Plato's Laws VIII, 3

This is the final post on Book VIII. The rest of the book treats many important subjects, but mostly they are contingent on facts about the particular location of the colony. As contingencies, they aren't of great universal philosophical interest. 

For example, having determined to have public meals, they need to work out where the food is coming from to supply those meals. Now if you remember, the colony is on a part of the large island of Crete that is mostly uninhabited and quite a distance from the sea. Thus, the Athenian reckons they won't need regulations about fishing. That's probably true, but it doesn't mean that fishing regulations aren't philosophically interesting (as much as any regulations). It just means the colony isn't by the water.

Likewise one of the most crucial topics in many places is water rights. On Crete, it's not such a big deal. The Mediterranean climate is generous, the volcanic soil is rich, and the mountainous terrain supplies numerous springs. As such, it's fine to offer the fairly simple set of arrangements the Athenian proposes. It would be a different matter on the Mesa Verde

The respect for property lines and markers is good. There's not a lot to say about it, though. The most that comes to mind is how carefully they treat the border cases, in which they might be intruding on a foreigner's holding instead of a fellow citizen's. The Athenian advises that they treat these cases exactly as if they were fellow citizens, doing justice to the stranger:

Ath. [L]et the first of them be the law of Zeus, the god of boundaries. Let no one shift the boundary line either of a fellow-citizen who is a neighbour, or, if he dwells at the extremity of the land, of any stranger who is conterminous with him, considering that this is truly "to move the immovable," and every one should be more willing to move the largest rock which is not a landmark, than the least stone which is the sworn mark of friendship and hatred between neighbours; for Zeus, the god of kindred, is the witness of the citizen, and Zeus, the god of strangers, of the stranger, and when aroused, terrible are the wars which they stir up.

In addition to avoiding wars and divine punishment (which may well be the same thing in this case), this is a Golden Rule case; but Plato does not invoke anything quite like that principle, which is interesting as an omission. The philosophical principle he invokes instead still has an Old Testament flavor:

Ath. In the next place, many small injuries done by neighbours to one another, through their multiplication, may cause a weight of enmity, and make neighbourhood a very disagreeable and bitter thing. Wherefore a man ought to be very careful of committing any offence against his neighbour, and especially of encroaching on his neighbour's land; for any man may easily do harm, but not every man can do good to another.

That sounds like a principle that you should not harm your neighbor because you may not be able to do good to him in equal measure. That may be true, although presumably one can do more good for one's neighbor than will usually be the case for those further away.

There's another section on the physical quality of the town and its buildings, but it is not interesting compared with the earlier book's.

Finally, the subject of immigrants comes up. Now immigrants are presumably also protected by 'Zeus, the god of strangers,' but he doesn't come up there. The interest of the Athenian is just in preserving the character of his state. Foreigners won't be fed at the public mess, which is for citizens, so they'll need to buy food; so will artisans, who aren't deemed worthy of being full citizens. Aristotle agreed about this; it's an oddity of Greek thinking that artisans are at once the clearest cases of knowledge, but still considered unworthy of citizenship because they have to earn a living through skill rather than having one provided for them via land.

However, the Athenian does not want his state to be commercial in character; the hustling and bustling of markets horrifies him, as does the lure of lucre. He proposes that there be only twelve market days a year for buying food, one a month, and that the artisans and foreigners be required to purchase their rations a month at a time. These markets in the agora should be run by foreigners anyway, to prevent citizens from being merchants. 

Yet there are things one cannot buy a month out at a time, like raw meat; and there are other things like fuel that might be purchased wholesale from producers in the country, which for some reason is perfectly fine with the Athenian. (But no credit is to be extended, or if it is in spite of the rules against it, the law will not enforce the contract and you'll just have to accept not being paid if you aren't.) All together a confused relationship coming out of this distrust of commerce, which tries to map itself on a world in which commerce is a practical necessity.

The basic rule of immigration is that borders are open for all skilled migrants, and residence can last for as much as twenty years, but then you have to go home. There is no path to citizenship. For an immigrant who does some special service, this twenty year period can be extended at the discretion of the government; it can even be extended to lifelong residence, if the service is of great character. 

The children of the foreigners remain foreigners. They also are permitted a twenty year residence, provided they learn the skilled trade that their father brought to town; however, their twenty year clock doesn't start until they turn 15. They may thus stay until age 35, and then they have to go: unless, of course, they can persuade the council to permit them to remain. 

Over time this is likely to lead to a large class of foreign-born non-citizens without political power. Even if they usually do leave at 35, any children they have had will be entitled to stay; and they are likely to reproduce as well. The need for someone to be present to care for children and teach them the trade is likely to prove an acceptable excuse for not expelling 35-year-old fathers who are skilled tradesmen. Given open borders for immigration and natural reproductive increase, then, in a few generations there will be a class of people with necessary skills for the continuation of the state, who nevertheless live under threat of expulsion and lack political power or respect. 

That's an explosive set of circumstances for the Athenian to have built into the plan. 

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