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Plato's Paradox?

Guardians and Philosopher-Kings

Author(s): Christopher M. Duncan and Peter J. Steinberger
Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Dec., 1990), pp. 1317-1322
Published by: American Political Science Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1963266
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or centuriesscholarshave engagedin interpretingthe mean-
ing of Plato's Republic. In this exchange, Peter Steinbergerand ChristopherDuncan
debatethe role of guardiansand philosopher-kingsin the ancientcity. Thiscontroversy
is ignited by Steinberger'sessay on Platonic rulersin the December1989 issue of this

n his essay well with the foundationas given; but if

on "Ruling:Guardiansand Philosopher- the foundation itself is deficient, predic-
Kings"PeterSteinbergerattemptsto point tions basedon it can only be seen as coin-
out what he considersa serious paradox cidence or contrivance. In other words,
in the structureof Plato'sRepublic,name- while Ptolemy may have explainedrather
ly, the logical inconsistency inherent in well a universe in which the planets
the notion he ascribesto Plato that a ruler revolve aroundthe earth, he failed to ex-
must be both a philosopherand a guard- plain properlythe universe, in which the
ian. He argues-quite correctly-that the earth and the other planets revolve
two kinds of rulersare logically inconsis- aroundthe sun. While Steinbergerelabo-
tent, with the former concerned with rates quite well the problems with the
"makingor constructing"from the "avail- model he describes, it is not, in fact,
able raw materials"(p. 1207), while the Plato's model.
latter is concernedmore with techne, or While the Republic is obviously a
"crafting"solutions or means to achieve multifaceteddocument that can be read
an already structuredset of ends (see p. on may differentlevels, certainpartsof its
1213). The incongruencybetweenthe two structurecannot go overlooked or unac-
types of rulersleads Steinbergerto declare counted for without doing harm to its
that Plato'sclaimthat the "guardiansand meaning. The fundamentalprojectof the
philosophers are the same person" (see Republicis to define justice. All the dis-
Republic502d-503b)is a logical paradox cussionsof art, music, geometry,politics,
(p. 1223). In support Steinbergergoes to leadership,cities, food, and so on are but
greatlengthsto show that the philosopher constructs to facilitate this project. On
and the guardiancannot be the same per- this basis I would contend that one can
son, includingthe differencesin theiredu- view the whole of the Republicas revolv-
cation, character,and relationshipsto-the ing around three questions, namely, Can
necessitiesof the political world, specifi- justicebe found or createdin the world of
cally the issue of deceit. As a resultof this politics?If so, what does it look like and
paradoxhe concludesthat Plato'sview of how is it to be achieved?If not, what does
leadershipand rule is incoherentand the this tell us about the world of politics (if
addition of the philosopher-kingto the what we seek is justice)?Steinbergersim-
kallipolissuperfluous. ply asks the wrong questions.Ratherthan
The argumentmade by Steinbergeris takingPlato at his word and askingabout
interestingand well formulated-given its the relationship of philosophers and
foundation.Muchin his analysisis agree- guardiansto the world of justice,he asks
able in the same way that Ptolemy's about their relationshipto the world of
astronomyis agreeable:it comportsquite politics. By so doing, he createsa "reality"



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AmericanPolitical Science Review Vol. 84

