by the Editor, May, 2008
Book V of The Republic concerns what is now perhaps the most important problem of world civilisation the regulation of the human population of a predominantly urban State in which the majority of the people are artificially divorced from the natural controls which prevail in an unmechanised rural environment. The problem was only beginning to become apparent in the Greek city states to which Socrates and company belonged. Since their time, the problem has grown to such proportions that few people seem able to appreciate it as one whole and, by attempting to deal with it as a multiplicity of disconnected "problem areas", politicians succeed only in making it more intractable.
One of the current symptoms of disjointed politics is the plethora of "commissions of enquiry" and "focus groups" set up to consider particular "problem areas" and to pontificate about them without sufficient reference to the wider context. In forming such a group, some attempt is usually made to select individual members who will together be made to appear reasonably representative of the section of population most closely concerned with the area in question. In reading The Republic we must bear in mind that Plato's informal group consisted entirely of members of a leisured all-male elite who had time to spare for philosophical discourse and would naturally consider themselves suitable candidates for rulership. If we can bring ourselves to think of these seven men as a "focus group" whose terms of reference are to consider the question of "how they will bring children into the world, and rear them when they have arrived and, in general, what is the nature of this community of women and children", we must be sceptical about its competence to pronounce upon such matters even under the guidance of such a distinguished and respected figure as Socrates. Socrates himself is more than usually diffident in his approach to this particular subject, but one somehow doubts if he would welcome the addition to the group of two or three women.
We should recall that in the course of discussion, "ordinary" citizens of the model State have by and large been left to organise their own affairs as best they may. The women and children considered in this chapter are those of the prospective "guardian" class. When Socrates talks of "arriving at a right conclusion about the possession and use of women and children", he intimates that in the Athens of his time, women were considered to be mere chattels. This does not accord well with traditional British values, and the recent influx into the United Kingdom of a large number of immigrants whose views in this respect seem not dissimilar to those of Socrates is a major cause of discomfort with multiculturalism.
I doubt if many present-day citizens of the United Kingdom would feel comfortable with extending utilitarianism to the point of treating women and children as common property and regulating human sexual intercourse in much the same way as does the owner of a pedigree herd of cattle. Most people seem to have a deep-seated conviction that blood is thicker than water; and even with the aid of artificial insemination, the political fiction of common bodily fatherhood would be difficult to sustain in these days of DNA databases. Even if a large proportion of the population could be persuaded to acknowledge the supremacy of the soul over the body, we should not forget that women and children have souls just as men do.
A persistent problem in British culture has been reluctance to "come clean" about the power of sex in human life.
Only women can bear children. On woman depends the continuity of the race. One man can father a multitude of children, but the woman who gives birth to twenty children in a lifetime is a rare exception. Therefore women are fundamentally far more precious than men with respect to survival of the species. Recognition of this basic fact has long contributed to a culture of chivalric protection of women and respectful politeness in social interaction at all levels of British society.
Sexual polarity expresses itself in various physical and psychological ways. Men tend to be physically stronger and more athletic than women. At the same time, they tend to be more aggressive and competitive. This makes them better fitted than women to undertake heavy manual work, to hunt, and to kill whether for food or for defence of kith and kin against marauders. Women not only bear children, but are naturally equipped to feed them in infancy and to nurture them in the early years of childhood, thus making women the natural educators of the very young of both sexes. In a state of Nature, these differences make women the rulers of hearth and home and men the providers and protectors against invaders. It has been said that "men hunt their prey; women set traps".
Urbanisation and mechanisation have eroded the powers of Nature to an extent which is not yet sufficiently appreciated. Nearly all forms of what would formerly have been heavy manual work can now be undertaken equally well by women with the aid of machines, whereas there has been no corresponding development to augment the diminished relative importance of men. Women, who in former times had to exercise their power through influencing their children by precept and example and their husbands by the gentle art of "pillow talk", are now able to compete with men on nearly equal terms outside the home. Men who used to get their satisfactions from physical strength, courage in the face of danger, shrewdness in the market, and eloquence in debate suffer a drastic reduction in self-esteem when translated to an urbane culture in which there is no longer a distinctive rôle for them.
