The Noble Lie and the Myth of the Metals - Plato's Republic

Excerpts from Plato's Republic Book III

In this part of the Republic, in Book III, Plato talks about the formation of the Auxiliary and Guardian classes. These are to be the benevolent warriors and rulers who are brought up and tested to see if they are fit to lead the people Kallipolis (Plato's imaginary city). Within the context of this discussion, Plato produces the idea of the "noble lie." The noble lie is a type of story or myth that is told to all young people about where they came from, and who they are, in order to help convince them to serve the city, and one another, instead of falling to selfish vices. 

Testing of the Auxiliaries and the Guardians

One major theme in Plato's Republic is that a just city is a city in which there is harmony between its parts. Harmony between its parts comes from people acting and participating according to their abilities and talents. A good farmer should farm, while the one who has the ability for education should be considered a candidate to rule. But besides having the intellectual capacity, how can one tell if someone truly cares and loves his city more than himself? Plato talks about how the candidates, the "Auxiliaries," should be considered to become a Guardian of the city and participate in ruling if they are not distracted from the good of the city via sorcery, pain, or deceit. Therefore, the young should be tested to see if they will remain faithful under the enchantments of pleasure and fear, under the threat of punishment, or by the arguments of others. 

"SOCRATES: Then we must also set up a third kind of competition for sorcery. Like those who lead colts into noise and tumult to see if they are afraid, we must subject our young people to fears and then plunge them once again into pleasures, so as to test them much more thoroughly than  people test gold in a fire. And if any of them seems to be immune to sorcery, preserves his composure throughout, is a good guardian of himself and of the musical training he has received, and proves himself to be rhythmical and harmonious in all these trials—he is the sort of person who would be most useful, both to himself and to the city. And anyone who is tested as a child, youth, and adult, and always emerges as being without impurities, should be established as a ruler of the city as well as a guardian, and should be honored in life and receive the most prized tombs and memorials after his death. But those who do not should be rejected. That is the sort of way, Glaucon, that I think rulers and guardians should be selected and established."

The Noble Lie and the Myth of the Metals

Here Plato introduces the idea of the "noble lie." This is a lie that would be told in order to further the good of the city and bring about care and unity for one another. It goes like this... Young people will be told that they are all brothers who were formed in the depths of the earth by their mother. There, they were distinguished by the types of metals that they were made out of. The rulers were made from gold, the auxiliaries who support them made from silver, and the farmers and craftsmen made of bronze and iron. The young people will not remember their youth and thus believe the myth after the first generation it is told to. The Guardians will then monitor very carefully the birth of new children, as usually gold parents will have gold children, and so forth except for certain occasions where a child may be higher or lower in class than their parent. Again, this must be monitored so that a lower level person is not put in the place to rule. 

The Training of the Auxiliaries and Guardians

Then the crop of youth will live together and serve together for a time, learning how to be gentle with another, especially the auxiliaries who will serve as soldiers if they do not become guardians. This is where their education and lifestyle must come in to play. They must not be given incentives to become selfish or corrupt, but exactly the opposite. Therefore, they will live in a type of communal life with one another in which there is no private property, they cannot earn money but simply will be provided for. They will not have access to fine metals, lest they be tempted. Rather, they live like "soldiers in a camp" and eat together, being reminded of the pure gold that exists within their souls. Thus, their sole focus will not be on themselves, but on the good of the city as a whole as its ruler. 

"Consider, then, whether or not they should live and be housed in some such way as this, if they are going to be the sort of men we described. First, none of them should possess any private property that is not wholly necessary. Second, none should have living quarters or store-rooms that are not open for all to enter at will. Such provisions as are required by temperate and courageous men, who are warrior-athletes, they should receive from the other citizens as a salary for their guardianship, the amount being fixed so that there is neither a shortfall nor a surplus at the end of the year. They should have common messes to go to, and should live together like soldiers in a camp. We will tell them that they have gold and silver of a divine sort in their souls as a permanent gift from the gods, and have no need of human gold in addition. "