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The written mythology of the psyche as a tripartite entity that is prone to stasis [civil war] among its constituent parts is perhaps one of Plato’s most important contributions to the understanding of human psychology, and one that is useful in developing an understanding of modern political movements and their imputii.

Fundamentally, this Socratic conception of the psyche is one in which the soul itself is expressed as an amalgam of three organs - the pathos, the thymos, and the nous (the appetites, the spirit, and the reasoning aspect) (“Republic”, 434d-436d). More importantly to the interests of students of politics, the character of the individual soul is decided by virtue of the balance of influence between the three aspects, and the form and nature of collective political entities such as states being equal to the functional sum of the ordered or disordered souls of its members. The state then, as Socrates famously alludes to his audience within Plato’s “Republic”, is necessarily the mirrored image of the soul of its citizens, and it is the cumulative balance of power between the psychic aspects of the citizenry which gives the state the characteristics of a reasoned aristocracy of philosopher-kings, a martial and spirited timocracy, or a pathological and degenerate tyranny.

Quite apart from Socrates’ brief and general description of potential civil orders, we are also provided with Plato’s much more thorough investigation into the development and ordering of polities through the dialogue contained within the “Laws” . Through the exposition and interaction of the Athenian Stranger, Kleinias, and Megillus, Plato both separates, and frees himself from discussion of ideal polities and instead immerses the discussion of political order in a world of practical limits that has turned its back to the philosopher-kings; the city developed in speech by the Athenian Stranger is a second-best city, limited by the realities of its compromises to and the pre-exist ant imperfections and prejudices of its populace. It is through this coming-down from the lofty heights of the true sum bonum of politics and soul to the gritty reality of life in the Earthly realm that Plato both frees himself from the impossible task of fostering a perfect city in a society already so degenerate that it executed its potential saviour - Socrates - but also necessarily distances himself from a more complete mimicry of the divine virtues that are explicit in such a city’s development.

The modern man, however, can neither be said to have distanced himself from the task of the creation of a perfect order in human society, nor have recognized the barriers to such a task that are created by historical circumstance and the immanent imperfections and discontinuities of life. Thus, the 20th century of humankind is littered with the debris of utopian dreamers who have meant to hammer humanity, society, and the state into a shape more in keeping with a vision of divine, unchanging perfection that is opposed to the cycles of growth and erosion that are presented to them by the natural, immanent world. One particular and peculiar example of this utopian striving comes in the form of fascism - an ideology of politics and the soul that reached its popular zenith in the time of Fascist Italy and Benito Mussolini, and came to its crashing depths shortly thereafter under the aegis of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.

What makes fascism a peculiarity in the ideological greenhouse of modernity is not, however, its viciousness, its propensity to inspire violence and war, or its demand for the regimentation of the lives of individuals; communist ideologies have arguably demanded more blood and destruction in their wake than fascism managed in its short life as a “viable” political order, and the ruthless logic of capitalism has not left unsullied the hands of capitalist statesmen in pursuit of ever-accumulating wealth. The aspect of fascism that sets it apart from other utopian dreams is not its external manifestations of violence, but rather the internal order of the soul that its proponents espouse as their ideal, pursuant to the goal of the immanent perfection of political reality. The fascist order of the soul - if it could be called an order - is one which would bear some familiarity to the Spartan Megillus and the Cretan Kleinias, for it is an order that places the education of the thymos at the core the human being (“Laws”, 632b-633c). However, whereas the elder Spartan and Cretan were able to recognize the virtue of moderation and reason when engaged on the subject by the Athenian Stranger, fascist ideologists such as Mussolini have instead evangelized the extension of the rule of the spirit to greater heights and depths; no longer are the pathos and nous to be merely subject to the thymos, they are to be enslaved to it, or else ground underfoot (Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism”, fn7, fn21).

Despite the differences in degrees that separate the character of, say, Kleinias from that of Mussolini, their orientations are not so distant from one another that one could not readily extrapolate from the “Laws” that both Plato and his enigmatic Stranger would take a critical view of the fascist that is similar that to that expressed regarding the timocratic man of Sparta. Indeed, the emphasis of the fascist on an education of the soul with the goal of instilling martial prowess is not without its similarities to the education venerated by Kleinias at the beginning of Book I of the “Laws” (“Laws”, 625d-627b). The goal at which this martial prowess is aimed scarcely differs between the two either - both the Cretan and Mussolini are remarkably similar in their assertions that a citizenry trained for martial spirit has achieved the highest good for the reason that such training leads to prowess in war, which leads to both victory and survival as a people.

