Term Paper of M.A. English

Common Families of the Commonwealth
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Term Paper
Delhi University

Common Families of the Commonwealth

Plato??™s arguments of the creation of a commonwealth, where guardians have their wives and children in common, where no parent knows his child and no child his parent, was to liberate the citizens??™ from the bondages (evils) and obligations of family life, so that they serve better in their respective fields and the State works as a large family unit where there are no mean wars on lands and properties and men and women are considerate towards each other feeling united as members of a natural polity.

The idea which marginalises individual families by removing their existence altogether and puts greater emphasis on the larger family, which is the state as a whole, furnishes patriotism and brotherhood. The idea, however hypothetical, surely came from the noblest intentions for the creation of the ideal commonwealth. But the question is can the licentiousness rising from polygamy and ignorance of one??™s own family members be digested so easily in the name of such noble intentions. Such a plan degrades true commitment and demeans love and I see serious dangers of anarchy in personal relationships. While Plato may have thought that a hero who has distinguished himself as a warrior should be honoured by letting him go on an ???expedition??™ of kisses and have as many wives as he desires, so that his highly valued valour may be preserved by multiplication of his genes with his chosen fortunate meritorious maidens, it might not be the case of an equivalent desire in a female to have sex with a possessor of multiple wives, however talented, however adroit, regardless of him being a gem to the state whose genes must be transferred through her fated embryo. Making love and making children become two different dispositions then. While Plato??™s utilitarian thinking of letting women participate in state??™s jobs is progressive, the other utilitarian thinking of using them as means of producing best citizens for the State is grossly unconventional and base. Sex without the consent of women amounts to rape, and in the procedure of structuring expert plans to produce expert children for the motherland, animalistic tendencies have been promoted and salutary aspects of reproductive health of females ignored. I would like to quote the arguments bearing the just-discussed idea.

But the hero who has distinguished himself, what shall be done to him In the first place, he shall receive honour in the army from his youthful comrades; every one of them in succession shall crown him. What do you say

I approve.
And what do you say to his receiving the right hand of fellowship

To that too, I agree.
But you will hardly agree to my next proposal.
What is your proposal
That he should kiss and be kissed by them.
Most certainly, and I should be disposed to go further, and say: Let no one whom he has a mind to kiss refuse to be kissed by him while the expedition lasts. So that if there be a lover in the army, whether his love be youth or maiden, he may be more eager to win the prize of valour.

Capital, I said. That the brave man is to have more wives than others has been already determined: and he is to have first choices in such matters more than others, in order that he may have as many children as possible


Plato has discussed how such a plan can work for the best of the State (451c4-471c). The argument stemmed from feminist dialogues such as:

men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they differ only in their comparative strength or weakness

women who have such qualities are to be selected as the companions and colleagues of men who have similar qualities and whom they resemble in capacity and in character

..then let the wives of our guardians strip, for their virtue will be their robe, and let them share in the toils of war and the defence of their country; only in the distribution of labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker natures, but in other respects their duties are to be the same. And as for the man who laughs at naked women exercising their bodies from the best of motives, in his laughter he is plucking.
A fruit of unripe wisdom, and he himself is ignorant of what he is laughing at, or what he is about; –for that is, and ever will be, the best of sayings, That the useful is the noble and the hurtful is the base.

While considering the sacred status of matrimony enforced by cultures, Plato drew a parallel between mating of dogs and mating of humans.

The next thing will be to make matrimony sacred in the highest degree, and what is most beneficial will be deemed sacred

How can marriages be made most beneficial –that is a question which I put to you, because I see in your house dogs for hunting, and of the nobler sort of birds not a few. Now, I beseech you, do tell me, have you ever attended to their pairing and breeding

And do you take the oldest or the youngest, or only those of ripe age

I choose only those of ripe age.
And if care was not taken in the breeding, your dogs and birds would greatly deteriorate
Good heavens! My dear friend, I said, what consummate skill will our rulers need if the same principle holds of the human species!

Why, I said, the principle has been already laid down that the best of either sex should be united with the best as often, and the inferior with the inferior, as seldom as possible; and that they should rear the offspring of the one sort of union, but not of the other, if the flock is to be maintained in first-rate condition. Now these goings on must be a secret which the rulers only know, or there will be a further danger of our herd, as the guardians may be termed, breaking out into rebellion.

And I think that our braver and better youth, besides their other honours and rewards, might have greater facilities of intercourse with women given them; their bravery will be a reason, and such fathers ought to have as many sons as possible.

However, I think that this state-delegated sex of the best with the best as often, and the inferior with the inferior as seldom, might create a kind of caste system when a warrior will marry the best warrior girl, and never a potterer whose qualities are inferior in relativity as much emphasis has been laid in ???The Republic??™ on doing the thing in which one specializes and not do something else. One??™s occupation reflects his or her speciality and it is highly probable that one??™s best or worst qualities will be decided in terms of the work he or she does. What if a fisherman falls in love with a warrior, or a warrior with a philosopher, or a warrior finds solace and feels love for a fisherwoman whose country life gives his soul peace and warmth. Societies and histories are evidences of the fact that love goes beyond reason, beyond logic, beyond systems and beyond traditions. Such a strict suppression by the rulers of the state on the citizens acting guards of their feelings in some supposed systematised manner of delegated breeding confronts love which comes in full force and is infamous for transgression.