Erosion of traditional rôles has introduced new stresses both at work and at home. In urban environments, the sexes mingle freely and in large numbers in factories, offices, and public amenities. The invention of sophisticated contraceptive devices has allowed new scope for mutual attraction to hasten towards in-depth exploration of passing fancies. These factors have coarsened relations between the sexes, relegated what used to be a sacred act of procreation to a mere thrill to be enjoyed and forgotten, threatened the mutual confidence that ought to exist between husband and wife, and, in general, tended to loosen family ties. The results include a pathetic incidence of teenage pregnancies, proliferation of sexually-transmitted diseases, and a tragically high divorce rate. It is difficult to discern in the current British scene any elite that can justifiably claim to be immune from this cultural malaise.
By focussing "child welfare" benefits on the mother, whether "married" or "single", the Welfare State has inadvertently made pregnancy socially acceptable regardless of circumstances. This has undermined the rôle of father-provider, further demoralised young men and, in effect, accidentally promoted the utilitarian Socratic idea that women and children are to be held in common. Could this have contributed to the commonly reported increase in the incidence of rape?
A word should also be said about feminine advocacy of "equal pay for equal work". Superficially fair and reasonable, such a policy is ultimately counter-productive because it militates against business start-ups and small firms, the owners of which know perfectly well that young women are liable to become mothers and that, when they do, their loyalty to their employers takes a quantum leap for the worse. The opposite consideration applies in the case of the responsible young father, whose new duty of care for wife and family increases his dependence on his employer. That is why women must in general expect to continue to be paid less than their male colleagues unless they opt out of child-bearing.
In In Search of the Miraculous, P D Ouspensky quotes G I Gurdjieff:
" sex plays a tremendous role in maintaining the mechanicalness of life. Everything that people do is connected with 'sex': politics, religion, art, the theatre, music, is all 'sex'. Do you think people go to the theatre or to church to pray or to see some new play? That is only for the sake of appearances. The principal thing, in the theatre as well as in church, is that there will be a lot of women or a lot of men. This is the centre of gravity of all gatherings. What do you think brings people to cafes, to restaurants, to various fętes? One thing only sex: it is the principal motive force of all mechanicalness. All sleep, all hypnosis, depends upon it.
" Whatever they [people] may be speaking about, they ask: Ought it to be like that and how can it be changed that is, what ought to be done in such a case? As though it were possible to change anything, as though it were possible to do anything. You at least ought to have realised by now how naďve such questions are. Cosmic forces have created this state of affairs and cosmic forces control this state of affairs. And you ask: Can it be left like that or should it be changed! God Himself could change nothing."
For politicians to seek to exercise control over the sexual proclivities of their citizens is to lay themselves open to ridicule. Although a few politicians may successfully harness sexual attraction to their advantage in an election campaign, no government can hope to control the power of sex in the population at large. As mechanicalness is the best friend of the status quo ante, any government should hesitate before tinkering with the prevailing sexual-social climate lest it inadvertently stimulate a significant number of less quiescent citizens into a rebellion which the mechanical majority might be persuaded to join. In such a context, the two pans in the scale of justice are usually labelled "love" and "money". All governments should therefore keep taxes as low as possible if they want to keep love and sex on their side. And in particular, governments should refrain from financial interference with the begetting and rearing of children, because such interference merely deprives the individuals concerned of their single most important opportunity to learn to be totally responsible for their own actions. [See, e.g., Sexual Relations. Ed.].
I have already said that mothers are the natural educators of young children of both sexes. This early informal education, which takes place in and around the home, lays the foundation for the later development of the child. I hold the unfashionable view that formal education should not begin until the child is seven years old and I am tending to the view that even then, it should be voluntary and not compulsory. Educational facilities now available through the Internet and public service broadcasting make the "home school" in the care of a conscientious stay-at-home parent both better equipped and far less costly than the average state school.
