Plato’s Republic: Utopia or Kakistocracy?

The Republic is one of the foundational texts of philosophy. Plato’s outline for an ideal utopian civilization has influenced political leaders, literature and sociology on its way to the establishment of the dialogues as one of the most influential and analyzed texts in history. The characteristics which Plato argues are the composition of a just state can be extrapolated as the characteristics which make up a just man. The initial response to The Republic is the revelation that the reason for its continued influence upon those whom would seek to replicate in practice the ideal state Plato offers in theory is precisely because his republic reflects a patriarchal, misogynistic, militaristic society in which the creative spirit is censored because it is viewed as the most dangerous influence. So far, all attempts to impose Plato’s idea of a “just state” on actual citizenry have failed, though that certainly may have changed by January 19, 2021.

Not without reason did Plato decide in The Republic to name his warrior class charged with keeping the distinctly undemocratic ideals necessity for such a social and political construct to run smoothly the Guardians. Guardians such as those entities that Plato describes in The Republic do exist today, as they have always, and do what they always do: stand guard against the morality of society being infected by ideas which, if implemented into action, would change the status quo forever and in ways likely to upset the balance of power existing with that status quo. What is most telling about Plato’s Guardians is not that they are the state’s moral police force nor even that they receive special training, education and living quarters. What makes the Guardians so more fascinating than the classes they oversee in that idyllic and utopic republic which Plato describes is that Plato provides such ample description for them. The motivation behind the dogged pursuit of putting into practice what the Republic suggests is ideal in theory makes perfect sense when one stops to look closely at the text and realize despite spending considerable time crafting this society and explaining the mechanics of its function through the roles established for its citizens, the reader is offered almost no information about the life of the masses of those living in this republic. They are merely the masses and as the masses they do what masses are expected to do: allow themselves to be acted upon rather than act as agencies of their own fate and destiny.

The Republic ultimately is revealed to be far less a handbook for creating a utopian society where everyone will be happy because they are doing what they are good at than it is a psychological study of the mind of a political despot. Plato’s apprehension toward the effects of mimetic entertainment upon the security of the state is not the conception of one concerned with bringing harmony, but yet another version of the same manifestation of paranoia that is experienced by all those trying to rein in the masses under the aegis of their own illegitimate rule: the desire to control ideas because ideas are dangerous.

The Republic holds an elevated distinction as a foundation of philosophical thought, but in reality it is not philosophy at all. Plato, whether intentionally or not, has done a service to the mankind. He has created what amounts to a psychological profile of those whose idea of the ideal society is more accurately described as a kakistocracy: government by the worst or least qualified citizens. Perhaps the most effective way to avoid such governance would be to obstruct from attaining power those who find Plato’s Republic an example of utopia.