Friday, August 27, 2010

Going down: how Plato affirms Socrates, part 3

This is the final part of Going down: on a democratic interpretation of Plato, parts 1 and 2

When one understands for the first time that Plato is not simply the speaker Socrates, is hidden by the dialogues rather than disclosed in any obvious way, a distance between the two opens. From facts which survive about them, that distance deepens. Socrates went to his death to save philosophy in Athens; he founded civil disobedience. In contrast, Plato formed the academy, a secret place of instruction for would-be philosophers who often engaged with tyrants or kings, say Aristotle, though some, Demosthenes, fought for the democracy. Plato did not go down for the democracy, but sailed to Syracuse, for three years, to advise a tyrant, Dionysius the younger. Socrates’s daimon prevented him from engaging in political life though he did serve in the citizen army and on two occasions showed up, once to judge, once to be tried. Both times his life was at risk. After the trial, he was executed. No evidence exists that Socrates was tempted to counsel tyrants; Socrates's going home rather than obey the order of the Tyranny of the Thirty to arrest Leon of Salamis and bring him to be murdered could also, if the regime had not fallen soon after, have led to his own death. The leading tyrant, Critias, had been Socrates's student and interlocutor as had another, Charmides. In contrast, Plato was political, as he says in the Seventh Letter. From these facts, the inferences I pursued in Do philosophers counsel tyrants? here might follow. But as the last two essays indicate, these thoughts are but provisional. Elaborated by Platonists in practice, they lead, in our times, to Heidegger and Strauss. As a fierce critic of tyranny, Plato clashes with Heidegger and Strauss, both of whom were attracted to Nazis or fascists (Heidegger Hitler; Strauss to the Nazis in the 1930s, very likely Mussolini before, and to forging authoritarian executive power in the United States – see here). Perhaps Plato at last turns back toward Socrates. Perhaps, in certain circumstances, Plato sees the wisdom of going down for democracy against tyranny. This last essay, in this sequence, explores this possibility further.

Like Eva Brann, Will Altman emphasizes that the constitution of kallipolis ruled by a philosopher-king is one of the many in the bazaar of Athenian democracy in book 8 of the Republic. To consider how Demosthenes and Cicero might have thought about going down, to be a kingly soul, a leader not through compulsion, but to save the democracy, Will invokes line 557b.

“And also my friend democracy offers a convenient opportunity to choose from among a variety of constitutions.
How so?
Because it tolerates all kinds. Indeed, one could say that anyone who wanted to found a state – as we were just now doing – ought to visit a democracy and there select from a veritable bazaar of constitutions whatever pleases him best. After having made his choice, he could then set up his city.”

Note that the activity of the Republic as a whole, Socrates convincing Glaucon not to become a tyrant in the presence of the others, is the exact setting up – within a larger democracy and only within a democracy – of that philosophical city.* In a shadowy, opposed way, Heidegger’s lectures in Nazi Germany are to cultivate young servants of Hitler who may “go down” by sacrificing themselves on the Russian front as one of his best students did. But this is a bizarre parody of Socrates, Heidegger the servant of mass murderers, Socrates the man who refuses to go along. Though a powerful philosopher, Heidegger is, as a human being, a poseur. Artificial in his woodsy peasant garb, criminal in his repeated Hitler salutes and activism, Heidegger is morally and politically the opposite of Socrates.

