The Unity of Society and the Training of Childrenby Socrates
Unity is the greatest good
What should be the chief aim of the legislator of a State? What is the greatest good and the greatest evil?
Discord, distraction, and plurality is the greatest evil where there should be unity. The bond of unity is the greatest good. There is unity where there is community of pleasures and pains, where all the citizens are glad or grieved on the same occasions of joy and sorrow.
A State is disorganized when there is no common but only private feeling. This happens when half of the world is triumphing and the other is in grief at the same events.
Such differences commonly originate in a disagreement on the use of the terms ‘mine’ and ’not mine,’ ‘his’ and ’not his’. The best-ordered State is where most people apply the terms ‘ours’ and ’not ours’ to the same thing. In this way the whole State is like one person.
When our finger is hurt, our whole body is drawn towards our soul as its central ruling power, and feels the hurt and sympathizes all together with the finger.
When any citizen experiences good or evil, the whole State will make his case their own. They will either rejoice or sorrow with him. Our State has rulers and subjects, like every other state. All are citizens.
But people in other States give other names for their rulers. Generally they call them masters, but in democratic States they simply call them rulers.
In our State, the people call the rulers as saviours and helpers. The rulers call:
- the people as their maintainers and foster-fathers, and
- the people in other states as slaves
- the rulers of other states as fellow-rulers
- the rulers in their own states as fellow-guardians.
Rulers see the colleague that he has an interest in as his friend. His colleague that he has no interest in is not a friend, but a stranger.
But would any of your guardians think or speak of any other guardian as a stranger?
Shall they be a family in name only? Or shall they in all their actions be true to the name?
For example, in the use of the word ‘father,’ would the care of a father and the filial obedience to him be implied by the law?
Is the violator of these duties to be regarded as an impious and unrighteous person?
Are these to be the strains which the children will hear repeatedly from all the citizens?
Then in our city, the language of harmony and concord will be more often heard than in any other. When anyone is well or ill, the universal word will be ‘we are well’ or ‘we are ill’. They will have their pleasures and pains in common. They will have a common interest in the same thing which they will alike call ‘our own’.
This common interest will give them a common feeling of pleasure and pain. This policy agrees with our other principle that the guardians:
- were not to have houses or lands or any other property
- their pay was to be their food which they receive from the other citizens
- they were to have no private expenses because we intended them to preserve their true character of guardians
Guardians Have No Private Property
The communal nature of property and families tend to make them more truly guardians. They will not tear the city in pieces by differing about ‘mine’ and ’not mine’ where each man drags his acquisitions into his own separate house where he has a separate wife and children and private pleasures and pains.
Instead, all will be affected by the same pleasures and pains because they are all of one opinion about what is near and dear to them. They will therefore tend towards a common end. They have nothing but their persons which they can call their own.
Suits and complaints will not exist among them. They will be delivered from all those quarrels caused by money, children, or relations. Trials for assault or insult will likely never occur among them for we shall maintain that it is honourable for equals to defend themselves against equals.
We shall make the protection of the person a matter of necessity. There is a law that says that if a man has a quarrel with another, he will satisfy his resentment then and there, and not proceed to more dangerous lengths. This is good.
The elder has the duty of ruling and chastising the younger. The magistrates command the young not to strike or do any other violence to an elder, or to slight him in any way.
The guardians of shame and fear will prevent him. Shame makes men refrain from laying hands on their parents. The injured one will be succoured by the brothers, sons, and fathers of the injured. Then in every way, the laws will help the citizens keep the peace with one another. The guardians will never quarrel among themselves.
The rest of the city not be divided either against the guardians or against one another. They will be even rid of the little meannesses and pains from:
- the flattery of the rich by the poor,
- bringing up a family,
- finding money to buy necessaries for their household,
- giving the money to women and slaves to keep.
The guardians will be delivered from all these evils. Their life will be more blessed than the life of Olympic victors. The Olympic victor is happy to receive only a part of the blessedness secured to our citizens.
The citizens’ victory is the salvation of the State at the public cost. Their reward is in the fullness of all that life needs from their country. After death, they have an honourable burial.
Guardians Have Common Education, Common Children
Someone accused our guardians of being unhappy and having nothing.
Our guardians were fashioning the State with a view to the greatest happiness of the whole, not of any particular class. Their lives are far better and nobler than that of Olympic victors.
If any of our guardians become discontented with this safe and harmonious life and becomes infatuated by some youthful conceit of happiness and seek the whole state to himself, then he will have to learn that “half is more than the whole,” as Hesiod spoke.
I would say to that guardian: “Stay where you are, when you have the offer of such a life”.
