Is Plato right to think that the best state is one from which all conflict is banished?
One of Plato’s largest beliefs is that the city reflects its citizens. Echoing this way of thinking, it appears logical to discuss how we can create an ideal state by manipulating the way we treat others and our place in society. By reducing the level of conflict within ourselves and social structures, Plato states that the city as a whole stands to profit. However, as will be discussed, humans are disagreeing and inharmonious by nature, meaning this utopia is near impossible to implement.
To start with, it should be remembered that Plato was surrounded by conflict since his birth in 427 BC. The Peloponnesian War involving Athens, his birthplace, and Sparta was long and disastrous, not coming to an end until he was in his mid-twenties. It is, therefore, not hard to imagine why he was so occupied with producing an ideal state with little-to-no discord. However there are many different social classes and groups within any one society, each prioritising different values. Hence it is essential that the organisation of the state is the right one, as Plato remarks that civil war and conflict between these groups are the greatest threats to happiness. “The best is neither war nor faction - they are things we should pray to be spared from - but peace and mutual good will” (Plato, 2000, 628c). It should also be observed that whilst this agreement is of the utmost importance, it should not be obtained through hostile means such as the victory of a stronger side over a weaker one. Overall, there is peace in social diversity. All citizens benefit from each other and add to the common good, creating an order of harmony. Thus it is in our own self-interest to find a structure that promotes this, as according to Plato it is the ‘best state’. In his eyes, this system is that of a philosophical aristocracy or monarchy.
Take note that Plato was of the opinion that tension within society is natural, and therefore some conflict is inevitable. “However, he felt that if a proper balance of the parts could be obtained, social conflict would be at a minimum … [and that] each segment of society would work together in harmony” (Schellenberg, 1996, p. 89). In Plato’s ideal state, it is philosopher kings that mediate between the conflicts of the different classes. They are most suitable to regulate political order, resulting in the state achieving an ultimate form of happiness, due to an amiable, cordial, and cooperative union of different social classes. As Sipka (1969) states “strife is a sign of imperfection and unhappiness… Conflict is a threat to the success of the state and should be kept at an absolute minimum, and removed altogether if possible”. In the Platonic vision of the state, all social classes get to perform what they are best fit to do and are unified into a single community by mutual interests, overseen by a just ruler. In this sense, although each are different, they...