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beliefs under the influence of civil institutions. Nor is there
any more interesting topic of consideration than the conditions
which have secured the acceptance of this or that current

(1) FoUtics ; last chapter of Bk. Y. (or Bk. VIII. according to the most modern
arrangement).

(2) Sia TO aviaov r) ardffic- V. (or VIII.) i. 11.



SOME GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL GROWTH. 337

opinion by a community. If Plato does not anywhere go in
detail into the natural history of opinion, he goes far enough
in one place to warrant us in ranking him with those thinkers,
who have held the doctrine of the artificiality of opinion in its
fullest extent. This is where, in the constitution of the ideal
Republic, Socrates insists on the necessity of the popular accept-
ance of the fictitious legend, that while the common citizens
were sprung directly from the earth, with only an admixture
of iron in their composition, those who were fit for the rank of
ruler had an admixture, not of iron, but of gold, and those who
were fit for the rank of guardian had, not iron nor gold, but
silver.^ But how, it is asked, can any means be devised for
persuading, if not the ruling orders in the state, at any rate
the bulk of the community, that all this is true ? ^ Socrates
admits the difficulty with respect to an existing generation,
but implies that if rumour or common report could once spread
it, then 'the sons of living people, and the generation after
them, and all the others to come,' would certainly be firmly
persuaded ; koL tovto fxtv 817 e'^ei oVrj av airo t] y[ji-f] dydyr). There
were, he urges, examples of such fictions being propagated in
earlier times, and taking firm root in the popular mind, and
their currency must have been due to some such process as
this. The same faith in the potency of the ruling class over
the opinions of the midtitude must have prompted that other

(1) Sep., III. 414-15. Socrates works the legend out, in a way that {Jrevents it
from countenancing the myth of exclusively hereditary governing power, which
there has been no difficulty in persuading real communities to accept.

(2) The agent sent by the King of France to protest against putting Mary of
Scotland to death, backed his remonstrance, wi are told, by gravely reminding
Elizabeth of the words of Plato, that common mortals are of iron, while the
material of kings is gold. This, which may possibly have been no more than a
rhetorical decoration on Belie vre's part, is not more unjust to Plato, than a great
deal of seriously intended philosophical criticism on his supposed prescription
of a universal community of wives, property, and so forth.

Z



338 SOMP] GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL QKOWTrr.

passage in the same book of the Republic, to which reference
has already been made in this volume/ where Socrates speaks
of false notions being, under certain circumstances, of the
nature of medicine, and just as the administration of medicine
is exclusively entrusted to physicians, so the dissemination of
these falsehoods should be controlled by the governing order,
and confined to that onlj^^

It will be observed that if Plato assumes the extreme
plasticity of society in one sense, in another sense he implies
an equally strong conviction of its stability. For though his
citizens might, in the first instance, receive with perfect faith
any fiction which the rulers, using tricks of supernatural
inspiration and the like, might think fit to impose on them, yet
in the next and all subsequent generations these fictions would
have struck too deep a root, to run any risk of being displaced.
It is clear that in both of these assumptions, in one as much as
the other, Plato was led by the current speculative idea of the
omnipotence first of the Legislator, and then of the Nomos, to
overlook the application of that great principle of Adaptability,
which had given him so much light in understanding the
origin of the division of labour, and the other facts of a growing
community. He overlooked, as many hundred years afterwards
did Saint Just, and the other truly Athenian lawgivers of the
French Hevolution, those forces in himian nature which limit
so rigorously, according to circumstances and time, both the
moulding power of new positive law, on the one hand, and the
sovereignty of old tradition, on the other. Neither new law
nor old opinion practicall v. survives, after its discrepancy with
the leading social and intellectual conditions of the time has

(1) Antea, p. 99.

(2) Rep., III. 389. B. Tliis is virtually the modern latitudinarian, or eccle-
siastical sceptic's, argument for a state church.



