Yes, you read that right. Plato was a hack. An overbearing, arrogant, philosophical hack. Now, I could point at any of a number of things to support this statement (not the least of which was his unwillingness to present his views as his own in his Symposium), but I’ll pick this one.
The upshot of the Republic? That a man who can live without the support of the larger society is inherently a threat to society that must be done away with. Unfortunately, this idea has taken root very, very thoroughly, even in countries that are ostensibly founded on the ideals of liberty, freedom, and self-reliance.
To Plato, the state was all-important (despite it effectively murdering his mentor). It was so important that nobody could be allowed to present a danger to it; it was imperative that people be, in some respect, reliant upon it for their life. If they weren’t, they had to be forced to be – for the good of the state. Why? Because somebody who didn’t rely upon the state for critical functions presented the idea that people could live without the state. And if that happened, then people might choose to live their own lives, rather than allowing themselves to be dictated to by their elected officials. The state itself becomes unimportant for daily life… and that is the great threat of a self-reliant man. That he gives people the idea that they control their own lives.
These days, much the same mentality seems to rule. We need the government to provide everybody with health insurance – and if they don’t want it, too bad, they have to take it anyways. Don’t want to pay for it? Well, we’ll just make a law that says you have to. You have to rely on the government. Sure, there are still public options… for now. But we’ll see how long that lasts.
You shouldn’t have the ability to defend yourself – if you can defend yourself, then you could decide to hurt somebody else. Let the professionals paid by the government (through your taxes) do that. The police should be the only people with weapons or the ability to use them, because you can trust the government. But the government can’t trust you.
You should put us into power, because we’ll build up the army and send it out to protect you from the big, scary world out there. We’ll defend your moral values, don’t you worry about that. Your neighbor can’t be trusted to make the right choices – you can’t be trusted to make the right choices. So let us do that for you. We’ll tell you who to hate, who to fear, and then we’ll make them go away. We’ll decide who you should fall in love with and marry, because you’re doing it wrong.
The guys who used to be in power were manipulative war-mongerers who ignored the damage we did to the world. Put us back in power, and we’ll lead you out of the darkness. Just follow the piper, and he’ll show you the way to a world of justice and equality for all people!
The same words used by every dictator in history. The same justification used by every dictator in history who read his own press.
I would like to think that, if he saw what his philosophy was being used for, Plato would rip the whole thing up. I’m not entirely sure that he would, but I’d like to think so.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t advocate rebellion against all government, or total anarchy. I like being able to walk the streets without carrying a small arsenal. Just as government has screwed up a lot of things, it’s made a lot of good things possible too.
But one must always have the capacity to exist without the government. When the state makes it illegal to exist without the state’s support, it begins to wrap itself around your heart, to make it impossible to exist without the state’s support. When that happens, the people cease to be the power behind the state – they become organs of the state, components unable to extricate themselves from the parasitic monster that they themselves created.
And when that happens, freedom dies.