A History of Western Thought: From Ancient Greece to the Twentieth Century

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  1. Periods of Western Philosophy
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His main interest lies in making clear how the basic ideas of the Politeia are anti-liberal and anti-democratic. He is a serious defender of virtues, but a fearful enemy of freedom, plurality and individuality. Political art is considered as an art based on true knowledge, and the true politician should be sharply differentiated from the amateur politician.

Periods of Western Philosophy

For Fite, the fundamental idea of the Politeia lies in the realization of true experts and their rule in society, which is eventually reduced to utilitarian efficiency. In the contemporary situation, Fite finds that the Soviet Union seems to follow this basic idea. He affirms that Lenin and Stalin belong among the great leaders of scientific rule. In fact Plato belongs among the peripheral, reactive political figures. In this way Fite has demoted Plato from a godlike status to a peripheral one.

Crossman begins by giving a clear description of the drastic change of our relation to Plato and his Politeia after WWI in the following way. Its whole conception seemed far-fetched and remote to a generation which assumed liberal ideas as self-evident truth of human nature.

Instead, he was elevated to a higher rank, and became a idealist, remote from practical life, dreaming of a transcendent City of God. Knowing what class-war and revolution mean, we can understand why Plato advocated dictatorship to prevent them. The new foundation was supplied by the philosophy of Socrates, for whom truth derives only from reason. By this new foundation, aristocracy was legitimized by an eternal and universal order. The philosopher king thesis was presented to make leaders more self-regulating, based on their own spiritual capability as well as on their knowledge.

According to Plato, every man can be happy under the dictatorship of the true aristocracy and the rule of the best, so Crossman says. His Academy can be seen as the headquarters of an open conspiracy to establish aristocratic dictatorship in Greek world, and the Politeia is no more than its Manifesto.

The commander-in-chief is Plato himself. Equality, freedom, and self-government are condemned as illusions. Plato claims that man should be more realistic, and be free from such illusions. The perfect state is not a democracy of rational equals, but an aristocracy of inequalities among men.

Crossman admits repeatedly that liberal ideas are losing their effectiveness, and a kind of spiritual revitalization is necessary. In this context, the battle of Plato has gained a real political meaning. Plato begins his visit with Great Britain. He is troubled by the different meaning of the concept of democracy, but soon he recognizes that British regime is in fact an aristocracy depending upon the natural submissiveness of the poor, and that good government is preferred to self-government there.

Plato consistently criticizes the attempt to introduce true democracy popular government in Great Britain because his experience of democracy was so terrible. Was Plato a communist?

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Crossman says no in various respects. He would say that the problem of economic justice is not the real problem, and control by the workers could not improve the situation very much. Insofar as socialism is a product of class warfare, it cannot overcome it.


Western Philosophy

The basic objective of the government is to change the heart of men, so that Plato would feel only disgust for the Communist glorification of material and technological advance. Plato would consider that the United States and Russia shared a common aim acquisitive instinct , in spite of difference of political system, a difference in method alone. Then Crossman discusses the similarity between Plato and Lenin. Both of them agree that philosophy and science should be mobilized to change social reality, and believe that such changes are feasible.

At the same time, neither is reluctant to use power ruthlessly in order to abolish vested interests. His praise of Stalin seems to be more impressive when we consider the series of great purges in s Russia. During his visit, Plato is supposed to write to Aristotle, because Aristotle would be helpful to classifying this regime. Then Plato happens to face the reality that he himself is mobilized in National Socialism, for a professor confesses in public that he studied Plato according to liberal prejudices, but has recently published a new book titled Platon und der Ursprung des Nationalsozialistischen Staatsgedankens for the consolidation of National Socialism.

The professor went on to say that Plato advised the revolution which Hitler achieved, and rejecting democratic Athens he praised Sparta in terms of its military training and its educational system. Eventually the audience expresses its dissatisfaction with this long speech, and he is ordered to leave the platform. It is characteristic that Plato has no sympathy with fascism. In any case, the report of the visits illustrates the impact of realist Plato very clearly. Crossman finally discusses the problem of the relationship between Plato and liberal democracy.

Plato starts out from the recognition of the irrational nature of the common man on the one hand, while on the other he designs the new regime presupposing the presence of exceptionally gifted statesmen. But Crossman stresses that this presupposition is extremely unrealistic and far from realities of human life. In fact, Plato overlooks the basic reality that politics is necessary because no extraordinarily gifted personality exists in this world. Plato, basing himself on wrong presuppositions, makes the highest demands of the rulers and requires absolute submission of the governed, who are to abdicate their own self-realization.

