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Statesman by Plato

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STRANGER: And when the foundation of politics is in the letter only and in
custom, and knowledge is divorced from action, can we wonder, Socrates, at
the miseries which there are, and always will be, in States? Any other
art, built on such a foundation and thus conducted, would ruin all that it
touched. Ought we not rather to wonder at the natural strength of the
political bond? For States have endured all this, time out of mind, and
yet some of them still remain and are not overthrown, though many of them,
like ships at sea, founder from time to time, and perish and have perished
and will hereafter perish, through the badness of their pilots and crews,
who have the worst sort of ignorance of the highest truths--I mean to say,
that they are wholly unaquainted with politics, of which, above all other
sciences, they believe themselves to have acquired the most perfect


STRANGER: Then the question arises:--which of these untrue forms of
government is the least oppressive to their subjects, though they are all
oppressive; and which is the worst of them? Here is a consideration which
is beside our present purpose, and yet having regard to the whole it seems
to influence all our actions: we must examine it.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Yes, we must.

STRANGER: You may say that of the three forms, the same is at once the
hardest and the easiest.

YOUNG SOCRATES: What do you mean?

STRANGER: I am speaking of the three forms of government, which I
mentioned at the beginning of this discussion--monarchy, the rule of the
few, and the rule of the many.


STRANGER: If we divide each of these we shall have six, from which the
true one may be distinguished as a seventh.

YOUNG SOCRATES: How would you make the division?

STRANGER: Monarchy divides into royalty and tyranny; the rule of the few
into aristocracy, which has an auspicious name, and oligarchy; and
democracy or the rule of the many, which before was one, must now be

YOUNG SOCRATES: On what principle of division?

STRANGER: On the same principle as before, although the name is now
discovered to have a twofold meaning. For the distinction of ruling with
law or without law, applies to this as well as to the rest.


STRANGER: The division made no difference when we were looking for the
perfect State, as we showed before. But now that this has been separated
off, and, as we said, the others alone are left for us, the principle of
law and the absence of law will bisect them all.

YOUNG SOCRATES: That would seem to follow, from what has been said.

STRANGER: Then monarchy, when bound by good prescriptions or laws, is the
best of all the six, and when lawless is the most bitter and oppressive to
the subject.


STRANGER: The government of the few, which is intermediate between that of
the one and many, is also intermediate in good and evil; but the government
of the many is in every respect weak and unable to do either any great good
or any great evil, when compared with the others, because the offices are
too minutely subdivided and too many hold them. And this therefore is the
worst of all lawful governments, and the best of all lawless ones. If they
are all without the restraints of law, democracy is the form in which to
live is best; if they are well ordered, then this is the last which you
should choose, as royalty, the first form, is the best, with the exception
of the seventh, for that excels them all, and is among States what God is
among men.

YOUNG SOCRATES: You are quite right, and we should choose that above all.

STRANGER: The members of all these States, with the exception of the one
which has knowledge, may be set aside as being not Statesmen but partisans,
--upholders of the most monstrous idols, and themselves idols; and, being
the greatest imitators and magicians, they are also the greatest of

YOUNG SOCRATES: The name of Sophist after many windings in the argument
appears to have been most justly fixed upon the politicians, as they are

STRANGER: And so our satyric drama has been played out; and the troop of
Centaurs and Satyrs, however unwilling to leave the stage, have at last
been separated from the political science.

YOUNG SOCRATES: So I perceive.

STRANGER: There remain, however, natures still more troublesome, because
they are more nearly akin to the king, and more difficult to discern; the
examination of them may be compared to the process of refining gold.

YOUNG SOCRATES: What is your meaning?

STRANGER: The workmen begin by sifting away the earth and stones and the
like; there remain in a confused mass the valuable elements akin to gold,
which can only be separated by fire,--copper, silver, and other precious
metal; these are at last refined away by the use of tests, until the gold
is left quite pure.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Yes, that is the way in which these things are said to be

STRANGER: In like manner, all alien and uncongenial matter has been
separated from political science, and what is precious and of a kindred
nature has been left; there remain the nobler arts of the general and the
judge, and the higher sort of oratory which is an ally of the royal art,
and persuades men to do justice, and assists in guiding the helm of
States:--How can we best clear away all these, leaving him whom we seek
alone and unalloyed?

YOUNG SOCRATES: That is obviously what has in some way to be attempted.

STRANGER: If the attempt is all that is wanting, he shall certainly be
brought to light; and I think that the illustration of music may assist in
exhibiting him. Please to answer me a question.

YOUNG SOCRATES: What question?

STRANGER: There is such a thing as learning music or handicraft arts in


STRANGER: And is there any higher art or science, having power to decide
which of these arts are and are not to be learned;--what do you say?

YOUNG SOCRATES: I should answer that there is.

