Plato’s work The Republic is a comprehensive document, which discusses a wide range of critical topics, such as politics, philosophy, morality, society, power, virtue, and individual human right. The emphasis of the given reflection and analysis will be put on the aspects of acquired knowledge application and reality observation regarding Vietnamese social life as well as societal structure and dynamics in general. The specific focus on Plato’s ideas will be given to the political discussion and ideas to deepen the overall understanding of Vietnam’s key institutions of power dynamics between the government and the people. Under the Platonic political framework, Vietnam’s political system is placed in the middle of the externalities of tyranny, democracy, oligarchy, and timocracy.
It is important to note that Plato owns the first in the history of thought, a systematically developed concept of a socio-political state structure, whose influence on the subsequent development of socio-political theory can hardly be overestimated. The spiritual situation of that time was characterized by a weakening of traditional religious and moral authorities, a decline in morality, and an expansion of relativism, which was largely a consequence of the spread of a new system of values, the carriers, and propagandists of which were the sophists and cynics. In these conditions, Plato took on the task of confronting the destructive tendencies of our time. To accomplish this task, it was necessary to debunk the sophistic teachings, and show their artificiality, arbitrariness, and not only moral but, most importantly, theoretical, and conceptual inconsistency. In a constructive sense, fundamental for Plato was the construction of a socio-political structure that claims to be objectively true and logically impeccably of the theory of what should be, corresponding to the real nature of man and society. The theory of an ideal polis, which would reveal the principles of organization, the idea of a polis as such and could serve as an effective tool for ideological and theoretical activity, providing an objective criterion for comparing and evaluating various forms of political structure and thereby placing socio-political knowledge on an objective conceptual and theoretical basis.
If the sophists denied the objectivity of truth, then Plato affirmed it, and his approach to the knowledge of the polis, in contrast to the sophistic one, was not arbitrary-gustatory, but, in any case, subjectively and purely research, scientific. His defense of the traditional polis structure could not and was therefore not a biased apology, an outwardly theoretical legitimation of his political predilections and the solution of situational political problems (Smith 84). Plato begins by looking at actual society and its natural, self-evident premises. Plato’s main objective is to show that living together and a certain form of its organization is necessary, arising from the very nature of an individual.
Relationship Between an Individual and State
It should be noted that Plato emphasizes the lack of self-sufficiency of the individual, the impossibility for him or her to live outside of society, which is more similar to the Vietnamese political system of socialism, where individualism is not as prioritized as communal well-being. For example, it is stated that “the CPV has established a nationwide political system with the Party serving as the core that assists the Party leadership and mobilizes the people to realize the goals of national independence, democracy, and social progress” (“Political System” par. 2). In other words, the values of a community and society are upheld higher than that of an individual. Therefore, the polis, the state structure of human life, is not a question of a contract, but a natural necessity, conditioned by the needs of the person himself (Mitchell and Lucas 154). Equally necessary and inevitable is the distribution of functions, and the division of labor in any form of social organization. Its main basis, in addition to production expediency, is the objectively existing, according to Plato, natural inequality of the inclinations and abilities of people (Smith 101). For this reason, Plato is convinced that the polis cannot take arbitrary forms.
The obligation of its structural differentiation follows from the effectiveness and inevitability of a certain specialization in the performance of vital social functions, in fact, in the process of satisfying the needs of the individual as a rational social being. In this regard, the state faces the most important economic, social, and moral task to divide labor, the distribution of responsibilities between its inhabitants in such a way that it most closely matches their natural inclinations and inclinations, so that everyone has the opportunity to engage in a certain business, providing their direct needs through mutual service within the framework of the state as a whole.
In the case of Vietnamese political and social structure, it is stated that “it is the “family-village-country” values concerned with unity, cooperation, solidarity, harmony and tolerance that shape the collectivism which is the core value of Vietnam” (Nguyen 35). Therefore, Plato’s statements are applicable and compatible with Vietnamese values since there is a more prominent dependency of individuals on community and state compared to western political systems. It is this distribution that, for Plato, is an indicator of a just state structure and a necessary condition for a fair and, therefore, happy life for citizens. Therefore, he understands that an adequate solution to this problem is impossible in an empirically existing state.
