The New Republic


Libertarians do not always know that their political philosophy is the most radical stance to be had in the political arena. As such, making progress is seldom seen to be the result of hard, sustained—albeit exhilarating—work. Yet that is exactly what a free society demands—what a good human life in a human community must involve.

Douglas Den Uyl is one of those rare people within the libertarian intellectual community who takes his personal dedication to liberty very seriously. The kind of work Mr. Den Uyl engages in is truly that of the "new intellectual." He has published in REASON on several occasions and this time he has again surpassed himself with a brilliant contribution to an understanding of both the author and ideas of one of this movement's most important, if not the most important, philosophers.

I am proud to introduce Mr. Den Uyi's informative, lucid, and at times radical ideas on the connection between Plato's REPUBLIC and Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED. Frankly I have learned to appreciate both these thinkers better from Mr. Den Uyl's discussion. I hope you will too.
—Tibor R. Machan

We are about to embark on an analogy between one of the least and one of the most reputable books in libertarian circlesPlato's REPUBLIC and Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED. [1] The analogy will be between the enterprises of the two, not their respective philosophic positions. While analogies prove nothing, an analogy between the REPUBLIC and ATLAS SHRUGGED is instructive.

The great teaching of the REPUBLIC is the impossibility of the absolutely just regime; but the fundamental problem of the REPUBLIC is the relationship between philosophy and the city. [2] We shall consider the former first.

The REPUBLIC begins with a gathering at the home of Cephalus, to discuss the meaning of justice. Socrates proposes to examine justice on the basis of a comparison. He seeks to conceive a just city because he believes that if one finds justice in the city it will be easier to see it in the individual. This is the great comparison between the soul of the individual and the "soul" of the city.


There are some amazing things about Plato's city. Most noticeable is the city's absolute communism [3] which includes the abolition of the family for the sake of a community of women and children. Then there is the establishment of the rule of the philosopher king. Yet unlike Marxism, the REPUBLIC's communism is not established for the sake of prosperity or the glorification of the common man, but rather to secure virtue. The best regime, in the eyes of the ancients, was the regime which promoted virtue, and for Plato this was best exemplified by some form of communism.

The perfectly just regime is impossible for many reasons. The first stems from Platonic metaphysics: justice is an Idea and thus can never be fully realized in our world. Also, the just regime is impossible because founding it requires banishing everyone over ten years olda task which the philosophers have no power to undertake. Moreover, the just regime requires that people give up their strong attachments to family, property, and the city of their birth. Another reason is that the philosophers would not rule, since their concerns are not with everyday political matters. But why then does Plato spend time describing an impossible city? Allan Bloom answers in a way which summarizes most adequately the enterprise of the REPUBLIC:

What then was the use of spending so much time and effort on a city that is impossible? Precisely to show its impossibility. This was not just any city, but one constructed to meet all the demands of justice. Its impossibility demonstrates the impossibility of the actualization of a just regime and hence moderates the moral indignation a man might experience at the sight of less-than-perfect regimes.…If the infinite longing for justice on earth is merely a dream or a prayer, the shedding of blood in its name turns from idealism into criminality.…What matter if a few million die now, if one is sure that countless generations of mankind will enjoy the fruits of justice? Socrates thinks about the end which is ultimately aimed at by all reformers or revolutionaries but to which they do not pay sufficient attention. He shows what a regime would have to be in order to be just and why such a regime is impossible.…The proper spirit of reform, then, is moderation. Socrates constructs his utopia to point up the dangers of what we would call utopianism; as such it is the greatest critique of political idealism ever written.…The striving for the perfectly just city puts unreasonable and despotic demands on ordinary men, and it abuses and misuses the best men.…Political idealism is the most destructive of human passions. [4]

Thus the teaching of the REPUBLIC is not the virtues of communism, nor even its desirability, but the virtue of political moderation. [5]


We must pause here to examine just what Plato means by moderation. It has two basic meanings. [6] The first is moderation of bodily appetites, or "temperance." The second meaning concerns harmony of the soul. Those familiar with Plato will recall that in Plato's psychology the soul is divided into three parts: (a) the desiring part, (b) the spirited part, and (c) the intellectual or reasoning part. Moderation as harmony of the soul means simply that the third part should rule the other two.

