"We are not the first who have aspired to rule; the world has ever held that the weaker must be kept down by the stronger. And we think that we are worthy of power; and there was a time when you thought so too; but now when you mean expediency you talk about justice. Did justice ever deter anyone from taking by force whatever he could? Men who indulge the natural ambition of empire deserve credit if they are in any degree more careful of justice than they need be. How moderate we are would speedily appear if others took our place.1"
The same philosophy of imperialism is ever more frankly expressed by the Athenian representatives in the dialogue with the Melians which Thucydides prefixed to his story of Athens’ aggression against Syracuse. It is also the philosophy of Thrasymachus in the first part of the Republic.
The Peloponnesian War was, to a greater extent than Thucydides seems to have realized, a struggle between the business interests of Athens and Corinth for commercial supremacy in the West: all wars, Plato remarked, are made for the sake of getting money.
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1Thucydides i. 76 (Jowett), written perhaps when Sparta had taken the place of Athens and set up a much worse tyranny over the subject cities. (xvi)
…Alcibiades, on the threshold of public life, is convinced that he will not be fit to advise his country until he has attained self-knowledge, or the knowledge of good and evil. (xviii-ix)
…rhetoric means the art of persuading a crowd that a certain course of action the right one to take, or a certain person has the right on his side. But where is the assurance that the persuasive orator knows what is right, what ends are worth achieving by public policy, or what are the means to individual happiness. Philosophy, to Socrates and Plato, meant precisely the pursuit of that wisdom which can assess the true value of all the things we desire. . . . unlimited power power without the knowledge of good and evil is at the best unenviable, and that the tyrant who uses it to exterminate his enemies and rivals is the most miserable of men…. (xx)
…to enter politics without sacrificing the ideals he had learnt from Socrates would be to court Socrates’ fate and to incur a useless martyrdom. . . . Plato defines the prudent man’s attitude towards his country. He should express his disapproval, unless he thins that no one will listen or it will cost him his life. He nut not use revolutionary violence; if that is the only expedient, he should refrain from action and pray for the best for both himself and for his country. (xxiii)
To Plato, this drifting apart of the meant of thought and the meant of action was a disastrous calamity, indeed the root of the social evils of his time. . . . Philosophy meant to him what it had meant to his master. . . . it was the pursuit of wisdom, and to achieve wisdom would be to achieve human perfection, well-being, happiness. This again meant not marly ‘caring for one’s own soul’ as an isolated individual, saving himself and leaving society to its fate. Human excellence, as Plato and Aristotle after him always maintained, is the excellence of an essentially social creature, a citizen. To produce this experience and consequent well-being is the true end of the ‘Royal Art’ of statesmanship. Hence the philosophy and the life of the active statesman ought not to be, as they appeared to Callicles, alternative careers, but a single life in which all the highest powers of man would find full expression. Society could only be saved by reuniting the two elements which had been drifting apart. (xxiv)
…the human race would never see the end of trouble until the true lovers of wisdom should come to hold political power, or the holders of political power should, by some divine appointment, become true lovers of wisdom. (xxv)
And when the outline of the perfect society has been traced, the doubt is confessed, whether the perfection of any human institutions can withstand the disintegrating touch of time. (xxviii)
To possess this good would be happiness; to know it would be wisdom; to seek the knowledge of it is what Plato means by philosophy. If it is true that this knowledge can be gained only by highly gifted natures after a long course of intellectual discipline and practical experience, then it is hard to deny the central paradox of the Republic, that the human race will never see the end of troubles until political power is entrusted to the lover of wisdom; who has learnt what makes life worth living and who will ‘despise all existing honor as mean and worthless, caring only for the right and the honors to be gained format that, and above all for justice as the one indispensable thing in whose service and maintenance he will reorganize his own state. (540 D, p. 262).
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It is Plato’s merit to have seen that this problem looms up, in every age, behind all the superficial arguments of political expediency. . . . for he never forgot the lesson of Socrates, that wisdom begins when a man finds out that he does not know what he thinks he knows. (xxix)