THE FORMATION OF DEMOCRACY
My search for the American soul begins with the cradle of Democracy, Athens, Greece during the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. As mentioned in the previous chapter, their search for understanding was based on the teachings of history prior to their times. Professor Dalton has chosen to center his initial study on the Hindu vision of life. It is a very noble vision, pre-dating by many centuries the Muslim religion. A study of Hinduism illustrates contrasts with Islam. It is not my intent to downgrade Islam. The comparison really is worth its relevance when one considers that the two religions coexisted as rivals in India prior to the break-up of the country after achieving independence from Great Britain. Gandhi was a Hindu, not a Muslim. In light of recent developments, as one gains understanding of Hinduism’s core tenets, one might wish that the warped mind of Muslim extremism would have been imbued with some of those tenets. The tide of history has divided the two religions, instead of allowing them to co-exist and benefit one another. Hope remains that some day the twain shall meet.
The Hindu Vision of Life
The two sacred texts of Hinduism are “The Bhagavad-Gita” and the “Chandogya Upanishad”. The central theme of these texts is self-mastery, and the pursuit of ideal conduct. Unlike other philosophies of ancient times, the self-mastery of this religion is entirely peaceful, instead of instilling a warlord’s creed. Illusion and ignorance are the enemies of self-realization, because they cause fear.
Fast-forwarding over 2,000 years, we can apply these human frailties to the study of 20th Century racism. What we do not understand, we fear. This was at the heart of Adolph Hitler’s persecution of Jews. Using skilled propagandists, Hitler replaced misunderstanding with demonizing lies and mischaracterizations of Jews.
Much of American racism against blacks can be traced to ignorance and fear. Segregation bred the creation of division between the races, and what they did not know of each other, because they chose not to know, they replaced with fear.
Today, we face a protracted battle that, for better or worse, involves the confrontation of Christianity and Islam. This is not the first time these forces have collided. The Crusades were about Christianity’s attempt to defeat Islam. Today our challenge is overcoming not only our ignorance of Islam, but Islam’s ignorance of Christianity (and its natural co-religion, Judaism).
The Hindu’s felt that there is an inter-connectiveness of all being, and tapping into that can be approached through the light of knowledge, bringing forth the highest truth. This search for truth is far more than an ephemeral term, a code word for New Age seekers or parents trying to instill values in their children. It lies at the heart of everything we do.
The political or military leader worth his or her salt knows that the only advice worth hearing is the unvarnished truth. To surround ones' self with yes men who tell him only what he wants to hear is to court disaster. Hitler did it. Joseph Stalin did it. Mao Tse-tung did it. Look at what history tells about their careers. Saddam Hussein took no advice. Neither does Kim Jong-Il of North Korea.
Contrast that with President George W. Bush, who has surrounded himself with experienced military, political and diplomatic minds. Franklin Roosevelt gave George C. Marshall carte blanche when it came to strategy and personnel decisions during World War II. Roosevelt was unimpressed with the Midwestern farm boy, Dwight Eisenhower, when it was proposed that the youthful Ike be named as head of U.S. forces in Europe, but it was Marshall’s call.
Leaders listen to their advisers. They also make calls that go against the grain when they feel they have acquired the knowledge to do so. Abraham Lincoln listened to his generals during the Civil War, but eventually saw through George McClellan’s stall tactics, choosing instead a general like Ulysses Grant “because he fights.”
But the search for truth is not something relegated only to generals, prime ministers and Presidents. It is something all of us must try to find. It is part of why I am writing this book. I am trying to find currents of truth in history that enlighten and tell me that what I have believed, my morals and the guides I have used to make decisions and support causes, are the right ones. This search can take me to tricky territory. The truly enlightened must be willing to find fault in his most sacred cows. If the truth leads down an unwanted path, only when he addresses this fully can he give real support to the things he chooses to believe in: God, politics, nations, family.
Where Hinduism differs from the Greek ideal is in the distrust of politics. The Hindu model offers a guide to educating the individual, but falls short in its vision for society as a whole. Some have attributed the Hindu influence to modern anarchists and the dark contemplators of French existentialism, but I find this to be a stretch.
The first goal of Hindu self-mastery is to gain enough self-knowledge to exercise power over others. They saw the exercise of power to be more of an individualized process, such as a parent-child or student-teacher relationship. The Greeks took it further, beyond teacher-student, to the creation of mass learning centers (the beginning of colleges) and to the application of political power.
The beauty of Hindu philosophy is in the thriving for ideal standards of conduct. These are seen as universal standards by which humans guide their behavior. This is in direct contrast to the murky moral relativism that drives liberal thought. The Hindu’s set high goals that were not necessarily attainable, in order to avoid self-satisfaction, complacency and corruption. The teachers of these philosophies were called gurus, who sought to teach by example. Apparently Bill Clinton did not emulate these teaching methods when it came to imparting his example to his daughter, Chelsea.
Karl Potter’s “Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies” states that the Indian teaching tradition centers on the individualized instruction because the teacher can only be effective if he knows his students innermost needs. This becomes more difficult when teaching a large class or leading a mass movement. While the individualized method is admirable, it limits those thrust into roles of leadership over many. However, it no doubt offers a great first step.
Education is the anti-dote to fear, which arises from the illusion of ignorance. The Hindu’s said that evil and sin were illusions that arose out of their anxieties. By shedding light on the object of their anxieties, they overcame fear of other human beings while perceiving the “unity of being,” the collective tissue as it was, of all human existence. Through this process, which requires great self-discipline, they attained the highest truth.
Let me examine this philosophy, which is the basis of Gandhi’s teachings, and while noble fails to perceive some important things that I think history has taught us. The concept that evil does not exist except in our fears is utopian, in my view. Gandhi, the pacifist, was once asked whether he would have opposed Hitler if the Germans marched into India, and the Mahatma actually said something about prayer and the power of righteous causes.
Let me point out a few truths about Gandhi, which is not to denigrate his rightful place as a great man, but to show him to be a limited one who made the most of a “perfect” situation. First, Gandhi did little if anything to mobilize against the two great evils that rose like giant snakes side-by-side with his historical times, Nazism and Communism. Many brave Indians fought with the British against the Germans and the Japanese, but not under Gandhi’s flag. Gandhi chose to oppose the British, forcing them to put valuable resources into the Indian question, at a time when they were valiantly struggling, at first all by their lonesome, against the Nazis. Gandhi’s victory over the colonialists owes much to the depleted resources of the empire. It was World War II that ended the British Empire more than any single factor.
Gandhi also understood that in the British he faced a peaceful, moral, benevolent foe. He knew this, relied on it, played to it. It was a convenient way to achieve his ends, to realize that the English were sympathetic to his peaceful cause. How many occupiers would have let Gandhi lead his people in peace? The U.S., of course, but who else? The French? Studying their history in places like Indochina and Algeria tells us differently. Certainly not the Germans, Japanese, Chinese, or the Italians.
Gandhi’s revolution offers important lessons in realpolitik, and exposes a hole in Hinduism. While the concept that evil is non-existent proves to be a questionable tool in the arsenal of modern liberalism, it is the opposite of the Christian philosophy and flies in the face of a world history in which violence and hatred has moved mountains. Furthermore, one finds in Gandhi’s politics a sad futility. Once he was assassinated, his best plans seemed to go awry. His country was torn asunder and has been the scene of violent strife between Hindu’s and Muslim Pakistan ever since.
I apologize for my criticisms of Hinduism, and by no means do I wish to besmirch it. Despite pointing out some holes in the concept, I am pointing out its precepts herein because I find it an exceptionally worthy form of education. I see parallels that do exist with Christianity. The truly enlightened Hindu and Christian does not fear violence because he knows that beyond this realm of consciousness lies something beautiful and eternal.
The education of Hindu’s centers on four values, in ascending orders of importance. I particularly admire the four values, and find them not just enlightening, but fun and easily incorporated into Western thought. The first is called Artha, which values wealth and property. Good for the Hindu’s. They are not socialists! Of course, this value is only the first order of importance, because they felt that while property is important, the enlightened being sees the illusory nature of its value. This may not play well with those who identify their place in society solely on the size of the bank accounts, but nevertheless offers an eternal truth that lies at the heart of our moral compass.
The second value is Kama, and again, I say God bless ‘em. Kama places value on sensual and sexual pleasure, and I am all for that. I am a Christian, and there are some strong, repressive attitudes in my religion that tell us sex is sinful, but I am not a hypocrite. I love sex and find it healthy as all get out!
The third value is Dharma, which centers on imparting a sense of righteousness through religious belief. The last value is Moksha, or spiritual liberation. As mentioned before, the Greeks and Western philosophers depart somewhat from this value. While Moksha brings freedom from illusion, fear and ignorance, thereby leading to the perception of the unity of all being, it was urged that those who attain such enlightenment do so in a singular way, not necessarily for the good of a larger community. The Greeks argued that we are all political animals, and when we achieve this high education, we have a duty to devote ourselves to a worthy cause instead of retreating within ourselves.
The four values co-exist with four stages of life. Brahmacharya encompasses the first 25 years of life, known as the “student stage.” It is devoted to studying and understanding all the sacred texts of Hinduism. It is interesting to note that the Hindu’s felt that one was still a student at age 25, at a time when people were lucky to live until they were 30 or 40. Women often were married and having children in their early teens. One might pre-suppose that a 25-year old man might be an elder of the tribe, so to speak. Still, the Hindu’s were a patient people who did not try to rush the process.
Grihastha covers a stage of life, from age 25 to 55, which involves establishing and providing for a family, and raising children. One can only determine that there were a fair amount of people who lived to this ripe age. The Grihastha concept is an interesting one, and worth examining as it relates to two major American political dynasties. The first is the Kennedy’s. While Joseph P. Kennedy certainly provided for his family, his three surviving sons, Jack, Robert and Edward, skipped this part of the process. All of them inherited wealth from Joe instead of making their own marks in business, and entered politics at very young ages.
The other great dynasty, the Bush Family, embodies the Grihastha ideal in that their men all set out to make their marks, each earning fortunes that would be passed on to their heirs, before embarking headlong into politics with a sense of Platonic noblesse oblige, or "noble obligation."
Vanaprastha means “forest hermit.” The Hindu’s advocated that when a man becomes a grandfather, he should leave society and “find himself” through self-knowledge. While Christ went on this quest during his “wilderness” period, it was a relatively short time and he returned with renewed determination to teach and lead his followers. The Hindu self-knowledge period does not advocate this, but rather, curiously, advises the seeker to virtually abandon his family obligations.
Finally, after self-knowledge is attained, the seeker enters into Sannyasa, or “saintliness.” The person returns to society, transcends its rules (of caste) and of temptations (wealth, property and sex). The saint is strictly non-violent because he understands that to inflict harm on others is to necessarily harm ourselves.
Gandhi’s position in Indian society reflects Sannyasa with some variations. Certainly he was revered beyond all others, and he resisted the temptations of wealth and sex. He tested himself by sleeping naked with young women were presumably more than willing to hook up with him should he make the move (JFK and Clinton could have used a little more Sannyasa).
Where Gandhi veers is from Vanaprastha. He never became hermit, choosing a public life early and maintaining that place in society until his death. This is to his credit, although Gandhi yearned to seek a solitary state away from the adoring eye of the populace. His life was a great exception, of course, and he simply had too many important obligations to abandon his cause to lesser lights like Nehru while he communed in the forest.
The Hindu’s liked their metaphors, telling the fable of a man entering a room at night. He sees a shadow in the corner that looks like a cobra. Scared of the cobra, he stays away from it all night. When the morning light exposes the room, the man sees that the shadow was not a cobra, but rather a piece of rope, which he now fearlessly folds up. The period of night turning to day reflects a man’s life, and his realization that the thing he feared was not to be feared. In fact, it was a useful tool, a rope.
Not to continually rain on the Hindu parade, but it is instructive to understand that the rope might have been a cobra. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” The Hindu vision of life placed more value on nurture than nature, and was based on the idea that the human personality is composed of a combination of wisdom and goodness, courage and energy, desire and appetite, all in varying proportions to each other.
They established social organizations based upon the qualities attributed to different classes of people. Brahmans were the philosophers of the priest caste, possessing of great wisdom and goodness. This term would later find its way to the description of a certain class of the American Revolution and early period of our nation’s history. It was applied to a kind of Yankee who occupied the highest place in Boston or Philadelphia Main Line society. With the advent of political correctness, it has been bastardized into an indictment of wealth and privilege, attributed in ways not meant to compliment the likes of an old money New Englander like George H.W. Bush.
Kshatriyas were those identified for their courage and placed in a military caste. Vaishyas were the engines of the economic caste because of their appetite for wealth.
The Hindu’s veered from their concepts over time. The original system was based on merit, but eventually degenerated into an exploitative system based on privilege and heredity. While education was valued as the way to determine what caste an individual was best suited for, eventually people were seen as being born into their castes, with no chance of raising from castes deemed to be of the lower classes. The crux of the Hindu vision, as it applies to political theory, revolves around Vanaprastha. They felt a man should seek solitude because to put a wise man in the public sphere would corrupt him. Later, Plato argued that a system can be created where the wise man can wield power safely.
One thing is clear, however. The Hindu vision, as beautiful as it is, has presided over a country (India) that despite great size, a huge population, people of intellect, natural resources and strategic geography, is a terribly poor, sick, Third World nation. Surely, the philosophies of these people can be improved upon, and herein the study of how to do just that continues. The debate rages on.
