that in the dialectical process are included two or more methods of investigation which are at variance with each other. He did not see that whether he took the longer or the shorter road, no advance could be made in this way. And yet such visions often have an immense effect; for although the method of science cannot anticipate science, the idea of science, not as it is, but as it will be in the future, is a great and inspiring principle. In the pursuit of knowledge we are always pressing forward to something beyond us; and as a false conception of knowledge, for example the scholastic philosophy, may lead men astray during many ages, so the true ideal, though vacant, may draw all their thoughts in a right direction. It makes a great difference whether the general expectation of knowledge, as this indefinite feeling may be termed, is based upon a sound judgment. For mankind may often entertain a true conception of what knowledge ought to be when they have but a slender experience of facts. The correlation of the sciences, the consciousness of the unity of nature, the idea of classification, the sense of proportion, the unwillingness to stop short of certainty or to confound probability with truth, are important principles of the higher education. Although Plato could tell us nothing, and perhaps knew that he could tell us nothing, of the absolute truth, he has exercised an influence on the human mind which even at the present day is not exhausted; and political and social questions may yet arise in which the thoughts of Plato may be read anew and receive a fresh meaning.
The Idea of good is so called only in the “Republic,” but there are traces of it in other dialogues of Plato. It is a cause as well as an idea, and from this point of view may be compared with the creator of the “Timæus,” who out of his goodness created all things. It corresponds to a certain extent with the modern conception of a law of nature, or of a final cause, or of both in one, and in this regard may be connected with the measure and symmetry of the “Philebus.” It is represented in the Symposium under the aspect of beauty, and is supposed to be attained there by stages of initiation, as here by regular gradations of knowledge. Viewed subjectively, it is the process or science of dialectic. This is the science which, according to the “Phædrus,” is the true basis of rhetoric, which alone is able to distinguish the natures and classes of men and things; which divides a whole into the natural parts, and reunites the scattered parts into a natural or organized whole; which defines the abstract essences or universal ideas of all things, and connects them; which pierces the veil of hypotheses and reaches the final cause or first principle of all; which regards the sciences in relation to the idea of good. This ideal science is the highest process of thought, and may be described as the soul conversing with herself or holding communion with eternal truth and beauty, and in another form is the everlasting question and answer—the ceaseless interrogative of Socrates. The dialogues of Plato are themselves examples of the nature and method of dialectic. Viewed objectively, the idea of good is a power or cause which makes the world without us correspond with the world within. Yet this world without us is still a world of ideas. With Plato the investigation of nature is another department of knowledge, and in this he seeks to attain only probable conclusions (cp. “Timæus,” 44 D).
If we ask whether this science of dialectic which Plato only half explains to us is more akin to logic or to metaphysics, the answer is that in his mind the two sciences are not as yet distinguished, any more than the subjective and objective aspects of the world and of man, which German philosophy has revealed to us. Nor has he determined whether his science of dialectic is at rest or in motion, concerned with the contemplation of absolute being, or with a process of development and evolution. Modern metaphysics may be described as the science of abstractions, or as the science of the evolution of thought; modern logic, when passing beyond the bounds of mere Aristotelian forms, may be defined as the science of method. The germ of both of them is contained in the Platonic dialectic; all metaphysicians have something in common with the ideas of Plato; all logicians have derived something from the method of Plato. The nearest approach in modern philosophy to the universal science of Plato, is to be found in the Hegelian “succession of moments in the unity of the idea.” Plato and Hegel alike seem to have conceived the world as the correlation of abstractions; and not impossibly they would have understood one another better than any of their commentators understand them (cp. Swift’s “Voyage to Laputa,” c. 8). There is, however, a difference between them: for whereas Hegel is thinking of all the minds of men as one mind, which develops the stages of the idea in different countries or at different times in the same country, with Plato these gradations are regarded only as an order of thought or ideas; the history of the human mind had not yet dawned upon him.
Many criticisms may be made on Plato’s theory of education. While in some respects he unavoidably falls short of modern thinkers, in others he is in advance of them. He is opposed to the modes of education which prevailed in his own time; but he can hardly be said to have discovered new ones. He does not see that education is relative to the characters of individuals; he only desires to impress the same form of the state on the minds of all. He has no sufficient idea of the effect of literature on the formation of the mind, and greatly exaggerates that of mathematics. His aim is above all things to train the reasoning faculties; to implant in the mind the spirit and power of abstraction; to explain and define general notions, and, if possible, to connect them. No wonder that in the vacancy of actual knowledge his followers, and at times even he himself, should have fallen away from the doctrine of ideas, and have returned to that branch of knowledge in which alone the relation of the one and many can be truly seen—the science of number. In his views both of teaching and training he might be styled, in modern language, a doctrinaire; after the Spartan fashion he would have his citizens cast in one mould; he does not seem to consider that some degree of freedom, “a little wholesome neglect,” is necessary to strengthen and develop the character and to give play to the individual nature. His citizens would not have acquired that knowledge which in the vision of Er is supposed to be gained by the pilgrims from their experience of evil.
On the other hand, Plato is far in advance of modern philosophers and theologians when he teaches that education is to be continued through life and will begin again in another. He would never allow education of some kind to cease; although he was aware that the proverbial saying of Solon, “I grow old learning many things,” cannot be applied literally. Himself ravished with the contemplation of the idea of good, and delighting in solid geometry (“Rep.” vii. 528), he has no difficulty in imagining that a lifetime might be passed happily in such pursuits. We who know how many more men of business there are in the world than real students or thinkers, are not equally sanguine. The education which he proposes for his citizens is really the ideal life of the philosopher or man of genius, interrupted, but only for a time, by practical duties—a life not for the many, but for the few.