Altman’s and my interpretation of Plato and Socrates thinking within democracy, however, invites a significant counter-argument (the river here against a democratic interpretation is fierce, hard to ford in the idiom of the Athenian Stranger). The passage Will cites, is on the surface, an aristocratic satire of democracy. “Socrates” (Plato was an aristocrat, literally son of Ariston, the best, as in 'the rule of the best,' aristocracy) and Glaucon (also son of Ariston, Plato's brother) ridicule this regime. “It is,” Socrates says attractively, “a many-coloured cloak, displaying all varieties of human character. As boys and women see beauty in diversity of colors, so also many would call this regime the most splendid.” (557c) But here the asses, taking liberties, bump up against one in the street. (563c) I have long pitted this anti-democratic favorite of Allan Bloom’s against the speech of the democratic laws in the Crito. I have emphasized that only the latter (or a further unstated argument to the same effect – see "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?") could have accompanied Socrates to his death. Put differently, Brann’s and Altman’s interpretation gets a hidden democratic meaning out of this elitist, semi-comic diatribe. Democracy permits philosophy and the foundation of the ideal kallipolis (the beautiful city, the city in speech) among Socrates and his students. Its excesses lead to tyranny (thus, the satire of permissiveness). It needs Platonic philosophers like Demosthenes and Cicero to fight this trend. That is a possible response on behalf of Altman’s argument to the setting of this brief invocation of the friendliness – not without tensions – of democracy to philosophy.

Since Socrates was murdered by Athens only after he had lived there 70 years and at a time when Athens was at a nadir having lost the long Peloponnesian war, perhaps this is a very strong point. Certainly the examples of Demosthenes and Cicero, added to King’s "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," and Socrates seem a powerful tradition – one in which the magical Plato who “wrote Socrates” as the postmodernists say, is, in some obvious, not just Delphic way, a participant. Even at the least, we would not have the story of Socrates without Plato, and as Hilary and Carl Blinn suggest, we know Socrates mainly though Plato.

Will Altman rightly invoked to me that Plato wrote of Socrates in the democracy, being a participant in democratic life: “Plato kept the democratic Socrates alive in the context of democracy's heyday; that is the least often recognized but most obvious truth about the dialogues.” On the face of it, since Socrates lived out his life in the democracy, this would have been hard to avoid. But on second thought, Plato sometimes conjures characters such as the Athenian Stranger - simulacra of Socrates - in a different setting. And Socrates is profoundly a citizen, taking up his duties with regard to voting not to condemn military leaders accused of failing to pick up the dead in the sea during a battle in the Apology and a soldier. Perhaps his not giving a speech in an assembly except at his trial is Plato’s way of indicating the remaining discontent and distance from democracy. Except to defend the democracy as a soldier or a civil disobedient, Socrates was a questioner or arguer, a non-partisan, a philosopher among citizens. So Will’s point is, in fact, a good one. Demosthenes and Cicero might also have seen it.

What Plato set out to do was modeled by his own temptation to philosopher-tyranny. Seemingly turning away from Socrates who went down in the democracy, he forges an authoritarian city in speech of and perhaps for the philosopher. But turning decisively instead in the experiences recorded in Seventh Letter (though he may have thought something critical of philosophical-tyranny for a long time), Plato tested out his mainly aristocratic and ambitious students with the possibilities and misguided short-cut of “wise” tyranny. Note that many of his students and interlocutors were into tyranny - consider Glaucon and Adeimantus (his brothers), Callicles in the Gorgias, and Thrasymachus - and that Plato himself was invited by his relatives - Critias, Charmides - to join the Tyranny of the Thirty. Further, Plato chose the arduous journey to advise the tyrant of Syracuse. Xenophon, also a student of Socrates and a great writer, was no democrat.

Now Strauss launched a mantra against contextualism in political thought - "read the text," ignore the context - an irony because he meant only a contextualism independent of actually reading dialogues, and what he in fact recommended was a profound contextualism in the study of the action of the argument, who the characters were, how the dialogue presents them. Both within and outside the dialogues, Plato was profoundly engaged himself, along with his fellow students, relatives and aristocrats, with the project of a potentially wise tyranny. Perhaps this rather dark, anti-democratic context explains the particular and very complicated articulation of the dialogues to his contemporary and future students. Plato backs the reader in, after deep consideration of other alternatives, to going down for democracy. It is not one of the obvious readings, except that he so fiercely opposes ordinary tyrannies.

