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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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THE HAPPY STATE (419c-427c)

"Happiness" is an elusive term. What makes one person happy may not please another. Some people enjoy rock music; others prefer jazz. Some people like gourmet meals; others prefer meat and potatoes. And one of Socrates' criteria for choosing the rulers from the warrior class is the type of things in which the candidates take pleasure. In fact, Socrates said in the last book that certain tests would separate seekers of personal gain from seekers of the good of the entire state. The candidates who enjoy serving the good of the state will become rulers. "Enjoy," however, may be too strong a word. Socrates does not require future rulers to enjoy serving; he simply requires them to consider the state's welfare their top priority.

Adeimantus charges Socrates with not making the guardians happy. He echoes Thrasymachus' claim in Book I that rulers should have great personal wealth. There Socrates argued that the rulers' job is to benefit the citizens, not to increase their wealth. Here Socrates follows a similar line of attack, only now he has more ammunition-the structure of the city he has constructed.

Socrates begins his defense with a reminder to Adeimantus:

...the object on which we fixed our eyes in the establishment of our state was not the exceptional happiness of any one class but the greatest possible happiness of the city as a whole. (420b)

In other words, Socrates is proposing a model of a happy state, not of a happy group within the state. And the happy state is one in which each class performs its tasks in accordance with its designated excellence-farmers to cultivate the soil, soldiers to protect the citizens, and so on. Anything that keeps individuals from doing their jobs well cannot be permitted in the just city. Contrary to Thrasymachus' view, rulers do not govern for their own happiness; their job is to see to the happiness of the city as a whole, to see that each class has a share of happiness that is appropriate to its function.



NOTE: You may now be wondering if perhaps Socrates has his priorities reversed. Can there be a happy state without happy citizens? In The Republic Plato is not actually concerned with the concept of happiness. (His student Aristotle, however, takes up the issue "what is happiness?" in one of the most celebrated books on moral philosophy, the Nicomachean Ethics.) The Greek word we translate as "happiness" is eudaimonia, which literally means "being well with the gods."

Adeimantus wants the just state to be a happy one. Like Thrasymachus he equates happiness with wealth. Thus, Socrates can conveniently leave the issue of the guardians' happiness and turn to the issue of wealth. He says that both wealth and poverty corrupt a city. One brings idleness; the other brings poor workmanship. Both bring innovation, that is, new ideas that distort the true aims of the state. The just state is neither rich nor poor.

Adeimantus, secret lover of luxury that he is, makes one last stand in defense of wealth. He asks Socrates: How will our state, possessing no wealth of its own, be able to wage war against wealthy states?

NOTE: Now, centuries later, Adeimantus' objection to the wealthless state remains a concern to people who study or engage in foreign policy. What good is it to have a wonderful society if it has no means to rebuff the threats of other nations? Will that society-just or otherwise-be overtaken by wealthy foreigners if there are no goods with which to negotiate with nor any means for balancing power?

Socrates responds that the just city must not worry about foreign invasion. For one thing, it will be too poor to attract envy or interest; for another, its army will be notoriously tough; and, finally, it will use diplomats to convince other cities that their best interest resides in being allies with the just city, a city that wants none of the spoils of war.

You may not be convinced, but Adeimantus is. Now the conversation turns to tying up some loose ends: The population of the city must be regulated because it must not grow too large; wives and children of the guardians will be held in common because possessions of any kind must be discouraged; new forms of music will not be tolerated because "the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling the most fundamental political and social conventions"; styles of dress and manner among the young must not be legislated but will, instead, be educationally ingrained; and petty legislation of all kinds will not be tolerated among the policymakers because it would not be fitting to dictate to "good and honorable men" what they can do in their daily activities. The good city, Socrates and Adeimantus agree, is established.

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