Plato’s Republic: Political Manifesto or Psychological Model? [2/2]   Leave a comment


Plato’s Republic has been cited as one of the foremost political programs to create a “Perfect Society” the ideal Totalitarian/Authoritarian Society in which Individual Liberties are stripped and extreme Collectivism takes over. However, what if this so-called Political Manifesto was not of a Political Nature at all, but rather a Psychological Model? Suddenly the notion of the Wise and Enlightened Overlord ruling over the large unenlightened mass of men would have to go from an external socio-political context to an internal moral, psychological, and even spiritual context. The aim of this post is to prove the latter, in order to correct the misconceptions of it being the former.

The Evidence Of The Republic As A Psychological Model

Inevitably I am of strong belief that The Republic was not discussing the Politics of the literal Political Realm, rather of the Psychological Realm. Plato sought to discuss the Politics of the Human Soul, this carries with it a Theological Implication as well. I contend that to Plato his Goal was to become as God-like as possible through development of Soul, virtue, and Wisdom, such a Goal is more so internal and yet Transcendental then it is external and worldly.

1. The Class System

Probably one of the more interesting allegories stems from Plato’s Tripartite Division of the Soul itself, through the 3 Classes written about in The Republic. In the Lower Hierarchy you find the Merchants and Workers, which are Self-Interested parts of the soul, they represent the various needs, wants, and desires of the body and soul (e.g. the desire for food and sex for the body, the desire for comfort and earthly accumulation for the soul, etc…), also called the “Appetitive” aspect, the Black ugly horse in the Chariot Analogy.

In the Middle Hierarchy you find the Soldiers and Auxiliaries, who are designed to keep the Lower Hierarchy in their place (e.g. the Ego aspect of Freudian Psychology, that which needs to keep the order within the Psyche between the demands of the Ruler and the Ruled), they represented the “Spirited” aspect of the soul, the White Noble Horse in the Chariot analogy.

Finally you have the Upper Hierarchy, the Philosopher King who through Wisdom and Truth is supposed to rule over the rest of the Psyche Absolutely, the Philosopher King represents the meeting place of the Transcendental and the rest of the Republic. The Philosopher King was the “Rational” aspect of the soul, the Charioteer in the Chariot Analogy, who must be sure to keep both the Noble White Horse and Ugly Black Horse in check and guide the Chariot.

2. The Different Styles of Government

Having now uncovered the Class System found in the Republic we must now consider the different styles of Government. It is at this point that we also think that Plato is going to an exposition on the external Political System for Society, however as we described earlier this Government is supposed to describe the Government of the Soul, or How the Soul is Governed.

The First Unjust Style of Government was called a Timocracy, it was essentially Rule by Honor, of course in Plato’s time honor truly came from Warriors, this is why it is often stated how Plato liked the Spartan City-State, it was essentially a Totalitarian, one-party city state. In the class system above however, it would essentially be rule by the Middle Hierarchy of the Soldiers and Auxiliaries who would keep the Lower Hierarchy in place because, the Warrior class of the Republic were lovers of Honor and Victory.

The Second Unjust Style of Government was called an Oligarchy, which means Rule by a Few, Plato believed that it is very possible for humans to confuse and eventually adopt the belief that Honor stems from ones economic worth in society rather then being a Warrior. However, in the class system described above, those who derive economic worth are those who are the producers which are the Lower Hierarchy. However this is an Oligarchy so by this Rule of the Few it essentially means those who are Ruled by the essential and necessary appetitive desires of the Soul. Plato found this to be the second closest preferred government.

The Third Unjust Style of Government was called a Democracy, which means the Rule of the People, or majority rule! We can understand why Plato then was very suspicious of such a form of government, because if Oligarchy at least meant Rule by the Few, or essential appetitive desires then Democracy means the entire Lower Hierarchy rules, and the soul is guided by every appetitive desire that it comes in touch with, this includes the non-essential and un-necessary appetitive desires.

It is interesting to see how Plato does not simply go into Anarchy as the final degradation of governing the Soul, but rather he calls it Tyranny! Tyrants emerged because the Democratically constituted soul is completely divided against itself, there is no unity, and what inevitably happens is that in the name of getting their own narrow interests fulfilled they essentially allow for a despotic ruler to be empowered absolutely, a Demagogue. It is with this absolute power that absolute corruption takes place. However, the Tyrant comes to power in the context of a Democracy, therefore the Tyrant himself is a Democratically-constituted Soul as well and one with Absolute Power and Absolutely Corrupted in the Process, therefore this form of Rule is essentially a rule of lawless appetitive attitudes!

