The Importance of Warfare to the Guardians’ Education

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The pervasive and driving influence of warfare on the Republic extends beyond the development of Kallipolis’ social structure and to the education of the city’s guardians, a subject introduced in response to, and crafted largely with regards to, the demands of war. In this chapter I will address the question of warfare’s influence on the education of Kallipolis’ guardian class in four stages. First, I will discuss Plato’s belief in the existence of a prerequisite guardian spirit that is clearly shaped with a view to future military and political service. Consideration will be given to the relationship between military and political participation in Plato’s historical context in order to understand better why Plato is so adamant that the city’s warriors and politicians will be drawn from the same class of people. Plato’s thinking at this point can be seen as largely in keeping with tradition. Second, I will consider the cultural and physical education given to Kallipolis’ auxiliary-guardians, an education that is shared by guardian-rulers up to the age of twenty. The guardians’ cultural training is of immense concern to Plato, and he accords it a prominent position in the text. I will situate this subject within its historical context, and link its status in Greek society to Plato’s thinking on the appropriate cultural training for the just city. I will then discuss Plato’s censorship of poetical content, genre, and music; also his major concern with mimetic poetry and its ability to corrupt a person’s soul. Plato gives the guardians’ physical training less attention, and his concern with spiritual over and above bodily concerns is clearly evidenced. Nevertheless, the physical training is an important aspect of the guardians’ wider education, and relates explicitly to their role as soldiers. Even more importantly though, the combination of this cultural and physical education serves the wider, philosophical purpose of habituating the sub-rational spirited aspect of the guardians’ souls. I will suggest that the prominence of the military at this point in the Republic can be explained by a strong connection in Plato’s thought between military participation and the correct expression of the soul’s spirited element; this point will reoccur prominently in my discussion below of the philosopher-kings’ motivation to rule in the city. Third, I will move to a discussion of the guardian-rulers’ philosophical education. Some comment will be made on the process of selection for the philosopher-kings, as well as the guardians’ primary education, which includes early instruction in philosophical subjects and is taught to the guardian class as a whole. I will then make an examination of the guardian-rulers’ instruction in mathematics and dialectic, which ultimately leads to knowledge of the Forms. Plato discusses the specific military applications of mathematics, although this concern becomes less apparent in the progression to dialectic; I argue that at this stage, it not so much specific skills that will be useful to the guardian-rulers as officers, and even politicians for that matter, but rather the development of highly analytical and logical thinking processes. I suggest this goes some way towards explaining why Plato presents five years of dialectical education as suitable preparation for guardians who are about to embark on fifteen years of military and political service. This point is important as is argues against the interpretation of certain scholars who see the philosopher-kings’ education merely as an excuse to prescribe an ideal education for philosophers as such, that is, the guardians’ higher education is not designed with a serious view to practical application. However, as I will argue, Plato’s concern in the Republic is to explore what would be required for true justice to be achieved on the civic level, not so much for the individual pursuit of philosophy. For the sake of the integrity of thematic and narrative structure, I will suggest that the practical-application approach I take in this thesis is, in fact, the most natural and the most consistent reading. This section also addresses the intellectual component of the twofold explanation that I suggest ultimately motivates the guardian-rulers to rule for the city’s sake. Fourth, I will consider the application of compulsion used to make the philosopher-kings rule in the city and I will suggest two explanations for why they agree to do so: The first relies on the force of reason, the guardians’ higher education; the second relies on the force of sub-rational moral habituation, their cultural and physical training. With regards to the former, I will suggest that the ‘compulsion’ applied to the guardians actually takes the form of persuasion within the context of mentor-mentee relationships. This leads to a fuller understanding of the philosopher-kings’ knowledge of the Forms, which motivates them to act justly. Within the special circumstances of Kallipolis, the philosopher-kings come to distinguish between simple preference, and preference all things considered. They recognise that justice only exists when the city as a whole performs ‘outstandingly well’, not just one section, and they heed the call of justice that demands they repay the generous education provided by the city by ruling as an act of gratitude and indebtedness. With regards to the latter, I will suggest that the moral quality of self-sacrifice, introduced in consequence of the demands of warfare, and promoted across the course of the guardians’ entire lives, also plays a key role in the philosopher-kings’ decision to eschew a life of private philosophy and to rule for the city’s sake. Drawing on Plato’s psychological theory as discussed in Book IV, and in particular his account of Leontius and the corpses, I will argue that neither explanation, taken in isolation, provides a totally sufficient answer for why the philosopher-kings decide to rule: it is rather a combination of the two. In this section warfare comes to the fore, as it is warfare that provides the vehicle for the proper expression of spiritedness; it is this spiritedness which comes alongside as an ally to reason motivating the guardians to sacrifice; and it is sacrifice which is needed for the philosopher-kings to subject their personal interests to communal interests, acting an a way they recognise on an intellectual level to be just, and resisting what may seem to be the more pleasant life of theoretical contemplation.

