a1 York University, Toronto
Plato wrote two Utopian works, the Republic and the Laws. The second, written in the 350s and early 340s bc, describes a mythical city-state named Magnesia. It is often ignored as secondary, not only in terms of chronology, but also in quality – the work of the philosopher's declining years. Such a characterization is misplaced. The Laws may lack the optimism and brilliance of the Republic but it nonetheless reveals a still-powerful mind at work, sketching a more realistic societal project. Nor have its philosophic underpinnings changed: they are precisely those of the Republic. Instead of philosopher-kings, Plato now puts his trust in a code of virtually unchanging laws that cover every aspect of life in Magnesia – society, economy, politics, and family. It is this elaborate rule of law, in which the laws are the masters of those who rule and the latter in turn are the slaves of the laws (715d), which alone can produce a successful state and citizens that correspond to it.
(Online publication August 18 2008)