The Wisdom of the Statesman Part 9

The participants continue seeking the range and scope of the Statesman and have now got to a point where they have eliminated those qualities and duties that have nothing to do with the Statesman. If we were to look at the duties and skills of a CEO of a large corporate concern, we could have concluded by a process of elimination what shouldn’t concern the CEO. His primary role would be the overall guidance of his staff and would not need to be an expert in the actual manufacture of the products his company makes. They now consider those who remain, by getting closer to them so that they may recognise them with more certainty.

Str: Then, from this perspective, we shall find the greatest servants possessing the opposite habit and character to those we anticipated.

Y Soc: Who are they?

Str: Those who are bought, and constitute acquisitions in this sense, whom we may indisputably refer to as slaves, and who have the least pretentions to the kingly skill.

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: But what about those who are free, but willingly assign themselves in servitude to the people we just mentioned, by conveying the works of agriculture and the other skills to one another and distributing them out, some resorting to the market-place, others travelling from city to city by sea and by land, exchanging money for goods and money for money, to whom we have given the name of money-changers, merchants, ship-owners and retailers; surely they will not lay any claim to statesmanship?

Y Soc: Except, perhaps, insofar as it relates to trading.

Str: But surely those whom we see so readily serving anyone at all as hired labourers, for payment, would never be found laying claim to kingship.

Y Soc: No, how could they?

Str: But what about those who so often provide services of a different sort?

Y Soc: What services do you mean and to whom are you referring?

Str: The people involved in communications and those who become wise in written matters through their constant service, and some others who are well able to work out numerous other issues relating to public offices; what shall we call these people?

Y Soc: Servants, as you explained just now; but they are not the people who rule in our cities.

Str: But I don’t think, anyway, that I was in a dream when I said that those who assert the strongest claim to statesmanship would somehow make their appearance in this. And yet, it does seem most unusual to look for them in some subdivision of servitude.

Y Soc: Quite so.

Str: Then let’s get into closer contact with those who have not yet been scrutinized. There are people who possess a portion of some serviceable knowledge of prophecy. Indeed they are somehow regarded as interpreting from the gods to humanity.

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: And there is also the class of priests which, according to tradition, is knowledgeable in bestowing gifts from us upon the gods, through sacrifices that are acceptable to them, and also in requesting from them, the acquisition of good things, for ourselves, through prayers. But both of these are part of a servile skill.

Y Soc: So it appears, anyway.

Str: Well, at this stage we seem to me to have encountered a sort of footprint of the person we are pursuing. For the personage associated with priests and prophets is well stocked with exalted notions, and acquires a reputation for sanctity because of the importance of what he engages in, so that in Egypt the King is not permitted to rule without being a priest. And if even he attains the role in the first place, by forcing his way in, from some other class, it is still necessary for him to be initiated later on into the priestly class. And even among the Greeks, one would find that the performance of the most important sacrifices of this kind, are assigned to the most important office holders. And indeed, what I am saying is no less evident among yourselves here, for it is said that the performance of the most solemn and most traditional of the ancient sacrifices is allocated to the king whom you choose by lot.

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: Then we should investigate these kings chosen by lot who are also priests, and their servants, and another extensive crowd of people who have become evident to us, now that the previous candidates have been set aside.

Y Soc: What people are you referring to?

Str: Some very unusual people, indeed.

Y Soc: Why so?

Str: They appear, as I now see it, to belong to an extremely varied class. For many of these men resemble lions, centaurs and other such creatures, very many more are like satyrs, and those weak creatures that adopt many guises; and they rapidly assume each other’s characteristics and ability. And indeed, Socrates, I think I have just appreciated who these men are.

Y Soc: Please tell us, for you seem to have discerned something unusual.

Str: Yes, for in all cases, the unusual is a consequence of ignorance. Indeed, I also experienced this myself just now; I was suddenly thrown into doubt when I beheld the chorus concerned with the affairs of our cities.

Y Soc: What did you see?

Str: The greatest beguiler among all the sophists and the person most experienced in this skill; someone who, despite the extreme difficulty of doing so, must be separated from those who really are statesmen and kings, if we are going to catch clear sight of what we are looking for.