In the Republic, however, one just below the surface message is seemingly that the philosopher-tyrant must go down to reshape the city. This is the dark sense of compulsion in the lines cited above (Republic 557b) that no compulsion exists in a democracy, Heidegger’s (see the 1943 Essence of Truth, par. 13 and "Mirrors" here and here) and Strauss’s sense. The point is of course false (Pericles' led Athens by persuasion and compulsion to fight, inter alia). But for Heidegger and Strauss, the philosopher fishes for the rare souls that will become (advisors to) tyrants and reshape the city in an authoritarian direction. Even the great Al-Farabi – writing in a time when democracy did not seem an alternative - thought this about Plato in Athens and contemporaneously.

But the argument in the Laws and the Statesman on philosopher-tyranny are, in fact, not strong. They are advanced by Strangers who might easily be challenged by Plato’s contemporary and later students. The Eleatic Stranger makes the reasonable argument that rules are burdensome and unjust, do not apply to particular cases. That is a great point about a limitation of the rule of law, as I have often emphasized, one on behalf of separate procedures for sentencing which take into account the circumstances of a particular defendant. But it is not an argument in favor of a tyrant even in a small city. And it is certainly not an argument for Dick Cheney or a police state in a land of 300 million people with the greatest military power - to abuse and waste lives, destroying others and bringing itself down...This insight is perhaps slightly clearer – except to neocons – in retrospect, and takes no dazzling intellectual capacity to see.

Similarly, as Will is now taking up, Critias’s regimes in the Timeaus and Critias are defective authoritarian ones, run by the warrior-athletes, the guardians. There is no further development of the role of philosophers, seeing the just regime cast up as a divine idea, and when necessary, bringing it – more exactly, as aspect of it - down to earth to fight against tyranny. In the Republic, Socrates says: in other regimes, philosophers can live private lives but not in a regime created as a hive for them. There they will rule disinterestedly because they are not in politics out of hunger, not there to rule by murderous faction and have no institutional motivation to do so (no private property). But Socrates went up daily as Brann suggests and taught students, realizing the idea or pattern with them, within the actual democracy in Athens, and then at last, went down to the Piraeus (the underworld) and was tried and put to death. He accepted that death to save philosophy within the democracy. His life and death are a counterexample to the authoritarian thesis.

Demosthenes not only took the best of Socrates but perhaps of Plato as well. Still outside of the example of Socrates himself, Plato’s message is esoteric and difficult. One must see Plato as he appears, as dedicated to Socrates, rather than a Plato-king of kallipolis, the Athenian Stranger not as Plato imagining a resurrection of a more Platonic possible Socrates, prefiguring Jesus, a Socrates who chose reasonably to live, but rather as a betrayer of the way of Socrates who had, given who he was, gone to his death. One must see Plato not merely as journeying in hope to Dionysius in Syracuse – which he plainly did - but as mainly pointing to the failures of three attempts at philosopher-kingship (Dion) or philosopher-tyranny (Dionysius, Critias).

Still, the authoritarian Platos are all beguiling images. Socrates and Plato ascended, looked at regimes from the outside, and were not partisans in local conflicts, except to fight murderousness (tyranny). Some followers – notably, the subtle Aristotle who left to form his own academy** or Farabi or Heidegger or Strauss (who needed to make Socrates into Xenophon’s Socrates or an appendage to the image of Plato as counselor of philosopher-tyrants) all went off on or continued to take the wrong track. So perhaps did Alcibiades and Critias and Xenophon. They took Plato’s lead - or as contemporaries, went in a similar direction - on the philosopher-king and failed to see the message in the 7th Letter and elsewhere, that the philosopher-tyrant is at best a short-cut or bound to be a failure, and at worst a disaster (and Plato and Aristotle and Xenophon and Farabi could not have imagined 2400 or 800 years later fascism and Nazism). One should be decent as Plato was in Syracuse, and against tyranny, fierce for laws and democracy. Perhaps Socrates also experimented, less vividly or enduringly, with thoughts about such a leader, though that - given that he asked but did not answer, and did not write - we will never know.