STRANGER: And do we acknowledge this science to be different from the


STRANGER: And ought the other sciences to be superior to this, or no
single science to any other? Or ought this science to be the overseer and
governor of all the others?


STRANGER: You mean to say that the science which judges whether we ought
to learn or not, must be superior to the science which is learned or which

YOUNG SOCRATES: Far superior.

STRANGER: And the science which determines whether we ought to persuade or
not, must be superior to the science which is able to persuade?


STRANGER: Very good; and to what science do we assign the power of
persuading a multitude by a pleasing tale and not by teaching?

YOUNG SOCRATES: That power, I think, must clearly be assigned to rhetoric.

STRANGER: And to what science do we give the power of determining whether
we are to employ persuasion or force towards any one, or to refrain

YOUNG SOCRATES: To that science which governs the arts of speech and

STRANGER: Which, if I am not mistaken, will be politics?


STRANGER: Rhetoric seems to be quickly distinguished from politics, being
a different species, yet ministering to it.


STRANGER: But what would you think of another sort of power or science?

YOUNG SOCRATES: What science?

STRANGER: The science which has to do with military operations against our
enemies--is that to be regarded as a science or not?

YOUNG SOCRATES: How can generalship and military tactics be regarded as
other than a science?

STRANGER: And is the art which is able and knows how to advise when we are
to go to war, or to make peace, the same as this or different?

YOUNG SOCRATES: If we are to be consistent, we must say different.

STRANGER: And we must also suppose that this rules the other, if we are
not to give up our former notion?


STRANGER: And, considering how great and terrible the whole art of war is,
can we imagine any which is superior to it but the truly royal?


STRANGER: The art of the general is only ministerial, and therefore not


STRANGER: Once more let us consider the nature of the righteous judge.


STRANGER: Does he do anything but decide the dealings of men with one
another to be just or unjust in accordance with the standard which he
receives from the king and legislator,--showing his own peculiar virtue
only in this, that he is not perverted by gifts, or fears, or pity, or by
any sort of favour or enmity, into deciding the suits of men with one
another contrary to the appointment of the legislator?

YOUNG SOCRATES: No; his office is such as you describe.

STRANGER: Then the inference is that the power of the judge is not royal,
but only the power of a guardian of the law which ministers to the royal


STRANGER: The review of all these sciences shows that none of them is
political or royal. For the truly royal ought not itself to act, but to
rule over those who are able to act; the king ought to know what is and
what is not a fitting opportunity for taking the initiative in matters of
the greatest importance, whilst others should execute his orders.


STRANGER: And, therefore, the arts which we have described, as they have
no authority over themselves or one another, but are each of them concerned
with some special action of their own, have, as they ought to have, special
names corresponding to their several actions.


STRANGER: And the science which is over them all, and has charge of the
laws, and of all matters affecting the State, and truly weaves them all
into one, if we would describe under a name characteristic of their common
nature, most truly we may call politics.


STRANGER: Then, now that we have discovered the various classes in a
State, shall I analyse politics after the pattern which weaving supplied?

YOUNG SOCRATES: I greatly wish that you would.

STRANGER: Then I must describe the nature of the royal web, and show how
the various threads are woven into one piece.


STRANGER: A task has to be accomplished, which, although difficult,
appears to be necessary.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly the attempt must be made.

STRANGER: To assume that one part of virtue differs in kind from another,
is a position easily assailable by contentious disputants, who appeal to
popular opinion.

YOUNG SOCRATES: I do not understand.

STRANGER: Let me put the matter in another way: I suppose that you would
consider courage to be a part of virtue?

YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly I should.

STRANGER: And you would think temperance to be different from courage;
and likewise to be a part of virtue?


STRANGER: I shall venture to put forward a strange theory about them.


STRANGER: That they are two principles which thoroughly hate one another
and are antagonistic throughout a great part of nature.

YOUNG SOCRATES: How singular!

STRANGER: Yes, very--for all the parts of virtue are commonly said to be
friendly to one another.


STRANGER: Then let us carefully investigate whether this is universally
true, or whether there are not parts of virtue which are at war with their
kindred in some respect.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Tell me how we shall consider that question.

STRANGER: We must extend our enquiry to all those things which we consider
beautiful and at the same time place in two opposite classes.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Explain; what are they?

STRANGER: Acuteness and quickness, whether in body or soul or in the
movement of sound, and the imitations of them which painting and music
supply, you must have praised yourself before now, or been present when
others praised them.


STRANGER: And do you remember the terms in which they are praised?


STRANGER: I wonder whether I can explain to you in words the thought which
is passing in my mind.


STRANGER: You fancy that this is all so easy: Well, let us consider these
notions with reference to the opposite classes of action under which they
fall. When we praise quickness and energy and acuteness, whether of mind
or body or sound, we express our praise of the quality which we admire by
one word, and that one word is manliness or courage.


