Plato and More

Two men are seated in the middle of a room. One of them- draped in a thick, fur coat with a silk sash resting neatly on the shoulders- appears to be at ease. Sitting up straight in his chair, he glances over at the other man and offers a soft, almost cautious nod. There is a pause, as his balding, toga-clad companion mulls over the gesture. He seems undecided. Then, after a long silence he lifts his chin and returns the motion.

These actions- small and seemingly trivial- ultimately set the stage for the rest of the conversation. The two discuss democracy among many other subjects, but though each man has an opinion on such, their views prove to vary quite a bit.

“Democracy,” Plato starts, smoothing down the wrinkled fabric of his toga, “is simply not efficient.”

Thomas More raises an eyebrow. “Why do you say that, good sir?”

“The right to leadership should be earned. One should not become ruler because they are elected by the majority; doing so might leave room for inadequate men to govern simply because of their popularity.”

“Interesting. I see your point, but wouldn’t this cause unhappiness amongst the people?”

“Perhaps- but it entirely depends on how one chooses to view the situation. If this utopia were to be as successful and functional as possible, then surely the people living in it would be very pleased with such! Having the fortune of residing in such a successful, ideal society would promote happiness and a thus a very positive outlook on life.”

More considers this. Slowly, he lifts one leg and crosses it deliberately over the other, his brow furrowed in thought.  “If you don’t mind me asking, what would determine this?”

“Intelligence in the skills of arithmetic and dialect.”

“Intelligence?” Both eyebrows arched now, More eyes Plato skeptically. “That seems biased, does it not? In my utopia, there is equality for all who deserve it. We do not discriminate based on uncontrollable aspects of oneself; the only discrimination that occurs is the type that they bring upon themselves.”

There is silence, so More continues.

“If one commits a crime, they become a slave and spend the rest of their life serving the community. Everyone starts with a clean slate- no matter how intelligent they are- but what defines one is their actions.”

Almost instantly this elicits a laugh from Plato, who is seated at the other end of the room. Shaking his head in bemusement, he glances over at the disapproving More, before up at the large, glass window to his left. They have been talking for such an extended period of time that the sun has shifted, thus leaving Plato sitting in a tiny sliver of light, as opposed to the rest of the room that is filled with darkness. Still chortling softly over More’s words, Plato stands and drags his chair over to the other man, so that they are now both sitting in the shadows. Then, he speaks once more.

“You really believe that a utopia could be successfully ruled by someone who is not of the highest caliber?”

“Yes,” More says confidently, intent on proving his argument valid. “I do. Caliber is not necessarily defined by intelligence at all. By letting the people select their leader, the person who wins the election will not only be universally liked, but will know the community well enough to make necessary changes. An intelligent man might only be familiar with other intelligent men; but an average, well-rounded man will no doubt have a wider breadth of knowledge.”

Plato folds his hands and rests them on his chest, leaning back in his chair.

“I cannot say that I agree with you,” he starts slowly, “But I respect your opinion just the same. I apologize for my behavior earlier- looking back, it was somewhat out of place- but it puzzles me as to how two utopias can be so different.”

“Plato, do not worry. I completely understand, because this conversation is just as foreign to me as it is to you, dear friend. It was fascinating to hear what you had to say, even if it was and quite honestly, will continue to be a struggle for me to understand. What did you say the leaders of your society were called?”

“Philosopher kings. They are, to put it rather colloquially, the best of the best. It takes years upon years to perfect the skills to become such, which is certainly not an easy task.”

“Oh, I’m sure. Interesting, very interesting.”

“As is your policy of democracy. I had not viewed it in such a way prior to having this conversation with you, and though I am certainly not in favor of it, your reasoning has made me less averse to such.”

“Why thank you, I appreciate your open-mindedness. I have to get going now- it is getting rather dark in here and seeing is becoming a struggle- but I hope to speak with you soon. Shall we get together again one of these days?”

“Absolutely. Speaking to you was a pleasure.

“As it was with you. Goodbye, Sir Plato.”

“Goodbye, Sir More.”