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[1261b] [1] yet at the same time it is only just, whether governing is a good thing or a bad, that all should partake in it, and for equals thus to submit to authority in turn imitates their being originally dissimilar1; for some govern and others are governed by turn, as though becoming other persons; and also similarly when they hold office the holders of different offices are different persons. It is clear then from these considerations that it is not an outcome of nature for the state to be a unity in the manner in which certain persons say that it is, and that what has been said to be the greatest good in states really destroys states; yet surely a thing's particular good acts as its preservative.—Another line of consideration also shows that to seek to unify the state excessively is not beneficial. In point of self-sufficiency the individual is surpassed by the family and the family by the state, and in principle a state is fully realized only when it comes to pass that the community of numbers is self-sufficing; if therefore the more self-sufficing a community is, the more desirable is its condition, then a less degree of unity is more desirable than a greater.

Again, even granting that it is best for the community to be as complete a unity as possible, complete unity does not seem to be proved by the formula ‘if all the citizens say “Mine” and “Not mine” at the same time,’ which Socrates2 thinks to be a sign of the [20] city's being completely one. ‘All’ is an ambiguous term. If it means ‘each severally,’ very likely this would more fully realize the state of things which Socrates wishes to produce (for in that case every citizen will call the same boy his son and also the same woman his wife, and will speak in the same way of property and indeed of each of the accessories of life) but ex hypothesi the citizens, having community of women and children, will not call them ‘theirs’ in this sense, but will mean theirs collectively and not severally, and similarly they will call property ‘theirs’ meaning the property of them all, not of each of them severally. We see then that the phrase ‘all say’ is equivocal (in fact the words ‘all,’ ‘both,’ ‘odd,’ ‘even,’ owing to their ambiguity, occasion argumentative quibbling even in philosophical discussions); hence really for all to say the same thing is in one sense admirable, although impracticable, but in another sense is not at all a sign of concord. And furthermore, the proposal has another disadvantage. Property that is common to the greatest number of owners receives the least attention; men care most for their private possessions, and for what they own in common less, or only so far as it falls to their own individual share for in addition to the other reasons, they think less of it on the ground that someone else is thinking about it, just as in household service a large number of domestics sometimes give worse attendance than a smaller number. And it results in each citizen's having a thousand sons, and these do not belong to them as individuals but any child is equally the son of anyone, so that all alike will regard them with indifference.

1 The best form of constitution is where there is a superior class that governs continuously—an aristocracy; so where there are no class-distinctions, the next best thing is for all the citizens to take turns in governing and being governed, those in office for the time being forming a sort of aristocracy. Richards's alteration of the text gives ‘to take turns to govern is an imitation of original inequality and class-distinction.‘

2 The reference is to Plat. Rep. 462c. Unity is secured when everyone thinks that everything belongs equally to him and to everybody else, i.e. everything is common property.

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hide References (2 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Electra, 644
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Plato, Republic, 462c
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