Plato's "Republic" applied to modern politics
The study of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are interesting and begin a trend that threads through history. That trend is to gain understanding in the aftermath of tragedy. It seems that man often does his best thinking when he is desperate to do so. War brings on such desperation. The post-mortem of war provides a bounty for philosophical thought, but we also know that such philosophies can be just as dangerous as they are good. Niccolo Machiavelli did his writing in light of Italian military defeats. So did Adolph Hitler. To the extent that any “philosophers” existed in the Reconstructionist South, little good came from them in the ensuing 100 years of Ku Klux Klan terror.
Luckily for us, the Greeks extracted lessons of goodness, not evil, in the disastrous aftermath of the Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian War is one that gets a lot of attention. It is studied at West Point. Generals like Napoleon, George Patton and Douglas MacArthur extracted lessons from this ancient conflict, fought more than 400 years prior to the birth of Christ. The reason this battle lives on in memory is because a Greek general named Pericles took the time to analyze the Peloponnesian War in a book called “Funeral Oration”. It was the best seller of its time.
Professor Dalton points out that Thucydides, the “First Citizen” of Athens at that time, analyzed Pericles' book, which is the beginning of the whole debate on “how we went wrong,” to put a modern spin on it. Thucydides then wrote “History of the Peloponnesian War”, detailing Athens’ losing battle with Sparta from 431 to 404 B.C. Athens’ mishandling of power under Pericles' leadership served as the construct on what to avoid in creating a good society. Thucydides had a pessimistic view of human nature, but Plato differed in his assessment.
Athenian democracy gave every male adult citizen a share in direct rule. The assembly met once a month, and no requirements other than the above related were required. Its huge membership was in direct proportion to its restrictions. Women, metics (resident aliens) and slaves were not allowed membership, which meant that Athens, a city of 350,000, was ruled by 40,000 of that population. Obviously, considering these numbers, amateurs dominated rule of Athens. It was this absence of professionalism that stuck in Plato’s craw.
Pericles was a leading general and dominant public figure in Athens during what was called the “Golden Age” (461 to 429 B.C.). In “Funeral Oration”, Pericles extols Athenian virtues of honor, courage and freedom, identifying the city’s political achievements as a model for all of Greece. In so doing he differentiates Athens from Sparta. He cited the Spartans’ “state-induced” courage. The Spartans were force-fed military discipline instead of the spontaneity of Athenian society. Pericles also had, for the time, not surprising observations of women. They should “avoid public duties and strive not to be spoken about by men.”
Where Thucydides and Pericles differed was in their interpretation of the Peloponnesian corruption of Athens. Pericles maintained a Pollyanna view of Athens, preferring to still see glory, while Thucydides clearly saw attrition, embodied by the events of a civil war on the island of Corcyra.
On Corcyra, a terrible fight erupted between pro-Athenian and pro-Spartan forces. Thucydides pulled no punches, noting that, “People went to every extreme and beyond it.” Fathers killed sons, and people were killed within the precincts of religious temples.
“War,” said Thucydides, “is a violent teacher.” His account was the crux of Plato’s and Aristotle’s attempt to examine the corrosive nature of humans in search of a good society. The war on Corcyra swept away civilization. People put new emphasis on words and phrases, using them to characterize degenerative deterioration of people’s ungovernable passions.
Thucydides found that power operated through greed and personal ambition, the “cause of all evils.” This might be the root of the phrase “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” for in Thucydides’ view power cannot be used for good. It was the search for the good use of power that lies at the heart of Plato’s teachings. The contrast is between Thucydides’ realism and Plato’s idealism. Thucydides did not feel that human nature had much promise, even if exposed to education, once power was allowed to rear its ugly head. Plato said people can be taught perfectible humanity.
The battle on Corcyra was so terrible because it came on the heels of Athens’ great achievement. By 431 B.C., Athens was at its height. Athenians had come to believe their society was vastly superior to all others, and to any in history. The lessons of Corcyra can be applied in the desultory way in which they have been repeated, over and over, throughout the history of man.
Take Germany, the easy target of the 20th Century. Here is a society of great culture and sophistication, but strains of militarism that the country had always prided itself on become the driving power first in the creation of the modern Bismarck state of 1870, and later the aggressive pursuit of war from 1914-18, and again from 1939-45. A great society, a great European people, saw all of its accomplishments literally go up in flames.
My love for America does not preclude me from applying the Corcyrian lesson of corrupt power to events in our history. At My Lai during the Vietnam War, a breakdown of societal restraints occurred in the wake of power that, in that time and place, was conferred upon Lieutenant William Calley. The result was the slaughter of innocent civilians, justified by a man who felt that power was his guidepost, not morality. The indictment of public opinion, more rightly than wrongly in my view, was applied to a corrupt system more than a single man. The court martial of Calley bore this out. The system in question was not “American military power,” as the liberals would have us believe, but the pervasive evil that society never eradicates. History does not simply teach its lesson to the next generation, who learn from it and sets it in stone. It is imperative that it is continually taught and re-taught, each generation learning it anew. We forget our lessons so easily, with such astonishing swiftness, that the lessons of history should not simply be elective courses in life. Rather, the lessons of Corcyra, of Auschwitz, of 9/11 must constantly be mandated upon a populace that learns them not because they enjoy stimulating education, but because they must hold this knowledge as truly self-evident.
Go to a public place, and ask people who Pol Pot is. Holocaust survivors said, “Never again,” but again and again it did happen, in our time, under our nose, during the age of television and mass communications. It happened while the Yankees and Red Sox were battling it out for the pennant. It happened in a part of the world where millions of Americans had been just a few years before, in a place that was being depicted graphically in movies like “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now”. It happened during the age of investigative journalism and satellite TV. Pol Pot killed more than a million and a half human beings in Cambodia. Yet I would bet that were I to fly to Cambridge, Massachusetts and walk in to any class at Harvard, our most prestigious university, less than 30 percent of the students in that class would be able to tell me these perfunctory facts about Pol Pot. As I have said earlier, modern communication technology is not the safeguard against horror that too many think it is. It may be the passive partner of horror. In fact, the depiction of horror has become so commonplace – in Rwanda, in Serbia, in Iraq – that people are numb to it. They are immune. Saddam Hussein terrorized millions. His horrors were detailed on television nightly, yet the world was so numbed by or forgetful of past atrocities that it was actually considered debatable whether getting rid of him was worthy of military action.
The purpose of future generations is to drum the lessons of Corcyra and its successors into the minds of our young, to shout down “Joe Millionaire” and “The Simpson's”, and make a substantial portion of the world’s population the same kind of thinking, caring, committed students who sat at the feet of Plato. To fail to do so is to allow the devil another victory, and perhaps it is the bleak realization that Plato’s idealism was ultimately founded on sand instead of rock.
At Corcyra, Pericles depicted a complete breakdown of order. This anarchy came as such a shock because it was felt that Athens had achieved a society that would withstand such assaults on Democratic values of goodness and decency. This was behind the thinking of people like John Lennon. When I was a kid, I ironically thought John Lennon and V.I. Lenin were the same person (the Lennon Sisters confused me). The former Beatle, like the Athenians before him, may have succumbed to the notion that society could withstand assaults on our goodness. When we finally did “give peace a chance,” pulling out of Vietnam in 1973, anarchy ruled in a way that made Corcyra look like Sunday school. It was the weak knees of peaceniks like Lennon, the “useful idiots” that Lenin (supposedly) spoke of, who opened the door for Pol Pot and his ilk. It is the forgetfulness of humans, caught in their own daily lives, who lack the vigilance to stop evil. Therefore, they are the “useful idiots” not just of defeated Communist ideology, but of terrorism in the new era.
As Thucydides wrote, the civil war instructed people on barbarism. Individual, small groups and cabals were formed at Corcyra, each driven by a “violent fanaticism.” The use of violence would be encouraged by Hitler to settle local scores. It was always directed at scapegoat Jews. In a terrible example of what former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local,” the Germans directed their anger at Jews in their neighborhoods to protect those neighborhoods. Thus was the Corcyrian dilemma, where local warlords abandoned all previous identification with Athens, with Greece, and with Democratic values. Instead they recognized the creation of small fiefdoms within their control, to be protected because it was in their immediate self-interests.
So, the Greeks tried to make some sense of Corcyra. They came to a pretty interesting conclusion, one that may have been fairly revolutionary. They determined that Pericles, who helmed the losing campaign, was as responsible as anybody they could try to pin it on. Since he was a military commander, trained not in civil skills but rather in the art of war, then it stood to reason that civilian values must be charged to civilians. Think of Jack Nicholson telling Tom Cruise “you can’t handle the truth” in “A Few Good Men”, for perspective. The message is that civilians (Cruise is in the Navy, but he represents a civilian symbol) must handle the truth because they are the ones with the most at stake. The military might be good and going in, killing people and breaking things, but it is the civilians who must live with the aftermath.
In reading Percles’ “Funeral Oration”, I find much to admire, and therefore I am not willing to blame Pericles as much as Thucydides does. Since Athens had lost the Peloponnesian War, Pericles was the scapegoat. However, certain facts seem to contradict the scapegoating of the general. Pericles found much value in military virtues of honor and courage. However, it was a strict adherence to such codes of military behavior that was attributed to Sparta’s victory. The Athenians were said to have lost because they placed too much value on individual creativity. So how can Pericles have it? Is the lesson that society and the military must be more war-like, or more liberal? Aw, an age old question.
Pericles wrote about a post-war scenario. “When our work is over, we are in a position to enjoy all kinds of recreation for our spirits.” This is the refrain of military/political planners, the idea that the hard work must be done now so that future generations can enjoy freedom.
Pericles demonstrates some useful ideas about society and economics when he wrote, “…our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about. As for poverty, no one needs to be ashamed to admit it: The real shame is in not taking practical measures to escape from it.” This sounds like Jack Kemp promoting Empowerment Zones in the inner city.
Pericles also makes an interesting point in light of the Hindu observations on fear of the unknown.
“Others are brave out of ignorance; and, when they stop to think, they begin to fear,” he wrote. In other words, bravery and fear are often very close to being the same thing. True bravery, Pericles said, is found when a man has full knowledge and meets the challenge head on.
Pericles makes the point that Athens was a city of kind people with charitable hearts. Their frequent military invasions were seen as the result of an adventurous spirit. Those conquered and plundered by them no doubt would debate this “adventurousness.” The colonialist philosophy lives in Pericles’ words, but the Greeks did not invent such an attitude. Nations had been plundering each other for centuries prior to his time. But the theme of “charitable hearts” is worth examining. I am struck by this, and see the age-old question of power. Pericles seems to be saying that his people have so much to offer, once the war is over the survivors will surely benefit. This is a theme of power repeated many times. In the film “Wall Street”, Hal Holbrooke scolds Charlie Sheen for the way he achieves his high position, knowing Sheen is a man of conscience. Sheen says he can be “a pillar and do good things” after he has achieved his millions, which of course he attains through illegal insider trading.
The Americans strove to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people they were sent to help, but unfortunately this meant “destroying the village in order to save it” (although that phrase was made up by a reporter to give a bad American spin to the war).
Pericles was prescient of revolutionary spirit when he wrote, “The people who have the most excuse for despising death are not the wretched and unfortunate, who have no hope of doing well for themselves, but those who run the risk of complete reversal in their lives, and who would feel the difference most intensely, if things went wrong for them.”
What he foretells with this statement was the nature of revolution and uprising. Throughout history, the dispossessed, feeling they had nothing to lose, were the ones who rose up and attempted to overcome their suppressors. Pericles herein tries to attribute nobility to the Athenians who fought, as if to say that they were placing themselves at risk in order to achieve a noble cause. This falls short in light of the fact that the Athens of Pericles’ time was an invader more often than a defender. But the statement applies to revolutions in France and Russia, where the poor, the uneducated, and the hapless chose to fight because life offered little hope. Where Pericles’ words resonate with clarity is in a study of the American Revolution, a very unique cause indeed. Here, it was the wealthy, the educated, and the landowners who did business with England, and had much reason to maintain a status quo relationship with the King. They put everything on the line not out of desperation but, remarkably, out of pure idealism. The unique American spirit stands out during this conflict, when the Americans refused to give in, to split their cause, or to cut and run, despite the pressures brought to bear by the formidable English forces. All the lessons of humanity, of Corcyra, of people abandoning principles, reason and order to defend selfish interests, were replaced by a new lesson in America. Four score and seven years later, when the American experiment faced its toughest test, President Lincoln gave meaning to the philosophy when he said, “A house divided cannot stand.”
Almost as an afterthought, Pericles made his observation of women, in particular the widowed brides of dead soldiers.
“Your great glory is not to be inferior to what God has made you, and the greatest glory of women is to be least talked about my men, whether they are praising or criticizing you,” he wrote.
One doubts that Madonna and Condoleeza Rice, for instance, are big fans of Pericles. Madonna probably does not know who Pericles is, while Rice likely studied him.
Where Pericles found much to glorify in “Funeral Oration”, Thucydides recounted the disaster of the Peloponnesian War, focusing on the Corcyrean civil war. The island was split into rival factions, one siding with Athens and the other with Sparta. Thucydides saw these factions as a microcosm for Greek society. Terrible acts of retribution and revenge were committed upon varying ethnic, religious and political groups. They were singled out as enemies by the people who had enough of an upper hand to single them out, group them together and commit atrocities upon them. All semblance of justice and order went out the window. The Corcyreans killed many who they said had conspired to overthrow Democracy, but in reality the killings were done on the grounds of personal grudges over money and other mundanities.