You can see why Plato believed that there was a need for a Republican-constituted Soul ruled by a Philosophical King who was more so in love with Wisdom, Truth, and Beauty then he was in Love with Power, which is seen as an Appetitive Desire for for man. The word, Republic, means Rule of Law, these Laws would be enacted in the Soul by the Rational Aspect of the Soul and the corresponding lower hierarchies would be called to follow them absolutely. In such a manner, the Soul would not only be kept in Unity but uplifted in process. The Philosopher King, is what we are all called to become according to Plato but it takes work to get there!

3. The Lives of the 3 Classes

With regards to Lives and Lifestyles of the 3 Classes, we see something that we would call unfair, unjust, but this would be true if we were seeing it in context of a socio-political and external order rather than a psycho-spiritual and internal order! With regards to the Product class, they must follow their leaders, instead of pursuing their selfish, private interests. They must obey the laws in a peaceful, orderly, and civil manner in order to keep the local communities together. This means that they must exhibit the virtue of moderation. The common people have to resist many of their personal desires, to benefit the whole city. With regards to the Warrior Class, they must have ability to carry out their orders in the face of danger without thinking about personal risk. Finally, since the rulers or guardians are responsible for making decisions from which the entire city will be governed, they must have the virtue of wisdom. The virtue of wisdom is the ability to comprehend reality and to make the best judgments about it. Each of these is called to a particular training and different perspective on life.

The Lower Hierarchy of the Producing Class is called essentially to a dumb-down, manual labor lifestyle in which they are denied education and they are allowed to keep their children and meager possessions. What does this mean? Let us keep in mind, that desires cannot be educated they are forces within the Soul that we need to be mindful of but we cannot educate them the same way we can educate the Rational and Spirited aspects of the Soul. In Freudian terms, the Id is simply blind animalistic forces within us, they cannot be made intelligent. Likewise, any possessions they have, really have no meaning in the larger scale of things anyway because in light of Wisdom material possessions are fleeting things anyway.

The Middle Hierarchy of the Warrior Class is called to a more elevated position in society, they are responsible for protecting it! Therefore, they must be given an education in order to understand their place in it, both a rigorous education of body and as one gets older of the mind as well. Unlike the Productive Class however, their Children will be raised in a communal setting, the notion of the Biological Family denied to the Child. The Child however in order to control influences, including those of poetry and music, would necessarily need to be raised in a shared environment that would be standardized and purposefully directive, shaping their bodies through exercise and their sensibilities through carefully censored stories and songs.

The Higher Hierarchy of the Guardian Class is called to the highest position in society, they are responsible for guiding it! The Philosopher class guides the other classes, keeping the military in check and keeping the producers honest, while they contemplate the world of the Forms and try to make reality as “Form-friendly” as possible. There education is the most Philosophic and in effect the most informed as well. Again, these lives of the 3 Classes, are not so much lives of individual people but rather aspects of soul itself. The Lower Hierarchy is meant to be controlled, the Middle Hierarchy is meant to be intelligent enough to be loyal and capable enough toward fulfilling the end of maintaining order within the Soul, the Upper Hierarchy must be intelligent enough in order to keep unity and direct the operations of the Soul.

4. The Myths and Analogies in the Republic

The Story of Gyges, The Myth of the Noble Lie, The Myth of Er, The Analogy of the Divided Line and The Analogy of the Cave are the Rhetorical Devices that we find in Plato’s Republic. But what do they mean if we were to grant the fact that Plato’s Republic is a Psychological Model rather than a Political Manifesto?

To start let us look at the Story of Gyges, which posits the conflict of whether or not, morality and ethics is merely a social construct or something more ingrained in our nature and the nature of the world around us. Plato uses Socrates to show that virtue, morality, and justice are not mere social concepts but rather that the person who abused the Ring of Gyges became morally bankrupt and suffered from irreparable failings of Character, the one who chooses not to use the ring can be at peace with himself. Again, these are questions pertaining to the Soul, as to where Morality originates from: Does it come from something that is inherently a part of us by virtue of being Human or is it something that we simply created and externalized? According to the Christian understanding there is truth to both Perspectives, Morality originates from God who is an Objective Transcendent Reality yet who allows for our Subjective Earthly Reality to exist at the same time, however God when He created us; created us with a Conscience which fulfills the aspect of Morality being inherently part of us and the world around us.

The Myth of the Noble Lie also called the Myth of the Metals, is very dangerous to the notions of a free and open society if applied in a socio-political framework, but it can be helpful tool if applied within our own psyche. The Noble Lie is essentially an untruth told to the different classes in The Republic so as to make there position more acceptable to them, its a social control mechanism, however in this context it can be seen as a psychological control mechanism. The lie is told, in order to keep the Appetitive desires of the Soul (e.g. Productive Class) in check so as to not allow them to degrade the Soul into a Tyrannically-constituted Soul. It is told to the Spirited desires of the Soul (e.g. Protective Class) in order to keep them in check so as to maintain order within the Republican Soul-City State as well. The only class that knows that this is a lie would be The Guardian Class of the Philosopher King and fellow Philosophers, however they nonetheless would believe that they are indeed worth more as opposed to the Warrior and Productive Classes who would be in a more unjust Government of the Soul.

