The following text is based on a transcript by V. S. of a lecture on Plato’s Republic. As usual, I have edited his transcript to remove excessive wordiness.
Plato’s Republic is one of the greatest philosophical works, and if you were to make a small list of the most influential books in all of history clearly the Republic would have to be near the top. It’s one of those books that contains an account of everything, like the Bible, like Dante’s Inferno. It’s a book about the whole, and it has had an absolutely enormous influence throughout all of human history since it was written particularly in the West, although now that Western civilization has effectively been globalized, it really has a global reach itself and a global influence. Given the enormous influence of this book, we all should read it. It’s a cornerstone for being a well-educated person to have read the Republic.
But what is the Republic about? Many people think that’s obvious: The Republic of Plato is a book of political philosophy. Its title in Greek is Politeia and is translated as “republic.” That sounds like politics, right? If you open the Republic up you will find that there are all kinds of discussions of political issues.
The dialogue begins with the question “What is justice?” that occupies the first book and really all the rest of it as well. When you get into the second book they begin to found the city. They talk about the progress of culture, the founding of civilization, and the, if you will, progress of civilization towards some kind of completion. As it turns out, the complete and best form of civilization is described as a city which has three classes. There’s a working class, a warrior class (the soldiers and policemen, called the guardians), and then a ruling class which are philosophers, of all things.
The education of guardians and of philosopher-rulers is laid out in great detail in the Republic. There is also an extensive discussion of the marital and family relationships that exist amongst the ruling class. There is no such thing as the private family or private property among the rulers. Children are raised by the state in common. Property is held in common. Sexual pairing is determined by lottery, so that personal preferences don’t enter into it. No one knows their own children or their own parents, because that would create conflicting loyalties. When people know their own offspring and parents this provides them with objects of loyalty over and above the state and the ruling class is to be bred to have no conflicting loyalties that would get in the way of their allegiance to the public good.
As it turns out though, we discover that one simply can’t leave who ends up running societies to chance. Every society has to have some mechanism by which we can assure that the best people rule. The mechanism by which the best are to come to rule in the Republic has two forms.
One is an educational mechanism by which the brightest minds are promoted, and it doesn’t matter from what class they come from. Even the children of the working classes, if they are extremely bright, can be promoted. And the children of the upper classes, if they’re very stupid, can be easily demoted and gotten out of the way.
But before education there comes a breeding program, a eugenics program, which is run in secret by the rulers. And although the warriors, the guardians, think that their matings are being determined by random chance, by lottery, actually the lottery is rigged in such a way that scientific breeding takes place to improve the overall quality of the herd, of the stock. Eventually the idea is that the ruling class would be as distinct from the working class as say well-bred Dobermans are from mutts that you find in the pound. This is the aim.
Sounds like it’s a lot about politics.
Then when you get to books VIII and IX of the Republic you find that the reasons why this ideal sort of state would break down are laid out and it has to do with the impossibility of calculating what they call the “nuptial number,” which is an elaborate mathematical farce in which basically the point is made that a planned society will always founder on the calculation problem. It’s too difficult to keep track of all the variables and calculate all the things that need to be calculated if society is to be planned and, therefore, inevitably, this ideal state would degenerate.
Then what we have is a description of cities into which the ideal state would degenerate and there are five different degenerate cities that are discussed. The best of these is called timarchy, which is a city ruled not by philosophers but by warriors who are concerned primarily with honor. There are four degenerate cities and one best city. The best city degenerates, necessarily, into a regime called timarchy or timocracy, which is the rule of warriors. This regime degenerates into oligarchy, which is a regime where the rich rule, which is still better than what comes after it which is the democratic regime where many rule. Finally, the absolute worst regime, which comes about as a necessary consequence of internal forces of democracy, is tyranny, at which point one hits rock bottom and the only place you can go from there is up. So, the hope is that history will begin to cycle back through. This, again, sounds like an extremely interesting political teaching.
Book X of the Republic, the final book, begins with a discussion of philosophy and poetry. This is a theme that is discussed earlier on in Republic II, but it is revisited with a vengeance when Socrates argues that for the good of the city poets will have to be expelled. His critique was specifically of what you might call art for art’s sake, a particular take on poetry that claims that poetry is somehow an autonomous, self-justifying end-in-itself, if you will, and that the poets don’t need to look to any higher authority to guide their activities. The only authority they look to is their own inspiration.
