In Democratic Individuality, I argued that at a high level of abstraction, modern conservatives, liberals and radicals believe that the best economic, social and political institutions foster each person’s individuality. Their differences are largely empirical or social theoretical. All clash with modern authoritarians. I will take up practical issues such as torture and the lineage of the neocons and link them to larger issues in how we conceive a decent regime, locally and internationally.
The Thirty, democracy and blindness in the Phaedrus
“Now he who is a follower of Zeus, when seized by eros can bear a heavier version of the winged god; but those who are servants of Ares and followed in his train, when they have been seized by eros and think they have been wronged in any way by the beloved, become murderous and are ready to sacrifice themselves and the beloved. And so it is with the follower of each of the other gods; he lives, so far as he is able, honoring and initiating that god, so long as he is uncorrupted, and is living his first life on earth, and in that way he behaves and conducts himself toward his beloved and toward all the others. Now each one chooses his love from the ranks of the beautiful according to his character, and he fashions him and adorns him like a statue, as though he were his god, to honor and worship him.” (252c-d)
1. Lovers, gods, and psyches
Steve Wagner draws an important distinction between philosophical stories, in dialectic with argument, and merely manipulative ones (“the noble lie” or Phoenician tale and not much else). Plato’s Phaedrus gives a new sense of image, one in which the written word is but a symbol of the living word, written in the soul (psyche) of him or her who speaks (276a).
The Phaedrus defends, against the surface or the existence of the dialogue as a written document, the word of one who knows. But a reader should be careful here: “I am perhaps wiser than others in this: I do not know nor do I think I know.”
Socrates knows that he does not know much, for example, about the idea of justice or beauty, though he recognizes particular just acts or beautiful things. Socrates perhaps knows something more than others about the limits of what one can know and thus spends long days – each day – asking questions of others and forging arguments.
But such words are also, except in image, beyond those who are just beginning to make arguments – some may be even beyond Socrates or Plato – and some images may, as Steve observes, not yet, or perhaps not at all, be grasped as arguments. Socrates thus distinguishes between what are good arguments now (subjects which one can, through questioning, figure out the truth about such as Euclidean theorems as in the Meno), things which are at the least not yet teachable to others (the idea of the good in the Republic) and things which may not be, like what happens to each of us in dying, “graspable” beforehand. (Apology, )
In addition, writing is bad for memory, Socrates says in the Phaedrus; thus, a dialogue does not reveal its secrets on the surface. Only she who knows how to read – and not the ordinary or careless reader – will come to understand it fully:
“Socrates: Writing Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and it is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence , but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak and to whom not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled, it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.
…in my opinion, serious discourse about them [justice and similar subjects] is far nobler when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, which are not fruitless but yield seed from which there springing up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process for ever and which make their possessor happy, to the furthest possible limit of human happiness.” Plato, Phaedrus, 275d-277a
The Phaedrus also presents the stunning image of the soul as a charioteer with a black and white horse who can, despite their contrary pulls, wing to glimpse the realm of ideas. It shares and transforms a depiction of life and death and the great journeys of the Myth of Er in the Republic and the conclusion of the Gorgias. The philosopher may come to share in the divine and by repeated striving – three 1000 year-long cycles, 249a; the afterlife journeys are plainly not in human time – ascends again toward the contemplation of those things through which god becomes divine or which make god divine (pros oisper theos on theios estin, 249c). So divinity comes from the contemplation of these things; the universe is perhaps not made by a god…
Here the grand, many-sided, Delphic quality of images is visible, their hinting at a long course of study and the primacy of a certain quality of
reading, i.e. one that understands the complex significance of the pointing, and probably, the need for a course of living study, as in Plato’s Academy, beyond what the texts can offer.
The paths are treacherous. For instance, Critias, Alcibiades, Aristotle (and Al-Farabi, Heidegger and Strauss), all took a prominent but, as we will see in part 3, wrong path – that of the overt and hidden pointing of the Republic to philosopher-kingship emerging out of a certain kind of tyrant and identifying with the tyranny of a supposedly wise man. But Plato probably intended even his aristocratic students – most of Socrates’ followers, Polemarchus and Chaerophon or for, Plato Demosthenes excepted, were high born, wealthy young men, Alcibiades the highest – to adopt at last the fierce rejection of tyranny in his surface argument, the allegiance of Socrates and philosophers who are the seekers for wisdom and the truth in contrast to philosopher-rulers, supposedly already wise, supposedly themselves gods.
At the outset of the dialogue, Socrates meets Phaedrus and they walk into the country. Socrates is a stranger (xenos) there; he is interested in learning in the city, in dialogue, and not in trees. And dialogue, even of two is, as my student Ryan Goehrung has underlined, a democratic form (like the democracy, however, the conversations can assent, as in the Meno, to mistaken arguments…).
Phaedrus, a handsome and conversational young man, is the lover of the great orator Lysias who has written a deprecating speech about love, extolling the non-lover (“inevitably,” Socrates says, ironically, at first) as against the mania of the lover.
Phaedrus has been desperately trying to memorize his beloved’s words, but, still clutching the copy of the speech beneath his cloak, has yet to succeed. He is in love with written speeches, wishes to be or secretly emulate a great orator. Thus, eros in Plato is made explicit in the Phaedrus as mania for an action (speech, philosophy, war) as well as a person – the lover’s god – who incarnates it. (Phaedrus, line 252c-d).
But the end of the dialogue reveals that Phaedrus does not have a good memory for argument: “Yes, I thought so, too; but please recall to my mind what was said” (277c).
The ending explicitly mocks writing in an Egyptian story of the god Thoth who invented the written word for the king of the gods, Thamus (Ammon). Contrary to Thoth, Thamus says that writing will not help memory but substitute for it, not lead to the truth but to the imitation of truth. People will babble of all sorts of things of which they have cursory or sloppy knowledge (of course, this can also be true with an unwise teacher).
