Слике страница
PDF
ePub

PLATO'S REPUBLIC.

There is no reader who has not perfectionis for social man, in a condi. heard of Solon's apologetic distinction tion openly assumed to be modelled between the actual system of laws, after a philosopher's ideal. There is framed by himself for the Athenian no work, therefore, from which propeople, under his personal knowledge founder draughts can be derived of of the Athenian temper, and that human frailty and degradation, under better system which he would have its highest intellectual expansion, preframed in a case where either the do- viously to the rise of Christianity. cility of the national character had Just one century dated from the birth been greater, or the temptations to in. of Plato, which, by the most plausible subordination had been less. Some- chronology, very little preceded the thing of the same distinction must be death of Pericles, the great Macetaken on behalf of Plato, between the donian expedition under Alexander ideal form of Civil Polity which he was proceeding against Persia. By contemplated in the ten books of his that time the bloom of Greek civility Republic, and the practical form had suffered. That war, taken in which he contemplated in the thirteen connexion with the bloody feuds that books of his Legislative System.* In succeeded it amongst the great capthe former work he supposes himself tains of Alexander, gave a shock to to be instituting an independent state, the civilization of Greece; so that on such principles as were philosophi- upon the whole, until the dawn of the cally best ; in the latter, upon the Christian era, more than four cenassumption that what might be the turies later, it would not be possible best as an abstraction, was not always to fix on any epoch more illustrative the best as adapted to a perverse hu of Greek intellect, or Greek refineman nature, nor under ordinary cir- ment, than precisely that youth of cumstances the most likely to be du Plato, which united itself by immerable. He professes to make a compro- diate consecutive succession to the mise between his sense of duty as a most brilliant section in the adminisphilosopher, and his sense of expe tration of Pericles. It was, in fact, dience as a man of the world. Like throughout the course of the PeloSolon, he quits the normal for the ponnesian war-the one sole war that attainable ; and from the ideal man, divided the whole household of Greece flexible to all the purposes of a haughty against itself, giving motive to efforts, philosophy, he descends in his subse- and dignity to personal competitionsquent speculations to the refractory contemporary with Xenophon and the Athenian as he really existed in the younger Cyrus, during the manhood generation of Pericles. And this fact of Alcibiades, and the declining years gives a great value to the more ab of Socrates—amongst such coevals stract work ; since no inferences and such circumstances of war and against Greek sentiment or Greek revolutionary truce—that Plato passed principles could have been drawn from his fervent youth. The bright sunset a work applying itself to Grecian of Pericles still burned in the Athehabits as he found them, which it nian heavens; the gorgeous tragedy would not be easy to evade. “ This," and the luxuriant comedy, so recently it would have been said, “ is not what created, were now in full possession of Plato approved—but what Plato con the Athenian stage; the city was yet ceived to be the best compromise fresh from the hands of its creatorswith the difficulties of the case under Pericles and Phidias ; the fine arts the given civilization.” Now, on the were towering into their meridian alcontrary, we have Plato's view of ab- titude ; and about the period when solute optimism, the true maximum Plato might be considered an adult

* Thirteen books. There are twelve books of the Laws ; but the closing book, entitled the Epinomos or Supplement to the Laws, adds a thirteenth. We have thought it convenient to designate the entire work by the collective name of the Legislative System.

