Str. You have been too quick for me, Socrates; I was just going to
ask you whether you objected to any of my statements. And now I see
that we shall have to consider this notion of there being good
government without laws.
Y. Soc. Certainly.
Str. There can be no doubt that legislation is in a manner the
business of a king, and yet the best thing of all is not that the
law should rule, but that a man should rule, supposing him to have
wisdom and royal power. Do you see why this is?
Y. Soc. Why?
Str. Because the law does not perfectly comprehend what is noblest
and most just for all and therefore cannot enforce what is best. The
differences of men and actions, and the endless irregular
human things, do not admit of -any universal and simple rule. And no
art whatsoever can lay down a rule which will last for all time.
Y. Soc. Of course not.
Str. But the law is always striving to make one;-like an obstinate
and ignorant tyrant, who will not allow anything to be done contrary
to his appointment, or any question to be asked-not even in sudden
changes of circumstances, when something happens to be better than
what he commanded for some one.
Y. Soc. Certainly; the law treats us all precisely in the manner
which you describe.
Str. A perfectly simple principle can never be applied to
a state of
things which is the reverse of simple.
Y. Soc. True.
Str. Then if the law is not the perfection of right, why are we
compelled to make laws at all? The reason of this has next to be
Y. Soc. Certainly.
Str. Let me ask, whether you have not meetings for gymnastic
contests in your city, such as there are in other cities, at
compete in running, wrestling, and the like?
Y. Soc. Yes; they are very common among us.
Str. And what are the rules which are enforced on their pupils by
professional trainers or by others having similar authority? Can you
Y. Soc. To what do you refer?
Str. The training-masters do not issue minute rules for
or give every individual what is exactly suited to his constitution;
they think that they ought to go more roughly to work, and to
prescribe generally the regimen, which will benefit the majority.
Y. Soc. Very true.
Str. And therefore they assign equal amounts of exercise to them
all; they send them forth together, and let them rest together from
their running, wrestling, or whatever the form of bodily exercise
Y. So True.
Str. And now observe that the legislator who has to
preside over the
herd, and to enforce justice in their dealings with one another,
will not be able, in enacting for the general good, to
what is suitable for each particular case.
Y. Soc. He cannot be expected to do so.
Str. He will lay down laws in a general form for the majority,
roughly meeting the cases of individuals; and some of them he will
deliver in writing, and others will be unwritten; and these last
will be traditional customs of the country.
Y. Soc. He will be right.