Plato’s The Republic and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan are key texts within the conservative tradition. They each explore the human condition and its relationship to society at large. The two theorists recognize the need for a hierarchical form of government to maintain order; however, they differ in their account of the effect of desires, and emotions on political order and hierarchy. Plato asserts that desires lead to the ultimate corruption of society, whereas Hobbes believes that certain innate desires can contribute to peace. For Plato, all human desires must be controlled to maintain order, while Hobbes argues that people’s innate desire for life is central to maintaining the hierarchy.
Plato’s depiction of the human condition in The Republic relies on the principle of natural inequality. He contends that “we aren’t all born alike, but each of us differs somewhat in nature from the others, one being suited to one task, another to another” (Plato, 45, 370b). People in Platonic society are naturally fit to do certain tasks, and unfit to do others. They are not self-sufficient on their own. Reason compels the people to cooperate with one another because they recognize that it is in the best interest of the society if each person does what he or she is best suited for without meddling in everyone else’s work. In a specialized interdependent society, the people must work together as a way to compensate for the natural inequality that exists in the human condition.
Plato believes that there exists a guardian class of philosophers who, with education and training, can achieve the balance of the soul needed to rule. He notes that “it is appropriate for the rational part to rule, since it is really wise and exercises foresight on behalf...
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...ch because nobody hindered him from detaining was the action of a man at liberty” (Hobbes, 189). People’s desire for glory may motivate them to disobey the sovereign, but the fear of punishment coupled with the innate desire for self-preservation compel them to not commit such actions, thereby preserving the political hierarchy. Unlike Plato, who believes that desires must be controlled through myth, Hobbes asserts that people control their own conflict causing desires through the fear of retribution, most notably death.
Plato and Hobbes have conflicting viewpoints regarding the human condition. They recognize the fundamental need for hierarchy and a central government to maintain order. Plato asserts that desires ruin the society. In contrast, Hobbes asserts that people’s desire to survive is fundamental to limiting conflict, and maintaining order.
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