We previously noted that Plato drew a parallel between the soul of an individual and the "soul" of the City. A good person has the third part of his soul rule the other two. Similarly, the good city is ruled by the philosophersthe men of the mind. This is not to say that Plato's final city was in this sense moderate. But Plato generally sought to mold a city based on the three parts of the soul: the philosophers were the intellectual part, the guardians were the spirited part, and the "many" were the desiring part. Harmony, and therefore moderation, was achieved in the city, as in the soul, by having the philosopher rule the other two parts. This completes the analogy between the soul of the individual and the "soul" of the city.

There is, nonetheless, a problem in the relationship between philosophy and the city. Bloom recognizes the problem by stating:

The problem appears to be something like the following. As presented in the REPUBLIC, the virtues can be derived from two possible sources: the necessities of the city and the necessities of philosophy.…The virtues connected with the city help to preserve the city and thereby its inhabitants; preservation, or mere life, is the goal. The virtues connected with philosophy aid in the quest for the comprehensive truth; the good life is the goal. Both goals make their demands, and those demands conflict. [7]

Much of the reason for the above distinction stems from Plato's soul/body dichotomy. However, a more general political problem for Plato is how to get the best men to rule. As Strauss points out:

Only a radical change on the part of both the cities and the philosophers can bring about that harmony between them for which they seem to be meant by nature. The change consists precisely in this, that the cities become willing to be ruled by philosophers and the philosophers become willing to rule the cities. [8]

In order for the city to become willing to be ruled by the philosophers the "many" must be persuaded that philosophy is a benefit, not a threat. [9] Also, the philosophers must be persuaded to rule, but they are unwilling, and thus the final city is impossible. Only compulsion "could induce them to take part in public life in the just city." [10] The philosophers' search for truth provides little incentive for them to return to "the cave" and rule. Thus, their position as rulers depends entirely on the persuadability of the "many". But,

…the multitude is not as persuadable by the philosophers as we sanguinely assumed.…This is the true reason why the coincidence of philosophy and the city tend away from one another in opposite direction. [11]

The reason for the opposing tendency is quite simple; we observe it every day. Most people cling to their prejudices and habits. They are suspicious of all that questions themwhether or not that which questions them is true. We are thus led back to our original theme of moderation. To force the truth upon unwilling subjects is to be untrue to the truth, while at the same time diverting the energies of the best people away from truth towards compulsion.


We shall apply the same format as above in comparing what has been said to certain aspects of ATLAS SHRUGGED. Rand also has an impossible final cityGalt's Gulch. As Galt said, "We have no laws in this valley, no rules, no formal organizations of any kind." [12]

Plato's city is impossible because the Idea or form of justice cannot be manifested in our world. Rand, of course, would reject such metaphysics, and Galt's Gulch does not imply it. Yet a subtle implication of Plato's metaphysics [13] is that because the city is devoted to absolute justice the only people who could ultimately compose it are philosophers. Exactly the same can be said of Galt's Gulchit is a community of philosophic persons. [14] Only a community of philosophers could operate in the manner of Galt's Gulch: it is impossible to generalize its social organization.

Plato's final city is also impossible because it could not be founded, since the philosophers would have to take actions beyond their power. Rand's city was founded, however, by her characters withdrawing from society rather than, as Plato proposed, by removing most of society. It appears, then, that the founding of the best city is not a problem for Randperhaps not for Galt's Gulch as such, but there will certainly be a problem if Galt's Gulch is to be the model for society in general. Galt's Gulch "worked" because it operated on true principles in an absolutely consensual community.

