by the Editor, March, 2008
Book III is the longest, and perhaps the most important, Book in the Republic. It concerns the nurture and education of an elite the relatively small minority who may in future years be considered fit to be entrusted with the government of the state. In a "good" state, the government should be gentle to the citizens of the state but dangerous to its enemies including the "enemies within" whose conduct is detrimental to its well-being. People worthy of being entrusted with government should therefore be brought up to behave like wise, courageous, athletic, faithful, selfless guard dogs.
Having read this chapter, we may reasonably reflect that the political philosophy of the Socratic state would in some respects be more akin to present-day Chinese communism than to what currently passes for "democracy" in the United Kingdom.
The following are the main heads of agreement arrived at during the discussion:
Socrates' advocacy of censorship of the arts may well raise the hackles of Western "liberals" who fail to distinguish freedom from licentiousness. Unconstrained freedom is not found in nature. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Until men and women have become responsible, they are not fit to be more "free" than any other dangerous animal. The undoubted fact that unruly youths now pose a serious threat to persons and property in the streets of our towns and carelessly litter our open spaces implies that we are failing to provide many of our children with adequate nurture and admonition. Teaching young people to become responsible is difficult enough without simultaneously sabotaging the educational effort by giving them unlimited access to soul poisons.
Absolutists may also be uneasy about Socrates' defence of what we call the "white lie"; but the limitations he puts on its use must be noted. Many white lies are usefully employed for example, as analogies or parables in both physics and metaphysics to help us attain some mental comfort with topics which are beyond our observation or ordinary understanding. These are very different from the "lies in words" which are intended only to deceive us.
Much in this chapter should stimulate deep and wide discussion among parents and educators of the young. In Socrates' time few people could read, so the theatre was the principal medium of expression for poet, playwright, and musician. The plethora of media now available for disseminating all kinds of live and graphic representations of human propensities for good or ill should give us pause. The liminal and subliminal effects of artistic productions and video games deserve to be extensively studied in an attempt to determine whether and how personal liberty can be preserved without anarchic degeneration to sub-bestial immorality on the one hand or recourse to illiberal dictatorship on the other. Universal acceptance of the conclusions that the body is subordinate to the soul and that the purpose of gymnastics is to make the body a better servant of the soul may be a necessary condition for the preservation of any form of civilisation.
At the present time, the United Kingdom displays all the symptoms by which Socrates identifies a diseased state. Instead of trying to overcome fear of death, politicians of all parties actually take advantage of it to the extent of exercising political control over a fear-inducing education system and a so-called "health service" whose chief results are prolongation of disease towards what Socrates calls a "lingering death".
Subliminal exploitation of the fear of death enables the self-selected demagogues who front political parties to exercise dictatorial powers over a population too dispirited to resist the outrageous taxation required to fatten politicians' vanity and fund their grandiose policies. Insidious penetration of local electorates by party dogmas emasculates local democracy. This has the strange effect of isolating local councillors from the national consultative process and leaving local residents to the mercy of a central government which neither understands nor cares about anything but the taxes citizens everywhere are forced to pay. The ingrained habit of voting only for the representatives of one or another long-established political party must be broken: personally known and trusted local persons with no definitive party allegiance or party financial support must be elected in their stead before a genuine element of government by the people can be established. I am given to understand that something akin to democracy is now more easily discernible at local level in one-party China than it is in the United Kingdom, where local electorates could achieve a similar result by refusing to vote for any individual who sails under a party flag of convenience.
At a time when it is becoming obvious that there are already too many human beings on Earth to be accommodated without discomfort, prolongation of bodily disease by the costly purchase of "lingering death" merely adds to the crippling burden on the economically active proportion of the population. It bears particularly heavily upon the young adults I have called the Voiceless Put-upon. As I have suggested elsewhere, a catastrophic solution to the global population problem is probably inevitable unless we can mend our own ways in time. But the problem daily becomes more pressing and time is passing. If the United Kingdom is not to be near the head of the queue for bearing the brunt of the effects of whatever hardships a catastrophic solution may entail, hard-headed policies must be implemented without delay. This will require government to desist from opposing the operation of Natural Law.