Hearing this Egyptian story, the bedazzled Phaedrus blurts out that Socrates can invent any story or image he wants, i.e. is a better orator than the great orators, one whom perhaps, in a parallel to what Alcibiades says about Socrates as a philosopher in the Symposium, one might grow old sitting beside. Here is the story:
“‘This invention [of letters], O king, said Theuth, ‘will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.’ But Thamus replied: ‘Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise but only appear wise.’” (274e-275b)
Phaedrus’s performance at the beginning of the dialogue is the living example of the point at the end. Devoted to Lysias, the god, as it were, of oratory, Phaedrus loves to memorize written words and speeches, but has a weak memory and little ability, through questioning, to acquire wisdom. His temptation toward philosophy – his relation to or enchantment by Socrates – is underlined, particularly in his response to Socrates’s dazzling last speech. But in relying on beautiful images, Socrates here orates or, in the image of the Protagoras, speaks at too great length. Socrates thus appeals to Phaedrus according to Phaedrus’s psyche or god, not according to Socrates’s (philosophy), a point we will see more sharply in the construction of the city in speech in the Republic, the kallipolis, around Glaucon’s psyche or military hunger.
For there is no dialogue, no philosophy in the Phaedrus, even where Phaedrus seemingly assents to the path of Polemarchus, a young philosopher, rather than to that of rhetoric and his lover Lysias. Phaedrus’s assent is analogous to Glaucon’s opposition to tyranny, even foreswearing his conjured ring of Gyges, at the end of the Republic: one not quite produced by argument. There is more dialogue in the Republic, but Glaucon often does not follow and stumbles around, is persuaded emotionally or rhetorically, but not by reasoning. Phaedrus’s assent is also similar to Crito’s, who has nothing to say to the laws’ powerful but, as we will see, self-contradictory speech at the end of Crito.
Thus, despite soaring images, philosophy remains, for Phaedrus, but a temptation:
“And if in our former discourse Phaedrus and I said anything harsh against you [Eros], blame Lysias [joking, Socrates perhaps displays jealousy or erotic competitiveness here], the father of that discourse, make him to cease from such speeches, and turn him, as his brother Polemarchus is turned toward philosophy, that his lover Phaedrus may no longer hesitate, as he does now, between two ways, but may direct his life with all singleness of purpose toward love and [or with] philosophical discourses (pros erota meta philosophon logon -257b)
Socrates is famous/infamous in Athens for only asking questions as Thrasymachus’s charges belligerently in the Republic. What philosophy appears to be initially is arguments or contests about reasoning. Thus, Protagoras of Abdera even won such a contest in the Olympic games. But the initial argument or questioning, however changed by Socrates, comes from the particular psyche, god or eros of the interlocutor. For instance, the Republic is profoundly a dialogue about war, the vision of the city in speech one of warrior-guardians, because of Glaucon, but also in the names/subtextual experiences of other participants: Polemarchos – war leader; Cephalus – brain or head; manufacturer of shields and father of Polemarchus; Thrasymachus – fierce fighter; Adeimantus – dauntless…
2. Vengeance versus Justice
Lysias, Phaedrus’s lover, is the vengeful brother of Polemarchus. Emulating Polemarchus in book 1 of the Republic, who jokingly threatens to beat Socrates up – do you see how many of us there are? (Republic, ) – unless he comes and performs for them, a talisman of Socrates’s coming trial and death – and Lysias’s indictment of the member of the Thirty, Eratosthenes, Phaedrus, too, threatens to compel Socrates (236 c-d):
“Phaedrus: Now my friend you have given me a fair hold [he is speaking as one who wrestles or exercises naked with Socrates]; for you certainly must speak as best you can, lest we be compelled to resort to the comic ‘you’re another’; be careful and do not force me to say ‘O Socrates, if I don’t know Socrates, I have forgotten myself,’ and ‘he yearned to speak but feigned coyness.’ Just make up your mind that we are not going away from here until you speak out what you said you have in your breast. We are alone in a solitary spot, and I am stronger and younger than you; so, under these circumstances, take my meaning, and speak voluntarily, rather than under compulsion.” (236c-d)
That the role of brute force (bia) is the primary and often only response among democrats to disagreement – that oration or rhetoric in and outside the assembly is but the ornament of force – is also symbolized by Phaedrus’s threat to compel Lysias to respond to Socrates:
“Socrates: I therefore, because I am ashamed at the thought of this man and am afraid of Eros [the god] himself, wish to wash out the brine from my ears with the water of a sweet discourse. And I advise Lysias also to write as soon as he can, that other things being equal, the lover should be favored rather than the non-lover.
Phaedrus: Be assured that he will do so; for when you have spoken the praise of the lover, Lysias must of course be compelled by me to write another discourse on the same subject.” (239 d-e)
Now Socrates goes with Polemarchus, shown as a stupid bully at the outset of the Republic – Socrates mocks him in the first lines – only because Glaucon, with whom Socrates has gone down to the Pireaus and in whom he has a philosophical/erotic interest, insists. Socrates fears doing injustice and “sitting at the door of the rich” more than death or physical harm.
In the course of the first book, however, Polemarchus takes in the argument of Socrates against Thrasymachus and begins to change. In Phaedrus, the gentler, less warlike dialogue set in the country, the rhetorical threat from Phaedrus is followed by a greater and successful jest: that he will show Socrates no more speeches…In Phaedrus, confirming the subsequent impact of Socrates’s questioning in the Republic, Polemarchus is now described as a young philosopher…
Polemarchus and Lysias were sons of the wealthy shields manufacturer, Cephalus, who had been invited by Pericles to move to Athens as a metic or resident non-citizen (“alien” in the demeaning modern elite phrase). Since they lived in the Piraeus, they were sympathetic to the democracy and supported it through paying for festivals or doing extra duties. In Lysias’s words,
“My father Cephalus was induced by Pericles to come to this country, and dwelt in it for thirty years: never did he, any more than we, appear as either prosecutor or defendant in any case whatever, but our life under the democracy was such as to avoid any offence against our fellows and any wrong at their hands.” (Lysias, Against Erastothenes, 4).
Prefiguring Aristotle’s thought of how a common good may be furthered within a democracy or rule of the free but poor, Lysias adds that the wealthy family supported the city’s regime:
“This was not the treatment that we deserved at the city’s hands, when we had produced all our dramas for the festivals, and contributed to many special levies;when we showed ourselves men of orderly life, and performed every duty laid upon us; when we had made not a single enemy, but had ransomed many Athenians from the foe. Such was their reward to us for behaving as resident non-citizens far otherwise than the [Thirty] did as citizens!”
For the Thirty cooperated with Sparta by taking down the walls which protected the city, Lysias says, and killed and despoiled many citizens.
In contrast, Polemarchus had also been a significant figure and now a martyr as a democrat and a beginning philosopher.
