Plato’s “Republic” is perhaps one of the most intriguing books for me on our reading list. While it isn’t my favorite, it is one of the ones which after reading a few paragraphs, I’ll have to stop and think about them for a while and then probably reread them. The book is densely packed with ideas, ranging from the definition of justice to building the perfect city. While there are plenty of important philosophical ideas which helped shape philosophy as we know it today, there are some ideas which I really dislike. Probably part of the reason for that is the character of Socrates, and how incessant and irritating he becomes throughout the book. He is never satisfied, always asking for clarifications and questions, ultimately he just becomes annoying.
Probably the most interesting part of “Republic” to me is the way Plato/Socrates builds his perfect city. His idea that the philosophers are the ruling class is definitely an interesting one, yet it seems obvious that Plato was looking out for himself when he decided that. Sure, maybe if we were forced to choose from philosophers, warriors, and workers, the best class to rule would be indeed the philosophers. Yet it seems like Plato makes out the philosophers to be a way nicer bunch than they probably are. The way he envisions their reign seems a little too positive, and I think that while the philosophers are great individuals, even they can become corrupt by having the power to rule a city. Yet this isn’t what really bothers me about Plato/Socrates’s perfect city, what really bothers me is how Plato/Socrates decide how people are placed into classes.
The fact that they do not take into consideration someone’s personal happiness is what annoys me. While the philosophers have the “burden” of ruling, everyone else is doing their jobs which were assigned to them. The idea that in the perfect city an individual doesn’t even have the right to try what and be what they want to be is ludicrous. Plato/Socrates’s method of assigning classes would only work if the perfect city was inhabited by robots. It just doesn’t work with humans because we’re selfish animals, we strive to do what makes us happy. While you could say that it should make us happy that we’re contributing to the greater good of the city, I just don’t think that’s enough to satisfy someone who is forced to be a worker, when they dream of fighting on the battlefields.
That’s my main gripe with the “Republic”, and overall it’s not that big of an issue considering all the other thought-provoking ideas that Plato writes about. Probably the idea I find most interesting is the allegory of the cave, and how innovative it must have been especially in the times “Republic” was written. The way it applies to a lot of modern day aspects such as advertising is really interesting, and is what makes it such an important philosophical milestone. Ultimately, Plato’s “Republic” is a classic of western literature because of how many different interesting and innovative ideas it had, and while I had a few gripes with it, overall it was definitely worth reading.
While reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince” I was consistently amazed by many of Machiavelli’s ideals and principles. I feel like I finally understand why “The Prince” is such an important book, as many of Machiavelli’s ideas are still applicable today for the modern ruler. Ultimately it seems like Machiavelli was one of the first of his time to be truly cynical when it came to power, and how to achieve it. Machiavelli doesn’t view power as a luxury, he sees it more as a necessity, and the way to get it is through his very precise and almost scientific methods outlined in “The Prince”. While a lot of his ideas are fantastic and still sort of applicable (ex. better to rule with fear than love), there are others which didn’t quite relate to me (such as conquering foreign lands), yet it was still really interesting to read about Machiavelli’s thoughts and historical evidence and stories.
Maybe it shows how times have changed, but I feel like a Machiavellian leader is much more difficult to come across today. While there will always be those strange exceptions like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the majority of world leaders seem to have strayed away from being Machiavellian, and instead understand that their relationship with their people is actually important, and being truly virtuous as well. While I have never met Barack Obama, I feel like I can safely say that he isn’t faking his kindness and virtues, and that he is indeed a kind man with the goal of improving the average American’s well being. While leaders are less Machiavellian in that way, the fact that results are what matter has not changed.
The fact that results still are what truly matters is what makes Machiavelli’s “The Prince” still applicable today. “The Prince” is all about getting results, and making sure that those results are never compromised due to uprisings or political enemies outsmarting you. I guess that’s something that will never change about politics and power, and that’s what makes Machiavelli’s work so important, is that it teaches the most important aspect and doesn’t dance around talking about other aspects of ruling which can change with time. Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is all about results, and it remains such an important piece of literature today because our society is still based around results, and probably always will be.
After reading The Four Voyages I’ve really tried to understand his thoughts, and why he continuously avoided the truth that he had discovered a new land for the Spaniards. While of course his main goal was to arrive to the Indies, deliver letters to the Grand Khan, and acquire spices and other goods, the discovery of a new land should not be an event to shy away from like Columbus did. It makes almost no sense to me, and it also leads me to the conclusion that Columbus was not an explorer.
Columbus’s goal was not to see foreign lands, and explore for the sake of discovery, his goal was to increase the wealth for those who hired him. In this way, he was a mercenary. If he had been an explorer, he would’ve acknowledged his obvious discovery of new territory, and he would’ve reported it rather than try to cover it up. Ultimately Columbus only puts himself in increasingly uncomfortable positions, in which he has to make deals with his crew, and furthermore lie and hide the truth to his employers and himself. It makes almost no sense to me why he would put himself through this ridiculous search for the indies rather than realize the fact that he had not landed on the indies, he had landed on a completely foreign and undiscovered land for Europeans.
Perhaps I think all of this because as a child, when learning about Columbus he was always made out to be the best of explorers. I saw Christopher Columbus as a man who ventured into new lands with gusto. Instead as I grew up, little by little my perception of Columbus changed. With The Four Voyages my perception of Columbus has completely been flipped. He wasn’t brave enough to see his discovery, he cowered behind his lies and excuses. He didn’t accept the natives, he saw them as a means to find gold. And perhaps worst of all for me, I see him no longer an explorer, I see him as a mercenary.
I say this because any man could’ve been hired to embark on a similar journey, and the Spanish Royalty would’ve gotten the same results, with perhaps being lied to a little less. After reading The Four Voyages I just can’t see Christopher Columbus the same anymore. While of course his discovery shouldn’t be undermined, as he did broaden the scope of exploration for Europeans, his motivations and actions make him a mercenary like any other man the Spaniard’s could’ve found.