In Plato’s The Republic and More’s Utopia, both writers examine the relationship between ruling class and the ruled within a just society. Within each work, both classes are bound by the mutual sacrifice and duty that perpetuates justice, but the writers’ individual experiences with different forms of governance lead them to diverge when discussing the control that the ruled have over their rulers.
In both Utopia and The Republic, sacrifices on behalf of both the rulers and the ruled forge solidarity between members of the two classes. Plato and More agree that just as every man has a talent to offer, every man must also forsake certain pleasures to promote the functioning of the society as a whole. This is why in neither work do rulers have more wealth or luxury than those they rule over, for justice in both societies demands equal distributions of happiness and material goods among members. Rulers in both works also have a duty to be a guide for other citizens to follow. Just as Plato’s philosopher kings must descend back into the cave to lead others to enlightenment, magistrates in Utopia must encourage industrious spirit among citizens by performing manual labor.
However, their experiences with democracy and monarchy lead Plato and More to defend different forms of government, resulting in different powers that the ruled have over their rulers. Plato critiques democracy and believes that leadership roles ought to be filled by those whose intrinsic talents are best suited to the job. Thus, citizens are unable to elect their rulers. Because each member of society is fated to perform a certain role regardless of his own desires, there is an irreconcilable divide between the rulers and the ruled, for no ruler can ever be removed from power, and no ordinary citizen can ever rise to the level of a ruler. In contrast, More’s version of governance allows for social mobility. After living under a monarchy for his entire life, More promotes a democratic republican form of government wherein citizens elect a number of magistrates who then make decisions – such as selecting the prince – with their interests in mind. The ruled can revoke the power of the magistrates if they are thought be be unjust or abusive. This check on the power of the ruling class ensures balance and an equal distribution of power throughout the society that is essential to maintaining justice.