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Plato: They both hate and are hated. Silver and gold and war.


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plato: Selections on war


From Laws
Translated by R.G. Bury


And during all this period, or even longer, all the arts that require iron and bronze and all such metals must have remained in abeyance?

Of course.

Moreover, civil strife and war also disappeared during that time, and that for many reasons.

How so?

In first place, owing to their desolate state, they were kindly disposed and friendly toward one another…[T]hey were not excessively poor, nor were they constrained by stress of poverty to quarrel with one another; and, on the other hand, since they were without gold and silver, they could never become rich. Now a community which has no communion with either poverty or wealth is generally the one in which the noblest characters will be formed: for in it there is no place for the growth of insolence and injustice, of rivalries and jealousies…

And shall we not say that people living in this fashion for many generations were bound to be unskilled, as compared to either the antediluvians or the men of today…of the arts of war as now practised by land and sea, including those warlike acts which, disguised under the names of law-suits and factions, are peculiar to cities, contrived as they are with every device of word and deed to inflict mutual hurt and injury…


…The injunction you gave was that the good lawgiver must frame all his laws with a view to war: I, on the other hand, maintained that, whereas by your injunction the laws would be framed with reference to one only of the four virtues, it was really essential to look to the whole of virtue, and first and above all to pay regard to the principle virtue of the four, which is wisdom and reason and opinion, together with the love and desire that accompany them. Now the argument has come again back to the same point, and I now repeat my former statement, – in jest, if you will, or in earnest; I assert that prayer is a perilous practice for him who is devoid of reason, and that what he obtains is the opposite of his desires. For I certainly expect that, as you follow the argument recently propounded, you will now discover that the cause of the ruin of those kingdoms, and of their whole design, was not cowardice or ignorance of warfare on the part of either or the rulers or of those who should have been their subjects; but that what ruined them was badness of all other kinds, and especially ignorance concerning the greatest of human interests…

It was our investigation of the polity of the Persians that caused us to discuss these matters at greater length. We find that they grew still worse, the reason being, as we say, that by robbing the commons unduly of their liberty and introducing despotism in excess, they destroyed in the State, the bonds of friendliness and fellowship. And when these are destroyed, the policy of the rulers no longer consults for the good of the subjects and the commons, but solely for the maintenance of their own power; if they think that it will profit them in the least degree, they are ready at any time to overturn States and to overturn and burn up friendly nations; and thus they both hate and are hated. And when they come to need the commons, to fight in their support, they find in them no patriotism or readiness to endanger their lives in battle; so that, although they possess countless myriads of men, they are all useless for war, and they hire soldiers from abroad as though they were short of men, and imagine that their safety will be secured by hirelings and aliens. An besides all this, they inevitably display their ignorance, inasmuch as by their acts they declare that the things reputed to be honourable and noble in a State are never anything but dross compared to silver and gold.

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