For me, one terrific virtue of this thesis is that it saves the consistency of the Republic which following Strauss’s line of thought I had, sadly but it now appears mistakenly, given up. For I had suggested, as I noted from understanding Strauss’s hinting and seeing the feint in the Republic – the philosopher does not hide under a wall, but becomes the wise tyrant - that the deepest meaning of the Republic was self-refuting. The Republic is the greatest argument ever produced, psychologically as well as politically, against tyranny. Moreover, the subtle theme of the Republic had at first seemed to be: Glaucon, who is hungry for luxuries and the unjust life pursued with a beautiful cover, is taught by Socrates not to become a tyrant. Brann even suggests quite rightly that the unknownness of Glaucon (the “gleaming” or brilliant one) contrasts with the treacherous brilliance of Socrates's famous, if agonized and bewildered student Alcibiades in a way that may suggest what Socrates really taught.

But if Heidegger and Strauss are right, the deeper message for students is that a tyrant of a certain kind can become a philosopher-king who rules wisely but without laws, i.e. tyrannically. This is once again in the implied cycle of regimes in book 8 which, on the surface, is presented as mere but unlikely decline - in which tyranny of a certain kind and the philosopher-king appear to be joined. In addition, the Republic’s Socrates says, extremes are nearest one another (the philosopher, the tyrant), and only a tyrant is dissatisfied and unhappy enough to want to change. Still, the philosopher-tyrant is just gestured at, requiring a kind of cryptography. The brilliant argument in the Republic against tyranny – and even its slightly hidden. dramatic realization with Glaucon - thus deliberately refutes the un-argued hidden meaning. One has to see the tension between the argument and the hidden pointing, and reject, on reflection, the hidden pointing. Amusingly, on this interpretation, Plato turns out to be the opposite of Strauss and Heidegger on esoteric writing. Plato wanted his students to see the other possibility - many of them hungered after it initially - and reject it. Plato wanted them to respond, as philosophers, to argument, and not as aristocrats to cultivating seeming reasons for their initial prejudices. In this respect, Platonists who opt for philosopher-tyranny like Heidegger and Strauss are ideologues, not philosophers (Heidegger was, of course, very inventive philosophically though an ideologue, Strauss, a creative scholar, was not philosophical).

For Plato, philosopher-rule - except as leadership to defend the democracy - is false both by argument and experience (see the Seventh Letter). Demosthenes was thus better at argument and subtler than Strauss and Heidegger. For the experience in the Seventh Letter refutes all the attempts at philosopher-tyranny, including Plato’s kallipolis (Dion, remember, does not seek to become a tyrant but to institute laws; Plato supports him).

Thus, the subtle, self-refuting reading of the Republic that I was intrigued by grows out of Strauss’s scholarly hints (Strauss is a cryptographer and not a philosopher) and Heidegger’s. It was Plato’s test for his students (and Heidegger’s writing on the Republic, however clever, profoundly fails). Plato did do surface and hidden writing, including contradicting some arguments or leaving arguments provisional given the question asked or the seeming answer (see Meno on what virtue is and whether it can be taught) in order to get his students to challenge them, to think matters through, each, for herself. That is the point of Plato’s saying in the Seventh Letter, that he will never write about legislation, that one must wrestle with the arguments, to get to the conclusion that one must go down for laws and democracy. Otherwise, he could just have written: “Socrates, Socrates be like him” – something that might not have proven so influential among the smart and educated aristocratic boys, dreaming secretly of being tyrants in Athens. But there is not just one way Plato works with argument, just a simpleminded hidden pointing, as if a dog, a pointer, was riveted on a hidden rabbit. Strauss, in other words, is a rigid, one-trick pony. In contrast, in this case, amusingly, Plato meant one to understand actually that the hidden pointing was refuted by the surface argument. Philosophy or the truth was key, not the silly hopes of would-be tyrants such as Critias, Alcibiades. Aristotle (a complicated case), Heidegger and Strauss.

Still, the context drags Plato down compared to his teacher Socrates. More directness about the laws than the Seventh Letter permits might have been healthier. For Plato’s hiddenness in the dialogues- his aim to bend away from tyranny, after complicated intellectual wrestling, aristocratic students - would then not have contributed to darkness (Heidegger, Strauss, the ring of Gyges pursued).

