Wednesday, July 27, 2011






wif e


a war’s romance


bro ken



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Distinctions between Xenophon, Plato and Socrates: Stone's Trial of Socrates, part 3

For parts 1 and 2, see here and here.

I will now offer several points on Izzy’s behalf about Socrates (his claim that Socrates was trying to overthrow Athenian democracy), and, more strikingly, about Xenophon as one who looked to recommend a good tyranny (in this, Xenophon may be nearer to Aristotle – see book 5 of the Politics on making a tyrant good, and Aristotle’s advising Alexander – as opposed to Socrates and Plato).

First, one might underline Xenophon’s Socrates’s unique emphasis on creating a group of political leaders. Socrates has a fierce and long discussion with Aristippus (Memorabilia, 2.1) about how one must learn to suffer, learn virtue in order to lead and how the predatoriness of the strong will force even Aristippus, who seeks to be his own man and find his own pleasures (not to follow, as Hercules’s does, in the resonant tale Socrates tells in the Memorabilia, the lady virtue) into politics. Xenophon has Aristippus connect self-restraint and the ability to suffer of a political leader with happiness (eudaimonia). He even has a formulation suggestive of Plato’s Republic: “But how about those who are trained in kingship which, Socrates, you appear to identify with happiness?” (2.1.17). Along with Plato, Xenephon, too, echoes Socrates’s proposal in the trial that Socrates should be honored by the city more than the athletes, for "they seem to benefit you, and I, with my questioning about virtue, really benefit you."

But if the philosopher is to be honored in the city, is he, perhaps, to become king in it? That appears to be Xenophon’s hint here. It is Plato’s, too, but then qualified in the Seventh Letter and in a careful reading of the Republic. The philosophers go down to save the democracy from tyranny (from below) – the form of kingly behavior later exemplified by John Brown or Martin Luther King - not to become pompous, “all-knowing,” and often harmful royals/tyrants…

In the Memorabilia, Aristippus tries bizarrely to identify his own likely enslavement as a pleasure-seeking noncitizen with a political leader's or a good man’s or – he does not say – a philosopher’s self-restraint. Aristippus thus confuses enslavement with free preparation for a decent life (in the political leader’s case, this is less clear) and the joys of doing philosophy which Plato lives and celebrates. Xenophon who became a mercenary in Persia – against Socrates’s advice – and then lived in Sparta was not consumed by philosophy, on fire to do it, in Socrates’s or Plato’s way. Put differently, we would know very little of the depth or path of philosophy from reading Xenophon by himself.

One might elaborate this difference. Xenophon clearly loved Socrates and learned something of a philosophical style from him and perhaps Plato (Plato probably wrote his Apology and Crito before Xenophon’s wrote his Defense and the Memorabilia). He spent some time with Socrates, though he is not in Plato’s dialogues. Further, his Socratic speeches are even more often imagined or invented (he does not sit there while Socrates counsels Lamprocles, his son, about having gratitude to his mother, for example), and thus, share perhaps a piece of him, for instance, a sharpened vision of the connection between anti-democratic sentiment and the “rule of the one who knows.” This formula, by the way, is repeated many times by Izzy, but is not used much by Xenephon, though the idea – the analogy with the navigator – is strongly there.

In addition, Xenophon was out of Athens fighting in Persia (against Socrates’s advice) by the time Socrates was killed. This is like Meno, and unlike, on Xenophon’s account below, Euthydemus. His absence is, again, a sign that Socrates and Xenophon were not so close. Finally and most importantly, what Xenophon gets of Socrates is advice only in being a military leader and counseling people practically. This is connected to Socrates’s admiration for good political leadership, also emphasized by Plato. But there is also Xenophon’s account of Socrates’s amusing advice to the beautiful courtesan Theodote on how to pursue her career (an ironic exercise, and she may have ended up sleeping with him in gratitude without pay…). But the virtue of the courtesan in her profession is like the virtue of the good tyrant or of the military leader, who as the stronger, crushes and enslaves the defeated. The latter is one of Xenophon’s key points, made by Socrates to Euthydemus, about military rule and deception and seeming injustice (we have now recognized, against Xenophon’s Socrates, that is it actual injustice). Even Theodote's selling her favors for pay, skillfully, diplomatically, is not admirable (and of course, Xenophon's Socrates is not very attractive here).

