Compare and Contrast French and American Revolution Documents

Instigating Change

While reflecting on the revolutions of the past it has been seen that they have brought upon suffering and at times more chaos. Even after there has been a reform, the public’s misery has not been eased. However, at times the natural rights of the people become violated enough and the desire for happiness necessitates retribution which is similarly displayed by the French and American revolutionary documents. They also put doubt on the “perfect State” (The Republic) proposed by Plato.

Although the two documents draw many parallelisms; they occur in different social contexts. While Americans were being oppressed by a King on the other side of the shore, French were being oppressed in their homeland. This probably led to the French having a more aggressive approach in their declaration as the control by the monarchy was a much stronger one. Whereas the Americans living on another land probably had much more freedom than their French did counterparts did.

Both the French and American societies bring to light the tyranny of their respective rulers: one by the dictatorship of the British King; the other, the hierarchal social structure. Being on a common stage brought upon by violation of rights, they plead for equal standing regardless of place of birth in society. Born under the same sun, they believe every man deserves, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”(Blaisedell 64). They reveal that the majority is ruled by a minor group in society and their desires fulfilled at the cost of the majority. In America’s case a British monarch far overseas enforces dictatorship and the French, by the First and Second estate which consists of less than 2% of society but has the most say in the State. They infringe the rights of man which are considered “sacred” and “inviolable”(Paine 94).  The documents also display parallel rhetoric in their arguments. They display a common use of pathos by describing the incompetency of the King and Second estate as the rulers have defiled their right to rule by giving in to personal desires of power, ignoring the public good. Such use of pathos was important, as it would rally up the people to rise for a change in governance. The use of emotion was needed to unite them under one banner.

These two documents signify how intellectuals brought up an issue to the people and allowed them to strive for what was rightfully theirs. While proving that the desire for freedom can instigate change, they also display the long term results of ‘perfect’ compulsive societies put forward by Plato and that perhaps a utopia is one with everyone’s happiness considered.



Comparison: Republic and Utopia

Sam Wittmer

One of the interesting characteristics of two fictional Utopian societies, Thomas More’s Utopia and Plato’s Republic, is that in these model societies there is a recognized inequality among the people.  In the setting we live in, one infatuated with the idea of equality, it may seem surprising to know that these philosophers believed that a perfect society would have people that were better than others.  The relationships of ruler to subject, in The Republic and Utopia, are based upon a group of the elite presiding, not forcefully, over another group that the society has been determined to be in a different position, with each party doing their duty for the gain of the State.

Although the statuses of the citizens of each state are not equal, there is not unrest among the classes.  Plato speaks of a metaphor that the people should be told to explain these different classes; humans are each comprised of a type of metal from birth that determines status; gold, silver, and iron or bronze.  Those of gold, the guardians or rulers, would preside over those who were simply not born to rule.[1]  In Utopia, as well, the state is structured with people who are higher, such as the prince and the priests. Its structure allows it to function.  Workers produce goods which are equally distributed to all—including the higher class—and from the rulers they receive protection. Each class relies on the other.

In Utopia, the act of manual labor or labor in general is not looked on with disdain as it often is in societies that esteem nobility, but is respected and even revered.  Some devotees to religion would dedicate themselves to laborious tasks that no others would want to do.  The state’s opinion of them is that “by their stooping to such servile employments, they are so far from being despised, that they are so much the more esteemed by the whole nation.”[2] This respect (from the ruling class) of labor comes from the understanding that labor is not simply the unsightly means to an end, but part of a system of cogs.  In The Republic as well, Plato speaks of the duty of the ruled to be productive in their best strengths for the good and for the rulers to govern justly and that this network is to be respected—that the system is a relationship of mutual understanding of duty.

The rulers of these two societies function as parts of their state and recognize their duty to lead instead of being tyrants.  Therefore, the lower classes work to serve the community to fulfill their duty.









[1] Plato, The Republic (Toronto: Dover, 2000), 86-87

[2] Thomas More, Utopia (Toronto: Dover, 1997), 76



The Relationship Between Ruler and Ruled

Plato’s “The Republic” and More’s “Utopia explore the possibilities of creating an ideal state. In an idea state however, there must be some sort of regulation among the masses, and this comes from a relationship between a ruler and those that are ruled. Although they each concede that it is necessary for their state to have a ruler and those who are ruled, it is Plato’s search for the perfect soul that compels him to create a rigid system of leadership under the philosopher kings and it is More’s desire to create a superior nation that drives him to construct a fluid class system allowing the rise of a ruler. These differences in motivation cause the different relationships between ruler and ruled in “Utopia” and “The Republic”.

Plato’s “perfect” state must also have a ruler that is equally as ideal. The philosopher king he describes through the voice of Socrates comes from a separate category from ordinary citizens. The philosopher king is an elite individual, trained from birth in mathematics, war, and the didactic method. This creates a distinct and rigid separation between the ruling class and the rest of the general population. Plato’s initiative is his search for the perfect soul, and through his belief that humans are inherently flawed, he concludes that it is in the best interest of the masses to be ruled under strict power. In this view the perfect soul is one which is just and happy, so in the analogy of the state, Plato believes that it is the duty of the ruler to rule and the duty of the citizens to carry out the tasks they are most capable of. This strict societal structure between the ruling class and the ruled stems from Plato’s belief that the soul is most happy when it is carrying out the task that supports the greater good.

