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Essay 1: How the Guardians’ Lifestyle Affects Their Happiness and Kallipolis

There are many definitions of what a utopia is and how to achieve a society of this caliber. Throughout Plato’s Republic, Socrates details how he believes a utopia could come to be. Kallipolis, the utopia in question, would be made to have several, highly differentiated classes. Among these classes, there is a class built to rule and protect the city, known as the guardians, they are held in highest regard. Bred to be both model citizens, and leaders, the guardians are raised differently than the majority of people in Kallipolis. They are educated like scholars and taught to fight like warriors, so that they may have both the power to protect that city, and the knowledge to know when to use it. Though they receive separate education, and live more respected lives than the lower classes, they are not necessarily entitled to more than, say peasants are. In fact, it is the opposite. While merchants, cobblers, farmers, and the like earn as much as their business is successful, guardians are paid a minimal wage from the citizens. This amount comes out to exactly their living expenses, “the amount being fixed so that there is neither a shortfall nor a surplus at the end of the year” (Plato 101). Though these noble citizens aren’t paid or allowed the luxuries that people below them are, the way Plato has them live is justified by the benefit it gives to the community. They are not only better off because of it, but so is the city.

Adeimantus is skeptical of this when Socrates first brings this concept to light. Questioning the idea that the guardians would take pride in their position, let alone do their job if they receive nothing for their efforts, he states, “I mean the city really belongs to them, yet they derive no good from the city” (Plato 103). Adeimantus goes on to list that the guardians will lack land of their own, houses, and will not be able to entertain guests. Even Socrates adds to the list; he points out they won’t be able to take a trip out of town, give gifts to their girlfriends, or spend money on things they desire, as so many other people do who are considered happy. This does seem to be a fundamental flaw with the concept of guardians. Not only are they not allowed possessions, but they must not live individual lives either. Socrates states that they must live communally; dining in mess halls and bunking together like soldiers. He says, “none should have living quarters or storerooms that are not open for all to enter at will,” (Plato 101) truly capturing how little privacy these individuals will have. Though they wouldn’t necessarily know anything better, citizens as well educated and privileged as they are would surely start to compare their lives to the lives of the successful working class, who are able to work for their own benefit, and reward themselves with purchasing power. Turmoil in an elite group such as this would absolutely be felt throughout the city, and with the society hinging on the guardians leadership, it could eventually lead to collapse.

Though Adeimantus asserts a good point, the shortcomings he points out are addressed. As he often does, Socrates responds with an example employing a similar case on a different scale. He argues that if a cobbler becomes rich, his shoes will suffer in quality as he will care less about his work, and will only even bother to make shoes when he so pleases. By this same logic, it is important to consider that if these great guardians become too swollen with material goods, or the pursuit of money, than they too will fall victim to greed and laziness. Elaborating on this, Socrates states, “Cobblers who become inferior and corrupt and claim to be what they are not, do nothing terrible to city. But if the guardians of our laws and city are not really what they seem to be, you may be sure that they will destroy the city utterly” (Plato 104). While Plato’s solution may not provide the most luxurious and perhaps even happiest life for these guardians, that is not the goal of the city. Making one particular group happy is not what a utopia, by definition, stands for. Instead, in order to maintain the constitution that Socrates has constructed through his dialogue, the intentions of the guardians must only be to do what is best for the city. 

In a different argument, Socrates argues that justice is better than injustice. Playing the devil’s advocate, Glaucon opposes his argument wherever possible. He says that it is more profitable to unjust and just. “Suppose we grand to the just and the unjust person the freedom to do whatever they like…we will catch the just person red-handed, traveling the same road as the unjust one” (Plato 38), here Glaucon is in the midst of explaining that given zero consequences, a logical person will choose to be unjust, as they will better themselves more. He claims that the only reason people agree to be just is that nobody wants to suffer injustice, and that people would rather be protected from suffering injustice, than reap its spoils. Directly after, Glaucon says, “The reason for this is the desire to do better” (Plato 38). So it can be derived that by removing the desire to do better, or even just the possibility of doing better, there would be no need to do injustice. This helps to defend why the guardians should not be allowed to own possessions or earn surplus wages. If they are doing the work purely for the good of the work; the betterment of the city, and not to better their own lives, they will not seek to game the system. By not allowing them to own things, there is not reason for them to do injustice, for they have nothing to personally gain in doing so. Therefore, they remain just and the city remains operational under their protection.

I believe a society like this could be feasible and functional. In my opinion, there is more evidence to support that the lives of the guardians would be honorable and fruitful to the city. They are given everything they need to live a comfortable life by the city, and are some of the most respected individuals in this society. They reasoning behind their lack of private possessions and privacy in general serves only to benefit them in the long run, and make them more true to their work, and a life spent fulfilling ones duty and making others happy should be contributing factors to a happiness.

In knowing that they are living the best version of their lives possible, it should be easy for the guardians to find happiness; unlike those beneath them, striving always to earn more and to have more, there is no hill to climb. They live the most just lives, and as Socrates puts it; “anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness must love both because of itself [justice] and because of its [justice’s] consequences.” Through this discussion of possessions and their relation to happiness we are able to realize that happiness is not only a product of ones spending of their hard earned money, or of the goods they own, but in the work they do. The guardians are not concerned with living the most profitable life, because that is not their job. They allow the utopia of Kallipolis to function at its fullest potential.

I pledge that I have neither received nor given unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work

Jack Reynolds

Works Cited

Plato, G. M. A. Grube, and C. D. C. Reeve. Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1992.

Published inPortfolio
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