sui juris, that is just 410 years before any inferences as to the culture of the birth of Christ, the Grecian intel Athenian society-that probably these lect might be said to culminate in are the most direct emanations from Athens. Any more favourable era the Platonic intellect, the most purely for estimating the Greek character, representative of Plato individually, cannot, we presume, be suggested. and the most prolonged or sustained For, although personally there might effort of his peculiar mind. It is cusbe a brighter constellation gathered tomary to talk of a Platonic philosoabout Pericles, at a date twenty-five phy as a coherent whole, that may be years antecedent to this era of Plato's gathered by concentration from his maturity, still, as regarded the results disjointed dialogues. Our belief is, upon the collective populace of Athens, that no such systematic whole exists. that must have been become most Fragmentary notices are all that remain conspicuous and palpable in the gene- in his works. The four minds, from ration immediately succeeding. The whom we have received the nearest thoughtfulness impressed by the new approximation to an orbicular system, theatre, the patriotic fervour generat- or total body of philosophy, are those ed by the administration of Pericles, of Aristotle, of Des Cartes, of Leibmust have revealed themselves most nitz, and lastly, of Immanuel Kant. effectually after both causes had been All these men have manifested an operating through one entire genera ambition to complete the cycle of their tion. And Plato, who might have philosophic speculations; but, for all been kissed as an infant by Pericles, that, not one of them has come near but never could have looked at that to his object. How much less can great man with an eye of intelligent any such cycle or systematic whole admiration-to whose ear the name of be ascribed to Plato! His dialogues are Pericles must have sounded with the a succession of insulated essays, upon same effect as that of Pitt to the young problems just then engaging the attenmen of our British Reform Bill-could tion of thoughtful men in Greece. yet better appreciate the elevation But we know not how much of these which he had impressed upon the speculations may really belong to SoAthenian character, than those who, crates, into whose mouth so large a as direct coevals of Pericles, could not proportion is thrown; nor have we gain a sufficient “ elongation” from any means of discriminating between his beams to appreciate his lustre. such doctrines as were put forward Our inference is—that Plato, more occasionally by way of tentative exeven than Pericles, saw the consum plorations, or trials of dialectic admation of the Athenian intellect, and dress, and on the other hand, such as witnessed more than Pericles himself Plato adopted in sincerity of heart, the civilization effected by Pericles. whether originated by his master or

This consideration gives a value to by himself. There is, besides, a very every sentiment expressed by Plato. awkward argument for suspending The Greck mind was then more in our faith in any one doctrine as rigortensely Greek than at any subsequent ously Platonic. We are assured beperiod. After the period of Alexan forehand, that the intolerance of the der, it fell under exotic influences Athenian people in the affair of Soalien and Asiatic in some cases, regal crates, must have damped the specuand despoticin others. One hundred and lating spirit in all philosophers who fifty years more brought the country were not prepared to fly from Athens. under the Roman yoke ; after which It is no time to be prating as a philothe true Grecian intellect never spoke sophical free-thinker, when bigoa natural or genial language again. try takes the shape of judicial perseThe originality of the Athenian mind cution. That one cup of poison adhad exhaled under the sense of con. ministered to Socrates, must have straint. But as yet, and throughout stifled the bold spirit of philosophy for the life of Plato, Greece was essen a century to come.

This is a reason. tially Grecian, and Athens radically able presumption. But the same arAthenian.

gument takes another and a more selfWith respect to those particular confessing form in another feature of works of Plato wbich concern the con Plato's writings; viz. in his affectastitution of governments, there is this tion of a double doctrine-esoteric, special reason for building upon them the private and

the private and confidential form

authorized by his final ratification and authentic from the spurious-than by exoteric, which was but another name sending down to posterity this claim for impostures with which he duped to a secret meaning lurking behind a those who might else have been ca mask. If the key to the distinction lumniators. But what a world of between true and false is sent down falsehoods is wrapped up in this pre with the philosophy, then what purtence!

