The Wisdom of the Statesman Part 4

The question remains as to what role the Statesman will play and how and I trust that this will be revealed as we continue with this dialogue. What has been established is that the Statesman’s primary role is the nurture of land-based creatures that moved by foot, who were un-mixed with any other breed. Last week it was agreed that the Statesman appeared to care for the pure bred creatures and it was further agreed that this should once again be split.

The dialogue now explores the mathematical realm of diagonals as explained by the modern mathematician Skemp which I wont even try and explain but which readers are welcome to explore. I will copy the dialogue and lets see if we can make sense of what being said. Bear in  mind that there is a degree of levity here.

Str: And indeed, the creatures that are tame, and live in herds, have been almost entirely divided up at this stage except for two classes. Indeed, the class of dogs does not deserve to be counted among animals living in herds.

Y Soc: Of course not, but by what are we to separate the two?

Str: The very thing by which yourself and Theaetetus may rightly make the division, since you have both taken to geometry.

Y Soc: By what?

Str: By the diagonal, of course, and once more by the diagonal of the diagonal.

Y Soc: What do you mean?

Str: The nature which our class of human beings has acquired is surely adapted for motion, just like the diagonal which has the power of two feet?

Y Soc: Just so.

Str: Then again, the nature of the remaining class, on the basis of power, is, in turn, the diagonal of our power if, by nature, it is twice two feet.4

Y Soc: How could it not be? And indeed, I almost understand what you wish to demonstrate.

Str: What’s more, Socrates, do we see that something has happened to us in the course of these divisions which could be a theme for the greatest comedy?

Y Soc: In what way?

Str: This human race of ours has shared the lot and run the course with the noblest and, at the same time, most easy-going class of creatures.5

Y Soc: I see, and it is unfolding in a most unusual manner.

Str: What about this; aren’t the slowest likely to arrive last?

Y Soc: Yes, I’ll grant you that anyway.

Str: And don’t we observe that the king appears even more comical as he runs along with the herd, and proceeds down a shared course as the man who, for his part, is better trained than anyone for an easy going life.

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: And now, Socrates, the point that was made before during our investigation into the sophist is more obvious.

Y Soc: What point?

Str: That in such a method of argument as this, there is no more concern for what is serious than what is not, and the trivial is given no less respect than the important. Rather it always reaches the very truest, by itself.

Y Soc: Certainly.

If we recall, the Sophist gave the appearance of knowing but in reality had no real or essential knowledge and when a leader is ruled by appearances and opinions, he in essence runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds and has no access to true knowledge. This is an important point because a statesman needs special knowledge in order to rule his subjects fairly and justly.

Str: Well, in that case, I say that those that go by foot should be assigned immediately to the two footed, or the four footed class, and perceiving the human race still on its own, sharing the lot of those with feathers, we should cut the two footed herd once more into featherless and feathered, but once it has been cut, and the skill in managing humans has been made evident, we should take the statesman, the kingly man, like a charioteer, and establish him within it, bestowing upon him the reins of the city as his own since this knowledge is his.

We need not to be concerned when certain things don’t make sense but just to rest with the dialogue and trust that the explanation will be become evident later after due consideration.

The Stranger continues:

Str: Of the numerous skills of shepherding that were presented to us just now, was one of the skills statesmanship, and was it the care of one particular kind of herd?

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: Yes, and the argument determined this, not as the nurture of horses or of other beasts either, but as the knowledge of the common nurture of human beings.

Y Soc: So it did.

Str: 267E Let’s look at the difference between all other herdsmen and kings.

Y Soc: What sort of difference?

Str: Let’s see if any of the others bearing the name of some other skill, claim to join with the king in the common nurture of the herd and pretends to do so.

Y Soc: In what sense do you mean this?

Str: Take, for instance, all traders, farmers and bakers, and, in addition to these, the gymnastic trainers and the class of physicians, do you realise that these fellows would all battle comprehensively in argument against those shepherds of all things human whom we call statesmen, claiming that they are the ones who care for the nurture of humanity, and not only for herds of human beings but for those who rule over them too?

Y Soc: And wouldn’t they be right to say so?