Now the surface of Plato’s argument often seems beautiful, the argument leading to, unfolded in imagery, song, image and philosophy joining (Philebus, line 38e) but it is often anything but uncomplicated, in an obvious way self-contradictory. One has to think deeply about and unravel tensions inside and between the dialogues, and of course, consider the possibility that though much of this sort of thing is intentional on Plato’s part, Plato. like everyone else, makes errors. Another peculiarity of Strauss’s interpretations: he thinks great authors are always intentional in their mistakes, and spends a lot of time worrying about them, without ever thinking about whether he is making a coherent argument – he is often confused – as opposed to tracing dots of which he already, he thinks, has the pattern. He is himself preternaturally careful cryptographically and bizarrely stupid about conflicting arguments (thus, his failure ever to understand the idea of equal basic rights in a democracy as a political regime). To put it another way, Strauss does not judge others by himself, or see that his own confusions are quite ordinary even among the most stylish of writers, and that Plato sought to foster them, to make a potential philosopher, at length, work through the arguments. Still, the possibility of self-refutation I initially indicated - that the surface argument refutes the hidden pointing but Plato went with the incoherent, hidden pointing - is, once one has glimpsed it, undeniable in Plato’s writing. He wanted students to think about this pointing, even possibly shipwreck upon it.

Advising tyrants – even one man to achieve “all manner of good” as he says in the Seventh Letter - was a temptation for Plato himself, visible in his journey to Syracuse. One might also think, given the two paths, that he was perhaps neutral between them. I doubt this because I think his loyalty to Socrates is deep and in the end, wins out. It is why we have a sense of Socrates beyond Plato (and way beyond Xenophon or Aristophanes).

Still, it is easy enough to suppose that Plato’s and Dion’s plans to introduce laws in Syracuse, consulting with Dionysius (or on Dion’s own) are surface. For Plato says, once again, in the Seventh Letter: I will never write about legislation; you (my students) must be clever enough to figure it out for yourselves. And the possibilities of philosopher-tyranny lurk extensively at and beneath the Letter’s surface.

I was long saddened to recognize such an error in the Republic. Despite some surface contradictions – everyone pursues one job, artisans must not be citizens or philosophers (the city in speech excludes the actual Socrates?), but philosophers have two, for example – I had for a long time thought the work profoundly consistent (consistent with and in the depths). Reading Strauss on Xenophon’s Hiero or On Tyranny and having long taught the Republic, however, I immediately saw the latter’s hidden message, and was disturbed both by it and to discover that it made the Republic self-refuting. And the Seventh Letter seemed to reinforce this reading as Strauss delphically hints. So thanks especially to Eva Brann and Peter Minowitz as well as Will Altman for restoring the Republic, for me, in the deepest sense, as philosophy. And I was right that the argument refuted something, but it is not self-refuting for he means his subtlest students to reject the hidden pointing. Though it facilitates democratic activism against tyranny, it is also friendly to pursuing mostly a private or non-political life, the life of the soul (note in some cicumstances, that life is intensely political). It is of course not friendly to any reactionary or pro-tyranny interpretation (most Straussian ones). On this interpretation, it is indeed the work of a “divine man”; it is both profoundly decent and coherent.

To Plato, the rest of philosophy is often grandiosely attributed. I offer two comments (among many possible) on this error. First, the conception of democracy mocked in the Republic is freedom to do one’s own thing without compulsion (until tyranny ensues). This is a silly view. A democracy involves equal freedom for citizens (some are free in Hegel’s idiom). It is a political regime, not just a launching pad for individual fantasies (including Hitler’s or the Klan’s) or in a later idiom, starting from the ostensibly isolated, individually free in an imagined “state of nature” (say, Bob Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia).

