The Noble Lie
Did Plato Mix Religion With Politics?
Plato's work is considered the foundation for philosophical thought and political motivation. His work, The Republic, is one of the most influential social justice Socratic dialogues ever written, and it is also one of the most dissected Western works due to the theories of form, the role of philosophy and poetry in the social structure and interesting reflections about the soul.
In The Republic, Plato describes a city where the inhabitants are organized in categories called the Rulers or Guardians, the Auxiliaries, the Farmers and other specific groups. The Rulers are chosen from the military elite because they have the ability to care for and shepherd the interests of the community.
The Rulers must tell the other categories the Noble Lie, which is that different categories within the community are not due to circumstances within the people's control. In those days that statement referred to education and social status. Plato said the categories are due to God's intervention. The Lie says that God put silver, gold, and iron in each person's soul, and those elements determined a person's goal in physical life.
Children of Rulers with bronze or iron in their soul would drop down the ranks accordingly, and the children of Farmers with gold in their soul would rise up to the Guardian or Ruler level. People with different metals in their bloodstream could not intermarry. The Noble Lie in Plato's mind was the way to keep the social structure stable and to keep the people happy by "understanding" their particular situation.
Plato mixed religion with politics in order to maintain control. Control through religious beliefs has been an essential political tool through the centuries. Government uses religion in one form or another, or the lack of it, to control every society in the world.
It can certainly be said that Plato worked out a clever system but in the end it was a fascist or even totalitarian one in many ways. Plato believed in the rule of the many by the few. He believed that some were born to rule over others and that a nation ruled by the select few was bound to be a prosperous and happy one.
The benefit of hindsight provides us with economic ideas such as marginal utility, the Invisible Hand and the other elements of a modern free-market society that will produce the kind of society that Plato expected his leaders to produce. It is neo-classical economics that provides us the keys to a prosperous and just society, not a handful of authoritarian rulers, no matter how enlightened.