I'm trying to alternate between fun audiobooks and ones that I feel I should read rather than having any desire to do so. Plato's Republic was in that second group. I honestly expected to hate it. But it's one of the fundamental classics. So on the list it goes to listen to while I commute. And I loved it. It may have been that it was a full cast audio but it honestly did feel like being with a group. Maybe a quarter of the way in I realized what it reminded me of: when you are at a very mellow party in college and people start discussing things that are really "deep, man." And there's that one person who is way too into it and dominates the conversation. So that tickled me most of the book. The other thing that was really engaging was how much of the ideas in this book can be seen in the modern world. In that way it made it feel like an anthropological study and it kept making me say, "neat," even when I disagreed with whatever point was being made. Overall I would recommend this audiobook version because it made it come alive.
Whew, that was an intense read! I gave five stars because after careful consideration I realized that Alan Blooms interpretive essay really helped me to understand the The Republic to a different degree. The first ten books are the shoes, the interpretive essay is the shoe lace and it ties all of it up very neatly. To read something over 2,000 years old that’s been translated from Ancient Greek is a task in itself, I commend this translations interpreter he did a stellar job. This book is Heavy and not a book you can just pick up and expect to read in a weekend, its not littered with images that create a perfect picture for you to burn thru, it’s page after page after page of thought, so it slows you down, a lot. Each page forces you to think about what you’re reading, sometimes you have ZERO Idea and that’s ok, that’s where Bloom’s Interpretive Essay comes in. To pick up this book and commit to finishing it is a Challenge I highly recommend, you’ll walk away a better person with a sense of accomplishment and more thoughtful mind. I’ve read over 200 books and I think it’s safe to say that this was the most challenging book I’ve ever put my mind too, if your looking for a challenge then you’ve found it. Happy reading 📖
While the book was written in 380 BCE it is, perhaps, more relevant today than at any time in its history. You would almost think that Plato had pulled a Dr. Who and transported himself to 2018 before sitting down to write. It couldn’t be more tailored to the political, social, and economic environment in which we currently find ourselves.
Plato/Socrates use elenctic (i.e. Socratic) questioning to explore human happiness and the specific virtue of justice. Socrates believed: “by curing people of the hubris of thinking they know when they do not…makes them happier and more virtuous than anything else.”
Socrates and his friends pursue this journey by defining the ideal city – Kallipolis—and its rulers and constitution, the idea being that truth is often easier to discern on a large scale (i.e. a city) that can then be applied on a smaller scale (i.e. the individual).
The debate focuses on the four virtues of an ideal city—wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. And results in the conclusion that the human soul is made up of three parts—the appetitive, spirited, and rational—and that virtue, ultimately proven to be the source of happiness exists when the three are in balance and harmony.
Socrates ultimately defines five political/economic models—philosopher/king, timocracy, oligopoly, democracy, and tyranny. And he ranks them, from good to bad, in the order listed, essentially arguing that they form an inverse ladder in which one inevitably deteriorates into the latter.
That means, in essence, that oligopoly inevitably deteriorates into democracy, which he clearly doesn’t not hold in very high esteem. Freedom, by his logic, is unsustainable. In the simplest terms, the unfettered pursuit of freedom by everyone ultimately leads to conflict and that, in turn, inevitably leads to a race for power defined by manipulation, deception, and injustice.
As a result, democracy inevitably leads to tyranny as the ruling class preys—quite deceitfully—on the fears of the masses that they, the masses, are being sidelined and their interests ignored. Sound familiar?
The elenctic, commonly known as the Socratic method, has been largely stripped from our political and academic discourse. People are sure of what they know and don’t want to know anything else. The thirst for victory has, as a result, crushed the thirst for knowledge.
There are many reasons for this. Technology, which gave rise to the echo chamber, has certainly contributed. Impatience has also played a big role. Elenctic takes time and our collective attention spans have dwindled to near nothing. Education, I believe Plato would say, however, is probably the real culprit. Oppression, sheltering, and victimization have replaced Plato’s definition of the ideal education: physical training, musical training (including prose and speech), mathematics, and dialectic.
On the surface, critics will find no shortage of targets in the logic. More than anything else, however, both the argument and any criticism that might be drawn, reflect the imprecision of language itself and the difficultly this presents for philosophers willing to tackle the biggest and most relevant issues of life.
That, however, simply reinforces Plato’s encouragement to ask more questions, listen more attentively with an open mind, and never assume you know the real answer. Which is why his ultimate encouragement it seems to me is not to admire things that are beautiful or just, but to truly understand what beauty and justice are. Sadly, I can think of no leader today who is doing anything even remotely close to that.
Read it. It will make you a better leader, citizen, parent, friend, and person.
Plato’s Republic (Greek: Πολιτεία, Politeia; Latin: Res Publica) was written in 380 BC and this version was translated by Benjamin Jowett in 1871. It is a fiction book in the format of a discussion between Socrates and others. It aims to debate and conclusively determine the meaning of Justice. Socrates, the main character, was a Greek philosopher and the mentor of Plato. His philosophy is the basis and origin of the western philosophy. As a high schooler who often debates similar ideals and questions, I found this book to be very eye-opening and fascinating. Socrates doctrine proves itself true even in this day in age. That just goes to show, when it comes to ideals and behavior, humans haven’t changed very much. Republic is very well written and even after thousands of years it still captures its audience with its provoking revelations and relatable content. If you often find yourself debating similar questions then you might just find your answers here, but if you dislike philosophy or are set in your ways you probably will not find this book to be interesting. For me, this book was an enjoyable challenge and I definitely would read it again.