From Ancient Greece until today, philosophers Plato and Aristotle still remain relevant to society. With their concepts of aiming for equality, division of functions in the society, good governance and good citizenship, and separation of powers, both of them have left a mark on the leaders, leading them to adapt some of their teachings and apply it to their respective states. These Greek philosophers’ renown in knowledge and thought have not only spread throughout their city-state, but across the world, too.
Plato was born in 427 B.C. and died at the age of 81 in 348. He was a student and close companion of Socrates, who, in his time, stood out with his inquiring method. Due to the elders’ influence, his writings were mostly centered on justice and society and he often uses Socrates as the main character or speaker. For both of them, philosophy is following the wisdom of evaluating the true value of things.
Plato’s main philosophy, on one hand, was the Idea of Forms and dualism; the belief that the soul and the body are two distinct entities.
Aristotle, on the other hand, is somewhere between monism and dualism. He rejects the idea of the body and soul as separate entities but his theory of the existence of the soul leans him back on dualism .
In Politics, his train of thought is wide-ranging, often moving to the opponent’s side of the argument and returning to his own, which actually became the trademark in his writings. Aristotle was a student of Plato in the Academy in Athens, leaving the school when the latter died. He then became a tutor to Alexander the Great and soon after, established his own school, the Lyceum.
In The Republic, Plato talked about prohibiting ownership of private properties for the leaders of the state. He compared the parts of a state and that of a man’s soul where the guardians, warriors, and producers are the equivalent of rational, spiritual, and appetitive parts respectively. He argues that each man has one dominant part of the soul according to their role in society. And if a guardian, dominance of rationality, is to obtain properties, it might agitate their recessive part of the soul – the appetitive – and end up being greedy with wealth that will result to the guardian being a bad leader. Worse, the leader may become a tyrant.
Same is true with the other types of citizens and their respective dominant part of their souls. Plato insists on having a communal property throughout the state as minimizes, or even dissolves, the whole possibility of having conflicts among citizens of the state. Emergence of such things may result to the disturbance of his just society.
Another concept emerged from his Allegory of the Metal. This theory tackles the different kinds of citizens, only sticking to what form of service they can offer with the skills they were born with. The ones born with bronze being the producers, silver as the warriors, and gold as the guardians.
A downfall perhaps of these theory is that no matter how much you improve or want to engage in advanced businesses or political aspects of the society, if you’re a part of the lower level, chances are, you will be stuck in that part of the society. Producers can only move in the social ladder horizontally, switching specialties with the same level – a fisherman can be a farmer, but he cannot be a warrior or a ruler.
While the ones born with silver can move up the social ladder and be rulers. Warriors may be promoted to auxiliaries and from this rank, the potential guardians are picked.
Although born with these certain metals, their offspring can bear another kind that is not of the parent. A bronze can bear silver or gold, same with the higher ones, who can bear offspring with lower rank than theirs. Even if one may seem inferior to the others, they are all equally important in their state and the society. The state won’t be able to operate on its peak condition if one part is missing.
In modern times, Plato’s idea of communal property has been brought to light with the emergence of a similar ideology called “communism.” Communism, as defined in the dictionary, is the abolition of private property and common ownership of goods. The theory commenced into economic and political studies with Marx, Engels, and Lenin’s ideas. Plato had nothing to do with nor was using this ideology during his time, as none of the men behind the political ideology were born yet. But they do have share the same belief and philosophy – communal ownership.
Communism is often attributed to Karl Marx as it was during his time that this ideology came into light. He wrote the famous book The Communist Manifesto during his stay in Brussels for his group “Communist League.” In this book, he talks about the class struggles, the Communists of his time, its definition and their objectives. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) had communism as its official ideology until the union was dissolved. To this date, there are only five communist states left, namely: China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, and Laos.
In China, Mao Tse-Tung, heavily influenced by Stalin, wrote On Practice and On Contradiction, which put him on the list of five communist classics. He was the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader from 1927 until his death. It was established in 1921, but China only became a communist state in 1949 as they faced many interruptions within and outside the country. Chiang Kai-Shek and the nationalist movement were among the biggest difficulties that faced the party. During the Sino-Japanese War, they agreed to have a “united front” and in exchange, be admitted in the national government. And seeing an opportunity to expand, the communists accepted the offer. With the struggles postwar, with problems and interference of the Soviet Union, they seized power in mainland China.
