Summary: Book V, 449a-472a
Having identified the just city and the just soul, Socrates now wants to identify four other constitutions of city and soul, all of which are vicious to varying degrees. But before he can get anywhere in this project, Polemarchus and Adeimantus interrupt him. They would like him to return to the statement he made in passing about sharing spouses and children in common. Socrates launches into a lengthy discussion about the lifestyle of the guardians.
In the first of several radical claims that he makes in this section Socrates declares that females will be reared and trained alongside males, receiving the same education and taking on the same political roles. Though he acknowledges that in many respects men and women have different natures, he believes that in the relevant respect—the division among appetitive, spirited, and rational people—women fall along the same natural lines as men. Some are naturally appetitive, some naturally spirited, and some naturally rational. The ideal city will treat and make use of them as such.
Socrates then discusses the requirement that all spouses and children be held in common. For guardians, sexual intercourse will only take place during certain fixed times of year, designated as festivals. Males and females will be made husband and wife at these festivals for roughly the duration of sexual intercourse. The pairings will be determined by lot. Some of these people, those who are most admirable and thus whom we most wish to reproduce, might have up to four or five spouses in a single one of these festivals. All the children produced by these mating festivals will be taken from their parents and reared together, so that no one knows which children descend from which adults. At no other time in the year is sex permitted. If guardians have sex at an undesignated time and a child results, the understanding is that this child must be killed.
To avoid rampant unintentional incest, guardians must consider every child born between seven and ten months after their copulation as their own. These children, in turn, must consider that same group of adults as their parents, and each other as brothers and sisters. Sexual relations between these groups is forbidden.
Socrates explains that these rules of procreation are the only way to ensure a unified city. In most cities the citizens’ loyalty is divided. They care about the good of the whole, but they care even more about their own family. In the just city, everyone is considered as family and treated as such. There are no divided loyalties. As Socrates puts it, everyone in the city says “mine” about the same things. The city is unified because it shares all its aims and concerns.
The final question to be asked is whether this is a plausible requirement—whether anyone can be asked to adhere to this lifestyle, with no family ties, no wealth, and no romantic interludes. But before answering this question, Socrates deals with a few other issues pertaining to the guardians’ lifestyle, all of them relating to war. He states that children training to become guardians should be taken to war so they can watch and learn the art as any young apprentice does. He recommends that they be put on horseback so that they can escape in the case of defeat. He also explains that anyone who behaves cowardly in war will be stripped of their role as a guardian. He ends by discussing the appropriate manner in which to deal with defeated enemies. When it comes to Greek enemies, he orders that the vanquished not be enslaved and that their lands not be destroyed in any permanent way. This is because all Greeks are really brothers, and eventually there will be peace between them again. When it comes to barbarian—i.e., non-Greek—enemies, anything goes.
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