Str: Perhaps. This we shall investigate, but we do know that no one will argue with an oxherd on any of these issues; no, the herdsman himself is the nurturer of the herd; he himself is the physician and he himself is a sort of matchmaker, and when it comes to childbirth and bringing children into the world, he alone is knowledgeable about midwifery. Then again, insofar as the beasts are naturally able to participate in music and education, no one is more powerful than he at consoling them and charming them into quietude, best at performing the music belonging to his own flock, on instruments or with the unaided voice. And indeed, the other herdsmen have the same manner; is this so?

Y Soc: Quite right.

Str: Now, how can our argument in relation to the king prove correct and flawless when we install him as the sole herdsman and nurturer of the human herd, while singling him out, from thousands of others who dispute this assertion?

Y Soc: We cannot do so at all.

Str: In that case, we were right to be afraid a moment ago, suspecting that although we might indeed turn out to be describing some kingly figure, we might not yet have given an accurate portrayal of statesman, until we had stripped away those who crowd about him and pretend to share his role; and once we had separated him from those fellows, we then revealed him pure and alone.

Y Soc: Well, that is something that must never happen at all.

Str: In that case, we need to proceed once more from another starting point based on some different approach.

Y Soc: What sort of approach?

This might seem like stating the obvious by saying the tradesmen etc are not fit to govern humans and take on the role of the Statesman but this often happens these days with all sorts of unsuitable individuals being elected leaders without considering exactly who was to be ruled and how and what skills are needed.

Str: Well, many events recounted from ancient times have occurred and will occur again but especially the portent described in the dispute between Atreus and Thyestes. Indeed, I presume you have heard it and can recall what is said to have happened?

Y Soc: You are probably referring to the sign of the golden lamb.7

Str: 269A Not at all, but to the change in the rising and setting of the sun and the other stars. Yes, apparently the sun used to set then in the place where it now rises, and used to rise in the opposite place. However, once the god had borne witness in favour of Atreus, he actually changed this to the present arrangement. (Hermes revenged upon the Pelopidae the death of his son Myrtilus by causing a lamb with golden fleece to be born among the flocks of Atreus. When his claim to the succession was disputed, Atreus promised to show this prodigy to prove that the gods were on his side. Thyestes persuaded Aërope, the wife of Atreus, to give him the lamb, and Atreus was in danger of losing his kingdom, had not Zeus, who favoured his claim, made the sun and the Pleiades return from their setting toward their rising.)

Y Soc: Yes indeed, that’s what they say too.

Str: And what’s more, we have also heard from many sources about the kingship that Cronos exercised. (Cronos was the King of the Titanes and the god of time, in particular time when viewed as a destructive, all-devouring force. He ruled the cosmos during the Golden Age after castrating and deposing his father Ouranos)

Y Soc: Yes, from very many.

Str: And what about the story that the people of former times were earth-born and were not born from one another?

Y Soc: That is another one of the ancient accounts.

Str: Well, all these originated from the same circumstance, and so do countless others besides that are even more amazing; but due to the great passage of time some of them have been obliterated, while others have been recounted in piecemeal fashion, omitting any connection between them. But no one has explained the circumstance responsible for them all, so that must now be recounted. Indeed, once it has been stated, it will prove relevant to our exposition of the king.

Y Soc: You have expressed that excellently, speak on and omit nothing.

Str: Please listen; for there is a time when god himself joins directly in guiding the movement of this universe and assists its circling motion, and another time when he lets it go once its revolutions have finally attained the appropriate measure of time, and it is, of itself, led around once more in the opposite direction, because it is a living being allotted intelligence by the one who constructed it in the beginning. There’s a particular reason why this ability to retrace its path is necessarily inherent in its nature.

Y Soc: What reason?

Str: It belongs only to all the most divine things to hold always to the same characteristics and manner, and to be the same; but the nature of body does not partake of this arrangement. And what we refer to as heaven and the cosmos, has inherited numerous blessed qualities from its creator, and yet, it does also have communion with body. As a consequence, it is impossible for it to be devoid of change in every respect, and yet, to the best of its ability, it moves as much as possible in the same place, with a single direction; therefore, it has been allotted the reverse revolution because that is the smallest possible deviation from its own motion. But it is quite impossible for anything, except that which, for its part, directs the movements of everything, to turn itself continually by itself; but it is not ordained that this causes motion first in one direction and then again in the opposite direction. So on the basis of all these considerations, we should not assert that the world itself continually turns itself, nor that it is turned entirely by god in a pair of opposed revolutions, nor again, that a pair of gods whose thinking is opposed, turn it. Rather, the only remaining option is just what we stated earlier; it is guided along by an extraneous divine cause, acquires life once again and adopts a restored immortality once more from its craftsman, but then, when it is let go, it proceeds by means of itself, having been let go at such a time that it travels in the opposite direction for many thousands of revolutions because indeed it is in motion, being most enormous and well-balanced, resting on the smallest pivot.