We should begin to overcome fear of death by trying to gain a better understanding of Life. Life (with a capital L) is immanent throughout the Universe. We may reasonably think of the Universe as the creation of a Living God. It therefore makes no sense to talk of "saving lives" unless the lives in question are restored to economic viability. No individual "life" is ever saved in the sense of conferring everlasting life on a body. Socrates' "lingering death" recognises that the most a doctor can do is defer the final death of a body. There can be no guarantee that such deferment serves any purpose useful to God or man. Living beings are only individual manifestations of the Principle of Life, a Principle which can never be destroyed. When an individual body "gives up the ghost", it is only part of a natural process for re-cycling the constituents of a complex machine which has outlived its usefulness and should be treated as being "beyond economical repair".
Living bodies are not meant to have "spare parts". The human body is designed by Nature to be a self-repairing miracle; if it were not, surgical operations could never be successful. When a human body becomes incapable of serving the purposes of the human soul, Nature should be allowed to take its course and set the soul at liberty to continue its adventures in new conditions. That is part of the meaning of personal freedom, and it is why I strenuously oppose "harvesting" parts of dead human bodies merely for the glorification of professional purveyors of cannibalism by proxy. Nature does a far better job by itself.
The explosive proliferation of human bodies must shortly be reversed if over-crowding is not to force Mother Nature to conduct a drastic cull beyond mediation by politicians. Populations increase over any period of time in which the number of live births exceeds the number of deaths. Hence all governments everywhere should pursue a policy of limiting the number of live births in their jurisdictions and, simultaneously, refrain from doing anything to increase what is mistakenly called "life expectancy".
United Kingdom politicians pride themselves on "taking a lead" in world affairs. Here is a chance for them to take a lead by national example instead of lecturing other sovereign states about matters which should not concern them. Population reduction necessitates that in any given period of time, the number of individual "deaths" shall exceed the number of "live births" by a margin large enough to be significant ideally within the average life span of current members of the Voiceless Put-Upon.
The current population of the UK is about 60 millions. There are about 650,000 live births in a year. A regime such as the British, which currently espouses government by targets, might start by aiming at a two-to-one ratio of deaths to live births for a period of at least twenty years. This would have the effect of reducing the native population by about 13 millions to under 50 millions. Such a policy would produce economic benefits by increasing the proportion of active contributors to the welfare of the country. It would reduce pressures on housing, transport, and other public amenities whilst making the state less dependent on imports of food, raw materials, energy and luxuries.
Although human sexual proclivity is difficult to legislate for, something could be done by way of abolishing "family allowances", discontinuing medical treatment of infertility, and adopting other expedients to make people more keenly aware that sexual discipline is an essential safeguard of mental, moral and bodily health to say nothing of the long-term prosperity of the state. Painful prolongation of "life expectancy" for the no-longer-viable could be reduced by taking the politics out of healing, phasing out "old age pensions", and discontinuing "welfare benefits" thus tending to "thin out" citizens who for whatever reason prove unfit to look after themselves and each other. Such policies would also discourage net immigration and alleviate the ill-effects of "multiculturalism".
I appreciate that such thoughts will seem outrageous to many of my British contemporaries who have been weaned on a culture of state handouts and bureaucratic interference in their most intimate affairs. I wonder whether it ever occurs to them that a likely alternative to rigorous self-discipline by states and responsible self-control by persons may be nuclear war with all its trimmings. I would feel happier about British possession of an "independent" nuclear deterrent if it did not make my beloved country a prime target for early elimination should some megalomaniac be let loose somewhere in the world. It would also help if jumped-up British politicians confined their attention and speeches to matters of importance to their own electorates instead of berating other sovereign states as if they were colonies of a long-gone Victorian Empire.
The sentimental notion of "Human Rights" takes no cognisance of the supremacy of the animating principle we call the soul, and therefore gets in the way of devising and implementing genuinely "humane" policies. The only "Human Rights" of any significance are those sanctioned and sustained by Natural Law. If the citizens of any state are dissatisfied with their living conditions or their governments, it is up to them to take action to alleviate their own plight, defying death when necessary. That is how freedom has been won in the past and how it must continue to be preserved in the future. But we may be certain that as long as people are afraid of death, there will be no shortage of terrorists of one sort or another to take advantage of them.
The body is but a mechanism: only the directing soul can be "alive" and "free" in any meaningful sense. In defence of freedom, we may sometimes have to sacrifice the body. As the phenomena of the "brave soldier" and the "suicide bomber" make abundantly clear, the determined opposition of a small minority of people ready to sacrifice their bodies for the sake of their souls will in time force the worst government to mend its ways. Only a sufficient number of free, healthy, realistic souls offers any hope of preserving civilisation amid diseased conditions of mankind's own making.