Monday, September 17, 2018

The Best of All Cities

For which it stands.

A friend posted up the cover of Plato’s The Republic as being on his top list.  If you haven’t read it, it’s probably not what you think.  It’s considered a classical treatise on government, but really it’s something of a thought-experiment and science fiction type of world building.

No, really.

Plato uses Socrates, as he often does, as the mouthpiece for most of his thoughts.  This book, however, is completely Plato’s as a work. Within the work, Plato takes on various other city-states and propose a completely different manner of society and political organization: Kallipolis—"beautiful city.”  Kallipolis is a place wholly controlled by a society whose rules and norms have been laid down from the start and presided over by the ultimate product of the city: a philosopher king.

There are many problems with Plato’s Kallipolis, starting with the norms the city should engage in, which tend to ignore human nature and human drives completely.  As a hypothetical thought experiment, though, it’s fascinating.  Enough that Jo Walton wrote her Thessaly series based on the notion of philosophers and orphans, taken out of time, building a Kallipolis called the Just City—which is also the name of the first book in the series.

I first picked up The Republic, along with Machiavelli’s The Prince, when I was working on a steampunk story that centered on an imposter being pushed into a position of power—a cross between The Man in the Iron Mask and the Kevin Kline movie Dave.  I was shocked, SHOCKED, when I found out that Plato/Socrates had stolen my idea about raising orphans to become a standing army/police force called Guardians

Like gold in the refiner's fire!
Stolen centuries before I’d come up with the notion on my own.

Buncha jerks, those Greek philosophers!

Of course, Plato takes the entire concept a bit further, having through well beyond the notion of orphans, to actually generating children who would serve no other purpose than to train to be Guardians and produce more children for that sole purpose.  In addition, Plato hit on some interesting notions:

All reproduction is regulated by the City so that the best Guardians produce children who, in theory, become the best Guardians.
Boys and girl Guardians receive the same education so that they can best serve the City and produce the best Guardians.

For a number of reasons, of which the previously mentioned Jo Walton goes into some detail, this isn’t really practical.  The notion does, however, remain fascinating to me, and something that I may end up exploring in greater detail in the future.

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