1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The thesis, Plato’s Republic and the Nigerian Polity, derives from the earliest dialogue of Plato, The Republic. It situates around the Nigerian and Athenian societies. Its aim is to determine the relevance of Plato’s theories in his book The Republic to contemporary Nigerian society. The theories of Plato are only relevant to Nigeria if their validity can be established in the first instance.
In his book, The Republic, Plato tries to idealize the world and to envision the just society where man can find fulfillment in life. In order to accomplish his vision of a just society, he tries to construct an ideal pattern that can eventually lead to the achievement of the just state. In the process of constructing the ideal state he sets standards for mankind to follow in their quest for a just society; a fit which no nation in the world has achieved since the time of Plato.
This thesis sets out to establish whether Plato’s ideal construct is feasible and whether it is practicable in Nigeria in view of her peculiar circumstance as a nation since 1960.
THE ESSENCE OF THEORY
Nkrumah argues that a non-western student has no excuse for opting to study western philosophy like his western counterpart, because he lacks even the minimal excuse of belonging to the Western Cultural history.
He argues (1964:55):
It is my opinion that when we study a philosophy which is not ours, we must see it in the context of the intellectual history to which it belongs, and we must see it in the context of the milieu in which it was born. That way we can use it in the furtherance of cultural development and in the strengthening of our society.
Nkrumah further argues that the evaluation of one’s social circumstance is part of the analysis of facts and events and this kind of evaluation is a good starting point of inquiry into the relations between philosophy and society. Philosophy in understanding human society calls for an analysis of facts and events and an attempt to see how they fit into human life and so how they make up human experience. In this way, philosophy like history can come to enrich, indeed to define, the experience of man.
While narrating his experience during the period of his studentship in Europe and America, Nkrumah (1964:2) admits thus:
I was introduced to Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx and other immortals to whom I should like to refer as the university philosophers.
The proceeding discussion leads us to the question why the ancient Greek period was chosen and in particular Plato’s Republic. The choice of Plato’s philosophy (theory) is not a misplaced priority, because there is no limitation to knowledge or human understanding. The choice of study could have been any other character, period or area of study.
But every historical epoch or subject has qualities of its own which endears it to the scholar who has made it his area of investigation. Therefore, the choice of Plato the philosopher and his ideal Republic is a good starting point of inquiry into the nature of political philosophy (theory)
Before the nineteenth century, all subject areas were studied under the umbrella of philosophy and those who engaged in political enterprise were called philosophers or scientists. From the nineteenth century the knowledge of the universe was divided into Physical Sciences and Humanities, while Humanities was further divided into Arts and Social Sciences for better understanding. From henceforth political philosophy came under normative political science or normative political theory and a political philosopher could be called a political theorist.
In the realm of political theory, there are two broad categories of study; the normative and empirical studies. First, the normative political scientist can employ the method of reasoning to arrive at conclusions about phenomena or event and to systematically investigate issues. For instance, Plato will insist that there exist some permanent immutable ideas to which reality should approximate.
Second, the empirical political scientist will observe and experience, and try to construct a general theory that is based on plethora of facts and data. He does not accept knowledge that is ready made and which cannot be justified. For instance, Locke believes that concepts are derived from our observation of the material reality. Those who engage in empirical studies are called materialists or realists.
Dahl (1965:10) argues that politics can be studied in the normative or empirical context. In this case, normative questions can be raised in the empirical context and empirical questions in the normative context. The method being used depends on the questions being asked and on the answers being expected.
Igwe (2005:338-339) defines political theory as:
The logical and objective principles that govern, as well as the derivative explanations given to political phenomena. Political theory thus encompasses all the assumptions, generalizations and levels of analysis on political life and the state, including the attainment of various political ideals, such as the good society, equality, justice, related to political thought and political philosophy on the one hand partly because many of the ideas examined in political thought form part of the constitutive elements in the theoretical generalizations, while on the other hand, the practical substantiation of certain philosophical conclusions places them closer to a theory.
Igwe further categorizes political theories as either progressive or unprogressive, liberal or conservative, democratic, western and non-western, revolutionary and reactionary, ancient, medieval and modern. He distinguishes between the traditional method of study which conforms with the normative, philosophical and historical methods, with emphasis on values, the way the society ought to be, instead of the way it is, and imply a more qualitative than quantitative approach and empirical political theory that deals with objective reality, the world as it is, not as it ought to be.
In the realm of political theory there are two broad categories of thought which represent two schools of thought: the idealist and realist schools. The idealist school of thought represents normative political thought both in character and orientation. The normative political scientist prescribes standards or form of behaviour to which people must conform. Normative statements include such words like ought, should and must.
By idealism, therefore, we mean the pride, shame, joy and all other feelings supplied by our five senses as well as thoughts teeming in the minds. There are also two forms of idealism which the philosopher or the scientist contends with seriously: subjective and objective idealism. First, subjective idealism states that everything commonly regarded as material exists solely in the mind of man. While objective idealism states that the primary source of being is not man’s consciousness, but consciousness without man. This means that there is some objective spirit independent of human consciousness.
Hegel argues that ideas are found in human heads. While Berkeley states that all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have not any substance without the mind. The preceding statement being credited to Berkeley may mean two things. First, that outside consciousness there is nothing and second, to exist is to be perceived; therefore, what nobody perceives does not exist. But the objective idealists Plato and Hegel recognize that nature exists independently of the mind.
People who are skeptical of the nature of ideal ask question whether there is any good reason to idealize the world. The idealist philosopher or the political scientist is primarily concerned with the perfectability of man and that is why he thinks about the ideal world situation. The idealist spells out what ought to be or should be and tries to juxtapose what ought to be with reality.
The idealist can be utopian in his thinking and perception. He can engage in political speculations which often times implicate him in political soothsaying. Therefore, the question posed by the skeptics does not diminish the importance of idealism to a society, especially the ability of the political scientist to idealize the world or to construct an idea world. It is from the ideal construct that one can approximate to reality.
Scientific research whether in the natural or social sciences raises the question of realism. In other words what constitutes realism. First, realism means what actually is as distinct from what ought to be. It sees situation as it is, and not as it ought to have been.
The essence of social and political research is to arrive at the truth. When a research is well thought out and properly conducted, its outcome represents reality. It means that the malignant myth that has affected that aspect of knowledge is broken to allow truth to permanently manifest. In this case reality is the stage in the development of knowledge where the truth remains unchanging, indestructible and eternal. The final answer to the persistent question is found. At this stage the fact on the ground cannot be questioned and the outcome of research becomes irreducible.
THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
In political discourse, polity, state and political system are used interchangeably. But the distinction between them makes no difference.