The Wisdom of the Statesman Part 13

Last week we looked at the systems of law and how this is practiced. The Stranger voiced his concern at leaders being directed by a written system of law and lamented the situation that would arise if we were all ruled by written law without knowledge because it would be impossible to apply the written law to all the variations that arise during a human’s lives.

The Stranger concluded as follows: Need we wonder at the extent of the evil that arises and will continue to arise in such constitutions when the performance of actions in accord with written edicts and customs is not accompanied by knowledge. We wonder why our countries fail which the Stranger says is due to the depravity of the helmsmen and the sailors, who have attained a huge level of ignorance in relation to matters of the utmost importance, who are not knowledgeable about matters of statesmanship in any respect, but think, that of all branches of knowledge, they have acquired this skill with the utmost clarity in every respect. As Shakespeare said “Man proud Man, most ignorant of what he is most assured”. What will become obvious later is the importance of gaining this special knowledge. The Stranger said that the one who really knows is the Statesman.

Str: Now then, which of these improper constitutions is the least difficult to live under, accepting that all of them are difficult, and which is the most oppressive? Is this something we should look at even though it is a secondary consideration compared to what is now before us? And yet, overall, it is likely that everything we do is motivated by such a consideration.

Y Soc: We should do as you say, of course.

Str: Then we should declare that of those three constitutions, the same one is both exceptionally difficult and easy at the same time.

Y Soc: How do you mean?

Str: I am just saying that monarchy, rule of the few, and rule of the many were the three constitutions we mentioned at the beginning of the current influx of discussion.

Y Soc: They were indeed.

Str: Then cutting each one of these in two we would produce six, keeping the correct one separate from these as a seventh.

Y Soc: How?

Str: From monarchy we get the kingly and the tyrannical subdivisions, then, in turn, from rule not involving many we get aristocracy, which we said has a good reputation, and also oligarchy, and furthermore, in the case of the rule of many, we proposed at the time simply to call it democracy, but now we must also propose a twofold aspect for this.

Y Soc: In what way and dividing it on what basis?

Str: No differently from the others, even if its name is already single; there is, nevertheless, rule according to law and rule contrary to law, both under this constitution and under the others.

Y Soc: There is, indeed.

Str: Now, when we were searching for the right constitution, this division was not useful, as we demonstrated in our previous discussion. However, once we have set that constitution aside, and have proposed that the others are necessary, then the criteria of ruling contrary to law or lawfully, divide each of these constitutions in two.

Y Soc: So it seems, now that you have presented this argument.

Str: Well then, monarchy, when yoked to good written ordinances which we call laws, is the best of the six. But when it is lawless, it is the most oppressive and difficult constitution to live under.

Y Soc: Quite likely.

Str: Then again, just as few are intermediate between one and many, so the rule of the “not many” should be regarded accordingly as intermediate in both respects. The rule of the many, for its part, is weak in every respect and, in comparison with the others, is capable neither of great good nor of great evil, because public offices therein are distributed in minute subdivisions to many people. Therefore, when all of the constitutions are lawful, this proves to be the worst of them, and when they are all at variance with the law, it is the best, and when all of them lack restraint, the life in a democracy wins out, but when they are orderly, this is the last one you should live in. But life in the first is by far the best, with the exception of the seventh, for we must separate that one from all of the other constitutions, as we would separate a god from human beings.

This might sound rather strange that a monarchy not guided by good ordinances and is thus lawless is most evil and corrupt yet a democracy, which Socrates has often derided as being the worst of governments. Yet the Stranger now confirms that no great good or great evil can take place under a democracy but even when it is orderly this is the worst of the lot. I will leave you to ponder on this.

Y Soc: It appears that these conclusions follow and that’s how matters stand. So we should do exactly as you say.

Str: In that case, we should set aside those who have a common involvement in all these constitutions, except the one based on knowledge, as not being statesmen but seditious influences presiding over vast images; indeed, they are such themselves and, being the greatest imitators and beguilers, they prove to be the greatest sophists of all the sophists.

Y Soc: It seems that this epithet is being turned quite rightly against the so-called statesmen.

Str: So be it; this has really been like a play for us. Some troop of centaurs and satyrs was coming into view, as we said earlier, and had to be separated from the skill of statesmanship, and it has now been separated in this extremely difficult manner.

Y Soc: So it appears.

Str: But there is something remaining that presents an even greater difficulty than this, as it is more akin to the kingly class and also harder to understand. Indeed, we appear to me to be in a similar predicament to those who refine gold.

Y Soc: How so?

Str: Presumably those craftsmen firstly separate out the earth and stones and numerous other substances, and after this, valuable admixtures akin to gold remain; copper and silver and, on occasion, adamant which are separable only by fire. Once these have been separated with difficulty, by repeated proving and smelting, we are allowed to behold what we call unadulterated gold alone, just by itself.

