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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2018

Book 3

from Laws

Summary

ATHENIAN: Well, that's enough of that. Now, the origin of a social and political system – what are we to say about that? Might I suggest a vantage-point from which to get the easiest and best view?

CLEINIAS: What vantage-point is that?

ATHENIAN: The best one from which to watch development in cities as they change for better or worse, in any particular case.

CLEINIAS: What vantage-point are you talking about?

ATHENIAN: That of a long or infinite period of time, I would say – together with the changes occurring in it.

CLEINIAS: Explain.

ATHENIAN: Well, take cities and people living under some kind of political system. How long has that been going on for? Is that something you could ever form any conception of, do you reckon?

CLEINIAS: Well, it certainly wouldn't be easy, that's for sure.

ATHENIAN: But you do know it would be an inconceivably vast expanse of time.

CLEINIAS: Yes, I certainly do know that.

ATHENIAN: During that time, don't we find, thousands upon thousands of cities have existed, and by the same reckoning, as many have been destroyed. And as for each one's social and political arrangements at various times, haven't they been of every possible kind, as cities have at one time grown larger, at another smaller, at one time worse, and at another better?

CLEINIAS: Unquestionably.

ATHENIAN: Let's see if we can find the reason for this kind of change. It may perhaps act as a pointer to the first origin, and later development, of social and political systems.

CLEINIAS: Good idea. But it calls for a certain amount of concentration, on both sides. For you, to make your ideas on the subject clear, and for us, to follow what you are saying.

ATHENIAN: Very well, then. Do you think the old stories still have any truth in them?

CLEINIAS: Which stories?

ATHENIAN: That there have been many destructions of the human race – by flood, or plague, or any number of other happenings in which only a very small part of mankind survived.

CLEINIAS: Yes, that kind of story is entirely plausible. No one would deny that.

ATHENIAN: Well, let's think about just one out of all those destructions – the one caused by the great flood.

CLEINIAS: Think about it? What kind of thoughts?