Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Rapacious Caste

In the Republic Plato speaks of three social castes: the desirous, the spirited, and the philosopher-kings.  On this account, the philosopher-kings should rule because their wisdom makes them the best qualified to lead.  He felt the spirited were unqualified because their indignation would lead the state to ruin.  As for the largest caste, the desirous, Plato felt that so long as it was allowed to sate its desires through its own productivity, it could be safely pacified while it contributed to society's needs.

Putting aside for the moment the plausibility of Plato's utopia, we can safely say that he never foresaw the possibility of a small rapacious caste arising from the caste of the desirous, a caste whose appetite far exceeds its actual numbers.  The rapacious caste wants all; it never gives, it only takes.  Its only guide is more--of everything in human experience.  Human lives, the abundance of the earth, society itself; all of these it considers a bounty to which it is intrinsically entitled, a feast for its mouth alone.  It knows no moderation, its appetite is insatiable, and even when it has eaten everything, even after it has carried off and consumed not only all of society can provide but also the whole earth, it will still want more even as our shared celestial orb flames out in a final orgasm of grasping depravity.  It eats the dead and the living, the present and the future, time itself.  It is the agent of death.

To which Plato offers the only plausible solution: those with incurably evil souls are to be executed (410a).