In the Phaedrus, Socrates discusses Lysias’s rhetorical but not well argued speech about Eros, praising the non-lover rather than the lover. And Socrates initially responds to this with an inspired, more poetic (rhythmic), parallel view. But the non-lover, a specimen of clever rhetoric in Socrates’s speech, actually turns out to be a lover merely feigning lack of passion.
“Now there was once upon a time a boy, or rather a stripling, of great beauty: and he had many lovers. And among these was one of peculiar craftiness, who was as much in love with the boy as anyone, but had made him believe that he was not in love; and once in wooing him, he tried to persuade him of this very thing, that favors ought to be granted rather to the non-lover than to the lover; and his words were as follows:” (Phaedrus, 237b)
This speech is an example of Tisias’s rhetoric, described by Socrates at the end of the dialogue in which a rhetorician adopts a falsehood near to the truth. Though a master of rhetoric as Socrates often shows under challenge – for instance, in the long speech in the Apology – Socrates is also wary of rhetoric which, unlike philosophy, does not seek the truth. In the Phaedrus, however, Socrates suggests that even philosophical writings may have a rhetoric for a careless reader: if you ask them a question, they have no father to defend them…. Socrates therefore only speaks, but does not write out his arguments, and even his speeches in the Phaedrus are an ironic self-reference to the complexity of what Plato is doing in dialogues, an equivalent in writing to Socratic argument.
As an orator and prosecutor, Lysias is most famous for his vengeful indictment of Eratosthenes, a leader of the Thirty, but he also fiercely accused Andocides, who had informed against Alcibiades’s supposed revealing the Mysteries to the uninitiated in 415 b.c., but who himself, had also participated and was banned from later going to Athenian temples or the market. The indictment of Erastothenes, however, the murderer of so many, including Polemarchus is perhaps an iconic rhetorical statement.
Along with Socrates’s student and Plato’s cousin Critias, Eratosthenes stole from resident noncitizens and other patriots, and put some 1500 to death (a huge part of the male population of a small city). Erastothenes’s agent Peison came to arrest Lysias, but the latter attempted to bribe his way out. When Lysias went to get the money, however, Peison saw his hiding place and took everything. Still, Lysias was able to sneak away. (Against Erastothenes, 8-16)
Polemarchus, however, was arrested, taken to jail, and in an emblem of Socrates’s fate at the hands of the subsequently triumphant democracy, forced to drink hemlock.
In his speech, Lysias invokes the just motive which compels him against those who murdered and threw away his brother’s body:
“Polemarchus received from the Thirty their accustomed order to drink hemlock, with no statement made as to the reason for his execution: still less was he allowed to be tried and defend himself. 18 And when he was being brought away dead from the prison, although we had three houses amongst us, they did not permit his funeral to be conducted from any of them, but they hired a small hut in which to lay him out. We had plenty of cloaks, yet they refused our request of one for the funeral; but our friends gave either a cloak, or a pillow, or whatever each had to spare, for his interment.” (Against Eratosthenes, lines 17-18)
In book 1 of the Republic, Polemarchus invokes Simonides, the poet and advisor to the tyrant Hiero as the originator of the view that justice is benefiting friends and injuring enemies (perhaps Lysias initially found it there, too). But as any Athenian would have known, representing the restored democracy, Lysias’s speech at the trial of Eratosthenes, is a fiercer, contemporary democratic basis for Polemarchus’s view than Simonides, the wise man in Xenophon’s Hiero, and one more relevant to the upcoming trial of Socrates. In the Republic, Lysias accompanies Polemarchus and silently attends the dialogue at his father’s house. The orator, however, keeps still in a mostly quasi-philosophical, i.e. philosophical only on Socrates’s part dialogue about the question: what is justice?.
Here are some of Lysias’s vengeful words about Eratosthenes. Rhetorically, one should underline, he does not even believe “the penalty” that the Thirty’s deeds incur could be paid with the punishments, i.e. even death, available to the democrats:
“Now I, gentlemen, might almost claim that the accusations you have heard are sufficient: for I consider that an accuser ought to go no further than to show that the defendant has committed acts that merit death; since this is the extreme penalty that we have power to inflict upon him. So I doubt if there is any need to prolong one’s accusation of such men as these; for not even if they underwent two deaths for each one of their deeds could they pay the penalty in full measure.”(Against Eratosthenes, line 37)
His distaste for the murderers counterfeits a supposed aspect of Athenian piety, one of shunning the unholy: for Lysias desires to prosecute and thus, question Eratosthenes only to kill him. Thus, Lysias calls Eratothenes as a witness with the prayer:
“For my feeling is this: even to discuss this man with another for his profit I consider to be an impiety, but even to address this man himself, when it is for his hurt, I regard as a holy and pious action. So mount the dais, please, and answer the questions I put to you.” (Against Eratosthenes, 24)
As an putative matter of justice, Lysias even calls for the murder of children as well as the Thirty because the latter “put to death men untried who were guilty of no wrong.” Was he calling for a trial of the children…?
Thus, the democratic return here of evil for evil pretty plainly escapes justice. That this is “piety,” even the “piety” of the city, might be doubted. In contrast, in asking “What is justice?” in the Republic, Socrates works toward a deeper conception, one that eschews local injustices in the light of an idea of justice and moves toward particular just actions or measures, even if “the idea of justice” may be beyond us, fully, to know.
In Lysias’s words:
“Yet it is an unequal contest between the city and Eratosthenes: for whereas he was at once accuser and judge of the persons brought to trial, we to-day are parties engaged in accusation and defence. 82 And whereas these men put people to death untried who were guilty of no wrong, you think fit to try according to law the persons who destroyed the city, and whose punishment by you, even if unlawfully devised, would still be inadequate to the wrongs that they have committed against the city. For what would they have to suffer, if their punishment should be adequate to their actions? 83If you put them and their children to death, should we sufficiently punish them for the murder of our fathers, sons and brothers whom they put to death untried? Or again, if you confiscated their material property, would this be compensation either to the city for all that they have taken from her, or to individuals for the houses that they pillaged? 84 Since therefore, whatever you might do, you could not exact from them an adequate penalty, would it not be shameful of you to disallow any possible sort of penalty that a man might desire to exact from these persons?”
