In my first year at university we devoted a lot of time to the works of Plato, in particular his book The Republic. He believed society would be best ordered so that the ‘philosopher-kings’ ruled due to their contemplative and whimsical nature.
It was always fun to watch students defend some of his more inhumane ideas because it was clear that those people secretly believed themselves to be ‘philosopher-kings’, with their deep insights such as ‘it’s all love, man’, ‘if we could all just along better, then we’d get along better’ and ‘smash the system’.
One of Plato’s more outrageous ideas was to separate children from their parents at birth and have them raised by the community because the emotional attachment between parent and child is too strong – it overrides their desire for the good of the society in which they live.
Plato’s vision of the ideal society – one split up into three ‘classes’ who do different jobs assigned at birth – is so radical, and yet so ‘just’, that the nuclear family needs to be abolished to accommodate it. In Plato’s society everybody’s priority is the community in which they live, and families naturally supplant that.
I found myself thinking of Plato when reading an interview with the sociologist Margaret Hagerman in The Atlantic. Hagerman is an American academic who has recently written a book on the under-reported topic of race in America.
She spent two years ‘talking to and observing upper-middle-class white families in an unidentified midwestern city and its suburbs’, following 36 of their children between the ages of ten and 13, and from this drew conclusions about race which unsurprisingly feature ‘structures’, things on ‘the structural level’ and how things are ‘socially constructed’.
One point she made that struck me with its idiocy was her claim: ‘We have this collectively agreed-upon idea in our society that being a “good parent” means exactly that – providing the best opportunities you can for your own child’ before adding that ‘this idea that your own child is the most important thing – that’s something we could try to rethink.’
Hagerman admits: ‘I’m much more interested in how things are socially constructed rather than biologically constructed,’ and doesn’t have children of her own. Quelle surprise.
What Hagerman was coming up against was brute biological reality, that when all the platitudes about diversity, multiculturalism and anti-racism were spouted, the parents involved would always choose what was best for their child rather than what was best for their cerebral beliefs and values. But why is this a surprise? And why is it bad?
We all prioritise things, and I might think volunteering with the homeless is extremely important, but if it is a choice between spending an evening in a soup kitchen or taking my sick child to hospital I will, quite rightly, take my child to hospital.
Peter Hitchens, Ben Shapiro and many writers on these fine pages have made the point that the modern Left hates the family because the family is something they cannot control. Going back to Plato, all radical social theorists with an authoritarian bent have found the family a bulwark against their social meddling so why would our modern incarnation be any different?
I find it heartening to see how far back so many of these arguments go. Plato had many fascinating things to say, and St Augustine was massively influenced by his theory of the Forms, but his views on the family in The Republic were mad.
However, the fact that I’m sitting here writing this shows that enough of my ancestors ignored his views and saw the value in family life. Let’s pray that enough people ignore the current anti-family rhetoric, too.