Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

or material, as distinguished from mere transfer or transformation of what is created ; and industrial transfer is only one species of a genus Acquisition which includes every kind of transfer, material or mental, voluntary or involuntary. He attempts to draw something like a hard and fast line between the two genera, but only lands himself in the difficulty which all philosophers have experienced in separating the inseparable.

He comes near to anticipate the economic controversy as to the possibility of drawing a line between productive and unproductive labour. He leaves indications that he would have settled it by falling back on the common prejudice of Greek philosophers against “vulgar” trades and in favour of the “liberal ” arts. He avoids the difficult questions of exchange and value, though he admits that even in his simplest Ideal State there must be commerce and a market, contracts, and therefore customs and laws. He thus suggests to us the conclusion that the simplest form of industrial society must rest on a basis of complex custom.

This appears more clearly when we consider in the third place Plato's conception of Civil Society and the State.

III. Plato professes to begin the foundation of his Ideal State by an act of abstraction. He proposes to make a clean sweep of things as they are, both in politics and in manners. But he knows very well that his State is to be Hellenic, and not Barbarian ;? and, though the surface is rubbed smooth, the material of the tablet remains. Even his strong imagination cannot body forth the form of a society of men with no character already stamped on them, and no habits already formed. He is deeply impressed with differences of race, and we must not suppose him to mean that social as well as political institutions can be made and unmade by the lawgiver's fiat. It is a well-known fact that to most human beings even their political rulers seem, like the sun and the seasons, a matter beyond their control ;

[ocr errors]

2 oủx 'Elinvis čoral; Republ., V. 471. 3 Republ., IV. 435, E., 436.

and still more is it so in regard to social customs and rules, where there are no visible rulers, 'to be cashiered for misconduct, or made to govern differently. Though Plato occasionally speaks as if an absolute beginning could really be made, yet the current of his reasoning implies the contrary ; we gather that the successful reformer is he who by instinct or intellect discovers the existing principle of the growth of a society, and grafts a new idea upon that principle. . Human societies (as we now see more clearly than Plato), like animal organisms, do not owe their beginnings to the deliberate contrivance of their members; their union and their behaviour seem rather to be a matter of instinctive growth.

Even in the Republic, Plato has practically acknowledged this ; and in the Laws he has expressed it unmistakeably. Instead of trying to trace the origin of modern States from an absolutely first starting point, he begins with the simple shepherds who are supposed to have survived the primæval deluge. In a passage near the beginning of the seventh book of the Laws, after he has been discussing the nursing of children and its effects on the life of the adults, he says : “ All such arrangements come under the head of what the common people call 'unwritten rules,' and what they call laws of our forefathers,' are simply these several unwritten rules viewed as a whole. Our present description seems happy, for it implies that these rules should neither go without a name nor be mis-called laws. They are the bonds that hold every State together, lying between all the written ordinances already in force and the ordinances that are to come. What is true of the ancestral rules is true of the rest. The ancestral and primæval rules, if rightly laid down (i.e. rightly worked into the people's habits), invest the primæval statutes with a shield of perfect security ; but, if they go wrong, it is as with the main props of a building when they are off their centre ; they bring down themselves and all dependent on them in one common ruin. We must keep this in mind, and bind your new city together for you throughout, leaving nothing out, if possible, great or small, that could be called a law or a

[merged small][ocr errors]

custom or a practice ; for by all such things a city is bound together, and, taken apart from each other, the several rules are not lasting. You must not be surprised then if rules and customs that seem at once many in number and triling in importance come pouring in on us and make our laws a somewhat lengthy matter.”

He seems to consider that written laws are only necessary from the weakness of human wills, which leads men away from the public interest to seek personal and private advantage. Public interest binds cities together, private interest divides and distracts them. Yet selfishness is shortsighted ; the gain is greater both to the individual and to the commonweal when the common good is regarded and not the private advantage. Laws are needed to bring the individual man to a sense of his duty and of his true interest. They are to regulate the details of private life from childhood upwards ; and they are to creep between the folds of ancient custom and usage in order to share the veneration and permanence that attach to “what is grey with years." Even when they are innovations they must not seem so, for innovation, name and thing, must be made detestable to our citizens.

