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Plato and the Dysfunctional State
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Dysfunctional State

 It is important for an individual to understand his/her governmental structure.  It is important to understand all of its strengths; however, it is also important, and perhaps more so, to understand it’s faults.  By understanding it’s faults one can work on correcting them and by doing so work on creating a more ideal society.  It is also important for an individual to understand how his/her society has affected him/her, so that one may know oneself.  The following will analyze and compare society and its relation to the individual, and visa-versa.  There will be an evaluation of a logical contradiction.  This paper will also explore the benefits and faults of… well… let’s just say democracy for now…



            It is obvious that there is a reciprocal relationship between a society and an individual who lives in that society.  It is easy to understand the unlikelihood that a man living in ancient China would become “similar” to a man living in modern Brazil .  Society conditions the individual.  Reversibly, the present individuals who live in England will participate in the modern changes of their country.  The individual conditions society.   Additionally, according to Plato, there are also other relationships between a society and an individual—the State (Plato’s ideal State) and the psyche.


            Plato’s ideal State consists of three parts: philosopher-kings, warriors, and workers.  The philosopher-kings were the fewest in number and of the greatest importance.  The philosopher kings were the rulers in this aristocracy.   These philosopher-kings had knowledge of the Good and its forms—truth, forms, justice, knowledge, and such.  It is because of this knowledge of the Good, because the philosopher-kings knew what was best, that they were chosen to control the government.


            Below the philosopher-kings lay the warriors.   The warriors were greater in number than the philosopher-kings and of less importance.  It was their duty to protect and serve.  The warriors acted as both military and police.  The warriors would fight off threats without and enforce the laws of the philosopher-kings within.         


The last in rank where the workers.  The workers where the largest in number and where the least important.  The workers completed the labor.  They were the blacksmiths, farmers, clerks, and such.


            Plato’s ideal psyche is divided similar to this ideal State.  The psyche is divided into 3 parts: reason, spirit, and appetite.  Reason is the part of an individual that thinks, the part of us that is in control.  Reason is the smallest in size and is the most important part.  The spirited part is the part of an individual that contains ambition, motivation, and courage.  The spirit is larger in size than reason and is less important.  Appetite is the part of an individual that lusts, craves, desires, and wants satisfaction.  Appetite is the greatest in size and is the least important.


            There are several similarities between the relationship of Plato’s State and psyche (similar to society and individual).  Both were separated into three parts.  In both the parts of least in number where the greatest of importance, and visa-versa.  In both, wisdom and reason dominated the other parts.  The middle parts in both enforced and supported the top part.  The third parts in both needed to be kept in moderation and show restraint.  Finally, the condition of all three parts working well and working in their correct place is defined as Justice (justice for psyche and/or State).


            There are similarities to dysfunctional States and dysfunctional individuals as well.    In both, appetites that go uncontrolled can cause dysfunction.  To the individual this could mean indulgence and self-gratification becomes a destructive priority.  To the State this could mean burglaries and stealing, blackmailing, false witnesses, workers not caring how much production is being produced, and so on.


When courage is lost an individual may lose his/her motivation and, of course, his/her courage.   Such an individual may not “have it in him” to perform his duties or fulfill appetites. 

To the State, this could mean no policing of crime within or protection from forces without. 


When reason is dysfunctional an individual may not be able to understand “what’s what.”  Such an individual may let his spirits and appetites completely control him/her.  To the State, dysfunctional reasoning could be disastrous.  If the philosopher-kings cannot reason what is wisdom, knowledge, falsehoods, the Good, and such, they can’t or will inaccurately pass laws, make judgments, etc.  A government based on falsehoods and confusion will surely meet disaster.


According to Plato’s description of the five kinds of States, Democracy is nearly as chaotic as any government can be.  As Douglas J. Soccio interprets Plato’s words, “Most damning of all… democracy violates the principle of functional order and rule by reason.”  A true democracy is when the people in a State hold the power to rule, and everyone has freedom and equality.


          Before this paper can continue, this paper must challenge the original statements it is responding to.  The statement being challenged is thus; “One type of dysfunctional State is democracy wherein the majority of people vote by their emotions, not their reason, and therefore they are unqualified to vote on issues or to pick their leaders.  This sentence is self-contradicting.


In the words of Plato describing a democratic state, “…every individual is free to do as he likes[,]” and “[T]here’s no compulsion either to exercise authority… or to submit to authority if you don’t want to.”   Additionally, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a true (or pure) democracy is a democracy in which the power is exercised directly by the people rather than through representatives. 


