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The Ideal State: Plato’s Intention Is Not A Perfect Society






The Oasis Reporters




April 19, 2022

 

Drumming for perfection’. Photo Copyright: The Oasis Reporters.




When the ideal state is mentioned, the focus is usually on the ideal and less is focused on the state. The world ideal creates an image of a perfect situation.



And this is correct to the mind of a typical intellectual. Criticism of the notion of the ideal state often reflects this concern, solely with the word ideal, to such extents that it is refrained that an ideal state only exists in the mind of the idealist. Being an idealist in the sense of thinking that the perfect situation can be achieved is taken as the adventure of a proponent of an ideal state.




The history of political thought in fact runs with the undertone that the ideal state is one. That is, there is one ideal state, and it is the state that is ideal.




But should we pause for a moment, and stretch our focus a bit further into the word ‘state’ in the phrase ‘ideal state’, we may find that state has its cluster of meaning independently of any prefix, including ideal.




This must mean that for us to know what ideal state means we must first understand what state means.
If the state means beauty, then the ideal state must mean the perfect beauty.
If the state means a mermaid, then the ideal state must mean a perfect mermaid.




Does the state mean control?


The ideal state must refer to the perfect system of control.



But in all of these, there is nothing that signifies a perfect situation.




We may agree for a start that a perfect situation in the world of men is one in which everyone is free from the control of other men. This is the fantasy, or the pain of the philosophical anarchists, for they argue that the command of one man by another violates the natural autonomy of all men and is therefore not justified.



All states command and control, and as well punish people. To identify a state is not to identify buildings, offices and flags, but rather to see some people in authority using those things to command other people with the right of enforcement that can be followed with punishment.



The state therefore means forceful control. But not just that. It is a forceful control that is accepted as rightful, carried out with authority that cannot be challenged without attracting punishment. This is the basic element of the state and any type of state is just a mere variation in the form in which this control is structured and enacted. And insofar as state control involves power, what a state connotes is a system of relationship within a given society between a group that controls and a group that is controlled.



A theory of state is a theory that delineates which kind of people should have power and which should not, and therefore be subject.



What would an ideal state therefore be? It would refer to any form of perfect control of one person by another. (At the moment, let’s pretend we don’t have any idea that a perfect control of people is a form of evil.)



An ideal state therefore is in the class of an ideal beauty, in the sense that it means a perfect kind of a specific thing—but in so far as each specific thing has its own essence, doesn’t necessarily carry the same idyllic connotation of a perfect society as extant perception of Plato’s theory of Justice have being received.




The perfect state, depending on how we interpret the essence of the state, squares well with phrases such as the perfect sword (the perfect sword must cut well every way, so it cannot be made to have one gritty edge), the perfect hallucinogen and the ideal robbery. The perfect hallucinogen is surely not the one that fails at making someone hallucinate, neither is the ideal robbery the one that is busted.




Thus, the ideal state, contrary to what is believed, is not one that carries a moral burden.




Perhaps because Plato’s conception of the ideal state takes form within a theoretical concern with the subject of justice, and particularly as well because of the prominence of the notion of reality consisting of intelligible forms that are perfect and eternal as the ontology upon which the concept of the ideal state is built, Plato has worn a garb of a theorist committed to the possibility a society that is morally supreme, a perfect moral world.




Most criticisms of Plato reflect this misperception of a man who created and justified the most dastardly scheme for aristocratic control of people.




Nicholo Machiavelli probably had Plato in mind when he dismissed that some men had imagined republics that never existed, stressing that anyone who places his fortune on how men ought to live instead of how they live has set himself up for ruins, since the way men live is far removed from how they ought to live.



In no way is Plato’s theory of the state based on what people ought to do. The most important element in Plato is the pattern of hierarchy he set up for the purpose of social control. If this pattern doesn’t border an observer, he must have missed the main point of Plato’s theory. It is Karl Popper, in his Open Society and its Enemies that pays attention to the power structure plotted by Plato.



Whatever Popper’s concerns may be and his comments, it is clear that Plato doesn’t carry the vision of a moral society that most people who know about philosophy suppose.




And recent postmodernism, existentialism and deconstruction can only be right in the sense that Plato and the ancients attempted to create grand systems, but not in the misconstrued suspicion that those grand systems were entirely moral ones that are impracticable.



In this regard, the brute unmasking of deception and glorification of power by Nietzsche is only different from Plato’s devotion to control in Nietzsche’s insolence compared to a technical masking of a program of power in an elaborate ontology. This must show that the ancients were probably more intellectually equipped, for they knew how to hide oppression inside submission to moral discourse. There should be no doubt that the history of political thought is a history of control.




Written by Ayodeji Adesoye.

Philosopher and political theorist.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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