There is a deep and obvious way in which Xenophon’s Socrates is not Socrates. He has no philosophy, no soaring, no ascent. It is not just that Xenophon is hiding Socrates (what Strauss thinks) or that Xenophon’s Socrates bears some similarity to Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, almost a Socrates without…Socrates); it is that he was not a deep or close interlocutor with who Socrates was. Socrates shared with him mainly a probably real practical and gossipy aspect, with an emphasis on politics, though not the politics of proto-civil disobedience from below which Socrates at the last pioneered. Plato got and developed this last aspect in the Apology and Crito and in the Republic's thought that a philosopher goes down to defend the democracy (the city of cities which includes or tolerates the small city of philosophers) against tyranny - see here, here and here; Xenophon probably did not.

Nietzsche once offered the brilliant aphorism: “The scholars dig up the bones that they themselves have buried.” But some, Nietzsche himself for example, bury their bones deeper and distantly, seeing, for instance, psychologically, into who makes the argument, not just the argument itself (Plato, too). Xenophon, the would-be political leader, general, historian and elegant writer, hears Socrates one way (Socrates probably shared an aspect of himself richly with Xenophon). Socrates shared with Plato the soaring. The music of Plato, as the Corybants hear the pipes, is different and deeper…

As a second point on Izzy's behalf, Xenophon describes a conversation between Socrates and Charmides as a young man. Charmides was Plato's uncle, and became a member of the Tyranny of the Thirty. Socrates observes that Charmides counsels leading individuals very well, but resists speaking in the assembly, to the multitude. Charmides replies that he is timid before the many. Socrates mocks the many to encourage Charmides to participate:

"But surely you see that bashfulness and timidity come natural to a man and affect him far more powerfully in the presence of a multitude than in private society."

"Yes, and I mean to teach you something. The wisest do not make you bashful and the strongest do not make you timid; yet you are ashamed to address an audience of dunces and weaklings. Who are they to make you ashamed? The fullers or the cobblers or the builders or the smiths or the farmers or the merchants or the traffickers in the market-place who think of nothing but buying cheap and selling dear? For these are the people who make up the Assembly. You behave like a man who can beat trained athletes and is afraid of amateurs. You are at your ease when you talk with the first men in the city, some of whom despise you, and you are a far better talker than the ordinary politicians and yet you are shy of addressing men who never gave a thought to public affairs and haven't learned to despise you - all because you fear ridicule." [3.7.5-7]

There may be a more sneering anti-democratic speech reported of Socrates, but I don't recall it. It is for a specific purpose to a specific aristocratic youth, and there is Socrates’s helpful thought that Charmides might be better heard among the people who haven't learned to despise him (though Socrates seems to despise them, just perhaps less than many of the leaders). But Charmides as every ancient reader knew, participated to “influence the public” by becoming a tyrant. Here either Xenophon was very sleepy or the hidden message as Strauss would say, some favoritism toward the tyrants, was clear.

Suppose the tyrants had not declared the law against debate (or that Socrates had not been so in his face and moralistically gross about his love for Euthydemus – that Critias had a pig’s itch and needed to scratch himself like a piglet against rocks - with Critias...). Suppose the tyrants had been more Charmidean (or like Charmides in his youth)...Then Xenophon's case against a more ideal authoritarianism is less clear. One may follow this thought, as Strauss does, to Simonides's argument in the Hiero. It is important to follow out Xenophon, and to distinguish him from Socrates in whose defense against being murdered Xenophon otherwise speaks, and also, in a different way, from Plato.