Plato thinks that this is a terrible idea, because it places poetry above philosophy, whereas on Plato’s account everything should be subordinated to philosophy. All the arts need to be subordinated to philosophy because philosophy pursues wisdom, and if you don’t have wisdom then you can’t use any art rightly or properly. Wisdom is that which bends all the arts towards the good or orients them towards the good.
When poetry insists that it can stand on its own and be autonomous what it is really saying is that it doesn’t have to be good, or that it sets its own standards of the good. Plato thinks that this is very bad for a society, and so he thinks that poetry has to become not autonomous but what we can call ministrative. Poetry has to be subordinated to philosophy and used to edify people morally.
Any poet who doesn’t wish to write morally edifying poetry under the guidance of philosopher-censors will have to leave the city. This means that the Tupac Shakurs would have to leave the city. The Beatles would have to leave the city. Dante wouldn’t have to leave the city because, of course, he’s all into edification.
Then the end of the Republic is somewhat disconcerting. It ends with a strange myth about the afterlife. In this myth about the afterlife, people have the potential to choose the kind of life that they would like lead in their next incarnation. That leaves it off on an oddly apolitical note. But what I want to argue is that actually the whole purpose of the Republic is to lead up to this issue of choosing one’s life, or what kind of life one is to choose.
This theme of choosing your life appears throughout the Republic. It appears in Book I, in Book II, in Book VII, Book IX, and Book X. There are different ways of formulating this choice of lives. It’s the choice between the private life and the public life, the philosophical and the political life, the life of justice versus the life of injustice, the contemplation of reality versus the manipulation of appearances.
The manipulation of appearances is really the life of Sophistry, whereas the contemplation of reality is the life of philosophy. The Sophists were just rhetoricians. They were teachers of rhetoric. They basically taught one to massage and manipulate the truth in order to persuade people and get them to do what you want them to do. Sophists are the manipulators of appearance whereas the philosophers contemplate reality.
There is the choice between the authentic and the inauthentic life. A choice between knowing one’s self versus knowing others, pleasing one’s self versus pleasing others. It’s the life of Odysseus versus the life of Achilles. That’s one way in which it is posed. And there’s the life of Socrates versus the life of Thrasymachus. Thrasymachus is a Sophist who appears in the first book of the Republic. All of these are different ways in which this choice of lives is posed.
There is a Homeric subtext to the entire Republic. Specifically, it has to do with the Odyssey. In the Odyssey, Odysseus slaughters some animals, pours their blood into a trench, and has a mystical descent into the underworld. He goes down to the underworld, and he sees the shades of many dead people.
One of the dead men that he sees is Achilles. Achilles said that he would rather break sod for a peasant on the surface of the Earth than be king among the dead. This is a repudiation of the political life for the lowliest of private lives, if you will, by a man, namely Achilles, who spent his entire life oriented towards public deeds and honor. Achilles was a paradigmatic Greek public man. He was constantly orienting his actions around conquest and competition and the pursuit of honor and power. Yet when he dies and goes to the underworld, he realizes he would have given up his public life on the Earth and taken the life of a peasant rather than die in the way that he did and go down into the underworld even if he were king among all the dead. This is a theme that is going to crop up throughout the Republic.
Remember Achilles is given a choice. He’s given the choice between a long, anonymous private life and a short, glorious public life, and he takes the short, glorious public life. He dies, and he goes to the underworld, and he comes to regret his choice. This is extremely important.
The Republic is a literary work by Plato, but it’s based on actual events that took place in the life of Socrates. Plato had a brother named Glaucon, and when he was coming of, age, Glaucon went to the public assembly where the citizens of Athens were deliberating on some matter, and he tried to get up before the crowd and harangue them. He was obviously bent on leading a public life. He wanted to be a politician. Why?
Because the political life was the life where one pursued glory in Ancient Greece. Public men would vie for positions of responsibility in the city-state, and once they had attained these positions of responsibility they would strive to quit themselves well and to be acclaimed and receive honor and glory from their fellow men. Of course, they tried to gain as much power and wealth as they possibly could. Often times their careers would be cut short by death, often violent death, at the hands of rivals who were struggling after the same things.
