Jowett: LAWS IV


At the beginning of the fourth book, after enquiring into the circumstances and situation of the colony, the Athenian proceeds to make further reflections. Chance, and God, and the skill of the legislator, all co-operate in the formation of states. And the most favourable condition for the foundation of a new one is when the government is in the hands of a virtuous tyrant who has the good fortune to be the contemporary of a great legislator. But a virtuous tyrant is a contradiction in terms; we can at best only hope to have magistrates who are the servants of reason and the law. This leads to the enquiry, what is to be the polity of our new state. And the answer is, that we are to fear God, and honour our parents, and to cultivate virtue and justice; these are to be our first principles. Laws must be definite, and we should create in the citizens a predisposition to obey them. The legislator will teach as well as command; and with this view he will prefix preambles to his principal laws.