laws (books 1 - 6)
as I was saying, be laid down by us.
Cle. Let it be so laid down.
Ath. I suppose that there must be rulers and subjects in states?
Ath. And what are the principles on which men rule and obey in
cities, whether great or small; and similarly in families? What are
they, and how many in number? Is there not one claim of authority
which is always just-that of fathers and mothers and in general of
progenitors to rule over their offspring?
Cle. There is.
Ath. Next follows the principle that the noble should rule over
the ignoble; and, thirdly, that the elder should rule and the
Cle. To be sure.
Ath. And, fourthly, that slaves should be ruled, and their masters
Cle. Of course.
Ath. Fifthly, if I am not mistaken, comes the principle that the
stronger shall rule, and the weaker be ruled?
Cle. That is a rule not to be disobeyed.
Ath. Yes, and a rule which prevails very widely among all creatures,
and is according to nature, as the Theban poet Pindar once said; and
the sixth principle, and the greatest of all, is, that the wise should
lead and command, and the ignorant follow and obey; and yet, O thou
most wise Pindar, as I should reply him, this surely is not contrary
to nature, but according to nature, being the rule of law over willing
subjects, and not a rule of compulsion.
Cle. Most true.
Ath. There is a seventh kind of rule which is awarded by lot, and is
dear to the Gods and a token of good fortune: he on whom the lot falls
is a ruler, and he who fails in obtaining the lot goes away and is the
subject; and this we affirm to be quite just.
Ath. "Then now," as we say playfully to any of those who lightly
undertake the making of laws, "you see, legislator, the principles
of government, how many they are, and that they are naturally
opposed to each other. There we have discovered a fountain-head of
seditions, to which you must attend. And, first, we will ask you to
consider with us, how and in what respect the kings of Argos and
Messene violated these our maxims, and ruined themselves and the great
and famous Hellenic power of the olden time. Was it because they did
not know how wisely Hesiod spoke when he said that the half is often
more than the whole? His meaning was, that when to take the whole
would be dangerous, and to take the half would be the safe and
moderate course, then the moderate or better was more than the
immoderate or worse."
Cle. Very true.
Ath. And may we suppose this immoderate spirit to be more fatal when
found among kings than when among peoples?
Cle. The probability is that ignorance will be a disorder especially
prevalent among kings, because they lead a proud and luxurious life.
Ath. Is it not palpable that the chief aim of the kings of that time
was to get the better of the established laws, and that they were
not in harmony with the principles which they had agreed to observe by
word and oath? This want of harmony may have had the appearance of
wisdom, but was really, as we assert, the greatest ignorance, and
utterly overthrew the whole empire by dissonance and harsh discord.
Cle. Very likely.
Ath. Good; and what measures ought the legislator to have then taken
in order to avert this calamity? Truly there is no great wisdom in
knowing, and no great difficulty in telling, after the evil has
happened; but to have foreseen the remedy at the time would have taken
a much wiser head than ours.
Meg. What do you mean?