To embellish these points, on Izzy's behalf, from Xenophon, to the sophist Antiphon who questions Socrates hostilely about why he trains others to go into politics but does not do so himself, Socrates says that he would accomplish not so much in politics, but a group of leaders he educated might.

“On another occasion Antiphon asked him: ‘How can you suppose that you make politicians of others, when you yourself avoid politics even if you understand them?’

‘How now, Antiphon,’ he retorted, ‘should I play a more important part in politics by engaging in them alone or by taking pains to turn out as many competent politicians as possible?’”

That could, Izzy might suggest, be taken as dangerous to Athens. It may also have occurred before the disasters of Critias, Charmides and Alcibiades (Critias also murdered Alcibiades as a potential threat, and that may, as Izzy brilliantly suggests, have shaken Socrates, who loved Alcibiades, made him less attached to life). Critias’s attempt to silence Socrates indicates how much of a disaster. One easily prefers Platonic skepticism here. Further, Socrates’ may have become increasingly more skeptical than he was with Xenophon. Xenophon who was away in Persia omits, in his Defense of Socrates at his Trial based on an account reported to him subsequently by Hermogenes, the “I am wiser in that others think they know what they do not, and I do not know nor do I think I know” theme of the Apology of Plato who was present when Socrates spoke at the trial...

Xenephon’s Defense thus differs from Plato’s Apology in which Socrates speaks of how he was nearly killed in his two previous public engagements, one with the tyranny, one with the democracy, and that a just man cannot participate in politics without suffering an early or at least premature death (in recounting Socrates’s conversations with Euthydemus, Xenophon mentions these examples in book 4 of the Memorabilia, but notably does not draw this conclusion. It is not just an external matter or feint for Socrates and Plato. To defend philosophy (asking questions), Socrates does go to his death in his third public encounter, the trial….

But Socrates’s reply to Antiphon seems to suggest the possibility of philosophical rule named by Plato in the Republic, and further, a practical plan to achieve it of a sort the Republic merely adumbrates. See my "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?," Constellations, May 2009 here. In combination with Xenophon’s Hiero in which his Simonides gives the tyrant proto-Machiavellian advice (Simonides discusses the same question with Hiero that Socrates does with Aristippus in the Memorabilia: which is better, the ruler’s (the tyrant’s in the case of Hiero) or the private life?(2. 1.10) Leo Strauss plainly took Xenophon in this way – reading this thought as a hidden message - and certain other reactionary interpreters like Al-Farabi, who thought that Plato wanted to subvert Athens, not to mention Martin Heidegger, may have done so (see Strauss, On Tyranny).

But there is no reason to assume that Xenophon's and Plato’s politics are the same, let alone that Socrates’s politics (founding civil disobedience to protect philosophy) are those of either. There is also no reason to assume that Plato or Socrates remained the same over their whole experience, Plato, for example, in hopes at the outset of his journey to Syracuse to advise Dionysius, but with a changed and perhaps chastened view after three years of often imprisonment, near enslavement, and the death of not only Dionysius, who was not admirable, but of his friend and best student, Dion, who was. Similarly, Socrates did not plan to go to his death in a trial and exemplify what we name civil disobedience. But the trial, and the daimon’s voice (his inner, spiritual guide) came to him, and he did.

There is, further, no reason to think that Socrates's thought about wise leaders, if Xenophon reports it accurately, is not, late in his life, about those who defend an idea of a democracy which tolerates philosophy against tyranny. There is, finally, no reason to conclude that Socrates was also, hiddenly, meaning what Xenophon does about Charmides. To Socrates, Charmides or others might have gone on to lead the city better than Pericles in certain respects, perhaps in a less warrior, expansionary or "splendid" manner. For Pericles' last speech in Thucydides warns only against war on two fronts...