STRANGER: We speak of an action as energetic and brave, quick and manly,
and vigorous too; and when we apply the name of which I speak as the common
attribute of all these natures, we certainly praise them.


STRANGER: And do we not often praise the quiet strain of action also?


STRANGER: And do we not then say the opposite of what we said of the

YOUNG SOCRATES: How do you mean?

STRANGER: We exclaim How calm! How temperate! in admiration of the slow
and quiet working of the intellect, and of steadiness and gentleness in
action, of smoothness and depth of voice, and of all rhythmical movement
and of music in general, when these have a proper solemnity. Of all such
actions we predicate not courage, but a name indicative of order.


STRANGER: But when, on the other hand, either of these is out of place,
the names of either are changed into terms of censure.


STRANGER: Too great sharpness or quickness or hardness is termed violence
or madness; too great slowness or gentleness is called cowardice or
sluggishness; and we may observe, that for the most part these qualities,
and the temperance and manliness of the opposite characters, are arrayed as
enemies on opposite sides, and do not mingle with one another in their
respective actions; and if we pursue the enquiry, we shall find that men
who have these different qualities of mind differ from one another.

YOUNG SOCRATES: In what respect?

STRANGER: In respect of all the qualities which I mentioned, and very
likely of many others. According to their respective affinities to either
class of actions they distribute praise and blame,--praise to the actions
which are akin to their own, blame to those of the opposite party--and out
of this many quarrels and occasions of quarrel arise among them.


STRANGER: The difference between the two classes is often a trivial
concern; but in a state, and when affecting really important matters,
becomes of all disorders the most hateful.

YOUNG SOCRATES: To what do you refer?

STRANGER: To nothing short of the whole regulation of human life. For the
orderly class are always ready to lead a peaceful life, quietly doing their
own business; this is their manner of behaving with all men at home, and
they are equally ready to find some way of keeping the peace with foreign
States. And on account of this fondness of theirs for peace, which is
often out of season where their influence prevails, they become by degrees
unwarlike, and bring up their young men to be like themselves; they are at
the mercy of their enemies; whence in a few years they and their children
and the whole city often pass imperceptibly from the condition of freemen
into that of slaves.

YOUNG SOCRATES: What a cruel fate!

STRANGER: And now think of what happens with the more courageous natures.
Are they not always inciting their country to go to war, owing to their
excessive love of the military life? they raise up enemies against
themselves many and mighty, and either utterly ruin their native-land or
enslave and subject it to its foes?

YOUNG SOCRATES: That, again, is true.

STRANGER: Must we not admit, then, that where these two classes exist,
they always feel the greatest antipathy and antagonism towards one

YOUNG SOCRATES: We cannot deny it.

STRANGER: And returning to the enquiry with which we began, have we not
found that considerable portions of virtue are at variance with one
another, and give rise to a similar opposition in the characters who are
endowed with them?


STRANGER: Let us consider a further point.


STRANGER: I want to know, whether any constructive art will make any, even
the most trivial thing, out of bad and good materials indifferently, if
this can be helped? does not all art rather reject the bad as far as
possible, and accept the good and fit materials, and from these elements,
whether like or unlike, gathering them all into one, work out some nature
or idea?

YOUNG SOCRATES: To, be sure.

STRANGER: Then the true and natural art of statesmanship will never allow
any State to be formed by a combination of good and bad men, if this can be
avoided; but will begin by testing human natures in play, and after testing
them, will entrust them to proper teachers who are the ministers of her
purposes--she will herself give orders, and maintain authority; just as the
art of weaving continually gives orders and maintains authority over the
carders and all the others who prepare the material for the work,
commanding the subsidiary arts to execute the works which she deems
necessary for making the web.


STRANGER: In like manner, the royal science appears to me to be the
mistress of all lawful educators and instructors, and having this queenly
power, will not permit them to train men in what will produce characters
unsuited to the political constitution which she desires to create, but
only in what will produce such as are suitable. Those which have no share
of manliness and temperance, or any other virtuous inclination, and, from
the necessity of an evil nature, are violently carried away to godlessness
and insolence and injustice, she gets rid of by death and exile, and
punishes them with the greatest of disgraces.

YOUNG SOCRATES: That is commonly said.

STRANGER: But those who are wallowing in ignorance and baseness she bows
under the yoke of slavery.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Quite right.

STRANGER: The rest of the citizens, out of whom, if they have education,
something noble may be made, and who are capable of being united by the
statesman, the kingly art blends and weaves together; taking on the one
hand those whose natures tend rather to courage, which is the stronger
element and may be regarded as the warp, and on the other hand those which
incline to order and gentleness, and which are represented in the figure as
spun thick and soft, after the manner of the woof--these, which are
naturally opposed, she seeks to bind and weave together in the following

YOUNG SOCRATES: In what manner?

