During some recent research on culture shock, acculturation and ethnocentrism, I decided to dig deeper and go back to basics; back to history and our fundamental societal influences in the West.
So, as a result I took another look at Plato, and somewhat disturbingly, this is what I found…
Here is an excerpt from Plato’s ‘Dialogues – Vol 5 ‘Laws’ (which happens to be freely available online, link below)
[Paragraphs 949 - 951]
“A city which is without trade or commerce must consider what it will do about the going abroad of its own people and the admission of strangers.
For out of intercourse with strangers there arises great confusion of manners, which in most states is not of any consequence, because the confusion exists already; but in a well-ordered state it may be a great evil.
Yet the absolute prohibition of foreign travel, or the exclusion of strangers, is impossible, and would appear barbarous to the rest of mankind.
Public opinion should never be lightly regarded, for the many are not so far wrong in their judgments as in their lives.
Even the worst of men have often a divine instinct, which enables them to judge of the differences between the good and bad.
States are rightly advised when they desire to have the praise of men; and the greatest and truest praise is that of virtue.
And our Cretan colony should, and probably will, virtue. And our Cretan colony should, and probably will, have a character for virtue, such as few cities have.
Let this, then, be our law about foreign travel and the reception of strangers:
— No one shall be allowed to leave the country who is under forty years of age —of course military service abroad is not included in this regulation—and no one at all except in a public capacity.
To the Olympic, and Pythian, and Nemean, and Isthmian games, shall be sent the fairest and best and bravest, who shall support the dignity of the city in time of peace.
These, when they come home, shall teach the youth the inferiority of all other governments.”
Here is a slightly different, fuller version on the same topic:
“Now a state which makes money from the cultivation of the
soil only, and has no foreign trade, must consider what it
will do about the emigration of its own people to other
countries, and the reception of strangers from elsewhere.
About these matters the legislator has to consider, and he
will begin by trying to persuade men as far as he can. The
intercourse of cities with one another is apt to create a
confusion of manners; strangers are always suggesting
novelties to strangers1. When states are well governed by
good laws the mixture causes the greatest possible injury;
but seeing that most cities are the reverse of well-ordered,
the confusion which arises in them from the reception of
strangers, and from the citizens themselves rushing off into
Penalty for neglect of certain public duties.
Admission of foreigners, and foreigntravel,
are evils in a wellorderedstate,
but of no consequence in an consequence
in an ordinary state.
Inhospitality condemned by the
many; the good opinion of mankind to
be desired, both by cities, and
individuals, but it should be also deserved.
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strangers, and from the citizens themselves rushing off into
other cities, when any one either young or old desires to
travel anywhere where abroad at whatever time, is of no
consequence. On the other hand, the refusal of states to
receive others, and for their own citizens never to go to
other places, is an utter impossibility, and to the rest of the
world is likely to appear ruthless and uncivilized; it is a
practice adopted by people who use harsh words, such as
xenelasia or banishment of strangers, and who have harsh
and morose ways, as men think. And to be thought or not
to be thought well of by the rest of the world is no light
matter; for the many are not so far wrong in their judgment
of who are bad and who are good, as they are removed
from the nature of virtue in themselves. Even bad men have
a divine instinct which guesses rightly, and very many who
are utterly depraved form correct notions and judgments of
the differences between the good and bad. And the
generality of cities are quite right in exhorting us to value a
good reputation in the world, for there is no truth greater
and more important than this—that he who is really good (I
am speaking of the man who would be perfect) seeks for
reputation with, but not without, the reality of goodness.
And our Cretan colony ought also to acquire the fairest and
noblest reputation for virtue from other men; and there is
every reason to expect that, if the reality answers to the
idea, she will be one of the few well-ordered cities which the
sun and the other Gods behold. Wherefore, in the matter of
journeys to other countries and the reception of strangers,
we enact as follows:— In the first place, let no one
beallowed to go anywhere at all into a foreign country
who isless than forty years of age; and no one shall go
in aprivate capacity, but only in some public one,
as a herald,or on an embassy, or on a sacred mission.
Going abroad on
an expedition or in war is not to be included among travels
of the class authorized by the state. To Apollo at Delphi and
to Zeus at Olympia and to Nemea and to the Isthmus,
citizens should be sent to take part in the sacrifices and
games there dedicated to the Gods; and they should send
as many as possible, and the best and fairest that can be
found, and they will make the city renowned at holy
meetings in time of peace, procuring a glory which shall be
the converse of that which is gained in war; and when they
come home they shall teach the young that the institutions
The law :—
No one to travel in a
foreign country under
forty years of age, or
in a private capacity.
The state to send out
men to be spectators
of the world.
Saints and sages are
to be found even in illgoverned
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of other states are inferior to their own. And they shall send
spectators of another sort, if they have the consent of the
guardians, being such citizens as desire to look a little more
at leisure at the doings of other men; and these no law
shall hinder. For a city which has no experience of good and
bad men or intercourse with them, can never be thoroughly
and perfectly civilized, nor, again, can the citizens of a city
properly observe the laws by habit only, and without an
intelligent understanding of them. And there always are in
the world a few inspired men whose acquaintance is
beyondprice, and who spring up quite as much in
ill-ordered as inwell-ordered cities.
These are they whom the citizens of a
well-ordered city should be ever seeking out, going forth
over sea and over land to find him who is incorruptible—
that he may establish more firmly institutions in his own
state which are good already, and amend what is deficient;
for without this examination and enquiry a city will never
continue perfect any more than if the examination is illconducted.”