Vengefulness, Socrates suggests in book 1 of the Republic, carries one away and leads to lack of balance, injustice and renewed war. In this speech at Eratosthenes’ trial, Lysias vividly illustrates Socrates’s concern in his bloodthirsty remarks about “their children,” Thus, Socrates’s questions to Polemarchus, as a not yet philosophical democrat, are, implicitly also directed to his brother/political associate, Lysias, the famed orator and a leader of the democratic faction in its trials of the Thirty. They probe the faction’s vengefulness. As a result of misguided or excessive vengefulness – there may be no other kind…- Socrates would himself be put to death.
Socrates says that the aim of a just man is to hurt no one – i.e. to create social peace through justice. That would be, twenty four hundred years later in Gandhi, King and Tutu, a primary idea in nonviolence: even oppressors have souls, and they, let alone their families, must not be murdered. Murderers, Socrates might say, have souls, may be mistaken, in the horrors they commit, about their interests. And a democratic crowd sometimes confuses friends and enemies, i.e. it narrowly convicts Socrates, but in defending questioning or dissent within in a democracy, he was deeply its friend.
In his own voice, Plato’s Seventh Letter also describes the hostility between Dion, his best student and Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse who is interested in philosophy and seeks Plato’s tutelage. Dion had urged Plato to go to Syracuse because of their desire to join kingship and philosophy:
“yet as regards political action I [Plato] kept constantly waiting for an opportune moment; until, finally, looking at all the cities which now exist, I perceived that one and all they are badly governed; for the state of their laws is such as to be almost incurable without some marvellous overhauling and good-luck to boot. So in my praise of the right philosophy I was compelled to declare7 that by it one is enabled to discern all forms of justice both political and individual. Wherefore the classes of mankind (I said) will have no cessation from evils until either the class of those [326b] who are right and true philosophers attains political supremacy, or else the class of those who hold power in the cities becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic” (Seventh Letter, 326a-b)
But in a fit of jealousy at Dion’s close relation to Plato, Dionysius exiles Dion and marries off his wife to another. To achieve justice but also vengeance, Dion then gathers forces, invades Syracuse and chases out Dionysius. He is betrayed and murdered, however, by his Athenian “friend” Callias.
At Dion’s request, Plato had come to Syracuse to tutor Dionysius; he did so because Dion spoke to him powerfully in the voice of philosophy:
“In this spirit of adventure it was that I set out from home,—not in the spirit which some have supposed, but dreading self-reproach most of all, lest I should seem to myself to be utterly and absolutely nothing more than a voice and never to undertake willingly any action…” (Seventh Letter, 328c)
But overcome by bad advice and the seeming pleasures of tyranny, Dionysius becomes jealous of Plato and enslaves him. Yet Plato still refuses to take a side, and tries to heal things up between the tyrant and Dion.
Dion drives out Dionysius, however, the would-be philosopher-king/tyrant whom both Plato and Dion had urged to adopt laws (a philosopher king, the Seventh Letter insists, would rule by laws). Further, as the Seventh Letter startlingly does not say, Dion – Socrates’s best student – briefly becomes king: a genuine philosopher-king. But Dion is swiftly murdered. Plato offers the dramatic image that even the best sea captain, knowing that there will be a storm and taking preventive measures, cannot always avoid being swept away in a great one.
At the beginning of the Seventh Letter, Plato also notes that Socrates’s student and Plato’s cousin, Critias (as well as Plato’s uncle Charmides) are part of the Thirty. Critias orders Socrates to take part, with four others, in getting for execution Leon of Salamis. Socrates goes home, instead. Critias and Charmides had become mere tyrants. They had initially offered Plato a part – he had been tempted – but was appalled by what they had done. Because of Socrates, he now regarded the overthrown democracy as “a golden age.”
The Seventh Letter says:
“In the [democratic] government then existing, reviled as it was by many, a revolution took place; and the revolution was headed by fifty-one leaders, of whom eleven were in the City and ten in the Piraeus—each of these sections dealing with the market and with all municipal matters requiring management—and Thirty were established [324d] as irresponsible rulers of all. Now of these some were actually connections and acquaintances of mine; and indeed they invited me at once to join their administration, thinking it would be congenial. The feelings I then experienced, owing to my youth, were in no way surprising: for I imagined that they would administer the city by leading it out of an unjust way of life into a just way, and consequently I gave my mind to them very diligently, to see what they would do. And indeed I saw how these men within a short time caused men to look back on the former government as a golden age; and above all how they treated my [324e] aged friend Socrates,whom I would hardly scruple to call the most just of men then living, when they tried to send him, along with others, after one of the citizens, to fetch him by force [325a] that he might be put to death—their object being that Socrates, whether he wished or no, might be made to share in their political actions; he, however, refused to obey and risked the uttermost penalties rather than be a partaker in their unholy deeds. So when I beheld all these actions and others of a similar grave kind, I was indignant, and I withdrew myself from the evil practices then going on.” (Seventh Letter, 324c-325a)
But the restored democracy also turned against, and in a profound act of injustice and ingratitude, murdered Socrates. That Socrates had risked his life not to arrest Leon and that a democratic faction had put him to death sickened Plato:
“But, as ill-luck would have it, certain men of authority summoned our comrade Socrates before the law-courts, laying a charge against him which was most unholy, and which Socrates of all men least deserved; [325c] for it was on the charge of impiety that those men summoned him and the rest condemned and slew him—the very man who on the former occasion, when they themselves had the misfortune to be in exile, had refused to take part in the unholy arrest of one of the friends of the men then exiled.” (Seventh Letter, 325b-c).
Note that Plato does not indict democracy per se, but “certain men of authority”…What Plato also says is that Socrates was the wisest and most pious of all. Now both the Pheadrus and the Symposium, we will see, cast doubt on Socrates’s conventional piety: they underline that Eros is not a god. They thus confirm the Athenian charge about disbelieving in the gods of Athens for which Socrates is put to death.
Yet these dialogues also cast Socrates in the likeness of Eros. And Socrates always observes the outward forms of piety even when he was skeptical or ironic. Thus, what Plato seems to be maintaining in the Seventh Letter is that Socrates had a deeper sense of piety, that of following his inner voice or daimon, of being conscious of a more real sanctity, than Athenian conventions.
In the action of the Seventh Letter and his choice not to speak of either Critias or Dion as potential philosopher-kings, Plato also seems, as a subtext, far less certain, in fact, that a king may become philosophical, a philosopher – even Dion – a successful king. For though Plato mourns Dion, he never retracts the advice about laws (lines ) nor directly praises Dion’s brief philosopher-kingship, i.e. supposedly wise rule perhaps without laws, nor even names what Dion is or might become.
