Plato’s “Republic” gives several definitions for justice. Cephalus saying justice is speaking the truth and paying one’s debts (Plato 1953:168). Polemarchus’ explanation of justice being to benefit your friends, harm your enemies (Plato 1953:170). Finally Thrasymachus, who believes that justice is “nothing else than the interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177). This paper will critically analyze Thrasymachus’ idea of what justice is. This will be done by comparing it to institutions that have utilized this method, then assessing the results. A conclusion will be found by recognizing both its lack of universality and the limits of enforcement. As well as this, a distinction in the way in which this method is repeatedly phased by external sources adds to the thesis. This conclusion being that Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is not equitable. However it is practical because whoever contravenes this is unjust and is then punished. Consequently a great deal of fear instills this definition of justice and enforces it. Thus, régimes which utilize this form of justice are constantly under attack. This is done by external institutions which raise awareness within the country. This concludes that the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is ineffective. Taking each point into account Thrasymachus’ idea of justice thus is only enforceable to the extent that its lack of unbiased actions can be kept hidden. Thus it is not entirely effective due to the way which it is severely unbalanced with regard to the people, however as long as the violations of equality remain inconspicuous the ability of enforcement allows this form of justice to be held as effectual.

Before underlining the advantages and disadvantages of Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) it must first be understood how Plato, through the persona of Socrates, explores the notion. Thrasymachus believes that the stronger party’s laws are to their own advantage, which can be consequently deemed just (Plato 1953:177). Socrates’ first argument is that the rulers of states “are liable to err” (Plato 1953:178) and therefore may not always rule in their best interests. Thus, would what the stronger rules always be considered justice in Thrasymachus’ sentiment? (Plato 1953:178). Thrasymachus’ rebuttal was that “none of these persons ever makes a mistake in so far as he is what his name implies” (Plato 1953:179), saying essentially that as soon as the stronger makes the mistake they are no longer the strongest. Thrasymachus concludes that his version of justice is supreme because “the criminal is the happiest of men” (Plato 1953:183) for they serve themselves and none other. This response however is what Plato’s “Republic” attempts to discourage.

Now to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177). The first of which is to recognize what universality is, and that Thrasymachus’ notion of justice does not provide this. The rule of law embodies universality and the idea that everybody is equal before the law by applying the principle that “every person and organization, including the government, is subject to the same laws” (Butterworths 1998:387). A liberal democracy embraces the rule of law and represents the rights of the individual within a collective (Parkin 2002:303). Therefore in order for the government to act without bias and with equality “the Govenor-General, the Federal Executive Council and every officer of the Commonwealth are bound to observe the laws of the land” (Murphy 1986:69). Any violation of this principle “is inconsistent with the rule of law” (Murphy 1986:69).

Having universality is also done by applying the doctrine of natural justice, being the “right to be given a fair hearing, the opportunity to present one’s case and the right to have a decision made by an unbiased decision maker” (Butterworths 1998:300). Thus in order to be deemed universal both the rule of law and the doctrine of natural justice must be implemented in the legal process.

The opposite of such an ideology is that of Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) where a totalitarian creed is enforced. Under totalitarian rule “justice, like freedom, is not only violated and limited in its validity… but is altogether ‘abolished’,” (Buchheim 1987:45). Although this quote claims to contradict the idea that Thrasymachus’ concept is a form of justice, this shows to a certain extent just how unmerited Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is. Other examples in practice will be given to illustrate this further.

Within the view of women, in the past as well as the present, patriarchal society has exercised Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) by acting in opposition to the concerns of women. Women were held as ignorant beings in the public sphere that could “scarcely be expected to realize the dangers, not only to their own health but to that of the next generation” (Rhode 1989:41). One may argue that the patriarchy were in a way serving not only women but their children. However, if “discrimination exists it must be amended” (Rhode 1989:83). Conservative feminists believe that this type of power exertion shows that “the products of men’s’ labours are being more valued” (McGrath in Evans and Saunders 1992:4). Consequently the patriarchy’s actions personify this. Thus, despite the patriarchal claim of protecting women, what is emphasized in this example is that the dominant rule of the patriarchy is for their own interests in the subjugation of women. This in a relative sense displays how Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is not legitimate in practice.

