Study Guide

The Republic Politics

By Plato

Politics

"For it is likely that if a city of good men came to be, there would be a fight over not ruling, just as there is now over ruling." (347d)

This is a classic statement of Socrates's attitude toward what it means to be a leader. Socrates believes that good leaders must be people who actually avoid leadership and only take it on if it's completely necessary, since those who actually want to be in leadership positions are necessarily non-philosophical (basically, bad) people. How do you think that compares with contemporary ideas about leadership?

Well then... a city, as I believe, comes into being because each of us isn't self-sufficient but is in need of much." (369a-b)

Socrates sees our dependency on one another as the reason why all cities must exist. Even though Socrates is generally pretty down on "the many," he does recognize the necessity of community.

"By Zeus... it's no mean thing we've taken upon ourselves. But nevertheless we mustn't be cowardly, as least as far as it's in our power." (374b-c)

As Socrates gets ready to imagine this city, he realizes he's got a big task ahead of him. Never mind ruling a city—inventing one is hard work, too. This makes us realize, too, how much we take for granted. We just go around our cities like it's nothing, but there's actually so much at work in the organization and maintenance of any city.

"Then the man who's going to be a fine and good guardian of the city for us will in his nature be philosophic, spirited, swift, and strong." (376c)

Socrates's recipe for a ruler emphasizes the importance not only of philosophy but also of courage ("spiritedness") and strength. Socrates insists that a ruler must be a well-rounded individual. He doesn't allow any shortcuts.

"....no one will posses any private property, except for what's entirely necessary." (416d)

Many people have seen Plato's Republic as a surprising precursor to more modern ideas such as communism and socialism. Many people are suspicious of "utopian" ideas like Plato's because they see them as inevitably totalitarian. What's the difference between a utopian society like the one in Plato's Republic and the dystopian societies in, say, Brave New World or 1984?

"...in founding the city we are not looking to the exceptional happiness of any one group among us but, as far as possible, that of the city as a whole." (420c)

For a guy who doesn't have a lot of confidence in "the many," Socrates has a very pragmatic take on what the priorities of this city should be: the happiness of the city as a whole (and not just of one particular group of people).

"...women, therefore, also must be chosen to live and guard with such men, since they are competent and akin to the men in their nature." (456b)

Socrates's guardians may be elitist, but there's also some major gender equality going on among them. That's pretty amazing for a work written thousands of years ago.

"[The crew doesn't] know that for the true pilot it is necessary to pay careful attention to year, seasons, heaven, stars, winds, and everything that's proper to the art, if he is really going to be skilled at ruling a ship." (488d)

In this image of a mutinous crew, Socrates compares the philosophical king with his many years of learning to a skilled pilot with his many years of training: both have worked really hard to get where they are—and neither gets much credit for it.

"Then our job as founders... is to compel the best natures to go to the study which we were saying before is the greatest, to see the good and to go up that ascent..." (519c)

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of... the good? Socrates believes that the best city should be all about encouraging its citizens to strive for moral excellence above all. It's the pursuit of the good that actually leads to happiness, in Socrates's view.

"But the truth is surely this: that city in which those who are going to rule are least eager to rule is necessarily governed in the way that is best..." (520c)

It might sound counterintuitive, but according to Socrates, you can't be a good leader if you're too into leadership. If you're too into the idea of leadership, you'll be focused primarily on yourself, not on the needs of others. Does this vision of leadership make sense to you?

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