The Guardian Philosophy: Is It Really What We Want In American Society
Steven M Sheridan
I will admit, when the term guardian first began being utilized within the law enforcement profession, I seriously entertained its adoption as the primary definition of our profession; I had accepted at the time that it aligned appropriately with law enforcement. However, as the weeks went by and I reflected on the various aspects of guardian, guard, standing guard, etc., the guardian philosophy became less and less appropriate. From my research and observation, I have come to an opinion that modern applications of this term are completely reactive in application and nature. If we are to take a closer look at the guard in today’s society (aka the security guard), these individuals are there to sound the alarm, not to intercede or prevent beyond mere presence. This is not to belittle the value of today’s security guards, but when we look at how they are utilized, an overwhelming majority are restricted by their corporate policy from taking action in a situation especially in this day and age due to our litigious society. Security guards are generally required to be completely hands off by their employers.
The law enforcement profession is altogether distinguishable in that law enforcement cannot afford to be solely reactive. Proactive policing is a requirement for the profession and goes beyond what most people comprehend. Today we call this community-oriented policing, which is necessary for success in our profession.
As a result of my uneasiness regarding the proposed guardian philosophy I decided to do some research. I will state this early on in this article to everyone, not only to those in the law enforcement profession – DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.
The 21st Century Policing document launched the current Guardian Philosophy. The report acknowledges/confirms where this philosophy originated – Plato’s Republic, a written concept of the perfect kallipolis (city). Conducting my due diligence via writings from various sources I evaluated three publications of the Republic (1 electronic and 2 books), and a half dozen overviews of Plato’s Republic. The research material was consistent in interpretation and presentation, varying only in the degree of description. For example, a passage in one publication makes an interpretation using the word cruel, while another publication uses the word harsh.
As we consider this discussion, it should come to light why there is a Warrior Ethos and only a Guardian Philosophy; the Guardian philosophy is heavily opposed to the America we aspire to be. Our nation was created in opposition to this “blind obedience” philosophy. Let us begin with a very necessary, but brief discussion about the disconnect between the two. We must begin by simply summarizing the two as follows:
The Warrior Ethos is centered around selfless service. The Guardian Philosophy is centered around blind obedience.
Please afford me a moment to clarify the distinction between the definition for philosophy and the definition of ethos in furtherance of our understanding as to why the term ethos is not applied to the title of the guardian philosophy.
Definition of philosophy – all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts – a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means1
Definition of ethos – the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution1
Now that we have the definitions, we can understand the distinction between the two concepts. The Warrior Ethos is an established set of beliefs which have remained constant and relevant since before the Romans. The Guardian Philosophy is just that, a philosophy or concept which does not exist anywhere in history as an actual set of practiced beliefs. I will propose to you that the guardian is a subset of the warrior, not the other way around. For it was the warriors who first stood guard at the gates of settlements and areas of importance throughout history. This was a part of the warriors’ responsibility. Ironically, even Plato interchanges the term guardian and warrior throughout his book; almost as if he is keenly aware that the Warrior Ethos is the supportive beam for his philosophical structure.
Now, before we continue, I wanted to quickly mention that there are some positive aspects mentioned in Plato’s Republic. He writes about better education for guardians, and women having a more active role. However, the handful of positive aspects from the Republic need to be further researched beyond the mere mention of better education, etc. There should be concern over Plato’s proposed education for the guardians, auxiliary, soldiers or warriors as he interchangeably refers to them.
Returning back to the core discussion, Plato’s Republic separates society or the city into two segments; the guardians and the producers. When we read Plato’s Republic, he has three aspects he mentions; Guardians, Auxiliary, and Producer. However, when we read further into the document, the Auxiliary or warriors as he calls them are from the Guardian class. The warrior guardians (police) are the ones tasked with the physical protection of the city (citizens) and the guardians of supposed higher order guard the city through legislation (politicians). Plato philosophizes on justice in a very circuitous manner, much like listening to some of the politicians of today. Plato talks you through a huge circle of philosophical points, and then asks for agreement but has not stated anything of substance.
