The Luxurious City

In document Platos Republic (Page 88-118)


Thus far I have been speaking of the construction of the neediest city, which in its developed form is called by Socrates the healthy or true city (372e6–7). When Socrates asks Adeimantus whether this city is now com-plete, he replies ‘‘perhaps’’ (371e11). The true city contains very few ameni-ties, restricted sexual reproduction, and, in short, no luxury, which is why Glaucon says that it is a city fit for pigs (372d4–5). There is some poetry (hymns to the gods), but obviously no philosophy. We must also ask why Socrates calls this the true and healthy city, and in particular how this could be so in comparison to the city of philosopher-kings. It is helpful to remember that something like the neediest city must have existed in the first stages of the process leading to the development of cities as Socrates and his contempo-raries knew them. The philosophical city, on the other hand, has never existed and probably never could exist. But this cannot explain why ‘‘true’’ is associ-ated with so primitive a community, in which there is no philosophy and no discernible political activity. Nor does it take into account Socrates’s statement that the just city is a paradigm laid up in heaven. This is of course a metaphor, but it serves to associate the just city with the paradigms called Ideas.

The first city was founded with the assistance of the austere Adeimantus,

and it is a kind of caricature of his nature. The second city is brought into being by Glaucon’s denunciation of the absence of luxury in the first. The city of pigs, as Glaucon characterizes Socrates’s healthy, peaceful, and true city, is expanded not only in size but through the admission of flesh eating, together with relishes and sauces that are not made simply of fruits, nuts, and the like.

We shall also require couches to recline on, tables from which to dine, and

‘‘perfume, incense, courtesans, and cakes.’’ Socrates goes on to add artworks made of precious metals, as well as music, poetry, dancing, theater, and the craftsmen associated with these arts. The luxurious and feverish style of life now requires the addition of servants like wet nurses and beauticians, and also of physicians, who were apparently unnecessary in Adeimantus’s city (372e4–


The luxurious and feverish city contains the full panoply of the fine arts that was missing from the city of pigs. Physical ornamentation and the presence of courtesans indicate the greater diversity of erotic contacts as well. And Soc-rates goes beyond relish to indicate that the luxurious city includes the con-sumption of meat; there will now be need of swineherds to tend to the pigs that were absent from the city of pigs (373c4–6). This cultivation of the appetite in turn raises the need for additional land for pasture and tillage. Our citizens will now be forced to take part of their neighbors’ land, and they in turn to occupy ours, if they engage in the unlimited acquisition of money, beyond what is necessary. They will therefore go to war with each other (373e2), and this is another decisive difference between the two cities: meat eating, poetry and the fine arts, extended sexuality, and war are all instances of luxury. So far, there is no mention of philosophy, but it will eventually be introduced into the feverish city.

We must now come back to the question of the difference between the true city and what we should presumably call the false city. At the least, one can say that the distinction shows the innate defect in human cities; they are destroyed by their most attractive features. The true city suffices for a life of health and peace, but at the price of the cultivation of the soul. The luxurious city culti-vates the arts and will allow the practice of philosophy, but at the price of the health of the body. This is no doubt oversimplified, since for Socrates, art and philosophy can lead to the corruption of the soul. But the general point holds good. One cannot quite say that Socrates speaks here as an admirer of Sparta, because war is associated with luxury. There is nevertheless something Spar-tan about his initial austerity and neglect of the intellect and artistic sensibility.

We could be drawn to the conclusion that the city of pigs is for Socrates the natural city, in the sense that it covers the indispensable minimum of physical wants. The great difficulty, of course, is how a city can be natural that excludes

philosophy. And the answer can only be that there is an intrinsic conflict between philosophy and politics. This leads in turn to the inference that nature is split in half within the human breast. Philosophy is necessary for those who are by nature philosophers, yet it is not only unnecessary but dangerous as well for the nonphilosophers. One final remark in this vein. The neediest city is subnatural rather than natural, by which I mean that it exhibits the lowest stratum of characteristically human nature, a stratum that is itself grounded in the nonhuman animals. The question of the subnatural will arise when we come to the allegory of the cave in Book Seven.

Socrates does not reject Glaucon’s request to introduce luxury into the city.