Plato’s family was very concerned with Glaucon because he seemed to be excessively hubristic, excessively arrogant, and this was not a good strategy for long-term survival. Glaucon had all the qualities of the most infamous associate of Socrates, namely Alcibiades, who in his pursuit of glory ended up being a traitor to Athens and eventually was assassinated relatively young. It was very clear that the family of Plato and the family of Glaucon did not want their son following the same path. So, according to Xenophon, in his book Memorabilia, they asked Socrates to talk to Glaucon and to talk him out of this obsession with politics, this fascination with politics.
Glaucon is the central character, the central interlocutor of the Republic, aside from Socrates himself. If you read the Republic carefully, the entire argument is constructed around the education of Glaucon and its aim is to lead him away from the political life, the public life, to the private life or the philosophical life.
So the Republic is about what is the best life for a human being. It’s not about politics. Those who say it is about politics are guilty of a superficial reading. There’s a lot about politics in it. But it’s not fundamentally about politics.
What the Republic is fundamentally about is the question “What is the best life for a human being?” There really only are two choices that are considered: the life of philosophy and the life of politics. The life of, if you will, business is not considered at all. It was never considered an option for a gentleman in ancient Greece to go into business or the crafts. The only truly respectable life was politics. But what Socrates and Plato did was to make philosophy a respectable alternative to the political life for the Athenians. What we find here is Socrates actually pleading the case for the philosophical life as the best way of life for a human being.
Now, in order to argue that, they have to argue about the nature of justice. The initial question in the Republic is “What is justice?” In Greek, the word for justice has two meanings. Aristotle discusses this in his Nicomachean Ethics. The first sense of justice is simply what you would call political justice, justice in the political sense which has to do with treating other people properly. Fair dealing with others. It’s an interpersonal relationship. Justice is governing your interpersonal relationships morally.
But there’s a broader sense of justice that isn’t an interpersonal kind of justice but, if you will, an intrapersonal kind of justice. Justice is a kind of relationship that you have not with other people but with yourself. A good English translation of this sense of justice would not be the English justice, but instead the word righteousness, which is actually etymologically related to justice.
What is righteousness? Righteousness, ultimately, refers to all-around virtue. Virtue is understood as primarily a matter of the proper ordering of the soul. So, it’s an inner state. It’s a kind of relationship, but not a relationship between you and others but between one part of you and other parts of you within your soul. What Plato does in the Republic is have Socrates gradually transform the topic of justice from a political sense of justice to this broader comprehensive spiritual sense of justice: righteousness. He exploits the ambiguity of the Greek word for justice.
The challenge that Socrates has in the Republic is to argue that the life of the philosopher is better than the life of the politician. To do this he argues the hardest possible case. The challenge is to show that a just man, a person who is just in his soul, a man of good character, is better off than an unjust man, a man of bad character, even if the just man is not recognized for his justice but instead is punished for it and the unjust man is not recognized as unjust but instead is rewarded for his injustice.
What Socrates has to argue is that justice is intrinsically valuable such as that you’d want to be just even if you didn’t get any rewards for being just, and even if all the proper rewards for being just were distributed to those who were unjust.
My favorite example from recent politics has to be Bill Clinton versus Ken Starr. Ken Starr is, by all accounts, a very just man. He’s a righteous fellow. He’s a good guy. Yet he’s been smeared mercilessly as an evil man, and people have treated him as such. Whereas very few people really believe — aside from maybe Bill Clinton himself in his state of utter delusion — that Bill Clinton is a good man. No one believes that he is a good man. Yet during this whole impeachment crisis, through all that controversy, a substantial number of citizens treated him like he was a decent man. He got all the rewards of being a decent man, even though he wasn’t. Whereas the most decent person in the whole sordid scandal was treated the worst.
Now Linda Tripp is being prosecuted as a criminal. There’s another example. One of the few people in this whole sordid mess who behaved morally and prudently, and she’s being prosecuted as a criminal. Monica, the person who suborned perjury, is not being prosecuted as a criminal. Instead, she’s being given an advertising contract from a diet company and being paid $10,000 . . . What is it? A ton or a pound? I guess it’s a pound.
You see these kinds of shocking inversions all the time. What Plato wants to argue in the Republic is that Ken Starr is better off, and would be better off, even if they hung him up and they gouged out his eyes — than Bill Clinton, even though he will be treated with all the respect and dignity due the President or former President of the United States for the rest of his life. Ken Starr would still be better off than Clinton, even though all just rewards have been sent to the wrong guy.
The question is who is really better off? Plato wants to argue that the just man is better off even if he receives no rewards for his justice, even if he’s punished as if he were a scoundrel, whereas the unjust man is still not to be envied even though he’s never punished for his injustice, even though he might be rewarded as if he were just.