As the United States grew as a power, becoming more and more involved in peacekeeping in the wake of conquering victories in Cuba, Europe and Japan, the study of the Peloponnesian War became important at West Point and the Naval War College. These acts of human nature became something to avoid at all costs. Where the U.S. was not involved, the Corcyrean experience repeated itself, in China’s Cultural Revolution, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict of Rwanda, and in the break-up of the old Soviet Empire, just to name a few examples. It may be the most daunting ghost hovering over American shoulders in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Eventually, the events on Corcyra spread through the whole of the Hellenic world, with Democrats trying to “bring in” Athenians, and oligarchs trying to “bring in” Spartans. Strange bedfellows are created during war. Rival factions, considered enemies during peace, were joined in an effort to extract ruthless changes in government and the social order, without respect for reason or justice. These collaborations had a calamitous effect, and as Thucydides noted, the worst of human nature resulted in great savagery. Where the deprivation of people’s daily wants occurs, Thucydides wrote, “it brings most people’s minds down to the level of their actual circumstances.”
This was the case, as stated earlier, during most of the world’s revolutions. It was the root of Communism in Russia and China, where Lenin, Stalin and Mao manipulated the starving masses into acts of savagery. In light of the seemingly inexorable tide of human nature, history must accord credit to both the Indians and the British during Gandhi’s struggle for independence. The British, for the most part, did not relegate the Indians to the kind of suffering that would have made them feel they had nothing to lose. Gandhi, to his great credit, never inflamed such passion in the mobs, even after early acts of violence against the Indians that had some elements calling for English blood. It was a revolution, but a relatively civil one on both sides.
The aftermath of Corcyra was terrible because of the slow-moving news. Word spread to other cities, and the violence was exaggerated, the lies tailored to create zealous hatreds that played themselves out depending on individual situations. Again, to quote Tip O’Neil., “all politics is local.” Words were changed to fit needs. Descriptions of thoughtless aggression were changed, now regarded as courageous. Prudence, on the other hand, was said to be cowardly.
Millions protested war in Iraq, and while I supported George Bush and the U.S. military, I must be mindful of the words and phrases of the Peloponnesian aftermath. I therefore choose not to call the protesters cowards. They might be considered prudent. The best way to make my point is to tell the story of history as truthfully as possibly, and by shedding the anti-septic light of truth on recurring events, to let the thing speak for itself. Or, as it is said in Latin, res ipsa loquiter.
At the same time, Thucydides made note of “fanatical enthusiasm,” which was said to be the mark of “a real man” by those who would use the term to disguise and legitimate their violence. Fanaticism rears its ugly head today. It is essential to the cause of those who advocate military action to rid us of the Saddam Hussein’s of the world, to avoid fanaticism, and maintain calm heads. It is the reason juries are selected from among a populace removed from the passions of a case.
Plots, counter-plots and conspiracies created fear and mistrust everywhere. Therefore, people used this as an excuse to lash out pre-emptively. Families were torn asunder. Partners were formed in crime, not ideology. Acts of propaganda and misinformation were made to reduce the effect of opponent’s speeches and good acts.
Revenge became greater than self-preservation, and pacts between groups were dissolved as soon as they no longer served respective purposes. Treachery was considered a virtue. Villainy was called clever, while honesty was called simple-minded. This brings to mind the age-old term, “Dealing with the devil.” The U.S. is not immune from this. For various reasons, we teamed with Stalin against Hitler, supported Saddam against Iran in the 1980s, and worked with less-than-ideal groups to foment revolutions and change that served our interests in Guatemala, Chile and Afghanistan.
So hostile did sides become that fear overcame all subsequent efforts to create peace, which reminds me of the Palestinian-Israeli standoff. Oaths and pacts were broken at the drop of a hat. Those who lacked intelligence showed the greatest capacity for survival, because while their smarter opponents tried to reason with them, the Dumbellionites simply launched attacks that left their quick-witted opponents, over-confident in their belief that they could win by reason, surprised. This lesson is worth remembering when considering that certain dictators – Stalin, Hussein, Hitler – are impressed only by force, because that is all they understand. The difference between Thucydides and a study of these modern dictators is that the dictators should not be considered Dumbellionites.
Poor people, seeing a breakdown in law and order, used the revolutions to rob the rich. Envy overcame all control of passions. In the David Lean classic “Doctor Zhivago”, Omar Sharif returns to Moscow after the revolution, only to find that his lovely house has been taken over by the rabble, sub-divided into housing for many people who have overrun his property. Knowing that if he protests he will be shot because he was once a member of the educated elite, Sharif just acquiesces and says, “Yes, it is more…just.”
In the wake of Corcyra and the awful conflicts that followed, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle tried to make sense of things, to define what “just” really is, and to address fundamental questions about the true nature of man.
Attica was the leading Greek “city-state” during the fifth century B.C., and Athens was its principal city. Attica was about the size of Rhode Island. The term “Democracy” has been coined in describing Athens, while Sparta was said to be an “oligarchy,” but Athenian political rights were limited, not to mention diluted.
In Athens, citizens composed of 160,000 men, women and children, but among this group, only 40,000 adult males had political rights. “Outlanders” included 96,000 non-Athenian Greeks, Phoenicians and Jews, 24,000 of them alien adult males, but none had political rights. However, some enjoyed wealth and economic rights, and were important members of Attican society. There were some 100,000 slaves, and they had no rights. Plato and Aristotle saw slavery as a simple fact of nature.
“The lower sort of Mankind are by nature slaves,” Aristotle stated. Most slaves were “imported barbarians” who served as domestics, or as assistants in business.
There is no disputing that the Greek philosophers were intelligent men whose teachings have had an enormous impact on the world for thousands of years. They were legitimately Great Men. Yet, they not only tolerated, but also advocated as natural, slavery. Considering this imprimatur of legitimacy, one can see how slavery existed as a thriving institution for so long. In light of the fact that we now see it for the evil it is, the entire question of moral relativism must be addressed to their teachings, even their own pointed efforts to address that very question. Slavery, and the subjugation of women, were both considered to be the manifest way of human nature in Greek society.
The teachings of these philosophers, a profound part of upper crust English education for years, helped justify British colonialism. The English simply acknowledged themselves as superior to the dark-skinned peoples who they ruled over in an Empire that never saw the setting of the Sun. The facts justified their worldview. In India, the British thoroughly ruled the sub-Continent despite being outnumbered 400,000 to one. Their superiority of intellect, their ability to organize and to create order where chaos reigned, presented themselves as justifiable facts that need no commentary. Res ipsa loquiter. It was only after generations of natives were exposed to Western religion, teaching and manners that they even hinted at revolution. This lesson was the reason American slave owners frowned on teaching them how to read.
Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is in question because he, too, owned slaves. This is a more legitimate question than any attempt to hold Plato and his class to such “unthinkable” standards, because the question of the “peculiar institution” was already a focus of Christian protest in Jefferson’s day. The modern debate is framed around the question of whether tolerance of slavery overshadows all other good works. Logic dictates that it cannot. So, the slavery/colonial question, and the American conflict with Native Indians, then centers on a more scientific premise. A Darwinian “survival of the fittest” gave credence to the British. Their occupation of exotic lands was the evidence of their own evident fitness. American Manifest Destiny was justified because it represented progress.
Still, Truth is Truth. American patriotism cannot just "explain away" the Indian conflicts, while conservatives point out liberal moral relativism where it is convenient to do so. If Plato argued about true justice in his day, then he must also be held accountable for the blinders that kept him from protesting Greek slavery. An honest accounting of righteousness is imperative no matter how many sacred cows are pierced. In its place are lies, large and small, that are at the heart of evil.
As I mentioned earlier, I feel fortunate to live in the times I live in. The tides of progress have created racial equalities that make such obtuse divisions of class and justifications based on superiority passé. Getting back to the scientific aspect of human progress, it seems that over time races simply evolve. In the rhythm of human history, where time is immemorial, “white superiority” is just a phase, not a timeless fact. Dinosaurs once ruled the Earth, but times changed for them, too. White supremacists point out that while people of color have progressed, it was mainly when they were exposed to and taught by whites that progress occurred. There is, of course, debate on the validity of this theory, but empirical evidence demonstrates that like it or not, it is founded on facts.
Of course, the slavery question historically was not always race-based, and in Plato’s day slaves came in all shapes and colors. The accident of nationality and military weakness was much more prevalent in creating slavery than was race. This prevalence is lost on current race baiters who see slavery not from a truly historical point of view, but as a tool to extract reparations and victim status out of white guilt, mainly in America.
The Greek name for “city-state” was polis, or polity, and they had a very high rate of public involvement, which contrasted with Sparta, also known as Laconia, which had a population roughly the same size. Sparta was a military society, while in Athens 20,000 men were on the political pay roll, while 6,000 comprised the armed forces.
There were no particular requirements for membership in the Athenian Assembly, which met once a month, with 6,000 people considered a quorum. Any citizen could address his grievance to the Assembly. Within the Assembly, the agendas were prepared either by the Council of Five Hundred (the Boule, or ballot) or an “inner council” of 50 men. The Assembly controlled all legislation, administration and justice. The court system consisted of 101 to 1001 men, most of whom were amateurs. Plato was a critic of the system, his main complaint being the lack of professionalism.
Plato’s philosophy was given voice in Sophocles' tragic play, “Antigone”. The play addresses three main questions. First, whether and under what circumstances it is legitimate to challenge authority. Second, weighing social order with conscience. Third, the compatibility of man-made law and divine law.
All of Plato’s “crisis of conscience” questions are colored by his acceptance of the “natural” state of slavery, which I have addressed herein and, for the sake of studying the many questions at hand, I will endeavor to set aside for purposes of this study.
Sophocles lived from 495-406 B.C., and is considered one of history's great dramatists. He wrote 120 plays, 96 of which won first prize in dramatic competitions against such esteemed playwrights as Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes. “Antigone” was part of a trilogy that also includes “Oedipus Rex” and “Oedipus at Colonus”. So popular was “Antigone” that Sophocles was named a general, an honor bestowed upon neither Tennessee Williams nor Shakespeare.
The play opens in Thebes after a conflict in which Antigone’s two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, killed each other. Two themes are immediately apparent. One is the fratricidal violence that the Peloponnesian War created, and the other is the role of women. Antigone is left without brothers, and she is a woman in a society in which women are regarded in the highest esteem if they just stay silent.
Creon, ruler of Thebes and the uncle of Antigones (and her dead brothers) orders Eteocles honored because of his loyalty, while Polynices is to be thrown to the dogs because he plotted Creon’s overthrow. Antigones vows to defy Creon and bury Polynices, citing her defiance as an adherence to divine law vs. Creon’s “profane” law. Antigone therefore introduces us to a heretofore unknown concept: Civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is defined in “Antigone” for its contrast to ordinary law breaking, and in Professor Dalton’s study is promoted as foreshadowing the later actions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Creon sees things differently, of course (what is drama without conflict?). He asserts that his word is the law, citing the importance of political stability vs. anarchy. The play winds itself around the merits of this theme, and predictably demonstrates that Creon has too much hubris, or arrogance, against the gods. The conclusion, as demonstrated by the Chorus representing public opinion, is that ruler’s must demonstrate good sense and moderation. “Antigone” is seen as a cautionary tale (after the fact) against the excesses of the Corcyran civil war and its subsequent revolutions. It also breaks new ground by showing a woman to be strong and willing to speak up.
Creon’s tyrannical rule parallels his view of women, who he says need to be kept under wraps. “Antigone” has also been compared to “Funeral Oration”, with Pericles shown as the military commander who may have chosen not to highlight the result of military defeat, but nevertheless espouses Democratic leadership. These two works have been used over time to demonstrate moral command in the military. In World War II, the two worlds of Democracy and dictatorship were pitted against each other. At D-Day, on the one hand were the “automatons” of Hitler’s legions, and on the other Omar Bradley’s “citizen soldiers.” Historian Stephen Ambrose was just one of many writers who pointed out cases where the German enlisted personnel, who would be shot if they did not carry out immoral orders, were almost helpless when their officers were killed. American privates, corporals and sergeants, on the other hand, showed initiative and leadership countless times under stress after their officers had been killed. General Dwight D. Eisenhower put the conflict in perspective this way: “It’s Huck Finn vs. Alexander the Great.” Chalk one up for Mark Twain.
Plato read “Antigones” and “Funeral Oration”. He was greatly influenced by them. He incorporated Pericles’ value of bravery, which has a mystical quality, into a vision of the future in which political leaders would have a vision of higher law. But he took Pericles further by advocating equality for women (like Antigone) who demonstrated equal intelligence with men.
I have spoken already of Plato, who authored “Republic” and is seen as the most influential of the "big three" because he was the protégé of Socrates and the mentor of Aristotle. Let me now retrace my steps back to Socrates. Socrates asked a simple enough question: “What is the best way for humans to live?” Boy, did this get him in hot water.
Influenced by the Hindu’s, Socrates sought knowledge through life’s journey, and in another book by Plato, “Apology”, Socrates offered up truth as a method instead of a possession, and wisdom as awareness of one’s own ignorance.
This has caused me to re-think my own hubris, since when I am arrogantly informing people of “facts,” I have been known to say, “I possess the knowledge that…” or “The fact that such-and-such is true is within the province of my knowledge.” It may shut up members of the Dumbellionite Class, but lacks Socratic self-deprecation.