Plato is against political killing. The standard idea of a philosopher-king, hinted at in the Republic, named by the Athenian Stranger in the Laws as something a certain kind of tyrant – that is, a killer – supposedly becomes and designed to appeal to Glaucon, a military leader (the city is Glaucon’s ideal, not Socrates’s), is, for Plato, as we will see, largely a source of satire.
What Socrates says to Polemarchus (and Thrasymachus, and by implication Lysias) in the Republic agrees with Plato’s advice about laws in the Seventh Letter. His devastating counterargument – suppose the ruler mistakes her friends and enemies – has perhaps no clearer paradigm than Dion’s befriending of Callias in Athens, and Callias’s smuggling the knife into the Syracusan banquet to murder his “friend.”
Polemarchus’s/Lysias’s view – and even more Thrasymachus’s – is also that of the nameless Athenian ambassadors at Melos who, as Thucydides describes them, appeal to the “law of the stronger” (“the strong take what they can; the weak suffer what they must”); in the History of the Peloponnesian War, this attitude leads to the desolation and swift crushing of the Athenians in the Syracusan quarries (the weak who unite and do not let themselves be divided, as Hermocrates says, can defeat the “strong”). Note: Niceratus, who, like Lysias, silently attends the dialogue is the son of Nicias, the weak-minded Athenian commander of the disaster in the Syracusan quarries.
3. Subtexts in the Phaedrus
In considering the debate in book 1 of the Republic, an Athenian would have had all these examples sharply before him as what I have called a subtext. In contrast, a twenty-first century American does not. Yet this background provides decisive context for the scene in which Polemarchus begins to think about arguments, as does the mirrored drinking of the hemlock by Socrates…
That this Athenian context invites a more subtle reading – one that a careless modern reader may miss – is pretty obvious. That such a reading favors non-murderousness is also true. But that this is all that Plato meant – that a subtle reading of the dialogues leads to a decent rather than reactionary, a la Heidegger or Strauss interpretation – is not yet clear.
For there is a second sense: a consideration of deeper paths through this material and a question: which side are you on? here. Polemarchus was murdered at the hands of the Thirty, headed by Plato’s second cousin, Critias. Critias was also student of Socrates who features prominently in the Timaeus and Critias. He, along with Plato’s uncle and another tyrant, Charmides, are candidate philosopher-tyrants once again, unnamed as such by Plato in the Seventh Letter. Plato refers only to their friendship and invitation to him, initially tempting, to join. Plato refused and clearly did not think of these examples as decent joinings of philosophy and rulership.
I was initially struck by the fact that no Platonic dialogue is named Polemarchus. But the first book of the Republic and especially the Phaedrus mark out Polemarchus for seeking philosophy. They honor him – a democrat and philosopher – for going down to or also being murdered in the Pireaus – recall the first line of the Republic – for his opposition to tyranny, just as they honor Socrates doing so. For Socrates defends questioning, ingredient to dissent and a common good in a democracy, as well as to the making of argument in philosophy. By implication, Polemarchus, the philosophical democrat, does so as well.
In his trial and death, Socrates sought to improve a democracy which had, until the trial, tolerated him for 70 years. And this is a kind of philosophical leadership – the “king” or leader of a particular circle in a democracy as we will see in part 3, on the Republic. Polemarchus, too, the Republic and Phaedrus hint, may have done so. In any case, Polemarchus defected from the vengefulness of Lysias, the orator, as well as from Phaedrus, somewhat torn between rhetoric and philosophy, but still at heart, a lover of Lysias and rhetoric. Contrary to the philosophical Polemarchus, once again, Phaedrus is given to compulsion/”persuasion.”
The images of the Phaedrus reveal rhetoric – as, for example, that which convicts Socrates in the trial or sends Polemarchus, too, to drink the hemlock – as that which cares nothing for the truth, though it may sometimes fall upon “true opinion” (see the end of the Meno lines ). Rhetoric often paints good as evil and evil as good. Lysias and, to a large extent, Phaedrus – except to the extent he can hear and recall Socrates’s long and vivid speech at the end of the dialogue – are or side with the worst of the rhetoricians; in contrast, Polemarchos and Socrates are on the path of truth.
In Phaedrus, Lysias’s oration has the unlikely theme that the lover, not the beloved, needs gifts (as Socrates says amusingly, hopefully, he will next praise the rich for needing to give to the poor, since most of us are poor…227d). But then, Socrates is provoked to a speech, dashingly tricked up, as he says, with meter, in which the lover turns out to be just awful to the beloved, to want to restrict him to be dumber (and, hence, exchange his beauty for less and less of the promised teaching…), and eventually gets sick of the beloved, so he adds carping to his unlovely physique/stage of life. Being touched by such a lover is unpleasant (as if in one of Picasso’s late sketches), but the words…
4. The deceptions of orations
Socrates had not written his speech down, but Phaedrus takes it in, is prepared to demand a revision (in writing) from Lysias. Oration will contend with oration…
But speeches are deceptive. Socrates’s inner voice – his daimon – warns against his own speech as well as that of Lysias. For Socrates has mocked all lovers – and so, a serious and gentle lover would think him uncouth – and been impious toward Eros the god. Note that what Socrates says in the speech is, of course, likely to be true of some rich lovers…
The voice’s warning about impiety, however, recalls the charge of the Apology, that Socrates is impious toward the gods of Athens, though in this dialogue, he seems to hurry from it, tells us that Eros is the child of the beautiful Aphrodite, the conventional Athenian view. Phaedrus will offer a brief version of that view, not very dazzlingly in the Symposium, in which Socrates, as we will see, through the voice of Diotima, denies that Eros is a god and traces a different lineage.
In the Symposium, however, Plato signals even more sharply to careful readers that Socrates disagrees with the conventions, is impious toward the gods of Athens. Recall the prophetess “Diotima,” who is the philosopher in Socrates’s tale, speaking to “Socrates” as the bumbling interlocutor. Rhetorically, Plato’s Socrates shifts the impiety to her so that a casual reader might not notice.
But even in the Phaedrus, what Socrates says might be doubted by a reader sensitive to subtext. For Socrates draws an analogy to Stesichorus, one who derides and offends Helen, saying what Stesichorus and Socrates, both patriarchs, regard as true: that she is a “whore.” So Helen blinds Stesichorus. But Stesichorus realizes the cause, recants and sees. And following the warning of his own daimon against his first speech, Socrates imitates him, perhaps ironically, as the “man of pious speech” (Euphemus) and recants.
