Summary and Analysis
Book V: Section I
Socrates now proposes to argue several examples of injustice in order further to elucidate the concept of justice. Justice is, as an ideal, singular, but examples of injustice abound. As Socrates is about to develop his examples of injustice, Polemarchus and Adeimantus interrupt and ask for a further description of the lives of the Guardians. Earlier in the dialogue, it was determined that, as a part of the social contract, the Guardians were to own everything in common. The question now is, what effect does this have on families and the concept of family in the ideal state? What is to be the status of women and children in the class of Guardians?
Socrates' answer is that, although we agree that women are in the main physically weaker than men, we agreed earlier, in establishing the three classes, that every citizen should be relegated to the job that best suited him. This is true of the women as well as the men, so women should be nurtured and educated the same as men if they are to assume their place as Guardians. Women are to be considered as candidates both as potential rulers and auxiliaries. And their education in the arts and in gymnastic is not to be separate but equal: They are to be trained together with the men.
Socrates' plan, in fact, is that the men and women of the Guardian class, being denied all personal possessions, are to share everything in common. In the case of this class (only this class), the old concept of private homes and family life is to be changed. The Guardians will live together as a single family unit. In order to ensure the highest quality of offspring for this class, the men and women will breed and rear their children in common, according to theories of the eugenic methods employed in breeding domestic animals, such as dogs and horses. Since the Guardians are to share everything in common as members of a new "family," the children will learn to address one another as "brother" and "sister"; they will learn to perceive each older citizen as "father" or "mother," thus ensuring respect and domestic tranquility for this class in the state. Because they belong together as members of a single large family, they should rid themselves of the rivalries and jealousies attendant upon the tradition of erstwhile private "families." This will provide for greater social equality for the members of this class and ought to ensure better unity in the ideal state. But, because wives and children are to be held in common, this does not mean that the adult Guardians are permitted to be sexually promiscuous. Their sexual unions must be conducted under strict surveillance by the rulers.
The method whereby this selective breeding will be conducted, Socrates explains, is that at designated calendar times and at the most appropriate periods of their sexual activity and fertility, the men and women of this class will be brought together in "marriage festivals," but they will not be permitted the free choice of sexual partners. Rather, they will be "taught" that the older rulers have drawn all pairs of sexual partners by blind lot, whereas in fact the rulers will have paired the sexual partners by careful selection so as to ensure the success of the eugenic method the rulers have adopted.
As for the children so produced, they will have to be raised communally and provided for by citizens designated as nurses. Furthermore, the children are not to be permitted to recognize their birth parents; the children are not to be permitted to develop "old time" family loyalties; in fact, the birth mothers may be at times prohibited from nursing their children, who will be provided with wet-nurses for their needs.
Glaucon and the other participants in the dialogue are at this point experiencing severe doubts about the efficacy of Socrates' plan; they argue that the plan is too unrealistic, that it will seriously disrupt the order of the state, and that the plan is probably impractical. So Socrates has to answer these objections.
Since everything these Guardians now possess is held in communal ownership, there will exist no bickering about private ownership. The old jealousies and squabbles about what is "mine" and what is "yours" and the old ideas about private inheritance will disappear. This has to be seen as the best way to ensure harmony in the state. Since the reasons for internal disorder will have disappeared, this class will function all the more smoothly, because each citizen in the class will feel a common familial bond with every other citizen.
Many readers from Plato's time to our own are struck, like Glaucon, by Socrates' proposals at this point; they seem in some instances to be outlandish and almost inhuman. But Socrates' intent, here as elsewhere, is to preserve the unity of his ideal state, no matter the sacrifices entailed in ensuring this aspect of the state. The major objection to Socrates' proposals herein is that these theories, if effected, would in fact de-personalize almost every aspect of the state. Yes, Socrates agrees, that would in fact be the case, and that is what he intends. Personal ambitions, greeds, and petty personal jealousies are the very things that disrupt the state. They breed animosities among and between people. Socrates wants unity and harmony in the state, at whatever cost.
A principal objection to Plato's state-in-becoming, at this point, is that it is communistic. It is. Another principal objection is to the practice of eugenics in the breeding of more select children. This practice is for the welfare of the state; the capricious practice of marriage for "love" or marriage because of mutual "attraction" is unsound if we wish to produce more ideal citizens to serve the state. In Plato's ideal state, all sexual intercourse would be more strictly umpired than in any civilized society hitherto.
Nemesis in Greek mythology, the personification of the gods' wrath at man's hubris; the goddess of retributive justice, or vengeance.
the palaestra in ancient Greece, a public place for exercise in wrestling and athletics. (Athletes trained and performed naked; a little later in the dialogue Socrates will refer to this, comparing the Greeks to other peoples who did not follow the custom [barbarians—i.e., non-Hellenes], saying it may have seemed strange when first introduced but was now natural and accepted.)
Cretans Hellenic people from the island of Crete.
Lacedaemonians i.e., Spartans.
Arion's dolphin Arion was a Greek lyric poet, probably of the seventh century B.C., of legendary fame. Supposedly he was thrown from a ship by a sailor who wished to rob him, but he was permitted to sing one song before he died. He sang so beautifully that a dolphin who heard him was moved to rescue him.
hymeneal songs wedding songs (after Hymen, the god of marriage).
the Pythian oracle an older name for the Delphic oracle. (Pythia was the title of the high priestess of Apollo's oracle at Delphi; the word is from the same root as Python, an enormous mythical serpent slain by Apollo.)