Yet the thought of Plato may not be wholly incapable of application to our own times. Even if regarded as an ideal which can never be realized, it may have a great effect in elevating the characters of mankind, and raising them above the routine of their ordinary occupation or profession. It is the best form under which we can conceive the whole of life. Nevertheless the idea of Plato is not easily put into practice. For the education of after-life is necessarily the education which each one gives himself. Men and women cannot be brought together in schools or colleges at forty or fifty years of age; and if they could the result would be disappointing. The destination of most men is what Plato would call “the Den” for the whole of life, and with that they are content. Neither have they teachers or advisers with whom they can take counsel in riper years. There is no “schoolmaster abroad” who will tell them of their faults, or inspire them with the higher sense of duty, or with the ambition of a true success in life; no Socrates who will convict them of ignorance; no Christ, or follower of Christ, who will reprove them of sin. Hence they have a difficulty in receiving the first element of improvement, which is self-knowledge. The hopes of youth no longer stir them; they rather wish to rest than to pursue high objects. A few only who have come across great men and women, or eminent teachers of religion and morality, have received a second life from them, and have lighted a candle from the fire of their genius.
The want of energy is one of the main reasons why so few persons continue to improve in later years. They have not the will, and do not know the way. They “never try an experiment,” or look up a point of interest for themselves; they make no sacrifices for the sake of knowledge; their minds, like their bodies, at a certain age become fixed. Genius has been defined as “the power of taking pains;” but hardly anyone keeps up his interest in knowledge throughout a whole life. The troubles of a family, the business of making money, the demands of a profession, destroy the elasticity of the mind. The waxen tablet of the memory which was once capable of receiving “true thoughts and clear impressions” becomes hard and crowded; there is not room for the accumulations of a long life (“Theæt.” 194 ff.). The student, as years advance, rather makes an exchange of knowledge than adds to his stores. There is no pressing necessity to learn; the stock of classics or history or natural science which was enough for a man at twenty-five is enough for him at fifty. Neither is it easy to give a definite answer to anyone who asks how he is to improve. For self-education consists in a thousand things, commonplace in themselves—in adding to what we are by nature something of what we are not; in learning to see ourselves as others see us; in judging, not by opinion, but by the evidence of facts; in seeking out the society of superior minds; in a study of the lives and writings of great men; in observation of the world and character; in receiving kindly the natural influence of different times of life; in any act or thought which is raised above the practice or opinions of mankind; in the pursuit of some new or original inquiry; in any effort of mind which calls forth some latent power.
If anyone is desirous of carrying out in detail the Platonic education of after-life, some such counsels as the following may be offered to him: That he shall choose the branch of knowledge to which his own mind most distinctly inclines, and in which he takes the greatest delight, either one which seems to connect with his own daily employment, or, perhaps, furnishes the greatest contrast to it. He may study from the speculative side the profession or business in which he is practically engaged. He may make Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Bacon the friends and companions of his life. He may find opportunities of hearing the living voice of a great teacher. He may select for inquiry some point of history or some unexplained phenomenon of nature. An hour a day passed in such scientific or literary pursuits will furnish as many facts as the memory can retain, and will give him “a pleasure not to be repented of” (“Timæus,” 59 D). Only let him beware of being the slave of crotchets, or of running after a will-o’-the-wisp in his ignorance, or in his vanity of attributing to himself the gifts of a poet or assuming the air of a philosopher. He should know the limits of his own powers. Better to build up the mind by slow additions, to creep on quietly from one thing to another, to gain insensibly new powers and new interests in knowledge, than to form vast schemes which are never destined to be realized. But perhaps, as Plato would say, “This is part of another subject” (“Tim.” 87 B); though we may also defend our digression by his example (“Theæt.” 72, 77).
IV. We remark with surprise that the progress of nations or the natural growth of institutions which fill modern treatises on political philosophy seem hardly ever to have attracted the attention of Plato and Aristotle. The ancients were familiar with the mutability of human affairs; they could moralize over the ruins of cities and the fall of empires (cp. Plato, “Statesman” 301, 302, and Sulpicius’s “Letter to Cicero, ad Fam,” iv. 5); by them fate and chance were deemed to be real powers, almost persons, and to have had a great share in political events. The wiser of them like Thucydides believed that “what had been would be again,” and that a tolerable idea of the future could be gathered from the past. Also they had dreams of a golden age which existed once upon a time and might still exist in some unknown land, or might return again in the remote future. But the regular growth of a state enlightened by experience, progressing in knowledge, improving in the arts, of which the citizens were educated by the fulfilment of political duties, appears never to have come within the range of their hopes and aspirations. Such a state had never been seen, and therefore could not be conceived by them. Their experience (cp. Aristot. “Metaph.” xi. 21; Plato, “Laws” iii. 676–679) led them to conclude that there had been cycles of civilization in which the arts had been discovered and lost many times over, and cities had been overthrown and rebuilt again and again, and deluges and volcanoes and other natural convulsions had altered the face of the earth. Tradition told them of many destructions of mankind and of the preservation of a remnant. The world began again after a deluge and was reconstructed out of the fragments of itself. Also they were acquainted with empires of unknown antiquity, like the Egyptian or Assyrian; but they had never seen them grow, and could not imagine, any more than we can, the state of man which preceded them. They were puzzled and awestricken by the Egyptian monuments, of which the forms, as Plato says, not in a figure, but literally, were 10,000 years old (“Laws” ii. 656 E), and they contrasted the antiquity of Egypt with their own short memories.
The early legends of Hellas have no real connection with the later history: they are at a distance, and the intermediate region is concealed from view; there is no road or path which leads from one to the other. At the beginning of Greek history, in the vestibule of the temple, is seen standing first of all the figure of the legislator, himself the interpreter and servant of the God. The fundamental laws which he gives are not supposed to change with time and circumstances. The salvation of the State is held rather to depend on the inviolable maintenance of them. They were sanctioned by the authority of heaven, and it was deemed impiety to alter them. The desire to maintain them unaltered seems to be the origin of what at first sight is very surprising to us—the intolerant zeal of Plato against innovators in religion or politics (cp. “Laws” x. 907–909); although with a happy inconsistency he is also willing that the laws of other countries should be studied and improvements in legislation privately communicated to the Nocturnal Council (“Laws” xii. 951, 952). The additions which were made to them in later ages in order to meet the increasing complexity of affairs were still ascribed by a fiction to the original legislator; and the words of such enactments at Athens were disputed over as if they had been the words of Solon himself. Plato hopes to preserve in a later generation the mind of the legislator; he would have his citizens remain within the lines which he has laid down for them. He would not harass them with minute regulations, and he would have allowed some changes in the laws: but not changes which would affect the fundamental institutions of the State, such for example as would convert an aristocracy into a timocracy, or a timocracy into a popular form of government.
