by the Editor, February, 2008
This essay was inspired by Book II of Plato's Republic, in which Socrates and company continue the search for clarification of the meaning and practical significance of Justice. Having failed in Book I to give a satisfactory account of Justice vis-ŕ-vis the individual, the company proceeds to construct a model state from first principles in the hope that enlarging the scale of the study might bring matters of justice and injustice into clearer focus.
The underlying concern is that the cause of justice in the state is unlikely to be sustained by rulers who are not themselves just, but only contrive to appear so.
In Plato's time, the Greek states were "city" states, i.e., regions controlled exclusively by a city such as Athens or Sparta. Such states were small enough to be comprehensible by their more intelligent and wide-awake citizens. This fact made it a relatively simple matter to build an imaginary model state from the "bottom upwards" and to include all the essential attributes of a "good" state.
The principal attributes of the "good" state are that it should be able to satisfy the natural needs of its citizens and defend itself and its supply routes against assault from neighbouring states or other marauders. Free citizens should be relied upon to organise themselves into the various specialisations required to supply each other's needs in a cost-effective manner through a market economy. This would include the provision of nurture and medical services appropriate to local requirements as revealed by market demand. The sole task of rulers and "guardians" should be to preserve or extend the boundaries of the state as necessary to satisfy the aspirations of its citizens whilst preserving their natural freedoms.
Two-and-a-half millennia later, Plato's "bottom-up" approach is much more difficult to apply. The entire surface of Planet Earth has in effect become one State whose boundaries can no longer be expanded without hitherto impractical advances in space travel. World population is exploding beyond human control. The smallest "state" is now too populous to be understood by many of its citizens. Even the most wide-awake and intelligent members of the "global public" quickly lose their intellectual way amid the overwhelming complexity of globalisation and the ever-increasing sophistication of citizens whose demands greatly exceed both their natural needs and the ability of Mother Nature to satisfy them. Competition between states becomes increasingly ferocious as their ever-burgeoning populations clash at state boundaries. In some respects, this produces political pressures tending towards national amalgamation as in the European Union in the hope of averting outright world war; in other respects it produces local fragmentation as tribal, cultural and religious differences inhibit political cohesion.
The larger and more sophisticated the state, the less comprehensible it becomes. Citizens artificially far removed from the fundamental actualities of Nature become wildly unrealistic in their expectations. Building more roads, airports, houses, and factories simultaneously reduces the area of food-producing land, makes large areas more susceptible to flooding, and ultimately tends towards famine. The more sophisticated the arrangements required for supplying the complex demands of too many people, the more vulnerable the infrastructure becomes and the less "joined-up" the state's government tends to be. We, the people, tend to be irritated beyond measure when the fragile network of wires, tubes and electromagnetic radiations on which we rely for "essential" services like electricity, telephone, water, sewerage and entertainment, develops some fault and we find ourselves "cut off" from "civilisation", utterly dependent on some specialist agency to come to our rescue. The state then becomes prone to disruption from within by its own disaffected citizens.
We seldom feel so helpless as we do when we find ourselves stuck in a traffic jam, the extent and causes of which are beyond our ken. Last month, after I had driven my wife for an early-morning check-up at the local hospital, I decided to call at a supermarket normally a twenty-minute walk from my home and bought four pints of milk. My return journey home took thirty-five minutes because it happened to coincide with the morning "rush-hour" in which people tend to go to work. I was later told that there had been some kind of hold-up on the motorway skirting the town and all the town-centre roads were clogged with virtually stationary vehicles. I paid Ł1.34 for the milk. The cost of petrol wasted in my return journey at an average speed of about two miles an hour was probably three or four times as much. Multiply this by the thousands of cars and drivers that were similarly affected in High Wycombe that morning, add the millions that were probably in a similar plight elsewhere in the world, and you begin to form some idea of rate at which fossil fuels are being uselessly burned.
The heat-releasing traffic-jams we see in our own countries make it quite easy for the more imaginative among us to link human fuel-burning wastefulness to the pictures of melting polar icecaps we see on our televisions. Politicians have suddenly become aware of global warming: but all they seem able to do about it is mouth meaningless mantras about "carbon dioxide emissions", decry the evil of leaving our televisions on standby, and urge us to replace our cheap light bulbs with more expensive ones which use slightly less electricity. They stop well short of telling us to stop heating our houses in favour of maintaining body temperature by the much cheaper expedient of wearing sufficient appropriate clothing.
The ever-increasing demand for more, and more luxurious, housing for an ever-growing population raises the cost of accommodation to a level far beyond the reach of the after-tax income of the Voiceless Put-Upon. This tempts the poor into unsustainable debt. It causes unwise lending institutions (such as Northern Rock) to founder. The prudent minority of citizens of the state become anxious for the security of their savings. This chain of tendencies cannot but give rise to a deep-seated, if inarticulate, sense of injustice.
The more the state monopolises essentially personal services such as education and the healing of the sick, the more individual initiative and sense of personal responsibility are stifled by a culture of dependency on governmental bureaucracy. The bureaucracy in its turn depends on compulsory taxation of wage slaves, thus destroying the individual freedom and personal responsibility the Socratic State was intended to nourish.
I do not dispute that over-rapid consumption of fossil fuels is probably a significant contributor to global warming. But it should be obvious to everybody who thinks about it that the only policy which offers any hope of countering this trend before the oil runs out and the Earth's population is drastically reduced by cold, starvation, disease and warfare, is the immediate abandonment of all policies which promote population growth.
It is now becoming abundantly clear that the growth of the human population of Planet Earth is beginning to exceed the capacity of Mother Nature to supply the market. This is reflected in the accelerating increase in what we all have to pay for such staple necessities as food and shelter. Politicians nevertheless refuse to face the stark fact that global population reduction is the only policy that stands any chance of averting the collapse of what we know as "civilisation" and a return to the fundamental actuality of the Stone Age.
It should also be obvious that the "representative democracy" practised in the United Kingdom is incapable of reducing the population of the country to acceptable levels because it would mean reversal of the policies which support what too many citizens now mistakenly assume to be their inalienable rights.
Such imaginary "rights" are blatantly unjust. Justice would recognise that whilst all human beings may be equal in the theoretical "sight of God", they are far from equal for the purposes of the state. The health of the state depends primarily on the healthy energetic bodies of well-disciplined young people. Justice demands that such people should not be taxed to subsidise the irresponsible life-styles of too many of their contemporaries. They should be free to look after their children, their ageing parents, their relatives and their friends as they think fit without also being compelled by taxation to prolong the uneconomic lives of people of whose existence they know nothing.
Any government which relies on the votes of self-obsessed individuals can never be expected to face up to pursuing the stoical policies required to reduce the population of the state to a level that might be sustainable in a land already ravaged by too much consumption by too many people.
It also seems improbable that the existing system of government can be changed sufficiently quickly to avert national tragedy. The future of the United Kingdom, if it has a future, will therefore depend on a tiny minority of "Latter-day Noahs" who will immediately start taking the initiatives necessary to preserve a future for themselves, their children, and their carefully chosen collaborators in what now seems certain to become a wasteland. If the trends I see in my country can also be discerned in yours, please do what you can to prepare yourself for a tough, but exciting, future.