Warfare and the Prerequisite Guardian Spirit

Education is perhaps the most important component of the guardians’ lives and it is introduced explicitly in response to the demands of war. As has been discussed, Socrates argues that for anyone to become a truly good guardian, to receive the necessary education, they must possess at birth a nature that combines philosophy, spirit, speed, and strength; the sine quibus non for inclusion in the guardian class (Resp. 375c; Intro. §.2). Spirit and speed are needed so that the guardians will be good fighters (Resp. 375a). Philosophy enables the guardians to balance violence and gentleness, thus preventing the abuse of Kallipolis’ working class citizens (Resp. 375b-376c). Although this education will evolve beyond a singular, military focus, as Benardete observes, it is warfare that initially distinguishes the type of nature required for future guardians of the just city.1 Before I move to a more detailed discussion of Kallipolis’ guardian education, further comment must be made on this important distinction. A key point here is Socrates’ belief that Kallipolis’ political rulers must be military men. This certainly jars with contemporary examples of successful politicians hailing from a variety of professions and a variety of temperaments that are less likely to be military than not. To understand Plato’s thinking on this issue, due consideration must be given to his historical context, in which the modern distinctions between military and political participation were far less pronounced. The ideal of a Greek city-state drawing its army from citizens with politically vested interests was one maintained throughout the Archaic and Classical Periods. From early on in Greek history, this principle manifested itself in the wealthy propertied elite assuming primary responsibility for military activity, a manifestation van Wees argues developed into a justification for Greece’s elitist social structure.2 The notion that soldiering somehow belongs to the city’s elite as a special and unique duty comes clearly to the fore in Aristotle’s Politics and, as Aristotle makes clear, his thinking drew on firm historical and intellectual precedents (Pol. 1329a40-b39).3 In Greek society, there existed a fundamental distinction between the leisured classes, who took control of military affairs and lived off the labour of others, and the working classes, who did not.4 This opposition is expressed vividly in an archaic scholium attributed to Hybrias the Cretan, who states: I have great wealth: a spear and a sword and a fine leather shield to protect my skin. For with this I plough, with this I reap, with this I trample the sweet wine from the vines, with this I am called master of serfs. Those who do not dare to have a spear and a sword and a fine leather shield to protect their skin all cower at my knee and prostrate themselves, calling me master and great king (Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 15.50.24; trans. Gulick). In some city-states such as Sparta, this division was absolute: the Spartan citizens focused entirely on governance, fighting and leisure activities, while the subject Helots managed all production.5 Even at Athens, whilst never so definite, the division was nevertheless maintained through property qualifications that restricted political and military duties and obligations to the leisured classes in the period before the growth of the navy. From the early sixth century BC, the property qualification for military and political participation was set at two hundred medimnoi of barley, the amount required to support roughly fifteen people and well above what was needed for basic economic independence.6 This state of affairs altered somewhat in the 450s BC, when the introduction of pay for military and political office loosened the grip of the leisured classes over these institutions.7 However, support for the old ideal remained. Thucydides records, for example, that the oligarchic coup of 411 BC, which reintroduced the financial restrictions on military and political involvement, was the best government Athens had ever had (Thuc. 8.65.3; 8.97.1). Although Plato’s period saw the rise of non-citizen mercenary forces, such as Iphicrates’ Corinthian peltasts, the traditional hoplite and cavalry roles, the basis of Kallipolis’ army, remained largely restricted to citizen-soldiers (Ch.3.2). In each of the examples described above, we find evidence for a Greek ideal whereby those who rule the city must be those who fight in the army; those who guard the city’s political interests must be those who guard the city’s military interests. More than an ideal, however, this arrangement can be seen