to which his conclusions are applicable The concernfor luxurythatthe majority

but fails properly to address the reality of people share with Glauconinspires
suggestedby Plato himself. Socratesto explorewhat is called the
Plato'sfirst city (Republic,Book 2) is a "feverishcity."Only thenis it necessary
natural city based on the "spontaneous to introducepoliticsand its manifesta-
ordering of crafts" (p. 1209), which tions.Steinberger correctlynotesthat"at
becomesthe just city when "tasksare per- thecoreof theRepublic,then,is an effort
formedproperly"by "thosewhose talent to purge(in thought)thisfeverishcity of
and training is appropriate"(p. 1209). its excesses,to restructure it to approxi-
This city "is not somethingmade, not the matethehealthandorderliness of thefirst
produce of artifice, it simply comes into city"(p. 1210);yet he is wrongto say that
being" (p. 1210). This being the case, this means that "the virtue of the
though the craftsthemselvesare rational- kallipolis,likethatof thefirstcity, lies in
ly ordered, the. orderingitself is not the how well its parts fit togetherinto an
product of a craft (p. 1210); thus, "it organicwhole"(p. 1211).Thekallipolisis
seemsthat thereis no rulerin this city"(p. not "organic" at all in the way -thefirst
1210). Not only is thereno ruler,but there city was. Rather,the kallipolisneeds
is also no "ruling,law, or politicalauthor- political(readhuman)interventioneven
ity in the usual sense"(p. 1210). In other to approximate the.firstcity. Once Soc-
words, in Plato's first city there are no rateshasleftthediscussionof thefirstcity
manifestationsof politics at all-only the behind,he has left behindthe possibility
cohabitationof a specificgeographicarea of justicein at least the strongsenseof
by people engagedin mutualactivitiesof that whichis natural,spontaneous,and
production and exchange of their own self-ordering(read self-sufficient).In-
crafted goods. Politics, with its rulers, stead,whatwe haveoncethe shiftto the
laws, and authority, does not exist in luxuriouscity is made is an attemptto
Plato'sfirstcity; it is a communitybut not haveourproverbial cakeandeatit too. In
a political community. Socrates insists otherwords,Socratesoffershis readersa
that this first city is the "truecity" or the glimpseof the type of city wherejustice
"healthy city" (p. 1210). Steinberger mightflourish,namely,a simpleworldof
makeshis criticalmistakewhen he claims craftandexchangewhereeachpersonhas
that "thiscity is in some sense a modelfor enoughto sustainlifebutnot muchmore.
all cities" because it offers a model of InthisworldSocratesor anyotherphilos-
orderand harmonyand "providesits citi- ophercouldbe happyandleadthephilo-
zen with a life of peace, prosperity, and sophiclife unencumbered by eitherpolit-
happiness" (p. 1210). Rather, I would ical restrictionson what he mightthink
argue, it is a modeLfor cities without andsay or worldlyorpoliticaldutiessuch
politics. The kallipolis-the chief model as ruling.Butthisisn'tenoughforGlaucon
elaboratedin the Republic-is a modelfor or mostotherpeople.Theywantall this
quite a differenttype of city. andluxurytoo. The taskof Socratesfor
When Glaucon calls the city Socrates the rest of the dialoguethenbecomesto
has describedat first as a "city of pigs" createa communitywhereluxuriesand
and induceshim to speak on a more lux- thepoliticsthatrestraintheabusesof such
urious city, the readermust be carefulto thingsdo not preventthepractice. of phi-
note that doing so was not Socrates'idea. losophyor the discoveryof justice.The
Steinbergercorrectly notes that humans questionthatthenhauntsthe Republicis
multiplyytheir.desiresfar beyond what is whetherthis stateof affairsis possible
naturaland necessary"(p. 1210). But not hencethe questionof ruling.
so Socratesor the philosopherin general. Inthefirstcitythereareno rulers.-Each


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Plato's Paradox?

person rules himself or herself because wanting by Socrates. The guardianscan

politics and its manifestations (rulers, rule over the political approximationof
laws, and authority) are nonexistent. the just city but they cannot make it just.
Only when luxury and its excesses come The role of the philosopher-king,as we
to mark the city does politics in the form see in Book 7, is to destroy the kallipolis
of restructuringfor health and order by getting the people to "to despise the
become necessary. The artificial city, current honors" and by killing off all
which lacks the spontaneous order and those over the age of ten who desire (as
harmony of the first city, is the one that Glaucon desires)the self-contradictionof
needs politics, or ruling. Ruling, or what a community that is both luxurious and
Steinbergercalls "managerialroles," is just. Justice,the original goal, cannot be
"necessitatedby the fact-or persistent found in the politicalworld (thoughmany
threat-of disease or fever" (p. 1211). would like to believe it can.) Plato does
These roles can be filled by the guardians not "fail to revise the institutionalstruc-
ruling in a "craftlikesense," who might ture of the kallipolis" (p. 1222). He never
benefitby also being philosophersbut do authorizedits erection in the first place.
not necessarilyneed to be (p. 1212). Stein- He merely demonstratedwhy Glaucon's
berger argues that the model with the request was unreasonable,given the ob-
guardiansis completeeven before the in- ject of their search.
troduction of the philosopher-king(p. The best the politicalworld can offer is
1215), but herehis failureto keep the fun- order and harmony, but order and har-
damentalprojectof the Republicin mind mony are not. justice. Though still unde-
betrayshis analysis.The politicalmodelis fined at the- conclusion of the dialogue
in fact completewithout the philosopher- justicemust clearlybe something"natural
king, for the guardiansare able through and spontaneous," the product not of
techne to maintainorder in the city. But human artificebut of human contempla-
Socrates and his companions set out to tion and discovery. Justice is not .to be
find not a political model but the nature found in the politicalcity, which becomes
of justice; and for this the rule of the necessaryonly when humandesiresin the
guardiansis not sufficient. physical world exceed what is necessary
Steinbergeradmitsa role for the philos- for their existence. The city of Glaucon,
opher-kingin reformingexistingcities but or the kallipolis, representspeople'swish
aside from this arguesthat theirintroduc- to have all-theirdesiresmet and still have
tion into the kallipolisadds "littleto the justice. Socrateselaboratesall of the fea-
integrity of the model" (p. 1216). True, turesthat such a city will need to survive;
the philosopher-kingadds very little to and if most of those ratherharshand op-
the political model, or the kallipolis, pressive solutions seem undesirable,it is
because the guardiansare able to main- to make us see that the journeyfrom the
tain order or contain the fever by them- city of "necessity"to the city of "luxury"
selves. But the just city and the kallipolis isn't worth the trip. Only in the political
are not fundamental equivalents but world do men and women need guardians
rather two different kinds of communi- to protectthem from each other and from
ties-one artificialand one natural. The themselves; the rule of the philosopher-
justificationfor bringingthe philosopher- kings makes the apolitical city possible
king back into the kallipolisis to reintro- again. When they rule, there are no more
duce the original task of the dialogue, "guardians"in the political sense, for the
namely, finding justice. The political two have become one.
world, or the world of luxury suggested CHRISTOPHER M. DUNCAN
by Glaucon,has been exploredand found Wayne State University


