The Wisdom of the Statesman – Part 11

Last week we considered the statement why ever is it necessary to make laws, when the law is never perfectly right? What is being suggested is that it is impossible for a body of man-made laws to effectively govern a state or an organization because it would be difficult to frame laws that cater to the myriad of situations that everyone would meet in their lifetime. The question is what guiding light would we follow to ensure that we live up to the high standards required of a human birth? Clearly it would be impossible to follow let alone be aware of the huge volume of man-made law let alone be aware of all the Acts, subsections, and rules.

I suppose what needs to be confirmed firstly is what is required, at a fundamental level, of human beings at large, to ensure that we all live in harmony with each other and with nature, assuming we desire to live a happy and well-ordered life free of anxiety and stress. But deeper then this is every humans duty to discover the finer laws of the creation and to discover our essentials beings in the process.

What might have escaped our attention is that the Law is designed to enable those who follow the Law to be happy. Unless we can examine our opinions to discover which of these concur with a body of law that is Just and Permanent, we will never attain that happiness that is the birthright of all humans. Once again Plato gives us a clue and says that right opinion is turned into knowledge and made stable by causal reasoning or literally reasoning of cause and he says that this is the same as recollection so what is your sense of what is meant by causal reasoning, which is the same as recollection, as a means of making right opinion stable and turning it into knowledge? In the dialogue we have so far been considering, this is what the Stranger has been trying to elicit from the young Socrates. What this implies is that this knowledge is inherent within all of us and is brought to the fore by this process of causal reasoning that through the awakening of recollection, is made manifest. If you recall Socrates likened his skill to that of a midwife who brings forth this knowledge through a process of dialectic.

So let is continue where we left off last week and let’s take the example of a physician, or even a gymnastic trainer, who intends to be abroad and away from those he is looking after for a considerable time. If he thought that the sick people, or those undergoing training, would not remember his instructions, would he write down some reminders for them, if wanted to?

Str: Consider the case of the person who has written laws, or framed unwritten laws, concerning just and unjust behaviour, noble and base practices, good and bad actions, intended for herds of human beings, who are herded in their particular cities based upon the laws of these writers. Is it really not permissible for different instructions, at variance with these, to be issued by the person who has the relevant skill and has written them down, or someone else like him who arrives on the scene? Or would this prohibition, in truth, appear every bit as ridiculous as the previous one?

Y Soc: Of course it would.

Str: Now, do you know the argument that most people present in such a circumstance?

Y Soc: Nothing relevant comes to mind at the moment.

Str: Well, it sounds plausible enough, for they declare, that if someone realises that there are laws at variance with those of former generations but better, he may institute his laws once he has persuaded his own city in each case, but not otherwise.

Y Soc: What about that? Is it not the right way to proceed?

Str: Perhaps, but what if someone were to enforce the better course, without using persuasion? Tell me what the name of that enforcement will be. But no, not yet; answer in relation to the previous example first.

Y Soc: What are you referring to?

Str: Suppose some physician, in proper possession of the relevant skill, but without persuading the patient, were to compel a man, or even a woman or child, to do what is better in contravention of the written precepts; what will be the name of this kind of force? Won’t it be far removed from the error we described as “contrary to the relevant skill” and unhealthy? And the person who suffered such force may justifiably say anything at all about what happened, but may never say that he has suffered unskilled and unhealthy treatment at the hands of the physicians who forced them.

Y Soc: What you say is perfectly true.

Str: What then is the error that we refer to as being at variance with the skill of statesmanship? Isn’t it baseness, evil and injustice?

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: Well, what about those who have been forced, contrary to written edicts and traditions, to perform other actions, more just, better and more noble than those prescribed of old? What, for his part, could a critic of such behaviour say about such use of force, if he is to avoid becoming utterly laughable? He may say anything at all, as the occasion demands, provided he never says that those who were forced to act in that way, suffered baseness or evil or injustice at the hands of those who forced them.

Y Soc: What are you referring to?

Str: That no large number of people of any sort would ever be able to acquire this kind of knowledge, and manage the city on the basis of reason. Rather, it is in relation to something small, few, even the one, that we must seek for that single proper constitution, and we must designate the others as imitations thereof and, just as we stated a little earlier, some imitate it quite well, others quite badly.

Y Soc: How am I to understand what you have said? In fact I didn’t really understand your earlier statement about imitations either.

Str: And indeed, it would be no trivial matter if someone, having initiated this line of argument, were then to set it aside and not even develop it to demonstrate the error that is arising about this issue at the moment.

Y Soc: What sort of error?

Str: We need to look for the kind of thing that is not particularly familiar or easy to see, and we should endeavour to lay hold of it nevertheless. Come on then, consider this constitution we have described, the only correct one: you know that the other constitutions must have recourse to the written laws of this one, and be preserved in this way by acting in a manner that is praised nowadays, even though it is not entirely correct to do so.

Y Soc: What is it that is not entirely correct?

Str: The notion that no one in the city should dare to do anything at variance with the laws, and whoever dares to do so should be punished by death and all sorts of extreme penalties. And yet, this is entirely proper and appropriate as a second preference whenever there is a departure from the first, the one we have described just now. So let’s explain the manner in which this so-called second best system has come into being. Shall we?

Y Soc: Yes, certainly.

Str: Then let’s revert once more to the images, to which it has frequently been necessary to compare the kingly rulers.

What the Stranger is clearly alluding to is that there is a natural, inviolate and immutable law that regulates the entire creation and that man-made law needs to follow these precepts accurately. What he is saying that if we slavishly stick to the man made laws only, without recourse to the finer laws, mistakes will occur. Natural law is simple and could be summarized by the following: live honestly, harm no one and render to all their due.