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Marcus Garvey

Plato's Laws

Garvey borrowed the concept that the key function of law is the maintenance of authority not only from Aristotle, but from Plato, whose Republic and Laws presented a vision of an ideal state in which virtuous behavior is encouraged through education, while conduct deemed corrupt is punished according to a harsh system of penalties. Plato's penal code was in turn partially derived from the Hammurabic code that preceded it. The crimes of embezzlement and treason to the state through political factionalization, which Garvey suggested should be punishable by death, were also crimes meriting capital punishment in Plato's ideal state (Laws, 9.856) (however, Garvey's call for stoning as the means of administering the death penalty is more likely derived from biblical descriptions than from Plato). Plato recommended that all public officials be subject to an audit and, should the audit reveal unjust self-aggrandizement, "be branded with public disgrace for their yielding to corruption" (Laws, 6.761--762). Similarly, Plato wrote that "the servants of the nation are to render their services without any taking of presents" and, if they should disobey, be convicted and "die without ceremony" (Laws, 12.955). If, however, leaders passed the state audit and were shown to have discharged their offices honorably, they should, as Garvey's virtuous leader would, be pronounced worthy of distinction and respect throughout the rest of their lives and be given an elaborate public funeral at their deaths (Laws, 12.946--947). Just as Garvey suggested that a child who identified a father's crime should be spared the penalty of death, so Plato suggested that children who "forsake their fathers corrupt ways, shall have an honourable name and good report, as those that have done well and manfully in leaving evil for good" (Laws, 9.855).

Garvey's inclusion of kinship and property relations in consideration of the organization of his ideal state also mirrored the teachings of the Greek philosophers. He borrowed from Plato, who saw the state evolving from the family into a more communal relation and who granted free women some role in public life, in "universal education," and in the administration of the state. Garvey also borrowed from Aristotle, who, more than Plato, preserved the notion of the private household and the subordination of women as an integral part of his ideal state. Garvey centered the private life of his ideal ruler in a nuclear family and made the wife of the ruler a kind of chamberlain accountable for her husband's financial dealings. Both Aristotle and Plato based their ideal states on monogamous marriage and patriarchy, in which the household of a citizen was compared to the larger hierarchy of the state, with a wife subject to her husband as a subject is subordinate to a ruler. Garvey echoed this model in his essay, wherein the wives of leaders are deemed "responsible for their domestic households," regulated by law in the keeping of their husbands' private and public accounts, and subject to capital punishment along with their husbands for financial crimes committed during their husbands' tenure in office. Garvey's recommendation that both the wife and husband should be disgraced and put to death in cases of corruption in office mirrors not only the family relations of the Greek state but archaic Mesopotamian codes governing debt slavery, in which the wives or children of a male debtor could be enslaved or put to death in payment for his financial failures.




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