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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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THE COMMUNAL FAMILY (457d-466c)

The second wave of paradox is that women and children will be held in common by the guardians. Socrates admits that this wave will be harder to surmount than the first. He thinks that he can convince his audience of its utility but doubts that he can defend its becoming an actual social institution.

As you already know, the guardians will eat, sleep, study, and exercise together. Hence, it is a small step to communal families. All property, including wives and children, must be held in common. But how can this policy be put into practice?

First Socrates says that the rulers (the highest order of guardians) must arrange all marriages. He compares the guardians to thoroughbred horses-"the best men will cohabit with the best women." There will be marriage festivals, but soldiers who excel in battle will be given "the opportunity of more frequent intercourse with women" because their offspring will be superior to the common lot. The offspring of the sacred couplings, those determined by the rulers, will be immediately taken to live with "certain nurses"; the offspring of inferior people, and all defective infants, the rulers "will dispose of in secret." And the rulers will engage in active population control; after all, the city must not exceed its means and bounds.

Socrates puts forth several other edicts: Childbearing will be forbidden to guardians outside prescribed age limits; nonstate- sanctioned sex will be taboo and offenders will be severely punished; incest must be avoided except on the rare occasions when the Delphic oracle approves of sexual intercourse between a brother and sister, according to birth dates following sexual unions, citizens will be told whom to call their sons and daughters and whom to call their brothers and sisters.

Will the rulers really be able to control the sexual liaisons of the guardians? Socrates hopes that a noble fiction, like the Myth of the Metals, will work. The guardians are to believe that chance (a lottery, perhaps?) determines their sexual partners, when, in fact, the rulers are busy manipulating with whom each person will cohabit, temporarily and for sex only. Increasingly, Socrates' just city becomes a place devoid of charm and pleasure. All romance is gone.



How does Socrates justify the abolition of the family and, in its wake, the abolition of romantic love? He says that it is for the good of the state. Romantic love (eros) distracts from this good, as do family ties. Why? Because loyalties become divided. Guardians must be trained to love the state first, foremost, and only. Brotherly love, love of the state, and love of wisdom are to be the guardians' loves because they bring the greatest possible unity to the state.

Socrates compares the state to a human body that has a wounded finger. All parts of the body share the pain of one part. Likewise, if one citizen suffers pain, the entire community shares it and must do something about it. Such notions as "my" pain and "your" pain must be abolished. Every citizen works together for the common good.

NOTE: The complete abolition of the family, as you know it, is what Socrates proposes in this section. For Socrates to say that the second wave of paradox "provokes more distrust" than the first is a tremendous understatement. It is surprising that his audience does not protest loudly. But they do not. Why not? Do they think that Socrates is joking? Is he joking? Is he simply following the logical threads of his argument for the just state and in the process demonstrating the practical absurdities to which consistent argumentation can sometimes lead? Or did Socrates and Plato really believe that the good state would abolish the nuclear family in favor of a communal family? These are a few questions this section provokes.

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