A Real Plato Quotation: Or, I Called Something Fake Too Fast

Yesterday I called the following quote fake too quickly.

This is the Paul Shorey translation available on Perseus. Here’s my translation and a bit more of the context:

Plato, Republic 347c-d

“….For they are not desirous of honors. It is indeed necessary to add some compulsion and penalty on them if they are intending to be willing to rule. This is likely the reason that a willingness to go to office without facing compulsion is considered shameful.

But the greatest penalty is to be ruled by someone worse if a person is not willing to hold office himself. It seems to me that people of propriety hold office (when they do) because they fear that outcome and that they enter into power not because they are going after something good or because they enjoy it, but because it is necessary and they are not able to entrust it to those better than themselves or their equals.”

. οὐδ’ αὖ τιμῆς ἕνεκα· οὐ γάρ εἰσι φιλότιμοι. δεῖ δὴ  αὐτοῖς ἀνάγκην προσεῖναι καὶ ζημίαν, εἰ μέλλουσιν ἐθέλειν ἄρχειν—ὅθεν κινδυνεύει τὸ ἑκόντα ἐπὶ τὸ ἄρχειν ἰέναι ἀλλὰ μὴ ἀνάγκην περιμένειν αἰσχρὸν νενομίσθαι—τῆς δὲ ζημίας μεγίστη τὸ ὑπὸ πονηροτέρου ἄρχεσθαι, ἐὰν μὴ αὐτὸς ἐθέλῃ ἄρχειν· ἣν δείσαντές μοι φαίνονται ἄρχειν, ὅταν ἄρχωσιν, οἱ ἐπιεικεῖς, καὶ τότε ἔρχονται ἐπὶ τὸ ἄρχειν οὐχ ὡς ἐπ’ ἀγαθόν τι ἰόντες οὐδ’ ὡς εὐπαθήσοντες ἐν αὐτῷ, ἀλλ’ ὡς ἐπ’ ἀναγκαῖον καὶ οὐκ ἔχοντες ἑαυτῶν βελτίοσιν ἐπιτρέψαι οὐδὲ ὁμοίοις.

The earliest instance of this I can find online is from 1963,  in Proceedings and Debates of the Congress, 109, part 29. If you search google books, you will find this quote is really popular in management leadership books where it debuts in the early 2000s and finds steady, unattributed representation.

Wikiquote.com notes that this is an “unsourced quotation”. It should not be considered so, but its use might receive a little more nuanced: this passage is about how ‘good’ people should not be interested in power and enter into it not for profit or possible self-interest, but to prevent lesser people from ruling and harming the state. This is an old-fashioned Greek noblesse oblige. But it is not a fake quote.

Thanks to those who called me out on the tweet. And to those who didn’t: call me out when I am wrong and I will fix it! As Cicero says: “All men make mistakes; but it is fools who persist in them” cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis perseverare in errore (Philippics 12.5). Or, as I prefer it: “any person can fuck up: but only fools keep fucking up in the same way.”

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