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The Republic, by Plato

From children's literature to the depths of sophistry, we turn to Plato's concept of an ideal society. Plato builds out the details of a society supported by a benevolent dictator known as the philosopher king. In this ideal society we see the predecessors of genetic manipulation and "human farming" that are strong topics of discussion today.

A brilliant student of Socrates, Plato was born in Athens (date uncertain) and saw military service during the Peloponnesian War (409-404BC) and again, later, sometime between 398-387BC. In 387BC, Plato founded the Academy which has the record for the longest running house of learning (900 years) to date. Plato was disgusted by politics in Athens after his brief participation in the oligarchy of Thirty Tyrants (404BC) and the subsequent execution of his good friend and mentor, Socrates (399BC). As influential as Socrates was in Plato's life, of even broader impact was Pythagoras about whom he learned around 398BC. At the Academy, Plato hoped to train future leaders, but his greatest personal impact on future leaders was the tutoring of Dionysius II in 367BC. Overall this tutoring failed as Plato had suggested it would upon its inception.

Having seen the horrors of tyrannical rule both at home (in Athens) and in Syracuse (with Dionysius II), Plato longed to define an ideal kingdom that operated better than the democracy of Athens and the kingship of Dionysius. The Republic was this government. Some concepts (children never knowing their fathers) are horrifying to modern Americans, while others mimic current national debate (children "bred" based on genetic needs). Still other concepts are a simple extension of existing practices (the corrals for caring for children aren't particularly different from the daycare centers we see today). My emphasis on children reflects how this particular section of a much broader work struck me and does not represent all of Plato's work.

Brett Fishburne


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