Similarly, More seeks to create a society at peace with itself, but his ideology rests upon the idea that Utopian citizens will feel a collective sense of cooperation and justice. This more optimistic view of human nature relies on a general good natured attitude of his citizens in creating a less rigid relationship between the ruling class and the ruled. In Utopian society, there is no separation between the general public and future rulers. This allows for greater social mobility and the possibility of a capable ruler rising from the public, though Utopian leaders carry less power than those of “The Republic”. This is derived from More’s desire for equality and to create a superior nation, viewing humans as malleable and interchangeable therefore creating a more fluid relationship between ruler and ruled.

The societies of “Utopia” and “The Republic”  both necessitate the presence of a ruler and those that must be ruled, it is the motivation behind the ideologies however, that shapes the relationships of each society.

The Rulers and the Ruled

Both of the utopian societies that are portrayed in Plato’s The Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia have a hierarchy in which there is a clear difference between the State or island’s ruler, and the ruled. However, the ruler’s powers and responsibilities differ greatly due to the respective utopias’ structure and organization. In The Republic, we can observe a rigid class organization with the philosopher king as the absolute ruler. In Utopia, there exists a ruler, but in a scheme which is much more malleable. These differences in the structure of power in the utopias depicted reveal the respective author’s society and situation in which they live, and consequently reveal their motivations in writing these books.

            These philosophers agree that there needs to be a special class that holds power over the citizens of the utopia. In the Republic that Plato describes, these rulers are the philosopher kings; those that were handpicked from childhood and rigorously educated and molded to be in the elite class throughout their lives. These philosopher kings possess absolute power, and are assumed to know what is best for the State. In Thomas More’s utopia, those that are the most educated and qualified are chosen to lead regardless of upbringing or social status. Because there is less social rigidity in this rendition of utopia, the citizens who chose to have a role in governing the island are able to collaborate with the rulers. This in turn creates a system of checks and balances that is absent in the Republic.

This disparity in ruling structure is inherently a product of the time period in which the author lived and also his experiences. After witnessing the execution of his teacher, Socrates, at the hands of the government of Athens, Plato lost confidence in democracy and human nature. As a result, Plato structures his ideal State in a way that would minimize the power of the uninformed many, and emphasize the rule of the educated elite. Consequently, the stability of the State would be valued over the happiness of individuals. The Utopia in Thomas More’s work is also a product of his experience. The dictator-like operations of the Catholic Church in addition to the actions of the English monarchy caused him to desire a more collaborative and open method of government in his utopian society. As a result, the citizens of Utopia were encouraged to explore various fields of knowledge while contributing to the city.

While both authors strove to create an ideal society, they came to a vastly different conclusion. The term “perfect” is not set in stone; the definition changes with the time period based on what is deemed “imperfect” by the thinker who is affected by his or her influences, experiences and position in society. This is reflected in Plato and Thomas More’s differences in the structure of power in their respective utopian societies.

Comparing the Genesis and Content of Morality in Plato and More’s Utopias

Thomas More’s Utopia and Plato’s The Republic both address morality in the context of ideal civilizations.  Similarities arise when each novel describes its people, and how they come to be functioning and ideal members of Utopia or the perfect State.  Each author describes some sort of conditioning process that each society’s residents must go through.  However, Plato’s subjects are closely inculcated with specific information and preplanned cultural influences from birth; thus, they know nothing other than their enforced goodness.  More’s Utopia was first populated by “rude and uncivilized”(p. 28) people, who, through generations of residing in their perfect civilization, came to be virtuous citizens.  The only true morality is that which is displayed by someone who has been presented with the opportunity to be dishonorable.

Book VII of The Republic features Socrates’s description of the perfect society.  To build it, Socrates suggests that everyone over the age of ten be expelled from the city, and those remaining—who possess the most potential—will be trained until the age of fifty to be perfect citizens or Philosopher Kings.

Similarly, in books II-IV, Plato describes that guardians of another perfect society, the Luxurious State, must be specifically taught what is and isn’t appropriate to do and think.  The populace is told fictitious stories of its gods and rulers to instill respect.  Various information, both true and false, is strategically fed to and withheld from the citizens of the Luxurious State to ensure that they unknowingly grow to be dignified, trusting, and most importantly, moral— but is accidental morality actual morality?

The answer is no.  More’s Utpoia was founded by one man who created an artificial island away from the rest of society, and used its old, corrupt inhabitants to populate his new city, Utopia.  When Utopia’s government and laws were established, the new citizens could choose to either follow or break the law, and accept the consequences.  Through generations, Utopians grew to appreciate their lifestyles, and became exceptionally virtuous people.  They witnessed acts of evil, saw their consequences, then often chose not to commit them for the benefit of society and themselves.  Plato’s people are made “moral” by masterminds, while More’s people are made moral by the community.  Plato’s citizens are characterized by a fictitious and enforced integrity, whereas Utopians are truly moral, because they are exposed to evil, and choose to be honorable.