“What makes Kallipolis, with its philosopher-king, a utopian society?”
Long before the development in language, Socrates conceptualized Kallipolis, a utopian city. Associating Kallipolis with the concept of utopia is an anachronistic comparison, albeit an appropriate one: Kallipolis is an ideal and unattainable society. Kallipolis is structured with the virtues of a city (wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance) and its citizens are reared with purpose; both facets. However, these utopian premises are dependent on the existence of a philosopher-king, which is an impossible ruler in practice. Therefore, Kallipolis is indeed a holistically utopian society.
Kallipolis is introduced as a means of discovering how the virtue of justice presents itself in a city (369a). Socrates and the other participants in The Republic understand virtue as arête, which denotes excellence in all things. The presence of virtues in the city of Kallipolis would therefore classify the society as a utopia. Socrates corroborates this claim when he states “I think our city, if indeed it has been correctly founded, is completely good” (427e5-10). Kallipolis is intended to be a completely good city, but without the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, its being is not completely good. These virtues are not self-sustaining in the city, however, because citizens ground the city and its metaphysical contents.
In founding a city of virtues, Socrates and Glaucon arrive at the conclusion that Kallipolis must be guarded by individuals whose nature is a combination of philosophy, spirit, speed, and strength (376d5). In order to have this class of ideal citizens, an institution of education and selection exists in Kallipolis. This form of selective breeding allows for the existence of ideal guardian citizens, which in turn strengthens the virtue of the city. The guardians are a microcosm for desirable behavior in Kallipolis, because of their rearing. Still though, desires of individual citizens exist in Kallipolis, which corrodes a utopian society’s emphasis on collective behavior. To nullify this existential threat, the desires are harmonized by the rulers of Kallipolis (451c-461e): sexual desires are planned by the city in the form of a lottery; the children of guardians are reared by state institutions, not the guardians; private desires are similarly managed for the masses. The rearing of citizens in Kallipolis allows for it to be a utopian society, but such a mechanism could not exist without the philosopher-king, an implausible figure.
Taking into consideration the socialization of virtues and rearing within the city, Kallipolis qualifies as a good place indeed. However, to be characteristically utopian, Kallipolis must also be no place, or unattainable. Socrates himself states that “until philosophers rule as kings in their cities… the same constitution we have now described in our discussion will never be born” (473d). It should be noted though, that the practice of philosophy is often belittled as trivial by the masses. Because of this, the philosopher-king is an impossible ruler, making Kallipolis an impossible yet perfect city.
The city of Kallipolis is a utopian society. Virtues in the city and the rearing of its citizenry are examples of proof. These ideal facets of the city, however, are wholly dependent on the institutions of the state. Only a philosopher-king can bring about these structural changes, but citizens would never allow a philosopher-king to rule. Therefore, the good city of Kallipolis cannot exist, making it no city at all. This indeed is the true definition of a utopian society.
Plato, and C.D.C. Reeve. 2004. Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.