Passing from speculations to facts, we observe that progress has been the exception rather than the law of human history. And therefore we are not surprised to find that the idea of progress is of modern rather than of ancient date; and, like the idea of a philosophy of history, is not more than a century or two old. It seems to have arisen out of the impression left on the human mind by the growth of the Roman Empire and of the Christian Church, and to be due to the political and social improvements which they introduced into the world; and still more in our own century to the idealism of the first French Revolution and the triumph of American Independence; and in a yet greater degree to the vast material prosperity and growth of population in England and her colonies and in America. It is also to be ascribed in a measure to the greater study of the philosophy of history. The optimistic temperament of some great writers has assisted the creation of it, while the opposite character has led a few to regard the future of the world as dark. The “spectator of all time and of all existence” sees more of “the increasing purpose which through the ages ran” than formerly: but to the inhabitant of a small State of Hellas the vision was necessarily limited like the valley in which he dwelt. There was no remote past on which his eye could rest, nor any future from which the veil was partly lifted up by the analogy of history. The narrowness of view, which to ourselves appears so singular, was to him natural, if not unavoidable.
V. For the relation of the “Republic” to the “Statesman” and the “Laws,” the two other works of Plato which directly treat of politics, see the introductions to the two latter; a few general points of comparison may be touched upon in this place.
And first of the “Laws.” (1) The “Republic,” though probably written at intervals, yet, speaking generally and judging by the indications of thought and style, may be reasonably ascribed to the middle period of Plato’s life: the “Laws” are certainly the work of his declining years, and some portions of them at any rate seem to have been written in extreme old age. (2) The “Republic” is full of hope and aspiration: the “Laws” bear the stamp of failure and disappointment. The one is a finished work which received the last touches of the author: the other is imperfectly executed, and apparently unfinished. The one has the grace and beauty of youth: the other has lost the poetical form, but has more of the severity and knowledge of life which are characteristic of old age. (3) The most conspicuous defect of the “Laws” is the failure of dramatic power, whereas the “Republic” is full of striking contrasts of ideas and oppositions of character. (4) The “Laws” may be said to have more the nature of a sermon, the “Republic” of a poem; the one is more religious, the other more intellectual. (5) Many theories of Plato, such as the doctrine of ideas, the government of the world by philosophers, are not found in the “Laws;” the immortality of the soul is first mentioned in xii. 959, 967; the person of Socrates has altogether disappeared. The community of women and children is renounced; the institution of common or public meals for women (“Laws” vi. 781) is for the first time introduced (Ar. “Pol.” ii. 6, § 5). (6) There remains in the “Laws” the old enmity to the poets (vii. 817), who are ironically saluted in high-flown terms, and, at the same time, are peremptorily ordered out of the city, if they are not willing to submit their poems to the censorship of the magistrates (cp. “Rep.” iii. 398). (7) Though the work is in most respects inferior, there are a few passages in the “Laws,” such as v. 727 ff. (the honor due to the soul), viii. 835 ff. (the evils of licentious or unnatural love), the whole of Book X. (religion), xi. 918 ff. (the dishonesty of retail trade), and 923 ff. (bequests), which come more home to us, and contain more of what may be termed the modern element in Plato than almost anything in the “Republic.”
The relation of the two works to one another is very well given:
(i) By Aristotle in the “Politics” (ii. 6, §§ 1–5) from the side of the “Laws:”
“The same, or nearly the same, objections apply to Plato’s later work, the ‘Laws,’ and therefore we had better examine briefly the constitution which is therein described. In the ‘Republic,’ Socrates has definitely settled in all a few questions only; such as the community of women and children, the community of property, and the constitution of the State. The population is divided into two classes—one of husbandmen, and the other of warriors; from this latter is taken a third class of counsellors and rulers of the State. But Socrates has not determined whether the husbandmen and artists are to have a share in the government, and whether they too are to carry arms and share in military service or not. He certainly thinks that the women ought to share in the education of the guardians, and to fight by their side. The remainder of the work is filled up with digressions foreign to the main subject, and with discussions about the education of the guardians. In the ‘Laws’ there is hardly anything but laws; not much is said about the constitution. This, which he had intended to make more of the ordinary type, he gradually brings round to the other or ideal form. For with the exception of the community of women and property, he supposes everything to be the same in both states; there is to be the same education; the citizens of both are to live free from servile occupations, and there are to be common meals in both. The only difference is that in the ‘Laws’ the common meals are extended to women, and the warriors number about 5,000, but in the ‘Republic’ only 1,000.”
(ii) By Plato in the “Laws” (Book v. 739 B–E), from the side of the “Republic:”
“The first and highest form of the State and of the government and of the law is that in which there prevails most widely the ancient saying that ‘Friends have all things in common.’ Whether there is now, or ever will be, this communion of women and children and of property, in which the private and individual is altogether banished from life, and things which are by nature private, such as eyes and ears and hands, have become common, and all men express praise and blame, and feel joy and sorrow, on the same occcasions, and the laws unite the city to the utmost—whether all this is possible or not, I say that no man, acting upon any other principle, will ever constitute a State more exalted in virtue, or truer or better than this. Such a State, whether inhabited by gods or sons of gods, will make them blessed who dwell therein; and therefore to this we are to look for the pattern of the State, and to cling to this, and, as far as possible, to seek for one which is like this. The State which we have now in hand, when created, will be nearest to immortality and unity in the next degree; and after that, by the grace of God, we will complete the third one. And we will begin by speaking of the nature and origin of the second.”