Gandhi certainly made much of his “awareness of his ignorance.” He used it as a powerful tool of persuasion, getting people to do the right thing by “teaching him” what Gandhi knew was the moral way, then giving them credit for it. The Orientals might call this “saving face.” Western political leadership has been less concerned with letting their enemies (and friends) save face, however, preferring often to just do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. One sees this in U.S.-French relations. America has never gone out of their way to hide the fact that the Vichy French collaborated with the Nazis. When French oil businesses were exposed in their complicit propping up of Saddam Hussein, there was little effort to hide this fact. It was, instead, allowed to sit in the proverbial "store front window."
Professor Dalton, in his teachings, discusses Plato’s “Symposium”, in which Socrates says the meaning of love, which comes from self-knowledge, occurs when man seeks not simply to know goodness, but embraces good with genuine love for it. This is an extraordinary point, and worth repeating. To know real love only, man must not simply know goodness, but he must LOVE goodness.
This allows man to expand his love to many. Man will love selfishly, and while love of family and friends is admirable, many criminals and immoral men have loved their mothers and wives. Socratic love is a love of good things, even if there is no payoff to it. The love may be of a distant thing, or in the most telling case (and one picked up on by Christianity), love of ones’ enemies (“…I forgive those who trespass against me…”).
Socrates lived from 470-399 B.C. and was the leading philosopher in Greece. Much of his teachings were reflected in Platos’s writing. His question about which course of life is best is discovered in Plato’s “Gorgias”. Socrates eventually made quite the pest of himself, accosting businessmen and important figures in Athenian society on the street, and asking them out of the blue to answer his question.
Since many asked the question were corrupt in one way or another, Socrates’ questioning had the corrosive effect of embarrassing them. After developing a big following among Athens’ youth, he was in 399 B.C. placed on trial for impiety and corruption of his followers. Plato’s “Apology” describes the trial, and he personally begged his mentor to apologize, or admit wrongdoing, which presumably would have ended the trial. Like Jesus of Nazareth some 334 years later, Socrates chose the path of righteous martyrdom instead. He was given the hemlock that ended his life.
Socrates made an important point in differentiating philosophy from religion when he said that philosophy seeks the truth, while religion claims to possess it. Socrates’ truth is dialectical, and found through dialogue. Thus, the "Socratic method," which consisted of intense question-and-answer sessions with his students that probed each other for the deepest meaning of things. If you walk into a law school classroom, you likely will see the Socratic method in action, with a professor who is not content with his students reading the cases, reciting them in writing, and understanding what the law is. The verbal back-and-forth in law school forces students to explain and analyze the law, which serves to deepen understanding while getting them to question both sides of the issues. In the film “Paper Chase”, one student seems to think he will ace Harvard because he possesses a photographic memory. Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman) informs him that a photographic memory is of no value because it does not allow him the ability to do these things, and of course he flunks out.
While the Socratic quest for “goodness, beauty, justice and freedom” has the ring of New Age gibberish, it becomes revolutionary when it is considered that Socrates was not advocating this simply to people in a benign setting. Like Christ he was confronting the power structure at great, and ultimately mortal, danger to himself. In viewing Socrates as the “father” of Democracy (with regards to the physician Hypocrites, who influenced the "big three"), one can be quite proud of the origins of our political philosophy. Socrates’ willingness to die for what he believed in, even though he had much to lose, influenced the American Founding Fathers who put their lives on the line, too.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates declared in a statement that I find elitist. While Socrates said this to explain his “higher obligation” to seek truth, to exhort others to do the same, and like the Hindu’s to view as most important the “big questions,” the concept that such bravery, intellectual curiosity and moral righteousness are the requirements of all is far too demanding. Either Socrates is asking this of all people, which is unrealistic, or he is saying that only those with the moral and intellectual compass to take on his challenge are worth being on this Earth. If I could interview Socrates, I would question this statement, but couch the question in such a way as to give him an out. I think the statement must be one that he means to pose to himself, not for all. Certainly many people live their lives without thinking these deep thoughts, but they contribute to the love and beauty of humanity.
The Greeks were quite obsessed with love in all its forms. Their poetry, art and mythology often centered on love. Pausanias defined love as physical lust, not an unusual determination for the Greeks. They loved the human form and worshipped it in a narcissistic way. The Olympic Games derived from this.
Aristophanes saw in love the romantic elements of searching for one’s “better half,” but his explanation for this term is found in mythology. In mythology, humans originally were a combined male and female form, but Zeus, jealous of human happiness, split them in half. I think we can rule out that theory.
However, the second part of Aristophanes’ definition bears value to this day. He said love came about when, after the separation, one half seeks to pursue the part that “completes” the whole.
Socrates refuted both definitions, calling Pausanias’ definition shallow because it ignored romance in favor of sex, and Aristophanes’ version because it was too selfish. Love is found not in lust or in satisfying our personal needs for it, but in loving goodness. Socrates also attributes a metaphysical quality to love that I do not follow. That is that all reality is perceived as good, while evil has no reality. Had Socrates watched Indians being burned to death during the Spanish Inquisition, or Jewish farmers starving in the Russian countryside during the 1930s as a result of forced collectivization, he may have rescinded his theory on the reality of evil. It would seem that the recent Peloponnesian War had driven home to him the reality of evil, but Socrates was not a military man and there were no TV cameras to bring the atrocities. Still, he read Thucydides horrid descriptions of the civil wars and revolutions. I am puzzled that he was able to quantify evil in some safe place that is not part of his reality.
Socrates, like the Hindu’s, regarded physical love as the first step on a ladder, but ultimately insufficient. Had he seen Pamela Anderson in lingerie he may have had other thoughts. Evil is an illusion to him. Self-mastery is achieved by loving, which is noble and true.
Plato's “Republic” is the “seminal text of the Western philosophical tradition,” and receives extraordinary attention in Professor Dalton’s “Power Over People” series. Plato picked up on Socrates' fundamental issues (malleability of human nature, origins of right conduct, qualifications for exercising political power, reasons for obedience to the law, and mutual obligations in individuals and the state). He did this to be alert to the high purpose and consequence of such an undertaking, his mentor having been put to death for his insightful teachings.
Plato differed from Hinduism in that he envisioned the state as an agent of virtue, whereby the Hindu’s saw it only as a coercive force. Plato must be considered quite the optimist, considering that it was the state who executed his friend and teacher. His willingness to still maintain optimism for the state, however, lies at the heart of his ideal world. To succumb to vengeful thoughts because of Socrates would not differentiate Plato from those who committed atrocities at Corcyra, and it was Corcyra and the Peloponnesian War that Plato wanted to learn from in order to make a better world.
At the heart of the state’s role is education, and the teaching of “right conduct.” Current educators differ from this, choosing to legally remove God from the classroom and insisting that teachers are not there to instruct in values or, God forbid, tell the children what the difference between right and wrong is! In “Republic”, Plato pointed out that Socrates' view of “right conduct” was not based on religious theory, which in the end is better. Atheists do not have any excuses.
Polemarchus did find right conduct as emanating from religion, while Thrasymachus felt that only the strong had the will to the right thing, which might be pretty true. Socrates again gets in over my head by saying that justice consists of “right ordering of the whole, with no part usurping the functions of any other part and with reason ruling over all.” While I doubt Socrates would have agreed with Karl Marx, one could imagine some Red Guard revolutionary espousing these words at a show trial. Perhaps it is just esoteric, and I again admit that failure to grasp everything Socrates says is my failing, not his.
Socrates obviously was dissatisfied with Athens, which Plato said was a “ship of state” steered by demagogues, misled by passion and deceived by illusion. What Plato foresees is an educational system devised to create leaders who seek and cultivate “ultimate truth” more than their own common interests. The Hindu’s sought such qualities within the individual, but felt that achieving it was the result of self-discipline. In other words, it was a self-taught virtue. Plato was convinced it could be taught. The Hindu’s simply did not believe political power could be wielded wisely, but Plato believed in the possibility. In “Republic”, Plato delivered dialogue between Socrates and his questioners, and as they say, everybody has an opinion.
Polemarchus focused on “giving each man his due,” based on the retributive justice embodied by the phrase an “eye for an eye.” Socrates told him that while this may be expedient, it is never just to harm another person. What constitutes “harm” is not fully explained, and if Socrates somehow infers that criminals not be punished, then his theories do not hold up well. But beyond the language one surmises that he has a deeper meaning in mind, based not on letting wrongdoers off scot-free, but hopefully based on a system of justice that is “corrective” in nature.
Thrasymachus said that “might makes right," that what is right is based on what is in the stronger party’s interests, and that injustice brings happiness to those who practice it. Socrates recalled the Hippocratic Oath by making reference to the role of physicians, stating that the ruler must endeavor not to help himself but his people (or patients). What is imperative is the concept that the ruler possesses the scientific knowledge to do the right thing, just as a doctor must. Thus was born the concept of the professional ruler.
Glaucon wanted Socrates to more completely refute Thrasymachus' premise, and advocated the idea that justice is not a spiritual value but the result of expedience, and at its heart is the desire by the weak to seek protection from the strong. This varies somewhat from Socrates, who seems to think that a “trust me” philosophy is possible. But Glaucon wanted safeguards, and said that if there is a “social contract,” then it must be codified into law. Socrates replied that the state has an “appetite, but his idealism was so obvious because he somehow thought that appetite would naturally find the right order of reason, spirit and desire. He thought this could happen by virtue of three “waves.” First, he held the revolutionary idea that qualified women should hold office, that the nuclear family and private property must be abolished in order to reinforce its adherence to the common interest, and that philosophers should rule.
These ideas were highly dangerous to the Athenian power structure. It helps explain why the man was given the hemlock. His idea for women was admirable, and certainly gave credence to Socrates’ morality as being universal (as opposed to the apathy held apparently by all towards slavery). “Antigone” helped to influence his view regarding women, because the play gave voice to a large class of widowed women (even though Antigone lost brothers, not a husband, but the point was the same). Pericles said these women should just stay quiet, but he probably advocated that more to relieve his own conscience as the commander who ordered many of these husbands to their demise, rather than addressing some kind of quiet strength of women.
Socrates’ views on the abolishment of private property and the break-up of the family were dangerous. It is instructive to understand the nature of Greek Democracy as advocated by the "big three." Socrates’ socialistic views are discredited theories, some of which are found in Communism and totalitarian despotism. What could have made Socrates advocate the break-up of the family? Hitler, Mao and Stalin advocated an allegiance to the state that caused many cases of children “turning in” their parents. It is hard to think of anything more repugnant. One questions Socrates on a personal level. Did he want to avoid the kind of anarchy that occurred in Corcyra, where “fathers killed sons”? Or was Socrates a homosexual who, because of his condition, wanted to dismantle one of the rocks of society because he would never be the head of a nuclear family? What was his relationship with his students? When Athens executed him for “impiety” and “corrupting the youth,” were they referring to his sexual antics?
Socrates was considered a great philosopher and a man whose values are inculcated into our most cherished political structures, so let me emphasize that I am not out to discredit him. What is important to understand out of this is that Socrates was the first of the three “superstar teachers,” as we might call them. Those who came after him were allowed the chance to learn not just from his good ideas, but to understand his mistakes, as well.
Plato had poor experiences with Athenian Democracy, which he considered to be a mob. It was that mob mentality that led to the death of his mentor. Plato said that Democracy failed to distinguish between freedom and license; catered to desire ahead of civic duty; and the central theme of his and Socrates’ teachings was that it was run by opinion, not knowledge.
What would Plato say about opinion polls, and how pols use them to make their decisions? What would he have thought about the “one man, one vote vote” concept of Jeffersonian Democracy? Obviously, people do not determine what is “right” and therefore create “genuine knowledge” by virtue of a vote. Plato’s teachings have a Quixote-like quality to them. A realist like Winston Churchill, not prone to chasing windmills, gave voice to the anguished hopes and cries of Plato by simplifying the whole concept.
“Democracy,” said Churchill, “is the worst form of government known to man, with the exception of all other forms of government known to man.”
But Plato lived some 2,400 years before Churchill, and was not privy to all of Democracies’ alternatives. He knew of military rule and the kind of autocratic power imposed by kings. He lived in a time of slavery, and was aware of the Egyptian-Jewish dilemma in the Middle East. But he never saw Communism or National Socialism. Would a modern Plato have accepted the Churchillian compromise?
He advocated meritocratic rule. Democracy was a deficient ship of state, physically imposing but shortsighted. If we were to see Plato’s system put in place today, instead of elections a group of wise men would create a test, like the Bar exam for lawyers or the medical exams given by each state to doctors. But how effective would that be? Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death”, was a brilliant physician but obviously he chose to harm many patients in the death camps. Few in American society have a worse reputation than lawyers, every single one of which graduated first from law school, then passed the Bar.
The tests can be manipulated. Plato would say that committees could be formed to study indiscretions, just as those who violate medical and legal ethics are subject to inquiry. Plato makes the metaphor of the “ship of state,” stating that the ship (demos) must be steered by a navigator who knows the science of the seas, as opposed to a crew that makes it decisions based on whim and opinion.
Plato’s “knowledge” is presented as stages of cognition. The first stage involved uncritical acceptance of the known world. The next stage was a critical examination of society. Next was advancement from opinion to knowledge. Plato said that if man could pursue knowledge of abstract reality as in the study of mathematics and astronomy, why not politics? Finally, he saw a perception of people’s humanity, defined as “seeing each other in ourselves.”
