Plato's Laws VII, 4

If you thought we were surely done with restatements of the importance of women sharing equally in military service, we're not: it comes up again towards the end of the book. I'm not going to quote the argument at length this time, but if you're interested in reading every version of this argument, it's there.

The ending section of Book VII contains an array of subjects: how to judge good poetry from bad, and therefore which to teach to students; dancing and wrestling; the correct playing and therefore teaching of a particular musical instrument; and how much a good person should sleep (not much). 

There is also a particularly important question raised by the Athenian: what exactly are we leaving these people to do, given that we will have provided for all their needs including cooking for them at a public mess? I'll get to the answer in a moment, but notice first that this approximately equal "second best" society contains a huge masked inequality: the citizens are being cared for by a large mass of servants, who are barely mentioned.

Ath. What manner of life would men live, supposing that they possessed a moderate supply of all the necessaries, and that they had entrusted all the crafts to other hands, and that their farms were hired out to slaves, and yielded them produce enough for their modest needs? Let us further suppose that they had public mess-rooms—separate rooms for men, and others close by for their households, including the girls and their mothers—and that each of these rooms was in charge of a master or mistress, to dismiss the company and to watch over their behavior daily; and, at the close of the meal, that the master and all the company poured a libation in honor of those gods to whom that night and day were dedicated, and so finally retired home. Supposing them to be thus organized, is there no necessary work, of a really appropriate kind, left for them, but must every one of them continue fattening himself like a beast?

So the citizens of this noble republic aren't working their equally-divided farms; they have slaves for that. (Hamilton translates this as 'viliens,' preserving the sense of a city dweller who is of both lower class and presumptively lower character than a noble.) They aren't cooking their own food, or cleaning up after the meals. (This alone is reason to doubt the Athenian's assertion that women would reject public messes; I do most of the cooking around here, and quite a bit of the cleaning up, and while I enjoy cooking I certainly don't mind to pass it off once in a while.) 

In fact, so much of the actual labor of life is being done by others that the Athenian wonders what they would pass their time doing. Well, it's not hard to guess the answer: the answer is to pursue virtue.

That, we assert, is neither right nor good; nor is it possible for one who lives thus to miss his due reward; and the due reward of an idle beast, fattened in sloth, is, as a rule, to fall a prey to another beast—one of those which are worn to skin and bone through toil hardily endured. Now it is probable that if we look to find this state of leisure fully realized exactly as described, we shall be disappointed, so long as women and children and houses remain private, and all these things are established as the private property of individuals; but if the second-best State, as now described,  could exist, we might be well content with it. And, we assert, there does remain for men living this life a task that is by no means small or trivial, but rather one that a just law imposes upon them as the weightiest task of all. For as compared with the life that aims at a Pythian or Olympian victory and is wholly lacking in leisure for other tasks, that life we speak of—which most truly deserves the name of “life”—is doubly (nay, far more than doubly) lacking in leisure, seeing that it is occupied with the care of bodily and spiritual excellence in general.

Note the slipping-back-in of the idea that giving up families in return for a full communal living is really best, and our unwillingness to do it is likely to lead to problems sooner or later. But this 'second best' society will nevertheless produce an opportunity for us to pursue excellence: we shall all be Olympic athletes and/or poets, prophets, and sages of one sort or another. 

This is an idea that our Marxists recovered in the 19th century, when they likewise imagined their ideal society -- one that somehow did away with the mass servant class, and attained luxurious communism.

And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Speaking of hunting and fishing, Book VII closes with a treatment of that, too. This book is focused on education, both physical and intellectual, and hunting is supposed (by Plato as the medievals) to be especially good for one's moral education. Plato's treatment of it is similar to medieval takes in that it privileges the chase, which he sees as especially worthy of noble men. In general hunting is praiseworthy or blameworthy depending on how hard it is to accomplish (e.g., fishing with stupefying chemicals is to be forbidden; fishing with net traps is merely discouraged).

If you are curious about the answer to the question of how to best judge poetry, by the way, it is that you should study philosophy. The Athenian asserts that this whole discussion has a kind of poetry to it, and those who learn it best will be the best judges. So congratulations; you're on your way to being a prime literary critic. 

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