Table of Contents
A just city is founded on the virtues of moderation, wisdom, and courage. Justice is a virtue that can be developed and correctly applied to the governance of a city. It exists in the principle that each person is allowed to excel at a thing they are best suited. Justice is important in the proper functioning of a city because it is founded on natural capability. Plato provides that virtues and appetites that develop a circle of governance inspire rulers. This circle begins with the aristocracy and ends in tyranny. An analysis of the just soul and the five regimes reveals that the best regime for a just society is a regime based on Socrates city-in-speech or aristocracy.
The Just Soul
Plato (1968) argues that justice applies to both individuals and societies and is similar to a healthy soul or a soul with its parts arranged properly. Political justice is structural and is made up of three classes of people. These are the producers, rulers and guardians. A just society is founded on the proper relationship between these classes. These three classes can be contrasted with the soul of every individual. Just like society, the soul is tripartite and corresponds with society. Plato (1968) discusses the three parts of the soul, which are the appetitive, the rational and the spiritual parts. The appetitive part includes all desires for everything and can sometimes be in conflict with each other. The rational part is the conscious awareness and is the part that thinks, analyses, and makes rational decisions. It seeks the truth and is responsible for rational predispositions. The spirited part of the soul is the part that provides motivation. The part is responsible for feelings of annoyance and anger.
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Plato (1968) provides that a just society is one where the individual parts of society act in harmony and fulfill their respective responsibilities without interfering with those of others. Harmony between the different parts is important in the concept of justice and this form of justice can be contrasted with the soul. Plato provides that different parts of the soul do their functions and not opposite functions. Just like a just soul, a just society can be dived into three classes. Individual justice involves harmony of the parts of the soul, which is necessary for just actions. Reason is associated with the ability to learn and appetite is related to pleasure. Spirit is related to the relationship between reason and appetite and serves as an auxiliary to reason. In society, producers are driven by their appetites, while rulers are driven by their rational facilities and the guardians dominated by their spirits. Individual justice mirrors political justice and the structure of the soul has three part which is analogous to the three classes of society (Plato 1968).
The Five Regimes
According to Plato (1968), a just society is one where the whole society is made up of parts that work together in harmony. Plato provides for the development of the five circles of a city with a descending order of moral goodness. These forms of a city are aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Aristocracy, which means excellent power, is a type of government where the ruler presides over a government and is assisted by necessary bureaucratic and aristocratic systems. It the rule by law and order and the state is run by the best and brightest. The idea of this approach to a government is not to restrain the other classes in society but to provide the necessary restraints so that the other classes in society can function in good order. It pulls from the other forms of government. Plato (1968) describes a rule by the highest of classes or the philosopher king. The choice of rule by the highest class is because this class is likely to uphold the highest ideals of justice, moderation, wisdom and temperance. The idea in this form of government is that those who know the higher and lower forms of virtues and those who are generally wiser should lead the state.
Plato (1968) posits that an aristocratic state is made up of three classes of citizens. These are the ruling class, the auxiliaries and the majority of people. An aristocratic ruler is an individual whose character has been shaped into that of a just ruler. Such a leader is not likely to abuse his power by pursuing material gains and is focused on establishing a good government. The wise leader who presides over an aristocracy will eventually fail due to the establishment of unworthy leaders to be guardians of the state. Inequality, irregularity and dissimilarity will lead to hatred and war and the government will be taken over by warriors who are less knowledgeable about leadership. This will result in a timocracy.
Plato (1968) provides that a timocracy is presided over by the honorable or wealthy elites. This type of city is based on honor, hierarchy, duty and order. It includes a form of merit-based ranking to establish a social hierarchy. Although warriors rule, the wealthy class will be empowered and eventually property will be desired more than the good of the state. Personal ambitions will replace the ambitions of the state and people will become excessively obedient to the state. Timocracy arises out of the miscalculation of the ruling class where the next generation of rulers includes individuals with an inferior nature. Timocracy will give way to an oligarchy where personal wealth is more important and it is needed in order to rule.
According to Plato (1968), oligarchy means a few, is a type of government where the elite rule, and is almost similar to that in a timocracy. It is a system based on wealth and makes a distinction between the rich and the poor. It is a form of government that is created by most economic systems. Although this form of government might have the qualities of an aristocracy or a timocracy, it contains the elements of order and virtue. When inequality between the rich and the poor increases this type of government descends into an oligarchy.
Plato (1968) provides that in an oligarchy, two classes start to emerge with the rich having the power while the poor do not have the power. People seek wealth and disregard virtues and they are willing to break the law for money. There is the love of trade, money and materialism and the rich are honored. The shortcomings of this form of government are that leaders are elected because of their material gains and citizens are not willing to pay taxes, which leaves the government in despair. Oligarchy increases the rate of crime and leads to the curtailment of rights. The loss of freedoms and increase in inequalities as well as the tendency of leaders to make decisions based on their personal welfare create the need for freedom and justice and gives rise to democracy.
A democracy means people power and it closely borders anarchy. Plato provides that the government in this regime function only with popular support. It is based on the virtues of equality and liberty and it is run by popular support. All the individuals in a democracy have total equality and liberty. The problem with this form of government is that when everyone has equality and liberty the state is likely to descend into a tyranny. In a democracy, the people rule and the rulers are representatives of the people. The people in this type of government push for more freedom to the point where they are free to do anything they want without owing anyone a responsibility. In a democracy the poor become winners, people are free to do whatever they want, and live the way they want. Plato (1968) notes that a democratic leader is overcome with unnecessary desires and does whatever he wants and whenever he wants.
According to Plato (1968), the lowest regime that can be instituted is a tyranny, which refers to a situation where there is no government or law and order. In this regime, there is no discipline and the society exits in chaos. From this chaos, a tyrant rises to restore order through might and fear. The longing for freedom takes over a democracy, which leads to a state of anarchy where power must be seized in order to maintain order. In a tyranny, the leader is the worst form of an individual who is most unjust and most disconnected from the just individual. The leader is obsessed with lawless desires and engages in in terrible acts such as murder and plundering. The concept of moderation does not apply to such a leader who is driven by his unlawful appetites and steals to satisfy his desires.
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The regime of aristocracy is best because there is law and order and it is ruled by the brightest. The three classes in this regime work in harmony to ensure a just society the same way the three parts of the soul work together to ensure a just individual. Unlike the other defective regimes, aristocracy allows the whole city to be happy without sacrificing the happiness of the other members in the city. The question that arises after the establishment of a just city is whether it is sustainable without providing the things that make people happy. Socrates responds to this question by elaborating the concept of happiness. He argues that people in the city will be happy because their interest is in what will make the most number of people happy and not just what would make a few people happy. The goal of founding a city is to make the whole city happy and not make some individuals happy at the expense of others. All parts of the city must be dealt with appropriately in order to ensure that the whole city is in a best situation. Poverty and wealth are enemies of productivity because they make people lazy and reduce the quality of craftsmanship. Cities should guard against these conditions and keep things moderate and appropriate.
- Plato. The Republic of Plato: Translated with Notes and an Interpretive Essay by Allan Bloom. Basic Books, 1968.