Plato's Laws V, 2: Snitches Get Stitches

Plato's account of who deserves honor in society continues, with a claim that is striking:

Ath. "Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to Gods and men; and he who would be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the truth, that he may live a true man as long as possible, for then he can be trusted; but he is not to be trusted who loves voluntary falsehood, and he who loves involuntary falsehood is a fool. Neither condition is enviable, for the untrustworthy and ignorant has no friend, and as time advances he becomes known, and lays up in store for himself isolation in crabbed age when life is on the wane: so that, whether his children or friends are alive or not, he is equally solitary.-Worthy of honour is he who does no injustice, and of more than twofold honour, if he not only does no injustice himself, but hinders others from doing any; the first may count as one man, the second is worth many men, because he informs the rulers of the injustice of others. And yet more highly to be esteemed is he who co-operates with the rulers in correcting the citizens as far as he can-he shall be proclaimed the great and perfect citizen, and bear away the palm of virtue."

It is important to remember the hypothesis in which we are operating here, i.e., that we are talking about a just state whose rulers are genuinely virtuous in the sense Plato has spelled out before. These are not busybodies making rules out of the wish to appear to be 'doing something.' They are preservers of a state that enables the greatest happiness for humankind:  a true community that shares fellowship, beliefs, festivals and honors. 

This state is also much smaller than one we would imagine. Everyone in this state will know each other, so there is a kind of organic community that is impossible in the sort of states we occupy. This proposition is much more akin to not hiding from Grandfather and Grandmother that Uncle is involved in secret drinking that we might all need to talk about, rather than informing a secret police of the "wrongdoings" (or suspected disloyalties) of fellow citizens. 

You might think of it as akin to belonging to a club, with an elected leadership that you know personally and trust. One of your members is having a problem -- maybe stealing a little from the treasury to cover it, too. Should you keep that secret, or should you bring it forward so that the club is not harmed and the problem can be addressed? 

It's a point of genuine division between Plato's world and ours, because outside of small community organizations like clubs we can no longer expect to live in such conditions. We are permanently alienated from the systems that govern us, which have grown so big and so distant that they know us not, nor we them. The mechanisms they employ to govern are more machine-like, less human, and therefore inhumane and generally destructive. Government really has become a necessary evil, in a way that Plato hoped it never would.  (Well, if in fact it is really necessary.)

As long as we cannot organize but in these massive political structures, our every encounter with government will be of evil being done to us in one way or another. Cooperating with the government to enable it to do evil to your fellow citizens more efficiently is thus not virtuous, and not praiseworthy, in a way Plato would have assigned only to his worst tyrannies -- not to the virtuous government he hoped to develop.

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