Print this post Print this post

Plato & Indo-European Tripartition

Plato, detail of Raphael’s “The School of Athens,” 1509–1510

1,125 words

Translated by Greg Johnson

In 1938, Georges Dumézil discovered, the existence of a veritable Indo-European “ideology,” a specific mental structure manifesting a common conception of the world. He writes:

According to this conception, which can be reconstructed through the comparison of documents from the majority of ancient Indo-European societies, any organization, from the cosmos to any human group, requires for its existence three hierarchical types of action, that I propose to call the three fundamental functions: (1) mastery of the sacred and knowledge and the form of temporal power founded upon it, (2) physical force and warlike valor, and (3) fruitfulness and abundance with their conditions and consequences.[1]

On the social plane, one finds this tripartition in the whole Indo-European realm, from India to Ireland, the three functions corresponding schematically to the priest-kings, the warriors, and finally to the producers, peasants, and craftsmen. In traditional India, the Brahmins correspond to the first function, the Kshatriyas to the second, and the Vaishyas to the third. According to Julius Caesar, in the extreme west of the Indo-European realm, Celtic society was composed of Druids, of Equites or Knights, and Plebs, the people.

In ancient Greece, however, there had been a tendency quite early on to eliminate any trace of the trifunctional ideology. According to Dumézil, “Greece is not helpful to our case. Mr. Bernard Sergent made a critical assessment of the expressions of the trifunctional structure, isolated most of the time in the process of fossilization, that one might recognize there: it is next to nothing compared with the wealth offered by India and Italy.”[2] However, an attentive reader of the works of Plato can find proof there of the survival of functional tripartition in traditional Greece.

The Platonic Ideal City

In the Republic, Plato discusses the ideal city, affirming that “the classes that exist in the City are the very same ones that exist in the soul of each individual.”[3] According to Plato’s analysis of human nature, the human soul has three parts: reason, located in the head, which enables us to think; feeling, located in the heart, that enables us to love; and desire, located in the belly, that drives us to sustain ourselves and reproduce. Each part of the soul has its own specific virtue or excellence: wisdom, courage, and temperance. Justice is the proper relationship of the three parts. According to Plato, the constitution of the city is merely the constitution of the soul writ large.

Concretely, the philosopher distinguishes three functions within the city. First, “those who watch over the City as a whole, enemies outside as well as friends within,”[4] the guardians, who correspond to the head, seat of intelligence and reason, the Logos. Then, the “auxiliaries and assistants of the decisions of the rulers,”[5] who correspond to the heart, seat of courage, Thymos. Finally the producers, craftsmen and peasants, who correspond to the belly, seat of the appetites. “You who belong to the City,” Plato explains, “are all brothers, but the god, in creating those among you able to govern, mixed gold in their material; this is why they are the most valuable. He mixed silver into those who are able to be auxiliaries, and as for the rest, the farmers and craftsmen, he mixed in iron and bronze.”[6]

Plato emphasizes that, “A city seems to be just precisely when each of the three natural groups present in it performs its own task.”[7] Indeed, just as an individual must subject his stomach to his heart, and his heart to his reason, the crafts must be subjected to the art of the warriors, who themselves must be subjected to the magistrates, i.e., to politics—this last being inseparable from philosophy, for the magistrates must become philosophers.

Plato also distinguishes three kinds of political regimes, each of which is related to the one of the functions of the city and by extension with one of the parts or faculties of the human soul. Regimes ruled by reason include monarchy, government by one man, and aristocracy, or government by the best. “Timocracy” is Plato’s term for government by warriors, which is ordered by the noble passions of the heart. Regimes ruled by the lowest passions of the human soul and material appetites include oligarchy, or rule by the rich; democracy, or rule by the majority; and tyranny, the rule of one man who follows appetite, not reason.

Without a doubt, this Platonic ideal city resting on three strictly hierarchical classes, reproduces the traditional Indo-European tri-functional organization of society. Indeed, in Greece which completely seems to have forgotten tripartition, Plato entrusts the political life of the city to philosopher-kings, the guardians, assisted by a military caste, the auxiliaries, who reign over the lower classes, the producers.

