Application of the Critical Theory
"The Justice, Fascism, and the Republic"
by Walter Jensen
In this paper, I will conclude my study of Plato's account of Socrates' discourse on nature justice and society, known as the Republic. The paper will clear up the some of the general confusion and misconceptions surrounding the terms "fascism" and "justice." It will concentrate on Socrates' ideal society and its similarities to fascism. It will also show, using Socrates' own logic, why his society is unjust. Finally, it will focus on what modern humans can learn from this book.
In the beginning of the Republic, Socrates develops a discourse on the nature of justice. He builds an imaginary state, which he considers to be the ideal and perfect, to draw out an answer to what it is to be a just human being and why the life of a just human being is far superior to an unjust one. Problems start to arise in the reader's mind when the actions and practices of the state start to resemble those of Nazi Germany with its fascist policies. The word fascism conjures up all the atrocities of World War II: the SS guard, concentration camps, and the millions of human beings who died defending their country against Nazi Germany. But when the question is asked, "What is fascism?" many of us cannot fathom an answer. Worse yet, many of us cannot distinguish when our own elected officials are leaning towards nationalistic and fascist policies. According to unabridged dictionaries, fascism is any centralized autocratic national regime with severely nationalistic policies. The most common nationalistic policies include exercising regimentation of industry, commerce, and finance for nationalistic goals, rigid censorship, and forcible suppression of any and all opposition to the state. Nationalism always precedes fascism and is the essential component of fascism. Nationalism is defined as an attitude or beliefs characterized by exalting one's own nation above all others at the expense of all others nations, regardless of whether the actions of a state are just or not. This socio-political environment causes the individual to derive their self-worth from the actions of the state as a whole and/or from what the individual can contribute to the perpetuation of state. This socio-political environment also encourages the generation of the worst form of humanity, the authoritarian personality. This type of personality favors a blind submission to authority as opposed to the individual freedom to examine their actions before acting them out. The authoritarian personality is extremely hostile to those who question the policies of those who are in power. In short, the primary concern of the individual in a fascist state is the well being of the state, not an individual's well being or the well being of their family and friends.
With this understanding of fascism, let us clarify Socrates idea of justice and injustice before we contrast Socrates' state to a fascist one. According to Socrates, in book four, a human being is happy when the three elements of its mind (reason, desire, and spirited) do not hinder or interfere with the other elements of the mind and when reason maintains its dominance over desire and spirited elements. Socrates' use of the words "spirited" and "soul" are completely different from how fundamental Christians would use these terms. Socrates uses "spirited" in place of emotion and by no means whatsoever does he mean spirited in the manner of a religious sense. The same is true for the usage of the word "soul." For Socrates, the "soul" is made up of the three elements of the human mind. At this point, there is no reason to go into why the life of a just human being is far superior to the life of an unjust human being. Socrates completely covers this concept, in book nine of the Republic, with three very convincing arguments. He defines injustice as one element of the mind taking over when it is clearly the job of another element of the mind. Let us take, for example, the desire to steal. If the human being does not have the means to purchase the object of desire or they do not wish to spend their own money to purchase it, they will steal it even thought they know their actions are unjust. Theft occurs when a human being's desire overcomes their reason or desire is allowed to maintain control when reason should take over. Another example of an unjust human being is when their emotions get the better of them. If a person's hate overrides their reason, they can commit unjust acts; even the worst of all unjust acts, murder. Using this type of logic, Socrates states that his state acts justly when three classes of his state (the ruling class, military class, and the craftsmen) do not interfere with the function of each other.