Y Soc: Well, it appears that everything you have recounted is very reasonable.

Str: Then having reflected upon what has been said, let’s come to an understanding of this circumstance, the one we declared to be the cause of all these wonders. In fact this is it.

Y Soc: What is it?

Str: That the course of the universe revolves at one time in the direction it does now, and at another time in the opposite direction.

Y Soc: How so?

Str: We need to realise, that of all the turnings taking place about the heaven,  this alteration is the greatest and most comprehensive.

Y Soc: So it seems, anyway.

Str: In that case, we should also presume that at that time, enormous changes happen to us who dwell within it.

Y Soc: This also seems to be the case.

Str: And yet, we are also aware that the nature of living beings has difficulty in enduring lots of enormous changes of all sorts when they happen.

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: So at that stage, enormous destructions are a necessary consequence for living beings in general, and in the case of the human race, only a few survive. Now numerous other wondrous and novel circumstances befall these people, but there is a most significant one that follows upon the reversal of the motion of the universe, whenever the turn, opposite to what is now established, takes place.

Y Soc: What is it?

Str: Firstly, the aging process of each of the creatures, stood still in all cases, and anything mortal stopped getting older in appearance, but changed once more to the opposite condition, as if it was growing younger and more tender. And the white hair of the older people turned to black; and in the case of the bearded men, their cheeks became smooth once more and each reverted to a former time of life; and the bodies of the youths, becoming smoother and smaller every day and every night, returned once more to the nature of a new born child, like unto that both in body and in soul. And thereafter, fading away completely, they vanished altogether. What’s more, the dead body of anyone who came to a violent end during that era went through the same processes, quickly disappeared in a few days, and was done away with.

Y Soc: But, stranger, what was the origin of living creatures then? In what manner were they generated from one another?

Str: Of course, Socrates, that generation from one another was not in the nature of things at that time, instead the earth-born race that is said to have once existed, the one that returns once more from the earth, was the race that existed in that age: this was remembered by our earliest ancestors, who were born at the beginning of this present age, bordering upon the very end of the previous era. Indeed, these ancestors became our proclaimers of these accounts of those earth-born people, accounts that are met with unjustified disbelief by many people these days. Indeed, in my view, we need to consider what else happens. For it follows from the fact of the return of the old people to the nature of the child that from those who have died and are lying in the earth, people are reconstituted there and, coming back to life again, they follow the direction of the opposite cycle of generation, and based upon that direction they necessarily develop 271C as earth-born, and are named and described accordingly, the ones whom god does not preserve for some other destiny.

Y Soc: Yes, this all follows quite well from what went before. But what about the life that you say is under the power of Cronos: did that occur during those directions of the cycle, or during these? For it is evident that the change to the stars and the sun occurs during either of the two directions of the cycle.

The Stranger has now taken the dialogue to another level completely and has introduced a concept of reincarnation and of a parallel universe that operates behind and within the physical realm. In the closing chapter of the Republic, Socrates recalls the Myth of Er recounting the story of a warrior called Er who was killed in battle and entered thereafter into a subtle realm where he met with all the souls he had known during his lifetime and the myth described how lots were drawn to choose ones next embodiment.

This introduces a completely new dimension to the art of ruling where the statesman has to have an appreciation of the subtle laws that govern the creation and on which he needs to craft his style of leadership. In this material day and age in which we currently live, this suggestion would be scoffed at and would be branded a fairy story so we really need to move beyond our mental conscripts and surrender our beliefs and opinions and neither accept or reject what his being said and adopt an open door policy.

Next week we will pursue this further. Apologies for the rather long blog but it is one of those pieces that needs to be taken to a conclusion  before moving on. Next week we’ll look at this subtle realm in more detail and I look forward to taking the dialogue further.