In urban Britain today, it seems that mothers cannot get rid of their children quickly enough. If their parents (or parent) can afford it (with or without help from the anonymous tax-payer), babes of two or three years of age are farmed out to "nursery schools" so that mother can "get out to work" and earn money if only to pay for the nursery school and the taxes the school itself has to pay. This kind of unmotherly behaviour is actively promoted by governments anxious to get mothers "back to work" so that they can brag about the number of jobs they have "created". Much crocodile concern is expressed about "child poverty" which is invariably taken to mean lack of money, and thus enables a government to present itself as 'compassionate' when it merely forces the anonymous tax-payer to pay for personal and political profligacy. Little thought is given to the plight of the child who is deprived of the constant loving care of a parent at a crucial stage in his or her development. Is there no psychological link between early parental neglect and subsequent antisocial behaviour in adolescence?
If the State is to provide formal "preparatory" education, it should in my view be limited to the seven years from seven to fourteen. It should be based on acknowledging the presence in human beings of a soul, which is what determines whether a person is nice or nasty, trustworthy or unreliable, industrious or lazy in general, virtuous or vicious. The curriculum should, as in the Platonic Republic, be directed towards the education of the soul and the inculcation of respect for the soul in all human beings, regardless of bodily appearance and social circumstances. Spoken language should receive at least as much attention as literacy. The mechanics of arithmetic should treated as an introduction to the metaphysical world of number and proportion. The arts, especially music, should feature prominently. Games and dance should be used as vehicles for inculcation of ideas of fair play and courteous behaviour as well as for promoting physical fitness. No particular faith or religion should feature in education funded by general taxation. I doubt whether any reference to "potted" history is beneficial at this stage, but the salient features of physical and political geography should be taught. I see no reason why boys and girls who live at home should be segregated into separate schools or classes.
I have said nothing about examinations because I don't think there should be any. Schools should be inspected, but the pupils within them should be left to concentrate on learning. The purpose of education is to help children get to know themselves and find their own interests, not to be moulded to fit other people's hopes and expectations. By the age of fourteen, adolescent bodies are sufficiently developed to undertake light physical work and adolescent minds should be ready to start exploring the world for themselves, seeking promising opportunities for a satisfying adult career untrammelled by a sheaf of irrelevant certificates. The most significant developments in a person's life take place not at school, or even at university, but after he or she begins to develop independently. That is when adolescents should be set free to look into the opportunities available to them; it is also the best time to give potential employers an opportunity of appreciating their characters and potential and helping them to acquire relevant practical skills. The non-academic student should have little difficulty in obtaining manual work, learning to become good at it, and earning money from it instead of passing idle time in antisocial behaviour or outright crime.
Once the student-apprentice has settled on a career, has begun to earn money, and has an identifiable place in society, there will be no lack of opportunity to acquire the further knowledge and skills required to make a success of it. The Internet and the Open University make access to higher education cheaper and easier than it has ever been in the long history of humanity. All that is required to take advantage of it is personal initiative, commitment, sustained effort, and cessation of gratuitous governmental interference.
I see no case for State interference in general education after the age of fourteen. No entrepreneurial society thrives on totalitarianism, and it is in employers' own interests to provide whatever training may be needed to enhance productivity. However, there will still be a need for a small minority of the population to become guardians of the State much as Plato envisaged and the State should devise policies for their selection and training.
During the final year of preparatory school, pupils should be invited to consider whether or not they fancy a career as a guardian in the armed services, the police, or in civil administration whether local or national and volunteers should be called for. I am confident that the distribution of temperaments among the population at large would ensure an abundance of volunteers for training under Socratic conditions of service (appropriately modified to suit prevailing circumstances), whereby the State provides accommodation and salary adequate to meet the necessities of work and life in exchange for faithful service in which any detected malfeasance is punishable by dismissal and disgrace.