Like Socrates, Plato herein grasps at things that are either too difficult for most (at least me) to fully comprehend, and he is opening the door to some potentially dangerous concepts. Where Plato is given the benefit of the doubt is in reducing the area of “knowledge” that he seeks to develop, as within the sphere of natural law.
Plato’s concepts are seen as precepts of Communist “re-education,” as practiced especially by the Red Guard and Pol Pot. These re-education camps made no attempt to say they were teaching ideology, but tried instead to teach Marxist-Leninist doctrine as simple fact, not to be disputed. But Plato was not advocating lower taxes, or separation of church and state, or decision-making power shared between a chief executive and his legislature. Plato was keeping his “knowledge” within a narrow area of right and wrong. Much of politics is driven by economics and changing times. A large, diverse country like America may have different political and economic needs than a small, educated, homogenized society like Sweden. Plato’s nostrums link America and Sweden together as being under the umbrella of natural law. In both countries, moral leadership is beneficial to the people. Leaders not only must not be allowed to get away with corruption, but they must be taught not to. Where modern Democracy differs is that we assume corruption will exist, and therefore the emphasis is on the people more than the government. It is the people who, given free choice, have safeguards against these wrongs. Plato thought it was possible to make these safeguards unnecessary, or at least secondary, to “facts.” Before linking Plato again to re-education camps, which I admit is unfair (I do so only to open a wider discussion), let me point out that our wonderful documents of freedom are willing to use language like “we hold these truths to be self-evident” and “unalienable rights.” Again, the key point is that Plato is getting to the rights of man, or the “pursuit of happiness,” if I may, whereas the Marxist-Leninist “facts” are entirely worldly, economic and driven by the lowest common denominators.
The liberals will hate to hear this, but while Plato’s natural law may not address the right or wrong of the Stamp Act, it conceivably could address something like abortion. If Plato advocated goodness and justice, would he justify killing unborn children? Or would he favor the rights of mothers who choose not to be mothers? Would his cognitive reasoning allow him to address the consequences of people’s actions in such a case? For the sake of avoiding the soapbox, I will again defer the question and instead try to let cleansing truths enlighten the reader by virtue of obvious things that need no commentary.
Plato uses the “cave allegory” to describe cognition. When man lives in the cave, he fears all outside the cave. Only after leaving the cave to discover the “truth” of life outside its environs does the man gain the credentials for leadership in the cave. Plato does ask man to question the truth, for only in so doing does he separate it from illusion. Power is wielded wisely only by those who have “left the cave.”
However, Plato seems to have missed an important point. Why are only some men able to leave the cave? Instead of power being given only to a select few who leave the cave and return a better man for it, why should not all the people be allowed to leave the cave and experience the truth that exists outside it?
Perhaps an understanding of Plato is best accomplished by defining a glossary of terms, as outlined by Professor Dalton.
Arete. Plato defined this as “excellence”, and broke it into two meanings. Special “virtue” speaks to a function such as strength or speed. The second speaks to morality, and it is important that Plato feels such a quality is inherent within certain, but not all, people. Only through education do certain chosen people exude the quality. Therefore, Plato would be suggesting that certain highly gifted people be selected for schools that are designed to make the most of them. For instance, athletes, potential musicians, and the like are selected from among the people and singled out, and those who show traits of high morality are also selected for advancement. This does not suit the notion of “fairness,” since it acknowledges that in life some people simply do not possess greater gifts than others, but they should be given the added advantage of cultivating those gifts if they are discovered.
Dike. This means “righteous, fair and just.” Plato defined this as “right conduct” and related arête and dike to each other as virtues that lead to happiness. Idea was Plato’s word, more imagining a model of perfection. Plato revealed something about his vision of perfection when he acknowledged that ideal patterns of living could be approximated but never fully emulated. Thank God. This gives us all a sigh of relief, knowing that Plato agrees that as humans we will make mistakes and cannot be expected to be perfect all the time.
Nomos means custom, or man-made, as distinct from natural law. These are laws that meet everyday needs. Phusis was Plato’s foundation for all morality, but others argued that it meant no more than “what is” to individuals with no moral implications. Plato no doubt disagrees on what the "meaning of is is." Techne denotes a talent for manipulation that is learned over time, and may or may not be joined with the person’s natural excellence. Plato sought to find a system that married a person’s natural skills with acquired ones. He emphasized that technical skill not grounded in moral virtue can lead to unjust conduct. He used as examples Sophists like Thrasymachus, thus the meaning of the word sophistry, in which great rhetoric is a skill but lacks greatness if not backed by moral virtue.
How many examples point this up, not just in politics but in everyday life? Hitler was a sophist who espoused great rhetoric that lacked virtue, but his great skill was in manipulating the masses into believing he did. We see great sophists all the time. Great trial lawyers can twist words around until a jury is duped into letting a guilty man go free. Great salesmen can get you to buy what they sell. My favorite is when some over-ripe insurance guy tells me it is a “no-brainer” for me to purchase a policy, inferring that I would be stupid to do otherwise, and I certainly do not want to be stupid.
Skilled speakers, “silver-tongued devils,” or according to some, the real devil, are those who use words, lies and illusion to get people to make bad choices. In David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest”, he pointed out that all the top advisers to Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were the top minds from academia. This is not to infer that McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, George Ball and the rest of the Kennedy-Johnson White House were “devils,” but that they may have been too smart for their own good.
LBJ, in particular, who was from the Texas hill country, the product of a rural education, was particularly enamored. He told his mentor, Speaker of the House “Mr. Sam” Rayburn, another good ol’ boy from the Lone Star State, about all those “Harvard boys” and “West Point generals,” and how impressed he was that they were advising him on Vietnam.
“I’d feel a whole better about the lot of ‘em,” Mr. Sam presciently replied, “if just one of ‘em had run for county sheriff.”
Their inch-by-inch Vietnam policy proved to be less than brilliant.
Richard Nixon was too smart for his own good. His smartness veered into paranoia. Bill Clinton was too smart for his britches, too. He saw everything through a techne lense honed from his political and legal skills. He could foresee events 10 steps ahead of others. Therefore, he made choices based on his personal needs, knowing that “this will happen, then this, then this, then this…” and so on. The predictable results were that he would always “get away with it,” somehow forgetting that while he would be technically unscathed (impeached but not convicted, for instance), the country had to suffer his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Sam Rayburn’s desire that leaders should have at least run for “county sheriff,” which of course meant that they should be down-to-Earth and not high-minded ivory tower intellectuals, has validity. George Washington was not the most learned of the Founding Fathers, but he was the most admired. Abraham Lincoln was a man of country wisdom, his Kentucky education having been developed by candlelight in a log cabin. Harry Truman was a “plain speaker” and Dwight Eisenhower a “soldier’s soldier.” Ronald Reagan made simplicity an art form, to the consternation of his foes, and the occasional gaffes of George W. Bush seem to reveal a simple integrity that most Americans equate with a resolve to “do the right thing.”
Even Johnson did his best work when his basic values were allowed to develop. A man of humble beginnings, he was a school teacher who taught poor Mexican kids in Texas before entering politics as a New Dealer more in line with Huey Long than Franklin Roosevelt. It was the lessons learned in the hill country that inculcated his civil rights plank.
Great intelligence and learned skill are beneficial, but not to the exclusion of all things. Nixon and George Herbert Walker Bush were probably the most qualified men to be elected President in the last century, but both faltered. Kennedy’s youth and charm were overshadowed by a family ruthlessness passed down by his father. Their shared abuse of power foreshadowed his near-final act, the tacit assassination of the President of South Vietnam in 1963. This may be seen as having a karmic affect of overwhelming proportions.
The last term in the “Platonic glossary” is Eudaemonia, or happiness. The Greeks applied this word to material prosperity and good fortune. Plato and Aristotle view Eudaemonia not just as mere “pleasure” but decided that “true happiness” referred to a state of mind revolving around the pursuit of moral purpose. The Christian concept of happiness would differ. In the film “Nixon”, the young Nixon addresses his Quaker mother, played by Mary Steenburgen. Nixon has lost one brother to illness and another one is about to die. The family is destitute and the only thing they know is poverty and hard work with little reward. Nixon has been taught that his hard work will be rewarded, but he is tired of the grind.
“What about happiness, mother?” he inquires, and his mother replies, “Work in this life, Richard. Happiness in thine other.”
What this means is that happiness is found in Heavenly reward for a life of self-discipline, but Plato optimistically sees a kind of spirituality in the living world that provides happiness and satisfaction.
In Professor Dalton’s summation of “Republic”, the following are excerpts of philosophers as translated by Plato.
Cephalus: Justice is “telling the truth” and “paying back” one’s debts.
Socrates: The above standard does not hold up since it would mean returning a weapon to a madman (again Socrates is beyond me).
Polemarchus: Justice is to help friends and harm enemies. The Chinese adopted the latter part of his statement in their famous phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Socrates: He does not agree with the part of justice that seeks retribution, since this involves harming others, even if such harm is punishment of a criminal for a crime.
Thrasymachus: He has a more Machiavellian perspective, equating justice with the interests of the stronger party.
Socrates: Justice demands correct perception of interests by the ruler.
Thrasymachus: Rulers must have knowledge and training, like physicians, in order to make the correct decisions.
Socrates: He adds to the physician analogy by stating that the ruler not only knows what is “right” but has an interest in the subject’s interests.
Thrasymachus: He says the ruler must exploit his subjects to his own advantage.
Socrates: He disagrees with the exploitation of Thrasymachus, stating that justice is based purely on acting on the advantage of the subject.
Thrasymachus: On the defensive, and having been proved on the wrong side of the moral equation, he now actually defends injustice.
Socrates: Justice is balance, while injustice has no measure or limit. Picture the image of the lady balancing scales of justice in each hand.
Thrasymachus: Injustice is a source of strength, superior in power to justice.
Socrates: Injustice fosters weakness. Here Socrates makes great sense. History has shown many unjust rulers who gained power through strength, but ultimately that strength is a weakness. Napoleon, for instance, appeared to have the stronger hand as he conquered much of Europe in the early 19th Century, but his strength was proved to be a weakness when allies formed coalitions to defeat him. The same can be said of Saddam, a “strong” ruler of Iraq who was ultimately proved weak because justice coalesced to undo him. “Only fair treatment can make man friendly and of one mind,” said Socrates in one of his more profound statements.
Thrasymachus: Injustice brings happiness because it brings one more than one’s fair share of power and wealth. One hopes that by this point he is playing devil’s advocate and not really advocating his point.
Socrates: Justice rather than injustice brings happiness. This is an interesting concept, because it forces us to examine the mind of the despot. For instance, is Kim Jong-Il of North Korea happy? He has all the worldly things that he likes, including money, access to women, entertainment, and power. But is he happy? His constant excesses might be a vain attempt at finding satisfaction that he never achieves. The Rolling Stone’s song “Satisfaction” comes to mind. A rock star has all the girls, the dough and the perks, but as Mick Jagger says, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Gandhi, on the other hand, eschewed many worldly desires available to him, but by all accounts he achieved satisfaction. Is Yasser Arafat happy? What about psychopaths and mentally unstable people?
Glaucon: He finds a moral relativism in Thrasymachus’ argument that he agrees with. Justice, he says, is not universal but rather based on changing laws, and is demanded only by the weak, who lack the power to commit injustice. He says anybody who gains power then acts in self-interest, and in fact possesses the kind of wealth and cunning required to do injustice and get away with it, creates happiness. Such cynicism, unfortunately, has its pockets of truth. I once had a business partner who was a liar and a cheat, not just in his insurance business but in his personal life. Married with four children, he cheated on his wife at every opportunity and once bedded a bartender from a golf course country club. He gave her a phone number that was only a voicemail. When she became pregnant, she called that voicemail, which gave only his first name, over and over and over. The more desperate she got, the more this “man” enjoyed himself, playing her anguished messages over and over again for his friends, who squeamishly noted the satisfaction he felt at “getting away with it.”
I found my experience with this person to be one of the most beneficial of my life, albeit very painful. I had known him since we were eight, and while I knew what a liar he was, I somehow fooled myself into believing his cheating would never be directed at me because we had “history.” When our company was failing, I offered that I would go into debt to keep us afloat if he promised to pay me back. He assured me that he was “working on some big deals” and I would get all my money back when he closed them. Of course I went into debt, the company failed, and I was never paid back. I had a contract with him, which he breached, so I sued him, only to be sent a letter from his attorney stating that he had declared bankruptcy and therefore I would get nothing. The bankruptcy documents spelled out hundreds of creditors who were being stiffed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I recognized many of them as personal friends and associates of this individual, just as I had been.
The lesson learned is that unjust people will commit unjust acts on anybody if they have to. They are not going to “do the right thing” just because those they wrong are friends. This guy enjoyed the fact that got away with it. Doing things in a just manner was nothing more than a strategy to him. He would not simply wrong people for no reason. Impressing others with good acts often worked to his advantage, but when push came to shove he was not going to bite the bullet and uphold his end of the bargain if it meant a sacrifice to his selfish interests.
This is the attitude that I find in both Bill and Hillary Clinton. In eight years in the White House, they did achieve some good things, but it is my gut reaction that these accomplishments were not the result of a sense of justice, but purely political acts done to build up their image. Like the business partner who lied and laughed when he got away with it, there is a primal sense that behind the smug look on Bill’s face, or the self-satisfied smirk that adorns Hillary’s, they are laughing at the way they continually pull fast ones on the American public. This lies at the very heart of why conservatives went after them, and despite the fact that ultimate “smoking guns” gave them a hollow “victory” (staying in the White House until the end of their term), it is why their detractors continually grind against their legacy.
