The institutions of Sparta and Crete are admitted by the Lacedaemonian and Cretan to have one aim only: they were intended by the legislator to inspire courage in war. To this the Athenian objects that the true lawgiver should frame his laws with a view to all the virtues and not to one only. Better is he who has temperance as well as courage, than he who has courage only; better is he who is faithful in civil broils, than he who is a good soldier only. Better, too, is peace than war; the reconciliation than the defeat of an enemy. And he who would attain all virtue should be trained amid pleasures as well as pains. Hence there should be convivial intercourse among the citizens, and a man’s temperance should be tested in his cups, as we test his courage amid dangers. He should have a fear of the right sort, as well as a courage of the right sort.
At the beginning of the second book the subject of pleasure leads to education, which in the early years of life is wholly a discipline imparted by the means of pleasure and pain. The discipline of pleasure is implanted chiefly by the practice of the song and the dance. Of these the forms should be fixed, and not allowed to depend on the fickle breath of the multitude. There will be choruses of boys, girls, and grown-up persons, and all will be heard repeating the same strain, that ‘virtue is happiness.’ One of them will give the law to the rest; this will be the chorus of aged minstrels, who will sing the most beautiful and the most useful of songs. They will require a little wine, to mellow the austerity of age, and make them amenable to the laws.
After having laid down as the first principle of politics, that peace, and not war, is the true aim of the legislator, and briefly discussed music and festive intercourse, at the commencement of the third book Plato makes a digression, in which he speaks of the origin of society. He describes, first of all, the family; secondly, the patriarchal stage, which is an aggregation of families; thirdly, the founding of regular cities, like Ilium; fourthly, the establishment of a military and political system, like that of Sparta, with which he identifies Argos and Messene, dating from the return of the Heraclidae. But the aims of states should be good, or else, like the prayer of Theseus, they may be ruinous to themselves. This was the case in two out of three of the Heracleid kingdoms. They did not understand that the powers in a state should be balanced. The balance of powers saved Sparta, while the excess of tyranny in Persia and the excess of liberty at Athens have been the ruin of both…This discourse on politics is suddenly discovered to have an immediate practical use; for Cleinias the Cretan is about to give laws to a new colony.
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