The Wisdom of the Statesman Part 14

Last week we considered the written laws that govern mankind. However, the Stranger pointed out that without real knowledge, these laws are ineffective in truly governing the populace. He also said that the power possessed by Judges isn’t kingship but is rather the guardian of the laws and the hand-maiden of kingship. He also made a startling statement that all the branches of knowledge reviewed were not the statesmanship that was being sought. He further said that 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”.

The Stranger now continues as follows:

Str: But the knowledge that rules over all of these, superintends the laws and all the affairs of the city and weaves everything together perfectly, has a power that is comprehended in the name belonging to the common factor and, it seems, may quite properly be referred to as statesmanship.

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: Well, wouldn’t we also like to take this further, based upon the example of weaving, now that all the classes relevant to the city have become evident to us?

He now makes another remarkable observation that a part of excellence is, in a sense, contrary in form to excellence in general and this diversion is easily attacked by those skilled in verbal disputation (Sophists) by an appeal to the opinions of the majority. As an example he looks at courage as being one part of excellence.

Str: Then we must dare to pronounce a wondrous doctrine in relation to these.

Y Soc: Of what sort?

Str: That these two, in a certain sense, are very much enemies of one another, and they hold opposing positions in many actual situations.

Y Soc: How do you mean?

Str: The doctrine is not at all familiar since, in fact, all the parts of virtue are usually said to be friendly towards one another in some sense.

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: Should we then apply our minds diligently and consider whether this is simply the way it is, or is it more the case that some of these are in opposition to their own kindred in some respect.

Y Soc: Yes, you should explain how we should consider this issue.

Str: It is necessary to investigate all of those circumstances where we refer to things as good, but nevertheless assign them to two forms opposite to one another.

Y Soc: Explain this more clearly.

Str: Take acuity and speed, whether of body or soul or in the delivery of a speech. Have you yourself ever praised any of these qualities themselves, either directly or in whatever images of them are provided by musical or pictorial imitation, or have you ever been present to hear someone else praising them?

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: And can you recall the manner in which they did so in each of these cases?

Y Soc: Not at all.

Str: Now I wonder if I’ll be capable of using words to present to you exactly what is in my mind.

Y Soc: But why not?

Str: You seem to think that this sort of issue is easy: but we really should consider it in the cases where the skills[16] are opposed. For of course, on many occasions when we are pleased by the speed, intensity or acuity of numerous actions, be they mental or physical or even vocal, we speak in praise of this by using a single designation, the word “courage”.

Y Soc: How so?

Str: I am presuming, in the first place, that we say “acute and courageous”, and we also say “quick and courageous”, and the same goes for “intense”; and in applying the name that I am uttering, in common, to all of these natures, we are praising them.

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: Yes, but haven’t we on many occasions also praised the form of gentleness that occurs in many activities?

Y Soc: Yes, very much so.

Str: Of course, what we say about this, is the opposite of what we say about those other qualities.

Y Soc: In what way?

Str: In the sense that in these cases we say “calm” and “self-controlled”, when admiring activities in the mental realm, then again, “slow” and “gentle” when it relates to physical actions, and to “smooth” and “deep” in relation to the working of the voice and to all rhythmical motion and any music that makes opportune use of slowness; to all these activities we do not apply the term courage but orderliness.

Y Soc: Very true.

Str: And yet, on the other hand, whenever in our view they both occur inopportunely, we turn around and censure each of them, assigning them to their opposites by the names we use.

Y Soc: In what way?

Str: By saying that, those that occur with more acuity than is opportune, or appear too rapid or harsh, are violent and manic, while those that are heavier, slower and more gentle, are cowardly or sluggish. And we shall find generally, for the most part, that these qualities along with the self-controlled nature, and the courage associated with the opposite qualities, acting as if enmity was their fate, do not mix with one another in activities concerned with such issues. And if we pursue the inquiry further, we shall observe, that those who hold them within their souls, are at variance with one another too.

He seems to be pointing out that we apply praise and censure to the same thing but in different circumstances. He confirms that in childish pursuits this is no real problem but when it relates to matters of great importance, it turns out to be highly toxic. He goes on to explain.

Str: This is likely to involve the entire planning for living. For of course, those who are especially orderly, are always ready to live the quiet life alone, just by themselves, occupying themselves with their own activities; what’s more, they interact in this manner with everyone in their home city, and likewise towards foreign cities, being ready to maintain some manner of peace by any means. And because this love of theirs is most inopportune, whenever they behave as they wish to behave, they overlook the fact that they themselves, by maintaining an nonmilitary stance, also influence the young towards a similar disposition. Consequently, they are continually beset by adversaries, and it is not long before they themselves, their children and their entire city become slaves rather than a free people, often without them being aware of it.

Y Soc: What you are describing is harsh, and a terrible predicament, indeed.

Str: But what about those who are more inclined towards courage? Aren’t they constantly drawing their own cities into some war or other, because of their excessively strong desire for such a life? And once they have made many powerful enemies, they either utterly destroy their own native land or reduce its people to slaves and underlings of their enemies.

Y Soc: Yes, that happens too.

Str: So how could we deny that in such situations these types always maintain a great deal, indeed, a huge amount, of enmity and rivalry towards one another?

Y Soc: There is no way at all we can deny it.

Str: In that case, haven’t we found what we were looking for initially; that parts of excellence, of no minor significance, are naturally at variance with one another, and what’s more, they make those who possess them behave exactly as they do?

You can witness this same scenario unfolding before our eyes where you might find two opposing political parties following two completely different agendas yet both asserting that their particular stand point is the most excellent, The Stranger suggests that they discuss this issue further.

Str: Does any knowledge concerned with putting things together, willingly assemble even the most trivial of its own productions from inferior and serviceable materials combined, or is it that any knowledge in any situation discards the inferior as best it can, retains what is suitable and serviceable, and from these, be they similar or dissimilar, constructs a single power and form, by bringing them all together into a unity?

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: Then neither will this statesmanship of ours, being natural and true, ever willingly assemble any city from serviceable people and bad people. Rather it is quite obvious that it will test them first in play, and after that test it will go on to entrust them to those who are capable of educating them and serving statesmanship in this respect, while for its own part, it provides direction and superintendence. Just as weaving pays close attention and directs and superintends the carders, and those who furnish her with whatever she needs for her web, by indicating to each of them the sort of tasks she thinks it is appropriate for them to complete in relation to her own intertwining.

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: It appears to me that kingship does exactly the same thing: retaining for itself the power of superintendence, it will not permit the lawful educators and nurturers to engage in any practice that does not bring about some characteristic that is appropriate to the overall blend, and it exhorts them to educate on this basis alone; but those who are unable to share in courage and self-restraint and any other characteristics that are conducive to excellence, but are thrust away by the force of an evil nature into godlessness, violence and injustice, these it casts out through execution, exile, or punishing them with significant loss of status.

Y Soc: Something of this sort is said to happen anyway.

Str: While those who wallow in ignorance and extreme baseness, it subjects to the yoke of slavery

This malady is evident in our current society in that ignorant people are put into positions of authority and who are totally unsuited for a leadership role. This is especially evident in a democracy where anyone can rise to the top and all they have to do is shout the loudest. But we can also recognize that there are others whose natures are more amendable to attaining nobility.

Next week we will examine how these noble people are recognized and further educated and how they are likely to rule. It certainly points to a more enlightened way of leadership where it is crucial that the stately leader is able to harmonize the two aspects of our nature that were mentioned previously being courage and orderliness and how these are harmonized and have the effect of binding things together and we will hopefully be able to wrap up this particular dialogue.