The comparatively short work called the “Statesman,” or “Politicus,” in its style and manner is more akin to the “Laws,” while in its idealism it rather resembles the “Republic.” As far as we can judge by various indications of language and thought, it must be later than the one and of course earlier than the other. In both the “Republic” and “Statesman” a close connection is maintained between politics and dialectic. In the “Statesman,” inquiries into the principles of method are interspersed with discussions about politics. The comparative advantages of the rule of law and of a person are considered, and the decision given in favor of a person (Arist. “Pol.” iii. 15, 16). But much may be said on the other side, nor is the opposition necessary; for a person may rule by law, and law may be so applied as to be the living voice of the legislator. As in the “Republic,” there is a myth, describing, however, not a future, but a former existence of mankind. The question is asked, “Whether the state of innocence which is described in the myth, or a state like our own which possesses art and science and distinguishes good from evil, is the preferable condition of man.” To this question of the comparative happiness of civilized and primitive life, which was so often discussed in the last century and in our own, no answer is given. The “Statesman,” though less perfect in style than the “Republic” and of far less range, may justly be regarded as one of the greatest of Plato’s dialogues.
VI. Others as well as Plato have chosen an ideal republic to be the vehicle of thoughts which they could not definitely express, or which went beyond their own age. The classical writing which approaches most nearly to the “Republic” of Plato is the “De Republica” of Cicero; but neither in this nor in any other of his dialogues does he rival the art of Plato. The manners are clumsy and inferior; the hand of the rhetorician is apparent at every turn. Yet noble sentiments are constantly recurring: the true note of Roman patriotism—“We Romans are a great people”—resounds through the whole work. Like Socrates, Cicero turns away from the phenomena of the heavens to civil and political life. He would rather not discuss the “two suns” of which all Rome was talking, when he can converse about “the two nations in one” which had divided Rome ever since the days of the Gracchi. Like Socrates again, speaking in the person of Scipio, he is afraid lest he should assume too much the character of a teacher, rather than of an equal who is discussing among friends the two sides of a question. He would confine the terms “king” or “state” to the rule of reason and justice, and he will not concede that title either to a democracy or to a monarchy. But under the rule of reason and justice he is willing to include the natural superior ruling over the natural inferior, which he compares to the soul ruling over the body. He prefers a mixture of forms of government to any single one. The two portraits of the just and the unjust, which occur in the second book of the “Republic,” are transferred to the State—Philus, one of the interlocutors, maintaining against his will the necessity of injustice as a principle of government, while the other, Lælius, supports the opposite thesis. His views of language and number are derived from Plato; like him he denounces the drama. He also declares that if his life were to be twice as long he would have no time to read the lyric poets. The picture of democracy is translated by him word for word, though he has hardly shown himself able to “carry the jest” of Plato. He converts into a stately sentence the humorous fancy about the animals, who “are so imbued with the spirit of democracy that they make the passers-by get out of their way” (i. 42). His description of the tyrant is imitated from Plato, but is far inferior. The second book is historical, and claims for the Roman Constitution (which is to him the ideal) a foundation of fact such as Plato probably intended to have given to the Republic in the “Critias.” His most remarkable imitation of Plato is the adaptation of the vision of Er, which is converted by Cicero into the “Somnium Scipionis;” he has “romanized” the myth of the “Republic,” adding an argument for the immortality of the soul taken from the “Phædrus,” and some other touches derived from the “Phædo” and the “Timæus.” Though a beautiful tale and containing splendid passages, the “Somnium Scipionis” is very inferior to the vision of Er; it is only a dream, and hardly allows the reader to suppose that the writer believes in his own creation. Whether his dialogues were framed on the model of the lost dialogues of Aristotle, as he himself tells us, or of Plato, to which they bear many superficial resemblances, he is still the Roman orator; he is not conversing, but making speeches, and is never able to mould the intractable Latin to the grace and ease of the Greek Platonic dialogue. But if he is defective in form, much more is he inferior to the Greek in matter; he nowhere in his philosophical writings leaves upon our minds the impression of an original thinker.
Plato’s “Republic” has been said to be a church and not a State; and such an ideal of a city in the heavens has always hovered over the Christian world, and is embodied in St. Augustine’s “De Civitate Dei,” which is suggested by the decay and fall of the Roman Empire, much in the same manner in which we may imagine the “Republic” of Plato to have been influenced by the decline of Greek politics in the writer’s own age. The difference is that in the time of Plato the degeneracy, though certain, was gradual and insensible: whereas the taking of Rome by the Goths stirred like an earthquake the age of St. Augustine. Men were inclined to believe that the overthrow of the city was to be ascribed to the anger felt by the old Roman deities at the neglect of their worship. St. Augustine maintains the opposite thesis; he argues that the destruction of the Roman Empire is due, not to the rise of Christianity, but to the vices of paganism. He wanders over Roman history, and over Greek philosophy and mythology, and finds everywhere crime, impiety, and falsehood. He compares the worst parts of the gentile religions with the best elements of the faith of Christ. He shows nothing of the spirit which led others of the early Christian fathers to recognize in the writings of the Greek philosophers the power of the divine truth. He traces the parallel of the kingdom of God, that is, the history of the Jews, contained in their scriptures, and of the kingdoms of the world, which are found in gentile writers, and pursues them both into an ideal future. It need hardly be remarked that his use both of Greek and of Roman historians and of the sacred writings of the Jews is wholly uncritical. The heathen mythology, the Sybilline oracles, the myths of Plato, the dreams of Neo-Platonists are equally regarded by him as matter of fact. He must be acknowledged to be a strictly polemical or controversial writer who makes the best of everything on one side and the worst of everything on the other. He has no sympathy with the old Roman life as Plato has with Greek life, nor has he any idea of the ecclesiastical kingdom which was to arise out of the ruins of the Roman Empire. He is not blind to the defects of the Christian Church, and looks forward to a time when Christian and pagan shall be alike brought before the judgment-seat, and the true City of God shall appear…. The work of St. Augustine is a curious repertory of antiquarian learning and quotations, deeply penetrated with Christian ethics, but showing little power of reasoning, and a slender knowledge of the Greek literature and language. He was a great genius and a noble character, yet hardly capable of feeling or understanding anything external to his own theology. Of all the ancient philosophers he is most attracted by Plato, though he is very slightly acquainted with his writings. He is inclined to believe that the idea of creation in the “Timæus” is derived from the narrative in Genesis; and he is strangely taken with the coincidence (?) of Plato’s saying that “the philosopher is the lover of God,” and the words of the book of Exodus in which God reveals himself to Moses (Exod. iii. 14). He dwells at length on miracles performed in his own day, of which the evidence is regarded by him as irresistible. He speaks in a very interesting manner of the beauty and utility of nature and of the human frame, which he conceives to afford a foretaste of the heavenly state and of the resurrection of the body. The book is not really what to most persons the title of it would imply, and belongs to an age which has passed away. But it contains many fine passages and thoughts which are for all time.