First of all, what unreflecting pose of concealment is attained? Who levity to talk of this twofold doctrine is it that is duped ? On the other as at all open to the human mind on hand, if it is not sent down, what purquestions taken generally! How pose of truth is attained ? Who is it many problems of a philosophic na then that is not duped ? And if Plato ture can be mentioned, in which it relied upon a confidential successor would be at all possible to maintain as the oral expounder of his secret this double current, flowing collateral meaning, how blind must he have ly, of truth absolute and truth plausi- been to the course of human continble ? No such double view would be gencies, who should not see that this often available under any possible sa tradition of explanation could not flow crifice of truth. Secondly, if it were, onwards through four successive genhow thoroughly would that be to erations without inevitably suffering adopt and renew those theatrical pre. some fatal interruption; after which, tences of the itinerant Sophistæ, or en. once let the chain be dropped, the cyclopædic hawkers of knowledge, links would never be recoverable, as, whom elsewhere and so repeatedly, in effect, we now see to be the result. Plato, in the assumed person of So No man can venture to say, amidst crates, had contemptuously exposed. many blank contradictions and startThirdly, in a philosophy by no means ling inconsistencies, which it is that remarkable for its opulence in ideas, represents the genuine opinion of which moves at all only by its cum- Plato; which the ostensible opinion brous superfluity of words, (partly in for evading a momentary objection, or disguise of which, under the forms of for provoking opposition, or perhaps conversation, we believe the mode of simply for prolonging the conversadialogue to have been first adopted,) tion. And upon the whole, this one how was this double expenditure to be explosion of vanity, of hunger_bitten maintained ? What tenfold contempt penury affecting the riotous superfluit impresses upon a man's poverty, ity of wealth-has done more to check where he himself forces it into public the interest in Plato's opinions than exposure by insisting on keeping up all his mysticism and all his vagueness a double establishment in the town of purpose. In other philosophers, and in the country, at the very moment even in him who professedly adopted that his utmost means are below the the rule of oxotipov,' darken your mean. decent maintainence of one very hum. ing,' there is some chance of arriving ble household! Or let the reader re at the real doctrine, because, though present to himself the miserable char. hidden, it is one. But with a man latanerie of a gasconading secretary who avows a purpose of double deal. affecting to place himself upon a level ing, to understand is, after all, the with Cæsar, by dictating to three smallest part of your task. Having amanuenses at once, when the slender perhaps with difficulty framed a coresult makes it painfully evident, that herent construction for the passage, to have kept one moving in any re- having with much pains entitled your spectable manner, would have bank self to say,—"Now I comprehend," rupted his resources. But, lastly, next comes the question, What is it when this affectation is maintained of you comprehend? Why, perhaps a a double doctrine, by what test is the doctrine which the author secretly ab. future student to distinguish the one jured ; in which he was misleading from another ? Never was there an the world; in which he put forward a instance in which vanity was more false opinion for the benefit of other short-sighted. It would not be pos- passages, and for the sake of securing sible by any art or invention more ef- safety to those in which he revealed fectually to extinguish our interest in what he supposed to be the truth. a scheme of philosophy-by summar There is, however, in the following ily extinguishing all hope of our sepa. political hypothesis of Plato, less real rating the true from the false, the danger from this conflict of two mean

[ocr errors]

ings, than in those cases where he and must be brought into harmony treated a great pre-existing problem of with the general theory of justice. speculation. Here, from the practi. For the supreme problem in such a cal nature of the problem, and its speculation seems to be this-how to more ad libitum choice of topics, he draw the greatest amount of strength was not forced upon those questions, from civil union ; how to carry the which, in a more formal theorem, he powers of man to the greatest height could not uniformly evade. But one of improvement, or to place him in difficulty will always remain for the the way of such improvement; and perplexity of the student—viz. in lastly, to do all this in reconciliation what point it was that Socrates had with the least possible infringement or found it dangerous to tamper with the suspension of man's individual rights. religion of Greece, if Plato could Under any view, therefore, of a comsafely publish the free-thinking ob- monwealth, nobody will object to the jections which are here avowed. In investigation of justice--as a proper other respects, the Ideal Republic of basis for the whole edifice. But the Plato will surprise those who have student is dissatisfied with this Placonnected with the very name of Plato tonic introduction-Ist, as being too a sort of starry elevation, and a vi- casual and occasional, consequently sionary dedication to what is pure. as not prefiguring in its course the of purity, in any relation, there will order of those speculations which are be found no traces : of visionariness, to follow; 2dly, as too verbal and more than enough.

hair-splitting ; 3dly, that it does not The first book of the Polity, or connect itself with what follows. It general form of Commonwealths, is stands inertly and uselessly before the occupied with a natural, but very im main disquisition as a sort of vesti. methodical discussion of justice. Jus- bule, but we are not made to see tice—as one of those original problems any transition from one to the other. unattainable in a solitary life, which Meantime, the outline of this nomidrove men into social union, that by nal introduction is what follows :a common application of their forces Socrates has received an invitation to that might be obtained which else a dinner party [dstvor] from the son was at the mercy of accident should of Cephalus, a respectable citizen of naturally occupy the preliminary place Athens. This citizen, whose sons are in a speculation upon the possible grown up, is naturally himself advarieties of government. According vanced in years; and is led, therefore, ly, some later authors, like Mr God reasonably to speak of old age. This win in his Political Justice, have he does in the tone of Cicero's Cato; transmuted the whole question as to contending that, upon the whole, it is forms of social organization into a made burdensome only by men's transcendant question of Justice; and vices. But the value of his testimony how it can be fairly distributed in re is somewhat lowered by the fact, that concilement with the necessities of a he is moderately wealthy; and sepractical administration or the gene condly, (which is more important,) ral prejudices of men. A state, a that he is constitutionally moderate in commonwealth, for example, is not his desires. Towards the close of his simply a head or supremacy in rela- remarks, he says something on the tion to the other members of a politi, use of riches in protecting us from cal union; it is also itself a body injurious treatment-whether of our amongst other coequal bodies-one own towards others, or of others torepublic amongst other co-ordinate wards us. republics.