But is Helen a god? With what power – even as a sorceress, which is not one of her vocations – could she strike a poet blind? And if Socrates is being ironic with Helen here and about the speech of Stesichorus, might he not also being speaking, at least partly, unseriously, in abruptly honoring Eros as a god?
So the two dialogues, the Phaedrus and the Symposium, must be read together, not just because they are both about love, but because they contain a series of deceptive or inaccurate – rhetorical – speeches, in which the later ones often reveal the deficiencies of the former, Diotima’s speech, for example, highlighting the weakness of Socrates’ conventional (ironic) piety in the Phaedrus. They must also be read for their political impact. Still if the earlier speeches are wrong, how should we assess that of Diotima, that is, Socrates’s addressing the other symposiasts in the words of a prophetess?
Now the earlier speeches are not simply false; they also contain elements of truth. For instance, Socrates’ concluding speech in the Phaedrus emphasizes the mania or a kind of possession characteristic of love (one can hear Alcibiades’ speaking of his snake-bitten love for Socrates in this way, drunkenly and honestly, in the final scene of the Symposium). But that mania is also true of Socrates’s love for wisdom. He is, in fact, like Eros, always resourceful, always flagging, pining, questioning, wasting away for the truth.
In the Symposium, Socrates recalls that set on the day celebrating the birth of Aphrodite, Diotima related to him the story of Penia (poverty), lying down in the garden of Zeus beside the drunken Poros (resource) and engendering – causing Poros to engender in her – Eros. Eros is the ever impoverished and gifted by mania, resourceful hunter after Aphrodite or beautiful boys as well as philosophy (Socrates) or the idea of the good or of beauty as conjured in the Symposium – its oceans, in Diotima’s divine words. And wisdom, the seeking and almost knowing or knowing particular things and glimpsing something else – say, the idea of beauty – is revealed even more startlingly, in Phaedrus, in the divine image of the charioteer and the two horses that can almost be glimpsed through sight (imagination)…
Yet wisdom, Socrates says, would be even more startling, but is not seen in the way that beauty is seen [Phaedrus, 250d]. Beauty is glimpsed by the charioteer with a white horse that rises toward the ideas – and of course, the auditor/reader glimpses the image – but that chariot is pulled quickly downward and away by an unruly black horse. And so, in the case of wisdom, perhaps the same is true of the idea of justice or the good…
This image of the soul also reveals differently the tellingness of Alcibiades’s manic, as we will see, somewhat disparaging or painful metaphors for Socrates as Silenus (uncouth on the outside, filled with golden images within) or Marsyas, the satyr flutist; Socrates enchants with words and questions, yet often seems to hear alone, as at the conclusion of the Crito, the flutes of the Corybants. Like Alcibiades, one can almost see – grasp – what some of the images might be. Yet as we will see, Alcibiades is pulled down constantly by desires for fame, seduction and leading, uncritically, the crowd. He is broken by the black horse…
But the metaphor of the charioteer in the Phaedrus is more general than Alcibiades’s speech as its paradigm realization. For unlike Alcibiades, Socrates, for instance, keeps striving. Yet even a philosopher like Socrates has at best glimpses of the ideas, of justice for example, let alone the good, but not a full realization.
Eros thus resembles Socrates; he is a being between the mortal and the divine, seeking the latter, as the Symposium tells us, inspired by a divine mania (what Socrates, in his successive speeches in the Phaedrus, also exemplifies). In the everyday sense, Socrates is neither sane nor calculating. Thus, at the outset in the Symposium, he is in a trance when others are awake and awake at its conclusion when others are sleeping (the metaphor that most are asleep and dream in a cave whereas Socrates, alone among the dead, can see runs through Plato’s writings). Instead, with passion and irony – for most of his interlocutors are not or as in Polemarchus’ case, are not yet philosophers – Socrates seeks the truth, the whole, and busts up conventions (Phaedrus, lines 244-245).
“For if it were a simple fact that insanity is evil, the saying would be true; but in reality the greatest of blessings come to us through madness when it is sent as a gift of the gods. For the prophetess at Delphi and the priestesses at Dodona when they have been mad have conferred many splendid benefits upon Greece both in private and public affairs, but few or none when they have been in their right minds; and if we should speak of the Sibyl and all the others who by prophetic inspiration have foretold many things to many persons and thereby made them fortunate afterwards, anyone can see that we should speak a long time.”
5. “Piety”: Stesichorus’s bizarre recantation
Note, however, that there is quite a lot irony in Socrates’s final speech; yet he has a strong feminine side, a “midwife” of ideas and speaks of himself as something of a prophetess, in the Symposium. But Socrates also says he is speaking to Phaedrus, the son of Pythocles (the name suggests: eager for fame – a central quality of an orator) of Myrrhinus, whereas Socrates now, in a soaring idiom, speaks as Stesichorus, son of Euphemus (reputable or man of pious speech) of Himera (town of desire and hence, the black horse). 244a Ironically, though Stesichorus recanted in a few words, Socrates makes a dazzling oration.
Stesichorus, the first poet after Homer, was famously blinded, like Homer, for calling Helen of Troy, patriarchally, a prostitute (there is no equivalent disparagement of/harm to men to the imprisonment of women in the home). But realizing what had happened, Stesichorus then wrote a brief “Palinode” or retraction – a parallel to Socrates’s second speech in praise of the god Eros – and his sight returned. Stesichorus could see, not because of his piety, but for disguising/recanting what he had believed to be the truth.
In Phaedrus, Socrates says straight out what speaking as Stesichorus implies:
“There is in mythology an ancient tactic of purgation for criminals which Homer did not understand but Stesichorus did. When Stesichorus found himself blinded for slandering Helen, he did not (like Homer) just stand there bewildered – no! on the contrary Stesichorus was educated. He recognized the cause and at once sat down to compose [his Palinode}.” (Phaedrus, 243a)
But Socrates does not repeat Stesichorus’s famous words:
No it is not the true story
No you never went on the benched ships
No you never came to the towers of Troy
On knowing these lines, that is the context, a reader might say, first of all, Stesichorus reverses himself to be seemingly pious about Helen – who takes back her curse – but, since he acts under compulsion, what he says is of doubtful merit. Further, if Helen had led so “wholesome” and unadventurous a life and even if she had not, whence came her ostensible power to blind (even if her beauty was “blinding”)? And if others do not recognize this about the story of Stesichorus, Socrates invokes it precisely to cast doubt on Eros’s divinity. Thus, even if Socrates speaks “piously” as Stesichorus – denying the truth of the ugly story he had told about aging, jealous supposed “non-“lovers in Phaedrus, is Eros a god?