Finally, in words that the teacher’s unions might want to put in marble on public school house doors everywhere, Adeimantus says Socrates “insists that the current use of education to indoctrinate justice and virtue is a farce…”
“There will never be a finer saying than the one which declares that whoever does good should be held in honor, and the only shame is in doing harm,” says Plato on page 155 of “Republic”.
Socrates, however, is an interesting study because he focuses on enemies, not just friends. It is obvious that in his time, harsh justice and vengeance were doled out upon “enemies,” but Socrates seems to find the greatest nobility in forgiveness. For this he should be accorded high status. As I wrote earlier, this is the basis of Christian doctrine. Somehow these tenets were never given much credence in Islam, which had almost 1,000 of hindsight and analysis of Socrates prior to the formation of this “religion of peace,” yet chose to sever hands and tongues for acts of petty thievery. 1,500 years of progress later, these acts are still common in their “justice system.”
As I say, some things require little or no commentary. Res ipsa loquiter.
Socrates seems to have seen every act of justice as individualized from all others. He made constant reference to the role of physicians. Perhaps his views can be explained by examining the Red Cross, or doctors during wartime. The Red Cross is an organization that does not take sides. All they do is try to help those in need. If a soldier is held prisoner, needs medical care, or needs food, they do not ask what side he fights for, what acts of barbarism he may have already committed, or what his politics are. They see only his immediate needs and attempt to fill it.
The same is said for doctors in MASH units. They are presented broken bodies, often enemy forces, but in the triage they do not choose who their patients are. They simply use their skills as best they can to heal anybody who is brought in.
The Hippocratic Oath, written by the physician Hypocrites (460-377 B.C.) states, “I swear by Apollo Physician…that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath…I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrongdoing. I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. In whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrongdoing and harm.”
Plato took this oath and applied it to politics. So where do we see this philosophy in American justice? We find a mixed bag. In the U.S., we are prevented from administering “cruel and unusual punishment.” Any prisoner is allowed access to competent medical care. We used to have chain gangs, but today such punishment is no longer found. Prisoners are not placed in the “hot box” like in the film “Cool Hand Luke”. However, we allow capital punishment. At some point we felt that the liberalism of Socrates and Plato was going too far. Placing a man in prison might not be doing “harm” to that individual, but what would Plato have us do? Would he simply apply a “hands off” policy to criminals? Such a fuzzy thinking has been proven as wrong as wrong can be.
What would Hypocrites say about abortion? Given a healthy, pregnant women who is carrying a healthy child, would Hypocrites find that cutting up the woman, reaching into her, removing the life, and rendering it lifeless, is “abstaining from all intentional wrongdoing and harm”?
Would Hypocrites find legitimate argument in the concept that to abort a child provides “freedom” to women? Would he give credence to the countless tales of “free” women who live lives of agony and regret for 60 years with the memory of the child they aborted? The child who by then would have given them memories of high school proms, college graduations, weddings, grandchildren, and all the other joys of life? Are there really two sides to this issue? Again, some things just are True on their face and my further commentary on this question is not necessary. Res ipsa loquiter.
At the heart of the criminal justice system advocated by Socrates and, to a lesser extent, by Plato, Socrates insisted that to punish “bad men” only makes them “worse men.” Somehow Socrates seemed to think that the unpunished criminal would not do crime again. However, he modified his stance somewhat on page 148 of Plato’s “Republic” when he says, “…one should avoid doing wrong <or injury> with more care than being wronged…” At least here Socrates allowed that criminals should be punished, albeit the punishment should not exceed the crime. Fair enough.
As Plato then pointed out, thankfully, these concepts of non-injury are ideals, not “attainable in the Earthly republic.” Not to say that his ideal would not be a beautiful world, it is simply not one we are not even close to living in. We simply must deal with the world as it is presented to us. The pessimistic part of this is that 2,300 years after Plato’s time, we are really not any closer to the “non-injury” system than in his day.
Plato finally adhered to these realities after letting the argument play out, when he admitted the necessity of war (as a defensive measure), capital punishment, and the cultivation of military attitudes.
One gains a greater understanding of Plato’s sense of idealism in his vision of three cities. He finds contemporary Athens to be corrupt. His “Republic” envisages the ideal. Finally, he outlines an “eternal city” that exists, as Professor Dalton puts it, as a “transcendental idea.”
In Athens, Plato was dissatisfied by the wide swings of extreme forms of government, ranging from democracy to oligarchy. Plato wrote that while he initially yearned for a public career, he became disillusioned by such a prospect as time went by. Plato found the Democracy of Athens and the oligarchy of Sparta, despite their differences, both sharing in an arrogance of power. He was particularly disgusted with the execution of Socrates. It was Plato’s exposition of corruption of power within Democracy that the American Founders observed when they drew up their "checks and balances” in the Constitution.
It is in the Earthly ideal that Plato’s vision begins to take real shape. He has actually arrived at his conclusions in a powerful way, by giving voice to different opinions via the Socratic method. Now, in describing his ideal vision of a real city, Plato begins to bring utopian views into practice with real-world concerns.
Socrates had thought the best polis would be one where each citizen did what he was best suited to do, perhaps modeling this on the original Hindu caste system (not the segregated system it became). Plato sees three major changes in the new city. He wanted access to rule by qualified women, a unified “community of Guardians” that was integrated as a single person (a president or a prime minister?), differentiated from family or allegiance to property, and rule of reason.
What is important to understand about the Socratic-Platonic view of government is that it is a constant battle. They admitted that achieving it would be hard, but “achievement” is never-ending. Assuming it is ever achieved, the challenge to Democracy is that it must be achieved over and over again. It is not reasonable to think that one society can accomplish a great society, and that all societies that follow will simply continue to uphold the tradition.
In understanding the fluid nature of history, Plato’s “Republic” becomes that high ideal that all future governments strive to attain. Like the Hindu’s, it is in the attempt to attain these ideals, not actually getting there, where excellence is found. What “Republic” does is something that science fiction writers did centuries later, which is to describe some kind of “alternate universe” that gives humans a glimpse of what could be if we attained perfection.
Plato then moved on to discern three elements in individuals and in the state. He saw the rule of reason as the correct rule. Plato made an interesting point by showing that Socrates was a man of such reason, that he was “the most righteous man in Athens,” but for this reason he cannot attain power. Plato envisioned philosopher-kings who meshed philosophy with politics. These people would be selected after their qualities, which would be a “passion for wisdom” and a “passion for truth” were identified. The resulting training would teach them the difference between knowledge and belief, and their two corresponding powers. Plato added that such people would not love money. Plato wrote that lesser rulers tragically reacted to things they were not sure of, making use of the allegory of the cave. Lives were lost, civilizations ruined in fighting over something that meant nothing. The philosopher-kings, Plato said, would be reluctant rulers.
This is an interesting concept. Unfortunately, few men meet these criteria in an examination of European history. Perhaps the rule of Queen Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII in England, could fall into this category. The “virgin queen” was thrust into power amid great manipulations from all sides, within her family and among the Court’s advisers. At first considered a mere symbol, she refused to be anybody’s fool, and eventually decided she wanted to hold her throne. By that time she had learned invaluable lessons about power and how to use it, mostly to the good. She foreshadowed a century of transformation in the U.K. that saw the country go from a feudal, medieval fiefdom to a modern world leader in every way.
Later, General George Washington was drafted to be our first President, and it is precisely his reluctant nature towards power that allowed him to wield it wisely. Dwight Eisenhower possessed the same qualities. His contemporary, Doug MacArthur, was a power-hungry sort pitted against a man, Harry Truman, who had ascended to his place in a somewhat reluctant manner.
In the United States especially, lust for power is exposed and downgraded. This creates a bit of an anachronism. Abe Lincoln, for instance, was a politician through and through who, if not lusting for power, certainly craved it. It drove him to continue for high office despite repeated defeats at the polls and in his career.
Theodore Roosevelt’s desire for attention drove his career. He was an astute PR expert who, as a relatively low-level New York public servant, irritated the power structure at Tammany Hall by drawing newspaper attention to his efforts to root out corruption. His military exploits in the Spanish-American War were as much about fulfilling 19th Century wanderlust as it was about “remembering the Maine,” and he played it up for the press to the hilt. As President, he craved power for this still-young country, by “speaking softly and carrying a big stick.” History could have gone wrong for T.R. at various times throughout this period, but smiled on him instead. His Presidency from 1900 to 1909 rightfully goes down as one of the greatest in U.S. history. In the end his run for President on the 1912 Bull Moose ticket was an attempt at power that did great harm to the Republican Party that he should have been grateful to.
As the century moved along and the country grew, the quest for the White House became something that is now all but impossible to attain unless one has the “fire in the belly” to go through everything to attain it. This requires enormous ego. It would have to be a unique set of circumstances that creates the “reluctant hero” President. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been viewed by some as that kind of hero, but his refusal to try (so far) is an unfortunate statement about modern politics.
Powell’s wife, Alma, is reportedly concerned about white assassins, because Powell is black. Powell himself is concerned about the kind of personal expose that Presidential candidates go through. Rudolph Giuliani begged out of the New York Senate race because he contracted prostate cancer, but it is suspected that the real reason was because the media was getting too up close and personal with his private life. He had a marital split, divorce and affair with another woman, all on top of each other. After 9/11, Giuliani again ascended to the short list of leaders who, if they play their cards right, can be seen as “reluctant” to be “drafted.” Perception plays a big role in whether the “reluctant” role holds up to scrutiny.
In Rudy’s case, his aggressive prosecution of La Casa Nostra, using the newly-enacted RICO statutes of the 1980s, brimmed with the kind of hubris that could only come with great ambition. New Yorkers respect this tremendously. The World Trade Center bombings left him free of any trace of posturing, but he had to negotiate his book tour, and now a possible role in the Bush Administration, anticipated candidac(ies) for Senate (again) and/or President in 2008, all while walking the fine line between reluctance and destiny.
Nelson Rockefeller had everything, it seemed. He was the popular Governor of one of the two most important states in the U.S. (New York). He possessed so much personal wealth that he could finance first class campaigns. But he lost the 1964 G.O.P. nomination to a little-known, bespectacled Christian with a Jewish last name from a tiny state. Barry Goldwater might not have been "drafted," but the power of his ideas drew the crowds to him, instead of vice versa. His loss in 1964 never left him with the “loser” label that so many aspirants have been tagged with. Instead, his words have hung on the Conservative Revolution like those of Aeschylus.
Nixon and L.B.J. wanted it far too badly. Jimmy Carter so obviously wanted it, but when Watergate handed it to him he seemed to only know how to campaign, not to govern. With his natural instincts for fairness and decency, Carter might be the kind of President that Socrates would have voted for, but Socrates has been shown to be unrealistic.
In studying Greek Democracy and making comparisons with historical figures, particularly of the American variety, I often wonder what times and circumstances would do to change people. Certain figures, like Eisenhower, are so much a product of the whims of history that it is impossible to contemplate their place in other times. Nixon and Lyndon Johnson were power manipulators who might have done well in Athens or the Roman Empire.
Bill Clinton’s lust for power, however, puts him a league of his own. His intelligence, cunning, ambition and looks would have made him both formidable and vulnerable. He would have possessed far too much charisma to survive in Stalinist Russia. Uncle Joe would quickly have determined that Bill was developing a “cult of personality” around him and put a bullet in the back of his head at four in the morning during an all-night Vodka party. Or he would have forced him into a Trotskyite exile until the goons found him wherever the hell he would have gone.
My analysis of Clinton is obviously not terribly favorable, but at the heart of the matter, I find something less than real evil; a benevolent kind of evil. If and when we ever discover the truth about Vince Foster and the children killed on railroad tracks near Mena, Arkansas, where Clinton may or may not have been running some kind drug smuggling operation, then it will be no holds barred in analyzing this character. Again, the conservatives despise him not so much because he did everything they accused him of doing, but because it is something he would have done!
Then there is Hillary, and she represents something else altogether. Her supporters hate this kind of talk, but we all have gut reactions to people, inner voices, hairs that stand up on the back of our necks. At least, the perceptive among us do. With Hillary Clinton I see a woman who does good only because she lives in a society in which to do so is rewarded. I have no doubt that, had she been born in 1900 Berlin, by the late 1930s she would have manipulated her way to a high role in the Nazi Party without thinking twice about it. She might have been the woman that they needed to give a feminine face to their mostly-male fraternity. Or she might have married her way to power, much like she did with Bill. As horrible as it is to say, Hillary Clinton to me could have been the "bitch of Buchenwald." If she lived in Roman times I could see her being a highly placed lady of means who, displeased by a servant or some serf overstepping his bounds, would have had the unfortunate boiled in oil.
I realize that many Democrats will consider this assessment of the Clinton’s to be “hate speech,” but I must say simply that in life we play hunches, have gut feelings, are intuitive, and sometimes we “just know.” As a Christian, I must not “hate.” I do not hate the Clintons. I could be wrong. I can forgive them. There is a very real chance that these people are not what I think they are. I just do not think the chances of that are very good.
