Platonic dialogues are self-concealing, presenting ideas by indirection or in riddling form, often exploring a difficulty or aporia without arriving at a solution. Since philosophers have begun to see Plato's work as imbued with irony, double meaning, and ambiguity, literary techniques that accommodate such layered meanings become a necessary adjunct to interpretation. The dialogue Politicus explores through an aporetic process a central Platonic concern, the relation between ideal and real. Close analysis of the important section dealing with law and constitutions reveals some of the complexity. By his wayward conduct of the argument, the Eleatic stranger repeatedly forces reevaluation of earlier arguments or conclusions. At the close of the cosmic myth (274e1-275c4), the Stranger warned against confusing the divine monarch, a true shepherd, with his mortal counterpart, the best ruler, whose discovery is the aim of the dialogue. The distinction that was made then is simple in context, but complex in view of the conclusion at 303b8-c5 that the participants in all governments except the ideal monarchy are supreme wizards and fakers. The truly real (ὄντως ὤν) statesman thus recedes into a distance remote from the world of practical politics, while the familiar regimes are marked as irretrievably flawed and inauthentic. The ability of the fake statesmen to deceive by impersonating the true king also means that it may be impossible to make the crucial distinction between king and tyrant, since either may disregard the laws. The strange fable of legalism run wild (300a) confirms the ludicrous and destructive results of rigid obedience to law, but concludes that rigidity is necessary to the false regimes. The corollary is that seekers after truth, like Socrates or even the Stranger himself, must always be rejected by law-based societies.

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