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Shaping the Guardians

Socrates and those around him launch into a discussion involving the guardians of this new city they are constructing. They decide what qualities are most important for a guardian to possess. They discuss everything from music and gymnastics to their happiness. The various qualities they discuss form an interesting picture in which it seems like the guardians are larger than life, yet slaves to their work. It is not until Socrates and the others begin to consider the guardians’ souls that this seems to be proven otherwise. Socrates seems considers these guardians more than just machines to guard their city; he is more interested in their souls.

Socrates begins the topic of the guardians with Glaucon; they both agree right off that the guardians possess the most important jobs in the city. They also agree that a guardian must be both “like in the things that belong to his body” and “particularly in what belongs to the soul” (2.375B). They believe this is impossible; there is no way for someone who must guard the city to be spirited and yet have a gentle soul. How will they be able to separate their friends and enemies? This is the assumption Socrates and Glaucon initially latch onto. However, it is possible to separate friends and enemies and to be spirited yet gentle. They seem to be operating on the assumption that humans are in no way that complex. They manage to figure out how to get out of this sticky spot by comparing the guardians to pure bred dogs who are able to be gentle and yet know exactly how to be the opposite of that (2.375E).  It is after this that we get our initial inkling of what qualities a true guardian should possess. He must be someone who is going to be “philosophic, spirited, quick, and strong by nature” (2.376C).  Excluding the philosophic nature mentioned, the rest are all about being physically strong, and domineering. This sounds like they are simply concerned with creating a mindless army to protect their precious city. What they discuss next throws this idea out the window.

Adeimantus joins the conversation and they turn to the guardians and their education. They determine that gymnastic exercise for the bodies and music for the soul are the essentials. This is an interesting shift, as it seemed before that they were only concerned with having these powerful men only focused on protecting the city, yet now they care about their souls to a greater extent. They agree that there must be a mix of gymnastics and music and that if one outweighs the other it would be disastrous. They say that if one were to devote themselves to gymnastics it would lead to brutality and harshness and that if they were to devote themselves only to music it would lead to softness and tameness (3.410C). They are walking a very fine line here. If their education does not work because of one thing or another then the guardian will not be fit to do his duty.

There is no real clear answer as to why the guardians must be so pure. There is a clear idea that it is necessary “for them to be brought up in a definite way from childhood throughout life” (3.403D). They must be perfectly able to take care of themselves and others; a point is made that guardians should not ever become drunk because “it would be ridiculous, for a guardian to need a guardian” (3.403E). This makes sense, because if the second guardian is watching the drunken guardian then he is not following his true purpose. It is not really taken into account what would happen if one of these children being raised a guardian just decides not to follow that path anymore. That idea is never really considered when they talk about the various occupations required in their city and how those people should act. All of their discussions are therefore based solely on speculation and not on fact.

At the beginning of Book Four Adeimantus brings up an interesting point about the guardians and their happiness. He asks Socrates “how would you defend yourself against the charge, if someone were to claim you aren’t making these men very happy” (4.419A). He goes on to make the very obvious point that these guardians are unable to enjoy any rewards such as owning land, having a big house, or offer the gods private sacrifices just to list a few. Socrates replies with this interesting idea that what really matters is that they are “molding a city that’s happy as a whole” and that this means that not everyone is going to be perfectly happy but if the city is happy then it is a success (4.420C). This brings into question once again how much Socrates really cares about the guardians and if they are something more than just pawns in his game to make this city a happy and just place. He promises the guardians food and yet never bothers to give it to them, so it seems that while he is concerned with their souls it is only because he wants a certain type of person guarding the city.

Between treating the guardians like machines that he and the others are simply able to mold into perfect soldiers and not keeping promises it seems that in the end Socrates is only really concerned with their souls and their ability to protect the city. Even their happiness is thrown aside as unimportant; it only serves the greater whole, not the individual. The soul is the key to the guardians and without the correct kind of soul it is impossible for them to do their job correctly. Socrates and his friends seem to agree on this and move on to a different topic.

20 Responses to “Shaping the Guardians”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Lizzie,

    I think you are right to highlight that the auxiliary guardians are not mere brutes. They receive an education in music, which, as you rightly point out, is an education for the soul. The true guardians come from this education, so it is not simply a training in war. It is also a training in wisdom (war and wisdom are of course the two key aspects of Athena).

    I, like you, am a bit puzzled about the insistence on childhood purity. This concern extends beyond the treatment of the poets; we will see later what happens to the adults in this city. However, the insistence on the importance of childhood education in general is right on the mark, I think. Both Plato and Aristotle insist that the education of children is crucial.

    Rousseau, in his own book on education (Emile), said that the Republic was not at all a political work and was in fact the most beautiful treatise on education ever written. Unpacking that statement requires a great deal of work (especially given what else Rousseau says Emile), but the fact that Rousseau calls it “the most beautiful” is surely worthy of further reflection.

    KH

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