Plato and the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses
February 25, 2008
In general, Jehovah's Witnesses don't know a whole lot when it comes to ancient Greek society. We are happy when the visiting speaker pronounces Socrates with three syllables, and not "So crates." Oh, the Greeks are back there in our school days somewhere. After all, they lived in a window of time in which civilization got its act together long enough for some privileged persons to think deep thoughts and record them for our benefit. But we don't consider knowledge of them indispensable for enriched life. The rapidly ascending Chinese and Indian populations most likely are completely ignorant of Greece....the root of Western civilization, but not theirs....and don't bemoan the loss.
Nonetheless, there is this atheist fellow I've been conversing with lately who throws Greeks at me right and left. He's even assumed a Greek moniker....Moristotle....and he's prompted me to consider changing my own name to Tom Sheepandgoaticus so as to win some respect. So it behooves me to read up on those Greeks. What do we find, for example, when we do some research on Plato?
Plato put into writing his concepts of ideal government. He advocated rule by "philosopher-kings." Several times in Moristotle's blog I've read the term. (If his blog has a search feature, I'd provide links. C'mon, Moristotle, get with it!) Plato favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected (by already existing rulers) on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff.....so lengthy that it seems nobody under age 50 would be eligible for consideration.
Consider this excerpt from The 100, an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons of history: (Plato is #40)
Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians.
Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary, and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher -kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.
Anyone familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses will realize at once that this description almost exactly describes their "governing body," the agency that governs members of the faith. Only the "mates in common" does not apply.
Compare Plato's dream government with this depiction of the Watchtower organization, submitted by a reader to the Gary Halbert letter(which appears to be a Kiplinger-style newsletter, and which may include some sort of a sales pitch....I'm not familiar with it):
They are the most non-profit of non-profit organizations I've ever seen. All of their workers are voluntary. *All* of them. From the top down, the way the entity is structured, even the executives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, NY (headquarters of their worldwide organization) donate their time in exchange for very modest room and board. I've toured a few of their facilities in the Brooklyn, Wallkill and Patterson, NJ areas. I've seen it with my own eyes.
Everyone who works at their printing facilities (where they print bibles and bible literature for their worldwide bible education work) works for room and board and they get a very small allowance (somewhere around $120/mo.) for personal items. This entire organization is supported by means of voluntary donations. And it's amazing......I mean, these people are not driving around in fancy cars and getting rich pocketing donations by any means.
They spend their money on maintaining their printing facilities, printing bible literature, housing & feeding their voluntary workers (who all live in an apartment-like community maintained by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), supporting voluntary missionaries around the world, language and reading programs (where they teach illiterate people to read), DISASTER RELIEF....I could go on.
But the bottom line is that NONE of their money is used to line pockets of greedy execs. *
This organization is duplicated in the one hundred or so branch organizations that exist around the world.
Of course, one may object: Plato's recommendation is for the government of nations. Jehovah's Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah's Witnesses number between seven and seventeen million, depending on the criteria you use in counting. That's more than the population of a great many nations. Moreover, Jehovah's Witnesses are correctly viewed as a moral, decent, and law-abiding people. This is no mere accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration, governing if you will, since there are ever so many groups who claim to follow the Bible but whose lifestyles beliethat claim. Jehovah's Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose, as the above letter points out. They would appear to be Plato's dream come true.
Author Hart actually allows for a religious setting when discussing the application of Plato's ideal. He suggests "there is a striking similarity between the position of the Catholic Church in medieval Europe and that of Plato's guardian class." I assume he is referring to the Church before the Inquisition. Otherwise, Hart acknowledges, Plato's ideals have never been adopted by any human government.
Oh, this is too rich! Here is Plato, poster boy of the modern atheist rationalists, devising a system of government which none of them have come close to reproducing, but which is adopted, without fanfare, by a group they can't stand, Jehovah's Witnesses! The reason, of course, is that Plato's system depends on persons who are neither ambitious nor materialistic nor overly proud. It's not that such persons can't be found among the general population. It's that the values of this world are such that these persons can't rise to the top. Indeed, they are often dismissed as impractical nuts (as with Jehovah‘s Witnesses).
By the way, what happens when atheists themselves try to adopt Plato's ways? Hart continues: "The role of the Communist party in the Soviet Union has also been compared with that of the guardian class in Plato's ideal republic. Here, too, we see a self-perpetuating elite whose members have all been trained in an official philosophy."