He accepts the need to go beyond the so-called true city, which is both sub-political and subnatural, if not unnatural, because human beings will not consent to maintain their lives at that level of simplicity. And perhaps no harm will come to us from the introduction of luxury, since our primary intention is to discover the nature of justice, which is ‘‘perhaps’’ visible within a luxurious city (372e3). This statement, which is made in order to placate Glaucon, will be minimized to a considerable extent by later developments, in which the city is purged of its excessive luxury. It is, I think, plain that Socrates, faced with a choice, would also choose not to live in the true city. Its truth lies in the representation of the limits that would have to be set upon human nature in order to maintain a happiness that is undisturbed by desire, in particular, erotic desire. As it is, however, the limits are unenforceable. In order to be at peace, human beings must cease to be fully human. Speaking very generally, political life in the full sense is a consequence of the impossibility of transform-ing human betransform-ings into brutes. In the just city that Socrates is about to con-struct, the attempt to effect this transformation is not entirely lacking, but it is partly obscured by a parallel attempt to transform human beings into gods, or let us say ‘‘supermen.’’ This double attempt leads to tension and even contra-diction in the simultaneous indulgence and restriction of the two forms of eros, sexual and philosophical. I have already referred to the sexual contradic-tion; as to philosophy, it is in one sense encouraged to flourish, and, indeed, to rule the city, but in another, it is subjected to a severe and unspoken restriction:

all the philosophers must be ‘‘Socratics.’’

We can therefore say that Socrates expresses the common philosophical desire to engage in the extreme form of philosophical activity, which includes the exclusion of all views other than his own. This is the desire to rule, or better, to encompass the whole. But in order to carry out this attempt, he must transform the city into a Socratic tyranny, or sacrifice the very justice that he attributes to the city. I would therefore modify the Straussian view that the main purpose of the Republic is to show the dangers entailed by an excessive

pursuit of justice. This is a subsidiary purpose. The main purpose is to show the impossibility of the full satisfaction of philosophical eros. This is to say that the philosopher both desires and does not desire to rule, or in other words that there is no more unity in the philosophical nature than there is in the city.

To summarize the entire stretch of the discussion to this point, the city does not exist by nature in any simple or straightforwardly honorific sense. It arises from physical need. At first glance, these needs seem to be deceptively simple.

But the very principle of the division of labor (one man, one art) leads to the multiplication of arts, hence to the need for more citizens, and so to the steady increase in the complexity of human existence. The very process by which we take care of physical desire leads to its increase, not its restraint. It is this process that takes us out of what the early modern thinkers will call the state of nature.


Let us now return to the pursuit of justice. The first virtue to be given prominence was that of temperance, already associated with Cephalus. The next is courage, which comes to light very naturally in connection with a consideration of war. Socrates first calls attention to the fact that whether war is good or bad, we have discovered its origin, namely, those things in the city that most of all produce private and public evils (373e4–7). Socrates does not tell us what those things are. We have been discussing the expansion of the city, or to say the same thing in another way, the multiplication of desire. As we just saw, desire cannot be restrained below a certain level, and when our desires exceed our possessions, we must go to war to acquire additional sources of satisfaction. And the same, of course, is true of other cities, which will attack us or try to defend themselves against our incursions. War is thus built into the very structure of politics; there is no such thing as perpetual peace. We can say that war is bad because it brings mutilation, death, and other less violent forms of discomfort. But we can also say that war is good because we are driven by our natures to acquire and protect the necessities of existence. One could object that it is a main purpose of the Republic to advocate the limitation of desire, but this does not alter the basic claim, as Socrates’s own exposition makes entirely explicit. To mention only the most obvious point, one of the three general classes of the just city consists of warriors who mediate between intelligence and desire.

The underlying sequence of thought is that when temperance fails, as it must, human beings have need of courage in order to expand their possessions and so to satisfy their desires. The need for an army will increase the size of the

city dramatically. This is guaranteed by the principle of one man, one job, because the number of special tasks and different weapons required by an army is considerable. Furthermore, we cannot simply turn our citizens into soldiers when war occurs, because war is itself an art or profession. One must possess the requisite nature for it, and one must practice the attendant skills (373e9–374e9).

Socrates anticipates his later terminology by saying that it is now our task to select the nature that is suitable for guarding the city. He attributes greater urgency to the art of war than to any of the other occupations. The reason for this is obvious. If the purpose of the city is to protect the indispensable needs of the body, and if these needs overshoot the boundary of what is necessary thanks to the very processes through which we satisfy them, then the art of war is the greatest preserver of the body and underlies all other attempts to care for its needs. Since the soul cannot exist without the body, war or the capacity to make war is also the greatest preserver of the soul.