Note, again, however, that the Periclean city was also a tolerant one. We do not cast censorious looks on anyone for their eccentricities - Pericles says in the Funeral Oration - so long as they come together for the common good. That is also Izzy's emphasis on isegoria and the four senses of free or equal speech. But defending toleration is, in fact, exemplified, by Socrates's act of political leadership to preserve philosophy - in action, freedom of speech - in going to his death. One would need a leader of the crowd, beyond he who sacrifices himself, to step in and preserve it: to save Socrates for doing philosophy.* For Socrates stood for the best in Athens (what Izzy might have shown...). It is as a dissident on behalf of justice - a king in the realm of the spirit which each of us might be - and not as an external king, that Socrates lives. Xenephon misreads Socrates...

But there was no one to lead the "true judges' for a tolerant democracy, the 220 who voted for acquittal as Socrates addresses them, except, sacrificing his body for his spirit as well as the future of philosophy, Socrates himself...

Plato is perhaps closer to Socrates (his speech at the trial captures Socrates much more deeply than Xenophon’s notion of megalegoria – big speech – and suicide). Once again, Xenophon was a soldier and a general. It would not be surprising that his discussions with Socrates, mirrored in book 3 of the Memorabilia, focused on military and political victory and on history (as in his supplying in the Hellenica an addition to Thucydides) more than philosophy. Plato was not a soldier but a dazzling philosopher and, in forging 30-some dialogues, playwright. Perhaps Plato, too, got places in the Academy about the good and its mathematics that he did not learn from Socrates, got beyond Socrates…**

A student from the future has hints from the dialogues, but does not know what (or except by inference how) Plato taught in the Academy.

In contrast, Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing recommends taking the one counter-saying or hint of an author against his surface or exoteric sayings. If one thinks the method of hidden writing so simple (that there is really one formula for grasping this, and one message that so many “philosophers” share and that none of them - even the very careful reader, although in argument quite confused, Strauss - ever made a mistake…), then the case that Xenophon, whom amusingly Izzy prefers to Socrates, is a dangerous figure becomes stronger. But a formulaic style of reading is not philosophy…

More importantly, Xenophon shows Socrates challenging the murderous Critias (he was not a philosophical or Simonidean tyrant), urging self-restraint, and not urging or being a friend of the actual Tyranny. Further, only Plato shows Socrates's students or philosophical friends who remain attached to democracy like Chaerophon and Polemarchos, and suggests how a philosopher’s (Socrates’s) actions are aimed at strengthening democracy against tyranny (the elaboration of civil disobedience in King and Gandhi reinforces this emphasis…).

In the Seventh Letter, Plato refers, in deciding to go to Syracuse, to his desire to be an action, not an argument. But the spirit of justice - philosopher-leadership - as his sad experience there shows, is more easily available in action, and to many, in defending philosophy and democracy from below against tyranny from above than it is in scaling the political heights and furthering an imagined - perhaps imaginary - wise authoritarian. To be an advisor to a ruler is to ask for humiliation, as Heidegger or the political Straussians have...And the act itself, to further imperial aggression, racism, and, in Heidegger's case, genocide, is disgraceful.

The honor, as with Socrates, is often a matter for friends, like Plato, and for the future...***

Mistakenly as a pursuer of the first kind of contextualism, as I showed in part 2 here, Izzy leaves out the passages in Xenophon which would have suggested, even more strongly, the defiance of the Thirty Tyrants in Socrates returning home and not participating in the arrest of Leon of Salamis. Consider how sharply in this case he disobeyed the “law.” There is a Socratic pattern of resistance and mocking of tyranny in his meeting with Charicles and Critias as in his mocking of the potential tyrants Anytus and Meletus in the democracy revealed by Plato. Reading Xenophon’s book as a whole, seeking the second sense of context, reveals both the dark side of Xenophon – his ideal of Simonides’s shaping up the tyrant Hiero – and the defiance, in the actual world, the going down to defend democracy, of Socrates against the murderous Critias.****

The latter is, therefore, another side to the “scoop.” Noticing this is perhaps a difference between a philosophical account – one that takes in what evidence there is on behalf of a counterclaim, offering a better version of the counterclaim (as I amplified Izzy’s with the rest of the Memorabilia and the Hiero), and then making one’s argument in the light of it. Such an argument, if noticed, is likelier to last longer than “today’s news” even when the scoop – a real one - is an insight about events 2400 years old….

