laws (books 1 - 6)
you tell me a little more explicitly what is the principle of
government which you would lay down? You seem to imagine that a well
governed state ought to be so ordered as to conquer all other states
in war: am I right in supposing this to be your meaning?
Cle. Certainly; and our Lacedaemonian friend, if I am not
mistaken, will agree with me.
Meg. Why, my good friend, how could any Lacedaemonian say anything
Ath. And is what you say applicable only to states, or also to
Cle. To both alike.
Ath. The case is the same?
Ath. And in the village will there be the same war of family against
family, and of individual against individual?
Cle. The same.
Ath. And should each man conceive himself to be his own
enemy:-what shall we say?
Cle. O Athenian Stranger-inhabitant of Attica I will not call you,
for you seem to deserve rather to be named after the goddess
herself, because you go back to first principles you have thrown a
light upon the argument, and will now be better able to understand
what I was just saying-that all men are publicly one another's
enemies, and each man privately his own.
(Ath. My good sir, what do you mean?)--
Cle..... Moreover, there is a victory and defeat-the first and
best of victories, the lowest and worst of defeats-which each man
gains or sustains at the hands, not of another, but of himself; this
shows that there is a war against ourselves going on within every
one of us.
Ath. Let us now reverse the order of the argument: Seeing that every
individual is either his own superior or his own inferior, may we
say that there is the same principle in the house, the village, and
Cle. You mean that in each of them there is a principle of
superiority or inferiority to self?
Cle. You are quite right in asking the question, for there certainly
is such a principle, and above all in states; and the state in which
the better citizens win a victory over the mob and over the inferior
classes may be truly said to be better than itself, and may be
justly praised, where such a victory is gained, or censured in the
Ath. Whether the better is ever really conquered by the worse, is a
question which requires more discussion, and may be therefore left for
the present. But I now quite understand your meaning when you say that
citizens who are of the same race and live in the same cities may
unjustly conspire, and having the superiority in numbers may
overcome and enslave the few just; and when they prevail, the state
may be truly called its own inferior and therefore bad; and when
they are defeated, its own superior and therefore good.
Cle. Your remark, Stranger, is a paradox, and yet we cannot possibly
Ath. Here is another case for consideration;-in a family there may
be several brothers, who are the offspring of a single pair; very
possibly the majority of them may be unjust, and the just may be in
Cle. Very possibly.
Ath. And you and I ought not to raise a question of words as to
whether this family and household are rightly said to be superior when
they conquer, and inferior when they are conquered; for we are not now
considering what may or may not be the proper or customary way of
speaking, but we are considering the natural principles of right and
wrong in laws.