First of all, my apologies for writing this post so long after we finished Republic (everyone was so happy we were done with it). That being said, it’s time to talk about a little Plato!
One of the biggest things that struck me while reading the book were the similarities between Plato’s ideal society and other literary dystopias. Things like media censorship, state-education, a strict class system, and a government that outright lies to its citizens are all things found in dystopias, which begs the question: is Plato’s Kallipolis utopian or dystopian?
By comparing the city to the societies that we see in A Brave New World or 1984, we could say that Kallipolis is dystopian. Like A Brave New World, the city divides its citizens among various classes, and creates a collective mentality that each individual’s class is superior to all the others. However, it also enables everyone to exist without envy of others around them, a very good characteristic in a society. Similarly, as in 1984, the Kallipolian (hope this is right) government censors all art and messages that differ from the central values of the society, but this is in fact for everyone’s own good as it prevents evil and unjust ideas from polluting people’s minds at an early age. Furthermore, the ruling body tells blatant lies to the population, such as the ‘myth of the metals’, but again, this is for the benefit of all.
Although all of these aspects of Kallipolis are good theoretically, if they were to be put in place in a tangible state, things would quickly take a turn for the worse. This is because in Plato’s ideal society, anyone who leads is completely just, however in the real world, this is rarely the case. As a result, if the state was given the powers outlined in the book, these powers would be abused: the class system meant to create happiness and lack of envy would be employed to keep people in place; the censorship that was supposed to protect justice would instead be used to control the population; and the lies told by the government to benefit the greater good would turn into a device to hold on to power at all costs.
However the question remains, is Plato’s society a utopia or a dystopia? In my opinion, the answer is utopia, so long as the city remains on the page, because if it were ever put into practice, no matter how good the initial intentions were, the state would eventually degrade into a totalitarian dystopia.