Pure politics has nothing to do with this reaction. In fact, I found Clinton to be relatively moderate. He portrayed himself as a New Democrat from the Southern Democratic Leadership Conference, and after some very liberal moves in 1993 and 1994 (a proposed big tax increase, gays in the military, and Hillarycare), he was forced to work with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress beginning in 1995. This turned out to be an uneasy but successful relationship. Forced to govern from the right, his wife shoved by unpopular opinion to the background, Clinton presided over strong economic times.
As President, he has every right to take credit for this, and I do credit him. I also do not ignore the facts of history. The good economic environment of the 1990s is the result of several things. First, the recession was ending just prior to the end of George H.W. Bush’s Presidency. Ross Perot, Bush’s own lackluster approach, and the “it’s the economy, stupid” premise swayed the vote against him after it was too late. Second, the recession and succeeding boom times were the result of our victory over Communism in the Cold War.
In this respect, Republicans were victims of their own success. There were no enemies to protect us from in 1992 or 1996, since Ronald Reagan and George Bush had all but vanquished them long before the first Primary in ’92. Mainly, the end of the Cold War meant a major crimp in the military industrial complex, especially in vote-rich California. From 1988 to 1992, many skilled workers were laid off. This, plus the Bush tax increase of 1990 and the natural cycle of economic forces, caused the recession.
Then came the Information Superhighway in 1993. I will even give Al Gore some of the credit he yearns for. After all, it came during his watch as Vice-President. Richard Nixon took much credit for the moon landing of 1969 that was the result of the Kennedy-Johnson Administrations. All is fair in politics. Besides, I have no evidence that George H.W. Bush was particularly responsible for the Internet. All those sharp laid-off workers of the military industrial complex, mostly people skilled with computers and technology, well educated and hard working, were the first wave of the Internet boom. It was a marriage made in Heaven. They combined with the new generation of computer-savvy kids to create a huge economy. I am not blaming Bill Clinton for the fact that it went bust by the New Millennium, either, even thought the economy was in slide prior to his leaving office in 2001. It was a wild ride, but an unpredictable one.
So my feelings about the Clintons are personal, not political. It is about their character, which is at the heart of the Socratic-Platonic-Aristotelian government ethic. As a conservative Republican, I find Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer to be far more liberal. I honestly have no problem with Pelosi. Boxer I dislike because she is so strident and critical of Republicans without exception, but she is hard working and honest. She cannot say it, but I suspect that in private she can tell a thing or two about the Clinton Family. Her daughter married Hillary’s brother and ended up on the dirty end of the stick just like almost everybody who comes in contact with them. The laundry list of disgraced politicians, convicted criminals and former friends who were ratted out by the Clintons is disgustingly long. The fact that Hillary was a “Goldwater girl” in 1964 does not sway me in the slightest. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs at that time, she saw that as the pathway to power. When she moved on to Yale during the late "protest ‘60s" she saw that the tide had shifted. She shifted right along with it, with no pretense for ideology other than a desire to achieve power. For her, the Democrat, Republican, Nazi or Communist Parties are inter-changeable as long she can slither her way up the ladder. She found no compulsion with getting there by sleeping her way to the top (although with her marginal looks one finds this odd), getting in with slick law firms, or moving to a small Southwestern state with a population she figured would be gullible enough to buy their slick propaganda.
The problem with the Democrat party is not entirely their politics. They have an honorable tradition (although Tammany Hall, the Kansas City Pendergast Machine, Richard Dayley’s Chicago, and Bill Clinton's Arkansas were awful organizations, while the G.O.P. has no comparable organizations). The politics of Franklin Roosevelt had its time and place, in the 1930s, when the country was mired in the Great Depression. Roosevelt met the needs of this nation by instituting needed banking and stock market protections; Federalizing work projects; providing relief to the jobless; uplifting the blacks; giving credence to unions fighting for safe work conditions; and bringing power to rural valleys.
But “Republic” keeps coming back to character, doing the “right thing” for the people, not to establish, increase or hold on to individual power. At the core of Greek idealism was a sense of justice, and in applying these standards to American politics, I am continually disappointed at the bad people who are encouraged and propped up by the Democrats. This is a party that lionizes Ted Kennedy. Forgetting his family history, his evil father, the fact that he never earned much of anything, or his abysmal liberalism, his performance surrounding the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick in 1969 is so repugnant as to simply disqualify him from public life. He is a hero to Democrats. Res ipsa loquiter.
The Democrats’ most powerful and influential Senator is Robert Byrd, a former Ku Klux Klansman. The Republicans do not tolerate anything even approaching such outrageousness. When Republicans make embarrassing faux paus’ regarding race or sexual indiscretion, they take care of business in house, placing higher ethical standards upon themselves than the general public. Because Republicans have the temerity to identify immorality within the Democrat party, they open themselves up to criticism and backlash when their own human mistakes occasionally are discovered. This is the price they pay for being on the side of good, and they accept this because the merits surrounding the fairness of these double standards is simply that with which is exposed.
There are some fine Democrats. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman are excellent public servants. But even their best and brightest lose respect because they are forced to side with the nefarious stain of Clinton, Kennedy, Byrd, et al. Lieberman had to disavow a lifetime of morality in order to get with the Democrats’ 2000 Presidential program. Al Gore is not a bad man, although far from being a great one. His father, a U.S. Senator from Tennessee in the 1960s, was a segregationist who worked against the civil rights legislation of 1964-65. This is the dirty secret of the Democrat party, seemingly made public only because of the relatively new phenomenon of conservative talk radio. I have never heard the traditional networks make hay of the fact that it was Southern Democrats who opposed civil rights legislation opposed by Eisenhower and Johnson, and who were the official public face of Jim Crow.
Somehow, men like Gore highjacked history and present themselves as the “friend of the black man,” but conservatives like myself will continually stem this notion by shedding light on the situation with facts. It may take awhile, but black Americans will some day shift back to the party of Lincoln.
Gore is a man of ambition, although as mentioned earlier this has become indispensable to national politics. Where he loses respect, just like so many in his party, is when he turns his back on core values in favor of naked politics. Gore stood next to Bill Clinton, disgusted by him but saying nothing, for eight years. He was loyal, and loyalty is an admirable trait, but at the end of the day he and his kind are forced to say things that are untrue, even when they know they are untrue. The fact that they are untrue is readily available to them. Bill Clinton is a man who reads everything. This means that he has acquired the knowledge that he is wrong, yet he says what he says anyway. Is there some way of calling this behavior something other than lying? The Clintons yelled and screamed when Newt Gingrich was given a huge advance to write a book, but accepted huge advances to write their own books. That is simply fact that speaks for itself. Res ipsa loquiter.
Gingrich’s book eventually sold enough copies to make for him what the advance (which he gave back) paid. Conservatives are the authors of best selling books and the hosts of wildly successful talk shows. In the free market of ideas theirs are the best ones. Aside from having winning ideas, the conservatives are popular for other wonderful reasons. With the exception of a few eggheads who populate the halls of academe, conservatives are smarter. This has some serious implications. When conservatives drive cars, they listen to talk radio because they care about the world and want to know more. Liberals blithely drive around and listen to FM music. Is it possible to objectively look at the success of conservative radio and dispute this?
Conservatives are likely to be better educated, have better work skills, and are more successful people than liberals. They are more likely to be religious and they are more likely to serve in the military. Let me break this down. Most of the traits that we attribute to intelligence, success, morality and patriotism are traits more likely to be those of conservatives than liberals. Plato wanted to use empirical date to actually determine better government. Well, here it is. Res ipsa loquiter.
The Democrat Party is home to far too many liars, disinformationists, racists, race baiters, shakedown artists, philanderers, and immoralists to regain real respect from those who see simple truth for what it is. Until they clean their house of these scoundrels, they are headed towards a bad end. The prediction here is that the Democrat Party will cease to function as a major political entity in my lifetime.
Getting back to Plato’s assertion that “access to power must be confined to men who are not in love with it…” I want to point out a statement that Gore made during the 2000 campaign.
“George Bush wants the Presidency,” he said. “I have to have it.” At any cost. This was Nixon’s Achilles heel, but Reagan was a man who would have been comfortable in his skin whether he won the Presidency or not. So is George H.W. Bush.
These passages may be seen as “running amok,” a term that one book reviewer once attributed to a rant I made against the media in my biography of Barry Bonds. Let me point out that I am trying to bring to life the ideals of Plato’s “Republic” by making reference to modern events that speak to Plato. In so doing I advocate the causes that I find compelling. It is an effort to show that the political choices I have made are based on the research of history.
Plato made some very cogent observations of men who seek public office in order to snatch the “happiness they hunger for.” How clear is this view? How courageous, too, considering that his mentor had been put to death and he lived under the rule of men who must have been the role models for the unscrupulous “public servants” that Plato describes. Tyranny, said Plato, prevails first in the born despot’s soul, and then over his country.
My earlier theories regarding Hillary Clinton in Nazi Germany, just to name one example, is worth considering in light of Plato’s critique of the tyrant. It is in reviewing tyrants that we owe the deepest gratitude to the Founding Fathers. In constructing our country they managed to create safeguards against true despotism. The important aspect of this exercise is to realize what human nature actually is. Essentially, it is the same everywhere. Events, history, customs, traditions, religion and other factors make for circumstances that allow history to play itself out.
Adolph Hitler was a product of Germany’s defeat, the unfairness of the Versailles Treaty, the ineffectiveness of the Weimar Republic, economic disaster, and the pride of a cultured, yet flawed, people. All of this was combined with his terrible humanity. So the question of the day is this: Could Hitler have emerged some place else? What about in the United States?
This at first seems to be an absurd notion. Americans, proud of our history, must take exception to the idea that a Hitler could rise on our shores. But how would Hitler go about it? Well, how did he go about it in Germany? He joined the Army and fought in a losing battle, and his status as a decorated veteran gave him respectability and the passion to enter politics. He made speeches, he wrote position papers, and he gathered support. He paid for his hubris with a prison term martyred himself, and wrote “Mein Kampf”. Eventually, Hitler entered German politics in a legitimate manner, and was elected legally. Only after consolidating power through these measures did he become a full-scale dictator.
Hitler in America might have served in the military, and he might have been a war hero on the winning side. There is no denying that he displayed courage under fire on the Western Front. Yankee Hitler (call him “Al Hilton”) might have tried his hand as a painter in New York or some other large city, and like most artists found this to be a difficult way to make a living. What if "Hilton" was raised in the South? In California? Would his racial views have found a voice no matter what? To what extent would he be a product of nature or nurture, especially regarding his opinion of blacks, Jews, Arabs and Hispanics? The tides of history are what make history, and it is this that drives the ending of the classic book and film “The Boys from Brazil”.
Gregory Peck plays Dr. Joseph Mengele, and Sir Laurence Olivier a Nazi hunter based on Simon Wiesenthal. Mengele has cloned Hitler and now some 60 "Hitlers" are 14 years old. They are living in family circumstances orchestrated by him to be similar to Hitler’s upbringing. Olivier has discovered the plot. After Mengele is killed, a young Jew takes it for granted that all the Hitler clones must die. Olivier burns the only document detailing who and where they are. His premise is that Adolph Hitler was unique to his place and time, and therefore (thankfully) not inexorable.
A sequel to “The Boys from Brazil” would be the premise of my question. What happened to those clones in America, England, Germany and other places? Could Hitler’s inner rage have found a voice some place else? Was he born evil? More to the point, where does this kind of voice find a platform? Do we find Hitler in David Duke and Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber)? Is it possible Hitler could have been a decent member of society, if he found a loving wife, had children, and sold some paintings?
It is all academic, of course. Some might say such wanderings are dangerous. It also begs separation between ideology and power seeking. Does “Al Hilton” seek power or ideological victory? This gets back to the Hillary model. In Hillary I found the seeker of power who will use ideology (feminism, abortion rights, class warfare) to attain her goals within the framework of the America she lives in. In Hitler we find the seeker of an ideology, and from what we do no know of him, his ideas were one-track. How does such a man find an avenue for his fury, his theories, his dreams in, say, Communism, or in a Democrat-controlled state like Louisiana during the 1930s? Does such a man attach himself at the hip to the accusations of Joe McCarthy?
Again and again the creative mind wanders into evil. Duke, McVeigh, Ted Kaczysnki. The point of the exercise is that Plato has set about standards of conduct that are universal. He has identified the worst kind of offender as the one who seeks power for power’s sake. It is this person who the system must safeguard against. America has done its best work in marginalizing, as much as possible, this kind of individual. This reminds me of the refrain I repeated throughout the 1990s. So great is the United States that not only did Bill Clinton not destroy her, he actually did some very good things because the checks and balances set him on a course of good conduct.
The concept of the “good Clinton” is an optimistic one. It says a great deal about the beauty of America. On the flip side, evildoers take advantage of our laws and ideas to shape them to their own wants. There have been those who say Plato’s “Republic” was a blueprint for totalitarianism, because his stringent code of justice is a guide on how the tyrant can manipulate the system by playing to our ideals. I find this in the prescriptions of the Left, playing to the emotions of minorities. They feed them the notion that they are “helping them” when in fact they seek only to set themselves up as the only source of their empowerment, therefore increasing their hold on power.
The same tenet is behind the pro-choice movement. Liberals set themselves up as the protectors of women’s rights. The movement is less about giving women a real choice than it is about giving radical feminists political power.
The truth about the Left becomes obvious when one discovers that they are not for all blacks, just Democrat blacks. Clarence Thomas was an enemy to them because he identified their prescriptions as frauds. Even moderate African-Americans like National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell are held at arm’s length because they succeeded without bowing to the Left’s nostrums.