Rules were made for marriages and marriageable age as Plato thought of keeping the population of the State distinguished and under control.

the number of weddings is a matter which must be left to the discretion of the rulers, whose aim will be to preserve the average of population

A woman, I said, at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty; a man may begin at five-and-twenty, when he has passed the point at which the pulse of life beats quickest, and continue to beget children until he be fifty-five.

Certainly, he said, both in men and women those years are the prime of physical as well as of intellectual vigour.

Any one above or below the prescribed ages who takes part in the public hymeneals shall be said to have done an unholy and unrighteous thing; the child of which he is the father, if it steals into life, will have been conceived under auspices very unlike the sacrifices and prayers, which at each hymeneal priestesses and priest and the whole city will offer, that the new generation may be better and more useful than their good and useful parents, whereas his child will be the offspring of darkness and strange lust.

Very true, he replied.
And the same law will apply to any one of those within the prescribed age who forms a connection with any woman in the prime of life without the sanction of the rulers; for we shall say that he is raising up a bastard to the State, uncertified and unconsecrated.

and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.

No wonder this arrangement meant disposing the children, born out of a digress and violation of State rules. This may be like the contemporary honour killings; here however, the killing of a child is done for the honour of a State which is constructed on the grounds of reproducing the best through the best.

The state-governed rules for marriages of the best male with the best female was based upon eugenics so that the sons and daughters on the land of the golden State have there wonderful traits undefiled and hence ever-improving. Sex has thus been seen as a mere means of reproducing eugenically best offspring, however, this doesn??™t permits one to indulge in the pleasures of creating one??™s lineage. This open society works for only one bloodline, which is a metaphor for the whole population. Taking the devotion of the citizens towards their philosopher-kings granted in all aspects including love, family and progeny was credulous on the part of Plato, having constructed the ideal city in a stargaze.

Plato recommended that once a female gives birth to a child, she shouldn??™t waste time in his fostering and make it her sole occupation as he was a feminist and believed that women are like creatures whose skills should be utilised in various occupations, from being a guardian to a state to participating in the toils of war. Agreed too much indulgence in family obligations prevents a man or a woman from doing what he may do rather well when time-rich and tension-free, but there can be practical alternatives to lessen the extent of such obligations than barbaric abolition of the rational desires of people in love to create families of there own and see their child growing up and reflecting the characteristics of their own, what a pleasure is it to become a parent! Snatching the pleasures of bringing-up one??™s own children and the beauty of such roles from people??™s life is utterly demeaning and sad.

If an ideal State is imagined to be constructed in present times then usage of contraceptives would rather be good than terming a child bastard if born in an act of love. Absence of such means perhaps in those times made Plato think of such rules to control population. Two adults would make sure not to have their own child, unless fully prepared of the life afterwards and the responsibilities arising from the comer of a new member in their family. Stringent rules regarding families can be tragic as can be witnessed in numerous examples of honour killings or less violent examples though equally tragic of those when children are made to marry someone chosen under the tyranny of their parents. Half-hearted enforced commitments are bound to make relationships shallow and such shallowness will reflect in some way or the other. This however, doesn??™t propagate to be blinded by one??™s whims and fancies and make a disastrous marriage out of some youthful rush. Plato rightly imagined the grave need of justice and temperance in men and women of an ideal state so that rationality prevails in dealings with people of all ages, notwithstanding the gender. Gender discrimination has been again rightly abolished by him, judging men and women on their calibres and assigning them tasks that may suit their capabilities.

In models of aristocracy, lineage is important; to transfer kingship and this is why Plato thought of keeping people ignorant of who there children are, so that such favouritism and monotony of empowering the child of a king might not lead to some ruinous tyranny. But, I think abolition of family system shouldn??™t have been an ideal thought to deal with this problem as it has been discussed in ???The Republic??™ that the intellectual guardian should be chosen after testing him in philosophy in different ages in the most seductive circumstances, when he may be expected to digress. A true lover of wisdom who passes all tests of wisdom and temperance is made the philosopher-king of the ideal State. Hence, such means should be instrumental in finding the one who becomes the next king instead of rewarding powers to the child of the present king as the obvious inheritor of the rule of State.

This may be like IAS examinations of contemporary times when administrative powers are given to those who show excellence of knowledge when tested in a strict comprehensive manner.

Plato??™s dream of the ideal city was impressive undoubtedly and ???The Republic??™ one of his longest works. He argued and discussed numerous possibilities and alternatives to the possibilities when laying down ???The Republic??™ of his dream commonwealth. His feminist ideas were new for such times and controversial but, they made sense. They were truly progressive. However, his treatment of families and marriages seems absurd to me. Even though he said:

men and women are to have a common way of life such as we have described –common education, common children; and they are to watch over the citizens in common whether abiding in the city or going out to war; they are to keep watch together, and to hunt together like dogs; and always and in all things, as far as they are able, women are to share with the men And in so doing they will do what is best, and will not violate, but preserve the natural relation of the sexes.

They do not preserve the natural relation of sexes as natural social relations are based on love, motherhood and fatherhood and the relation with one??™s spouse (only voluntarily) are most natural relations of sexes. The appeal and beauty of these natural relationships have been ignored and treated in a too utilitarian manner by Plato. His treatment does not rather takes into consideration the natural relations of sexes and the rights of men and women to choose their spouses, but is based on a strict system of polygamy to give birth to eugenically best children which according to me is a vulgar thought.


Lines in italics are cited from The Republic

Recommended readings

The concept of Women: Allen, Prudence
Plato??™s Women – Postmodern Pitfalls: Baitinger, Katerina
Sex from Plato to Paglia – A Philosophical Encyclopaedia: Soble, Alan

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