The short treatise “De Monarchia,” of Dante, is by far the most remarkable of mediæval ideals, and bears the impress of the great genius in whom Italy and the Middle Ages are so vividly reflected. It is the vision of a universal empire, which is supposed to be the natural and necessary government of the world, having a divine authority distinct from the papacy, yet coextensive with it. It is not “the ghost of the dead Roman Empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof,” but the legitimate heir and successor of it, justified by the ancient virtues of the Romans and the beneficence of their rule. Their right to be the governors of the world is also confirmed by the testimony of miracles, and acknowledged by St. Paul when he appealed to Cæsar, and even more emphatically by Christ himself, who could not have made atonement for the sins of men if he had not been condemned by a divinely authorized tribunal. The necessity for the establishment of a universal empire is proved partly by a priori arguments such as the unity of God and the unity of the family or nation; partly by perversions of Scripture and history, by false analogies of nature, by misapplied quotations from the classics, and by odd scraps and commonplaces of logic, showing a familiar but by no means exact knowledge of Aristotle (of Plato there is none). But a more convincing argument still is the miserable state of the world, which he touchingly describes. He sees no hope of happiness or peace for mankind until all nations of the earth are comprehended in a single empire. The whole treatise shows how deeply the idea of the Roman Empire was fixed in the minds of his contemporaries. Not much argument was needed to maintain the truth of a theory which to his own contemporaries seemed so natural and congenial. He speaks, or rather preaches, from the point of view, not of the ecclesiastic, but of the layman, although, as a good Catholic, he is willing to acknowledge that in certain respects the empire must submit to the Church. The beginning and end of all his noble reflections and of his arguments, good and bad, is the aspiration “that in this little plot of earth belonging to mortal man life may pass in freedom and peace.” So inextricably is his vision of the future bound up with the beliefs and circumstances of his own age.
The “Utopia” of Sir Thomas More is a surprising monument of his genius, and shows a reach of thought far beyond his contemporaries. The book was written by him at the age of about thirty-four or thirty-five, and is full of the generous sentiments of youth. He brings the light of Plato to bear upon the miserable state of his own country. Living not long after the Wars of the Roses, and in the dregs of the Catholic Church in England, he is indignant at the corruption of the clergy, at the luxury of the nobility and gentry, at the sufferings of the poor, at the calamities caused by war. To the eye of More the whole world was in dissolution and decay, and side by side with the misery and oppression which he has described in the first book of the “Utopia,” he places in the second book the ideal State which by the help of Plato he had constructed. The times were full of stir and intellectual interest. The distant murmur of the Reformation was beginning to be heard. To minds like More’s, Greek literature was a revelation: there had arisen an art of interpretation, and the New Testament was beginning to be understood as it had never been before, and has not often been since, in its natural sense. The life there depicted appeared to him wholly unlike that of Christian commonwealths, in which “he saw nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the Commonwealth.” He thought that Christ, like Plato, “instituted all things common,” for which reason, he tells us, the citizens of Utopia were the more willing to receive his doctrines. The community of property is a fixed idea with him, though he is aware of the arguments which may be urged on the other side. We wonder how in the reign of Henry VIII., though veiled in another language and published in a foreign country, such speculations could have been endured.
He is gifted with far greater dramatic invention than anyone who succeeded him, with the exception of Swift. In the art of feigning he is a worthy disciple of Plato. Like him, starting from a small portion of fact, he founds his tale with admirable skill on a few lines in the Latin narrative of the voyages of Amerigo Vespucci. He is very precise about dates and facts, and has the power of making us believe that the narrator of the tale must have been an eye-witness. We are fairly puzzled by his manner of mixing up real and imaginary persons; his boy John Clement and Peter Giles, the citizen of Antwerp, with whom he disputes about the precise words which are supposed to have been used by the (imaginary) Portuguese traveller, Raphael Hythloday. “I have the more cause,” says Hythloday, “to fear that my words shall not be believed, for that I know how difficultly and hardly I myself would have believed another man telling the same, if I had not myself seen it with mine own eyes.” Or again: “If you had been with me in Utopia, and had presently seen their fashions and laws as I did which lived there five years and more, and would never have come thence, but only to make the new land known here,” etc. More greatly regrets that he forgot to ask Hythloday in what part of the world Utopia is situated; he “would have spent no small sum of money rather than it should have escaped him,” and he begs Peter Giles to see Hythloday or write to him and obtain an answer to the question. After this we are not surprised to hear that a professor of divinity (perhaps “a late famous vicar of Croydon in Surrey,” as the translator thinks) is desirous of being sent thither as a missionary by the high-bishop, “yea, and that he may himself be made Bishop of Utopia, nothing doubting that he must obtain this bishopric with suit; and he counteth that a godly suit which proceedeth not of the desire of honor or lucre, but only of a godly zeal.” The design may have failed through the disappearance of Hythloday, concerning whom we have “very uncertain news” after his departure. There is no doubt, however, that he had told More and Giles the exact situation of the island, but unfortunately at the same moment More’s attention, as he is reminded in a letter from Giles, was drawn off by a servant, and one of the company from a cold caught on shipboard coughed so loud as to prevent Giles from hearing. And “the secret has perished” with him; to this day the place of Utopia remains unknown.