as a reflection of natural reality. As Bloom notes, there is a certain degree of inevitability to the conclusion that strong and spirited warriors will rule the city; almost by definition the most violently powerful element will take control.8 In contemporary New Zealand society, where warfare is not the pervasive reality that it was in Classical Greece, such an arrangement is not so apparent.9 However, the most cursory examination of world history soundly demonstrates that in less settled and less peaceful times and places, those with the military force invariably dominate the political realm; Plato’s Greece was such a time and place.10 In the Republic, education is introduced as a means to bring the most naturally powerful citizens under control, channel their desires into appropriate avenues, and ultimately to provide higher justification for their prominent civic position. However, as with the progressive development of the just city discussed above, I believe Plato presents this process as both natural and necessary. It is not merely a pragmatic rationalisation of an imperfect situation. Plato’s stance on the role of warfare in the just city straddles an uneasy divide between that which is beneficial and that which is not (Ch.1.2). This has been taken by certain scholars as evidence that Plato, in the Republic, is applying a positive spin to a far from ideal situation, seeking to validate the position of political power inevitably held by the warrior class.11 My main objection to this argument is that it seems to imply a degree of underhandedness in Plato’s argumentation that I find unconvincing in light of Plato’s historical context. Even though the late Classical Period saw increasing division at Athens between the offices of politician and general, the fundamental ideal that the city’s army should embody a representative cross-section of the city’s politically enfranchised was nevertheless maintained.12 This ideal is far removed from that of modern Western armies, for example, which, following the total war scenarios of the early twentieth century, have increasingly been drawn from society’s less privileged classes, operating more or less independently of mainstream society.13 Plato’s context was one of intimate connection between the citizen population as a whole, and the city’s military affairs. Consider, for example, the mass mobilisation of Greek citizens across the Persian, Peloponnesian and Corinthian Wars which drew participants from all walks of life, including philosophers such as Socrates and Plato (Intro. §.3). The notion that Plato is somehow scrambling against his better judgement to justify the political power of Kallipolis’ warriors seems to lack historical basis. This assertion is supported by what seems to be a strong connection in Plato’s thinking between the roles of the guardian qua soldier and the guardian qua ruler. As discussed, Plato conceives of a distinguishable guardian spirit that decisively separates the guardians from the productive classes on the basis of a fundamental desire to protect the city from both internal and external enemies (Resp. 375b-376c; 415d-e; Ch.1.3). At the basic level, this role is confined to military participation; at the most advanced and developed level it is the role of the philosopher-king. Although the strength of resolve and the motivations for this behaviour evolve over the course of the guardians’ careers, the basic spirit, or nature, remains unchanged: the desire to serve and protect that which is recognised as one’s own.14


1. The Republic at War: A Two-Pronged Approach
2. A Military Overview of the Republic’s Argument
3. Plato’s Military Participation and Experience
4. Dating the Republic: Composition and Military Context
CHAPTER ONE: The Importance of Warfare to Kallipolis’ Social Structure
1. Introduction
2. Warfare and the Origins of the Just City
3. Positioning the Army: The Social Structure of Kallipolis
4. Kallipolis’ Guardian Class as a Military Hierarchy
5. Conclusion
CHAPTER TWO: The Importance of Warfare to the Guardians’ Education
1. Introduction
2. Warfare and the Prerequisite Guardian Spirit
3. Educating Soldiers: Cultural and Physical Training
4. Educating Officers: Selection, Primary Education, Mathematics and Dialectic
5. Philosopher-Kings: Compelled to Rule
6. Conclusion
CHAPTER THREE: The Republic in Context
1. Introduction
2. Preparations for War
3. Operation: The Question of Navy and Implications of Allies
4. Amazons at Kallipolis: Plato’s Female Warriors
5. The Right Kind of Conflict: Limitations and Restrictions in Republic Book V
6. Conclusion

The Military Character of Plato’s Republic

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