This is first (hopefully) of a series, What I have learned from the Greeks
If one is to read The Republic of Plato, one will be struck by the
misogynist and anti manual labour tone of the book. Bracketing all
that out and moving to a different level one will find that this work
is not a what we would consider a work of political economy. Indeed a
contemporary reader would probably see it as discussion of education
I worked for sevearl years in IT, and one of the few I had any
respoect used to say, beneath his demented Santa beard. "You can not
build the second storey unless the ground floor is built correctly."
How do this two thoughts come together? For Plato the ground floor of
the Republic is education. Education has to be well organised and
supported for the state to work properly. In Athens every citizen was
expected to take part in the political discussions of the
day. Obviously if one was stuck in a slough of ignorance how could one
take part in these discussions?
Ignorance being seen not as the simple, passive state of not knowing,
but rather as the active state of being beguiled and wretched.
So the need for good education. What did the education system look
like for Plato? It would be, in our modern terms, described as the
much despised liberal arts education. With the main emphasis being
physical education and, to use the word Plato used, mousike. While
this looks like our word music, and indeed our word music comes form
this root, there is a deeper meaning. The word can, possibly, be
traced way back to PIE *men-, to think, to remember. Rumminating over
a few days, I have conculed (and of course I may be wrong), that the
best translation of mousike would be 'thinks of the mind.'
The classic epics were all sung, as were the tragedies. If looked on
with modern eyes Greek theatre might be classed as opera or at least
(to use the terrible current phrase) musical theatre. All of the
literary arts, including history and the sciences would, to Plato and
his contemporaries, be considered mousike.
The word mousike literally means something like; from (or of) the
Muses. The Muses being, of course, the 9 goddesses of the arts. So is
Plato saying that we need an education based on playing, reading
poetry, making music? It seems he may be.
What of more specific technical learning? This was to be done outside
the school system. As an aside the Greek word that is the basis for
our word school was skole, which meant leisure. Technical learning was
to be done outside the school, as it was the role of the trades person
to train up new staff. People very rarely went to school to learn to
be, for example, a painter, or a potter, but rather they had an
apprenticeship with an established artisan.
So what we can we drag out by reading Plato? Schools are to have an
emphasise on playing and doing sport, as well as on reciting poetry
and playing music. The old idea of 'a healthy mind in a healthy body.'
Or as a Victorian would say 'the battle of Waterloo was won on the
playing fields of Eton.' Beyond that the Academy, maybe our idea of
university) was a place of pure research and enquiry. A place of
'light and earning.' While those who wanted to learn a trade were sent
out to work, to learn by doing.
In some ways I can agree with this schema for learning. As a home
educator of my children I think that running around and playing, as
well as reading great works is a valid path forward for my children.
But let us think for a moment on our current crop of conservative
politicians. How is education seen in our current age?
There is in many of these circles an opposition to this idea of
unfettered research and enquiry. There is in our schools a desire to
create not great and strong thinkers, but rather a desire to create
nothing more than obedient sheep who have been broken so they can
bejammed into the mould of the 'good worker.'
The job of creating technical specialists for a company has been
passed onto the state. Companies no longer hire young people, and
train them into their roles. I have spoken to many older people who
tell me tales of how they were able to rise to highly technical roles
through the knowledge they gathered on the job. Most of the times this
does not happen anymore. The role of creating these specialists is
left to the state, as in Australia there are very few private
This is yet another example of how Kapital is able to appropriate
individually social activity.
This is not conservatism, in the sense of keeping the best of the
past. This is a corporate idea of education, it is in many ways the
essence of Fascism. Note that I say Fascism, and not Nazism. This is
the idea of the state and the corporate sector coming together. Every
one wins, as long as the working people through their taxes, and
loans, and HECS debts are made to pay for the right to be exploited by
large (and small) companies. They get the social benefit without
having to add anything to the mixture. Again not conservatism, but at
best a reactionary policy, and more baldly Fascism.