STRANGER: First of all, she takes the eternal element of the soul and
binds it with a divine cord, to which it is akin, and then the animal
nature, and binds that with human cords.

YOUNG SOCRATES: I do not understand what you mean.

STRANGER: The meaning is, that the opinion about the honourable and the
just and good and their opposites, which is true and confirmed by reason,
is a divine principle, and when implanted in the soul, is implanted, as I
maintain, in a nature of heavenly birth.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Yes; what else should it be?

STRANGER: Only the Statesman and the good legislator, having the
inspiration of the royal muse, can implant this opinion, and he, only in
the rightly educated, whom we were just now describing.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Likely enough.

STRANGER: But him who cannot, we will not designate by any of the names
which are the subject of the present enquiry.


STRANGER: The courageous soul when attaining this truth becomes civilized,
and rendered more capable of partaking of justice; but when not partaking,
is inclined to brutality. Is not that true?


STRANGER: And again, the peaceful and orderly nature, if sharing in these
opinions, becomes temperate and wise, as far as this may be in a State, but
if not, deservedly obtains the ignominious name of silliness.


STRANGER: Can we say that such a connexion as this will lastingly unite
the evil with one another or with the good, or that any science would
seriously think of using a bond of this kind to join such materials?


STRANGER: But in those who were originally of a noble nature, and who have
been nurtured in noble ways, and in those only, may we not say that union
is implanted by law, and that this is the medicine which art prescribes for
them, and of all the bonds which unite the dissimilar and contrary parts of
virtue is not this, as I was saying, the divinest?


STRANGER: Where this divine bond exists there is no difficulty in
imagining, or when you have imagined, in creating the other bonds, which
are human only.

YOUNG SOCRATES: How is that, and what bonds do you mean?

STRANGER: Rights of intermarriage, and ties which are formed between
States by giving and taking children in marriage, or between individuals by
private betrothals and espousals. For most persons form marriage
connexions without due regard to what is best for the procreation of

YOUNG SOCRATES: In what way?

STRANGER: They seek after wealth and power, which in matrimony are objects
not worthy even of a serious censure.

YOUNG SOCRATES: There is no need to consider them at all.

STRANGER: More reason is there to consider the practice of those who make
family their chief aim, and to indicate their error.


STRANGER: They act on no true principle at all; they seek their ease and
receive with open arms those who are like themselves, and hate those who
are unlike them, being too much influenced by feelings of dislike.


STRANGER: The quiet orderly class seek for natures like their own, and as
far as they can they marry and give in marriage exclusively in this class,
and the courageous do the same; they seek natures like their own, whereas
they should both do precisely the opposite.

YOUNG SOCRATES: How and why is that?

STRANGER: Because courage, when untempered by the gentler nature during
many generations, may at first bloom and strengthen, but at last bursts
forth into downright madness.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Like enough.

STRANGER: And then, again, the soul which is over-full of modesty and has
no element of courage in many successive generations, is apt to grow too
indolent, and at last to become utterly paralyzed and useless.

YOUNG SOCRATES: That, again, is quite likely.

STRANGER: It was of these bonds I said that there would be no difficulty
in creating them, if only both classes originally held the same opinion
about the honourable and good;--indeed, in this single work, the whole
process of royal weaving is comprised--never to allow temperate natures to
be separated from the brave, but to weave them together, like the warp and
the woof, by common sentiments and honours and reputation, and by the
giving of pledges to one another; and out of them forming one smooth and
even web, to entrust to them the offices of State.

YOUNG SOCRATES: How do you mean?

STRANGER: Where one officer only is needed, you must choose a ruler who
has both these qualities--when many, you must mingle some of each, for the
temperate ruler is very careful and just and safe, but is wanting in
thoroughness and go.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly, that is very true.

STRANGER: The character of the courageous, on the other hand, falls short
of the former in justice and caution, but has the power of action in a
remarkable degree, and where either of these two qualities is wanting,
there cities cannot altogether prosper either in their public or private

YOUNG SOCRATES: Certainly they cannot.

STRANGER: This then we declare to be the completion of the web of
political action, which is created by a direct intertexture of the brave
and temperate natures, whenever the royal science has drawn the two minds
into communion with one another by unanimity and friendship, and having
perfected the noblest and best of all the webs which political life admits,
and enfolding therein all other inhabitants of cities, whether slaves or
freemen, binds them in one fabric and governs and presides over them, and,
in so far as to be happy is vouchsafed to a city, in no particular fails to
secure their happiness.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Your picture, Stranger, of the king and statesman, no less
than of the Sophist, is quite perfect.

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