Plato’s Theory of Communism and Property – Essay

“His abolition of family life among the guardians is, thus, inevitably a corollary of their renunciation of private property.”

According to Dunning,

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“As private property and family relationships appear to be the chief sources of dissension in every community, neither is to have recognition in the perfect state.”

According to Sabine, so firmly was Plato convinced of the pernicious effects of wealth upon government that he saw no way to abolish the evil except by abolishing wealth itself. The same is true also of Plato’s purpose in abolishing persons, as another (first being property) potent rival to the state in competing for the loyalty of rulers. “Anxiety for one’s children”, Sabine concludes on behalf of Plato, “is a form of self-seeking more insidious than the desire for property…”

Plato’s communism, to put his theory very briefly, takes two forms. Sabine says: “The first is the prohibition of private property, whether houses as land or money, to the rulers (and auxiliaries) and the provision that they shall live in barracks and have their meals at a common table.

The second is the abolition of a permanent monogamous sexual relation and the substitution of regulated breeding at the behest of the rulers for the purpose of securing the best possible offspring”.

This two-type of communism is applied on the rulers and the auxiliaries called the guardians by Plato. Plato’s argument for communism of property and families was that the unity of the state demands their abolition. “The unity of the state is to secure; property and family stand in the way; therefore, property and marriage must go” (Sabine).

Plato’s reasons for offering his scheme of community of wives and property were the following: Those who exercise political power should have no economic motives, and those who are engaged in economic activities should have no share in political power.

Pragmatic as his message was, Plato had learnt from the Spartan successful experiment whose citizens were denied the use of money and where they all had to consume everything in common, Plato’s defense of the communism of families was no less effective.

Barker sums up Plato’s argument in this regard: “Plato’s scheme has many facets and many purposes. It is a scheme of eugenics; it is a scheme for the emancipation of women; it is a scheme for the nationalisation of the family. It is meant to secure a better stock, greater freedom for women and for men to develop their highest capacities, a more complete and living solidarity of the state or at any rate, of the rulers of the state.”

Plato’s plan of communism has been denounced by many, from his disciple Aristotle down to Karl Popper. Aristotle criticises Plato for having ignored the natural instinct of acquisition, making the scheme partial in so far as excluding the producing class from it and declaring it ascetic and aristocratic, surrendering all the best for the guardians.

Others, including Karl Popper, condemn Plato’s scheme of communism on numerous grounds, especially the following:

i. It is doubtful if communism of families would bring greater degree of unity by making the guardians a single family.

ii. Communism of wives and families that Aristotle hints at was bound to create confusion if not disorder one female would be wife of all the guardians and one male, the husband of all the females. One may add, as Aristotle really does: a father would have thousand sons, and a son, thousand fathers.

iii. Common children would tend to be neglected, for everybody’s child would be nobody’s baby.

iv. It is also doubtful if the state-controlled mating would ever be workable; it would rather reduce men and women to the levels of mere animals by suggesting temporary marital relationship.

v. The whole scheme of communism is too rigid, too strict, and too stringent.

vi. Plato’s communism of families suggests a system of marriage which is neither monogamy, nor bigamy, nor polygamy, nor polyandry.

vii. Plato’s theory of communism is too idealistic, too Utopian, too imaginary, and accordingly, far away from the realities of life.

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