Y Soc: Yes indeed, that is how these processes are said to operate.

Str: Well, according to the same account, it seems we too have separated off the others who are alien to, and lacking affinity with the knowledge of statesmanship, leaving behind the valuable and the kindred. These presumably include generalship, legal affairs, and any rhetoric that cooperates with kingship, persuades people of what is just, and takes a share in steering the affairs of our cities. So in what way may someone easily separate these off, and display that object of our search, naked and alone just by itself? According to the same account, it seems we too have separated off the others who are alien to, and lacking affinity with, the knowledge of statesmanship, leaving behind the valuable and the kindred. These presumably include generalship, legal affairs, and any rhetoric that cooperates with kingship, persuades people of what is just, and takes a share in steering the affairs of our cities. So in what way may someone easily separate these off, and display that object of our search, naked and alone just by itself?

Y Soc: This is obviously what we should, somehow, try to do.

We now reach an important part in the dialogue where the education of the Statesman is discussed. I have often wondered how one is educated so as to really know and not just to have an opinion or be able to trot of facts and figures. He starts by questioning whether we should learn certain subjects or not. Seems like not much has changed since then. The Stranger now asks a key question “should the knowledge of whether it is necessary to persuade or not, rule over the knowledge of the ability to persuade”?

Str: Now to what form of knowledge shall we assign the ability to persuade crowds and groups by telling them stories, rather than by teaching them?

Y Soc: I think that this too is obvious: it should be assigned to rhetoric.

Str: And the issue of whether we should perform any action whatsoever towards anyone by means of persuasion, or by some use of force, or even leave them entirely undisturbed; with which form of knowledge shall we associate this?

Y Soc: With the knowledge that rules over the knowledge of persuasion and speech.

Str: And that in my view, would be nothing other than the power of the statesman.

Y Soc: Well said.

Str: Then it seems we have quickly separated this rhetoric from statesmanship, as being a different form, subservient thereto.

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: And what view should we hold, in turn, in relation to a power of the following kind?

Y Soc: What kind?

Str: The power over how we should wage war against those whom we have chosen to fight against: does this involve a skill or is it devoid of skill?

Y Soc: But how could we regard it as devoid of skill, when it is a power exercised by generalship and military science in its entirety?

Str: And the power that is able to deliberate knowledgeably on whether we should wage war or withdraw in friendship, should we understand this as different from that, or the same as that?

Y Soc: To anyone following the previous discussion, it must be different.

Str: In that case, shall we declare that it rules over the other one, if in fact we are going to understand it in a manner similar to the previous examples?

Y Soc: I agree.

Str: Now what exactly shall we undertake to put forward, in like manner, as mistress of a great and fearsome skill, the art of war in its entirety, unless it really is the skill of kingship?

Y Soc: None other.

Str: So we shall not propose that the knowledge belonging to the generals is statesmanship, since it is subservient.

Y Soc: We are unlikely to do so.

Str: Come on then, let’s look at the power possessed by those judges who make their judgements correctly.

Y Soc: Very well.

Str: Now is this power able to do anything more than take the lawfully established ordinances that it receives from the lawmaker-king, and make judgements on the basis of these, by considering which arrangements are just and which are unjust, bringing to bear its own particular excellence, whereby it would not be prepared to decide upon any issue between people in a manner contrary to the ordinances of the law maker, having been corrupted by some bribes, by fear, or by lamentations, or any kind of enmity or friendship?

Y Soc: No, you have pretty well explained how far the function of this particular power extends.

Str: In which case we discover that the power possessed by the judges too is not kingship, rather it is the guardian of the laws and hand-maiden of kingship.

Y Soc: So it seems, anyway.

Str: So we should recognise, on reviewing all of the kinds of knowledge we have mentioned, that not one of them turns out to be statesmanship. Indeed, kingship, as it really is, should not perform actions itself, but should rule over those who are able to perform actions, recognizing the starting point and impetus of the most important matters in the city, with a view also to what is timely and what is not, while others carry out his instructions.

Y Soc: Rightly so.

Str: So, for these reasons, the skills we have just described rule neither over themselves nor one another, but each is concerned with some particular activity of its own, and has acquired a specific name that is appropriate to the particular nature of the activity.

Y Soc: Yes, that’s what they seem to do.

As soon as I thought I was beginning to understand where the stranger was going he throws another curved ball and displaces what I thought I was beginning to understand. When you look at the actions of the current crop of so called world leaders, presidents, prime ministers and whatever fancy sounding nomenclature they give themselves I still get the sense that they’re still just office boys doing the bidding of their masters. I thus look forward to where the dialogue now takes us. I hope to conclude this dialogue next week.