Two very important thinkers, Plato and John Locke, have varying views on politics and society. Both of their views contribute greatly to world politics and the United States politics. Plato values justice as the most dominant concept of society. In The Republic, he used the Greek word “Dikaisyne” for justice which can also be loosely translated to ‘morality’ or ‘righteousness’; it includes within it the duty of man. Justice is order and duty. It is a harmonious strength including the effective harmony of the whole, which he believes can be accomplished through the ordering of social classes.
All his moral conceptions revolve about the good of the individual and the good of society. Plato’s political philosophy revolves around justice. Plato’s experience of democracy led him to believe that worshipping good gods and instilling the virtue of wisdom in the form of philosophy was the right path to the good city. Instead of rule by popularity and spiritedness, the old and wise would rule and dictate what is best and just. Locke believed the majority, upon entering into a commonwealth, get to choose their form of government and may change. He defined protection of personal property as a right.
He also believed legislative power was the most important part of society. The first rule of the legislative power is the preservation of the society. No one may challenge the power of the legislative body, or pass laws of their own; all such power is invested in this body by the majority (the majority can, of course, challenge the legislative in some instances). Every member of society must adhere to the laws laid down by the legislative body. The legislation must govern by established laws that apply equally to everyone; these laws must be designed solely for the good of the people; and the legislative must not aise taxes on the property of the people without the people’s consent.
Additionally, Locke believes that religion should be relegated to a personal preference, instead of something that is compulsory and forced. In his view, true devotion cannot be coerced, and thus should be something that an individual could choose. The separation of church from state and the toleration between different churches is key to a working society and an effective and unbiased governmental system. Both philosophers considered the nature of human reality apart from politics. Plato believed humans are rational, social animals.
He tended to identify our nature with reason and our souls, as opposed to our bodies. He claims that the soul of every individual has a threepart structure analogous to the three classes of a society. There is a rational part of the soul, which seeks after truth and is responsible for our philosophical inclinations; a spirited part of the soul, which desires honor and is responsible for our feelings of anger and indignation; and an appetitive part of the soul, which lusts after all sorts of things, but money most of all (since money must be used to fulfill any other base desire).
Who we are depends on what kind of a soul is dominating—a philosopher soul (rational), a guardian or warrior soul (spirited), or an artisan soul (appetitive). This is the general role we should play in society. Locke believed in human rationality as well, which is the center for his beliefs. He trusted that humans were rational enough to govern themselves, although this faith is accompanied by a caution about people’s natural appetites. Locke saw long term office holders are potentially different in character and an exception to the rules of rationality.
Long term office holders may be thought of as separate from society and working for their best interests. This showed Locke’s realistic side, and his realistic ideas are what set him apart from many other philosophers with distant ideals. The two differed largely in their beliefs of who should hold political power. Plato believed philosopher-kings should rule based on a vision of good that their superior intellect allows them to grasp. If the most intelligent people rule, excellence is ensured.
According to Locke, the community holds the highest power and is the supreme law. Although a king may rule, the natural rights of the individual limit the power of the king. The legislative part of government is the most important, but must only be active at certain times, while the executive branch must always be active. Because Locke believes in the rationality of humans, he believes the community should hold the most power and make decisions about their government. There are different ideas about how authorities can and should exercise power.
Plato believes in censorship. In The Republic, he banishes poets from his city. By encouraging us to indulge ignoble emotions in sympathy with the characters we hear about, poetry encourages us to indulge these emotions in life. Poetry, in sum, makes us unjust. Plato sought to censor any literature that depicts heroes being afraid or exhibiting lack of self control, because heroes were to be looked up to. He wanted to censor imitation of multiple characters, because doing one thing well brought about social order in his eyes. He also believed the end justifies the means.
Plato believed in control, therefore, he would want authorities to exercise their power regularly and supremely. Locke is considered by some to be the founder of liberal democracy. Locke was accepting of many different kinds of government, as long as the people approve of their government. If a king is in power, the king should not hold absolute power, but act only to enforce and protect the natural rights of the people. If these rights are violated, the social contract is broken, and the people have the right to revolt and establish a new government.
Locke believed the legislator was the most important aspect of government, but didn’t need to always be in session. In fact, he thought it would be even more efficient if it were only active at certain times. It is the executive’s prerogative to oversee representation and other aspects of government, so it must always be active. How would Plato and Locke evaluate each other’s ideas? Locke may criticize the way Plato thinks only Philosopher-Kings should govern. Locke puts the people in charge of choosing their government.
Although Plato and Locke share many differences in the way that they see religion as a challenge to the politics of their respective states, they are both concerned with the peaceful life that their proposed changes would bring to their communities. Their theories and views on the relationship between religion in politics have affected the modern world and have made it what it is today. Plato paved the way for communism and equality, while Locke drew an invaluable line between the spiritual domains of the church and the civil ones of the state (Marked by teachers).
The best political order for Plato is that which promotes social peace in the environment of cooperation and friendship among different social groups, each benefiting from and each adding to the common good. Therefore, the best form of government, which he advances in the Republic, is a philosophical aristocracy or monarchy. Immeasurable contributions have been made to society by both Plato and Locke. Although they different drastically, their ideas are the foundations and inspiration behind so much other work as well.