“The Conspiratorial Mood of Plato’s Republic.”
Does Plato’s Republic enact a conspiracy? Ostensibly, the impetus for imagining a political regime radically different from the democracy in which it is discussed is a desire to illustrate a concept (justice) not to overthrow a real political order. But the Republic takes place during the Peloponnesian War, when conspiratorial zeal sporadically but intensely consumed Athens. I suggest that fears of secret power and political instability erupt into and shape the stylistics of the narrative, provoking doubt about what the dialogue claims it is doing and proposing. Whether we are privy to a conversation about a political world that may never exist or exposed to a strategy for discussing revolution undetected remains unresolved. The Republic invites a hermeneutics of suspicion, drawing us into a democratic culture of mistrust and the seductions of conspiratorial thinking. As it tropes conspiracy, the Republic provides a searching, immanent, and still-relevant critique of democratic erosion and raises questions about the salutary and unsalutary critical energies that might be afforded by a conspiratorial mood.