In such a community (as this of the Laws) there could be room for little else than historical categories. Agriculture, as a traditional object of honour, is prized above all other industries. The Greek idea that cities are the limit of independence is closely preserved. We are surprised to find that trade is to be left tolerably free between the home state and foreigners, and there is to be no Alien Act as in Sparta. But on the whole, if Plato in his Ideal State is still a Greek, in his practicable State he is very Greek indeed ; and, with regard to industry in particular, his views are largely affected by his Greek prejudices.

It follows that, in the controversy introduced by Archelaus and Democritus and raised into public importance by the Sophists, as to the relation between Custom and Nature, Plato stands logically in a middle position.

[ocr errors]

In a society of men (he thinks) the customs which are a second nature have almost the authority of nature itself ; 1 custom is always inspired.

But Plato is far from believing that whatever is is right. He is amazed that States contrive to live “in spite of bad rulers and bad laws" ;and, like Socrates, he thinks that the virtue which consists simply in obeying the laws or traditions of the country is worth little or nothing. On the other hand, the virtue which is embraced with a clear consciousness of its rational principles is after all the same traditional virtue made clearer. The earlier part of the first book of the Republic is a long proof that Simonides and the ancients must have meant what Plato meant when they defined the virtue of justice in a particular way. Just as philosophy does not really mean lawlessness, so the philosophy of society cannot be anti-social. The truth that we seek does not lie in the depths of our own mind, but is contained in the social scriptures, the actual moral rules of society, which we must therefore examine and interpret. The philosopher may not take them just as they stand, but he must not think himself above them,* still less must the ruler of the State. They are like the spoken and written language of a people, which may often be inaccurate and defective, but is indispensable for human intercourse.

Plato is really following the same reasoning when he refutes Thrasymachus in the Republic by pointing out that the spirit of grasping and overreaching cannot be made universal without destroying all union of men whatsoever-even a band of robbers must have some “justice" in them in order to hold together,—and when he answers Glaucon's description of the original “war of all against all” by a rival description of the necessary dependence of men on each other, and the original growth of the State out of the consequent division of labour. He admits in the Laws that between State and State there is a perpetual war, and even within lesser circles, and within the individual man himself the same is in a sense

i So in Gorgias, 488 seq., the argument seems to be :— There is vóuos everywhere, and it is the stronger.

Politicus, 302, A. 3 Republ., VII. 538.

4 See Crito, 50, A, to end. 5 Laws, IV. 715, C, D ; cf. VI. 751, C. 6 Republ., I. 352.

beyond dispute. But it is in a sense not irreconcilable with Plato's general view, as already expounded, and the survivors of the deluge are at peace with one another.? If every individual man were born with an aversion to every other, such a thing as education of habit and still more of precept would be impossible ; and Plato's social philosophy, whether in the Laws or in the Republic, is essentially a system of education.

The difficulty of declaratory economics, as of declaratory ethics, is the risk of ratifying as permanent what is merely transient. As some economists have given the impression that their analysis of things as they are was also a construction of things as they ought to be, so a social philosophy that accepts the unconscious laws, under which a society has become what it is, may easily use language inconsistent with the possibility of any radical change for the better. For example, the fact that slavery existed in all communities in Plato's own day, is apparently a proof to him that slavery is a permanent factor in civilization, though there were theorists even then who questioned the reasonableness of the institution. He points out in the Laws what are the best kinds of slaves to have, and how they ought to be treated ; 3 he does not vindicate the reasonableness of slavery as if that itself might be placed in question. The rhetoricians, who contended that the “natural right” of the strongest might fairly be used by the slaves as soon as they were de facto strongest, find no sympathizer in him.

From the absence of slaves in the City of Pigs, we may infer that he considered slavery to be the result of luxury and war; and he understands the dangers of the institution. The tyrant, he says, is like a rich slave-owner in the city who feels secure because the whole city is in league to protect itself against any rising; suppose him carried into a wilderness and set down among his slaves with no free man near, he will be in an agony of fear, and sink to any shifts to save his life; suppose him carried among a people who make war on all slaveholders, he will be in the midst of enemies, and in the

i Laws, I. 626, A-E.

2 III. 678, E seq. 3 Gorgias, 484, B.

« НазадПродовжити »