The life of the just man is choiceworthy regardless of any extrinsic rewards or punishments that accrue to it, just as the life of the unjust man is not choiceworthy regardless of what extrinsic punishments or rewards accrue to that life. Now, that means that Platp has to argue that being just is intrinsically as opposed to instrumentally good and that being unjust is intrinsically as opposed to instrumentally bad.
Something that is intrinsically good is just good in and of itself or that something that’s instrumentally good is only good for some purpose beyond itself. Many people will argue, for instance, that honesty is the best policy, which means that honesty is instrumentally good. It’s useful as a matter of policy to be honest. But some people would argue that it’s not just the best policy, it’s just the best. There’s something intrinsically good about it. There’s a distinction there.
Plato wants to argue that virtue is intrinsically good. Another way of putting it is that virtue is its own reward. How does he do this? Well, first of all, what you have to recognize is that virtue and vice have to be things that inhere inside the human being. Where do you find them? Well, you find them in the soul. So, virtue and vice dwell in the human soul. Socrates says that we have to understand the structure of the soul. We have to understand the soul’s nature and its parts and how the parts function together harmoniously to produce health or disharmoniously to produce illness. Once we understand this, we will understand what virtue is, because virtue is the health of the soul, and vice is the sickness of the soul.
The trouble is that the soul is intangible, invisible. If it has size at all, it’s very small. So, how do you see something that is very small, or something that can’t be seen at all for that matter? Well, what you need is something analogous to it that is large and visible. What is offered as the large, visible analogue of the soul, the soul writ large, is society. So, the political theme enters in merely as an analogy for the soul. The structure of the city is treated as analogous to the structure of the soul. and by exploring the large visible structure of the city, therefore, we can throw light on the intangible, invisible structure of the soul. This is how the political enters into the Republic.
There is a long discussion of the nature of a city. By the end of Book IV, a solution is proposed to the question that is raised in Book I which is whether justice is intrinsically good or bad and what justice is. So, by the end of Book IV, the question of the Republic is answered. But then we get a long digression, and this digression occupies Books V, VI, and VII. In V, VI, and VII, we get the most astonishing political proposals of the Republic. Namely, that wives and children should be held in common, the abolition of private property, and the rule of the philosopher-king. We also get the most famous part of the Republic, namely the Parable of the Cave, and the most famous images of the divided line and the sun which are used to lay out Plato’s metaphysical scheme. And all of this is in a vast digression from the main argument of the Republic. Then we have a strange segue at the beginning of Book VIII back into the political with this mathematical farce, that’s the only way I can describe it, the Nuptial Number, which is the argument that the political regime that has been described here merely to illustrate the structure of the soul cannot actually exist, and if it did exist it would degenerate into the four known forms of political regimes that they saw around them which are timarchy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny.
Then what happens in Books VIII and IX is a very, very careful, detailed description of the different types of souls that are characteristic of the citizens of these four degenerate regimes. In turns out that just as there is a strict analogy between the best city and the best soul, there is a strict analogy between degenerate cities and degenerate souls. Degenerate cities give rise to degenerate souls that are corrupt in the exact same way as the city, just as degenerate souls give rise to appropriate cities. There’s a kind of circular causation that goes on there. Oligarchy raises up oligarchical-type men, and oligarchical-type men demand more oligarchy.
The leading factor, though, is the soul. Timarchy degenerates into oligarchy when the souls of the rulers degenerate into oligarchical souls, and so the driving force of history is really human character, the human soul, and when people’s characters begin to change the kinds of regimes that they live in will change, too. So, we get a whole philosophy of history and culture in these two books. At the core of this philosophy of history and culture are the different transformations that the human soul can undergo.
Then, at the end of Book IX, finally, Socrates brings us back to the question of what life do we choose. At this point, Glaucon is willing to choose the life of philosophy rather than the political life. In effect, the argument of the Republic is completed.
Then what we have is Book X, which is almost like a kind of appendix where you have side by side an attack on autonomous poetry, poetry for poetry’s sake, and a myth which is an example of poetry with an edifying aim. So, there’s something interesting about that last book. It attacks poetry, and it is poetry. After attacking poetry and arguing for the banishment of the poets, Plato then gives a poetic work, this myth called the Myth of Er, as a model of what poetry will be like in a perfected society. The Republic is just loaded with myths — myths and parables and stories. It not only has these myths, but it also theorizes about the importance of myth – why one would tell such tales. So, there’s a lot that will resonate with those who took the previous class.
