How did the earlier political philosophers envisage the
How did the earlier political
philosophers envisage the “ideal
The two and a half thousand year span of European history is conventionally divided into a
number of periods, and these periods do not form exact distinct of historical entities, but
they are useful to understand the different features of the political, economic and social
structures of Western societies. For most of these periods, political philosophers focused on
society at different stages and the sets of political beliefs, religious and intellectual
developments that correspond to them. The central theme for many of political thinkers
was the transformation of society form stage to another, and also the creation of the ideal
society; justice, equality and freedom under the law (Heywood, 2007).
While reading Plato’s Republic, Apology or Crito, it becomes obvious that Socrates (469-399
BC), had a very strong beliefs about the relationship between law, morality, virtue, justice
and the role of politics. (Boucher and Kelly, 2009) making a case that in Plato’s Republic
(380 BC), Socrates argues that for the ideal society to be achieved, leaders must be
stimulated by the wish for wisdom and justice. Plato claims that by comparison with an ideal
society, an unjust society might be ruled by a Timocracy, in which the leadership and the
authority are based on the possession of personal property, a Plutocracy, in which power
belong to the wealthy, an Anarchy, in which there is an absence of governmental authority,
or a Tyranny, in which the absolute power is oppressively exercised by a single person.
Hence, Socrates always argued that imperfect forms of government might correspond to
imperfect states of the indiviual soul. For example, the Timocratic soul is concened with
collecting personal property, the Plutocratic soul is preoccupied with accumalating personal
wealth, the Anarchic soul is anxious with its own desires and appetites and the Tyrannical
soul is preoccupied with accumulating personal control and power. Consequently, Socrates
claimed that justice in the soul is more gainful than injustice, as it might allow the soul to be
free from being controlled by its own appetites, rether than being imprisoned by them.
According to (McLean and McMillan, 2009) Socrates argued about the “standard of
morality”; when he was waiting his sentence to death, his old friend Crito told him to
escape and save himself, but he refused and he did not listen to him and argued that if a
man was pursuing physical fitness, he would listen to a trainer or doctor, and ignore the
advice of others. So he put his own situation in the same light. He said that he must listen to
the wise rather than the foolish. Socrates insisted acting on principle and morality rather
than on self-interest. In addition, as stated by (Armstrong, 2009) Socrates’ golden rule;
always treating all others, as you wish to be treated yourself; rests on the core of morality.
Consistent with (Boucher and PKelly, 2009) Plato (428-348 BC) developed a new aspect of
the ideal society of his own. In his Republic (380 BC) Plato argued about the concept of the
Philosopher King, who would unite the political power and authority with philosophical
knowledge. He believed that Philosophical wisdom based on mathamatics and dialectic of
the inspirational, unchanged form of good-knowledge. The nature of the system
Philosopher-Kings is based on Plato’s psychology, or theory of the soul. According to it,
there are three fundamental kinds of desires: Bronze ( Appetitive or Producers) for food,
drink, sex and the money with which to gain them, Silver (Spirit or Courageous) for victory,
honour and good reputation, and Gold (Reason or Wise) for truth and knowledge. Each of
these rules the soul of a different type of person and so determines his values.
Plato himself was an advocate of State Absolutism, such as existed in his time in Sparta,
where the state exercises unlimited power; neither family institutions or private property
have any place in the Platonic state. Children belong to the state as soon as they are born
and taken in charge by the state from the beginning, for the purpose of education. They
receive the same level of education by officials appointed by the state according to their
capabilities, both natural and abilities assigned by the state to the order of producers, to
that of auxiliaries, or to the governing class. However, it can be argued that Plato’s scheme
is aristocatic, authoritarian and hierarchical in the meaning of word, and it advocates
government by the rule of (intellectually) best, by the few, believing that ultimate power
should be vested in the hands of an educated elite, the philosopher king, rather than paying
attention to indivdul liberty. cearly, Plato was a firm critic of democracy (MacDonald, 1941).
Aristotle (384-22 BC) took a different path way from the foundation of Plato’s philosophy of
ideal society; his ideas dominated European political thought in the later Middle Ages.
According to (Morrow, 2009) Aristotle’s major political work, The Politics was published
after his death, Aristotle discussed the ideal state, the features of citizens and he answers
the question of who should be citizen? The concept of citizen is very vital in his ideal state,
because citizens have the fullest sovereign power, and it would be ridiculous to deny their
participation in the state management. He argued that citizens have a common purpose for
the stability of association, because they are the most important part of society. However,
according to Aristotle, a citizen is one who participates in giving judgement and holding
office; foreign residents and slaves are not citizens, because citizens are a particular class of
men, others (slaves, foreigners, workers etc) don't have the function of ruling and being
ruled. Therefore the occupations of these others are different from the citizens. In addition,
Aristotle distinguished between three forms of organization: family, neighbourhood/village
and the city. Indeed, Aristotle used the idea of "civic virtue of friendship" to create a sense
of community. According to Aristotle, friendship is a virtue "most necessary for our life”,
without friendship, life would be missing a major dimension and in consequence our live
would lack real significance.
In line with (Morrow, 2005) Aristotle and Plato have differing opinions about the ideal
society and who should lead the city-state. Plato believed that "philosopher kings" should
rule because they would be trained and have the most knowledge and wisdom to distinction
justice from injustice. He also disagrees with democracy saying that it might leads to
tyranny. By contrast, Aristotle was in favour of a Polity; he believed in the rule of middle
class since the middle class have the least desire to be rich or to have control. However,
critics might argue that a Polity is unpractical because the middle class is usually not strong
enough to counter the ambitions of the rich or the power cravings of the poor, thus the
leaving either the rich or the poor in charge.
Like Plato, Cicero’s (106-43 BC) ideal society formulated against the background of social
and political dissolution. According to (Law, 2007) Cicero argued that human being enter
into society in order to complete the possibilities that they possess by reason of their reason
and speech. He argued that an ideal society and its order’s require wise leader who direct
citizens toward the proper targets of cooperation and mutual advantage and a rational
leader who seeks peace rather than war. He argues that, an ideal state must be built upon
virtue, natural law and justice. Cicero argued that for an ideal society the best form of
government is one who is particularly qualified to rule and has the approval of the people.
However, according to (McLean and McMillan, 2009) Cicero advocated a single leader in
times of crisis, but not permanently or at other times.
Along with (Boucher and Kelly, 2009) Machiavelli (1469-1527) the father of modern politics,
a typical man of Renaissance-secular, sceptical and a worshipper of antiquity; influenced by
the early Greek philosophers especially Plato. In his The Prince (1513) Machiavelli believed
and emphasised on Greek-Roman ideas of value, goodness and principle. His views about
ideal society are understood as a matter of course when he describes how a ruler should
act or gain control over the state, how he is responsible if loses it and which qualities are
important for a republic to remain strong and stable. On the other hand, Machiavelli
differed from medieval thinkers, as there is remarkably little agreement between
philosophers and thinkers about what Machiavelli actually believed. He wrote that the
power of the state is a single whole which can be centrally controlled, irrespective
whether the state is a monarchy or a republic. He thought that the main goals of political
leaders must be government sustainability, and to acquire honour, riches and glory for the
rulers and their people, not virtue or morality.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) were two of the great political
theorists of the Enlightenment period (17th century). They had different political views
about the government, society, monarch and human’s state of nature. Indeed, they wrote
vital philosophical texts that describe the ideal society and the role of government, in which
individual rights are protected and the security of the state.
In his Leviathan (1651) Hobbes preferred the idea of an absolute monarch to rule over the
people. He believed that the Commonwealth and the Restoration are indispensible, if
citizens want to live peacefully, securely and if the rule of the law is to be preserved. Hobbes
argued that an ideal society could only exist if a state is ruled by an absolute sovereign
(King or Queen), because society and state need an authority figure to provide direction and
leadership. Indeed, he rejected the separation of power and believed that people should
not be trusted to make decisions on their own. Hobbes believed that moral ideas such as
good and bad did not exist in the state of nature. He argued that men use any essential
force to protect his life and goods around him, and he called this situation “war” by which
he meant “every man against every man”. On the other hand, he believed that a group of
people (Representatives) presenting common problems, hopefully, would prevent a king
from being unfair and brutal. Nevertheless, many political scholars and liberal thinkers see
and consider Hobbes views on ideal community as a formula of authoritarian and
totalitarian rule, in which the society and the government ruled by a limitless personal
power, single-person dictatorship that controls every aspect of the lives of its citizens;
that individual rights count for nothing (Heywood, 2007). However, critics might ask, why in
Hobbes’s view, would the state of nature be a state of war?
In line with (McLean and McMillan, 2009) like his great rival Hobbes, Locke wrote against
the background of English Civil War (1642-1660) in his Two Treaties of Government (1689)
Locke maintained that people have natural rights such as the right to life, liberty and
property. Locke used the claim that men are naturally free and equal. He thought that the
condition of nature engaged people living together, using reason to govern their lives
without need for an absolute authority. He argued that an ideal society can be achieved if
governments exist by the agreement of people in order to protect the rights of the people
and promote the public good; and government that fail to do so can be resisted and
replaced with a new one “the right of revolution”. According to (Haywood, 2007) Locke
defended the principle of the separation of powers: legislative and executive. In addition,
he argued about the “tyranny of the majority”. Locke’s liberal views had a considerable
impact upon the American Revolution and its Constitution. Nonetheless, one might argue
that Locke did not provide practical elements for people how to gain power.
Locke’s views about liberty and constitutional government were advocated by the Anglo-
American writer Thomas Paine (1737-1809). In his Rights of Man (1791) Paine wrote “Men
are born free and always continue free, and equal in respect of their rights. Civil
distinction, therefore, can be found only on public utility”. According to (Morrow, 2005)
Paine played an important role in American Revolution (1776) and in French Revolution in
(1879). He believed that the purpose of government is that to take care over a range of
functions that could not be sufficiently performed by individuals themselves or through
voluntary social relations. He believed that the ideal society cannot exist under
Monarchies, as they treat the state as a property of the king and were not based on
In The Social Contract (1762) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) rejected the conventional
wisdom of Hobbes’s ideal society. He wrote that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in
chains”. As stated by (Crocker, 1968) Rousseau maintained that Hobbes was wrong to
recommend that in the absence of goodness in the state of nature man is naturally evil or
that there is nothing to motivate a person to assist another to whom he has no
responsibility. Instead he criticized the social institutions for corrupting the indispensible
decency of human nature. He believed that an ideal society itself is an agreement between
the population to live together for the good of everyone with individual equality and
freedom. He argued that an ideal social require a specific kind of education, in which the
natural character seeks the common-good, well-being and collective interests. On the
other hand, critics might claim that Rousseau’s remarks on general will are not very
sufficient, because the general will is not vitally the will of all. Citizens might have different
collective wills, so how does one know what the general will is?
The late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries witnessed the beginning of Utilitarian
concept of ideal state, James Mill (1773-1836) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). As it
stated by (Haywood, 2007) Bentham used the principle of general utility to create an ideal
society “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, which is based upon the belief
that human beings are self-interested creatures. Additionally, in relation to (Morrow, 2005)
the most important British political thinker since Hobbes is John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). In
his On Liberty (1859) Mill argued that in an ideal state, the interference with others,
whether by government agents or by individuals, is only justified in cases in which their
actions are likely to prevent them from harming others. He maintained that freedom put
limits on the action of government; it might not impose upon the area of liberty. He
believed that the conservation of liberty requires the existence of apparatuses of legal
restraint that will protect individuals to exercise their rights and liberties. Mill believed that
education is the key to the democratic process. However, one might say that utilitarian
thinkers dismissed the morality and virtue, and they treated freedom as a direct end of
politics, not as a product of interaction between individuals and community desires.
The modern association of socialism’s ideal society has based on the works and thoughts of
those philosophers whom opposed the outcomes of industrial revolution. Utopian socialists
such as Comte Saint Simon (1776-1825) Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen
(1771-1858) believed that inequalities and injustice were the results of uncontrolled free
market and capitalism. They argued that cooperative agricultural communities bearing
liabilities for the social welfare of the individual and will be differentiated by continuously
changing roles among its members. They believed that eradication of competition and by
opposing education imperfection through rational enlightenment would allow the
industrious force to benefit mankind. They believed that “socialism” is based in a desire for
total class transformation unconnected with the necessity of class struggle and revolution.
They stressed that they is a great need to formulate a society and ordering it according to
human needs. Fourier believed that men would be bound together by love and passion in a
social order, which is pleasant and free from intimidation, while Saint-Simon believed in the
rule of experts. Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Frederick Engels (1820-1895) admired utopian
thinkers for their critiques of early capitalism and agreed with many of their ideas such as
co-operation and distribution in line with need (Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1972).
