Leo Strauss on Plato’s Republic

Strauss, Leo. "Transcript of Seminar on Plato's Republic." University of Chicago, 1957. Leo Strauss Archives. http://leostrausscenter.uchicago.edu/course/republic

A transcript of a seminar given by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in 1957 on Plato’s Republic.


Leo Strauss:. . . [The Greek title of Plato’s Republic is politeia.] This word is ordinarily translated as constitution. This means not only structure as we may understand it but also a whole way of life. I would translate politeia literally, however, as regime. This is somewhat broader and can be used to refer to the whole political and social order. You can say polity if you desire, but this is simply the Anglicized version of politeia. When you speak of democracy as a way of life and not as a mere procedure for having agovernment, then democracy would be a regime in this sense. These words will come up as we read and discuss the Republic.

Thus the subject indicated by the title of the book is regime—the all–comprehensive political and social order. The subject of the dialogue, however, as stated almost at the very beginning, is justice. These things, justice and politeia, are obviously not the same. Yet those of you who are familiar with the book will know the connection made between the two in the Republic. For that matter, you can almost guess what this is. What is the relation in the Republic between the polity and justice?

Student: I suppose you would say there is a double relation: (a) in order to understand justice you have to raise the problems of politics, and (b) justice is realized finally only in a particular political order.LS: This is already much too sophisticated for my present purposes. I would say the two things meet in the notion of the just polis. The just polis means, however, the best polis. The Republic is thus concerned with the best polis or the best regime. This is, of course, almost universally known, and the theme of the book is sometimes spoken of as “the ideal society” or as a study in utopian thought. These are two ways of expressing what in Plato’s language would have been the problem of the best regime. The term utopia is a bit closer to what Plato means than “the ideal society,” because the term utopia was coined by Sir Thomas More, a very profound student of Plato’s thought. Utopia means something which does not exist anywhere. The best regime as Plato thought of it is a utopia in that sense, that it does not necessarily have a place. It does not necessarily exist anywhere. On the other hand, it is not a utopia if we use the word in the newer sense—that such a place is simply a figment of the imagination. For Plato the best regime is that demanded by the nature of man. There is no attempt to ignore the importance of this fact. The best regime is thus that demanded by the nature of man and yet that which is not necessarily actual.

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