Philosophy is thus opposed to journalism or legal advice or a parti pris. Xenophon’s Socrates repeatedly says that he refuses money for teaching so he will not be compelled, by payment, to offer advice against his better judgment, as a mere slave to an employer. A particularly striking exchange occurs between the sophist Antiphon, who thought to win away Socrates’s students, and Socrates:

“’Socrates, I for my part believe you to be a just, but by no means a wise man. And I think you realize it yourself. Anyhow, you decline to take money for your society. Yet if you believed your cloak or house or anything you possess to be worth money, you would not part with it for nothing or even for less than its value. Clearly, then, if you set any value on your society, you would insist on getting the proper price for that too. It may well be that you are a just man because you do not cheat people through greed; but wise you cannot be, since your knowledge is not worth anything.’”

Antiphon plainly has the sophist’s religion of what Marx would later call exchange-value. Here openly is an evil of commodity fetishism.

“To this, Socrates replied:

“‘Antiphon, it is common opinion among us in regard to beauty and wisdom that there is an honorable and a shameful way of bestowing them. For to offer one’s beauty for money to all comers is called prostitution, but we think it virtuous to become friendly with a lover who is known to be a man of honor. So it is with wisdom. Those who offer it to all comers for money are known as sophists, prostitutes of wisdom, but we think that he who makes a friend of one whom he knows to be gifted by nature, and teaches him all the good he can, fulfils the duty of a citizen and a gentleman.’”(1.6.11-14).

In a deceptively simple exchange, Xenophon names a eudaemonist theme. The philosophy is implicit in the moral defense (Plato offers much deeper insight into what Socrates taught; the differences between them indicate some of the steepness or soaring of Plato’s ascent…there is a reason why philosopher and potential philosophers, contra Hegel,***** Strauss and some other German readers, gravitate to Plato and the forms). But the philosophy in Xenophon is nonetheless powerful.

Xenophon did get some of Socrates. But even more precisely, what he did not get is the constant fashioning and renewal of arguments day by day, the ascent…

Izzy emphasizes Xenophon’s Socrates’s notion that one who is wise should rule. He does not quite take in the fierce indictment of impostors, that striving for virtue (read, as in Plato: philosophy) means opposition to all such self- and political ruin. To Critobolus, the son of Crito, whom Socrates wants to help make good friendships (and yet in this discussion, as throughout the Memorabilia, the trial, political leadership and philosophy are an undercurrent), Socrates says:

“How do you think I shall help you best, Critobolus, by false praise, or by urging you to try to be a good man? If you don’t yet see clearly, take the following cases as illustrations. Suppose that I wanted to get a shipmaster to make you his friend and as a recommendation, told him that you are a good skipper, which is untrue, and suppose that he believed me and put you in charge of his ship in spite of your not knowing how to steer it: have you any reason to hope that you would not lose the ship and your life as well? Or suppose that I falsely represented to the Assembly that you are a born general, jurist and statesman in one, and so persuaded the city to commit her fortunes to you, what do you suppose would happen to the city and yourself under your guidance? Or again, suppose that I falsely described you to certain citizens in private as a thrifty, careful person, and persuaded them to place their affairs in your hands, wouldn’t you do them harm and look ridiculous when you came to the test? No, Critobulus, if you want to be thought good at anything, you must try to be so: that is the quickest, surest and best way. “(2.6.37-30)******

Perhaps Izzy just thought to himself: the Athenians were pressed by the horror of the Tyranny of the Thirty, insufficiently acknowledged in Plato’s writings, to prosecute Socrates for being an anti-democrat and that is what I will show. But the context of Xenophon suggests how weak the assumption that Socrates favored that tyranny was…

I will trace the parallel courses of Izzy and Socrates in part 4.

