“First, in the matter of making slaves of the defeated, do you think it right for Greeks to reduce Greek cities to slavery, or rather that so far as they are able, they should not suffer any other city to do so, but should accustom Greeks [469c] to spare Greeks, foreseeing the danger of enslavement by the barbarians?” “Sparing them is wholly and altogether the better,” said he. “They are not, then, themselves to own Greek slaves, either, and they should advise the other Greeks not to?” “By all means,” he said; “at any rate in that way they would be more likely to turn against the barbarians and keep their hands from one another.”--Plato, Republic 5. 469b-c (Shorey translation).
Twice during the past week [here and here], I have claimed that there are no slaves in the 'true city' (true city (372e)) or "city of pigs") in Plato's Republic (Socrates' first city in speech (369b-372d)). I believe it matters because it contains the Socratic normative baseline or model/exemplar [or Weberian ideal type] by which to judge and evaluate other political regimes. This baseline is surprisingly close to Smith's system of natural liberty (which is anti-slavery) in quite a few other respects. As Brian Calvert emphasizes in his (1987) paper, in that city there would be nothing to do for slaves because wage laborers "complete" the city (371d-e). I offer a further argument for this conclusion below.
Mary-Hannah Jones, a former colleague at Wesleyan and a very talented Plato scholar, insisted in comments on these posts that my claim went against an important strain in the scholarly literature (where there was once a lively debate ovser slavery in Plato's Republic, although Vlastos is thought to have settled it in 1968). And indeed, I agree with Popper (who makes very fine points on this issue), and as Vlastos argued persuasively, that in the luxurious city there are slaves (as he notes 433D settles this). These slaves are non-Greeks, the spoil of battle victory. I agree with Calvert that they are a discordant note in this city, but that's further evidence that in this city immoderate desires are not fully checked. (This is also clear from the fact that there has to be an official law that encourages public hypocrisy in the way affection is displayed among older lovers of young boys [403b]).+
But does it follow, then, as Vlastos seem to assume almost tacitly, that there also slaves in the true city? While I hesitate to disagree with Vlastos on Plato interpretation, I think he is wrong (as suggested above). For the true city is pacific and designed to avoid wars of conquest and to be a prey of conquerors because of the lack of luxury (372b-c). So, it follows that in addition there being no reason to have slaves there, there will also be no supply of new slaves (neither Greek nor Barbarian) to tempt the development of the institution. Vlastos completely misses this point.*
I close with two observations. First, Vlastos could have accepted my conclusion because he does not really take the true city seriously, and certainly does not consider it the normative, political ideal. In fact, in his paper, he anachronistically calls the citizens of the luxurious city "utopians" (293ff). I don't object to anachronism as such, by the way (although it ignores a lot of differences between the luxurious city and the citizens of More's imagined island, Utopia).
To be clear, second, Plato's Socrates never develops, it seems, a sustained moral critique of slavery and there is plenty of evidence that Plato accepts the institution as a de facto part of Greek political life. (I say 'sustained' because in the Meno and in the exchange with Polemarchus, the slave-holder is revealed to be base in non-trivial ways.) But as I noted, unlike Aristotle's conception of human nature, Socrates' anthropology of the true city offers no reason to think there are natural slaves, and even the more complex, and, indeed, hierarchical conception of human nature developed in the luxurious city, leaves, as Calvert notes, no obvious room for slaves by nature or, to use that more Aristotelian phrase, second nature.