The words of Phædrus (275 B), “O Socrates, you can easily invent Egyptians or anything,” are recalled to our mind as we read this lifelike fiction. Yet the greater merit of the work is not the admirable art, but the originality of thought. More is as free as Plato from the prejudices of his age, and far more tolerant. The Utopians do not allow him who believes not in the immortality of the soul to share in the administration of the State (cp. “Laws” x. 908 foll.), “howbeit they put him to no punishment, because they be persuaded that it is in no man’s power to believe what he list;” and “no man is to be blamed for reasoning in support of his own religion.” In the public services “no prayers be used, but such as every man may boldly pronounce without giving offence to any sect.” He says significantly (p. 143), “There be that give worship to a man that was once of excellent virtue or of famous glory, not only as God, but also the chiefest and highest God. But the most and the wisest part, rejecting all these, believe that there is a certain godly power unknown, far above the capacity and reach of man’s wit, dispersed throughout all the world, not in bigness, but in virtue and power. Him they call the Father of All. To him alone they attribute the beginnings, the increasings, the proceedings, the changes, and the ends of all things. Neither give they any divine honors to any other than him.” So far was More from sharing the popular beliefs of his time. Yet at the end he reminds us that he does not in all respects agree with the customs and opinions of the Utopians which he describes. And we should let him have the benefit of this saving clause, and not rudely withdraw the veil behind which he has been pleased to conceal himself.
Nor is he less in advance of popular opinion in his political and moral speculations. He would like to bring military glory into contempt; he would set all sorts of idle people to profitable occupation, including in the same class, priests, women, noblemen, gentlemen, and “sturdy and valiant beggars,” that the labor of all may be reduced to six hours a day. His dislike of capital punishment, and plans for the reformation of offenders; his detestation of priests and lawyers; his remark that “although everyone may hear of ravenous dogs and wolves and cruel man-eaters, it is not easy to find States that are well and wisely governed,” are curiously at variance with the notions of his age and, indeed, with his own life. There are many points in which he shows a modern feeling and a prophetic insight like Plato. He is a sanitary reformer; he maintains that civilized States have a right to the soil of waste countries; he is inclined to the opinion which places happiness in virtuous pleasures, but herein, as he thinks, not disagreeing from those other philosophers who define virtue to be a life according to nature. He extends the idea of happiness so as to include the happiness of others; and he argues ingeniously, “All men agree that we ought to make others happy; but if others, how much more ourselves!” And still he thinks that there may be a more excellent way, but to this no man’s reason can attain unless heaven should inspire him with a higher truth. His ceremonies before marriage; his humane proposal that war should be carried on by assassinating the leaders of the enemy, may be compared to some of the paradoxes of Plato. He has a charming fancy, like the affinities of Greeks and barbarians in the “Timæus,” that the Utopians learned the language of the Greeks with the more readiness because they were originally of the same race with them. He is penetrated with the spirit of Plato, and quotes or adapts many thoughts both from the “Republic” and from the “Timæus.” He prefers public duties to private, and is somewhat impatient of the importunity of relations. His citizens have no silver or gold of their own, but are ready enough to pay them to their mercenaries (cp. “Rep.” iv. 422, 423). There is nothing of which he is more contemptuous than the love of money. Gold is used for fetters of criminals, and diamonds and pearls for children’s necklaces.
Like Plato he is full of satirical reflections on governments and princes; on the state of the world and of knowledge. The hero of his discourse (Hythloday) is very unwilling to become a minister of state, considering that he would lose his independence, and his advice would never be heeded. He ridicules the new logic of his time; the Utopians could never be made to understand the doctrine of Second Intentions. He is very severe on the sports of the gentry; the Utopians count “hunting the lowest, the vilest, and the most abject part of butchery.” He quotes the words of the “Republic” in which the philosopher is described “standing out of the way under a wall until the driving storm of sleet and rain be overpast,” which admit of a singular application to More’s own fate; although, writing twenty years before (about the year 1514), he can hardly be supposed to have foreseen this. There is no touch of satire which strikes deeper than his quiet remark that the greater part of the precepts of Christ are more at variance with the lives of ordinary Christians than the discourse of Utopia.
The “New Atlantis” is only a fragment, and far inferior in merit to the “Utopia.” The work is full of ingenuity, but wanting in creative fancy, and by no means impresses the reader with a sense of credibility. In some places Lord Bacon is characteristically different from Sir Thomas More, as, for example, in the external state which he attributes to the governor of Salomon’s House, whose dress he minutely describes, while to Sir Thomas More such trappings appear simply ridiculous. Yet, after this program of dress, Bacon adds the beautiful trait, “that he had a look as though he pitied men.” Several things are borrowed by him from the “Timæus;” but he has injured the unity of style by adding thoughts and passages which are taken from the Hebrew Scriptures.
The “City of the Sun,” written by Campanella (1568–1639), a Dominican friar, several years after the “New Atlantis” of Bacon, has many resemblances to the “Republic” of Plato. The citizens have wives and children in common; their marriages are of the same temporary sort, and are arranged by the magistrates from time to time. They do not, however, adopt his system of lots, but bring together the best natures, male and female, “according to philosophical rules.” The infants until two years of age are brought up by their mothers in public temples; and since individuals for the most part educate their children badly, at the beginning of their third year they are committed to the care of the State, and are taught at first, not out of books, but from paintings of all kinds, which are emblazoned on the walls of the city. The city has six interior circuits of walls, and an outer wall which is the seventh. On this outer wall are painted the figures of legislators and philosophers, and on each of the interior walls the symbols or forms of some one of the sciences are delineated. The women are, for the most part, trained, like the men, in warlike and other exercises; but they have two special occupations of their own. After a battle, they and the boys soothe and relieve the wounded warriors; also they encourage them with embraces and pleasant words (cp. Plato “Rep.” v. 468). Some elements of the Christian or Catholic religion are preserved among them. The life of the apostles is greatly admired by this people because they had all things in common; and the short prayer which Jesus Christ taught men is used in their worship. It is a duty of the chief magistrates to pardon sins, and therefore the whole people make secret confession of them to the magistrates, and they to their chief, who is a sort of Rector Metaphysicus; and by this means he is well informed of all that is going on in the minds of men. After confession, absolution is granted to the citizens collectively, but no one is mentioned by name. There also exists among them a practice of perpetual prayer, performed by a succession of priests, who change every hour. Their religion is a worship of God in trinity, that is of Wisdom, Love, and Power, but without any distinction of persons. They behold in the sun the reflection of his glory; mere graven images they reject, refusing to fall under the “tyranny” of idolatry.