Plato did write a dialogue called Laws, where he lays out more of his real political philosophy. It doesn’t really bare much resemblance to what you find in his Republic. The reason for that is, again, that the Republic isn’t really about politics. It’s about the soul. We have to read this as an exercise in what Plato in a dialogue called the Phaedrus calls psychagogy. Psychagogy just means the art of leading souls. All of Plato’s dialogues are psychagogical because you have Socrates working with a particular human being who has a particular kind of character and particular psychological or spiritual needs. Socrates is trying to craft the speeches he gives and tailor them to the soul of the person he is speaking to in order to lead that person in the direction of health or virtue, which boil down to the same thing when you’re talking about leading the soul. Leading the soul to health is the same as leading it to virtue. This means that there are all kinds of hyperbolic and bizarre stories and proposals that are put forward in the Republic, but these things have to be read in terms of the underlying psychagogical project.
I think it will be clearer if I talk a bit about the structure of the soul that Plato discusses in the Republic. Plato claims that the soul has three parts in the Republic. The parts of the soul are reason, spirit, and desire. Now, for Plato, these parts of the soul all have their appropriate loves, if you will, or needs. The soul is directed towards particular things in the world. It’s got needs or loves. It loves or needs the things that satisfy it. Reason has a particular love. Reason loves the truth. Spiritedness loves honor. And desire loves the necessities of life. The basic structure of the soul is that it has three parts. But all of these parts have a common directedness towards some particular thing that that part of the soul needs for its satisfaction. Plato calls this directedness of the different parts of the soul towards their particular, specific satisfactions love or eros. So, he speaks of the different parts of the soul having different loves. Love of victory or of honor. Love of gain or the necessities of life or money. Love of the truth or love of wisdom, which are characteristic of the rational soul.
The different parts of the soul can relate to one another in essentially political ways. Now, what do I mean by political? I mean in terms of ruler and ruled. It is possible for human beings to be ruled by reason. You can have a soul that’s ruled by reason, a soul that’s ruled by spiritedness, or a soul that’s ruled by desire. These are the basic three types of character for Plato. Plato believes that human beings have a certain amount of freedom and our basic freedom is the freedom to establish one part of our soul as the ruler over the others. We have a certain choice of the character that we have, the kind of life that we’ll lead. The way that we make that choice is that we understand the parts of the soul and then we choose which part of the soul will be the ruling part and what parts will be subordinate. He goes on to make different kinds of distinctions. So, there are more than just three types, but there are three basic types: the rational, the spirited, and the desiring soul or man.
What you get in the Republic is an extraordinarily exaggerated image of a soul, namely the philosopher-king, and also of a city, namely what is called the Kallipolis or ideal city, the “city in speech,” the republic in the Republic, if you will. This utopian city is ruled by reason, too. At the core of the Republic, then, you get this image of the philosopher as a superlatively rational human being and of the ideal utopian city as the kind of city where reason in the form of philosopher-kings rules over other human beings.
There are all kinds of things that go wrong, though, when you establish the absolute dominance of reason in the soul. One of the things that Plato tries to do in the Republic by proposing things like the community of wives and children and the philosopher-king. Another thing that he proposes that he treats as an extraordinarily paradoxical, preposterous claim is the equality of the sexes, specifically the equality of the sexes among the guardians. Basically, what he is talking about is women in the military. Why does Plato make these proposals? Well, one of the reasons is precisely to show the limitations of reason in ruling the soul and in ruling the city. Because he shows the extraordinary deformations of spiritual and political life that take place if the soul is ruled entirely by reason. But on the other hand, he’s very much concerned to implant within Glaucon this idea of being entirely ruled by reason.
By the end of Book IX, Socrates has convinced Glaucon that the kind of city ruled by philosophers could never come into existence. But Glaucon is just as much convinced that the kind of soul in which reason rules can and should come into existence and that he should strive to make himself as rational a human being as he possibly can be. Why does Socrates do this? Is it because Socrates thinks that the healthiest soul is the kind of rational soul he presents in the Republic? The kind of rationality that he has is a kind of oddly bloodless, mathematical rationality. Why does he try to implant this kind of ideal into Glaucon’s mind if he gives reasons along the way that this might not be the healthiest thing?
