Jowett: LAWS III


After having laid down as the first principle of politics, that peace, and not war, is the true aim of the legislator, and briefly discussed music and festive intercourse, at the commencement of the third book Plato makes a digression, in which he speaks of the origin of society. He describes, first of all, the family; secondly, the patriarchal stage, which is an aggregation of families; thirdly, the founding of regular cities, like Ilium; fourthly, the establishment of a military and political system, like that of Sparta, with which he identifies Argos and Messene, dating from the return of the Heraclidae. But the aims of states should be good, or else, like the prayer of Theseus, they may be ruinous to themselves. This was the case in two out of three of the Heracleid kingdoms. They did not understand that the powers in a state should be balanced. The balance of powers saved Sparta, while the excess of tyranny in Persia and the excess of liberty at Athens have been the ruin of both. . . . This discourse on politics is suddenly discovered to have an immediate practical use; for Cleinias the Cretan is about to give laws to a new colony.