Plato’s Understanding of the Division of Labor
At the same time, Plato shows that the degree and principles of state participation in the implementation of the division of labor in a given state system are different. Therefore, the effectiveness and adequacy of this division for society are different, for example, under aristocracy, and democracy. It is the difference in the degree of adequacy of the state’s performance of its most important function under various state structures that serves as the most important criterion for Plato for assessing the latter. It is important to note the fact that Plato conducts his comparative analysis of incorrect perverse devices and their citizens, arranging them in the order of increasing damage, moving away from the ideal, perfect state described by him (McCoy 221). The first of the negative forms, due to its least depravity, Plato considers timocracy. This is a state system based on ambition, and in such a state, the rulers are those who have shown the greatest valor in the war, people who have proven their loyalty to the state (Lane 715). Warriors will refrain from agricultural work, crafts, and other types of profit, and all material concerns will be entrusted to the lower classes and slaves.
The next type of state in terms of distance from the perfect state is the oligarchy. This is a system based on property qualification, and under such a framework, the rich are in power, and the poor do not participate in government. Although Vietnam classifies itself as a socialist state with democratic values, evidence suggests that oligarchy is persistent in the nation, where the rich and powerful either occupy key governmental positions or have close ties to such individuals (Thanh 18). The class division of citizens carried out under the oligarchy is not carried out consistently and unambiguously. The latter aspects are its main defect, the presence of which shows that the state is not coping with its most important function. According to Plato, the next stage of such a process is a democracy, which is categorized as an even less appealing form of government (McCoy 202). In such as state, the will of the majority turns out to be the principle of state building, and therefore those who win the favor of the crowd rule.
Equality, which turns into injustice, reigns equalizing equals and unequal ones. The basic law of democracy is the negation of the basic law of a just state. Under it, the state does not fundamentally discharge its main function, and this condescension is not a minor detail of the democratic system (King and Doherty 112). On the contrary, this reflects contempt for everything that one considers important when one founded the state.
Tyranny in Plato’s Framework
It should be noted that Vietnam’s transformation of the political system is an interesting one since although it did not change its fundamental principles of communism and socialism, it moved away from dictatorship–based politics to a more democratic one. The current dominant party is managed and controlled by a group rather than a single individual, and such was the case of Ngo Dinh Diem until his assassination (History.com Editors par. 1). Plato clearly describes that the destruction of the estates, the progressive confusion, and the decay of social relations and institutions can give rise to the main vice of democracy, which undermines and enslaves it, leading the state to tyranny. Tyranny is the power of one overall, the unlimited arbitrariness of an individual (Smith 76). The principle of tyrannical rule is directly opposite to the principle of a perfect state. Under tyranny, the best, worthiest, and most capable people are destroyed and expelled since it is in them that the tyrant sees a threat to his or her own rule, and the welfare of the state does not interest such a person. The selection of people and the distribution of responsibilities is made according to the principle “the worse, the better,” and the tyrant is always surrounded by a “crowd of scoundrels” (King and Doherty 98). The tyrant must keep a close eye on who is courageous, who is generous, who is reasonable, and who is rich.
In Plato’s understanding, the well-being of the tyrant is based on the fact that he is involuntarily hostile to all these people and is plotting against them until he cleans their state of them. This cleansing, Plato notes, is the opposite of what medical professionals use since they remove all the worst from the body, leaving the best, whereas, in the case of tyrants, the situation is the opposite (McCoy 198). Since the tyrant only cares about his desires, he does not hesitate to satisfy them at the expense of the state, squandering public funds and unreasonably increasing taxes. To justify the need for his or her power, the tyrant constantly starts wars and keeps society in suspense. The tyrannical rule ends with the people falling into slavery to the tyrant.
Thus, one can see that the most important basis for the Platonic classification of existing state structures, in full accordance with his understanding of justice, is the ability of the state to carry out the division and subordination of estates, that is, hierarchy in society. According to Plato, the more consistently, concretely, and the division into estates is carried out, the stricter and more rigorous the hierarchy of estates is observed, and the closer the state is to the perfect type (Smith 60). At the same time, it should be noted that no matter how important the above basis of division is, it is not the only one in the Platonic classification since it characterizes the possible completeness of the fairness of a particular state system.