Many details are given about their customs of eating and drinking, about their mode of dressing, their employments, their wars. Campanella looks forward to a new mode of education, which is to be a study of nature, and not of Aristotle. He would not have his citizens waste their time in the consideration of what he calls “the dead signs of things.” He remarks that he who knows one science only, does not really know that one any more than the rest, and insists strongly on the necessity of a variety of knowledge. More scholars are turned out in the City of the Sun in one year than by contemporary methods in ten or fifteen. He evidently believes, like Bacon, that henceforward natural science will play a great part in education, a hope which seems hardly to have been realized, either in our own or in any former age; at any rate the fulfilment of it has been long deferred.
There is a good deal of ingenuity and even originality in this work, and a most enlightened spirit pervades it. But it has little or no charm of style, and falls very far short of the “New Atlantis” of Bacon, and still more of the “Utopia” of Sir Thomas More. It is full of inconsistencies, and though borrowed from Plato, shows but a superficial acquaintance with his writings. It is a work such as one might expect to have been written by a philosopher and man of genius who was also a friar, and who had spent twenty-seven years of his life in a prison of the Inquisition. The most interesting feature of the book, common to Plato and Sir Thomas More, is the deep feeling which is shown by the writer, of the misery and ignorance prevailing among the lower classes in his own time. Campanella takes note of Aristotle’s answer to Plato’s community of property, that in a society where all things are common, no individual would have any motive to work (Arist. “Pol.” ii. 5, § 6); he replies that his citizens being happy and contented in themselves (they are required to work only four hours a day), will have greater regard for their fellows than exists among men at present. He thinks, like Plato, that if he abolishes private feelings and interests, a great public feeling will take their place.
Other writings on ideal States, such as the “Oceana” of Harrington, in which the Lord Archon, meaning Cromwell, is described, not as he was, but as he ought to have been; or the “Argenis” of Barclay, which is a historical allegory of his own time, are too unlike Plato to be worth mentioning. More interesting than either of these, and far more Platonic in style and thought, is Sir John Eliot’s “Monarchy of Man,” in which the prisoner of the Tower, no longer able “to be a politician in the land of his birth,” turns away from politics to view “that other city which is within him,” and finds on the very threshold of the grave that the secret of human happiness is the mastery of self. The change of government in the time of the English Commonwealth set men thinking about first principles, and gave rise to many works of this class…. The great original genius of Swift owes nothing to Plato; nor is there any trace in the conversation or in the works of Dr. Johnson of any acquaintance with his writings. He probably would have refuted Plato without reading him, in the same fashion in which he supposed himself to have refuted Bishop Berkeley’s theory of the nonexistence of matter. If we except the so-called English Platonists, or rather Neo-Platonists, who never understood their master, and the writings of Coleridge, who was to some extent a kindred spirit, Plato has left no permanent impression on English literature.
VII. Human life and conduct are affected by ideals in the same way that they are affected by the examples of eminent men. Neither the one nor the other is immediately applicable to practice, but there is a virtue flowing from them which tends to raise individuals above the common routine of society or trade, and to elevate States above the mere interests of commerce or the necessities of self-defence. Like the ideals of art they are partly framed by the omission of particulars; they require to be viewed at a certain distance, and are apt to fade away if we attempt to approach them. They gain an imaginary distinctness when embodied in a State or in a system of philosophy, but they still remain the visions of “a world unrealized.” More striking and obvious to the ordinary mind are the examples of great men, who have served their own generation and are remembered in another. Even in our own family circle there may have been someone, a woman, or even a child, in whose face has shone forth a goodness more than human. The ideal then approaches nearer to us, and we fondly cling to it. The ideal of the past, whether of our own past lives or of former states of society, has a singular fascination for the minds of many. Too late we learn that such ideals cannot be recalled, though the recollection of them may have a humanizing influence on other times. But the abstractions of philosophy are to most persons cold and vacant; they give light without warmth; they are like the full moon in the heavens when there are no stars appearing. Men cannot live by thought alone; the world of sense is always breaking in upon them. They are for the most part confined to a corner of earth, and see but a little way beyond their own home or place of abode; they “do not lift up their eyes to the hills;” they are not awake when the dawn appears. But in Plato we have reached a height from which a man may look into the distance (“Rep.” iv. 445 C) and behold the future of the world and of philosophy. The ideal of the State and of the life of the philosopher; the ideal of an education continuing through life and extending equally to both sexes; the ideal of the unity and correlation of knowledge; the faith in good and immortality—are the vacant forms of light on which Plato is seeking to fix the eye of mankind.
VIII. Two other ideals, which never appeared above the horizon in Greek philosophy, float before the minds of men in our own day: one seen more clearly than formerly, as though each year and each generation brought us nearer to some great change; the other almost in the same degree retiring from view behind the laws of nature, as if oppressed by them, but still remaining a silent hope of we know not what hidden in the heart of man. The first ideal is the future of the human race in this world; the second the future of the individual in another. The first is the more perfect realization of our own present life; the second, the abnegation of it: the one, limited by experience, the other, transcending it. Both of them have been and are powerful motives of action; there are a few in whom they have taken the place of all earthly interests. The hope of a future for the human race at first sight seems to be the more disinterested, the hope of individual existence the more egotistical, of the two motives. But when men have learned to resolve their hope of a future either for themselves or for the world into the will of God—“not my will, but thine,” the difference between them falls away; and they may be allowed to make either of them the basis of their lives, according to their own individual character or temperament. There is as much faith in the willingness to work for an unseen future in this world as in another. Neither is it inconceivable that some rare nature may feel his duty to another generation, or to another century, almost as strongly as to his own, or that, living always in the presence of God, he may realize another world as vividly as he does this.
