Defending the Republic

There are many writers that criticize the form of government outlined in Plato’s Republic. Karl Popper rather famously did in his extended critique in the first volume of his The Open Society and Its Enemies. But it seems to be a common sport among amateur and professional philosophers in any era. But this is far too easy. There are not many lining up on the other side to defend the Republic as an excellent form of government. I don’t think you would find Plato or Socrates there either.

Republic is a dialogue, not a straight-forward philosophical exposition. There are many times where the results of this hypothetical city would denigrate or outright prohibit the actions of Socrates himself, and also many things that we know are important to Socrates. This suggests that there is some irony in his remarks. Socrates is using this as exercise as a teaching device or heuristic for thinking about politics and government. He knows we will be thinking “Wait a minute, this isn’t going to end well.”

Rather than thinking of the Republic as a political tract, one should think of it like a kind of philosophical novel. There are characters with interests and points of view. They interact and argue. There is agreement, conflict and sometimes compromise. But the interesting questions are not is Socrates right or wrong, but rather what is happening here? How are these characters relating to each other? What can we learn from this interaction? Emma Woodhouse is generally wrong about most things but that does not prevent us from finding Jane Austin’s Emma enjoyable, interesting and even teaching us something. But for some strange reason I don’t seen anyone writing long critiques of Emma Woodhouse.

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~ by severalfourmany on December 27, 2012.

One Response to “Defending the Republic”

  1. Thanks for reblooging my article! I hope that it made for a good read.

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