One of the most important concepts and ideas in Plato’s Republic is the notion of justice. The fact is that, in Plato’s understanding, justice is the main force that unites people (Smith 24). It is due to this idea that people live together, help each other, and in the pursuit of justice, they get the opportunity for a happy life. Lack of justice leads to strife, mutual struggle, and hatred making it impossible to live and work together. Following this understanding of justice, the most important task of the state, the function of state power, is to maintain and strengthen the unity and integrity of society (Smith 28). Plato believed that the main reasons for violating the unity of the state, giving rise to the confrontation between people, and immoral acts are the desire to possess an excessive amount of material wealth caused by the presence of private property, and improper upbringing (Smith 43). That is why in an ideal just state, there is no private property, at least for the two upper classes, and exclusively state education and control over works of art are introduced.
Vietnam’s political struggles are reflective of Plato’s categorization of desired and unappealing political systems, which evolved and transformed from the timocracy of the monarchy to the dictatorship to the democratic socialism of today. Thus, the Platonic classification of incorrect state structures also reflects the degree to which the state fulfills its other most important function, which is maintaining the integrity and unity of society. From this point of view, timocracy turns out to be the best of the existing imperfect types of state (McCoy 182). There they “honor the rulers,” and the upper classes are not touched by the notion of profit, where, in many respects, the traditional upbringing is preserved (Smith 51). The oligarchy is also the second among the undesired state structures. Under such a system, the most important vice caused by the introduction of a property qualification is already fully manifested, which is the division and confrontation between the rich and the poor. The next stage of disintegration is anarchy, with the paralysis of the state characteristic of this system, everyone is his or her ruler, and no one cares about the interests of the whole.
In conclusion, Plato had a highly comprehensive view of the desired and undesired political systems, which he categorized based on the concept of justice. The latter was the sole cornerstone of his paradigm regarding his philosophy on what makes a political system morally good or bad. By applying the principles described by Plato, one can state that Vietnam’s current political system would be categorized in the middle of Plato’s classification since Vietnam is not purely democratic, which was not an appealing system for the Greek philosopher, and the country is also not fully dictatorial, which would be classified as a tyrannical state by Plato. Therefore, considering the complex nature of Vietnam, it is evident that the nation encompasses a wide range of elements described by Plato, such as oligarchy, tyranny, and democracy, to a certain extent, but none of them can be selected to define the current political system.
Under the framework of the Platonic classification and characteristics of imperfect forms of government, it can be noted that it is based on Plato’s observations of the types of government of various Greek poleis that existed in various parts of Greece. It does not sufficiently reveal one essential circumstance of Plato’s analysis of the various principles of state-building. The fact is that Plato was faced with the task not of an empirical description of the various state structures existing in contemporary Greece but of penetrating their essence. The construction of ideal models, pure unalloyed types, and clarification of the fundamental imperfection of this or that state system is the purpose and meaning of Plato’s classification.
“Political System.” Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, 2021. Web.
History.com Editors. “Ngo Dinh Diem Assassinated in South Vietnam.” History, 2019.
King, Bruce M., and Lillian Doherty. Thinking the Greeks. Routledge, 2018.
Lane, Melissa. “Placing Plato in the History of Liberty.” Liberty: An Ancient Idea for the Contemporary World? Ancient Liberties and Modern Perspectives, vol. 44, no. 6, 2018, pp. 702-718. doi: 10.1080/01916599.2018.1513248
McCoy, Marina. Image and Argument in Plato’s Republic. Suny Press, 2020.
Mitchell, Basil, and John Lucas. An Engagement with Plato’s Republic: A Companion to the Republic. Routledge, 2017.
Nguyen, Quynh. “The Vietnamese Values System: A Blend of Oriental, Western and Socialist Values.” International Education Studies, vol. 9, no. 12, 2016, doi: 10.5539/ies.v9n12p32
Smith, Nicholas. Summoning Knowledge in Plato’s Republic. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Thanh, Nguyen. “The Evolution of Large Domestic Businesses and Oligarchs in Vietnam.” Vietnam: Political and Economic Challenges and Opportunities, 2019, Australian National University, Canberra. Document.