Was Plato a totalitarian

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Totalitarianism consists of a combination of two features: authoritarianism and ideology. By authoritarianism, it means a system in which ordinary citizens have no share, directly or indirectly, in making political decisions1. The latter feature implies a ubiquitous scheme of values propagated by some person or persons and fostered by institutional means in order to direct all aspects of private and public life2 that are significant to politics. With this definition in mind, this essay will put forward an argument in favour of the notion that Plato was a totalitarian, evident in his conception of the kallipolis which drives forward a totalitarian and utopian dream for a ‘natural class rule of the wise few over the ignorant many’3. On the contrary, a literary reading of Plato’s Republic could dismiss such ideas as independent of Plato’s voice in the first place. Furthermore, it has been put forward that Plato’s idealistic state is based on virtue and the happiness of the people, unlike totalitarian states. This essay will discuss and evaluate the extent to which Plato can be considered a totalitarian judging from his ideas on the ideal city-state in The Republic.

Plato was a totalitarian judging from The Republic. With the definition of totalitarianism in mind, Plato illustrates features of authoritarianism and ideology in his political worldview, which entails a strict division of classes, the dependency of the fate of the state on the ruling class as well as the superiority of the interests of the ruling class over the subservient and inferior classes. Furthermore, the uncompromising rules for breeding and educating this class combined with the strict supervision and collectivisation of the interests of its members create a close enough representation of the totalitarianism depicted in the definition. Firstly, in addressing the issue, which Plato begins with in The Republic of what justice is Plato, asserts that justice is that which is in the interest of the kallipolis. This definition, however, aims to reinforce the ideology, which Plato bases his ideal city-state on; such is an ideology, which favours class division and the rule of philosopher-kings over the money-lovers or producers and honour-lovers or guardians. Already, one can observe a rigid form of ‘quasi-specialisation’4, which Plato claims to be ‘a sort of image of justice’5. Furthermore, the concept of specialisation which is deemed necessary for the health of the kallipolis requires that the carpenter merely perfects his carpentry and not involve himself with the business of the honour lovers or the guardians whose purpose is to provide security for the city, even if he desires so. Plato warns of the ruin of the city through the intermingling of the three classes and argues that because the consequences would result in the ruin of the city they are unjust. Quite the contrary, the necessary and so-called natural hierarchy merely installs the idea that ‘the state is just if the ruler rules, the worker works and the slaver slaves’6, an obvious feature of a totalitarian society.

Whilst the conventional view of justice is of equality in the treatment of individuals, Plato viewed justice less in terms of relationships between individuals and more as a property of the whole state, based upon a relationship between the classes7. Thus, the issue of subjectivity in defining justice can prove a barrier in accusing Plato of being a totalitarian. Despite this, however, behind Plato’s definition of justice stands a foundation for a wholly totalitarian society8. Furthermore, his idea of justice did not even coincide with the Greek conception of justice9 as the Greek definition resided within a closer distance to the present general definition of justice10 which seeks to at least treat individuals equally; more specifically within liberal societies, justice aims to create a meritocratic society and a level playing field for all individuals in order that the barrier...
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