“What Makes Kallipolis, with its Philosopher-King, a Utopian Society?
The city Kallipolis, laid out by the philosopher-teacher Socrates in Plato’s Republic, is considered one of the earliest examples of a utopian society in literature. But what exactly makes this fictional city so perfect in terms of education, social organization, and leadership structure? Plato, through Socrates, states that if even one truly just and wise person were to exist, he would be the most fit to rule and that under his rule, the resulting city would benefit from the just laws and practices put in place and would become a just city overall. In Socrates’ words, “…surely the occurrence of one such individual is enough, provided his city obeys him, to bring to completion all the things that now seem so incredible.” (Plato 502b 3-5)
Proceeding from this hypothesis, the natural first question is to ask who this leader would be and how they are chosen. Socrates asserts that those in charge of Kallipolis must have reached the highest cognitive level—that of understanding and grasp of the Form of the Good. Because this is a city of equitable education, all citizens of Kallipolis are given the opportunity to prove their worthiness in terms of leadership, but few possess the necessary qualities of “ease of learning, good memory, astuteness, and smartness.” (Plato 503c 1) The students educated in the sciences and mathematics– the third cognitive level– who also pursue knowledge for its merit alone are then identified as the true philosophers, or lovers of knowledge, and are the only ones fit to rule this just society. These people have reached the highest cognitive level of understanding of the Form of the Good and consequently are not swayed by desires or greed. Therefore, after much discussion, Socrates and Glaucon conclude that Kallipolis would be ruled by a league of “philosopher-kings,” or men and women who had been extensively educated in mathematics and dialectic, who displayed the necessary qualities of a just person, and who “think little of present honors… prize what is right…and consider justice as the greatest and most compulsory thing.” (Plato 540d4-5-e1-2)
Now that Kallipolis is ruled by this elite class of philosopher-kings, the next question must be how the pure justice of the ruling class can affect the subordinate classes: the guardians, auxiliaries, and producers. What Socrates suggests is simple; one of the most important jobs of the philosopher-king is to turn back to those who are not as just and educate them until they attain higher understanding of justice and harmony. He says, “…each of you in turn must go down to live in the common dwelling of the other citizens…and know what precisely each image is… because you have seen the truth about fine, just, and good things.” (Plato 520c2-5) So when the philosopher-kings attain their pure understanding of the world, they must then go back and understand the lives of the other citizens in order to be the most just rulers possible. Once they are as just and wise as possible, the philospher-kings can influence their subjects to be more just themselves. In doing so, the philosopher-kings make a truly utopian society for all levels of the social hierarchy in Plato’s Kallipolis.
Plato, and C.D.C. Reeve. 2004. Republic. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.