Plato also sought to establish consensus, and this was done through education. Both he and Rand realize the value of consensus. Yet it is precisely this consensus which poses the problem of foundation. Plato could not found the City because, even if his education scheme worked, his philosophers had no power to get the system going. For Rand, the problem is even more severe. In order to establish the best regime, the principle of noninitiation of force will have to be violated. Some people will be forced to live under a system they do not agree with. [15] One might argue that this is all right since it is done in the name of truth and justice. To accept this view is to align oneself with every ideologist of the past who has taken all kinds of action under the same banner. Such a view divorces ends from means. It can be argued that if one dislikes the new situation one is free to leave. This is only a quasi-solution and ignores more than it brings to light (such as the costs imposed on perhaps a large number of people. Besides, is there a great difference between this and Plato's forcing everyone over ten to leave in order to found the good city.) Rand's own dramatic answera strike of "men of the mind"is quite novel and interesting, but when Galt returns to society there will probably be many who remain unconvinced. Establishing a consensus on the proper make-up of society is not easy, and has plagued thinkers for a long time. It is a problem for both Plato and Rand.


The above implies our next point. One of the reasons Plato's regime is impossible is that one must renounce a great number of things to be a part of the regime. These were mostly "material" things. Yet for Rand one has little to give up and much to gain in Galt's Gulch. However, the common man must give up more subtle things if Galt's Gulch is to be more than an enclave. These things are the views, prejudices, habits, and expectations people have about what society should be likeeven though they stand to gain "materially" by thinking otherwise. As Plato points out, many people like "lurking in the shadows" of the cave and are opposed to the light of truth. This brings us back to the notion of consensus and the foundation problem. The impulse of desiring security in one's own views is strong, making the establishment of consensus a difficult problem.

Lastly, Plato's final city was impossible because the philosophers would not rule. Here the term "ruling" means "providing the major social guidance". The philosophers of both Plato's REPUBLIC and ATLAS SHRUGGED had a strong tendency to shy away from politics. Yet for both thinkers these philosophers were necessary in the best regime. Thus, in our broad use of "rule," both thinkers desired the "rule" of philosophers. We shall say more about this later.

Of course, Rand did not write ATLAS SHRUGGED to show the impossibility of Galt's Gulch, but rather to show its desirability. She thus was not trying to present a critique of political idealism in the way Plato wasalthough in a sense, ATLAS SHRUGGED is such a critique. Politics means the use of force, and the use of force to obtain social ends is criticized in Rand's work. In this sense, ATLAS SHRUGGED is a critique of political idealism. Yet ATLAS SHRUGGED also extols political idealism in so far as it is a desire to see a regime operating on the principles of truth and justice. Plato, for the most part, would agree.


The teaching of the REPUBLIC is moderation. It would appear that ATLAS SHRUGGED teaches the opposite. While this is partly true, Galt's Gulch is an example of moderation. Both of the senses in which Plato used the term "moderation" are characteristic of the people in Galt's Gulch. While devotion to principle in Plato's best regime leads to immoderation (which says something about Plato's social principles)devotion to principle in Rand's leads to the opposite. ATLAS SHRUGGED teaches the practical importance of principles. From Plato we learn the practical importance of political moderation. The age-old political problem is the combination of these two so that the former does not lead to mere ideology and the latter to pragmatism.

While Rand never speaks of moderation as such, it is clear that she considers it a virtue in the practical sense. I say this for two reasons: 1) Rand's continued emphasis on reshaping the intellectual community in preference to more overt political action, and 2) that the action (the strike) taken by the inhabitants of Galt's Gulch was amazingly moderate compared to the tactics of most radical revolutionaries. [16] Capitalism itself is often impressively moderate, because the risk-taker and innovator are given a free rein. The majority who move more conservatively are free to change at a pace we accept. The system, then, is not subject to stagnation nor impelled by every wild scheme. Capitalism is generally a system where only what has proved itself succeeds. If moderation is a virtue, capitalism is an example of it. Thus we see the importance of moderation for both thinkers, though it plays a lesser role in ATLAS SHRUGGED than in the REPUBLIC.

