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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10491/it-started-with-plato/

It Started with Plato

August 19, 2009 by

Many people believe that this issue arose with the advent of socialism a century or so ago and was given its impetus and virulence by the communist class war dogma of Karl Marx. That is not so.

The controversy is almost as old as civilization. It began in ancient Greece, more than four thousand years before the Christian era, with the doctrines of Plato. He was the first of the “planners” and the true founder of the communist economy which deifies the state. In his Republic the Athenian philosopher set out a virtual blueprint for the evolution of what has come to be called the “Welfare State.”

Plato’s ideal republic was founded upon two primary assumptions: (1) that the community must be comprised of only two classes, those who govern and those who are governed (the latter owing implicit obedience to the former), and (2) that human qualities are mainly hereditary and therefore that rulers must beget future rulers. (It should be noted that Plato belonged by birth to the aristocratic governing class who hated the democracy no less than the principles upon which the democratic system is founded.) FULL ARTICLE

{ 39 comments }

2nd Amendment August 19, 2009 at 8:25 am

It’s not surprising that the wimpy Athenian welfare state was subordinate to the Spartan warfare state.

P.M.Lawrence August 19, 2009 at 8:53 am

“It began in ancient Greece, more than four thousand years before the Christian era, with the doctrines of Plato”.

Twaddle. Even Egyptian civilisation wasn’t around that long ago. Even if the author meant four thousand years before the present, that’s still about a thousand years before the Homeric Greeks, who were themselves centuries earlier than Plato.

alepuzio August 19, 2009 at 9:10 am

Prof. Harcourt-Rivington,
I read “The republic” some year ago: I remember that Plato criticized all the gouvernement forms (monarchy, aristocraty and democrazy) meaning the fall of every form in the other.

In your opinion, why Plato daydreams a Perfect State of Philosophies and, in same time, criticizes the idea that exists a perfect gouvernements (also, a good form for every time and space)?

Do you think that Plato could be favorite to democracy after the death of him master/teacher Socrates?

Regards
Alessandro Puzielli

LightBringer August 19, 2009 at 9:42 am

2nd Amendment, you should be aware that the realities of ancient Greece have been completely misrepresented in recent times. Sparta was probably the closest a state ever got to true totalitarianism – nothing good; no art, philosophy, or culture ever came from there, only suffering. Even their vaunted ‘agoge’ system, which forced every Spartan male into a life of brutality and war from childhood failed to achieve it objectives. Sure, with the help of the other Greek cities they fought off invaders a few times, but they were defeated many times by the Athenians and the Thebans.

The only reason Athens fell was because of a devastating plague and an imperialistic policy that would destroy them. Athens herself had many flaws, but that is due to the inherent problems of democracy that the author of this source doesn’t seem to recognise. Demagogues like Kleon and Perikles tried to abuse the democracy to introduce the semblance of a welfare state, and succeeded in nationalising the silver mines, but the Athenian citizens had a certain ideal of liberty that prevented them from going too far. Remember, Sparta never actually defeated Athens – they sold out to the Persians, and eventually Greece was overrun by Alexander the Great. Sparta fell a few years later, never to recover. Athens gave the world many beautiful and valuable artworks and ideas, and made up for Plato by giving us the greatest philosopher of all time: Aristotle.

2nd Amendment August 19, 2009 at 10:15 am

I think the greatest philosopher of all times was Thalès of Milet for his experimentations and Democritus for his atomic model.

I’m sorry but I am more science and practical minded than “art” minded.

I just don’t see how you can defeat your enemies with a painting.

Billy Beck August 19, 2009 at 11:00 am

“I just don’t see how you can defeat your enemies with a painting.”

Over what timescale? The beginning of the British defeat of 1783 (Treaty of Paris) was a parchment seven years earlier.

The point is that guns without ideas are useless or worse.

Barry Loberfeld August 19, 2009 at 11:06 am

RE “The two systems have nothing in common. They cannot co-exist since no one can be a prisoner and a free man at the same time”:

That “progressives” see no bias in condoms in the classroom, just as their conservative counterparts never saw bias in prayer in the classroom — and with neither, in an unholy alliance, seeing anything wrong in a ban on Muslim headdress — only demonstrates that both are blind to a single reality: Where there’s no political noninterference, there’s no political neutrality. Government can remain impartial towards the organic nexus of religious conviction and educational policy only by having nothing to do with either element. Thus, rather than attempt an impossible separation of Church and School, the State should effect what it can: the separation of itself from both.

