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Plato (c. 429—347 bc)


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The guardians of the Republic of Plato are a combination of the protectors and governors of the state. Their temperament and education is the subject of the latter parts of a large portion of part ii of the work. They play the role of the military, the civil service, and the government, being bulldogs against the enemies of the state, but wise and gentle to its citizens. To maintain these standards the guardians must live a monastic, military, life with no need of money or family (representing the impartiality required of the final repository of political and moral authority). They divide into the philosophical rulers, who represent the virtue of wisdom, and the auxiliaries or executive wing, whose main virtue is holding fast to the requirements laid down by the wise. The just organization of the state is not only a topic in its own right for Plato, but a model for the proper hierarchy of functions within the single individual. To the question ‘who shall guard the guardians?’ (‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’, raised by Juvenal in the slightly different context of guarding a wife from temptation), Plato's answer is their education and virtue alone do so; the modern world hopes that checks and balances do the same.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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