In Athens, each citizen had the equal right to participate in the assemblies and on juries, and so long as they come to the public defense, to live eccentrically (we do not cast, Pericles says, “censorious looks” on one another, in Thucydides’ History – Hobbes translation). What Athenians did in uniting with the other cities to defeat the aggression of imperial Persia was admirable, though its expansionary decline and ignominious defeat in Syracuse are not. All modern democratic theory, Rousseau for example or Hegel, begins in this notion of equal freedom, generalizes and develops it. Rawls’ priority of the first principle of equal basic liberties (a fundamental point in contemporary political or democratic theory) extends this. Strauss himself, his friend Kojeve - a great Hegel scholar on the Phenomenology of Spirit who, however, paid no attention to the beginning of Philosophy of Right - the idea that a free will can realize itself only in a regime in which every person is (equally) free - and nearly all of Strauss's and/or Kojeve's followers such as Fukuyama have no understanding of the basis or justification of a modern democratic regime.

Second, although education in the Republic ultimately and mythically furthers realized individuals – philosophers over the age of 50 - it is not an argument in favor of individuality, even in education. I listened recently to a tape of Eva Brann discussing teaching at St. John’s. There teachers cycle though the curriculum, learning about and teaching courses in math or science, even though they started in political theory or history, and vice versa. There is something really attractive and commendable about this, pressing people to learn, converse and grow in a way that ordinary academic life does not. Brann clearly did. On the other hand, the common pressure may sometimes lead to less interesting eccentricity and discovery. But the students have a preset curriculum for four years, every student going through the same courses at the same time. Perhaps this is a realization of the Republic’s system of education: “thinking the same thoughts,” striving for a community of pleasure and pain, as it were. Reading the same books, each class member can talk about the same things or better, some may help others think about these things more deeply and learn themselves from the questions and arguments in the conversation. But this is a creature of the idea that one will set off philosophically, when one is 50 or so. It is an education to find followers rather than Platos, where the master, not the student, is of primary interest. It is thus the opposite of the idea that individuals flourish in education and life when each can take responsibility for her own education, when there is an interplay between mentor and students, but not that the mentor’s purposes or wisdom override the student’s own vision. Each thus finds her own path. What Brann spoke of is not an ideal of education for students that I find hopeful – though if students at St. Johns put up with it - one of my best students left St. John's after freshman year - it has the virtue, around here, of eccentric and deep exposure to significant works, and may work for some.

In conclusion, if Altman is right about a democracy, Plato has sketched a difficult path among clever aristocrats who detested democracy, one in which the dark side seems to have consumed many subtle interpreters rather than encouraged them to turn toward the light and go down to fight tyranny. And Plato certainly – through his own journeying for a test of philosopher-tyranny in Syracuse - left this door open. But what Altman’s essay shows (see here) is that it was useful to be somewhat esoteric about these matters in Athens to attract and convince ambitious and aristocratic young men, to make the shining Glaucon decent. Following Plato out curbs tyranny and fosters, as a police state threatens even now, a defense of democracy. Thus, a subtle or deep reading recommends a Socratic “altruism” – that the philosopher’s good and the citizen’s good are one and the same - and a better democratic regime (one that tolerates Socrates rather than puts him to death). As I noted here, what was good for Socrates – what was civil disobedience in a failing democracy – strengthened both philosophy and the moral potentials of democracy. I am very happy to explore this possibility.

Here is Peter Minowitz’s letter on his discoveries reading Eva Brann’s The Music of the Republic:

“I recently received as a gift and then read Eva Brann's book, The Music of the Republic: Essays on Socrates' Conversations and Plato's Writings (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2004). Brann, a legendary tutor at St. John's, made some powerful points about the Republic and the Timaeus. Having now reviewed your postings of 7/18/10 and 6/19/09, I'll sketch a critique. In the former posting, "On some wonders of Plato," you reference the earlier one (in connection with the Timaeus) to elaborate the claim that Plato was"the enemy of Athenian democracy" (by the way, wouldn't "an" be less tendentious than "the"?) and that Plato "did want kingship." The awesome ancient Athens, as presented in the Timaeus, did NOT include kings (24a-d)—although Atlantis included "a great and wondrous power of kings, which mastered the entire island" and much more (25a). Nor are kings (or philosophers) mentioned when Socrates summarizes the regime he'd described on the prior day (17c-19a). In your much longer discussion on 6/19/09, "Plato's Atlantis and the Subversion of
Athens" (http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/06/platos-atlantis-and-subversion-of.html), which you regularly cite, you say this in your second paragraph: "On a previous day, the dialogue recounts, Socrates has spoken of the ideal city IN THE REPUBLIC, the guardians without property, the women and children the property of all and none, the proto-eugenic breeding arrangements." You add that the Critias is "Plato's cousin and the leader of the Tyranny of the
Thirty."