The greatest of all ideals may, or rather must be conceived by us under similitudes derived from human qualities; although sometimes, like the Jewish prophets, we may dash away these figures of speech and describe the nature of God only in negatives. These again by degrees acquire a positive meaning. It would be well if, when meditating on the higher truths either of philosophy or religion, we sometimes substituted one form of expression for another, lest through the necessities of language we should become the slaves of mere words.
There is a third ideal, not the same, but akin to these, which has a place in the home and heart of every believer in the religion of Christ, and in which men seem to find a nearer and more familiar truth, the Divine man, the Son of Man, the Saviour of mankind, who is the first-born and head of the whole family in heaven and earth, in whom the divine and human, that which is without and that which is within the range of our earthly faculties, are indissolubly united. Neither is this divine form of goodness wholly separable from the ideal of the Christian Church, which is said in the New Testament to be “his body,” or at variance with those other images of good which Plato sets before us. We see him in a figure only, and of figures of speech we select but a few, and those the simplest, to be the expression of him. We behold him in a picture, but he is not there. We gather up the fragments of his discourses, but neither do they represent him as he truly was. His dwelling is neither in heaven nor earth, but in the heart of man. This is that image which Plato saw dimly in the distance, which, when existing among men, he called, in the language of Homer, “the likeness of God” (“Rep.” vi. 501 B), the likeness of a nature which in all ages men have felt to be greater and better than themselves, and which in endless forms, whether derived from Scripture or nature, from the witness of history or from the human heart, regarded as a person or not as a person, with or without parts or passions, existing in space or not in space, is and will always continue to be to mankind the Idea of Good.
- In this Introduction the translator refers to his Oxford Edition of Plato.
- Cp. Sir G. C. Lewis, in the “Classical Museum,” vol. ii. p. i.
- “Having a desire to see those ancients who were most renowned for wit and learning, I set apart one day on purpose. I proposed that Homer and Aristotle might appear at the head of all their commentators; but these were so numerous that some hundreds were forced to attend in the court and outward rooms of the palace. I knew, and could distinguish these two heroes, at first sight, not only from the crowd, but from each other. Homer was the taller and comelier person of the two, walked very erect for one of his age, and his eyes were the most quick and piercing I ever beheld. Aristotle stooped much, and made use of a staff. His visage was meagre, his hair lank and thin, and his voice hollow. I soon discovered that both of them were perfect strangers to the rest of the company, and had never seen or heard of them before. And I had a whisper from a ghost, who shall be nameless, ‘That these commentators always kept in the most distant quarters from their principals, in the lower world, through a consciousness of shame and guilt, because they had so horribly misrepresented the meaning of these authors to posterity.’ I introduced Didymus and Eustathius to Homer, and prevailed on him to treat them better than perhaps they deserved, for he soon found they wanted a genius to enter into the spirit of a poet. But Aristotle was out of all patience with the account I gave him of Scotus and Ramus, as I presented them to him; and he asked them ‘whether the rest of the tribe were as great dunces as themselves.’”
- “Howbeit, I think this was no small help and furtherance in the matter, that they heard us say that Christ instituted among his, all things common, and that the same community doth yet remain in the Tightest Christian communities.”—“Utopia,” English Reprints, p. 144.
- “These things (I say), when I consider with myself, I hold well with Plato, and do nothing marvel that he would make no laws for them that refuse those laws, whereby all men should have and enjoy equal portions of riches and commodities. For the wise man did easily foresee this to be the one and only way to the wealth of a community, if equality of all things should be brought in and established.”—“Utopia,” English Reprints, pp. 67, 68.
- “One of our company in my presence was sharply punished. He, as soon as he was baptized, began against our wills, with more earnest affection than wisdom to reason of Christ’s religion, and began to wax so hot in this matter, that he did not only prefer our religion before all other, but also did despise and condemn all other, calling them profane, and the followers of them wicked and devilish, and the children of the everlasting damnation. When he had thus long reasoned the matter, they laid hold on him, accused him, and condemned him into exile, not as a despiser of religion, but as a seditious person and a raiser up of dissension among the people” (p. 145).
- Compare his satirical observation: “They (the Utopians) have priests of exceeding holiness, and therefore very few” (p. 150).
- When the ambassadors came arrayed in gold and peacocks’ feathers, “to the eyes of all the Utopians except very few, which had been in other countries for some reasonable cause, all that gorgeousness of apparel seemed shameful and reproachful. In so much that they most reverently saluted the vilest and most abject of them for lords—passing over the ambassadors themselves without any honor, judging them by their wearing of golden chains to be bondmen. You should have seen children also, that have cast away their pearls and precious stones, when they saw the like sticking upon the ambassador’s caps, dig and push their mothers under the sides, saying thus to them—‘Look, mother, how great a lubber doth yet wear pearls and precious stones, as though he were a little child still.’ But the mother; yea and that also in good earnest: ‘Peace, son,’ saith she, ‘I think he be some of the ambassadors’ fools’” (p. 102).
- Cp. an exquisite passage at p. 35, of which the conclusion is as follows: “And verily it is naturally given… suppressed and ended.”
- “For they have not devised one of all those rules of restrictions, amplifications, and suppositions, very wittily invented in the small logicals, which here our children in every place do learn. Furthermore, they were never yet able to find out the second intentions; insomuch that none of them all could ever see man himself in common, as they call him, though he be (as you know) bigger than was ever any giant, yea, and pointed to us even with our finger” (p. 105).
- “And yet the most part of them is more dissident from the manners of the world nowadays than my communication was. But preachers, sly and wily men, following your counsel (as I suppose) because they saw men evil-willing to frame their manners to Christ’s rule, they have wrested and wried his doctrine, and, like a rule of lead, have applied it to men’s manners, that by some means at the least way, they might agree together” (p. 66).