SOME GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL GROWTH. 339

made itself felt. For example, iu a society where the exposure
of new-born infants was not repugnant to common sentiment, it
was a simple matter for Plato to urge on his legislator to take
measures for keeping the number of households within the
fixed limits, or up to them, by checking propagation, or
encouraging it.^ But where opinion is averse to the deliberate
destruction of new-born infants, as it is in modern societies, as
well as deeply suspicious of all counsels of self-restraint, as it is
in societies where Christianity in either of its two main forms
retains a real hold, here no amount of hortatory effort, or direct
and positive law-making, on the part of the ruler would couint
for anything. Yet it would have saved many huge folios of
futile discussion, if every thinker since Plato had agreed with
him, that positive law is the progenitor of the most deeply
rooted ideas, and that the mass of a society's convictions rest on
no more intellectually defensible basis than that of inheritance.

III.

In Aristotle's contributions to speculative politics, the
discussion turns so much more upon the conditions of stable
society, than upon the conditions of movement, is so nearly
exclusively statical and so little concerned with any dynamical
aspect, that a very few pages will suffice for them. "We have
already referred cursorily to some of his ideas on the origin of
society. The chapter in which he treats of this subject is
not very long, and may be as well partially reproduced in
the philosopher's own words, as summarised.

' Now it is necessary first of all that there should be a union
between those who cannot be without one another, as male and
female, for the sake of propagation : and this without any

(1) Legg., r. 740. d.



340 SOME GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL GROWTH.

deliberate choice, for in them, as in the other creatures and
plants, the impidse to leave a second self is an impulse of
nature. Then from this it comes, for the sake of preservation,
that there is one of the two naturally master, and the other
naturally obedient. JSTow that there is a master by nature is
clear, for that which has judgment and foresight is master and
lord by nature, while that which is liable to do the will of the
other is servile by nature. This distinction fits the difference
between master and slave. It is nature, then, who has defined
female and slave. For nature never acts penuriously, like the
manufacturers of the Delphian knife, made for many uses, but
she creates each for its own particular purpose. For this is
the condition of each instrument answering its purpose, that
it should not serve many uses, but only one

* So from these two forms of union, the male and the female,
and master and slave, comes the household in its simplest form.
.... The association, therefore, existing for satisfying every-
day needs is naturally the HouseJwld. It is the union of those
who are called by Charondas, fellow-eaters, and by Epimeuides
the Cretan, hearth-fellows. The association, formed of several
Households for purposes beyond the wants of the day, is the
Village. The specially natural kind of Tillage is that composed
of a settlement from a Household — the association of those who
as some term it, are suckled from the same milk, their children
and children's children. For this reason, communities were in
the first instance under the government of a patriarchal king,
just as foreign peoples are now. For they were made up of
persons under such government, inasmuch as each Household is
ruled over by the eldest, as also are the settlements from it,
because of their, kinship

'Now the association finally formed from a number of
Villages is a City, which attains the limit of the full satisfaction



SOME GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL GROWTH. 341

of our wants, first springing into being that the members of it
might live, while it continues that they may live rightly.
Thus every City is natural, exactly as the earlier associations
were. For this is their consummation, and nature means con-
summation, since what anything is w^hen its growth is con-
summated, that we say it is by nature in each case, whether it
be man, or horse, or family.' ^

The end of this is the presentation of the City as the
integral organism, and this organism by nature precedes alike
the individual and the family, because the whole is necessarily
precedent of the part, and if you take away the whole there
can no longer be foot nor hand. ^ With the influence, which
this firmly sustained idea of the state, as the whole and unit,
had upon Aristotle's ethical conceptions, we are not here con-
cerned, and it is only interesting historically to point out that,
owing to the supremacy in European thought of the indi-
vidualist ideas which Christianity carried in vrith. it, the
necessity of studying a society in its ensemble, even when we
seek to know a set of truths respecting a single side of it, fell
out of view until the beginning of the present century, and is
even now denied by thinkers with an exaggerated tendency to
specialisation.