Y Soc: Then we really must not relent in this.

Str: Certainly not, not in my view, anyway. So tell me this.

Y Soc: What?

Str: 291D Isn’t monarchy, for us, one mode of civic rule?

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: I think someone might propose that the exercise of power by a few people comes after monarchy.

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: And isn’t the rule of the multitude the third form of constitution, referred to by the name “democracy”?

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: And being three, don’t they, in some sense, become five, engendering two other names from themselves in addition to their own?

Y Soc: What are they?

Str: Nowadays people focus upon the degree of compulsion and willingness, poverty and wealth, law and lawlessness, arising in these and, dividing each of them into two, they refer to monarchy by two names, on the basis that it constitutes two forms, the tyrannical and the kingly.

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: And whenever the city is under the power of the few, it is called aristocratic or oligarchic.

Y Soc: Entirely so.

Str: And yet, in the case of democracy, whether the multitude rules over the possessors of wealth by force or with their consent, or whether they pay close attention to the laws or not, it is not the usual practice for anyone to change its name.

Y Soc: True.

Str: What now? Do we think that any of these constitutions is the right one when it is defined based on these distinctions between one, few and multitude, wealth and poverty, compulsion and willingness, and whether it happens to operate under written laws or without such laws?

Y Soc: Is there any particular reason why not?

Str: Well, consider it more clearly by following this argument.

Y Soc: Which?

Str: Shall we stand by what we said at the outset, or shall we dispute it?

Y Soc: What are you referring to?

Str: We said, I believe, that kingly rule is one of the branches of knowledge.

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: And it did not belong to all of them, rather we preferred one that was judgemental and one that was directive, over the others.

Y Soc: Yes.

Str: And from the directive category we selected one that applied to inanimate products, and another that applied to living beings. And so, making divisions in this manner, we have been continually approaching this point where, without losing sight of knowledge, we are as yet unable to adequately describe precisely what the knowledge is.

Y Soc: What you are saying is correct.

Str: So do we appreciate this particular point, that the definition of these constitutions involves neither few nor many, willingness nor unwillingness, neither poverty nor wealth, rather, if we are to be guided by our previous discussion, it involves some type of knowledge?

Y Soc: But of course, it is impossible to conclude otherwise.

Str: Then it is now necessary to consider this issue in this way: in which of these constitutions, if any, does it turn out that knowledge of the rule of humanity arises; perhaps the most important knowledge and the most difficult to acquire? For we need to see this, so that we may behold certain people who must be separated from the sagacious king, people who pretend to be statesmen and who persuade many others of this, but are not statesmen at all.

Y Soc: Yes, that’s what must be done, since our argument has said so.

If we study the systems of rule of our ancestors living in early England and Ireland we would observe that they were ruled by people who called themselves Kings who ruled largely by fear and furthermore that there were four specific classes being the Kings, the priestly class, the working class like traders and farmers and the majority were laborer’s or slaves. What is now understood as the Kingly class or aristocrats, are a far cry from the Socratic understanding of Aristocracy or the rule of the few and are more tyrannical then kingly. The priestly class also didn’t cover themselves in glory and despite their being a few pious and dedicated priests who did sterling work, many ruled through fear and threats and were able to live lavish lives.

Str: Yes, but these people, whether they rule over consenting or un-consenting subjects, whether on the basis of written laws or without written laws, whether they themselves be wealthy or poor, must be regarded as exercising whatever rule they exercise on the basis of a skill according to our present view. And we do not regard physicians as less than physicians whether they cure us with our consent or without it, whether by cutting, burning or applying some other painful cure, whether they work from written guidelines or without them, whether they are poor or wealthy, in all these cases we declare that they are physicians, nonetheless, as long as their directions are based upon a skill. This may involve purifying, or otherwise reducing or even adding bulk to the body, but once these are directed to some good of our bodies, making them better when they were worse, the individual 293C practitioners preserve the lives of the people they treat. On such a basis, I believe, and on no other, shall we propose that this alone is the correct definition of the rule of medicine and of any other rule whatsoever.

