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The doctrine of ‘the consent of the governed in Plato

Osler, Thomas G. (1978) The doctrine of ‘the consent of the governed in Plato. Masters thesis, Durham University.



In Ploto today, R.H Crossman conclude that Plat would have abjured the three major forms of government on which the Greek philosopher was invited to comment during his imaginary tour of the twentieth century. Plato was seen to reject Anglo-American democracy, soviet communism, and European fascism. He rejected these ideals for on basic reason; they all assumed that happiness and social well-being were attained by all men in material security and political equality. A “dictatorship of the best which displaced political equality by benevolent paternalism was more in keeping with Plato’s own ideal. Crossman implied that Plato’s model for social well-being was more akin to the English squirearchy of the eighteenth centry, or, indeed, to feudal models than to anything we know in present history. Plato’s ‘squirearchy’, of course, would not be a landed gentry. It would be an aristocracy, - but an aristocracy of the mind. But –we hear Crossman wondering –are we then forbidden from identifying Plato’s model with anything we know from our own past? While it is true that Pluto’s idealism forces us to place his model outside actual history, it is also true that he little supposed that his ideal aristocracy could emerge from any social class but the old Athenian ‘gentry’ whose political influence had been eroded away by the rise of democratic life and the instability that marked it. Crossman thus observed an element in Plato’s thinking that would be root and branch of K.R Popper’s indictment: Plato’s unwonted distrust of the ordinary man. But what Crossman saw as a romantic pessimism akin to the worst fears of W.B Yeats, Popper saw as a high flown cynicism, hateful to fellow feeling and detestable to all moral goodness. Crossman wrote on the eve of the storm that was to break in Europe in the late 1930’s. Popper, driven by racial mania from his own land, wrote at the height of the storm’s violence. In The Open Society and its enemies, Popper saw Plato as the avowed enemy of the moral sanction and trust that must underlie a responsible and free society. He saw Plato as one who sacrificed individual dignity to a groundless theory of ‘natural kinds’. In so doing, Popper believed, Plato was setting up a wholly unverifiable theory of historical destiny –a theory that was not only unverifiable but morally repugnant as well. Popper’s critique was incisive, topical, and passionate. What Crossman had seen as an out-moded paternalism which was insufficient to the needs either of Plato’s time or of our own, Popper conceded as the ferocious megalomania born of a small man’s distrust and selfish conceit. In their different ways, both authors believed that Plato had wholly misunderstood the piety and the profound bravery of Socrates, a man whom both regarded as a martyr to moral conscience. In the deepest sense possible, Socrates was indeed both martyr prejudice to shame. For Crossman he was an inevitable figure, a hero who will always be with us. For Popper he was a stalwart and unflinching man whose very goodness was disgracefully converted by Plato to the vilest of ends. This thesis does not intend either to dispose of or to prove the well considered beliefs beliefs of either Crossman or Popper, two of this century’s most incisive critics of Plato. My object in presenting this theses is more humble. I intend only to consider the growth and the Socratic provenance of Plato's doctrine of political consent. Plato's doctrine of the consent of the governed will be seen to grow from an ideal of personal commitment to moral obligation to an ideal of the perfected state. I believe that we find in Socrates' notion of consent every element basic to the choice a free man makes in obeying laws. But the Socratic teaching would, with whatever result, inspire Plato toward a theory of political idealism which exalts the free man, in imagined historical time, above his fellows. This thesis will have accomplished its purpose if we can trace out Plato's metamorphosis of Socrates from citizen to ruler, while giving due attention at the same time to the theory of political consent which accompanied the change we mention here. While no subject In the Platonic corpus receives more attention than the humanity or the Inhumanity of Plato's politics, I know of no sustained attempts to describe the growth and development of his doctrine of political consent. That doctrine must be basic to all judgements of value we choose to pass upon its author.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Letters
Thesis Date:1978
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:24

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