The reception history of Plato’s Republic has obviously been extensive, from Cicero’s De re publica . . . to Augustine’s De civitate Dei . . . to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings . . .
One of the passages of common interest, perhaps not as famous as, say, the Cave but still well known, is the Ship of State (488a and following). Socrates represents the city-state as a ship, the governance of which is disputed among those on board. The owner of the ship is said to be unlearned in navigation if also somewhat physically incapable. The sailors individually think they ought to be the one steering it but not only do they lack all training, they assert that the skill cannot be taught and go so far as to cut down anyone who says that it can. Disposing of rivals, they tie up the ship owner, so to speak, by drugging him, inebriating him, etc. Then they sail around consuming the supplies. The person who helps them best achieve their mutinous designs they honor as navigator, pilot, and knower of things pertaining to ships. Ignorant as they are of the astronomical and meteorological requirements for proper navigation, should there happen to be a competent person on board, they would think him crazy and useless.
In the context of the Republic, the Ship of State is among other things part of Socrates’ criticism of Athenian democracy and his defense of the type of true philosopher who would be in charge of the ideal city-state, the so-called philosopher-king with actual knowledge of the Good and who does not want to rule but does anyway because it is to the people’s advantage.
After successfully building and steering the ship that brought them to the promised land, Nephi reluctantly accepts the position of king over his people (2 Nephi 5:17; cf. Mosiah 23:6-13, 29:1-47; Alma 13:17-18; Ether 6:22-30). His competence in statecraft and future as regent is in fact foreshadowed in the episode that takes place on the ship. When he warns his brothers against revelry and forgetting “by what power they had been brought thither” while the voyage goes well, they get upset and say: “We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us” (1 Nephi 18:9-10). With Nephi bound, his brothers see that they cannot steer the ship, as the Liahona stops functioning. It looks as though everyone on board will perish at sea, until Nephi is released and the compass begins to point the way again.
It has been suggested that Tolkien’s translation of old Hobbit records be read on a philosophical level, as an elaborate retelling of the Republic, centered around the Ring of Gyges (359a and following). To what extent, if at all, might the Book of Mormon be read along similar but more theological lines, opening with the Ship of State? Statecraft and warfare occupy not a few of its pages. There are righteous kings, tyrants, and judges. Nephi himself is no philosopher, of course. But he does ascend mountains, whether physical or spiritual, to contact God (the Good?) and thereby possesses knowledge (of shipbuilding, et cetera) that his brothers deny. The other prophets and kings in the Book of Mormon are not philosophers either, though they do contend with antichrist-sophists who say that might makes right and that it is impossible to know of anything outside the visible world. Despite its apparent references to America as the promised land, the Book of Mormon is not particularly democratic. In fact, the ideal form of government may be that of the prophet-king.