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Statesman (Focus Philosophical Library) by…
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Statesman (Focus Philosophical Library) (edition 2012)

by Plato, Eva Brann (Editor), Peter Kalkavage (Editor), Eric Salem (Editor)

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190162,147 (3.36)3
Member:Lonsing
Title:Statesman (Focus Philosophical Library)
Authors:Plato
Other authors:Eva Brann (Editor), Peter Kalkavage (Editor), Eric Salem (Editor)
Info:Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co. (2012), Edition: 1, Paperback, 194 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:**1/2
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The Statesman by Plato

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» See also 3 mentions

Plato's most disturbing political dialogue, November 11, 2004

This book, the culmination of Benardete's masterful translation of what Jacob Klein was pleased to call `Plato's Trilogy,' includes not only a translation of `The Statesman' but also a superb commentary with notes. (Benardete, btw, is something of a rarity these days, a `non-political' student of Leo Strauss.' This `trilogy' (as Klein would say) in question consists of 3 dialogues; Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman. But, as Benardete points out, the Sophist and Statesman belong together as a pair. The singular appearance of the Eleatic Stranger - some translate `Stranger' as Visitor - and the near silence of our Socrates, the inability (or unwillingness) of Plato to give us a third dialogue (as seemingly `promised' at 217a) called `The Philosopher,' all this points to the unique pairing of Sophist and Statesman. Benardete also points out that these 2 dialogues are the only ones with specific and "explicit allusions" to each other.

In turning away from the Sophist and turning towards the Statesman we are leaving the rarefied heights (and obscure depths) of theory, and its imitators, for the `lowly' everyday world of political/social life. Indeed this `turn' can perhaps be said to be foreshadowed in the Sophist (at 247e) when the Stranger makes a remarkably `Nietzschean' definition, "I'm proposing, in short, a definition (boundary mark): `The things which are' are not anything but power." Being as Power! Plato is not Nietzsche, however. Plato always hedges. The `proposal' is perhaps only made to convince some so-called `improved' materialists to leave their `artless' materialism. But later, when speaking to some `friends of the forms,' who are `idealists' like Socrates, the logic of this dialectic forces the Stranger (249a) to say, "But, by Zeus, what of this? Shall we easily be persuaded that motion and life and soul and intelligence are truly not present to that which perfectly is, and its not even living, not even thinking, but august and pure, without mind, it stands motionless." Thus materialists and Idealists are `forced' to concede that being is the ability to affect and be affected.

Later, at 249c-d, the Stranger will speak of this arrangement in such a manner that it reminds us of compromise between two warring parties. But compromise, and the seeming impossibility of enduring compromise, brings us towards the very heart of the Statesman. Socrates is going to die. (It is tragically fitting, perhaps almost necessary, that Benardete ends the final installment of his commentary on the Triptych Theaetetus/Sophist/Statesman with the words "Socrates is about to go on trial.") Death, the threat of death, hovers above these pages as it does around political life. "The Statesman is more profound than the Sophist" Benardete (p III.142) correctly reminds us. It is profound for several reasons. Benardete brings at this point to our attention just one: "Virtue consists in the strife of the beautiful with the beautiful." The metaphor/image/standard for morality in the Sophist - health - is replaced in the Statesman by beauty. ...Perhaps it is true that `we have beauty so we don't die of the truth' as Nietzsche somewhere remarked. But he fails to mention that we now die of beauty instead of truth.

The two types of beauty that are at war are courage and moderation. "Dialectics, it seems, is the practice of resolving the strife between moderation and courage." Benardete, I think correctly, indicates there is, and can be, no final reconciliation between them. Indeed, it seems there is no natural mean between them. "Nature might herself be neutral, but her apparitions are always skewed and cluster around either one of two partial kinds." Men and women are emblematic images of courage and moderation, the ever-present reminder that they can never simply be the same.

But the City can, in theory, also be either moderate or courageous. A city of the first sort, "moved by the spirit of accommodation, such a city ends up enslaved, its unwilled and inadvertent cowardice hardly separable from its stupidity." A city of the second type, "in contrast, looks at every other city as its enemy. Its' insight is too keen. The otherness of the stranger [foreigner] is for it so absolute that it must be constantly engaged in war, until it brings upon itself either its enslavement or destruction." This last, the beautiful error of courage, could only not be an error if the courageous city never lost. "The Stranger disregards the possibility that such a city might never fail and thus achieve a universal empire." But this is the beautiful modern dream of Kojeve and his universal homogenous state; it is not the dream of the Stranger or, I think, Benardete and Plato.