In addition, Stesichorus is unspecified in the Phaedrus, except in his hailing from a town named desire – again, a doubtful one, a warning as it were…
On a deeper level, however, what Plato implied and what would have been known by Athenians, is that the recantation is not about having called Helen a whore. For Stesichorus could simply have said that Helen was a noble and beautiful woman who was deceived or kidnapped by Paris. He would not then, unlike Homer perhaps, have defamed her. But the recantation, instead, denies that she was taken to Troy at all and denies that her eloping/kidnapping by Paris sparked the Trojan war (in which, broadly speaking, Helen was Aphodite chasing after Ares, “the face that launched a thousand ships.”). What the recantation says is thus literally false on vast public evidence, the testimony of all, on both sides, who thought that Paris’s taking of Helen was a proximate cause of the war. If Stesichorus’ recantation is right, the Iliad, all those great events and the saying of so many must be false…
What Stesichorus says is thus wholly unbelievable. What he recants is not, contra line 243a in Phaedrus, a “slander” about Helen. What he recants is the story of the first major (Greek) war and poem.
Now Socrates’s fear of insulting Eros in the Phaedrus emulates Stesichorus’s. Socrates had, as it were, a near miss. But once again, would Eros blind or, as the Symposium’s analogy suggests, be Socrates?
Now, Stesichorus, the first poet of the Greeks after Homer, told epic stories in lyric meter. Reputedly blind, a symbol for conjuring or remembering his poems with inner sight, Homer was actually a collective poet. Homer’s songs, like those of the later Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, all rhymed so that the tellers could go perform in villages as nights came on, around the fire. There were undoubtedly variations and additions among the many nameless singers. In contrast, Stesichorus is the first poet who composes verses of his own, fragments of which have come down to us.
Stesichorus is also known for opposing the tyrant Phalaris (Aristotle cites a speech to the people of Himera against the tyrant – Rhetoric, 1393b). That could genuinely be pious and emulate Socrates. That Plato’s writing casts doubt on specific stories or images does not mean that every aspect of the story or image is doubtful. That has to be determined, for instance, by his long and engaged students in the Academy, by further reasoning and argument (the Academy was perhaps full of philosophical contests, seeking the truth, as opposed to the contests in rhetoric at the Olympics). Socrates, at least speaks for resistance to tyranny and prophetically, as it were, warns against Aristotle’s siding with Alexander.
In analogy to Socrates’ tale of Stesichorus, though more frankly, if Socrates’s tale of “Diotima” is right in the Symposium, none of the four conventional speeches or pieties – nor Socrates’s recantation in the Phaedrus – about Eros is true (Eros is not a god).
Further, being a seer or a prophet – consider Euthyphro who impiously accuses his own father of murder or Diotima – is something of which Socrates is often critical. Seers may on occasion have “true opinions,” but do not usually give arguments for them; Diotima is an exception here. They do not know if or why what they believe is true or combine it with false beliefs and cannot explain the difference. Thus, like the statues of Daedalus, Socrates, in the Euthyphro, makes the seer’s words “get up and walk away from me,” This signals, for Plato’s students, the limits of prophecy, even Diotima’s. That is, there must be an argument for the prophet’s story – in this, the two moral considerations, the murder of a workman, family loyalty or piety clash – which make the justice of the case something beyond what is said by the two parties in the Euthyphro.
The first impulse of a poet and perhaps of a philosopher is to oppose war, but one must, as it were, experience war, say, against tyrants or perhaps, one might think today, by mass, nonviolent engagement, to tame or conquer war, if it can be conquered.
Outdoing the poet Stesichorus, Socrates’s invocation of dazzling images awakens the glories of poetry, here as in the Myth of Er; these psychologically resonant statements, pointing at a truth beyond them, are far from some of Socrates’s sayings – for instance, poetry is but “an imitation of an imitation” – earlier in book 10 of the Republic. But they are still the beautiful words or images of a poet rather than those of a philosopher.
To attempt to win Phaedrus to philosophy in the contest with rhetoric – to persuade him to change gods, as Socrates will say explicitly toward the end of the dialogue – Socrates must, given Phaedrus’s psyche, attract or beguile him through poetic imagery, fused with, but also soaring beyond questions and argument. He needs to beguile him poetically, rhetorically…
Unlike Polemarchus, Socrates wins with Phaedrus no profound victory over the black horse…
6. Philosophic versus democratic rhetoric
In Phaedrus, Socrates defends spoken words in the moment – the only words delivered by Socrates who himself did not write. The written word is but the occluded image of the word written in the soul; the spoken word sometimes mirrors the latter. The written word of orators and whom Socrates mocks, can be perverted, easily and sometimes murderously, against the truth. In contrast, the truth, one that unfolds or plants seeds in the soul of she who knows how to read a complex literary work such as a dialogue, spreads gradually among those few, blossoms into eternity.
Plato (and the speaker Socrates) dress up rhetoricians “like statues” and make their harmfulness clear. Thrasymaschus from book 1 of the Republic, appears again initially and briefly at several points (lines ). But one recalls, Thrasymachus is fierce. He might – a beast or wolf – drag Socrates down if Socrates had not, as in a legend, looked at him first.( ) For Thrasymachus, “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger.” Here again, Plato adumbrates the trial of Socrates. In the Phaedrus, Socrates escapes the penalty of Stesichorus through a dazzling speech, though not ultimately –the subtext is never far – as a mortal seeking the truth through questioning in this life. Socrates gave his life for philosophy – and perhaps for the improvement of a near democracy (a switch of 30 votes out of 500) which would not murder or exile those who ask questions or speak the truth to its often bloody political leaders.