Plato drew an analogy between the individual soul and the "soul" of the city. Rand also makes this parallel. Galt's Gulch exemplifies the souls of the people who were there. Indeed, the best society, as Rand sees it, should institute the principles by which individuals should deal with one another. The "soul" of the good city must parallel the souls of the best peoplethe "men of the mind"and we see again the importance of the "rule" of the philosophers. [17]


Plato's problem of the relationship between philosophy and the city is also a problem in Rand. In Bloom's initial quote we noted that the virtues connected with the city deal simply with preservation of mere life while the virtues connected with philosophy deal with truth or the good life. This is a characteristic distinction between modern and ancient political philosophy. Starting with Hobbes, modern political philosophy teaches that the regime should be devoted only to preserving the life of its members. The emphasis of the ancients, however, was that the regime should promote virtue in its members. While Rand appears to extend the former view, her real emphasis is on the latter. Actually, Rand breaks this dichotomy. She shows that the true requirements of life are also the basis for value and therefore for virtue. [18] But Rand's real problem between philosophy and the city did not focus on the above issue. If the tendency of the city or regime is away from philosophy, it is because the regime holds a monopoly on force. Force and reason tend away from one another, [19] and a regime in the hands of nonvirtuous or unphilosophic men can be very destructive.

The problem then, is getting the philosophers to "rule", or getting a regime which is founded on true principles advocated by philosophic persons.

Yet only compulsion could get the philosophers to rule in Plato's scheme. In an odd way this is also true of Rand. In ATLAS SHRUGGED it was compulsion that got the "men of the mind" involved in political matters. True, it was not direct compulsion by the citizenry to take over governmental offices, but it was nonetheless compulsion which forced them to take action in hopes of restructuring society. The kind of compulsion involved in ATLAS SHRUGGED was the institutionalization of pure physical force. Because this force is anathema to truth and justice, those most affected by it had to take some sort of action. They were thus compelled into politics. But their political involvement was in reaction to, rather than because of, the compulsion, and this is the difference between Rand and Plato.


In Rand's scheme, the "men of the mind" do not have to rule in the traditional sense of that term. All that is required is that the philosophers somehow get people to accept their wisdom on the proper social order. Once the system is set up, the philosophers need only keep an eye on things to make sure virtue is maintained. Unlike Plato's, Rand's philosophers need not hold political office.

The problem remains, though, as to how to persuade the "many" of the truth and benefit of right thinking or philosophy. This problem is not solved by Rand and certainly not by Plato. It is a problem still discussed by libertarians. In ATLAS SHRUGGED the strike was the solution to this problem. It taught doubters a lesson. But this was more a dramatization than a real, practical solution. Rand's nonfiction view of changing academia and then relying on the filtering of ideas through the culture is more practical and probably necessary and desirable. Moreover, this concords with Plato's general view of the importance of education.

But even if education were the ultimate solution to the problem of acceptance, the division between philosophy and the city would remain. Since force and reason are antithetical, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that force will be abused in any regime. This is the real problem of philosophy and the city for Rand, and one that each political philosopher (including Plato) has had to deal with. Indeed, it was probably Plato who first clarified the issue as a philosophic problem. It still remains to be solvedif it can be.


The greatness of Plato's REPUBLIC comes not from the solutions it offers, but from the political problems it brings to light. In the REPUBLIC, the impossibility of the final city teaches us the importance of moderation. It shows that our disgust with the present regime, though justified, does not therefore give license to take any arbitrary action to rectify the situation. It teaches the large problems involved in properly securing our goal. Galt's Gulch shows us the importance of principle and what virtuous people are like. It also dramatizes what life can be like under the just regime and why we should seek it. The proper combination of moderation and principle may not be easy, but in order to achieve it, that combination must be recognized as just in itself.