War may happen to This calls up Socrates, who takes arise; taxation; and many other bur occasion to put a general question as dens. How are these to be distributed to the nature and definition of ivjus80 as not to wound the fundamental tice. Cephalus declines the furiber principle of justice? They may be prosecution of the dialogue for bimapportioned unequally. That would self, but devolves it on his son. Some be injustice without a question. There of the usual Attic word-sparring fol. may be scruples of conscience as to lows-of which this may be taken as war, or contributions to war. That a specimen :-a definition having been would be a more questionable case : given of justice in a tentative way by but it would demand a consideration, Socrates himself, as though it might

be that quality which restores to every governing power-be it king, nobles, one what we know to be his own; and or people as a body. Socrates opthe eldest son having adopted this de poses him by illustrations, such as finition as true, Socrates then op Xenophon's Memorabilia, here made poses the case in which, having bor. familiar to all the world, drawn from rowed a sword from a man, we should the arts of cooks, shepherds, pilots, be required deliberately to replace it &c.; and the book closes with a genin the hands of the owner, knowing eral defence of justice as requisite to him to be mad. An angry interrup the very existence of political states ; tion takes place from one of the com since without some trust reposed in pany called Thrasymachus. This is each other, wars would be endless, it appeased by the obliging behaviour is also presumable, that man, if genof Socrates. But it produces this ef erally unjust, would be less prospefect upon what follows, that in fact rous - as enjoying less of favour from one illustration adduced by this from the gods; and finally, that the Thrasymachus, the whole subsequent mind, in a temper of injustice, may discipline arises. He, amongst other be regarded as diseased ; that it is less arts which he alleges in evidence of qualified for discharging its natural his views, cites that of government; functions ; and that thus, whether and by a confusion between mere mu. looking at bodies politic or individuals, nicipal law and the moral law of uni. the sum of happiness would be greatly versal obligation, he contends that in diminished, if injustice were allowed every land that is just which pro. to prevail. motes the interest or wishes of the

Book The Second.

In the beginning of this Book, two justice with so much splendour by brothers, Glauco and Adeimantus, means of written laws. It seems undertake the defence of injustice; but strange that, even for a momentary upon such arguments as have not even effect in conversation, such trivial soa colourable plausibility. They sup- phiştry as this could avail. Because, pose the case that a man were possessed if in order to represent justice and ofthering which conferred the privilege injustice as masquerading amongst of invisibility ; a fiction so multiplied men, and losing their customary in modern fairy tales, but which in effects, or losing their corresponding the barren legends of the Pagan world impressions upon men's feelings, it is was confined to the ring of Gyges. necessary first of all to suppose the Armed with this advantage, they con whole realities of life confounded, and tend that every man would be un fantastic impossibilities established, no just. But this is change only of fact. result at all from such premises could Next, however, they suppose a case be worthy of attention; and, after all, still more monstrous ; viz. that moral the particular result supposed does not distinctions should be so far confound- militate in any respect against the ed, as that a man practising all in received notions as to moral distincjustice, should pass for a man exquisite. tions. Injustice might certainly pass ly just, and that a corresponding for justice ; and as a second case, intransfer of reputation should take justice, having a bribe attached to it, place with regard to the just man: might blind the moral sense to its under such circumstances they con true proportions of evil. But that tend that every man would hasten to will not prove that injustice can ever be unjust; and that the unjust would fascinate as injustice, or again, that reap all the honours together with all it will ever prosper as regards its the advantages of life. From all effects in that undisguised manifestawhich they infer two things—First, tion. If, to win upon men's esteem, that injustice is not valued for any it must privately wear the mask of thing in its own nature or essence, justice ; or if, to win upon men's pracbut for its consequences ; and second- tice, it must previously connect itself ly, that it is a combination of the with artificial bounties of honour and weak many against the few who hap- preferment—all this is but another pen to be strong, which bas invested way of pronouncing a eulogy on

« ПретходнаНастави »