We must not be cowardly in attempting to select the warlike nature (374d3, e11). Socrates means, first, that we must not shirk at the seriousness of this task but, second, that we should be brave enough to address it in a playful manner. This at least is how I understand his turn to the nature of the dog, which supplies him with the paradigm of the military man. More precisely, Socrates compares the noble young dog with the well-born young man and establishes that for the purposes of guarding there is no difference in their natures. If this is true, then spiritedness and courage are the only powers of the soul that soldiers require; their intelligence may be limited to the ability to obey their master’s orders. But who are these masters? It looks as though the officers will come from the subclass of philosopher-kings. As to the bodies of the warriors, in both cases, canine and human, they must have sharp senses, speed, and strength. This analogy cannot possibly be taken literally, as is evident from the previous discussion, to the effect that good soldiers require both the knowledge (epist¯em¯e) of how to use their weapons and practice in how to use them (374d5–7). The separation of spiritedness from intelligence is plausible in the case of dogs, but it makes no sense when applied to human beings (and this point will come up again when we arrive at the creation of the three classes of the city in keeping with the analogy between the city and the soul).

Still, there is a certain plausibility in saying that both dogs and soldiers must be spirited and courageous. But consider the situation if we substitute some other animal, say a bear, for the dog. Bears, tigers, and other wild animals may be both spirited and courageous, but they differ from the dog precisely in that the latter has been bred and trained to his tasks by human beings; this is what

we mean by the difference between tame and wild animals. In many cases the wild animal can destroy the tame one simply through greater strength, but dogs can also be trained to die in the protection of their masters, and some-times this tenacity allows them to prevail over stronger opponents. In other words, what we require here is not just spiritedness and courage but also loyalty. If this were not true, human beings would prefer to be guarded by bears and tigers rather than by dogs. The question is why loyalty is a charac-teristic of the great majority of dogs (unless they are wild) and of so few, if any, wild beasts—and then only if they have been subjected to training.

In sum, a dog is already a pseudosoldier; we have trained the dog in the light of our image of the soldier. It would therefore be circular to argue that our image or paradigm of the soldier comes from observation of noble dogs. To say that a dog is ‘‘noble’’ is already to refer to its breeding and training. I am no specialist in the relative intelligence of animals, but dogs are unusually useful to human beings precisely because they can be bred and trained, and this susceptibility cannot be due simply to the spiritedness or courage of the dog.

At least part of it must be due to the dog’s intelligence. We cannot go wrong, however, in emphasizing the word loyalty.

But this is not quite the main point. In approaching it, I note in passing that extreme spiritedness is not synonymous with, but is the foundation or cause of, courage (375a11–b3). As to the point itself, Socrates raises the danger that the soldier, precisely because he is strong and courageous, will attack us and our friends as well as our enemies. How can we find human beings who are both gentle to their friends and harsh to their enemies? In other words, how can we produce an army that does good to its friends and bad to its enemies? Once more the definition of justice defended by Polemarchus comes into view, and fittingly enough, in connection with war. The soldiers have been separated from the rest of the citizen body, so we cannot quite say that justice for the entire city is doing good to friends and bad to enemies. But the in-ference is tempting. There can be no doubt, however, that the importance of war guarantees the importance of Polemarchus’s definition of justice.

A gentle spirit seems to be opposed by nature to a fierce one (375c7–8), yet our guardians require both attributes. The problem is solved, however, as soon as we think back to the noble dog, who is ‘‘by nature’’ inclined to be gentle to those whom it knows and the opposite to those whom it does not know. Socrates infers from this that the combination of characters is possible and not contrary to nature (375e1–8). At no point does Socrates give an example of a human being who exhibits this combined nature. The possibility of a guardian class, namely, of soldiers who are both good to friends and harsh to enemies, is affirmed by recourse to the behavior of dogs. But dogs, to repeat,

are bred and trained by human beings; they are by nature wild. If the analogy holds, then good soldiers are artifacts of training, that is, they are artificial, not natural. This will become of great importance later, when Socrates discusses the relations between spiritedness and intelligence. Spiritedness or courage is not in itself enough to produce loyalty; this must be accomplished by intel-ligence. The numerous references to nature in this whole passage are therefore misleading and incomplete. Human beings no less than puppies must be trained for the occupation of the guardian. And what is true of guardians is certainly true of the other arts and crafts. We can thus conclude that it will be necessary for the intelligent portion of the city to train the rest to perform their proper tasks, that is, to mind their own business. In short, justice is a product of intelligence. Socrates knows as well as Aristotle that people must be trained, that is, habituated to be virtuous. But he requires that this training be admin-istered by intelligence or the philosopher, a conclusion that Aristotle wishes to avoid.

In sum, we can breed dogs to be fierce toward strangers and gentle to friends because we ourselves exhibit this inclination. The apparent problem about the opposition between fierceness and gentleness is an illusion; these two

In sum, we can breed dogs to be fierce toward strangers and gentle to friends because we ourselves exhibit this inclination. The apparent problem about the opposition between fierceness and gentleness is an illusion; these two

In document Platos Republic (Page 88-118)