This was my paper on Plato's "The Republic". It's not my best work, but what can I say? I was rather less than inspired.
Plato was an idealist who lived in Athens during the 4th and 5th centuries, BCE. Plato and his teacher Socrates are generally referred to as the founders of western philosophy. Believing that goodness is related to knowledge, Plato believed that excellence could be attained by instruction, and that the ideal ruler could be created.
For Plato, the ideal guardian of the State possessed all of the best traits of man: philosophy, spirit, swiftness and strength. He believed that a good man, by nature, must be lover of wisdom. Therefore, Plato argued, that only the best of men, who embodied the character of a guardian, should rule. They should be trained from a young age, and scrutinized through their development. Only those, who at each stage in their lives, proved uncompromising and pure in their love of State would be appointed as rulers.
According to Plato, money corrupted otherwise good men and suggested that the guardians of the state be free of such corruption when he said: "Gold and Silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the source of many unholy deeds, but their own is defiled." (Wiesner 70)
He goes on to illustrate that not only money, but property, causes men to no longer govern out of a love for the State, but rather personal greed: "But should they ever acquire homes or lands or moneys of their own, they will become housekeepers and husbandmen instead of guardians, enemies and tyrants instead of allies of the other citizens hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against, they will pass their whole life in much greater terror of internal than of external enemies, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and the rest of the State, will be at hand." (Wiesner 70)
Plato believed that both "men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they only differ in their comparative strength or weakness". (Wiesner 71) Because of this, he argued that the wives of the guardians should endure the same rigorous method of training and selection as the guardians themselves. He felt that the wives of the guardians should have similar qualities as their husbands and resemble them in capacity and in character.
Plato was so intent on keeping the focus of the guardians specifically on matters of State that he went so far as to suggest that even the guardians' wives and children would be considerable distractions. Thus it was that he said, "the wives of our guardians are to be common, and their children are to be common, and no parent is to know his own child, nor and child his parent." (Wiesner 71)
He justified this communal arrangement by saying, "Both the community of property and the community of families... tend to make them more truly guardians; they will not tear the city in pieces by differing about 'mine' and 'not mine'; each man dragging any acquisition which he has made into a separate house of his own, where he has a separate wife and children and private pleasures and pains; but all will be affected as far as may be by the same pleasures and pains because they are all of one opinion about what is near and dear the them, and therefore they all tend towards a common end." (Wiesner 71)
Though Plato's idealistic views regarding the guardians were most likely, born of a genuine love for the State, by today's standards they were mediocre at best. If the guardian's had no sense of themselves; no property or money or even wives of their own, how could they hope to govern with any realistic idea of the needs and wants of the people? Perhaps Plato's Republic looks good on paper, but the practicality of its implementation is highly suspect.
Not only would forbidding the guardians any aspect of personal ownership make them unsympathetic to the citizens of the city, to think that a communal way of life would eliminate turmoil within the government is false. The human being is a jealous creature by nature and forcing him to share everything would only increase his jealousy. Plato's concept of communal children removing the "mine/not mine" would be null as soon as the guardians started scrutinizing the children for features common to themselves.