*That Athens murdered its wise man - a crime against freedom of speech - and Izzy's celebration of the democracy for, ordinarily and unusually, tolerating such speech are true. The test of a person, and of a city comes when circumstances are extreme. Socrates went to his death for philosophy. Athens did not live up to its great tradition (as America often does not live up to the Bill of Rights). Athens is not admirable for that, any more than America is for McCarthyism, the Alien and Sedition Acts, nativism, the Palmer raids and the neo-cons. In adversity, the city did not cleave to its greatness. At that extreme point, and only at that point (this is Strauss's mistake) are the city - the formal democracy, the shadow of democracy - and philosophy at war.

Izzy acknowledges this, but his tone does not get the balance right. That is the false note in Izzy's attempted defense of Athens.

**Plato famously writes in the mask of Socrates, hides behind Socrates, except for the characters of the Athenian Stranger in the Laws and the Eleatic Stranger in the Statesman, both of whom are negative compared to Socrates; Plato speaks in his own voice in the Seventh Letter (and perhaps the Letters). Why does he do so? Is it because he has nothing to say on his own?

To discover the complex nature of a dialogue - that it is a riddle what Plato thinks as distinct from what the characters, including Socrates, think - is to move beyond this point. Plato was neither simpleminded nor in the thrall of his teacher.

For Plato, Socrates stands for philosophy. Athens made it so; Socrates proved this with his death. So Plato's own ringing of the subtleties on the themes of his teacher, he who sacrificed himself for philosophy, Plato's hints at what he taught or was in the process of teaching in the Academy, make sense. For even what Plato said, in the Academy each day, may have been a trial, an experiment, something to be refined anew, as Socrates did, on each occasion...

***One can see this point quite simply. Socrates says that he does not know what the idea of justice is, that he seeks it through questioning. Plato's Sccrates, in the Republic, poses the idea of the philosopher king, the one, in Izzy's phrase, who knows. Both claims cannot be true. Socrates demonstrated wisdom in going to his death from below to preserve questioning, the daily fashioning of new arguments, the reaching, the ascent...That action confirms the former thought, not the later Platonic (Syracuse) or Xenophonian experiments with wise tyranny...

Do philosophers counsel tyrants? Not Socrates. And after an attempt, not Plato. The facsimile is to stand for something or suggest a policy that benefits the society, furthers a common good (toleration for example). A wise leader may take up this view. But that is an accident and momentary...The temptation to counsel imagined leaders, misguided as it is, is real enough among even Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle...That is an argument for movements from below, for democracy, for not being high on oneself or others, for awareness of transience...

****The whole of Xenophon’s argument, as opposed to Izzy’s account of it, shows that Socrates defied the tyrants on behalf of intelligence and justice. This is context in the first or ordinary sense.

The second or Platonic sense of context, taking in the hidden meanings of Xenophon, does suggest sympathy for a wise tyrant through opposition to bad or foolish tyrants such as the Thirty. But since Critias was a student of Socrates, Xenophon might have asked himself – Socrates and Plato certainly did – what does this experience say about the possibilities or wisdom of philosopher-tyranny? Xenophon’s view in the Hiero remains murderous or cutthroat on behalf of “wisdom,” a philosopher-tyranny. But one may ask what of Socrates this view leaves out, for instance, civil disobedience…One may ask whether either Socrates or Plato stopped at this view whose injustice (a "kind of political justice" as Aristotle says in book 3 of the Politics about ostracism) is plain…One may ask of this view: what happened to philosophy, to questioning, in it...