ON CRITIAS: Drawing on a 1998 article by L. Lampert and C. Planeaux from the Review of Metaphysics, Peter Kalkavage (the translator of the fine Timaeus translation published by the Focus Classical Library) suggests that the dialogue was set in 421, not long before the Sicilian expedition (at CM - City and Man -p. 141, Strauss suggests parallels between the Atlantis-Athens war and the Sicilian expedition), in which case the Critias in Timaeus would be the GRANDFATHER of the infamous tyrant. I concede that Plato wants us to think about the tyrant Critias.***

ON THE CITIES OF SOCRATES: Focusing on the Republic, Brann argues that the philosopher-kings
'can certainly not be regarded as part of the constitution of that just city which must have been known generally as 'Socrates' city.' She suggests that Socrates and others had 'long
been talking' of this city, and emphasizes that Book II of Aristotle's Politics doesn't mention the P-kings**** the allusions in the Republic to Aristophanes, furthermore, suggest that the city of his "Congresswomen" was a parody of "Socrates' already notorious city" (see Republic 451c2 on "the female drama").***** When Socrates highlights the 'laughter and disrepute' that the third wave will provoke (473c8), he's suggesting both that he's familiar with such a reaction and that the P-kings will be the real news/scandal (Brann, p. 137).

ON THE CITY OF THE TIMAEUS: For Brann, the best evidence that the guardian city differs from the
P-king city is the account Socrates gives of "his city" in the Timaeus, where he "recapitulates the
constitution that he had presented to his friends in a discourse on the previous day." Here's the point most relevant for your postings, Alan: there's "no reason," says Brann, to conclude that the previous day's city was the Republic's. Socrates reports that conversation ("I went down to the Piraeus YESTERDAY. . . ") one day after the Bendideia festival, but the Timaeus is set during the festival of the Lesser Panathenaea, which occurs (also in the Piraeus [26e]) TWO MONTHS LATER (Brann, p. 138; Kalkavage, on 51n4, says it was "probably" the Greater Panathenaea festival, which took place every four years to celebrate Athena's birthday and featured a gown that depicted the battle between Gods and Giants [see my posts on Athena the snake-goddess here, here and here]. At Timaeus 21a, Critias says the interlocutors should "praise the goddess on her feast-day.” Brann also suggests that the dramatic year of Timaeus was earlier
than the Republic's. And although Timaeus 19a7 says that the account is complete, there are no P-kings, so the city resembles the communistic city dominated by the noble-puppy guardians. "We may infer that Socrates proposed this city on various occasions and that it was known as his city" (138) When Strauss discusses the Timaeus in his Thucydides essay, he does
characterize it as "the sequel to the Republic" (CM 140).

ON THE CITY OF THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS: This city, argues Brann, "comes into being while Glaucon and Socrates converse." Along the way, she makes these observations: Socrates is a brave and proven soldier who's older than 50, he's still spirited in defending philosophy, he lacks possessions, he lives with his friends 'as if all their goods were held in common,' he regards
all promising young men as his sons, he can ascend in thought above the city (though he's sometimes willing to undertake political tasks), and he strives to 'select and educate the best among the young for future rule' (Brann, 139-40). Hence, his last words about the possibility of the P-king city have an unpolitical thrust: in "heaven, . . . perhaps, a pattern is laid up for the man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. It doesn't make
any difference whether it is or will be somewhere. For he would mind the things of this city alone, and of no other" (592b, Bloom translation). Brann likewise stresses 557d, where Socrates famously says that a DEMOCRATIC regime is "probably necessary" for someone "who wishes to organize [Brann uses "construct"] a city, AS WE WERE JUST DOING" (Brann, 91; cf. 56, 146 [the latter two passages are well worth reading – AG]).