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AmericanPolitical Science Review Vol. 84

corollarywith equanimity,since doing so

I am gratefulto ChristopherM. Dun- would have no serious consequencesfor
can for his effort to consider and assess the centralargumentof my essay.
my views on Plato. It is a pleasureto have Unfortunately, Duncan's formation
one's work taken seriously. Unfortunate- does not work even againstthe corollary
ly, I do not see that his comments have becauseit attributesviews to Plato that he
any force againstmy argument. cannot possibly have held. Duncan's
Indeed, it is not entirely clear in what argumentrests entirely on his distinction
sense his criticismsare criticismsat all, between justice models (the city of pigs
since he explicitly accepts my distinction and the city of philosopher-kings)and
between guardians and philosopher- politicalmodels(thekallipolis).Butthere
kings, my characterizationof the features is, in fact, no textual,conceptual,or theo-
of the city of pigs, my accountof this city reticalbasis for such a distinction;hence,
as the true or healthy city, my interpreta- the argumentderived from it cannot be
tion of Socrates'claimsconcerningluxury correct.
and unnaturaldesire, my descriptionof Firstof all, the notion of the politicalis
the centralaims of the Republic,my inter- used by Duncan in a highly non-Platonic
pretationof the necessity and purposeof manner, since for Plato the political
ruling in the kallipolis and the craftlike would presumablyreferto all things per-
quality of the guardians'rule, and my taining to the polis. Thus, for example,
contentionsthat Plato's "politicalmodel" the phrase apolitical city, which Duncan
is completedprior to the introductionof predicatesof his justicemodels, makesno
the concept of the philosopher-kingand Platonic sense.
that philosopher-kingsare not part of the Second, one might attributethis error
kallipolis. He thus concedesnearly all of simply to an imprecise use of language
the important claims that my essay and say that by apoliticalDuncanis really
makes. referringto the absenceof an explicitruler
His main argument seems to be that or group of rulers.Therecertainlyare no
whereasthe first city (the city of pigs) and rulers in the city of pigs. But Duncan
the third city (the city of philosopher- claims that this is also the case with the
kings) are fundamentallysimilarin being city of philosopher-kings,a most implaus-
nonpolitical embodimentsof justice, the ible claim. Whereasthe city of pigs arises
second city (the kallipolis), characterized and functions "naturallyand spontane-
by the presenceof rulers, is political and ously" (i.e., without human artifice or
not at all just. My error apparentlyis in rulers),this can hardlybe trueof the third
failing to see this, hencefailing to under- city. Philosopher-kingsare kings. They
stand that the kallipolis is a political do not gravitate spontaneously to the
model but not a-justicemodel. This argu- cave but are compelled to return there;
ment in no way confutes,but is fully con- once there, they presumably propagate
sistentwith, the centralcontentionof my laws and policies explicitlyand intention-
essay that there is a deep differencebe- ally designed to ensure that empirical
tween guardians and philosopher-kings. cities function as harmoniouslyas possi-
As far as I can tell, then, Duncan is criti- ble. There is no unseen hand here. The
cizing only one relativelyminor corollary city of philosopher-kingsis not a spon-
of this contention-namely, that there-is taneous, unplannedorganismlike the city
an internalcontradictionin the Republic. of pigs; it is indeedthe productof human
One can understandwhy such a claim artificeand rule, albeitguidedquitestrict-
would attract attention. But in fact, I ly by the dictatesof right reason.
would be perfectly willing to reject this Third, Duncan'sclaim that the kallipo-