Another example of Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is given in regard to the Black Civil Rights movement through oppression exerted by the white supremacy. Once again the idea that Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) can be viewed as a form of justice is contradicted by saying that “the principle of justice is fundamental and must be exercised if people are to rise to the highest and best, for there can be neither freedom, peace, true democracy or real development without justice” (Bethune 2001:19).

The second argument of this critical analysis is to assess the limits of enforcement of Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) are, and from this, to assess the effectiveness of its application. To introduce this, the example of enforceability of the “interest of the stronger", (Plato 1953:177) the South East Asian Nation of Burma will be examined. The anecdotal evidence given in a text on the studies of Australasian relations between the two countries indicates to what extent the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) acting as a form of justice can be successfully applied.

The author describes how the timocratic junta would “wander all over the place and come uninvited into your house, steal drinks and so on” (Crozier 1994:35). As a foreigner who would not stand for such an invasion of their own civil liberties, the author demanded “What do you want? This is my house!” (Crozier 1994:35). This was responded to by an enraged 21st Burma Regiment footman “We Burma Army… You get out!” (Crozier 1994:35). Clearly the Burmese Army is accustomed to creating intimidation and harassing Burmese citizens. One must only assume hence that out of submission through fear the majority of Burmese people allow these atrocities to occur. For the word of the Army is justice as they rule in their own interest and to contravene this decree entails punishment (Plato 1953:177).

Another source emphasizes this ‘climate of fear’ within Burma as being the cause of capitulation to the military rule. Through the construction of “fear and vulnerability among its citizenry” (Skidmore 2003:5) the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is enforced. Although fear may not be apparent to the naked eye, paradoxically there is a “silence that fear engenders among them” (Skidmore 2003:5) which illustrates it to a better extent. It is believed that only in “suppressing or denying fear,” can one survive in such a repressive time. In this way the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) despite its tyrannical nature can be effective because the people in which it is applied to will submit to it if the punishments outweigh the benefits of disobedience.

Applied in another context the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) can be seen to have evolved further due to time. This example is Communist China. Initially however the roots of Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution must be understood. “Mao Tse-tung claimed to be a Marxist” (Collins 1984:3). However due to the results of communism in China this historical figure “has had their apparent Marxist credentials seriously doubted and frequently with good reason” (Collins 1984:3). The key principle of Marxist justice is “to treat like cases alike, and not venture a field into questions of social justice involving the distribution of wealth and power” (Collins 1984:135). Thus the rule of law would have to be applied in a state in order for it to be regarded as Marxist.

“Western criticism of China’s lack of a ‘rule of law’ was met with Marxist-Leninist counterattacks on ‘bourgeois propaganda” (Keith 1994:9). However the Cultural Revolution was using Marxist principles incorrectly. Marxism aims to combat “distributive justice” (Wood 1980:107) which arbitrarily allows, through capitalism, bias in the jurisprudential process. Despite this, China does not reinforce “judicial independence and the limitation of arbitrary state behaviour through limitation imposed by courts” (Keith 1994:181). Marxism emphasizes that “overthrowing capitalism is just… for exploitation is wrong” (Cohen 1980:139). The point this paper asserts here is that Marxism is a form of anti Thrasymachian justice for it attempts to act in the interests of the weaker party, that being the proletariat. China’s Communist movement, despite it opening in this direction, transformed into not so much capitalist based domination but rather bureaucratic party domination.

The following examples are demonstrated to indicate the level at which Thrasymachian justice can exist. Through judicial reform “the old legal principles of ‘separation of law from politics,’ ‘independence of the judiciary,’ ‘equality of the people before the law,’ were under attack” (Leng 1967:42). Because of these judicial alterations in theory, practical methods were undermined also. There had been “remarkable techniques of mass persuasion and ‘brainwashing’,” (Leng 1967:175). In addition to this “the use of coercion or torture to exact confessions” (Leng 1967:162) were utilized by the Communist bureaucracy. The communist policy was anything but egalitarian for it enforced a “binding duty of every Chinese citizen to support communism,” (Chan 1983:185). This in turn enforced Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) by suppression of free will and directing all support and praise for the Communist Party. Thus, as seen here, providing that no alternative is available, Thrasymachian Justice will prevail.