A main role, in Socrates’s account of rhetoric in Phaedrus is played by Tisias. Tisias is, ironically, also the real name of poet Stesichorus – the latter means instructor of the chorus as if some of his works are meant to be sung. Tisias offers a paradigm of the rhetoric for winning a court case. A big man who is a coward is beaten up by a little man whom he charges in court. On Tisias’s story, the big man through shame will say that there were two who assaulted him. Even though he committed the crime, the little man can point out contradictions in what the big man says. Having established that only he and the big man, the assailant can say: “Look, I’m little. It’s ridiculous to think I could beat him up…”
The idea of rhetoric, Socrates suggests, is to know what’s true and change things near enough so that one keeps the appearance of truth. In fact, as Socrates observes, a rhetorician often turns evil into good, good into evil. For this is the same rhetoric which will convict Socrates (of which Thraysmachus in the Republic and Callicles in the Gorgias are belligerent practitioners). It is part of the democratic rhetoric offered in written form by Lysias in Against Eratosthenes or Against Andocides.
In contrast, philosophical rhetoric, for instance the story of the charioteer and glimpses of the ideas or the tale of writings as statues, seeks or casts light on, at least partially, truth.
As yet another myth, Socrates also invokes the metaphor of a farmer/gardener who has beautiful seeds. Would he plant them in the garden of Adonis, Socrates asks, where they would sprout beautiful flowers in eight days…? Adonis was the lover of Aphrodite. He died. She mourned him, and he was restored to life for 6 months (the rest he spent with Persephone). During the Adonia, the ancient Athenian festival celebrated from below by women as a form of resistance, they would plant gardens of Adonis – wheat, barley, lettuce, fennel, and other quickly germinating plants – in baskets and shallow pots on roofs. Honoring Adonis, the plants blossomed but then died because of shallow root systems. The women discarded them at the end of eight days, often with other images of Adonis. Note the intense sense of impermanence or mortality in the ritual, like Tibetan and Navajo sand paintings, which have a beautiful but short life, are gathered up and discarded (poured by Tibetans into a river), something that perhaps Plato was not quite comfortable with.
The occasion was one of communal mourning for Athenian women – lamentation being a role to which women, in subordination after the defeat of the matriarchal civilizations of the Greek islands, were largely confined. Even lamentation had been curtailed in fifth-century funeral rites that stressed eulogy – for instance, Pericles’ Funeral Oration. Thus, the Adonia was actually a form of struggle from below, by women, to restore even this restricted place in patriarchal Athens. In a somewhat sexist vein (at least “not noticing” the real significance of the ritual), Plato’s Socrates says:
“Now tell me this. Would a sensible gardener, who has seeds which he cares for and which he wishes to bear fruit, plant them with serious purpose in the heat of summer in some garden of Adonis and delight in seeing them appear in beauty in eight days, or would he do that sort of thing, when he did it at all, only in play and for amusement? Would he not, when he was in earnest, follow the rules of husbandry, plant his seeds in fitting ground and be pleased when those which he had sowed reached their perfection in the eighth month?”
“Phaedrus: Yes, Socrates, he would, as you say, act in that way when in earnest and in the other way only for amusement.”
“Socrates: And shall we suppose that he who has knowledge of the just and the good and beautiful has less sense about his seeds than the husbandman?” (276b-c)
If one wants, however, to see the truth about these ideas for Plato – what he, as a gardener/farmer, nurtures – one has to study the Delphic meanings of the dialogues, take in what one can of the force of the spoken word, “the word written upon the soul” and not just the written word. One cannot read a dialogue, even persistently, and wrestle with surface arguments as if they alone were the issue (they are often contradictory or incomplete). Instead, one must follow out the whole meaning, including the setting, and the elliptical comments. One must try to understand the person who, resembing Eros, is divinely inspired to seek and speak the truth and who will thus be hated by the powerful as well as those who sit at the doors of the rich (comparably, in the Old Testament, one might think of the prophet Amos versus the king’s man, Amaziah).
A specific, context within all of Plato’s dialogues is important here. For the most part, smart but well-to-do aristocrats haunted Socrates’ footsteps or studied with Plato. Many of these did not like the democracy and were tempted by tyranny, even after long and more rarely, able study. For Socrates, Critias and Alcibiades are examples; Glaucon is the one he heads off.
For Plato, Aristotle, who was not chosen Plato’s successor in the Academy, annexed himself to Alexander the Great. In contrast, Demosthenes, a very different student of Plato, spoke out in his Phillipics for Athenian democracy and against Phillip of Macedon, Alexander’s father. Alexander had Demosthenes arrested in a temple on the island of Calauria. Pretending to write, Demosthenes sucked poison through a reed. Saying that Alexander had defiled even the sanctuary, he got up, walked a few steps, and fell by the altar. Both Aristotle and Demosthenes could not be, in their conduct, in their understanding of Plato, in their souls, right (and if Aristotle were right, that divides Plato from Socrates).
So Plato either tempted students on a false path – away from Socrates – the Heidegger and Strauss interpretations (the latter hide Socrates behind a seemingly authoritarian Plato, ignore the role of questioning within a democracy) or he did not. The idea that Plato in the end betrayed Socrates (that is, created Xenophon’s or Strauss’s “Socrates,” making Socrates into the image of the philosopher-king or a counselor to tyrants, wishing he had ruled over a diminished and degraded Athens, mirroring those who have degraded America) is, very likely, false.
Plato, too, taught mainly aristocrats. He set them deep problems, a years-long course of study, to become philosophers (Aristotle was at the Academy 20 years). But Plato also depicts some complex democrats. For instance, Socrates became a philosopher even though he had been an artisan. And Socrates taught some democrats like Polemarchus (though his father Cepahalus, a metic, was rich) and Chaerophon who asks the question of the Delphic oracle in the Apology which sets Socrates’s quest to prove that he cannot, knowing (almost) nothing, possessing only a human wisdom, be the wisest by questioning those who think themselves wise.
Plato’s loyalty was to Socrates who did not unite with tyrants (note again, the similarity with Stesichorus speaking out against the tyrant Phalaris). Plato sought to innoculate his students through deep study against the temptation to become tyrannical (once again, Glaucon in the Republic is a graphic example). But as we can see with Aristotle and especially Heidegger, philosophical brilliance and deep study can be connected to the worst and ugliest, most fallen forms of tyranny (there is no worse than Hitler; enthusing over Nazi propaganda, Heidegger even became enamored with Hitler’s “beautiful hands” and Heidegger’s studiedly posthumous Black Notebooks, translating many categories of Being and Time intomere racism, are odious). About the just, the good and the beautiful, one should cleave to the white horse…