Plato's Republic and Soviet Russia essay

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The issue of justice is also very closely related to that of morality. In the Republic, morality is again a function of the class division dictated by soul dominance. With every individual's place in society rigidly defined, social interaction were also defined. There would be a prescribed way of dealing with someone lese based on which class each member was, and since most immoral behavior has some form of jealousy at its root, the ideal state has carefully removed all such temptations to jealousy. The reason for the ascetic life of the philosopher-kings and warriors is so the commoners see the way of life that the rulers lead and are turned off by it; being ruled by desire and seeing nothing in that way of life to desire, they would cease even to desire power. For Plato, it would have been immoral for someone not equipped to rule to attempt to rule, or to attempt to take the power to rule. The desire of the working class to revolt against the leaders and establish their own less-than-perfect government would have been immoral in a very real and unequivocal way; by removing this temptation, the morality of the working class in this regard is assured. Within the working class, the careful satiation of the people's desires by the philosophers would keep this lowest class from intra-class jealousy and infighting. The warriors and philosophers, it is assumed, would be moral simply by virtue of heir dominant soul aspects; the spirit of the warriors is practically morality incarnate, and with their supreme intellects the philosophers would know that moral action was the best kind. As Plato puts it, "we can adduce that the soul that is bravest and wisest will be least vulnerable to confusion or disorder originating from external sources" (Plato, 381b).

It is even clearer how the causes of jealousy, and thus immorality, are removed in the Soviet state. By giving everyone equal ownership of everything, there should be no need for covetous behavior -- how can one covet something that one already owns? This form of government, even more than Plato's ideal state, assumes the best of human nature. Though neither history nor psychology bear this out, these governments -- especially Communism -- assume that people will be satisfied with comfortably having what they need. What might be considered more realistic philosophies admit that more often than not, humans want what their neighbors have simply because their neighbors have it, and not out of any deficiency in their own status or needs.

Central to both systems of government is the educational system, which is both systems require as a mandate for all members of the state. Plato's ideal state would use education as a form of indoctrination and vetting, whereby the proper place for each child would be determined and their education would follow a certain path, diverging from that of the others at a certain point. Plato sees education as the ideal way to get his ideal citizens on board with this radical form of government; as Socrates says to his listeners, "if our citizens are well educated and learn to be men of discernment....they will see that all things in the city must conform themselves as closely as possible to the proverb that friends have all things in common" (Plato, 424 a). In the Republic's vision of an ideal state, the state and not the parents is the ideal educator and indoctrinator. The same was true under the Communist rule of the Soviet Union. Education was used to fuel the fire of Communist fervor, and higher education was opened to the lower classes -- sometimes at the cost of the higher classes. The state set up an image of itself as the prime caregiver and educator, and adherence to old systems of education and alliances was considered suspect at best. D.A. Andreev (2008) even notes that many students rejected their parents in deed and in writing, although he points out that "the choice of family members depends on the usefulness' of their social identity (Andreev, 2008, 81). This begins to point out the flaws inherent to the real world Communist Soviet state, which are largely the same flaws that can be extrapolated from Plato's Republic.

The leadership of each of these two states was, or likely would be, the main cause of the downfall of these states. Ross points out the fatal contradictory flaw in Plato's state; he asserts that all men have all three parts of the soul, yet seems to think that the philosopher-kings and warriors can live without desire. As soon as they start giving into their desires, the leadership would begin to crumble from infighting (Ross, 2008, 20). One of the desires most to be feared is the desire of the philosophers to keep their children even when they are not suited to be philosophers. This class would cease to serve its function and the warriors, with their monopoly of force, would take over. The problem of leadership in the Communist Soviet Union did not really develop along the same lines. Though the Soviet Constitution sets out clear rules for who wields power and how they do it -- a series of committees serving at the will of the people, somewhat similar to the cadre of Plato's ideal state -- in practice this never really occurred (Constitution, Article Three). Stalin quickly managed to seize power, and the committees were packed with his cronies, and soon everyone else was in fear of him. He, too, began a rule of force, just like that predicted by Plato when the warriors took over.

There are many imperfections in both Plato's ideal state and in the Communism practiced by the Soviet Union. All of these issues find at their root the imperfections of man. Greed and desire are the only things that require us to have a government; as posited towards the beginning of the Republic, it is the function of the state to protect us from the injustice we would so willingly practice on others if given assurance that we would not be punished. It is possible to disagree with this beak and cynical view of humanity, but the Communist experiment tat was the Soviet Union seems to bear this out. Perhaps Plato's city-state really is a good analogy for the soul, just not in the way he intended.


Andreev, D. (2008). "The Soviet college student in the first half of the 1920s." Russian Education and Society, vol. 50, no 6, June 2008, pp. 77-90.

Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. (1918). Hosted on the Marxists Internet Archive. Accessed 6 December 2008.

Plato. The Republic. Richard Sterling and William Scott, trans. New York: Sterling, 1985.…[continue]

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