The Statesman, also known by its Latin title, Politicus, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. The text describes a conversation among Socrates, the mathematician Theodorus, another person named Socrates (referred to as "Young Socrates"), and an unnamed philosopher from Elea referred to as "the Stranger" (ξένος, xénos). It is ostensibly an attempt to arrive at a definition of "statesman," as opposed to "sophist" or "philosopher" and is presented as following the action of the Sophist.
Quotes about Statesman
- Polybius has no time for utopias that nobody has tried to put into practice. “As for Plato’s celebrated republic,” he observes, “I do not think it admissible that this should be brought into the argument about constitutions. For just as we do not allow artists or athletes who are not duly registered or have not been in training to take part in festivals or games, so we should not admit the Platonic constitution to this contest for the prize of merit unless some example can be provided of it in action.”
In this light, Plato’s dialogue Statesman is an ironic commentary on statecraft, not a contribution to it. The participants in Plato’s dialogue discuss the definition of the statesman, and what he must know to be the master of his art. But that art is not that of preserving the republic against its corruption by ambitious men such as Alcibiades or Sulla or Caesar; and the Socratic statesman’s argumentative skills are not devoted to persuading the Roman Senate to agree to the execution of Catiline’s fellow conspirators on the basis that salus populi suprema lex est—the preservation of the republic legitimates an otherwise illegal act. The statesman of Plato’s imagination is the godlike superior of the human herd or flock that he superintends, and Socratic statecraft is the tending of souls. Socrates did not expect to carry conviction in Gorgias when he described himself as the only true statesman in Athens. In the sense at issue here, his craft is not statecraft at all, and he is not a statesman.
- Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 4 : Roman Insights: Polybius and Cicero