Plato And Bellamy

’s Utopias – The Root Of Dischord Essay, Research Paper

Both Edward Bellamy?s Looking Backward and Plato?s Republic portray what each author believes to be the perfect society in which to live. They talk about both the workings of and ways to possibly achieve the perfect government. A Utopia is what we call these ideologically inventions. Traditionally, a Utopia is more of an ideological goal than any kind of practical plan. Plato and Bellamy however, from what I have heard believed their visions to be very achievable.

Attempting to create an image of the ideal society is a very challenging task. Both authors painstakingly reason their way through a description of the perfect city using what is called the dialectic method. The dialectic method is the process of arriving at a truth through the exchange of logical argument. In Republic, Plato writes the entire book from the prospective of his teacher Socrates. Socrates starts off by having an argument about justice with a man named Thryasmachus that leads a much broader conversation about justice and its role in society with another man named Glaucon. Socrates with Glaucon then tries, through the dialectic method, to determine what exactly a truly just city would be like.

The scenario in Bellamy?s Looking Backward is that the main character Julian West falls is put in to a sleeplike trance in the year 1887 and does not awake until over a century later in the year 2000 to find himself in a entirely new world. The Boston of his time has been replaced by futuristic wonderland of peace, equality and happiness. Mr. West and the man in who?s home he awakes, Dr. Leete then spend the rest of the book discussing this new society, its goals and institutions. Since the book itself is entirely a fictional account the plot is nothing more than a dressed up version of the dialectic method packaged as an odd utopian/romance novel.

In each of the books, the authors tend to point back to one root factor that is the fountainhead of all unjust and imperfect societies. They believe and try to logically prove that that one root is the cause behind all of societies ills.

One of the base concepts of Plato?s work is that every person is born unique to themselves. He contends that people have possession of an eternal soul. This soul has three parts: the appetitive part, the spirited part and the rational part.

The appetitive part is made of a of class of things that people have an instinctive desire for, an urge to acquire. The main examples of this are thirst and hunger.

The spirited part is the portion of the soul that animates a man and is a sort of emotional state that is fueled by vigor. This is the part that inspires a man to fight and defend his property or principals.

The third part and the one most cherished by Plato is the rational part of the soul. Plato, through Socrates goes through great lengths in the text to reiterate that this is the highest of the three parts and the one that should rule any person?s life.

Socrates depicts these three parts of the soul as being at constant ?civil war? for control of the soul and the person. Also he says that in different people different parts of the soul dominate and that defines their existence and likewise their role in his perfect society. Plato goes on to say that those who have a dominant appetitive soul make up the lowest order of his society. Those with a spirited soul will serve as the city?s ?guardians? or police force and army. The few that show through a strenuous education process that their soul is rational in nature are selected to serve as the city?s highest post of philosopher-king.

As you can see from that brief description of the hierarchy in Plato?s perfect city or the kallipolis as he calls it, is based on the rule of the rational. Throughout the text Plato insists that only the rational are fit to rule. For his society to function it is a necessity.

The logical problem with that is that if the majority of the people are answering to their appetitive needs, how will the rational, the minority gain control over the teeming masses of consumers? Plato?s answer is that a current king would have to become a philosopher and make the changes he calls for because other wise it would be too difficult to gain power. A very unlikely happening.

Assuming that a philosopher-king could gain power, he would live his life only in the pursuit of Truth. However, he would not be below deceiving the majority of people to his just ends. Plato makes it very clear for his kallipolis to survive the appetitive class must be controlled through censorship of art and fables that mask the processes of marriage and eugenics he draws out in the book. The rule of the appetites and the appetitive class is to Plato the root of imperfect society.

That is because if the appetitive part of the soul that Plato accepts to be true is in power it will in his opinion corrupt the city. To Plato the only way justice can be served is if those who best understand justice and its essence are the ones in charge. If you make all the same assumptions of the make up of the soul and the predetermined nature of men that Plato does this point is almost inarguable. That to me is the beauty of Republic, Plato builds such a solid foundations for his claims that it is very difficult to dispute them.

Edward Bellamy?s Looking Backward shows a different take on Utopia than Plato does. Bellamy?s ?Boston 2000? is a socialistic heaven. Bellamy tells us that in the time Mr. West was asleep the United States greatly changed the nature of society from what it was in 1887 when West first entered his slumber. During that period the government took control of all businesses and the country began to operate as one huge capitalist collective. Everyone was trained and educated in a manner to best determine their skill field and then when they entered the job market where they all received equal wage. The government is in charge of all hirings and distribution of all wealth and goods.

In Boston 2000, the most basic principal is a familiar one from our friend Karl Marx, ?from each according to his ability, to each according to his need?. Equality is the norm, no social or economic classes exist whatsoever.

It is not very difficult to suppose what the root of injustice would be from Bellamy?s prospective. Selfishness would be the number one force working against his vision. He makes it quiet clear in his book that in Boston 2000 nobody is even concerned with how much money they make in relation to others or how much goods they have in comparison to others.

Is that possible? From our current American standpoint it seems to be against human nature and everything we are taught from the day we are born. Also as we have learned from the failure of various communist states, selfishness is sometimes a necessary evil if you ever want to get anything accomplished. It would take a collective change of the priorities of almost all people for Bellamy?s system to work. However, at the time of his writing, Bellamy did not have the luxury of hindsight over 125 more years of history that we now have.


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