Rational and modern as it is on the whole, Aristotle's account
of the origin of society is obviously not such as the writer of any
treatise, corresponding in its design to the Politics, would now
follow or imitate. It is entirely conjectural, for one thing,
though the one or two quotations from Homer may be taken to
indicate a sense of the need for historic evidence. It is substan-
tially no more than a series of symmetric assumptions. Secondly,
it involves the notion that the process of the formation of the
City has been universally the same, and that one account would

(1) Politics, I. ii. (2) Ibid., T. ii. 12, 13.



342 SOME GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCrAL GROWTH.

serve for every instance alike. There is no reason to suppose
that as a matter of fact the conditions of primitive life have
everywhere remained so identical, that the transformation of
the Village into the City has everywhere come to pass through
one set of agencies. If, in some cases, a number of villages
formed themselves into a city for protection's sake against
animals, or for facility of exchange of goods, or in any other
voluntary and spontaneous manner, there must be many cases
of a different kind, where union was imposed by some con-
queror from without, or by some violent oppressor from among
the members of their own communities. This assumption of
uniformity in the sources of the more striking facts of primitive
societies, is still a defect in speculation ; as when phiLosophers
seek, and are content with, one particular origin of the Totem
gods of rude tribes, whereas there is every probability that the
origins and significance of Totem- worship were various ; or as
when the economists set out by describing an invariable and
uniform transition from fishing and hunting to the pastoral
stage, and from that to the agricultural stage, whereas it seems
neither inherently impossible, nor contradicted by what we
know, that a tribe might pass direct from the hunting to the
agricultural stage.

Again, Aristotle is guilty of the fatal omission to take
community of gods into account ; this in reality being not
any less essential in the constitution of the Village, and hardly
any less so, where the growth of the City out of several
villages has been spontaneous, and not the fruit of conquest,
than the fact of possessing one or a series of common ances-
tors and patriarchal rulers. Whatever may have been the
case when the primitive family first acquired coherence, it
is not to be doubted that, in course of time, the patriarchal
authority was closely associated with the worship of the family



SOME GREEK CONCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL GROWTH. 343

gods, and was indebted to this for its most important attributes.
There is perhaps a hint of the true view, but a crude and
inadequate one, in Aristotle's account of the rise of the heroic
kings, as having been in the first instance the benefactors of
the multitude, either by instructing them in arts, or leading
them in war, or acquiring territory, and so being voluntarily
accepted as rulers, and transmitting to their sons, not only their
mditary, but their sacrificial offices. This, however, throws the
vital fact of all into a parenthesis.^

Let us notice in a word two of the many pregnant sentences
that stud this chapter. First, the reader will observe that
Aristotle's description of the City, as arising out of the neces-
sities of living, but existing that men may live rightly,^ exactly
corresponds with Kant's account of the exaltation of the social
concert, extorted pathologically from mere necessities of situa-
tion, into a moral union.^ The second is one to which reference
has already been made : ' "\Yhile there is in all of us by nature
an impulse to join such a union as has been described, it is still
true that he who first organised men in union conferred the
greatest benefits on them.' * This sentence is remarkable, not

(1) Politics, III. xiv. 12. Kvpioi fjaav r»K' i"* Kara iroXffxov r'lyefioviac nai tiov
Gvcjiutv, oaai uri IfpariKai. There is no reference to the essentially hieratic
monarchies.

(2) yivofievt) fiiv ovv -ov ^iiv sfeKsv, ovaa ot rov tv ^i/i>. (I. ii. 8).

(3) Antea, p. 88.

(4) 6 Si irpuiTOQ ffvcrrfjaaQ fityiiTT
fiiXriarov rJv ^^wv avd^MizoQ ianv, ourw Kai x^P'^^s'' vofiov Kal ciKifg x*'P""'



Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies → online text (page 27 of 29)