The Ruler and the Ruled

At the surfaces of Plato’s and More’s two societies, their governments draw their power from very different sources. Plato’s philosopher-kings are given their thrones from other rulers, whereas More’s magistrates are either elected by a group of families, or nominated by those who were elected by those families. And so, there is an apparent division between their two governments; Plato’s philosopher-kings get their power from the ruling class, and More’s rulers are awarded their power directly by the people. At a deeper level, though, the rulers’ power structures and relationships to their people share many of the same patterns throughout the two societies.

Specifically, both Plato and More use education as a means of imparting values unto their youth. These values, in turn, serve to rule the people and control their behavior. More explicitly says that education’s purpose is not to teach information, but rather “to infuse very early into the tender and flexible minds of children such opinions as are both good in themselves and will be useful to heir country” (More, 77), and Plato uses censorship of the arts to control what influences the character of his society’s people, and thus to control their behavior (Plato, 62). Thus, both Plato and More use power and authority to erect structures to condition their people to accept certain values.

These values, in turn, work from within the people—and thus are rooted deep within society—to ensure that their societies function properly. In fact, More mentions at the conclusion of Utopia that his society is stable because the rulers have “rooted out of the minds of their people all the seeds of both ambition and faction” (More, 84).

Superficially, More and Plato appear to construct very different relationships between the rulers and the ruled in their respective societies. Nonetheless, these apparent relationships prove irrelevant; the real power of the rulers over the ruled in both their societies comes in how the rulers teach their people to live. Perhaps, ultimately, this is where the real stability of both their societies comes from; the power of the rulers is so subversive—it is, after all, in the values that take root within each citizen—that no one would be able to target and attack that power if they ever felt the need. The relationship between the rulers and the ruled in both the texts, therefore, is subversive, yes, but stable.