The chief difference that separates the character of Kleinias from that of the fascist ideologue is not one of psychological predisposition, but rather the psychic decency that Kleinias retains and that the fascist seeks to cast aside. When Plato paints the picture of the dialogue between the loquacious stranger from Attic and the lawgiver from Knossis, he strives to recreate the experience of a give and take between two individuals who, though initially predisposed in radically different directions vis-à-vis their understanding of the good, are nevertheless open to the process of consideration and exchange. The fact that the Stranger is clearly in the superior position within the dialogue is nearly incidental, for the philosophical dialogue is by its nature a guiding, contemplative process that is dependent on the willingness of the audience to be guided. Kleinias, despite his preconceptions, is a willing audience who is prepared to consider the polite, theoretical observations of his Attican counterpart (“Laws”, 627c). Furthermore, because his willingness to listen and consider is the precondition to the success of the dialogue, Kleinias exerts a subtle but palpable influence on the boundaries and flow of the debate; so long as the discussion does not overtly offend or denigrate the gods, the heroes of Crete, or the traditions of Cretan society, the Stranger has Kleinias’ attentive ear (“Laws”, 630d-630e).

The Stranger, clearly understanding this, is careful to avoid giving any clear offense, and in this way he differs from the figure of Socrates in the “Republic”, who clearly commands the flow of the argument, and is able to run roughshod over the likes of the sophist Thrasymachus (“Republic”, 338a-346d). The difference between the circumstances of the two dialogues sets the key for their progression; Socrates is principally concerned with shaping the convictions of the young-men Glaucon and Adeimentus, who are both asking to be convinced of the virtue of justice, and whom do not feel beholden to any staunchly held or clearly formulated beliefs on the matter (“Republic”, 358b-362d). The Athenian Stranger, by contrast, is not engaged in dialogue with a young man, but rather a peer - another elder, a man of authority, and one with many preconceptions and loyalties to cherished beliefs. To hold the attention of Kleinias, the Stranger must follow a much stricter set of guidelines that give credence to the foundations of the Cretan’s understanding of the world, even as he goes about politely questioning and expanding upon it. In effect, the Stranger is not free to build his city of words freely - every brick that he lays is scrutinized by skeptical inspectors.

The differences between the Platonic dialogues and the rhetoric of the fascist, by contrast, could not be more stark. Whereas the Athenian Stranger relies on the willingness of his audience to be led through a progression of arguments, the fascist, represented by Mussolini, relies on his own will as the tool through which conviction will be imposed. “Il Duce” and his ideological brethren did not merely seek the agreement of others, they demanded it upon pain of death. In this respect, the fascist may be said to more greatly resemble the accusers who sought the silencing of Socrates (“The Apology”, 17a-42a) than they do the essentially decent Kleinias, who refrains from threatening the well-being of his Athenian interlocutor, even when the latter’s arguments become uncomfortable (“Laws”, 627c, 630d); in speech, the fascist spirit revels in conquest through the vehicle of lectures and monologues rather than the political exchange through dialogue that characterizes the philosophically orientated nous.

The Stranger’s stance regarding such an ascendancy of the thymos is easily known, since from it the virtues of thugos and andreia [civic courage and manliness] are maintained to have sprung. In the ideal order of the soul proposed by him and acceded to by his fellow travellers Kleinias and Megillus, it is the prudence that is listed first in the ideal hierarchy of the psyche, followed by sophrosuné [moderation], justice, and courage last of all (“Laws”, 631c-631d). And, lest there be any confusion as to the lesser stature of courage, to it is ascribed the blame for the low stature of justice, which in this instance is described as an alloy of the higher divine good of sophrosuné, and courage - the lesser good (“Laws”, 631d). In effect, justice in the “Laws” is lowered by the weight of the thymos.

From this standpoint, it would not be difficult to ascertain a view of what the authour of the “Laws” would have thought of the “will to power” championed by the fascist ideologue; the fascist, by placing their thymos at the helm of their souls have failed to obtain the best and most ordered state of the psyche. Through this understanding, by allowing themselves to be led by spirit, the fascist has grasped only the least of the divine goods and raised it beyond its station; it is unlikely, in the least, that Plato would not have found such an arrangement to be wanting.

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