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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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Plato and Aristotle. In the Republic Plato boldly
inverted the historical order. The philosophical notion
of inward sovereignty does not arise through the inte-


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riorization of political relations; it is the other way
about: men acknowledge political sovereignty through
first recognizing the intrinsic right of Reason to rule
their souls, and then accepting sovereignty in the
State—“the individual writ large”—as the outward
embodiment of the same Reason (Republic 534d). Po-
litical sovereignty is to be valued as supporting Reason
in the individual, and keeping it on its throne. We are
not enslaved by a genuine exterior sovereignty; we are
liberated by it. Here is the beginning of that famous
philosophical paradox, that a right choice of service
is the only freedom.

The model or parable exploited by Plato is hierarchi-
cal. Suppose a household presided over by a master
capable of finding the path of right reason for himself
and the other members of it, while they have no such
capacity. If he lets himself be run by his inferiors, he
will be enslaved and they (through the resulting chaos)
will be unhappy. If he maintains control he will be
free, and they will be both outwardly well-circum-
stanced and inwardly content, for they can feel the
intrinsic rightness of rational direction, even though
they cannot find it for themselves. Such is the position
of the rational self in relation to the passions or appe-
rites. Reason persuades passion; passion merely over-
bears reason (Republic 548b, 554b-d).

Plato and after him Aristotle introduced several
refinements into the doctrine in their progressive real-
ization of the necessity for reason to train the passions
themselves, and to take them into partnership as fellow
initiators of right intentions. It remained that essential
freedom was the freedom of thoughtfulness to find the
right path; particular and practical choice was to be
seen as general reason finding expression under given
circumstances. A man had no freedom to invent prin-
ciples of good life, for they were laid down in the
nature of things. Free thought would lead to agreement
about the Good, as it would lead to agreement in
mathematics (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1106b).

To be rational, then, is to be free. But does it lie
within a man's power to be rational? Does effort of
will suffice to bring the passions into line? Plato and
Aristotle make no such unequivocal claim. They discuss
the psychology of struggles for self-mastery (Plato,
Republic 439e ff., Phaedrus 246ff.; Aristotle Nicom.
Ethics
1145-47); they show how ruinously our very
judgment of what is good can be perverted by an
ill-formed character (Nicom. Ethics 1113a). They feel
no concern to enquire whether or not every soul that
is capable of hearing the philosophical gospel is capa-
ble also of winning her interior battle and finding
felicity. Their concern is rather to vindicate the free
power of Reason as such to perform its function of
moralizing human existence. It is a hopeful enterprise,
even if hope lies rather in conditioning the next gener-
ation than in self-culture. Such an attitude was natural,
considering that the whole discussion arose out of a
critique of city-state life. Reason was to prevail by
being socially projected, and embodied in institutions,
above all in schools.

Aristotle lived to see the collapse of city-state au-
tonomy; but the cultural mission of his pupil, the
all-conquering Alexander, was still conceived as the
planting of Greek self-governing cities the world over,
to drill men into rational freedom. Plato made some
concession to the individual's aspiration after the free-
dom to save his soul, by the myth of transmigration.
One's effort in this life might not take one far; but
it might suffice to enable one to make the choice of
such an embodiment or destiny in one's next life, as
to allow of one's going further (Republic 617e).