Plato is convinced that only the guardians, i.e., the sages, have the capacity to use reason equitably for the community good, whereas ordinary men cannot rise above their personal passions and interests. On the other hand, the members of the ruling caste must lead an entirely communal life, without private property or family, as well as many elements of egoistic temptation, division, and, ultimately, corruption. “Among them, no good will be private property, except the basic necessities,” decrees the philosopher, who recommends, moreover, “that they live communally, as on a military expedition,” and who among the inhabitants of the city “they are the only ones who have no right to have money or gold, or even to touch them; they are the only ones forbidden to enter private homes, wear ornaments, or drink from silver and gold containers.”[8]

“Because,” he adds, “as soon as they privately own land, a dwelling, and money, they will become administrators of their goods, cultivators instead of being the guardians of the city, and instead of being the defenders of the other citizens, they will become their tyrants and enemies, hated and hating in turn, and they will pass their lives conspiring against the others and will become the objects of conspiracy, and they will often be more afraid of their interior enemies than those outside, bringing themselves and the whole city to ruin.”[9] Moreover, their children will be removed at birth in order to receive a collective military education.

This “Platonic communism,” a virile and ascetic communism that has nothing to do with the Messianic nightmares of Marx and Trotsky, is not unrelated to the national communitarianism of Sparta.  As Montesquieu put it with some justice, “Plato’s politics is nothing more than an idealized version of Sparta’s.”

Notes

1. G. Dumézil, L’oubli de l’homme et l’honneur des dieux et autres essais. Vingt-cinq esquisses de mythologies (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), p. 94.

2. Ibid, p.13.

3. Platon, La République (Paris: Flammarion, 2008), p. 262.

4. Ibid, p. 199.

5. Ibid, p. 200.

6. Ibid, p. 201.

7. Ibid, p. 245.

8. Ibid, p. 205.

9. Ibid, pp. 205–206.

Source: Réfléchir & Agir, Winter 2009, no. 31.

If you enjoyed this piece, and wish to encourage more like it, give a tip through Paypal. You can earmark your tip directly to the author or translator, or you can put it in a general fund. (Be sure to specify which in the "Add special instructions to seller" box at Paypal.)

11 Comments

  1. Michael Bell
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article! One question though: Are producers and laborers really to be considered of the same class/caste? Surely, producing requires different abilities and talents from those of mere physical work. In India there were actually 4 castes (the Sudras were the laborers), or even 5 if you count the Untouchables. Persia had a similar quadripartition (sp?). I feel that in reality it is safer to say that Indo-European societies tended to be either 3-tiered or 4-tiered, depending upon circumstances. Please fill me in if there’s something I’m missing.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted February 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      You are right.

      I think that when Indo-Europeans are nomadic and their economy and social structure are simplest, there are three functions, but when Indo-Europeans settle in one place and begin farming and trading, then there is a differentiation between employers and workers, and a four part system arises. In Plato’s scheme, a fourth group is implicit, first insofar as the myth of the metals specifies that the third caste is mixed with bronze and iron. Bronze would correspond with merchants and landowners, and iron with manual laborers. Oligarchy is the rule of the former, democracy the rule of the latter, and tyranny is what happens when the democracy spawns a demagogue.

      The metals, of course, correspond with Hesiod’s ages, and the degeneration from the Golden to the Iron Ages parallels the generation from the Best regime (monarchy or aristocracy, where the Golden men rule in accord with the intellectual intuition of eternal principles), to Timocracy, or warrior aristocracy (silver), which gives way to Oligarchy (rule of the merchants/bronze), which collapses into democracy and tyranny (rule of the masses/iron). This is what Evola called the “regression of the castes.” It is not identical to the overall cycle of the four ages–since all these developments take place over and over in the Kali Yuga, which seems to encompass most of recorded history–but it is analogous.

    • Michael O'Meara
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Michael,

      It’s been years since I’ve read on this subject, but I agree that ancient India was an order based on five ‘functions’. It was, though, the three higher orders that formed its ‘Indo-European’ world. The sudras and untouchables may therefore have been part of the actual existing social ‘system’, but ‘society’ or ‘community’ was restricted to just the upper three. In the American South prior to 1965, Negroes, for example, occupied the bottom part of the existing social system, but that were definitely not a part of its ‘society’.

      Tripartition, evident in various facets of European history until the modern age of darkness, remains less a model of social organization than a measure of how ‘Indo-European’ see and value the things of their world.