Black talk show hosts like Ken Hamblin and Larry Elder are excoriated for their right wing views despite the fact that they display a genuine intelligence that should be held up and championed as exemplars for all black people. Elder in particular takes major heat because he acknowledges that he entered Brown University thanks to Affirmative Action, yet he opposes Affirmative Action. Los Angeles native Elder then points out some basic Truths, namely that had he not been admitted to Brown he would have been admitted to some other fine university instead. Whether his degree was from Brown, or USC, or UC-Irvine, he asserts, is less important to his career than the fact that he worked extremely hard. He become a lawyer, then built a business from scratch, entered the competitive radio profession and worked his way to the top there, too. His detractors try to paint a picture of Elder scratching out a meager existence, but-for his Affirmative Action admittance to Brown. Elder is understandably insulted not just for himself, but because such an assertion is a tacit statement about black folks in general. But-for white help, goes the assertion, blacks are left to the tender mercies of a Darwinian world they cannot possibly be expected to succeed in. The Left uses all the code words of “opportunity” and “justice” that make up Plato's “Republic”. They use them to create little tyrannies and pockets of division. Theirs is the racism of low expectations.
Plato gave personal traits to the worst kind of tyrant, who he said “combined the traits of drunkenness, lust, and lunacy”; an insatiable thirst for money and power; contempt for law and reason; and constant provocation of wars. Can anybody say Kim Jong-Il? Is anybody further from these traits than Gandhi? Plato says that true despots do not have a true friend in the world; they are sometimes a slave, sometimes a master. They possess no faithfulness.
Adolf Hitler never had a true friend. In looking for these traits among public leaders, it is instructive to note who a man’s “friends” are. Are they associates or friends? Does he “sell out” his friends when push comes to shove? Is it necessary to mention the name of a recent American leader who has these traits, or is the answer just obvious?
In the end, the passion to dominate others dominates the tyrant. Plato’s “Republic” has often been noted as describing the rise of Hitler. Plato saw these same traits in a succession of Greek and Persian rulers who he despised. Hitler displayed Plato's version of irrationality. He justified his fatal invasion of Russia by saying, “I feel it in my blood.”
Plato is said to have used the tyrant Creon of Sophocles’ “Antigone” in his characterization of tyrannical rule. In “Antigone”, Creon’s only son, Haemon, pleads with his father to listen to reason because “of all God’s gifts, good sense is far the best” and “there is no disgrace in being able to learn.” Creon responds by cursing Antigone to death and forcing the son to watch her death.
Plato also described “spirit” at being a valued trait of courage and honor, admirable in an individual or in society, but not in a ruler. Plato felt that wisdom was a greater value than courage. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy were the only members of President Kennedy’s top level cabinet and advisory council to openly oppose an invasion of Cuba.
“Maybe one of us should be a coward,” Stevenson said, opening himself up to great criticism. What the crisis was ended via peace, due in no small role to Stevenson’s strong display of photographic evidence at the United Nations, he emerged as a Wise Man.
General Curt LeMay and the others, hawks and non-hawks among them, pressed for war. They all displayed the spirit of courage, but of course none of them were on the front lines. Today, the Bush Administration is infused by “warrior spirit." Plato said that the ruler must have two distinct groups at his disposal. Reason and wisdom must characterize the philosophical group. Spirit and courage must infuse the military group.
Since then, history has demonstrated that the military group, because of its strength and spirit, can overpower the philosophical group. No where is this more obvious in recent memory than in Japan. Tojo’s militarists took over from the statesmen, launching the country into hell.
America reserves its greatest honor to those among the spirit group who transcend the philosophical group. A great General like George S. Patton had no place within the philosophers. In fact, he was a man in the wilderness between World Wars I and II. George C. Marshall, on the other hand, was the perfect catalyst who infused his leadership skills with the spirit of both groups. It was the example of statesmen-soldiers like Marshall that led to doctrinaire changes in the education of officers at the academies and war colleges.
The result has been generals like Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell. They despise war, value the lives of their men and those of the enemy, and understand that battle is the last vestige of failed diplomacy. Facing possible war in Iraq much time was been spent contemplating this task. The spirit group and the philosophical group were well represented and merged together with the Bush advisory council. The decision was a balanced one.
Georges Clemenceau said, “war is too important to be left to the generals.” He was right, but it is too important to be left to the statesmen. The new world demands that it be left to an organic merging of both camps.
Plato made an interesting observation with timeless connotations. The Athens Board of Generals had successfully defended the city against Persia, but had disastrously led them into war with Sparta. The lesson of this is not to esteem victory so highly that those who orchestrate it are considered infallible. This lesson, at its simplest core, emerges from examination of the American experience in Vietnam. It resonates in our contemplation of further Middle East conflict.
After the successful Persian Gulf War (1991) and the Iraq War (2003), our military is considered infallible right now. Our weapons are so technologically superior, our intelligence so much better, that we view total victory as pre-determined. I do hope any dark foreboding that hides behind this view has no justification. In 1964, 19 years after defeating the most formidable armies ever assembled, the almighty Americans surely felt the same way about Indochina.
Plato based his observations on spirit mostly on Pericles’ “Funeral Oration". Pericles infused his speech over and over with references to “honor,” “gallantry,” “meaning of manliness” and other testosterone-laced perorations. Spirit, Plato noticed, is not associated with reason or intellect. He made the leap that while such traits infused the Athenian Army, since they lost, they must subordinate themselves to reason.
Plato further observed that reason was not applied simply as a safeguard against entering a disastrous war. In fact it is the protector of humanity during a war. Thucydides first recognized this when he described the revolution in Corcyra, where all hell broke loose. The conclusion was that the kind of spirit and gallantry so necessary in developing esprit de corps within the military is quickly turned into something else once war takes a turn for the worse.
The Nazi S.S. had as much esprit de corps as any warrior group ever assembled. They were razors, killing machines. But they were infused with no reason, no compromise. They were picked for their physical skills and traits of gung-ho bravery. In their case, they were manipulated into doing the most heinous of Hitler’s work. In the Peloponnesian War, the spirit had no outlet once battle plans went awry in the fog of dispiriting defeat. War is a massive psychological struggle, where morale and confidence play as much a role as strategy. The esteemed bravery of the Athenian fighting men turned to blind violence once anarchy replaced the plan of battle.
Plato said this approach had been based on a concept that the “weaker must be kept down by the stronger,” and that the rule of spirit without reason leads to irrational mishandling of power. As anybody who has ever observed a barroom confrontation knows, it is better when “cooler heads prevail.”
Professor Dalton’s wonderful “Power Over People” teaching series then turns its attentions to Aristotle, who Dalton says was both Plato’s greatest student and one of his most “trenchant critics.” They felt similarly about ethics, but arrived at their conclusions in different ways. Aristotle was more of a realist than Plato, and certainly more so than Socrates.
Aristotle posited the theory of the “golden mean." His differences with Plato were partly based upon his personal experiences, which were not the same. Aristotle hailed from Macedonia, and as a younger man was not personally affected by the Peloponnesian War. A similar situation would be an older liberal American who grew up protesting the Vietnam War, who mentors a younger man from Canada who has moved to the United States, and has no personal memories of Vietnam.
Furthermore, Aristotle saw Plato live a long, productive life, while Plato had seen Socrates condemned and executed. Aristotle was middle class, whereas Plato was an aristocrat. Aristotle sought knowledge through biology while Plato sought it through mathematics. Aristotle relied on observation, and found fault in Plato for theorizing, i.e., transcendent forms.
They resembled each other in regarding the state as an agent of virtue. In Renaissance painter Raphael’s classic “School of Athens”, Plato is depicted focusing on the transcendent realm, Aristotle on the moderate.
Aristotle’s first critique was of Plato’s “revolutionary wave,” notably the concept of women in politics. Aristotle believed that people were derived through nature, and that the union of the family produces an organic order in which the man rules via superior reason and forethought. Those who naturally are ruled by the superiors just as naturally are subservient. His reliance on biology was the locus of this thinking, since the study of animals consistently shows that the male of varied species assumes natural superiority.
Plato relied on mathematics, although his use of math in determining women’s place in politics seems less influential on his thinking than Sophocles’ play, “Antigone”. Had one of the Greek playwrights penned a great play showing slaves rising above their condition, something like the film “Spartacus”, for instance, perhaps he might have changed his attitude about the “natural” role of slaves in Athens.
Aristotle’s reliance on biology does not seem to give him the data he might have needed to veer from Plato on the subject of slavery, either. His use of the concept of “natural” social orders does not bode well for any theories of what Aristotle’s attitude towards slavery might have been had he lived in different times. Because he was indisputably a moral man, it does not seem to be a stretch that he would have had an open mind (and heart) had he lived during a time of real debate about slavery. He was a product of his times, when it was not a subject of debate. The revolutionary changes these men brought about are such great contributions to the world that nit-picking every view is not a worthy exercise.
The study of slavery gets bogged down in hard moral equations of right and wrong, ignoring the fact that great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle saw it as natural. They may give credence to an intellectual people, yearning to be free, led by a charismatic leader like Moses who advocates their fleeing from Egyptian bondage. Apparently they view many other forms of the human family to be less worthy of freedom than the Jews escaping to the Promised Land.
Their views probably do not change very much in a study of the African slave trade. What they would see are white people, skilled, crafty, and smart, in association with blacks who have seemingly made no real evolutionary progress, capturing and selling their own people for profit. They would say these blacks do not have the capacity to “reason” other than amoral self-interest.
Less moral men did justify slavery in later eras by pointing to Aristotle’s “natural” views of Mankind. In the end, the practice of slavery seems to have survived all theories of science and politics for some 2,220 years. Many religions tolerated it. Judaism-Christianity tolerated it less than all others. In the end run it took a modern version of Democracy advocated by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, now practiced by a union of sovereign states in a new world, to end the damn thing once and for all. Placed in the middle of the Christian intellectual argument against slavery, one hopes that these three men would have seen the morality of freeing the slaves.
But we are dealing with Aristotle in his times, and the record says certain things. Aristotle believed that the human soul (psyche) has two elements, one that rules and one that is ruled. Some humans, he said, were slaves because they lacked the ability to reason. Women, he felt, lacked rational capacity. He bases his views on practical observation, but did not say what the future might hold.
Aristotle also criticized Plato’s call for abolition of the nuclear family, because just as males are naturally superior, they are naturally the head of the family. Mainly, Aristotle said that break-up of the family is harmful because men pay most attention to what they possess. The protection of the family, knit together within a society of “family men,” is beneficial to society and later has been cited as the bedrock of capitalism. The natural care of children is a civic virtue, and goes part and parcel with the possession of private property. To eradicate ownership is “wrong and futile,” and characterized an extremist attitude on Plato’s part. Aristotle placed some limits on private property, but understood that charity stems from private ownership.
Aristotle also found fault with Plato’s contemplation of the “third wave” that concentrates power in the hands of an elite philosopher class. Here we begin to see correlations with modern thought processes that are telling. Plato, the aristocrat, advocated putting elites in power over the masses while taking away their private property. Aristotle, from the middle class, wanted to give the moderate middle the greatest say in decision-making while advocating giving them an economic stake in the system. He said that the middle classes, more likely to be run by reason, are less likely to be as extreme as the rich or the poor.
Aristotle differentiated himself from his predecessors more by advocating these virtues than by any other means. In so doing he emerges as the champion of future Western forms of Democracy and capitalism. Modern conservatives speak ill of an “elitist” class of people who presume to make decisions for the rest of us, because we are not able to make smart decisions for ourselves. The moderns place great emphasis on private property not simply because it is fair to keep what one works to attain, but because to do so invests one in the community.
While Plato’s views regarding private property never seem to find any logical home, his views of the elitist classes should be studied and given some leeway. Plato did not like the way the Athenian Assembly was constructed, because he rightly saw a “mob mentality” in its thousands of members making decisions that later might have been considered the famous “tyranny of the majority.” Perhaps he would have been pleased with the representative form of government embodied by bi-cameral American and parliamentarian English government.
Aristotle eschewed radicalism and saw the Middle Class, from whence he emerged, as the protectors against it. According to Professor Dalton, Plato is viewed by history as the revolutionary. Aristotle is the reformer. Much of the difference between the two is traced to the fact that Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) did not experience the severe crisis of the Peloponnesian War. He was more of an optimist than Plato, and saw Athens as less corrupt than his mentor. He did not advocate sweeping change. While not a product of the aristocracy, Aristotle certainly grew up in affluence. His father was the court physician to the previous King of Macedonia. Aristotle’s reliance on biology is traced to his father. He stressed empirical analysis over abstract reasoning. One might say he advocated realpolitik while Plato was more of a dreamer.
Aristotle studied under Plato for 20 years, from 367 to 347 B.C., beginning at the age of 18. Eventually Aristotle founded the Lyceum, which was located next to Plato’s Academy. Raphael’s painting demonstrates the difference between them by showing Plato gesturing toward the Heavens, while Aristotle is pointing forward. Regarding the complicated role of women, Aristotle disagreed with Plato’s view of them as potential rulers, but he does not ascribe them as “natural slaves” within the family. This followed his concept of “naturalism” that embodied his ideas of slavery. He did not view intelligence and reason as sex-linked. He found women inferior to men because they could not reason, but above slaves because they fulfilled natural functions within the family, which he was an advocate of. Thus, moderation.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism