Socrates' exhortation to the "City of Pigs"

... and why nobody follows


  • Benny Kozian Universität Hamburg


In this essay, I shall argue that, contrary to common assumptions, Plato's so-called "City of Pigs" (Pl. rep. 372a3–373b1) is by no means an anti-philosophical state. Refuting this assumption, I aim to show that the dialogical context accounts for the interlocutors' rejection of this state: it is, I argue, an economic system that stands at the outset of the ideal state's foundation as its basis. This system illustrates metaphorically, represented by population groups and concrete lifestyles, a hierarchy according to which necessary and non-necessary human needs ought to be satisfied. However, Socrates' idea of what necessary needs are (depicted in the "City of Pigs") seems all too meagre to Glauco personally, highlighted by his coinage "City of Pigs". Precisely this makes Socrates realize that the moderation he has in mind – rendering the system "healthy, true" (and by the way vegetarian) – would demand too much from average people. Thus, despite his explicit preference for that City he makes no attempt at rejecting Glauco's prototypical wish. Instead, he modifies this system of needs accordingly, thus turning it "luxurious, inflamed", even if its very abundance will lead to resource scarcity (and eventually war). Only at this stage does the dialogue face problems for which there has been no room in the preceding economic discourse: a splitting of society into specialised classes, the education of the guardian class, political power, etc. that gradually establish the ideal state. At its beginning, however, we encounter – in the form of the "City of Pigs" – an often misjudged plea for moderation (and vegetarianism) that, as Socrates recognizes melancholically, is not (yet) suitbale to the people (of his time).