The first two years of such training should be devoted to honing physical fitness and developing the sort of thinking involved in successful military and administrative endeavour. There should also be ample opportunity to compare and contrast the different attractions of the various guardian careers on offer. Trainee performance at this stage should be closely monitored with a view to early elimination of the unfit in mind, body, or character, and to accustom the individual to the tests and trials that should determine personal progress throughout his or her career as a guardian.
At age sixteen or thereabouts, the survivors should be allocated to specialist training on the basis of personal preference, demonstrated ability, and national requirements. The individual should then pursue a specialist career in accordance with prescribed conditions of service until termination by circumstance or retirement.
At appropriate stages in their military careers, members of the armed services retiring from active service should be able apply for transfer to other branches of guardianship if they did not wish to enter the non-governmental world which provides all the amenities on which both guardians and politicians ultimately depend.
Although the State should ideally aim to avoid armed conflict altogether, the need for defensive warfare can never be discounted. Therefore special conditions should, in my view, apply to women in the armed services. Motherhood should automatically necessitate either retirement or extended "maternity leave" until the youngest child reaches the age of seven. I am also very strongly of the opinion that women should be withheld from the "front line" in a fire fight, where they would almost inevitably constitute a psychological distraction from the prime duty of vigilance in the face of the enemy. I cannot but compare my own experience of life in warships with television pictures showing teddy bears in a mess deck in a British warship at the beginning of the second attack on Iraq. On the other hand, I was deeply impressed by the work of members of the then Women's Royal Naval Service in meteorological, communications, and other vital support rôles ashore. As for the men, I have no doubt that most of them would prefer to have one wife and their children safely accommodated in "married quarters" ashore than have to share any number of women and children with any number of other men.
As the residents of various war-torn parts of the world know only too well, there is no longer any need to make special arrangements to familiarise children with warfare. The advent of aerial bombing, long-range rocketry, and numerous variations on the theme of terrorism have already thrust the grim realities of war upon civilians, and nobody anywhere can be guaranteed immunity. In any case, television and the Internet bring sufficient acquaintance with war into the as yet peaceful neighbourhood.
In so-called "representative democracies" such as the United Kingdom, the chief activity of politicians who wish to be elected to office as "representatives" of the people is the cultivation of what is known as "public opinion". Since the unaided individual can have little influence over the multifarious and ephemeral opinions current among the public at large at any given time, various political Parties were formed over four or five centuries to constitute foci for groups of people whose principal and most strongly-held prejudices could be codified into a narrow spectrum of political policies. By uniting behind a few carefully drafted slogans, amplified by the media and canvassed by party members on doorsteps at election time, parties whose members constitute only a small proportion of an electorate can sway the votes of many times their number. Thus the ideal "Socratic" candidate, who has no personal ambition but has to be reluctantly persuaded to rule, has no place in British political life, and the field is left open for the ambitious demagogue whose first step on the road to fame and fortune is to join a political party and become prominent in its ranks, letting party dogma over-rule personal integrity.
Political activity is characterized by effusive statements of Utopian party policy combined with obsessive obfuscation of practical detail. News media endlessly conduct "opinion polls" which purport to measure the current relative popularity of competing political parties. Party politicians think of themselves as "leaders of public opinion" and they accordingly frame their policies in warm-sounding words which they hope will sway public opinion in their favour. But, as is made very clear in Chapter V of The Republic, opinion is all too often the result of "sad disorder in the wits", and is but a poor substitute for knowledge.
A kind of schizophrenia is becoming apparent in British political life. Public disillusion with party politics is reflected in dwindling party membership, shrinkage in party funding, and low turnouts at polling stations. Party moguls, reluctant to loosen their grip on the reins of political power, simultaneously propose that political parties should be funded by the tax-payer, that voting should be made compulsory, and that wider use should be made of postal and electronic voting to save the electorate the trouble of attending a polling station.
