Plato's Republic and Soviet Russia Thesis

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Plato's Republic And Soviet Russia

The ideal state that Plato describes in what is arguably his best known work, the Republic, may seem horribly oppressive to the modern democratic mind. With its strict hierarchy and class system, there was no room for sociopolitical mobility, and each class in his carefully constructed system would have, to the democratic mind, some very legitimate complaints. The ascetic and communal lifestyle required of the working class under Plato's description does not sound desirable, or sustainable given what history has shown us about human nature, and the lowest class's complete lack of power would eventually boil over into some form of revolution, another fact which history has made abundantly clear. Still, there are aspects of the ideal state Plato outlines in the Republic that were and perhaps still are, in some cases, considered to indeed be the best way to govern a sovereign state. In practice, Plato's theories and other political predictions have proven to have very mixed results, which the twentieth century shows quite clearly.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Thesis on Plato's Republic and Soviet Russia the Ideal Assignment

Plato actually outlines several other types of government in the Republic, each one the successive result of a failure in the one preceding it, starting with the ideal government. Among these flawed and ultimately failed forms of government are the tyranny, the oligarchy, and the democracy. The twentieth century has seen all of these forms of government, in theory if not in the precise manner they are described by Plato -- according to Dr. Kelly Ross, the rise of Mussolini and Hitler parallels the transition Plato outlines from democracy to tyranny, though America stands out (at least in American minds) as the democratic stalwart for most of the twentieth century, and many of the Soviet satellites could be said to at least temporarily have become oligarchies before establishing democracies or new tyrannies (Ross, 2004, par. 24). The stated principles of the Soviet Union before its dissolution, however, in many respects closely resemble the description of the ideal state contained in the Republic. The establishment of Communist rule came arguably closer, at least in principle, to creating Plato's ideal state than any other large-scale government in the history of mankind. An examination of the Soviet Union in practice, however, illuminates many of the problems created not only by the Soviet Union's actual deviations from their and Plato's stated principles, but also flaws in Plato's ideal state itself.

To begin with, it is necessary to describe Plato's ideal state and the setting of this description in the Republic. As Ross notes, in most of Plato's "mature" philosophical works, Socrates is used to give voice to Plato's ideas (Ross, 2004, 2). In the Republic, Socrates is speaking with several other people when the issue of justice comes up. The ten books that comprise the Republic are almost entirely concerned with the issue of defining justice and proving that it is preferable over injustice. The entire discussion of the city-state, in fact, comes up as an analogy that Socrates (as characterized by Plato) uses in an attempt to illustrate how justice operates on an individual via the three-part soul also used, as Ross points out, in the Phaedrus (Ross, 2004, 8). The three parts of the soul are reason, spirit, and desire, and every individual has all three parts in varying degrees of dominance. The city-state described in the Republic also has three sections or classes, each one corresponding to one of the parts of the soul. The system of inheritance whereby children automatically assume the class of their parents would be gotten rid of through some dubious means that even Plato (via "Socrates") doesn't seem quite sure will work, and the class of each individual -- and thereby the members of each class, which is a more important way to look at this for our purposes -- would be determined by a universal school system that would educate and vet each individual and literally classify them. The measure used for classification would be the dominant part of an individual's soul -- those dominated by reason would become philosophers, the rulers of the city-state. Individuals dominated by spirit, which Ross notes is most closely associated with the virtue of courage and the temperance of desire and, to a degree, reason, would become warriors (Ross, 2004, 9). Finally, the largest class in the city-state, those dominated by desire, would be the commoners, and it would be up to the two upper classes of warriors and philosophers, collectively the guardians of the city-state, to administer good and restrictions on this lower class, as they would be incapable of doing so themselves.

The government created by the Soviet Union, even on paper, does not sound a lot like Plato's ideal state. A closer examination of the operations of the Soviet government, however, and the principles behind them, reveal some striking similarities. The most tangible similarity between the two deals with what most people feel is the basic tenet of Communism -- the complete (or near complete) lack of private property. For Plato, this was not a matter of equal distribution. Rather, the ruling classes (i.e. The philosophers and warriors) would lead an ascetic life, with nothing but the necessary thing for conducting a decent mode of living. The theory goes that each class in Plato's ideal state would be fully satisfied by their position in society -- the philosopher-kings would spend their time reasoning the best way to govern and having their decisions implemented, and would intellectually understand the need for their lack of possessions, so he theory goes, and therefore be willing to deprive themselves. The warrior class, ruled by the spirit, would be able to control their desire, and would be satisfied by the position of honor they occupy. It is the lowest class, the workers dominated by desire, who would requires material possessions, and it would be up to the philosophers to determine how much of everything each person needed. According to the Soviet Constitution (1918), class was something to be abolished altogether, and it was to this end that all property was simply proclaimed to be "national property" (Constitution, 1918, Chapter 2, section 3).

The same concept was meant to apply across the board; as no elite was supposed to exist, there was no need for reasoned ascetics.

The concept of personal property relates directly to the concept if justice in both the ideal state of Plato's Republic and the Soviet State. As mentioned above, the Republic's discussion of the ideal state begins as a quest to define justice. Though a definition is never explicitly given by Plato's Socrates, the concept of justice in the ideal state can be roughly defined with Karl Marx's famous maxim, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." The very system of government that Plato envisions demands this (at least, if the individuals involved in that government are also as Plato envisions them), as each class is defined by the dominant portion of its constituents' souls -- their "ability," or at least proclivity (which would have made for a very different maxim). The second part of the maxim seems at first to not quite hold true for Plato's ideal state; though the upper classes are not supposed to have any more than they need, the lower class is spoiled by being assured that they will have most of the things they desire, and all that is god for them. According to Plato, however, this is exactly what they truly need if they are to be happy and productive members of society -- being ruled by desire as they are, they would soon fall out of line and the government would cease to work if the rulers' ascetic lifestyle was forced on them. He claims that "unjust men...are incapable of any coherent or cooperative action" (Plato, 352 b). By definition then men engaging in coherent or cooperative action -- such as the running of an ideal state -- must be just, and so the must be the system by which they are acting.

Need and ability were also the defining characteristics of a Soviet's place in society, at least in theory.

The Soviet concept of justice was based on Marx's above quoted maxim -- what was just, according to the implications of the Communist state's Constitution, was for everyone to have access to everything they needed and what was available of what they wanted without fear of exploitation, and without being able to exploit anyone themselves, while at the same time working to the best of their abilities to provide their fellow Communists with the goods that they were best able to produce (Constitution, 1918). Justice is not viewed, either in Plato's ideal state or by the Soviet government, as a thing in need of tangible operations. Justice would passively exist, according to each of these governmental theories, as a natural result from the well-ordered system of classification (or lack thereof) -- there should be no need for crime, as every individual would… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Plato's Republic and Soviet Russia."  December 8, 2008.  Accessed October 26, 2020.