Socrates and Polemarchus agree that it is impossible to change the nature of the unjust man with the misapplication of justice. Harm, they agree, will simply drive the unjust man to more injustice (335d). The next three books then proceed to deal with this thorny problem—how to transform the unjust man into a just one, for the benefit of society? Adeimantus’ creation of the vegetarian polis with little or no personal property seems to lack injustice (371d). It is only with the introduction of the Glauconians and their fierce and greedy nature—later rebranded as the guardians—that injustice starts to rear its ugly head (371e). Socrates, perhaps already expecting the necessity for the guardians, outlines some of the groundwork for their arrival at 373c—“Or doesn’t it seem there will be need of teachers, wet nurses, governesses….” He already plans to attempt to tame them with education, from their first introduction.
The nature of the education is more complex and multifaceted. Children identified as belonging to the guardian class are separated from their parents at birth—“(T)hey will take the offspring of the good and bring them into the pen to certain nurses who live apart…”—ostensibly to begin their life of honor and glory (460c). This is the initial stage of separating the potential guardians from the bronze-class citizens—separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Socrates deliberately obfuscates on who exactly is good and who is not—Glaucon is the one who clarifies that this is a move for guardian racial purity (460c). As the textual example of a guardian nature, he would view it as a...
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... their potential for damage. While the system faces challenges, and will inevitably fail, it presents a much safer alternative than simply letting nature run its course.
The lasting criticism of Socrates’ system then becomes the happiness of the guardians and the rulers. The bronze citizens, making up the bulk of the population, are happy and safe with the policies enacted in their defense. But the justice of denying the rulers and guardians intrapersonal connections and the ability to act without self-doubt for the benefit of the masses is another conundrum. If readers embrace Socrates’ initial theory of justice—mind your own business—it seems perfectly just from the perspective of the artisans. The guardians and rulers would beg to disagree. With multiple acts of injustice ongoing in the ‘perfect’ city, it seems even the largest and smartest efforts of man fail.
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