Y Soc: Exactly.

Str: And it must also be the case with constitutions, or so it seems; the one that is pre- eminently correct, and is alone a constitution, is the one in which we would find that the rulers are truly knowledgeable and do not merely seem so, whether they rule based upon laws or in the absence of laws, with their subjects’ consent or without it, and whether they themselves be poor or wealthy; none of these should be taken into consideration as a correct criterion.

Y Soc: Very well.

Str: And whether they purify the city, for its benefit, by putting some people to death or casting them out, or even make it smaller by sending out to colonies to somewhere, like swarms of bees, or make it bigger by bringing others in from outside and granting them citizenship, as long as they have recourse to knowledge and to justice, preserve it from decline and, to the best of their ability, make it better, we should declare that this constitution, in that situation, and based upon such criteria, is the only correct one. Any others we mention should not be referred to as genuine, as they are not really constitutions; no, they are imitations of this one. Those that we call well-ordered have imitated it better, while the others have imitated it quite badly.

Y Soc: For the most part, stranger, that seems to have been a reasonable description. However, hearing it said that we should rule without laws presented a greater difficulty.

Str: You are a little ahead of me with your question, Socrates, for I was about to question you as to whether you would accept all this, or had misgivings over some of what had been said. But it is now evident already that you will want us to discuss this issue of the rightness of exercising rule without laws.

Y Soc: It is inevitable.

Str: Now, in a sense, it is obvious that lawmaking belongs to kingship, yet the best course is not for the laws to prevail, but for a man who is kingly and possesses wisdom to prevail. Do you know why that is?

Y Soc: Please tell me why?

Str: Because a law would never be able to comprehend what is best and most just for everyone at the same time in precise terms, and then institute what is best. For the dissimilarities between people and their activities, and the fact that nothing in human affairs ever really comes to rest, prevents any skill whatsoever, in any situation, from proclaiming anything simple that is applicable under all circumstances and for all time. Presumably we are agreed about that?

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: And yet, we see the law striving to do just this, much like a stubborn, unlearned person, who allows no one to do anything at variance with his instruction, or to ask any question, even if something new and better occurs to someone, at variance with the pronouncement he has instituted.

Y Soc: This is true; indeed, the law actually behaves toward each and every one of us in the very manner you describe.

Str: Isn’t it impossible for something that is entirely simple to be adequately applied to situations that are never simple?

Y Soc: Quite likely.

Str: Then, why ever is it necessary to make laws, when the law is never perfectly right? We must find out the reason for this. This would be an interesting question to pose to the current legal profession. Socrates had scant regard for lawyers in his day saying that the sign of a deteriorating state was a surplus of lawyers and doctors. It would be useful to reflect on this question of the law never being right. He is clearly referring to man-made laws.

Y Soc: Of course.

Str: Don’t you also have here, as they do in other cities, courses of instruction for groups of people, relating to the running track or elsewhere, motivated by a desire to win?

Y Soc: Very much so; there are a lot of them.

Str: Come now, let’s once again recollect the instructions of the skilled trainers when they are in such positions of authority.

Y Soc: What sort of instructions?

Str: They don’t believe it is possible to go into detail about each individual case, and prescribe what is appropriate to each particular body; rather, they think it necessary to issue a rough guideline that is beneficial to bodies in general, and applies in most cases.

Y Soc: Good.

Str: Then we should also presume that the lawmaker who directs this herd of ours in matters of justice and their dealings with one another, when giving orders to entire crowds of people, will never really be capable of giving every single person precisely what is appropriate.

This is an opportune moment to pause and reflect on the purport of what is here being said. May I propose that it would be impossible to sit beside each person throughout their lives and issue precise instructions as to exactly what is appropriate for them. The Stranger that it is hardly likely, in my view, that anyone who had actually acquired the knowledge of kingship would ever create obstacles for himself by writing down these laws we have referred to. It is further interesting to note that ancient cultures rarely wrote anything down and they written word only came to being when mankind started forgetting.

The Stranger is clearly heading in a very different and radical direction which seems to point in a more enlightened direction but more of this next week.