This links with the third point, being that external forces will inevitably phase out Thrasymachian justice. Marx himself found a great contradiction in Thrasymachian capitalism. “Marx has a cataclysmic view of history: things must get worse before they get better” (McDonald 1983:500). This deduction was made by the anti capitalist finding that the collapse of capitalism is unavoidable. In the wider sense any system which benefits the stronger party solely will fail inevitably due to external powers. Thus so will Thrasymachian justice in any form, be it gender discrimination, racism, capitalism or totalitarianism.

This conflict is caused when external powers raise questions over the legitimacy and propriety of Thrasymachian justice. This is when the stability of the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) becomes disturbed. Hong Kong has had a “transition from colonial administration to a ‘high degree of autonomy’,” (Keith 1994:181). Thus in comparison to China there has been a development of “one country, two systems” (Xiaoping in Keith 1994:181). This being mainland China without the rule of law and having overt judicial corruption and Hong Kong allowing “real manifestations of seminal ‘attitudes and behaviour patterns’,” (Keith 1994:181). Hong Kong allows such things as “individual and legal rights, the Rule of Law, judicial independence” (Keith 1994:181) amongst others. In the international world, as well as China seeing such a contrast, the effectiveness of Mainland Thrasymachian Justice has diminished significantly.

Some Western academics claim that “China is unlikely to produce an open political system” (Weller 1999:162) which would allow the Rule of Law. However this is contrasted if one takes into account the resurfacing of the democratic movement by citizens. “It shows how democracy can grow out of Chinese cultural roots and authoritarian institutions” (Weller 1999:162). Such displays of democracy are the marches of “several thousand college students marching from their campuses… demanding abolishment of unconstitutional ten point plans and fair and precise reporting in Party and government newspapers on the current demonstrations” (Lin 1992:57). This demonstrates the extent to which a nation which utilizes Thrasymachian justice can be crippled by external awareness.

To parallel this awareness to an example closer and more relevant to Australia, the case of the Australian Federal Government’s attempt to increase the spectrum and power of ASIO (Australian Secret Information Organization) prerogatives will be examined. This is an example of Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) because it invades our liberty and can only benefit the stronger party. “Australia’s democracy to be eroded by the acidic effect of fear and misrepresentations” (Tham 2004:1) which paradoxically render the nation “more vulnerable to the arbitrary state power (Tham 2004:1). The basis of this law is apparently “justified on the basis of being ‘tough on terror’,” (Tham 2004:1). However it aims to segregate not only Islamic citizens but ignorant non-Islamic citizens through fear. The “Coalition government is exploiting the real fears that the Australian public has of terrorism” (Tham 2004:1). Through this the populace is isolated by ignorance. However if the majority of Australian citizens were aware of these infringements upon their civil liberties, the effectiveness of this bill would be drastically eroded. For a collective of people aware of such legal principles would seek legal council and action within the High Court to overturn this unconstitutional proposal. In this example it can be seen that Thrasymachian Justice is effective proportionately to the level of awareness of the people that the notion is being applied to.

Therefore Thrasymachian justice can only be said to be effective in regard to the level of enforcement possible. In no means is “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) beneficial democratically, due to it acting in consideration of the tyrant, aristocracy or oligarchy and not the people under their rule. However, human rights aside, Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is an excellent form of justice in regard to the extent to which it is abided to, provided that the punishment outweighs the benefit of contravening it. Despite this though, in the process of the implementation of Thrasymachian Justice, independent external forces have wrestled with the “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) to prove it illegitimate; not only to the stronger but also the weaker. Thus Thrasymachus’ “interest of the stronger” (Plato 1953:177) is essentially not a viable form of justice because of the failure in democratic equality and a tendency to be undermined from the outside-in because of the gross difference in the foreign forms of justice.


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