Not that a universal state is, for Benardete at least, impossible. "But apart from the difficulty that it [the courageous city] would then be forced to turn against itself if it were not to give up its own nature, the myth [of the Reversed Cosmos, 268e] has taught us that God alone is capable of universal rule, and even he is periodically forced to abandon control. Excessive moderation then, is more a danger to the city than the hubris of courage. The nature of things is more disposed to check the tyranny of a part over the whole than the enslavement of a part to a part. We perhaps might believe that the Stranger in this regard is a shade too hopeful." It seems that while Benardete thinks the Universal State, ala Kojeve, is technically possible, it would be a calamity. It would not be entirely an exaggeration if we were to observe that the major difference between `non-political' or philosophical Straussians and those Straussians actively involved in politics is that the latter no longer believe that the Universal State is necessarily a calamity.

Be that as it may, Benardete points out that while the city executes, exiles or disgraces those courageous natures that oppose it, the moderate it merely enslaves. This only seems, btw, to contradict what Benardete said earlier about moderation being a greater danger. The greater danger to the city qua city is moderation; the most dangerous individuals, however, are always courageous. "The city cannot afford excessive courage; it cannot dispense with excessive moderation." But the binding of "moderation and courage, which the paradigm of weaving [279e] implies, cannot be accomplished politically."

Indeed, we turn from the political to the biological and psychological. Intermarriage (of the moderate and courageous) and education (for common opinion) replace (or augment) pure politics, as the proper form of the paradigm of weaving. "The Stranger's solutuion, then, really amounts to this: the true King assigns the members of courageous families to the city's army, and the members of moderate families to its lawcourts." Benardete doesn't here mention it but in this manner the City itself, the institutions of the city itself, are forced to mimic the Guardians we meet in the Republic; they are fierce to enemies but gentle towards friends. Benardete then observes that "the Stranger does not even hint at which families are to supply the rhetoricians of the city." Or which family supplies the weavers or true Kings.

Benardete fills the penultimate paragraph with observations on how it is very difficult to get the members of the different families (courageous and moderate) to love each other. One can convince them that the `mixed' marriages are best but one cannot make a married couple into lover and beloved by education alone. "Insofar as Eros is love of the beautiful, and not identical with sexual desire, these most suitable marriages are against the grain of Eros." Each `family' sees itself only as beautiful. But the city requires that each family marry its non-beautiful other. "And, likewise, since the divine bond of the city consists of opinions about the beautiful, just and good, which are for the wise statesman nothing but prescriptions for the health of the city, the city through the law incorporates in its ruling families as little satisfaction of the requirements of pure mind as of the needs of Eros." Thus the laws of the city satisfy neither the mind nor the eros of citizens. ...But the city is healthy; and the citizens bodies are protected and sated.

"The law, said the Stranger, is like a stupid and willful human being. We now know what this means. The law combines the vice of moderation with the vice of courage and thus passes itself off as the perfect weaving into the web of justice of the beautiful with the beautiful. But the true synergy of mind and Eros in soul was the impure dialectics of Socrates, and Socrates is about to go on trial." By `impure' dialectics Benardete means a dialectic that is a mixture of moderation and courage. The philosopher Socrates is about to die so the city can live. The city, or, if you prefer, its laws, are an inverted philosopher. The city and its laws are stupid and willful, while the philosopher is both moderate and courageous. ...In any city Socrates would die. ( )
  pomonomo2003 | Nov 30, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Platoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Molegraaf, MarioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 052144778X, Paperback)

The Statesman is Plato's neglected political work, but it is crucial for an understanding of the development of his political thinking. It continues themes from the Republic, particularly the importance of knowledge as entitlement to rule. But there are also changes: Plato has altered his view of the moral psychology of the citizen, and revised his position on the role of law and institutions. This new translation makes accessible the dialogue to students of political thought and the introduction outlines the philosophical and historical backgrounds.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:45 -0400)

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