Let us now compare Socrates' state with a fascist one. In Socrates' perfect society, he states that women are physically weaker than men are but there is no reason why women should not be treated as equals. He believes women should have the same education, abilities, and aptitudes as men but lighter physical duties. What is shocking is not the fact that over 2000 years ago some had the wisdom to state that men and women are created equal, but the underlying reason why he makes this statement is to end divided loyalties between the state and family. In book five under the chapter "Marriage and the Family," Socrates uses his razor sharp reasoning to justify that young people should not have the right to choose a mate. According to Socrates, the youth should only mate to produce the best possible children to force the society to generate superior citizens. He saw the conflict of divided loyalties between the state and the family was a grievous problem because it can undermine the efficiency of the state. According to Socrates, children should be brought up in nurseries to assure that no child will know his or her own mother, father, or siblings. A child of Socrates' state would see everyone their age as their brother or sister and everyone older than they are as their parents. To keep the young from rebelling against the state purpose of procreation, Socrates' proposes that the ruling class formulate a myth and arrange "marriage-festivals" to coincide with the myth. These festivals will make it appear that the youth have free choice with whom they have sexual relations for the sole purpose of procreation, even when they do not. With just a little analysis, many horrifying questions are brought to mind. Wouldn't Socrates' plan for the destruction of the institution of marriage, family, and child rearing be unjust to the individual by removing their freedom of choice? Would this not be a case where the ruling class allowed reason to completely suppress the other two elements of the mind from performing their proper function? Where is the individual's ability of self-expression or self-worth in this so-called just state? Does this not sound like Hitler's tall, blond, blue-eyed master race? If the purpose of Socrates' master plan is to end divided loyalties, wouldn't his solution consolidate the loyalty between the sexes, meaning loyalty of brotherhood and sisterhood against the state? In the beginning of the Republic, Cephalus states that "doing right consists simply and solely in truthfulness and returning anything we have borrowed" (Lee 8), but Socrates refutes this first definition of justice. Using determinate negation, Socrates keeps the idea that truthfulness as part of the idea of justice and negates the idea that returning anything one has borrowed as being an intricate part of the nature of justice. So why is Socrates perpetuating a lie to maintain order in his just society? This leads into our next comparison: Socrates' ideas about censorship and its comparison to fascism.
To Socrates, censorship is a necessary tool for the state to maintain order and stability in any just society. In the beginning of book three, Socrates discusses the first stage of educating the ruling class in his society. Socrates makes a statement about what type of fiction the ruling class should be told as a child:
If the ruling class is only told morally uplifting stories, how will they be able to differentiate between the actions that lead up to just and unjust acts? If you only teach a child what it is to be just but give them no examples of acting unjustly they will have a narrow understanding of justice and injustice. Furthermore, the child in question will never truly understand what it is to be unjust, the different types of injustice, and possibly what situations or environment causes people to be unjust, because they will only have examples of just actions in certain situations.
Earlier in this paper we showed that Socrates believes that telling the truth is an intricate component of a just society. Yet he invents the marriage myth and the "myth of the metals." The myth of the metals is used to keep the three classes (the ruling class, military class, and the craftsmen) from interfering or infringing on each other's function. These are prime examples of Socrates' censorship of the truth. If the truth behind the myth of metals is just there is no reason to hide this fact or any other fact about the inter-workings of any society. In Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels was the Minster of Propaganda and nicknamed by the Allies "the poison dwarf" for his vicious brainwashing of the German people. He is responsible for fooling the German people into believing that the Nazis were still winning the war after the war was already lost and setting the elaborate lies surrounding the segregation and extermination of the Jews, along with many others lies. Are not Goebbel's and Socrates' ideas about censorship similar in notion? Do they not both believe that the state should set up lies to hide the state's unjust actions? This leads one to think that Socrates and Goebbels believe that the average human being is incapable of running their own lives and if they did so, it would only lead to unhappiness, suffering, and misery.
Many things can be learned from the Republic. Just because this book is over two thousand years old does not mean it is irrelevant for our modern age. Not counting the subjects of justice, over-specialization, and fascism that have already been covered in this and the preceding two papers, there is still so much one can learn from the Republic. Take, for example, the idea of defining concepts negatively. Defining concepts negatively (saying what they are not instead of what they are) allows one to "zero in" upon what the concept is truly about. There is the "Allegory of the Cave," which is Socrates illustration of the four states of the mind, the two types of belief, and the two different types of knowledge. There is also Socrates' method on how to school future rulers for their profession. And after you read the Republic, you can never forget the science of logical argument know as dialectic which is the foundation of the speech acts throughout the entire book. Until our society reaches what a perfect state should be, the Republic can always be used to start the discourse on what a perfect state should encompass.
The Republic will always be a controversial book until our society evolves into a more just, rational, human, and reconciled society. It teaches many illuminating things, one of which is how to build a fascist state. Used properly, this book can be a testament how fascism can evolve out of any state. Regardless of the age, sex, social standing, or intelligence of the reader, the Republic will be able to teach them what it is to be just. The Republic is one of the many time honored classics, like the Art of War, the Prince, and so many others, that will continue teach, regardless of how old the book gets.
Walter Jensen is an undergraduate student at WMU. This paper submitted for academic review November 25, 1997.