In the Myth of Er, we are essentially told that Wisdom, insights which are transcendental will lead to the development of the soul. That a person will grow in Virtue through the accumulation of Wisdom. Such accumulation is not quantitative per se but qualitative. No matter how life treats one or how successful or famous or powerful one becomes, one way or the other, or even, as in the Myth, how many temporary heavenly rewards or hellish punishments one experiences, The Virtues will always work to one’s advantage. Of course, in the Myth of Er we see a desire to also prove the Reincarnation of the Soul, however such notions of Reincarnation are products of pantheistic and pagan thought.

In the Analogy of the Divided Line, we see described the modes of knowing for the Soul. The Soul has 4 Modes of Knowledge, each more higher then the previous: Opinions and Illusion, Beliefs about Physical Things including the empirical sciences, Mathematical reasoning including the theoretical sciences, and finally Philosophical Understanding which is properly called Wisdom. The first two modes of knowing are to Plato imperfect, because they are subject to change, illusions are opinions and we know all to often how our opinions can change however, our empirical knowledge is also considered by Plato to be a lesser form of knowing as well because in the study of the nature, nature changes as well, so it is not a timeless and eternal knowledge base in the purest sense of the word, despite recognizable patterns in the physical universe. The last two modes of knowing are more purer forms of knowledge, namely that of Abstract Mathematical Reasoning, because these Mathematical objects are not in the physical realm but are in the realm of ideas, however even this form is not nearly as perfect as Philosophical Understanding itself. The perceptions of the physical world are made up of a series of passing reflections of the transcendent realm, which is eternal, more real and “true.” Moreover, the knowledge that we have of the Ideas – when indeed we do have it – is of a higher order than knowledge of the mere physical world. Thus informing the Soul of how to be structured in accordance with Rational Aspect of the Soul itself.

Finally in the Analogy of the Cave, we see here what is often conveyed as an understanding of Society, and in certain respects this would be true. However, the realization of the Cave Analogy stems truly from the Development of the Soul itself. The soul finds itself initially in the Cave having been there since birth, seeing shadows on the wall thinking that they are real. The soul then is somehow freed from the chains that kept him in the cave, to which point he would have to climb out of the cave, he would have to ascend and this takes effort to do so. The soul then reaches the surface world but needs time to acclimate to such a world, especially to gaze at the Sun itself first indirectly through a pool of water and then directly face-to-face. Upon such a vision the soul descends back into the cave to tell others about such a world and in the process having his eyes readjust to the darkness itself. The development of the soul is revealed here, from being untransformed and basic to going through an alchemical transformation in order to receive illumination and then going back to tell others so that they too maybe illuminated. In terms of modern Psychological Development Theories I feel that this could have a lot in common with Human Ecology Theory of Bronfenbrenner but in terms of Psycho-spiritual Developmental Principles it seems very similar to Orthodox Monastic Christian notions of Theosis.

5. Other Sources Who Believe that The Republic Was a Psychological Model

There are primarily two sources which seem to be closer in agreement with the view that The Republic was a psychological model, the first is more ancient and that is St. Augustine of Hippo, who in his own book, “The City of God” he models his own book with respect to Plato’s Republic as being the truly ideal city. Of course, as I have shown throughout this blog and will continue to show throughout this blog, Classical and Ancient Christianity have a very deep psycho-spiritual component to it, unlike its modern manifestations. Another more recent source who also agrees with my perspective is a British-American philosopher of Ancient Greek Philosophy named [Julia Annas] who believes that the dialog’s entire political construct exists to serve as an analogy for the individual soul and its proper internal governance.


I hope after viewing this post you will reconsider Plato’s Republic as a Psychological Model rather than a Political Manifesto that has been used by political uptopianist’s over the centuries to justify much evil in the name of reaching the perfect society. I hope that it would go to show that Plato comes closer to a modern psychologist rather than a modern political scientist. This is not to deny that some of the writings of Plato cannot spill over into the external realm of Socio-political Thoughts but it is to show that the predominant themes of Plato come much closer to a Psychological and Spiritual Pursuit then anything else. Much more can be said about Plato’s Republic but in the interests of time and space, I may break them up in the future, I do intend to write a post in the future concerning the differences and similarities found in Plato’s Republic and Christianity’s Kingdom of Heaven, so keep your eye to this blog.


Posted October 15, 2011 by jimbo9889 in The Objectives

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