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Plato's Paradox?

lis is in no sensea matterof justicedespite fact Plato wants only to exile them to the
the fact that it is well ordered and har- countryside. The latter may be a fate
moniousis equallyimplausible.He argues worse than death, but it's hardlythe same
thatjusticeremains"undefinedat the con- thing.
clusion of the dialogue."I do not know For all these reasons, I do not find that
how to reconcilethis with the famouspas- Duncan makes a plausible case even
sages in Book 4 (e.g., 427b-435a) where againstthe relativelyminorcorollarythat
Plato certainly seems to provide an ex- his commenttacitly addresses.This some-
plicit and powerful definition of justice. what surprisesme, for I had expectedhis
Justice is, indeed, a matter of correct criticism,along with commentsfrom var-
order and harmony, whether of the city ious other interlocutors,to be far more
or of the soul. To the extent that such telling. My purpose in writing the essay
orderand harmonyis characteristicof the was to providean accountof the Republic
kallipolis, it must be like the city of pigs that was both original and accurate.
and the city of philosopher-kingsin being Given the enormousamountof extraordi-
a representationof justice.The distinction nary philosophical talent that has been
between political city and just city thus devoted to interpretingPlato over many
has no textualbasis. centuries, I assumed at the outset that
It may be that Duncan'smisinterpreta- achievingsuch a goal would be highly un-
tion is rooted in a series of erroneous likely. As a purely probabilisticmatter,
readings,both of Plato and of my essay. any original account would almost cer-
He begins by citing a distinctionbetween tainly be wrong and any correctaccount
rulingas "makingor constructing"on the would almost certainly be unoriginal.
one hand and "craftingsolutions"on the This is still my view. I presumethat my
other. In fact, thereis no suchdistinction. essay must be either old hat or in error,
The distinctionI drewwas betweenruling and I am thus waiting only to learn in
as techne (which includes making and exactly what ways this is so. Duncan has
constructing,as well as crafting)and rul- not been helpful in this regard, and this
ing as philosophy.He discussesthe happy leaves me slightly-though only slightly
and unencumberedlife of philosophy in -less confident that my argument is
the city of pigs, whereas Plato's account somehow defective.
of that city in fact makes no mention of
philosophy. He accusesPlato of advocat- PETERJ. STEINBERGER
ing genocide-of wantingto murdermost
individualsover the age of ten-when in Reed College


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American Political Science Review Vol. 84

Forthcoming in March B. Honig. "Declarations of Indepen-

dence: Arendt and Derrida on the Prob-
The following articles, researchnotes, lem of Founding a Republic."
and controversies,have been tentatively Timothy Mitchell. "The Limits of the
scheduled for publication in the March State: Beyond Statist Approaches and
1991 issue: Their Critics."
Paul R. Abramson and Charles W. Ronald B. Rapoport and Alan I.
Ostrom. "Macropartisanship: An Empir- Abramowitz. "Do Endorsements Matter?
ical Reassessment."A researchnote. Group Influence in the 1984 Democratic
David P. Baron. "A SpatialBargaining Congress." A research note.
Theoryof GovernmentFormationin Par- John T. Scholz. "Cooperative Regula-
liamentarySystems." tory Enforcement and the Politics of Ad-
JamesW. Booth. "TheNew Household ministrative Effectiveness."
Economy." Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey. "The Best of
JeffreyCohen, Michael A. Frassa,and Both Worlds: Industry Concentration,
John Hammond. "The Impact of Presi- Export Sector Deconcentration, and the
dential Campaigningon MidtermSenate Emergence of Britain's Nineteenth-Cen-
Elections."A researchnote. tury Free Trade Lobby."
Lee Epsteinand C. K. Rowland, "De- Judith Shklar. "Redeeming American
bunking the Myth of InterestGroup In- Political Theory."
vincibility in the Courts." A research Richard C. Sinopoli and Nancy J.
note. Hirschmann. "Feminist and Liberal The-
JoshuaGoldsteinand JohnR. Freeman. ory." A controversy.
Reciprocity,or RelationalExpectations?"


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