It is to be hoped that the long-suffering tax-payer will see through the pretence that far from being assets to democracy, political parties are more like engines of oppression, and that if they cannot live within the means provided by the subscriptions of their members, they should be allowed to die. Compulsory voting should be recognised as more akin to tyrannical terrorism than to freedom-fighting. Anything other than attendance at the polling station further erodes the sense of personal responsibility that should be the hallmark of every franchised citizen; it also spells the end of secrecy at the ballot box. [See Reflections on Elections]. Electoral chicanery as in Zimbabwe should encourage us in the United Kingdom to seek to bolster our sickly democracy with institutions which apply the hard lessons we should already have learnt during our long parliamentary history.
The public is clearly right to be disillusioned with anything that falls short of the only kind of democracy that means anything: local democracy by election of known and trusted councillors backed up at popular request by referenda on matters of constitutional or significant local importance.
Even in-depth knowledge of any significant topic of local or national concern is no guarantee of good government unless it is part of a coherent practical philosophy of human life in the world which is what Socrates calls "the whole of wisdom". This implies recognition of the need to deal with every human problem in co-operation with the Laws of Nature. That is what Plato means by wisdom, and why he asserts that only a philosopher, i.e. a "lover of the vision of truth", is fit to be a ruler.
As the number of genuine philosophers on Earth at any given time is likely to be very small, we can hardly expect that our particular nation will be favoured with one to rule over us during our own lifetime. We must therefore endeavour to do the best we can with what we are likely to get. The first thing we must do is abandon our blind faith in any form of democracy which ultimately depends on nothing more enduring than "public opinion".
Careful nurture and education of a guardian class should go a long way towards providing a stable core of political "wisdom" to save us from being jostled by one foolish opinion after another. It is, however, unlikely to be enough by itself unless we can develop a system which makes government dependent not solely on ballot boxes but also on considerations of a more durable nature. The holy cow of "representative democracy" must therefore be put under critical scrutiny. As Dean Inge (1860-1954) put it: "Democracy is only an experiment in government, and it has the obvious disadvantage of merely counting votes instead of weighing them." Reinforcement of a "higher order" is needed to provide long-term political stability in a town of any size, let alone in a State of cities with "multicultural" populations.
I can think of no "higher order" than the Universal Laws of Nature manifested in human psychology and in the physical and biological sciences. A predilection for non-sectarian study and unprejudiced application of lessons learnt must therefore feature prominently in the character of the trustworthy guardian. Hence all candidates for guardianship or permanent employment in any form of governmental administration should be required to survive a searching practical course spread over a period of not less than seven years under the auspices of a State Guardian School. They should serve on the understanding that if they find their conditions of service uncongenial, their only honourable course is resignation and return to the ranks of the "common" people. "Witholding of labour" or "industrial action", both euphemisms for "going on strike", should be universally regarded as contrary to the law of Nature that says: "if you don't work, you don't eat".
I must obviously vote, or refrain from voting, on the basis of personal philosophical conviction; and I respect the absolute right of every other voter to do the same. I resent any form of tyranny, whether local, national, or regional. I accordingly do not wish to be represented in government by any individual who does not share these convictions.
As will be clear to the reader of these pages, I am no fan of the policies of any of the mainstream British political parties, and I shall therefore not vote for any candidate who, by representing such a party, is automatically disqualified from representing me. Only the United Kingdom Independence Party represents my conviction that the United Kingdom should be self-governing, so I may vote for a candidate representing the UKIP if I "like the cut of his (or her) jib".
In any case, I shall so long as I am able personally attend the polling station at every electoral opportunity and use the ballot paper provided in any way I think fit. The secret ballot is the sole virtue of our sort of democracy; its discarding merely to inflate a "low turnout" should be taken as an indictment of the unworthiness of the current crop of politicians and an indication that we are slipping down the steep slope to pseudo-democratic dictatorship.