This brings us to the psychagogical intent of the Republic. To understand this, we have to take a detour through Aristotle who gives us an explanation of how this kind of education works. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle talks about how every virtue is a mean between two extremes, two vices. Every virtue is a mean between two vices. Vice sub one and vice sub two. One is a vice of excess and one is a vice of defect. Let’s concretize this with an example. Let’s talk about the virtue of courage. Now, the vice of excess that is associated with courage would be foolhardiness, which is a kind of excess courage, whereas the vice of defect would be cowardice. You thought that you only had one vice to worry about, right? But actually with every virtue there are two vices that are involved, which is why Aristotle said being virtuous is hard. You go a little too far and you’re in one vice. You fall short and you’re in another. Foolhardiness and cowardice are the vices that go along with the virtue of courage. These are the deformations, if you will, of excess and defect, whereas courage is the mean between the two extremes.
Aristotle gives a couple bits of helpful advice for becoming more virtuous, and one bit of advice he gives, which is absolutely fundamental for understanding Greek philosophy, is this: if you tend towards the vice of excess, the way to get to the mean of virtue is to aim for the opposite vice or defect. Say the stick is bent, and you want it straight. How do you straighten a bent stick? Well, you apply pressure and try to bend it back the other way, and then it ends up becoming straight. Or if you’re aiming at a target, you aim a little above the bull’s eye, because you know that gravity will then bring your arrow down to the point that you want to reach. This is the rule of thumb that Aristotle gives for moral education.
In the Republic, what you find is reasonableness and spiritedness are related to one another as vice of excess and vice of defect. What we find is that Glaucon is characterized by an excess of spiritedness, and the way for him to correct his excess of spiritedness is to aim for the opposite extreme, which would be an excess of rationality.
I hate to use examples like this because people will think of me as a vulgarian, but think of Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. Mr. Spock represents an excess of rationality, whereas Dr. McCoy has an excess of what you might call spiritedness. He’s emotional. He gets angry a lot. “Spock, you and your Vulcan logic!” and “These people are butchers!” One of the manifestations of spiritedness is a propensity to anger. Dr. McCoy really is excessively spirited. He’s always getting out of hand, getting angry.
Now, Dr. McCoy really needs to moderate his anger. He needs to become less spirited, less irascible in the same way that Glaucon needs to be less spirited and less irascible. So, how does McCoy aim to be a more moderately spirited person? He would have to imitate Mr. Spock! You would never recommend anybody imitate Mr. Spock if you thought he would become Mr. Spock, because Mr. Spock is not an ideal person to be either. But if the person’s temperament is diametrically opposed to Spock, and the proper state is somewhere between him and Mr. Spock, then by aiming at Mr. Spock you end up getting that mean which is the proper state.
Of course, if you have the two extremes of under-acting and over-acting, then you’d have Leonard Nimoy aim for William Shatner, and somebody would be a happy medium in between. The Captain would be more of a happy medium between McCoy and Spock. In fact, he sort of functions that way in many of the episodes. Star Trek will now seem much richer to you, I hope. Plato has become impoverished, but Star Trek has become enriched through this analogy.
What Socrates is trying to do is implant within Glaucon the desire to be more Spock-like. Not because he thinks that Glaucon can become Spock-like, but because he thinks that Glaucon needs to aim at that in order to get himself closer to what he really should be at which is this absent and yet unspecified middle position. This unspecified position, which is never explicitly discussed in the Republic, is actually Plato’s model of the healthy soul and by analogy it’s his model of the best city. This brings us to one of the most extraordinary characteristics of Plato: the way Plato teaches.
1. A student asked about the relationship of Plato’s critique of poetry to the defense of poetry in Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago and the film based upon it. What the Communists objected to is any notion of private life or private values. Poetry seems to be such a private thing. He’s writing love poems about Laura. But thing is that poetry can be even if it is private in some sense. The idea of privacy, I don’t think would be bothersome to Plato, but the idea of just purely entertaining poetry, or poetry for its own sake, or poetry that is actually lurid, prurient, corrupting — justifying itself by saying the artist doesn’t have to bend before any higher standards. This is the kind of stuff that Plato wants to rid the city of.
But, of course, there were poets writing Red poetry. “My love is a tractor tilling the soil. My love is smoke from the factory oil.” That kind of poetry. The best kind of love story was between a worker and a peasant. Those were always the best. Those are the most socially approved. The hammer and sickle love stories.