Plato sets the educational stage referring to the guardians as “gentle puppies” and goes on to describe the behavior of obedient dogs as the character he wants from the guardian class:
“Yet, they must be gentle to their own and cruel to enemies…. “When it sees someone it doesn’t know, it’s angry, although it never had any bad experience with him. And when it sees someone it knows, it greets him warmly, even if it never had a good experience with him” (375c & 376a) 2
This is the blind obedience of the guardian philosophy: the guardians do not think for themselves but function and work as per the orders of their commanders. Consider the reputation that certain dog breeds have – clearly and blindly obedient to the will of their owners. In a profession like police work we cannot afford blind obedience. That route of decision would completely disregard the totality of the circumstances, and requires having a single answer to every incident. In today’s society, we cannot remove critical thinking from the equation.
Furthermore, Plato proposes to educate the guardian class to lie when it is in the best interest of the city (citizens) but anyone else who lies, regardless of intent is to be punished.
“Then if it is appropriate for anyone to use falsehoods for the good of the city, because of the actions of either enemies or citizens, it is the rulers. But everyone else must keep away from them….and if the ruler catches someone else telling falsehoods in the city, any of the craftsmen, whether a prophet, a doctor who heals the sick or a maker of spears, he’ll punish him for introducing something subversive and destructive…..”(389 b,c.)3
The concern here is the context, only the rulers know when it is appropriate to lie, therefore only the rulers are permitted to do so. This has not worked in
the past and in the world of law enforcement, this is how our crime rates increase. An example of that would be, let’s say that in a specific community, Community
leaders don’t tell the truth about crimes like rape and armed robbery going up in certain areas, so our citizens don’t know what to look out for (why colleges
have the Clery act today).
Plato then transitions into how the guardians, or rulers, will educate or control the city (citizens) by selling the myth of “metals”. This myth explains why each city member is limited to their place in society. “How then could we devise one of those useful falsehoods…?” “…but the god who made you mixed some gold into those who are adequately equipped to rule, because they are most valuable. He put silver in those who are auxiliaries and iron and bronze in the farmers and other craftsmen.” (414c and 415b) 3
Again, the guardians or ruling class determine the type of “metal” you possess and therefore maintain control of the ruling class. Plato also states in his writings that the guardians will live in barracks like soldiers – separate from the citizens. This is the complete opposite of the significantly vital community-oriented policing and community relations aspect we know to be critical toward the success and peace of our current society.
The dissection of the handful of concepts that we just briefly scrutinized are samples of the core themes discussed at length in Plato’s Republic. Plato highlights honor,
integrity and courage in his writings. The concern is how he describes instilling these things in the guardians. The focus is on deceit by changing the telling of stories and deliberate education for blind obedience to create courage, honor, and integrity rather than these core values being true of heart. Again, I recommend everyone do their own research and reading on this subject matter. This is especially critical in today’s world of agenda pushes. It is often our unwillingness to make time to research and clarify information we receive and may be why this nation is so divided; we blindly accept what we are told by some that lead. Again, Blind obedience is not what America is founded upon.
Those of us in the law enforcement profession are mandated to articulate everything we do. However, our country’s leaders are not held to the same standard. I believe
once you do your own research, you will be able to properly articulate why this guardian philosophy is unacceptable for America and our police and citizens.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough – DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. You all now have a glimpse into the foundations, writings, and philosophies behind the Guardian Philosophy of 21st Century Policing document. With our eyes now open to the foundations of Plato’s Republic, do those in law enforcement and our citizens still want us to be “guardians”? The answer should be a simple and unequivocal “no”.
Aware, Stay Safe, and Stay Educated
2 Republic of Plato 2nd
Ed. 1968 Alan Bloom
Republic. 1992 GMA Grube; CDC Reeve;
The Republic – Plato.
2014 Black and White Classics