In a true democratic state, all persons of this state have equal rights and equal “power” over every law and governmental structure.  There is therefore no need for elected officials like governors, presidents, and such—nor can there be.  There cannot be because if an elected official, say the president of a State, had more rights and more “power” over any law or governmental structure than any other citizen, this state could and would not be a democracy.  Therefore, the challenged sentence is self-contradicting.


This statement suggests a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government—Merriam-Webster.  The challenged statement suggests a republic.  A republic is not a democracy.  The United States , for example, is not a democracy.  It may hold some democratic principles, but still the U.S. is not and has never been a democracy.  The United States is a republic (I pledge of allegiance…. and to the democracy for which it stands?… no… and to the republic for which it stands… ah, yes!).


          With this point being made it is clear that exploring the challenged statement would lead to nothing but pure contradiction.  Therefore, for the rest of this paper the challenged statement will be assumed to refer to a republic as opposed to a democracy.  This paper will assume this in order to avoid contradiction and allow further exploration.


            In a republic, the citizens of the State elect their officers and representatives.  This can be a very positive situation.  When all people are allowed to vote, the citizens are able to equally participate in their government.  Everyone has some influence.  In order for a candidate to be elected, this candidate knows that he/she must try to please as many people as possible to receive the most votes.  There are great benefits to this.  For example, if a city has a major pollution problem the people will most likely vote for a mayor who will support and enhance pollution reduction programs.  If there are many poor and homeless citizens, the potential president will want to help these people get food and shelter—to secure their vote.  This can be a highly beneficial system.


            However, allowing all people to vote in a republic can also be a highly negative situation.  Many voters do not research each candidate or study all of the proposals and issues each candidate stands for.  Rather, citizens may vote for many different reasons.  One might vote for or against someone soley because of the candidate’s race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  A poor citizen might vote soley for more welfare.  The elderly may vote soley for more retirement benefits.  Pacifists may vote soley to end or prevent a war.  Some vote not because they know or even care about the candidates, but simply check anything and do their duty because “all good citizens vote.”  It can easily be seen here that the uninformed voter can be very dangerous.  One might vote for a candidate because of his/her sex and never take the time to learn that one of his/her programs to cut budget would increase the homeless rate by 20 percent.  The ignorance of the uninformed voter is violent and destructive.


So is it best to put restrictions on who can vote?  Perhaps a reflection on history may hold the answer.  Let’s take the presently supposed number one super-power in the world, the United States , for an example.  Every time this republic has restricted voting rights is has been to prevent some specific type of individuals form voting.  Woman were (and perhaps still are) for a long time seen as inferior to men.  To keep woman in “their place” their rights to vote were denied, so they could not gain influence.  Additionally, African-Americans were denied equal rights as citizens for long time.  Once they obtained the right to vote the government passed reading tests specifically designed to keep the African-American population from voting.  This was done to “keep them in their place.”  This was done to keep African-Americans from obtaining more influence, rights, freedom, and positions in governmental offices.  To restrict who can and who can’t vote takes away from the freedom and the opportunity for the restricted to better their situation.  Clearly, this is not beneficial!  What is best is a matter of opinion; it is the lesser of the two evils.


This paper has covered a broad range of ideas.  There are unique and definite relations between society and an individual—they both affect each other.  There are also many similarities between dysfunctional States and dysfunctional persons.  A logical contradiction has been explored, as well as the pro’s and con’s to elections that are “open to all” in a republic—as well as restricted elections.  So what can be concluded thus far?  Well… since an individual affects society, and society affects the individual, it is logical to assume that it would take an ideal individual to begin the ideal society.  How can this be done?  What kind of person is ideal?  Hmm…  Plato’s philosopher-kings? This author would chose to live in a republic over Plato’s ideal government.  This author shall leave the reader with this final thought:


Plato’s government is a form of segregation and discrimination.  Hitler believed that Germans were the superior race and therefore should rule all others—he was, of course, German.  When men first came to the Americas on boat they thought that Europeans were far superior to these native “Indians” and therefore should rule, slave, and kill them off as they seen fit—they were, of course, Europeans.  Plato believes that his philosopher-kings are a superior type of being, that only they are lucid enough to rule—he is, of course, a philosopher…

Marques Schwartz
October 1, 1999


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