laws (books 1 - 6)
manners of a state: he has only to go in the direction of virtue or of
vice, whichever he prefers, he himself indicating by his example the
lines of conduct, praising and rewarding some actions and reproving
others, and degrading those who disobey.
Cle. But how can we imagine that the citizens in general will at
once follow the example set to them; and how can he have this power
both of persuading and of compelling them?
Ath. Let no one, my friends, persuade us that there is any quicker
and easier way in which states change their laws than when the
rulers lead: such changes never have, nor ever will, come to pass in
any other way. The real impossibility or difficulty is of another
sort, and is rarely surmounted in the course of ages; but when once it
is surmounted, ten thousand or rather all blessings follow.
Cle. Of what are you speaking?
Ath. The difficulty is to find the divine love of temperate and just
institutions existing in any powerful forms of government, whether
in a monarchy or oligarchy of wealth or of birth. You might as well
hope to reproduce the character of Nestor, who is said to have
excelled all men in the power of speech, and yet more in his
temperance. This, however, according to the tradition, was in the
times of Troy; in our own days there is nothing of the sort; but if
such an one either has or ever shall come into being, or is now
among us, blessed is he and blessed are they who hear the wise words
that flow from his lips. And this may be said of power in general:
When the supreme power in man coincides with the greatest wisdom and
temperance, then the best laws and the best constitution come into
being; but in no other way. And let what I have been saying be
regarded as a kind of sacred legend or oracle, and let this be our
proof that, in one point of view, there may be a difficulty for a city
to have good laws, but that there is another point of view in which
nothing can be easier or sooner effected, granting our supposition.
Cle. How do you mean?
Ath. Let us try to amuse ourselves, old boys as we are, by
moulding in words the laws which are suitable to your state.
Cle. Let us proceed without delay.
Ath. Then let us invoke God at the settlement of our state; may he
hear and be propitious to us, and come and set in order the State
and the laws!
Cle. May he come!
Ath. But what form of polity are we going to give the city?
Cle. Tell us what you mean a little more clearly. Do you mean some
form of democracy, or oligarchy, or aristocracy, or monarchy? For we
cannot suppose that you would include tyranny.
Ath. Which of you will first tell me to which of these classes his
own government is to be referred?
Megillus. Ought I to answer first, since I am the elder?
Cle. Perhaps you should.
Meg. And yet, Stranger, I perceive that I cannot say, without more
thought, what I should call the government of Lacedaemon, for it seems
to me to be like a tyranny-the power of our Ephors is marvellously
tyrannical; and sometimes it appears to me to be of all cities the
most democratical; and who can reasonably deny that it is an
aristocracy? We have also a monarchy which is held for life, and is
said by all mankind, and not by ourselves only, to be the most ancient
of all monarchies; and, therefore, when asked on a sudden, I cannot
precisely say which form of government the Spartan is.
Cle. I am in the same difficulty, Megillus; for I do not feel
confident that the polity of Cnosus is any of these.
Ath. The reason is, my excellent friends, that you really have
polities, but the states of which we were just now speaking are merely
aggregations of men dwelling in cities who are the subjects and
servants of a part of their own state, and each of them is named after
the dominant power; they are not polities at all. But if states are to
be named after their rulers, the true state ought to be called by