On the other hand, according to (Popper, 1962) Marx and Engels criticized Utopians for
being’ ‘postponed Enlightenment idealists’ who thought that their blueprint could simply be
forced upon the world. Marx considered his own doctrine as “scientific socialism” in
contrast with Utopian socialism, which he thought was a logical effort to impose the
Utopians’ plan on the world. Marx and Engels’s scientific method was based on “historical
materialism”; the belief that human behavior and thought was conditioned by the
economic situation of life. What is more, in relation to Liberalism, Marx maintained that his
own theory was more scientific, as it gave an accurate account of economic and social
relations, where the Liberal method gave unclear picture, which is based on the
accumulation of data.
Marx wrote in his Capital (1867) “Since the Capitalism is a system of production for
exchange, it alienates humans from the product of the labour: they work to produce not
what they need or what is useful, but “commodities” to be sold for profit”. Marx believed
that capitalism is an accumulation of money and wealth which will destroy all resources
on the planet, which are very vital for humans live. He believed that capitalism contains
the seeds of its own destruction: over production no potential and over consuming. Marx
argued that capitalism divides the community into two classes facing each other;
“Bourgeoisie and Proletariat”. Marx wrote with his friend Engels in (Manifesto of the
Communist Party, 1848) “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class
struggle”, “Classes rather than individuals, parties or other movements, are the chief agents
of historical change”. In addition, Marx believed that the middle-class has been created by
ruling class to observe and to be agent of social control “to control working-class”. He
argued that the relationship between classes is one of the incompatible antagonisms, the
lower class being systematically exploited by the ruling class.
Together Marx and Engels developed more complex and systematic theories that claimed to
uncover the “laws of history” and proclaimed that the revolutionary overthrow of
capitalism was inevitable. Consistent with (Heywood, 2007) they believed that many
political, economic and social changes would be essential after a proletarian revaluation.
In addition, (Morrow, 2005) argued that Marx and Engels’ understanding of the
revolutionary process underwent important changes. The Communist Manifesto of 1848
concentrated on the capture of the state power by the proletariat and the use of this
authority to institute the necessary orders for the evolution of a classless, stateless society.
They argued that the proletariat would not purely hold of a ready-made state apparatus,
but would need to transform it into a truly democratic system of government. Then again,
one might ask what difference Marx makes between political emancipation and human
In keeping with (Heywood, 2007) Marx believed in “socialism” in which workers recognize
their interest and they become class conscious. He highlighted the degree to which
individual identity is shaped by social interaction, membership of social groups and
collective bodies. What is more, the impact of Marx and Engels’ theory of “scientific
socialism” was felt immediately and challenged the “status quo” in many European
countries. For example in the UK, their political ideas challenged the classical liberal (Whigs),
which is characterized by a belief in a ‘minimal’ state, whose role is limited to the
preservation of domestic order and personal security. Indeed, it leads to the creation of
New Liberals, who accept that the state should help people to help themselves. In addition,
in 1884 their political ideas guide to the construction of Social Democratic Federation, Social
League and Fabian Society, Independent Labour Party in 1893, Labour Representative
Committee in 1900 and even Labour party in 1906. In Germany, their thoughts were behind
the announcement of the German Social Democratic Party in 1875 and in Russia conducted
the formation of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1898. Marx’s solution, the
route to human liberation, was “communism” which would give people the freedom that
“bourgeois society” denies them. Communism is, he explains, “The positive transcendence
of private property, or human self-estrangement, and therefore the real appropriation of
the human essence by and for man... the complete return of man to himself as a social
being etc” (Economic and Philosophy Manuscripts of 1844).
To conclude, throughout the history, mankind has struggled to create an ideal society in
which the needs of all its members are met. As explored here, many different creative
thinkers considered the idea of an ideal society. Most of them have thoroughly expressed
their own thoughts about what an ideal society might be. However, someone might ask why
an ideal society so often associated with the individuals within that society and what are the
wider implications of trying to achieve an ideal society through morality, virtue and acting
There had been a long tradition of speculation on the form and the nature of an ideal
community, but having said all of this, it is important to keep in mind that an ideal society
requires knowledge, equality, virtue and moral commitment. An ideal society would have to
provide the ideal conditions for all those who live within .
“The past cannot be changed; and the soundest of instincts bids us keep our back turned to
it and face towards what is coming” Socrates in Plato’s Republic.
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Yousif Mohammad Hamid