The point extends beyond our First Amendment. No nation can morally maintain both a separation of Church and State and a union of School and State — i.e., state noninterference and state intervention, laissez faire and socialism, freedom and coercion, A and non-A. Privatized religion and socialized education — privatized anything and socialized anything — are the oil and water of political practice. The “mixed economy” never mixes.

FROM HERE

Simon Brown August 19, 2009 at 11:24 am

In the audio and the intro text it says “thousand” years, though the main text is correct and says “hundred”.

Jonathan Finegold Catalán August 19, 2009 at 3:27 pm

On the topic of the war between Sparta and Athens, it should be remembered that Sparta was also aided by the Persian Empire.

Daniel August 19, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I fail to see how state democracy allows individuals to be free and enjoy liberty. Afterall, are not the citizens in a state democracy controlled by the democratic process? That is to ask, in a state democracy, does not 50% + 1 control the remainder of society? What would be the purpose of the state in a state democracy if not to control the lives of its citizens?

dapro August 19, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I suggest the author of this article to read “Democracy: The God That Failed” by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. This will suffice to understand the evils of democracy.

P.M.Lawrence August 19, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Billy Beck wrote “The beginning of the British defeat of 1783 (Treaty of Paris) was a parchment seven years earlier”.

More twaddle. On the one hand, the fighting began a year or so before that, with pressure and preparations building up even earlier. On the other hand, the tide didn’t even begin to turn until at least Saratoga, a year later, that led the way to outside help. That “parchment” (are you sure it wasn’t paper?) was just one of many propaganda efforts on the way, and counted for even less than Tom Paine’s.

Gregory Campeau August 19, 2009 at 9:02 pm

@ dapro and alepuzio:

Note that the article is from 1951 and the author is no longer living.

Troy Camplin August 19, 2009 at 9:06 pm

The unfortunate thing is that everyone, in reading the Republic, forgets what Socrates says toward the end: that what he has laid out should be considered nothing more than a metaphor for the soul, because in such a city, the city would be happy, but he doubted that anyone IN the city would be happy. Thus, the Republic was meant as a blueprint for educating the soul in justice, and was not actually meant as a blueprint for designing a government. The assumption was that if the citizens all had just souls, that they would be good, act good, and interact good — and the polis would take care of itself.

Curlz31 August 19, 2009 at 11:11 pm

“The controversy is almost as old as civilization. It began in ancient Greece, more than four thousand years before the Christian era, with the doctrines of Plato.”

ummmm …….

Plato wasn’t alive 4 thousand years before the Christian Era, nor was he even alive 4 thousand years ago from now.

Chuck August 20, 2009 at 2:03 am

To the barbarians around here:

Sparta left us with nothing of value. No art, science, culture. Anything good in the world today cannot in any way or part be traced back to that society.

Also, what are you going to do with all your guns and no culture? Do you want to live like the ancient Huns or Mongols?

Kakugo August 20, 2009 at 6:06 am

The detail from La Scuola di Atene by Raffaello says it all: Plato is rightly depicted as an eccentric genius that points towards higher but impractical goals while Aristotle is depicted as strapping young man recalling man to more “earthly” pursuits.
Everything Plato wrote had deep metaphysical meaning but people over the centuries have taken hs work at face value.

Current August 20, 2009 at 6:58 am

If this old article from the 1951 Freeman shows anything it shows that attitudes towards democracy have changed a lot in libertarian and classical liberal circles.

Look at what Harcourt-Rivington means by the word though: “Such state control of activities is the antithesis of the democratic ideal which assumes that the individual shall be the arbiter and architect of his own career, and be thus free to organize his life and that of his family in any manner which suits his needs.” Nobody today would call such a thing the “democractic ideal” it would be closer to the “libertarian ideal”.

This is why in “The Constitution of Liberty” Hayek spends a lot of pages discussing “isonomia” and “demokratia” and other related ideas. This is to straighten out what they mean.

2nd Amendment August 20, 2009 at 7:35 am

Chuck,

“Also, what are you going to do with all your guns and no culture?”