Vietnam’s form of communism, in turn, is a combination of the teachings and beliefs of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. It formally commenced on June 1925 when Ho Chi Minh instituted the Revolutionary League of Young Vietnamese. He attended the founding congress of the French Communist Party in 1920 and was a professional revolutionary during the inter-war period, spending his time in the Soviet Union and China. With the Geneva agreement in 1954, communism in North Vietnam was firmly established and resulted to a large number of citizens fleeing to the South to get away from the regime. In the same agreement, an election attempting to reunite both sides of Vietnam was supposed to be held in 1956 but soon after crumbled because of the communist rule making it meaningless along with the refusal of the opposing sides. In 1957, the Second Indochina War took place. It was a complicated and violent war due to the hostile regimes in both parts of the country, made complicated by the assassination of the leader of the South, Premier Diem. Although still far away from their goal, it was considered a success on the communists’ front.
Although vocal in his anti-communist sentiments, Fidel Castro’s Cuba has received aid from the Soviet Union. With the downfall of the latter state, communism was given another meaning. Cuba decided to follow Marx, with its leader Guevara interpreting the emergence of “New Man,” taking care of the people’s innovative capacities for the common good. At the present time, changing their constitution is in the works and there are plans of dropping communism, keeping it only as a guide for their one-party system.
After World War II, Japan backed out of Korea, leaving Soviet Union in charge of the North while United States with the South, attempting to avoid making long-term decisions for them. Due to differing governments, the states in charge agreed to temporary divide the country on the 38th parallel but the separation became more severe with Kim Il Sung organizing a communist government in the North.
Given the above, Plato’s principle seemed to be the framework of this modern day communism. The concept of communal good, again, though not directly connected to communism, aim to give what is good for all and abolish any kind of inequality as a reason for misunderstandings. Most of these communist states have adapted the ideology after undergoing wars, often using it as a resolution to postwar problems and conflicts. It was also used to alter social statuses and their current social order. After all the communists’ methods of social alteration often include land collectivization – distributing properties of the higher classes to the lower.
Plato’s Allegory of the Metal is relevant in today’s society as it can be compared with the concept of specialization within the working class. To achieve or be able to accomplish something big, say building of an MRT line or anything similar, you don’t only need an engineer, you would also need a medic around, construction workers, and other essential workers and laborers. One wouldn’t be able to finish a project without the help of others.
Like the theory, specialization also has its negative consequence. In the higher education, one is required to pick a major program to take. And the institutions, attempting to make a good product out of the student, may focus only on the major courses and fail to integrate other minor courses that may also add to the knowledge of the student. Too much knowledge on one subject and lack on others isn’t really a good thing.
The relation between different types of works and ideas is important in the society. Specializing on a certain field is enough, but it won’t be enough to carry off an idea or work.
With Plato’s concepts being more focused on the welfare of the citizens, Aristotle’s concepts are more focused on how the ruler should address his subjects and ensure their well-being, as well as prohibiting one on abusing their power.
Aristotle, in Politics, has shared different concepts in governance. He talked about the functions of government, emphasizing that a good government is where a ruler considers the collective interest and strictly conforms to the principle of justice as opposed to a perverted government, one where the ruler does what is based on his own desires and principles.
Further, Aristotle touched on the definition and functions of a citizen. His definition of a citizen, although somewhat vague and too specific, is one who engages in political office. There being different types of government, there are also different types of citizens. Still, according to him, one who shares in the honor of the state is considered the highest form citizen.
As a citizen, one must abide by the principles of his community and as there are different types and forms of community, they uphold different virtues. That being said, to be a good citizen does not necessarily equate to being a man with a perfect virtue.
The last concept is the distribution of the functions of the three elements of state – namely, deliberative, judicial, and executive – which was also discussed in Politics. Deliberative, the supreme element of the state, is in charge of war and peace, laws, and alliances, and is usually occupied by an assembly, or an alternation between people in a democracy.
