According to Plato, the central axis of the state is justice; it contains the answer to the question of why and how a perfect polis is born and dies. The correct organization of government, according to Plato, is able to curb and make impossible the greed of rulers, in which Plato sees the source of the death of the state. This concept of the inextricable relationship between politics and ethics can be considered quite appropriate.
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In the modern world, the unscrupulous conscience of politicians is condemned and leads to extremely negative consequences not only within their countries but also on the world stage. However, Socrates formulated the principle of meritocracy as an ideal political system – the rule of the worthy. However, the utopianism of this concept is clearly visible, for example, in the United States. There, the presence of an electoral college – supposedly by “default” the most worthy people in each state – can lead to a distortion of the will of state residents and, accordingly, election results at the federal level.
The words opening Plato’s Gorgias are “War and battle” – tough condemnation of the society, which is corrupt is its content. The wrong penetrated the spiritual ‘nucleus’ of human existence. Socrates perceives his interlocutors (in fact, opponents in the dispute) as public representatives of the corrupt order. Politicians, if they nevertheless manage to seize power, are immediately immersed in corruption. In turn, rhetoric is certainly condemned in Gorgias, and Plato even refuses to recognize it as an art at all. Through Socrates, Plato contrasts rhetoric with ethics – this is the contrast between rhetorical technique and ethics.
Plato puts ethics first (Plato 26). He believes that only by succeeding in the virtues of ethics, one can take on rhetoric. A rhetorician seeking a public career is likened to a cook trying to please society. The rhetorician pleases the demos, and, like the tyrant, cannot, in principle, act virtuously and reasonably. Therefore, the rhetorician only exacerbates his and people’s misfortunes. The rhetoric only serves politics, but in no way it is politics itself. At the same time, a politics that is not aimed at the promotion of justice and welfare among citizens is not true art, a true policy. The true art of politics is an alliance of philosophy and rhetoric.
Socrates finds out in what art Gorgias is strong and receives the answer, which is in rhetoric. Socrates demonstrates that rhetoric in conventional wisdom is meaningless. In fact, it turns out to be a shadow of state management art (Plato 101), since speakers usually talk about justice (Plato 98). Speakers neglecting justice are like tyrants. Socrates refutes the notion that power is good since in this case murderers and conspirators would have good. Thus, in accordance with the views of Socrates, neither rhetoric with its empty arguments, nor unprincipled politicians who do not care about the truth and good in their state, are practicing the true art of politics.
Socrates, in the Gorgias, makes claims to practice the true art of politics, but his specific applied politics suggests culturing in every person he meets a willingness to live a life inspired by the ideals of justice, beauty, and the good. Socrates declares himself one of the few inhabitants of Athens, and maybe even the only one, who practices the true art of politics. This declaration was based on the fact that, in every case of interaction with people, Socrates was speaking in an attempt to inculcate the just and the good (Plato 99-100). Interestingly, throughout the dialogues, this Socrates’ claim is the sole case where Socrates speaks of himself as about true politician.
By defeating politicians with rhetoric as an integral part of the true art of politics, Socrates gave the young a motivation to turn to him as a teacher of true political art (Plato 100). Socrates touches on the acute question of the good statesman in essence. A statesman can be considered good if under his rule the citizens become better and, vice versa, if the citizens become worse under his rule, he is bad. Thus, Socrates, being one of the few Athenians who care about the true art of politics, is the only person in his time acting like a real statesman.
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True political art is the art of salvation and education of the soul, and, therefore, Plato puts forward the thesis that true philosophy coincides with true politics. Only if a politician becomes a philosopher (and vice versa), it is possible to build a true state based on the highest value of Truth and Good. In fact, Socrates claims that it is possible to deal with political matters in private, caring properly about the health of the soul.
Plato. Plato’s Gorgias. France: Agora Pubns, 1994.