Essay 1

Dr. Watts

FYS 100

22 September 2015

“The Guardians”

            In Plato’s Republic, the guardians’ communal lifestyle and Spartan living conditions are essential in the establishment of the just city, Kallipolis. The guardians do not own private property or have wealth; therefore, they are able to make decisions that benefit all of the citizens and not any particular group. Kallipolis’ social structure ensures that everyone as a whole is happy; it does not seek to create happiness for one particular group (420b6). The guardians, who serve as rulers, exemplify this behavior because they could have all the possessions they desire. The guardians’ lifestyle of communal living, suppressing their desire for wealth and land, and doing what is best for the city as a whole serve as a model for the reader to follow when it comes to living justly.

In Republic, Plato seeks to define justice through the establishment of a perfect city that embodies the concept of justice. In the city, no one receives special treatment, and there is no wealth or poverty. The guardians learn from a young age how to rule the city justly and to make decisions that benefit all of the citizens (423e3-4242). The guardians do not own private property, and they live communally. Plato states that this living arraignment ensures that the city as a whole is happy and that a happy citizenry is main characteristic of a just city (420b6). Therefore, individuals have to make sacrifices to ensure that entire city is content. Plato asserts that these sacrifices will make the guardians pleased because they are told that they all come from the earth and that everyone is their brother or sister (414e5). Plato believes that the guardians will rejoice knowing that all of their brothers and sisters are satisfied with their living conditions.

A potential flaw in the structure of Kallipolis is that it completely depends on the citizens’ ability to be content with their role in society. One must do the job they are best equipped to do. The citizens must also accept the fact that they will never move up in the class system and that their role in society will remain the same. Plato proposes a myth that could help the citizens buy into this system (414c10-414e5); however, there is no guarantee that each citizen will accept the rigid class structure. The only motivation the citizens of Kallipolis have is the love of their city and their fellow citizens. This belief might not be enough to motivate them to consistently fulfill their societal role.

Another weakness in the structure of Kallipolis is that it is necessary for the guardians to refuse wealth and property. The guardians must live communally and can never handle silver or gold. If one guardian decided that he no longer enjoyed his Spartan living conditions, it could destroy the entire system of doing what is best for the city and not for the individual. Adiemantus exposes this potential flaw. He argues that the city belongs to the guardians yet they receive no benefits from the city, such as a big house or the ability to feast and entertain guests (419a1-419a9). There is no way to ensure that a guardian is able to resist the temptations associated with wealth and power. A corrupted guardian acting in his own self-interest could destroy Kallipolis’ structure by enacting laws that do not benefit all of the citizens. If the citizens realize this injustice, they would have little incentive and desire to continue to fulfill their societal role; as a result, the corrupted guardian would have destroyed Kallipolis’ social structure.

The guardians’ Spartan living conditions causes one to wonder whether they have benefited from acting justly. In the beginning of Republic, Thrasymachus argues that it is more beneficial to live unjustly than it is to live justly (338e6-339a3). The guardians live justly and do what is best for the citizens as a whole, but they receive no reward for their just rule. They have no wealth, property, or family (423e3-4242). They cannot take vacations either (420a4). One can argue that this is not a happy life and that the guardians would be happier if they acted unjustly.

There are a few potential flaws in the guardian’s communal lifestyle and the city’s social structure; however, I do not believe that these flaws are likely to manifest themselves. The education and training the guardians receive is purposefully designed to ensure that they accept their communal lifestyle and that they are motivated by the overall happiness of the city. They never hear stories about unjust, greedy men because their education is carefully planned (386a1-386a4). It is unlikely that the guardians act unjustly because they have not heard or seen any examples of unjust behavior. They might not even know such behavior exists in the world. People want wealth because they learn that it is desirable; however, the guardians never learn that wealth is desirable. Instead, they learn how to make decisions that benefit the city as whole and that their lifestyle is just. There are also multiple guardians that could keep a corrupted guardian in check. It is doubtful that one guardian could convince the other guardians to abandon their role in society by acting selfishly because all guardians are intelligent and natural leaders that would not be swayed easily.

It is unlikely that the citizens of Kallipolis would despise their jobs. Each citizen receives the job that they are best equipped to do; therefore, they most would likely enjoy the job that they receive. If a person has all of the traits of a good potter, it is probable that that person would enjoy working as a potter. This idea also applies to the guardians because they are the ones who best equipped to lead the city. Each guardian has the ability to be a great ruler, so it is doubtful that the guardians would not accept their position. Because the social structure places the citizens in a position where they can succeed, it is likely that they would be content with fulfilling their societal role.

The example of the guardians teaches the reader that a just society is the result of personal sacrifices. The guardians sacrifice the pleasure they could receive by only acting in their self-interests (420a2-420a7). As a result, the city’s happiness increases because its rulers want to do what is right for the general population. The reader can implement this idea into his or her life by not always being motivated by their desires. Just a few sacrifices can result in a much more just life for the reader. Plato’s goal in this book is to demonstrate how one lives justly and benefits from it; the guardian’s lifestyle serves as a model on how to live justly and achieve happiness at the same time.

Plato explains that the guardians will be happy despite their Spartan living conditions because they learn that it is best to do what makes everyone as whole happy. Their Spartan lifestyle helps them do what is best for the citizens as a whole by robbing them of wealth that can cause selfishness and greed. The reader learns from the guardians that a just society involves everyone sacrificing some of the things that provide pleasure, such as a big house.

I pledge that I have neither given nor received any unauthorized help during the completion of this work.

Dylan Wadyka

Works Cited

Plato. Republic, Translated by C.D.C. Reeve. Hackett Public Company Inc., 2009