The philosophy of Socrates: vision of utopia


SOCIETY arises because different people are the better skilled to supply different wants, and the wants of each are supplied by mutual arrangement and division of labour. Wants multiply; the community grows; it exchanges it own for foreign products; merchants and markets are added to the producers; and when folk begin to hire servants you have a complete city or state living a life of simplicity.

We will go on and develop every luxury of civilization. But then our city and its neighbours will be wanting each other's lands. We must have soldiers. Our best guardians will be a select band, those who are of the right temper and thoroughly trained; fierce to foes but gentle to friends like that true philosopher, the dog, to whom knowledge is the test. The known are friends, the unknown foes--knowledge begets gentleness.

So our guardians must be trained to knowledge; we must educate them. Music and gymnastic, our national intellectual and physical training, must be taught. Literature comes first, and really we teach things that are not true before we teach things that are true--fables before facts. But over these we must exercise a rigid censorship, excluding what is essentially false.

We must have no stories which attribute harmful things to the gods. God must be represented as He is--the author of good always, of evil never; also as having in Him no variableness, neither shadow of turning. God has no need of disguises. The lie in the soul--essential falsehood--is to Him abhorrent, and He has no need of such deceptions as may be innocent or even laudable for men. God must be shown always as utterly true.

Similarly, we must not have stories which inspire dread of death; no Achilles saying in the under-world that it were better to be a slave in the flesh than Lord of the Shades. And again, no heroes--and gods still less--giving way to frantic lamentations and uncontrolled emotions, even uncontrolled laughter.

Truth must be inculcated; medicinal untruths, so to speak, are the prerogative of our rulers alone, and must be permitted to no one else. Temperance, which means self-control and obedience to authority, is essential, and is not always characteristic of Homer's gods and heroes! We must exclude a long list of most unedifying passages on this score. As for pictures of the afflictions of the righteous and the prosperity of the unjust, we must wait, as we have not yet defined justice. We turn to the poetical forms in which the stories should be embodied.

The possible forms are the simply descriptive, the imitative and the mixture of the two; narrative drama and narrative mixed with dialogue. Our guardians ought to eschew imitation altogether, or at least to imitate only the good and noble. The act of imitating an evil character is demoralising. Imitation must be restricted within the narrowest practicable limits.

BUT who are to be our actual rulers? The best of the elders, whose firmness and consistency have stood the test of temptation. To them we transfer the title of guardians, calling the younger men auxiliaries. And we must try to induce everyone--guardians, soldiers, citizens--to believe in one quite magnificent lie: that they, like the men in the Cadmus myth, were fashioned in the ground, their common mother; that they are brothers and sisters, but of different metals--gold, silver, brass, iron; not necessarily of the same metal as their parents; and must take rank according to the metal whereof they are made.

And now our soldiers must pitch their camp for the defence of the city. Soldiering is their business, not money-making. They must live in common, supported efficiently by the state, having no private property.

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