And if there are parallels between the individual soul and the "soul" of the city, then the problem of moderation and principle in each of us parallels the general problem of philosophy and the city. For it is precisely subsidiary aspects of this problem, such as the foundation problem, the maintenance problem, consensus, etc., that indicate the perception and its relevance of Plato's work to our own situation. Libertarians are willing to discuss ancient philosophy, but seldom ancient political philosophy. While we must not carry the foregoing analogy too far, it would be a mistake not to take the ancients seriously in thinking of our own philosophy and its relation to social problems.

Plato's REPUBLIC is the central text of ancient political philosophy, mainly because of its one most basic teachingthe importance of virtue for achieving the best society. Rand has many centuries of knowledge to draw from which was unavailable to the ancients. But ATLAS SHRUGGED, while not a mere restatement of ancient political philosophy, is clearly in the tradition of the REPUBLIC and other great ancient works. Indeed, the enterprise of ATLAS SHRUGGED is closer to Plato in many important respects than it is to Locke. The emphasis on virtue which characterizes the enterprise of ancient political philosophy is often lacking in more modern traditions. Indeed, we libertarians also often seem to lose sight of these important words of Rand's:

The New Intellectual must fight for capitalism, not as a "practical" issue, not as an economic issue, but, with the most rigorous pride, as a moral issue. That is what capitalism deserves, and nothing less will save it. [20]

Douglas Den Uyl is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Chicago. He received his A.B. in philosophy and political science from Kalamazoo College. He was co-editor of the 1972 edition of A IS A DIRECTORY OF LIBERTARIAN PERIODICALS. His article "Knowledge, Control, and Ownership" appeared in the February 1973 issue of REASON.

Notes and References
[1] I thank Dale Haviland for his editorial revisions without which this paper may never have emerged in readable form.
[2] I owe this interpretation of the REPUBLIC to the writings of Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom and to the lectures of Joseph Cropsey (University of Chicago) as I understand them.
[3] One should note that this communism applied only to the upper classes. Also Plato, unlike Marx, believed in the division of labor.
[4] Allan Bloom, THE REPUBLIC OF PLATO (Basic Books Inc. 1968), pp. 409-10.
[5] Another important aspect of the REPUBLIC is that it serves to bring out certain basic questions of political philosophy. As Strauss points out: "As Cicero has observed, the REPUBLIC does not bring to light the best possible regime but rather the nature of political things—the nature of the city.…By letting us see that the city constructed in accordance with this requirement is not possible, he (Plato) lets us see the essential limits, the nature, of the city." Leo Strauss, THE CITY AND MAN (Rand McNally & Co. 1964), p. 138.

[6] See Bloom, THE REPUBLIC OF PLATO, note 4 supra, footnote 21 to Book III, p. 451.
[7] Bloom, THE REPUBLIC OF PLATO, note 4 supra, p. 396.
[8] Strauss, THE CITY AND MAN, note 5 supra, p. 123.
[9] One of the reasons for the special friendship of Thrasymachus and Socrates was because only Thrasymachus could persuade the many. See Strauss, THE CITY AND MAN, note 5 supra, p. 124.
[10] Strauss, note 5 supra, p. 125.

[11] Strauss, note 5 supra, p. 125.
[12] Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED (Signet Books 1959), p. 664.
[13] This implication does not necessarily follow from the whole of Plato's metaphysics, but only his politics.
[14] It should be obvious by now that the use of the term "philosopher" is being employed in its broadest sense. "Philosopher" here means "persons of extreme virtue who devote their life to the most rigorous uses of their mind."
[15] A similar problem was a reason for Plato introducing the notion of the "noble lie".

[16] Libertarians as a group have the distinction of being moderate political radicals in their activities. This is not always the case, but I believe our approach will pay off in the long run. For a good statement of moderation, see LIBERTARIAN FORUM, November 1972.
[17] Despite our use of the term "ruling" in this paper, the reader should never lose sight of the difference between Rand and Plato on their real uses of the term.
[18] Cf. "The Objectivist Ethics", THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS (Signet Books 1964).
[19] This statement could be made of a limited government regime or an anarcho-capitalist system.
[20] Ayn Rand, FOR THE NEW INTELLECTUAL (Signet Books 1961), p. 54.