We just don’t find it practical to hit a home invader or a mugger with a large Picasso painting. And since Picasso’s are so expensive, once you toss your painting, what will you do if you miss ? Grab a Stradivarius to throw at him ?

Self-defense, guns and the right to self-defense are an integral part of civilization which keeps it moral, free, safe and wealthy.

The Spartan armors, spears, military tactics are all things of value still studied today. The Spartans, in 300, showed us that you can hold a powerful enemy by discipline, terrain advantage and by tactics.

It would be great if we would all live with Alice in Wonderland, but this is reality and weapons and fighting are very valuable when you need them.

Even nature uses ivory defenses and claw offenses and it doesn’t take away the beauty nor the deepness of it.

Deal with it.

Jeff Doty August 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

Without going into a lengthy explanation of The Republic, as I read it, The Republic is a practical, rational argument in favor of libertarianism. All of the restrictions in his republic are on the Guardians (i.e. government workers) not the people. He’s trying to control government to make it just, he is not controlling the people.

Plato argues that no matter what form of government you have, it doesn’t work. And no matter what extreme measures you’re willing to employ, you can’t make it work. There are two reasons for this. Governments are run by people, but human nature is flawed: human beings are not perfect beings. Secondly, people never have perfect knowledge and perfect wisdom. We all make mistakes.

At the end of the book, Plato introduces Odysseus, the most clever of all the Greeks. Historically, he has found solutions to problems that others couldn’t solve. What kind of life does Odysseus choose? He wants a quiet life where he’ll leave people alone. For Plato, a just society is a libertarian society.

Rafe August 20, 2009 at 4:27 pm

How many college courses on Plato’s Republic have Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies on the reading list? Published in two volumes the OSE contains a comprehensive rejoinder to the collectivist notion of “social justice”, the leader principle, utopian planning and much more. And a critique of Marx as well in the second volume.
http://www.the-rathouse.com/OpenSocietyOnLIne/AATheProjectwithIndex.html

Vanmind August 20, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Sh*t, 2nd Amendment, that’s some ignorant stuff you’re posting.

“Ooh, you’d have to throw a Picasso at a burglar.” So in the deluded all-or-nothing world, a society with ample culture would have no guns whatsoever? Laughable. Self-defense is indeed an integral component of a civilized society, but a Sparta-like mass police state, sacrificing cultural pursuits for the sake of by-force perpetual martial readiness, is not even close to being civilized.

“The Spartans, in 300, showed us that you can hold a powerful enemy by discipline, terrain advantage and by tactics.”

Yes, of course, fiction is always accurate. I have many friends who felt uninformed before the film “Pearl Harbor” educated them about what really happened that day. Ha. Or there’s “Apollo 13″ with its altruistic NASA workers trying to save human lives while fat, smoking engineers from the private sector cared only about the way their engines “delivered when it counts.” Or there’s… any work of fiction ever created, whether or not it’s based on historic events.

Weapons are valuable when you need them. 99.999% of the time you do not need them “at the moment,” so other things take priority in the human mind. To deny or attempt to thwart such peacetime pursuits is unethical — hell, feel free to consider weapons manufacturing & use to be part of such pursuits (e.g. the “art” of gunsmithing & target shooting). Just don’t ever try to re-animate the inferior statist society that was Sparta.

I see with increasing clarity the envy at the root of socialist crime — financial envy, or the equal danger of envy based around an individual’s lack of artistic talent. Take your own advice and deal with it.

Mrhuh August 20, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I’m a little uneased by the Austrian critique of democracy. The argument seems not to be against democracy per se but rather REPRESENTATIVE democracy. Athens was far closer to DIRECT democracy, especially in the assemblies. And is jury nullification itself not a form of DIRECT democracy (which might explain why so many statists reject it). One could say to read Hans Hermann-Hoppe’s “Democracy: The God that Failed” but one could also read Elizabeth Tamedly’s “Socialism and International Economic Order”, which is also at the Mises Institute in both the STORE and LITERATURE.

As for defending Plato, I’m currently readint I.F. Stone’s “The Trial of Socrates” and also the more recent “Why Socrates Died” seem to provide a claim that Plato and Socrates where in fact far more totalitarian that some of their defenders might claim.