Our guardians are to have a common way of life – common education, common children.
Female guardians are to share with the men. They will preserve the natural relation of the sexes.
They are to watch over the citizens in together and hunt together like dogs.
They will go on expeditions together with their children so that they may see the work which they will have to do when they grow up. They will have to help and be useful in war and wait on their fathers and mothers. Their presence will greatly encourage their parents’ valour.
The potters’ boys look on and help long before they touch the wheel. Our guardians will be more careful in training their children than potters than .
There is also the effect on the parents. Line in animals,
True, but you would never allow such a risk.
Our first step is to make our children spectators of war. But they must also be secured against danger.
Their parents know the risks of war. But they will know which expeditions are safe and which are dangerous.
They will take their children on the safe expeditions and be cautious with the dangerous ones.
They will place them under the command of experienced veterans who will be their leaders and teachers. Against chances of disaster, the children must be at once be furnished with horses so that they can escape.
They must learn horseback-riding at their earliest youth and see war on horseback. The horses must not be spirited and warlike. They must be tractable and the swiftest possible.
In this way, they will get an excellent view of what will be their own business.
If there is danger they have only to follow their elder leaders and escape. The soldier who runs away should be degraded into the rank of a husbandman or artisan. He who allows himself to be taken prisoner may be made a present of to his enemies as their lawful prey. They can do what they like with him.
But the hero who distinguishes himself shall receive honour from his youthful comrades. Every one of them in succession shall crown him. He can kiss whoever he wants while the expedition lasts so that he will be more eager to win the prize of valour if he loves someone in the army.
The brave man is to have more wives than others. He is to have first choices of wives more than others so that he may have as many children as possible.
Homer explains another way to honour brave youths. He tells how Ajax was rewarded with long chines after distinguishing himself in battle. It was a compliment appropriate to a hero in the flower of his age. It is a tribute of honour and a very strengthening thing. Then in this, Homer shall be our teacher.
We too will honour brave men and women according to their valour with hymns and other distinctions at sacrifices, such as “seats of precedence, meats, and full cups”. In honouring them, we shall be at the same time training them.
Hesiod calls deceased heroes as ‘holy angels on the earth, authors of good, averters of evil, the guardians of speech-gifted men’.
We must learn from Hesiod:
- about the god,
- how we are to order the sepulture of divine and heroic personages, and
- what is to be their special distinction.
In future ages, we will revere them and kneel before the graves of heroes. We shall also do this too for the pre-eminently good, whether they die from age or any other way.
How shall our soldiers treat their enemies? Is it right for Hellenes to enslave their enemies or spare them to suffer under barbarians instead?
Should the conquerors take only their armour? The practice of despoiling an enemy gives the enemy an excuse to not go into battle. Cowards skulk about the dead. They pretend that they are fulfilling a duty. Many armies have been lost from this love of plunder.
There is avarice in robbing a corpse. There is meanness and womanishness in making an enemy of the dead body, when the real enemy has fled and left only his fighting gear behind. This why we must abstain from spoiling the dead or hindering their burial.
We shall not offer arms at the temples of the gods, least of all the arms of Hellenes, if we are to maintain a good feeling with other Hellenes. The offering of spoils taken from kinsmen may be a pollution unless commanded by the god himself.
What about the devastation of Hellenic territory or the burning of houses?
I would take the annual produce and no more. ‘Discord’ is different from ‘war’. There is also a difference in their natures.
- Discord expresses internal and domestic conflict.
- War expresses external and foreign conflict.
The Hellenic race is united by ties of blood and friendship. They are alien and strange to the barbarians. When Hellenes and barbarians fight, then we call it war because they are natural antagonists. But when Hellenes fight with one another, then we say that Hellas is in a state of disorder and discord because they are natural friends.
During a discord, the city is divided. If both parties destroy the lands and burn the houses of one another, how wicked is the strife! No true lover of his country would tear to pieces his own nurse and mother.
A conqueror might have reason to deprive the conquered of their harvest. But still, they would have the feeling of peace in their hearts and would not want to fight forever.
The city, which you are founding, will be an Hellenic city. The citizens will be good and civilized. They will
- not be lovers of Hellas, and think of Hellas as their own land, and share in the common temples,
- regard any difference among them as discord only, as a quarrel among friends and not a war, with an intention for reconciliation,
- not enslave or destroy their opponents
- not devastate Hellas nor burn houses
- never suppose that the whole population are their enemies, for they know that the guilt of war is always confined to a few persons, and that the many are their friends.
This is why they will be unwilling to waste their lands and raze their houses. Their enmity will only last until the many innocent sufferers have compelled the guilty few to give satisfaction.