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Platonic Communism In The Republic Essay

2866 words - 11 pages

.2 CommunismOne of the most striking features of the second city is its abolition of private families and sharp limitation on private property in the two guardian classes. Starting with Aristotle, this communism in the Republic's ideal city has been the target of confusion and criticism. On the one hand, Aristotle (at Politics 1264a11-22) and others have expressed uncertainty about the extent of communism in the ideal city. On the other, they have argued against the provision of any communism in an ideal political community.There should be no confusion about private property. When Socrates describes the living situation of the guardian classes in the ideal city (415d-417b), he is clear that private property will be sharply limited, and when he discusses the kinds of regulations the rulers need to have in place for the whole city (421c ff.), he is clear that the producers will have enough private property to make the regulation of wealth and poverty a concern. But confusion about scope of communal living arrangements is possible, due to the backhanded way in which Socrates introduces this controversial proposal. The abolition of private families enters as a casual afterthought. Socrates says that there is no need to list everything that the rulers will do, for if they are well educated, they will see what is necessary, including the fact that "marriage, the having of wives, and the procreation of children must be governed as far as possible by the old proverb: friends possess everything in common" (423e6-424a2). It is not immediately clear about whether this governance should extend over the whole city or just the guardian classes. Still, when he is pressed to defend the communal arrangements (449c ff.), Socrates focuses on the guardian classes, and it seems most reasonable to suppose that the communism about families extends just as far as the communism about property does, on the grounds that only the best people can live as friends with such things in common (cf. Laws 739c-740b).To what extent the communism of the ideal city is subject to criticism is a more complicated question. The critics either claim that communism is undesirable or impossible. The charge of impossibility essentially extends one of Plato's insight: while Plato believes that most people are incapable of living without private property and private families, the critics argue that all people are incapable of living without private property. This criticism fails if there is clear evidence of people who live communally. But the critic can fall back on the charge of undesirability. Here the critic needs to identify what value is lost by giving up on private property and private families, and the critic needs to show that this value is greater than the unity and extended family purported for the communal arrangements. It is not clear how this debate should go. Plato's position on this question is a stubbornly persistent ideal, despite the equally stubborn persistence of...

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