Plato's Laws VIII

We have moved on from education to practice, and specifically the practice of war. This is to be done through competitions held at regular festivals throughout the year. In fact, like the Church's practice of having every day a sacred day in one way or another, all 365 days shall be festivals sacred to one or another god or hero, who will be remembered by the appropriate officer; but twelve days (once a month) will be to the greater gods.

Warlike competitions are the most important aspect of all of this, because it is the way in which the people of the city will remain free from foreign domination and also because it develops excellence.

Ath. No man can be perfectly secure against wrong, unless he has become perfectly good; and cities are like individuals in this, for a city if good has a life of peace, but if evil, a life of war within and without. Wherefore the citizens ought to practise war-not in time of war, but rather while they are at peace.

There is a lot of talk about this practicing, which has many subdivisions and is especially focused on fighting in armor. There are horse competitions as well, but these are not as interesting to the Athenian ("horses aren't much use in a place like Crete," but he does favor competitions for armored javelin-throwing riders and such). These war games are to be as realistic and dangerous as possible, because they really are preparations for war -- a war that might even be avoided, if everyone else is impressed with the city's vigor at these games. 

Ath. [T]he legislator [will] ordain that soldiers shall perform lesser exercises without arms every day, making dancing and all gymnastic tend to this end; and also will he not require that they shall practise some gymnastic exercises, greater as well as lesser, as often as every month; and that they shall have contests one with another in every part of the country, seizing upon posts and lying in ambush, and imitating in every respect the reality of war; fighting with boxing-gloves and hurling javelins, and using weapons somewhat dangerous, and as nearly as possible like the true ones, in order that the sport may not be altogether without fear, but may have terrors and to a certain degree show the man who has and who has not courage; and that the honour and dishonour which are assigned to them respectively, may prepare the whole city for the true conflict of life? 

Plus, hardship builds virtue, which is important enough that the real risk of death should be courted:

Ath. If any one dies in these mimic contests, the homicide is involuntary, and we will make the slayer, when he has been purified according to law, to be pure of blood, considering that if a few men should die, others as good as they will be born; but that if fear is dead then the citizens will never find a test of superior and inferior natures, which is a far greater evil to the state than the loss of a few.

Given how much emphasis was placed in the prior book on the equality of women in military service, it may be surprising to discover that the Athenian does not think women should have to compete in these games unless they individually desire to do so. It is striking how unwilling the Athenian is to try to compel women to do much of anything at all. They are definitely to be afforded the opportunity to study all forms of warfare equally, but remember that girls could opt out of the lesson and instead learn to dance in armor; public messes, so important for building political friendship and social cohesion, should be made available to women but he expects to be ridiculed for even suggesting such a thing; and here, too, these perilous and virtue-building exercises are open to women, but only if they feel like it.

Along the way we learn that there are two evils that lead to all other evils, principally by preventing men from practicing for war as vigorously as they ought to do. The first one is love of money, and the comforts it can bring; the second is government. 

Ath. I say that governments are a cause-democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, concerning which I have often spoken in the previous discourse; or rather governments they are not, for none of them exercises a voluntary rule over voluntary subjects; but they may be truly called states of discord, in which while the government is voluntary, the subjects always obey against their will, and have to be coerced; and the ruler fears the subject, and will not, if he can help, allow him to become either noble, or rich, or strong, or valiant, or warlike at all. These two are the chief causes of almost all evils, and of the evils of which I have been speaking they are notably the causes. 

Strange indeed to find such a conviction -- with which I am inclined to agree -- in the middle of a large work on the subject of government, and a government that has been granted a massive capacity to compel. Poets cannot so much as recite a poem without getting the prior approval of a magistrate; twelve times a year you shall be compelled into the lists to live or die as best you can; you are to marry at this age and divorce if you don't produce children quickly and regularly, after a period of having to perform under the watchful eye of state officials assigned to make sure you're doing your husbandry correctly. You can't have silver or gold, unless you are going on a journey that requires it; after you return you must hand it back over to the state, plus any excessive profits. There is a 100% tax on wealth once you cross a threshold value. 

Yet the Athenian declares that this constitution avoids both those evils, and Cleinias mildly agrees with him. 

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