The Republic: Theme Analysis
The theme of The Republic is very complicated in some ways, yet it comes together perfectly to formulate Plato's attitudes about society and government. The title of the discourse, The Republic, is ironic in itself, since Plato is adamantly opposed to democracy on any level. Indeed he doesn't trust man's animal instincts because he thinks they ruin society and lead to anarchy. Only philosophers can serve as just kings because only this select group of people have knowledge of the Forms, a vague, otherworldly kind of absolute truth.
Much like Huxley's Brave New World, Plato's ideal city gives total control to the government. This government, envisioned by philosopher kings and directed by their assistants, enforces a strict set of moral standards aimed at teaching virtue and goodness to the common people.
Yet the ruling class doesn't live the life of luxury. Indeed many would consider it a very dull life. Private property is curtailed severely, and possessing riches is strictly forbidden. Plato takes these pains to ensure that the philosophers don't grow corrupt from amassing great quantities of wealth. Money, to Plato, is a concession to the base appetites of soul, which must be controlled.
The other parts of the soul include the spirit, or devotion to honor, and the rational side, devoted to reason and logic. The rulers, or guardians of the people, are best able to find a balance between these competing interests, and thus are suppose to lead and educate the others.
Plato argues that living justly is far superior to living unjustly because justice breeds happiness. The soul is happy because all three parts of it are moderated, doing their own jobs but no more. This is Plato's idealistic vision of the city in general. Each class of people has specific tasks to complete in order for the community to find the greatest amount of good. Everyone lives for everyone else; class bias and pursuit of riches are not issues.
Many critics of Plato, including his best student Aristotle, cite Plato's ideal city as something unattainable by humans. Plato's lack of practicality often serves to discredit his ideas, yet his beliefs have had great influence on world philosophy. Many of Plato's ideas would be resurrected in the nineteenth century with Karl Marx.