  2. Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks a lot for this new translation !

  3. Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    This pattern isn’t unique to Indo-Europeans. It emerges wherever there’s civilization. It’s not something the people project onto civilization, but something civilization projects onto them. Within this habitat, there are three basic niches that correspond with the three cardinal means of acquiring power and resources.

    1. Force
    2. Influence
    3. Exchange

    You can make a man dig a ditch at gunpoint, with persuasion, or by paying him to do so. Organized groups eventually grow up around these fountainheads of power:

    1. Martial
    2. Managerial
    3. Mercantile

    As the civilization “matures,” the balance of power shifts from martial, through managerial, and then to mercantile oligarchies. This is a natural product of the dramatic increases in wealth, the declining rewards and increasing risks of military aggression, and the increasing amount of complexity to be managed. The civilization’s philosophy, morality, and belief systems shift as the different groups impose value systems inspired by their niche functions. Each understand power projection in its own terms…

    1. Codes
    2. Laws
    3. Contracts

    In the most simple and formulaic terms possible, the root cause of our plight is that the West’s three oligarchies engaged in an occult war with one another, encouraged, supported, and exploited by a managerial caste of refugees from a lost civilization (Jews).

    1. Aristocratic nobility
    2. Catholic priesthood
    3. Masonic tradesmen

    The ideal civilization would be one very similar to the one that America’s founders intended to establish here: with Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches (which correspond to Martial, Managerial, and Mercantile power) collaborating in a cooperative balance. Adjustments are obviously necessary, with the primary one being the simple and direct removal of aliens from eligibility for those positions or influence over them, to avoid the sort of cuckoldry we’re currently suffering.

    • I
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      a managerial caste of refugees from a lost civilization (Jews).

      This is interesting. I have had a similar idea about the origin of the Jews but I have never seen anyone else talk about it in quite the same terms. Where do you get this from?

      The rest of your post is interesting as well. Original ideas or did you take this stuff from somewhere?

      • Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:48 am | Permalink

        I hesitate to say “original”, as it’s really little more than radical traditionalism melted down into PowerPoint-friendly and evolution-compatible terms. To the best of my knowledge, this “evolutionary traditionalist” take is unique. If it’s not, I would love to peruse similar efforts to create a coherent and consistent synthesis of traditional wisdom and modern knowledge.

        As for the Jews being refugees from a bygone civilization, there’s a quote from somebody important to that effect, but it escapes me.

    • Michael Bell
      Posted February 26, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      “The ideal civilization would be one very similar to the one that America’s founders intended to establish here: with Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches (which correspond to Martial, Managerial, and Mercantile power) collaborating in a cooperative balance. Adjustments are obviously necessary, with the primary one being the simple and direct removal of aliens from eligibility for those positions or influence over them, to avoid the sort of cuckoldry we’re currently suffering.”

      Dude, isn’t that exactly what America’s foundations were? Didn’t we once have laws that discriminated against non-Whites occupying positions of government, and against them even being here? A return to 1776 with a few “adjustments” is far from what we would want. This would only swiftly take us right back to where we are today. A society based purely on Laws and “checks and balances” is a materialistic one with no overarching purpose or goal. Just because it is purely White will not ensure its survival. Also, laws change dramatically, usually for the worst, as American history will demonstrate.

      A nation needs its Laws, but these Laws must be inspired and held in check by something much greater. Without that transcendent source that is beyond the merely Human, we would gradually descend into the animal, herd-like state we’re in today. Plato’s conception of the Republic is probably our best model of statecraft, IMO. Of course, it will only be attainable long after the current order has dissolved and people’s mentalities have drastically changed.

      • Posted February 26, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t appropriately scope that. The appropriate “state” would be one very similar to what the founders intended to establish here. They were not as thoroughly mercantile and modern as the European partisans would like to characterize them as. They relied heavily on Classical thought, were very wary of mob rule, and were initiated into a Tradition. Many European partisans have little use for Freemasonry. They consider heretical any attempts to reconcile Traditionalism with the age we are actually in, or even the wealth of scientific knowledge we now possess. They’re partial to oligarchies and institutions that once served as vehicles for Tradition in completely different times and places.