For the record, I'm not sure that Brann regards herself as a Straussian, and I certainly don't think she wrote her book to present a position in the Strauss Wars, to shed light on the neocons, etc [this thought would not have crossed my mind - AG]

Best wishes, --Peter

*One might speak of the Action and Argument of Plato's Republic, parallel to Strauss's core insight, though not his interpretations, in his last book, The Action and Argument of Plato's Laws.

** Aristotle conquered the world with Alexander who adopted the customs of the people he ruled. “Conquered” – slaughtered. Voices cry out - how would those who were conquered but lingered have felt?

*** The silent presence of Hermocrates, the great Syracusan leader for a common good who destroys the Athenians in the quarries, indicates this point. Strauss is right to see the connection. But I doubt that Plato's implication is the one he draws. The obvious point is that Syracuse crushed Athens, but a guardian-led state, a la Critias, would have been victorious. That is Strauss’s whole point in trying to correct Thucydides: Thucydides argues, he suggests, that if only the demos had not exiled Alcibiades and sent the weak commander Nicias who had argued against the expedition, Athens would have won. This is perhaps the silliest of all Strauss’s thoughts, one which would have ended any interest in Thucydides’ writing, making him not an analyst of the tragedy of democratic empires but a reactionary grasping at straws: if only LBJ had replaced Westmoreland during Vietnam, if only Bush and now Obama will just rely on the dangerous (to America) Petraeus…See here.

In contrast, I would suggest, Hermocrates is the decisive political leader in the last part of the History who mirrors Pericles in the first part. Plato understood this. Hermocrates was a far more important figure, politically, for the fate of Athens, than Critias. But Peter’s point that the Timaeus and Critias are deficient undercuts his citation of Strauss’s correct interpretation of this particular point (that there is a parallel to Athens v. Syracuse) but wildly mistaken overall interpretation of Thucydides History, this dialogue, and, for all Strauss’s subtlety of interpretation, Plato.

Peter reports that Kalkavage, a translator of the Timaeus, sets it temporally before the Athenian invasion of Syracuse. But the presence of Hermocrates, who says little, would then seem odd (perhaps he will make himself felt, the suggestion might be, once the battle occurs).

****That Assemblywomen is a parody of Socrates's egalitarianism toward women seems a brilliant inference to me. Aristophanes and Socrates were friends (see the Symposium) and could easily have been engaged in such a debate.

But Ecclesiazusae is, on the face of it, a democratic imagining where the women enact the laws (barring men as men in actuality barred them) and enacting that any crone can take any beautiful young boy (isn’t this just a parody of common homosexuality at the time?). In response, Socrates also jokes, in the Republic, with this play, to continue to induct women among the guardians (a progressive aspect) and yet to snicker at sexual grappling (an Aristophanic rejoinder to Ecclesiazusae and perhaps the Clouds; a covert attack on the leadership of women in earlier Crete - see here). But there is nothing democratic about kallipolis (Peter has suggested to me in a note on the last post on Plato that there are some democratic and jury-oriented remarks, but except for the education and participation of women and the absence of slaves - real enough egalitarian innovations - the “city in speech” is dismally authoitarian). The regime of the philosopher as king is, seemingly, a leading point in favor of a reactionary interpretation of Plato.

*****Brann neglects Aristotle’s main passage on the philosopher king and tyranny in book 5 and the passage on the rule of the outstanding man (book 3). See here including Strauss’s lecture notes at Chicago in 1967 which emphasize it. Aristotle was both Plato’s student (somewhat in revolt, not entirely given to accuracy) and as Strauss says, a very considered and sometimes deceptive writer.

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