The tenure in office, members and their appointment, the number of offices, are usually deliberated in the executive. This element focuses on the consideration of some matters, as well as the judging and commanding – with emphasis on commanding.
Finally, the judicial part. Like in the executive, the number of law-courts, members, and mode of appointment are given attention as well in this discussion from Aristotle.
A state with a good ruler, who puts first the interest of his own subjects, is one of the most important and relevant principles from then until today. In one research, a study was made on the average happiness and state of government being correlated with each other.
In his research about the relation of the quality of government and average happiness of the citizens, Ott concluded that both are, indeed, connected. With a responsible leader and quality leadership, citizens can be assured of their welfare.
At the same time, while being led by a good ruler, a citizen must also prove his loyalty to, and adhere with, the policies of the state he is living in and fulfill the duties he was given. While it is inevitable that the emergence of complaints and questions happen in matters of governance, it can be minimized if citizens try more involvement in the political sector – although limitations should always be observed. Public engagement and participation, especially with the current democratic countries and their principles, is something that is specifically encouraged. Citizen engagement in political processes may help with the improvement of laws and policies implemented and even those yet to be implemented.
This brings out to a sort of dualism, where the state does not rely only in form but also in substance. Where leaders and subjects need to attain an ideal form together to make the state be successful. Even in present times, and now more than ever, we see governments toppled with subjects empowering themselves taking on the duty of checking, and tipping, the balance of power. This begs the question, why leaders even bother going astray from the principles set by these philosophers on ideal leadership?
Public engagement in political discourse should be a welcome noise in governance. However, while that is an ideal, time and again dissent that emerges from political discourse is shot down. And with the current tides in public discourse, the state – leaders and subjects together – should also discern when noise is simply manufactured or when it is a valid response of the masses. One need only see the emergence of social media in relation to this.
The last concept from Aristotle is the separation of powers. It is one of the most important constitutional principles – with the need for the three branches to be autonomous from each other. It is essential to practice checks and balances and avoid the abuse of power by a branch or even by the state leader.
Just like any institution, the independence of these branches of government rely heavily on the willingness of its leader to uphold truth, fairness, justice, and remain a creature of integrity and wisdom. At the very core of this is to deny one of having the concentration of power to rest solely on one person or branch.
History shows us that when one or even two of these branches is co-opted by the other, the tipping of the scale is not only for the imagery of power, but also on the symbolism of justice. Where power rises for a person, injustice rises as well.
As it is a constitutional function, the separation of powers is important as it directly affects the rights of the citizen. Thus, they need to ensure that these rights remain unhampered.
In summary, communal property introduced by Plato in The Republic, aims to abolish private property to prevent the guardian’s greed to come into the picture. Present day Communism, although reinvented throughout the modern times, consider into their principle the idea of land collectivization to distribute the properties of the rich to the poor.
Plato also introduced the Allegory of the Metal, it talks about the specific roles bestowed upon the citizens from birth with the use of certain metals. It coincides with the concept of specializations, where a person is given a strong suit on one subject. Both lack the concept of being able to engage into other forms of activities and knowledge, resulting to being great on one matter but then being weak on the rest.
There were also different concepts included in the governance of a country that were tackled in Aristotle’s Politics. He has mentioned an ideal government with a ruler ignoring their own interest to provide quality service to his citizens. But at the same time, he defined citizen as someone who engages himself in political activities towards an enigmatic and dynamic state. Both are still relevant to this time as a good ruler contributes to the well-being of his subjects, while a good citizen contributes to a robust, harmonious, peaceful and developed state and society.
The idea of separation of powers is still an important facet of governance, with it being an essential part of most constitutions today. Ensuring that no one abuses the power of each branch nor trying to merge with other branches, it prevents an arbitrary leadership morphing into a dictatorship or tyranny, with the other branches checking the other and preserving the right of the citizens.
These great philosophers, long passed away, manage to live until the present times. It is through their concepts and teachings that Plato and Aristotle attain immortality. Although some of their ideas have been altered and adapted to fit in the modern era, they live on with most still remaining intact and able to stand out in their respective fields of specialization.