Aren't communist systems atheist, indeed the only governments officially atheist? Yes....and when the atheists try to implement Plato, their creations are hijacked by bullies and mass-murderers: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, and so forth. Look at these guys crossways and you do ten years hard labor.
No, those atheists are unable to implement the ideals of their hero. Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, have done so. Okay, I guess it is too much of a stretch to suggest that if Plato were somehow to appear today on the world stage he would become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I don’t suggest it. But I can picture the highly educated “wise-in-their-own-eyes” elite rushing to embrace him as one of their own, and he, upon accessing how they have failed to implement any of his ideals, wanting nothing to do with them. Meanwhile, he could not help but be appreciative toward the one sizable organization on earth that has managed to transform his dream into reality.
Tom Wheatandweeds of the Whitepebble Institute submitted the above item. I told him not to gloat, it's not becoming.....I strictly warned him....but he could not resist. His communication included the following, which I have deleted from my published edition:
"Ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho haw haw ho ho ho ho ho yiiiiii....THUD!
He never had an ounce of dignity, that Wheatandweeds. That's why I'm the blogmaster, not him.
*It should be noted that the writer to the Halbert letter incorrectly recommends that one may donate to the Watchtower as an efficient way of providing disaster relief to post-Katrina New Orleans. In fact, JW disaster relief is a sideline, aimed mostly at getting their own people on their feet again so that they may resume normal Christian activity. The disaster relief teams are almost entirely individual JWs using vacation time or taking unpaid leaves of absence. They are not in position to do a general rebuild of the city and have never represented themselves that way.
More on Governing Body here.
Tom, I'm a little unclear what of this post was submitted by your colleague Tom Wheatandweeds. Presumably he didn't write "I" for you. Did his submission even make reference to me?
Or is "Wheatandweeds" just one of your pseudonyms? (If so, how many do you have? As if you'd tell me [smile].) I can't see any reason for you to refer to yourself in this post as though you were someone else, so I don't suppose that "Tom Wheatandweeds" IS a pseudonym.
I'm quite impressed by the Jehovah's Witnesses' "guardianship." Good on them, and good on you! You do seem to do good (and I remember what you told me about the exemplary conduct of Jehovah's Witnesses during the 1930's in Nazi Germany).
But Plato was NOT a materialist. He was very much an idealist. I don't think he's any atheist's "poster boy," although I suppose that you got that idea from me. It was inadvertent. I believe that my main references to Plato were (1) as a path to Socrates and his dealings with the Sophists (through Plato's dialogues) and (2) for the use of the principle that the residents of a state governed by a philosopher-king would need to be capable of understanding whether or not the king was an authentic philosopher, which I am fond of applying to a theocracy by way of invoking the principle that men can know what is good without having to be told by a deity.
I'm not sure, by the way, that Plato himself held that the governed "would need" to be able to evaluate the philosopher king; I may have got that from some critical work on Plato.
And I'm fairly certain that you don't see any need for "God's children" to be able to judge "the Father." Probably quite the contrary: such an idea might even strike you as blasphemous in some way? (Is blasphemy something that concerns Jehovah's Witnesses?)
Also (I'm genuinely curious), do Jehovah's Witnesses WORSHIP? You've characterized what goes on at Kingdom Hall as being more of a discussion or of listening to visiting speakers. I can't remember your ever writing about any worshiping going on, or about yourself as worshiping or being worshipful.
Posted by: Moristotle | February 25, 2008 at 02:35 PM
At our meetings we JWs sing the Psalms and pray to Jehovah. These are acts of worship.
Posted by: jklace | February 29, 2008 at 12:03 AM
I would like to know wich website i Have to go to see the operations of the printers and the operations in Patterson and the sucursales in different parts of the world like for example, Puerto Rico. Please send me this information my mother is a Jehova witness devoted and I would like to show her this information and pictures it will be very grateful for her and my self.
Posted by: Luis G. Aponte | March 29, 2008 at 02:08 PM
Sorry, I don't know of any, unless there would be something at the Watchtower's own site:
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | March 29, 2008 at 05:33 PM
Hello to everyone who has blog. first I congratulate the blog owner, he is got excellent blog. actually I read all your articles and your writing very attractive waiting to continue. thanks.
Posted by: New Jordans | May 16, 2010 at 05:42 AM
Thank you, NJ
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | May 16, 2010 at 07:39 AM