Current August 20, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Mrhuh,

It is only some of the current generation of Austrian economists who have so strongly criticised democracy. I don’t agree with them, and nor do many others.

Athens was a direct democracy. Our current systems are elective aristocracies and consequently suffer from all of the flaws of aristocracy. But, there are a number of flaws of democracy itself that are often at least as bad in direct democracy.

For example, in ancient Athens trials were direct democracy. The juries were very large, large fractions of the population. However, the law was very different to ours. You could be accused of anything. It didn’t have to be a recognized crime., rather the prosecutor had to convince the jury that the action was indeed a crime. It was arbitrary. Read Jeffrey Friedman’s work on democracy and it will tell you why, especially “Popper, Hayek and Weber”.

It is true that there is evidence that Plato was quite totalitarian. It is questionable if Socrates was. The main allegation against Socrates is that he educated two men who became some of the “Thirty Tyrants”. However, this doesn’t necessarily condemn him, he didn’t approve of the tyrants when they were in power. The allegation seems to be that students always follow their master and so their master can be blamed to some extent for their actions. This seems unreasonable. Hayek, for example, helped educate many of the foremost Keynesian economists. It sounds reasonable though to people who aren’t familiar with social thought.

Troy Camplin, Ph.D. August 20, 2009 at 10:09 pm

This whole Athens and Sparta thing is silly. At one time Athens was the greatest military power in the world. The Greek tragedies and comedies were celebrated at the Great Dionysia in Athens, during which Athens displayed the tribute paid them by those they protected and demonstrated their military power. The Spartans only took advantage of the fact that the satellite cities tired of Athenian hegemony (forgetting why it existed in the first place, and why they paid tribute, as a way to fund the Athenian army to continue protecting them) and the fact that Athens had become weakened militarily and politically. The final straw was a plague that hit Athens. In the end, the fall of Athens to Sparta was in no way due to some sort of Spartan supremacy. The spontaneous order democracy of Athens made it the greatest political, cultural, and military power in the world at the time. The centrally-organized, designed command-based government of Sparta made it a historical footnote (“oh, and they defeated Athens once”). When people think of the ancient Greeks, they are thinking of Athens, not Sparta.

P.M.Lawrence August 21, 2009 at 2:43 am

Troy Camplin wrote “This whole Athens and Sparta thing is silly. At one time Athens was the greatest military power in the world.”

It never was. Throughout its independent existence Persia or its predecessors were stronger. Not enough stronger to defeat Athens and its allies, but quite strong enough to throw back attacks by Athens even with its allies.

Borislav August 21, 2009 at 2:54 am

Troy Camplin, Ph.D.
At one time Athens was the greatest military power in the world.

Yea, sure, and I am Batman.

Current August 21, 2009 at 10:18 am

To my knowledge P.M.Laurence is correct about Persia’s military strength.

(Alexander the Great was a Macedonian and came later. Some people get confused about that.)

Troy Camplin, Ph.D. August 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm

The Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon without the Spartans, who had refused to show up. 10,000 Athenians defeated about 100,000 Persians. The famous Battle of Thermopylae occurred 10 years later. The 300 Spartans, with 7000 from other states were defeated. Afterwards, the Spartans were reluctant to fight the Persians by the time the Battle of Palataea came around. But even with Athens burned down the year before, the Athenians remained unconquered by the Persians. The other Greek states joined with Athens because of Athenian success against the Persians. That is why, as I pointed out, they ended up paying them to protect them. Persia may have had more land than Athens, but they could never defeat the Athenians. As Britain has proven, size does not have anything to do with power. You need to learn some history. Yes, Alexander did come later, and I wasn’t talking about him at all.

Current August 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Troy Camplin,

Interesting. I will have to learn more about this. I take your points.

newson August 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm

to mrhuh:
thanks for the tamedly reference.

Alexander S. Peak August 22, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Planning predates Plato; in fact, Plato was a relative of a famous Athenian planner Solon. And before that there were kings and other rulers.

Alex

P.M.Lawrence August 22, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Troy Camplin wrote “The other Greek states joined with Athens because of Athenian success against the Persians. That is why, as I pointed out, they ended up paying them to protect them.”

That is a misrepresentation. Athens changed the rules after the Delian League was set up.