At the same time the basic problem of Platonic political thinking is that Plato cannot realize that the main issue is not replacing one dictatorship by another, but replacing dictatorship by a constitutional system and rule of law, because the ancient Greek situation was too dominated by harsh power battles to allow Plato to realize this basic change of perspective.

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In connection with this argument, Crossman criticizes the thesis of the philosopher king, in which absolute truth should be imposed upon the masses. The dictatorship by philosophers violates the nature of philosophical research, because human reason cannot reach infallible and absolute truth. Crossman recognizes it is time to review the democratic regime free from the prejudices of old liberal axioms and to consolidate its intellectual position anew in a turbulent situation.

This way of thinking, namely historicism, implies the historical inevitability of totalitarianism.

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So historicism is also a main target of his attack in this work. Yet it seems difficult to incorporate Plato into the category of historicism, which originates in 18th or 19th century.

Medieval Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Popper tries to solve this difficult problem by providing the interpretation that Plato did not write his Politeia as a design for the future, but simply tried to identify his ideal state in the beginning of the history. In other words, Plato was an absolute defender of the past and an antagonist of historical change itself.

The main aim of the ideal state was to prevent the danger both of change and of decay. This aim could be realized by a strongly unified ruling class, whose members are not only racially superior but also are educated and trained so thoroughly that they can remain as a unified group of warriors without being disturbed by internal conflict. Thus, the ideal state for Plato was Sparta, not Athens. In this sense the Politeia was originally intended as the recovery of the natural order, but Plato conceptualizes an organic community in which only a tiny number of elite can realize the nature of human beings.

This basic design should be contrasted with the principle of universalism and equalitarianism supported by Christianity and humanism, according to Popper. Giving a typical example, the translation of Politeia by Republic in the English speaking countries has helped to cultivate the image that Plato must be a liberal. He claims that the spell of Plato is one of the causes that help spread totalitarian mentality. His doctrine is part of a counter-revolutionary attempt against the egalitarianism, humanism and universalism realized in Athenian democracy.

The great spirit of Athenian democracy was embodied by Pericles as well as his mentor Socrates, while Plato continued to belong to the group of the Oligarchy. Plato in fact betrayed his mentor Socrates. For Popper, the Politeia is a political document for reform instigated by strong personal ambition and self-love.

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In fact, this kind of controversy was repeated many times in Western intellectual history. Friedrich Nietzsche, a symbol of the rejection of harmonious development, set the basic standard by mobilizing Plato against liberalism and democracy egalitarianism as the glorious achievement of the modern era. The clash between tradition and modernity is revealed. It can encourage a doubt about the universal authority of liberalism and democracy and an interest in the possibility of a new revolutionary regime.

The 19th century was characterized as the century of liberalism, but in reality its liberalism consisted of various heterogeneous intellectual trends. At the beginning of the 20th century its status quo position was challenged in different aspects and its crisis intensified very rapidly. The decline of economic liberalism definitely accelerated its crisis. The criticisms of Plato I refer to here reflect the crisis of liberalism in the first part of the 20th century.

In other words, liberalism is forced to reconsider its real standpoint and to change. The impeachment of Plato is seen as a symbol of the self-purification of liberalism. One of the interesting responses claims that totalitarianism is a product of the modern philosophy revolting against the tradition of classical philosophy as represented by Plato. Here, the assessment of Plato is totally different from that of Popper and his followers. This kind of argument seeks to impeach the moderns from the viewpoint of traditional philosophy, and both individualism and democracy are seen as problematic in the face of tradition.

This formulation contributes to weakening the absolute confrontation between totalitarianism and liberalism. Plato is indirectly separated from modern affairs as the representative of the philosophical tradition. Positivism in the first part of the 20th century tended to pursue the basic goal of materializing the results of scientific research by mobilizing political power.

In fact the dissolution of traditional society and the growth of mass society brought about a number of social issues to be solved by the growing power of the state and by its planning. In this sense it is not difficult to identify some common ground with communism as well as fascism. The concept of social engineering was also very popular in the midth century.

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  5. The controversy over science and its role can therefore imply some kind of criticism of Plato. As is well known, labor is an activity intended to make our biological reproduction possible.

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    Action is considered as a network both of language and of display of the freedom and of individuality plural human beings. According to Arendt, politics belongs to action originating from voluntariness and trust, mostly far removed from violence.