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Role of The Classes in The Republic: The Guardian Class

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In Socrates’ unnamed thought-experiment of a city, as described by Plato, none of the social classes hold as much intrigue as that of the guardians. Appointed by Socrates as either militaristic defenders or leaders upon birthing, depending on which sub-sect the individual guardian belongs, they nevertheless enjoy less freedom and material satisfaction than those that they protect. However, the implication is that Socrates believes justness is at least partially derived from servitude and personal denial of conventional comfort- although the forced nature of both raises serious questions about the genuine veracity of the just nature of the guardians.

The most notable facet of the guardian establishment put forth by Socrates is their Smurfian, proto-Communistic social structure. The strict limitations and mandates put upon the guardians are also the most apparent structural anomaly, at least when viewed through the lens of our own culture and society. Socrates’ first assertion is that no guardian “should possess any private property, except as necessary.” By denying the guardian class their natural right to property, Socrates is likely forcing them to derive satisfaction from an apparently viable source of internal self-satisfaction that in turn derives its “power” from the knowledge that the city is protected. Denial of property also depersonalizes the individual guardians, which in turn defuses or dampens any potential uprisings. For, without any material possessions, their primary loyalty cannot waver from the state, and protection of private property is superseded by protection of the stately status quo, for the former is all but non-existent. And, since property rights can truly be considered the cornerstone of human rights themselves, Socrates not only denies them private property, he also dehumanizes them into a faceless mass designated to watch over the city. Thus, the argument can be made that through the denial of property, Socrates has made each individual guardian an expendable entity whose only purpose is to preserve the sanctity of the state, and propagation to achieve the same ends.

As a natural extension of denying private property to the guardians, Socrates then mandates that no individual will be able to have “a dwelling or storehouse into which all who may please may not enter.” This is, of course, a further reinforcement of Socrates’ proto-Communistic social structure designed specifically for the guardians. However, with this new clarification on the exact amount of private property that it is permissible for the guardians to consider “theirs ,” Socrates also cements the concept that the guardians are to be true servants of the state, to the point where they must sacrifice the basic human rights that they themselves are protecting, albeit the protection of the rights of the commoners rather than themselves. This is likely Socrates’ idea of the ideal and ultimate politician- one who sacrifices himself for the state and all citizens therein. It can only be assumed, therefore, that Socrates would be disappointed in our current state of affairs vis-à-vis the comparative levels of comfort our politicians, or modern-day guardians, enjoy over the citizens, or commoners (in keeping with the ideal city/current American society comparison). Although this does only account for the leadership sub-sect of guardians, as the individuals in the military could arguably be considered more in line with Socrates’ code for guardianship.

One of Socrates’ final mandates could also be considered the most esoteric, as well as being the most difficult to accept. It is also a multi-faceted plan, although it revolves around the propagation of the guardian class. In a complex and thoroughly detailed plan rife with Freudian implications, Socrates establishes that not only are women to be considered equal to men, but that all wives and children are to “be common” to all other guardians.

The concept put forth by Socrates, that men and women are able to perform the duties required of the guardians with equal efficiency and efficacy, was unsurprisingly found to be most controversial by those whom he was addressing at the time . However, rather than immediately objecting to the feminine equality on grounds of physical or mental ability, Socrates’ philosophical compatriots take issue mainly with the implication that the women, being equal, will subsequently be permitted (or, rather, required) to exercise naked with the men, as was apparently the custom at the time (Plato 86). The detractors continue with this line of reasoning, specifying that it is not necessarily nude exercise that they take issue with, but rather with observing the nude exercise of women of “an advanced age” (Plato 86). Socrates, to his credit, quickly dismisses this as a frivolous and superficial argument, and says that “the women of our guardians must strip for their exercises, inasmuch as they will put on virtue instead of robes.” The objections continue, and are mainly concerned with more-conventional claims against male/female equality, but these are also artfully dismissed by Socrates.

As a follow-up, Socrates then proposes that all wives and children be held “in common” to the entire guardian community. The most logistically difficult facet of this plan is the common-wives aspect, and Socrates thus proposes that marriages shall not be determined by the individuals involved, rather, it is in the best interest of the city that “the best of both sexes be brought together as often as possible.” To this end, Socrates establishes that “certain festivals” will be held, in which predetermined couplings of the “best” guardians will occur, so as to ensure purity and excellence in the guardian class, with the less-excellent of the guardians being otherwise forbidden from sexual interaction . While the opinions of these ceremonies held by those around Socrates were mainly concerned with matters of logistics, it is easy, viewing the proposal through a lens of modernity, to see how Socrates’ concept of the coupling of excellence only could be used to endorse a eugenical-type program through which “undesirables” are slowly eliminated from the gene pool via the process of predetermined intercourse.

One of Socrates’ final commandments regarding the living arrangements of the guardian class is that children, born from the couplings held during the festivals, shall be considered children of the entire community, with no children knowing the identity of their parents, and vice-versa (Plato 92). This draws a curious parallel to modernity, specifically Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book It Takes a Village, in which the former-First Lady proposes a more metaphorical version of holding all children in common, which certainly raises questions about what other living arrangements “enjoyed” by the guardians Mrs. Clinton might espouse. Almost disturbingly, however, Socrates is very precise in the logistical process of holding children in common, from allowing that “imperfect children” will be hidden in a “mysterious and unknown hiding-place” to forcing mothers to attend to children that are not their own when “their breasts are full.”

The main role of the guardians in Socrates’ thought-experiment of an ideal city is to be true servants of the state, living under a pre-Communism Communistic society, bereft of the same rights and comforts they are protecting. It can only be assumed that, through careful indoctrination from birth, the guardian-class will derive pleasure from protection of the city, and this will be the near-sole source of satisfaction for the guardians. Thus, Socrates establishes a near-perfect army of massed, deindividualized stately servants, who live only to protect the mother-city and ensure her survival. To this end, the numerous proposals put forth by Socrates regarding the living arrangements of the guardians work well, though the ramifications of denying individuals basic human rights, such as the right to private property, are staggering. While current society may look upon these living arrangements as a noble sacrifice for the good of all, it must be remembered that denial of human rights is the ultimate crime, and vigilance must be maintained if America itself is to defend against the tyrannical state so benignly proposed by Socrates as a means of achieving justice.

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The Role of the Guardian Class in The Republic. (2018, April 20). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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