Communization of Thought and Plato’s Republic

Former Associate Justice of the United States Potter Stewart once said, “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” Plato’s Republic presents the question of whether or not one can have private thought in the perfectly just city. This question expands itself into whether or not any regime, just or unjust, can survive without at least nominal communization of thought. It appears throughout history that communization of thought has always been attempted on some scale. Does the perfectly just city, however, require the communization of thought as every other city does?

Three central questions loom over us at the present time. Is it possible to have communization of thought, totally or at all? Can a regime survive with or without communization of thought? And finally, can the perfectly just city as Plato describes in the Republic have communization of thought and still be just?

In order to find whether it is possible to achieve communization of thought, one only need look back through history and find examples. To answer the question of whether or not communization of thought is possible I offer this argument. For 1500 years the Catholic Church was able to control the religious views of Western Europe with little resistance. For seventy years the Soviet Union was able to control the thought of most of Eastern Europe. For twelve years Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were able to indoctrinate the German people into National Socialist thought.[1]

When a class of educated American students is polled on whether communization of thought is possible each of them responds, “No. There is a right to private thought.” Thus they too demonstrate their lower education teachers have indoctrinated them well. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan he says, “it is his [the sovereign’s] duty to cause them so to be instructed; and not only his duty, but his benefit also, and security against the danger that may arrive to himself in his natural person from rebellion.”[2] This is an echo from Plato’s Republic, where Socrates asserts that the guardians must be educated so that they do not attack their own city but only their enemies.[3] Hobbes even goes on to say, “the people are to be taught, first, that they ought not to be in love with any form of government they see in their neighbor nations, more than with their own…”[4]  Once again Hobbes echo’s Socrates’ sentiments concerning the education.[5] This education has one goal in mind, to create a communization of thought among the guardian class.

We thus have three examples, out of many, of communization of thought in practice and an author who encourages the education of youth that is similar, though not the same, as that of the just city.

However, can a regime survive a communization of thought? Can it survive without communization of thought? Certainly one can view the Soviet Union and realize that what started the dissolution was the introduction of private thought into society. Socrates even asserts that communization of thought is necessary for the survival of the city.[6] In order to keep peace and order with in the city, and rebellion out of the city, Socrates proposes the introduction of the noble lie. He intends for this lie to make the citizens believe that they are all equals, and that they all have the same mother.[7] However, at the same time it is used to introduce the one person, one job theory through the analogy of the metals. This demonstrates the mixture of myth and law into the city, which allows for the communization of thought to be stronger than when it is simply done through myth or law. The founders of the city will also determine what is proper for the citizens to read, and what the proper manner they should be educated in is. Private thought will only be possible through the rose colored glasses of the regime; that is to say that the citizens may have private thought but it will reflect the beliefs of the regime as have been taught to the citizens. Certainly without some form of communization of thought, the city is unable to survive.

Finally we are asked to inquire whether the perfectly just city is able to have communization of thought, or private thought, and remain just. At the onset of the Republic, Socrates makes it appear that Athens is not a just city. In order to see what justice is Socrates suggests to Glaucon and Adeimantus that they should construct a just city in order to see where justice is at. Socrates does not suggest that they should examine Athens and determine where justice is in the city. By the beginning of book V Socrates is spurred on to discuss the communization of women and children despite not having completely formulated his position in his mind. It is from here that the reader is asked to ponder the question of communization of thought. Throughout the construction of this city, Socrates discusses the education of the citizens. This education leads to a communization of thought, but does not totally outlaw private thought as long as it reflects the regime’s beliefs.

Does this city truly have private thought? Citizens who speak against the beliefs of the regime are to be silenced. The works of Homer are not to be read by the citizens because they reflect a negative understanding of the gods by the regime.[8]  This city does not, in fact, have private thought because all thought is dependent on the beliefs of the regime. The just city will also allow for the philosopher to philosophize without being molested.  It appears that the city constructed by Socrates is not at all able to accommodate the philosopher.

In the process of discussing the city Glaucon says in response to Socrates, “I for one agree that our citizens must behave this way toward their opponents; and toward the barbarians they must behave as the Greeks do now toward one another.”[9] This city that has been constructed by Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus is a Greek city. Socrates has already alluded to the fact that the Greek cities are not just, as he seeks to construct the just city instead of examining it. Thus Socrates is asserting that the just city will not have communization of thought. He has demonstrated that it is possible to obtain communization in thought, but it is not the reflection of the perfectly just city. The just city will come into being when the philosopher is king. Freedom of thought is essential for the philosopher, who questions the conventions of the city. The philosopher questions the teachings of the city as if they are only opinion and not truth. Yet this city that has been constructed seeks to assert that their opinion is the truth. The perfectly just city will not stand when thought is communized, but will rather fall into tyranny.

The communization spoken of by Socrates is through myth and law; philosophy aims to correct myth, which is opinion. When the philosopher is king there will be no need for law. The communization of thought referenced in the Republic, and spoken of by Hobbes and implemented by various nations is not proper for the just city. In order for the just city and for communization of thought to coexist, truth must be the basis for the communization of thought.

 [1]Neither the Soviet Union, nor Nazi Germany achieved the success of Sparta, which many scholars say was the basis of the just city in the Republic. However, both nations have similar aspects to Sparta and the just city of the Republic, which makes them both important examples on this question. Neither the Soviet Union nor Nazi Germany achieved communization of thought through both myths nor law as Socrates seeks it in the Republic; instead they achieve it through law only.

 [2]Leviathan, Part II chapter xxx section 6

 [3]“Then, it’s appropriate for the rulers…” Book III, line 389C

 [4]Leviathan, Part II chapter xxx section 7

 [5]416 B “Mustn’t we…”; 465 B “Since they are free…”; 470 E “Now observe…”; I fully recognize that the education spoken of in Hobbes and the education discussed in the Republic are not the same, however the sentiments are similar in so far as it is necessary to educate.

 [6]“For sound rearing and education, when they are preserved, produce good natures; and sound natures, in their turn receiving such an education, grow up still better than those before them, for procreation as well as for the other things, as is also the case with the other animals.” Book IV, line 424A/B

 [7]414 D-415 B

 [8]“We’ll beg Homer and the other poets not to be harsh if we strike out these and all similar things…” 387B

 [9]Plato’s Republic book V line 471b


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