“Persia may have had more land than Athens, but they could never defeat the Athenians”.

That is false. Persia frequently defeated the Athenians, on those occasions when Athens attacked Persian possessions and dependencies, e.g. driving back an incursion into Lydia.

Troy Camplin August 23, 2009 at 6:56 pm

When I said they never defeated the Athenians, I meant that they never conquered them. And they didn’t. Ever. They may have one a battle here and there, but they lost the war.

They also lost the war of cultural history. As did the Spartans. The Athenians one that one in spades.

Troy Camplin August 23, 2009 at 6:57 pm

When I said they never defeated the Athenians, I meant that they never conquered them. And they didn’t. Ever. They may have won a battle here and there, but they lost the war.

They also lost the war of cultural history. As did the Spartans. The Athenians one that one in spades.

P.M.Lawrence August 23, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Ah, Troy Camplin – so you didn’t actually state something that was true, but you had something else in mind so that’s OK? But even what you had in mind is false. The Persians actually occupied Athens and destroyed the Acropolis at one point, it’s just that the Athenians managed to win the whole campaign – i.e., they conquered it, but were then forced to retreat by defeats elsewhere that cut their supply lines (no defeat of those forces ever occurred). And I note that you have now departed from your original false claim that “Athens was the greatest military power in the world”.

As for winning culturally – no. The “winners” were actually the ones the Athenians condemned, like Socrates.

Troy Camplin August 23, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Even I can make mistakes in language usage. I admitted as such. What I said was an error in vocabulary usage, not intentionally a false statement. I suppose you have never done the same?

The Athenians had strategically abandoned Athens, allowing the Persians to come in. They did win the war, and the Persians never did conquer the Athenians. In fact, it was in taking on the Athenians that the Persians began their slide toward military weakness. So I do not depart from the comment that Athens was the greatest military power in the world. Saying that doesn’t mean I think they never lost a battle. That’s absurd on the face of it.

The Athenians held the Great Dionysia, making possible the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes. Even if they were not from Athens, the rich cultural soil of Athens attracted poets there. This is aside from Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and numerous poets. Certainly there were poets and philosophers (you’ve heard of Clitomarchus, haven’t you?) in Sparta, but none who reached the heights of the Athenians.

Yes, there was Socrates . . . but I suppose that means you would say there was no culture in Rome because they executed Seneca.

P.M.Lawrence August 23, 2009 at 11:03 pm

TC, while you did get your wording wrong, you also got your facts wrong – and you repeat the error there, “…Athens was the greatest military power in the world”. That has nothing to do with the red herring “Saying that doesn’t mean I think they never lost a battle. That’s absurd on the face of it.”

Quite simply, the facts are as I stated them: Persia was the strongest, just not enough stronger to defeat the Athenians on their home ground sufficiently for their own purposes. Athens tried to build on its victories by taking the war to the Persians – and failed.

“Even if they were not from Athens, the rich cultural soil of Athens attracted poets there…”

This is ignoring the crucial point, that Athens kept them resident aliens – it distanced itself from them. In fact, it raised those barriers further over time. It can claim credit for being fertile cultural ground, even to the point of helping the likes of Aristotle – but it cannot claim Aristotle as one of its own. When later ages regarded Plato, Socrates and Aristotle as greats, they were acclaiming what Athens rejected (and, in fact, in this sense Plato rejected Athens).

And there is no need to impute views to me. Go by what I stated, just as I am going by what you stated.

Troy Camplin August 24, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Persia never conquered Greece, due to Athens. Period.

As for your residence alien nonsense — you are ascribing modern-day ethics to ancient periods, which is also ridiculous on the face of it. All cultures of the time distanced themselves from resident aliens — if they even allowed them. Yet, even with the way resident aliens were treated, they flocked to Athens. Seems it was a good place to be.

Socrates was killed because several of the 13 Tyrants were his students. Thus, the accusation of corrupting the youth. It seems that he in fact did. There was certainly a bit of scapegoating of Socrates — have to blame someone for the traitorious actions of the 13 Tyrants, after all — but they didn’t execute him without reason. They thought he was responsible for the actions of his students. Not a bad notion, in my opinion. What kind of students would teachers put out if they had to take responsibility for them later?

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