        Didn’t we once have laws that discriminated against non-Whites occupying positions of government, and against them even being here? A return to 1776 with a few “adjustments” is far from what we would want. This would only swiftly take us right back to where we are today.

        Their cardinal design flaw was that, as Freemasons, they were at that point in history allied with the Jewish oligarchy against Europe’s clergy and nobility. This does not make them synonymous with Jewry, nor does it make them somehow inferior to Europe’s clergy and nobility – both of which have their own histories of collaborating with Jews and both of which have also been corrupted by modernity. Freemasonry is indigenous to our people, with a golden thread that also winds back to the sophia perennis.

        As we speak, the Muslim Brotherhood, its institutional framework modeled on Freemasonry, is successfully orchestrating an international revolution with the end goal of resisting modernity and restoring Islamic traditions. With only the slightest tweaks, such as requiring that members be trinitarian Protestants rather than merely “monotheists” and requiring initiates to be no more than 1/16th non-European, America’s secret society could have resisted the subversion and corrected its course over time.

        It didn’t, and it’s doubtful that the vehicle can be repaired at this late hour. I’m not advocating for an embrace of Freemasonry. It failed. It’s dead. But one must have a complete and fair understanding of it to understand the relationship between America and Tradition.

        A society based purely on Laws and “checks and balances” is a materialistic one with no overarching purpose or goal.

        Our society was not based purely on laws. Our government was, but it was understood that a shadowy oligarchy with a transcendent purpose would be guiding it. As that oligarchy died, other oligarchies took control of its direction.

        Just because it is purely White will not ensure its survival.

        Agreed.

        Without that transcendent source that is beyond the merely Human, we would gradually descend into the animal, herd-like state we’re in today.

        Agreed. But the anti-American perspective of many in the European New Right blinds them to the presence of Tradition and transcendence right here in our own back yard.

        Of course, it will only be attainable long after the current order has dissolved and people’s mentalities have drastically changed.

        As the rapid developments in Russia and the Middle East have demonstrated, a dedicated cohort of Traditionalists conspiring together with a clear vision can topple this decadent and diseased order far more easily than anybody else in this movement realizes. The “people’s mentalities” will pivot on a dime if a change in the power structure reorients the magnets of respectability and reward.

  4. JJ
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Though we may consider it ideal is it not potentially stagnant?

  5. Wolf
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Modern India has very little in common with ancient Aryans. Modern miscegenated India is the Brazil of Asia.

  • Video of the Day:

  • Kindle Subscription
  • Our Titles

    New Right vs. Old Right

    Lost Violent Souls

    Journey Late at Night: Poems and Translations

    The Non-Hindu Indians & Indian Unity

    Baader Meinhof ceramic pistol, Charles Kraaft 2013

    The Lightning and the Sun

    Jonathan Bowden as Dirty Harry

    The Lost Philosopher, Second Expanded Edition

    Trevor Lynch's A White Nationalist Guide to the Movies

    And Time Rolls On

    The Homo & the Negro

    Artists of the Right

    North American New Right, Vol. 1

    Forever and Ever

    Some Thoughts on Hitler

    Tikkun Olam and Other Poems

    Under the Nihil

    Summoning the Gods

    Hold Back This Day

    The Columbine Pilgrim

    Confessions of a Reluctant Hater

    Taking Our Own Side

    Toward the White Republic

    Distributed Titles

    Fascism viewed from the Right

    Notes on the Third Reich

    Morning Crafts

    New Culture, New Right

    An eagle with a shield soaring upwards

    A Life in the Political Wilderness

    The Fourth Political Theory

    The Passing of the Great Race

    The Passing of a Profit & Other Forgotten Stories

    Fighting for the Essence

    The Arctic Home in the Vedas

    The Prison Notes

    It Cannot Be Stormed

    Revolution from Above

    The Proclamation of London

    Beyond Human Rights

    The WASP Question

    Can Life Prevail?

    The Jewish Strategy

    The Metaphysics of War

    A Handbook of Traditional Living

    The French Revolution in San Domingo

    The Revolt Against Civilization

    Why We Fight

    The Problem of Democracy

    The Path of Cinnabar

    Archeofuturism

    Tyr

    Siege

    On Being a Pagan

    The Lost Philosopher

    The Dispossessed Majority

    Might is Right

    Impeachment of Man

    Gold in the Furnace

    Defiance