*****In History of Philosophy, Hegel expresses a preference for Xenophon. His Philosophy of Right, however, pivots on a contrast between Plato’s Republic, seen as a contra-democratic ideal of ancient life, and the full differentiation of free individuals in civil society, which Hegel sees as the strength of a modern regime, the realization of the concept of freedom. Hegel's account of Greece oddly downplays Pericles and Athens. Nonetheless, Hegel's philosophical relationship with Plato is deep (there is no such relationship with Xenophon), despite his perhaps aesthetic preference for Xenophon.

******In book 3, a stranger who had arrived in Athens, Dionysiodorus teaches a young man to be a general and Socrates foreshadows Gilbert and Sullivan: “if you stick to your desk and you never go to sea, you too can be the captain of the queen's navy...”:

“The speech persuaded the man to go and learn. When he had learned his lessons and returned, Socrates chaffed him: ‘Don’t you think gentlemen,’ he said, ‘that our friend looks more ‘majestic’ as Homer called Agamemnon now that he has learned generalship? For he who has learned to play the harp is a harper even when he doesn’t play, and he who has studied medicine is a doctor even though he doesn’t practice, so our friend will be a general for ever even if no one votes for him.’"{3.1.3-8)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two dimensions of war: letters from Richard Schmitt on Heidegger's reunion speech at Konstanz, part 4

Funeral orations are a rare practice, democratic and demagogic, about death. They are designed to mobilize a people to fight, to honor the dead and salve those who have lost and will lose children, to speak both of just combat in the rare case where it exists – and even there, so many are dragged along, forced along – but also to sanctify normal aggressions. Today as in the US war on Pakistan, as Richard Schmitt suggests below, such an oration - no one has attempted one - would have to justify shock and awe or drones from the air, where an unadmirable military is high in the sky or video killers half a world away…

Current mechanical or technological war (one of Heidegger’s points) has little to do with life or patriotism which is increasingly a facade. It stamps out heroes. Chris Hedges War is a Force that gives us meaning is more its book – the book of the fakery of patriotism for ordinary people who rush with illusions into sacrificing themselves or their children for it, and in actual fighting, sometimes get hooked on the adrenaline of near death and horror, find the occasional pleasures of peace awful – than any of the rarely noble words of politicians. But for the American aggression in Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen or the intervention in Libya, there are few American troops...

Such wars do no honor (win no accolades or affection) for the society or those who wage them. In the Middle East, the latest poll shows, Obama, not the Nobel peace prize winner but the warmaker – is less popular even than Bush. Obama has a Muslim name. The idea of a black man, speaking eloquently to America’s interests, making American democracy comparatively attractive or at least not simply murderous (as it is, for instance, in arming the government of Israel in the occupied territories of Palestine), deflecting and dissuading potential terrorists, eschewing torture and bringing wars to an end - Andrew Sullivan’s original idea in the Atlantic a year and a half before the last election (February 2007) – seems distant. This is a hard “honor” for the President and his warriors to have won…

Lincoln’s words – on government of the people by the people for the people not perishing from the earth - are great, as are some of Pericles’s about Athens. The cause for which the North fought, in the end to abolish slavery, is a just cause. The cause for which Athens once fought the Persian empire was a just cause - defense of the Greek cities and a fledgling democracy for some (Hegel) against overpowering aggression. But in powerful, imperial nations as both became, defense against aggression is unusual.

In the context of the funeral orations, the increasingly faint possibility of noble words makes Bush’s hiding of the slain in Iraq and the odious neo-con denunciation of Ted Koppel for reading the names of the dead on Nightline stand out for corruption. See my "The Silence of Gettysburg" here and here. Obama sometimes greets the dead, consoles the families, but no ordinary Americans get to notice them (we would turn further against the wars…). It is a good thing that Obama pushed for equality for gays in the military and that he honors those soldiers, often repulsed by what they have been forced to do, who commit suicide. But the latter individuals are also symbols of why no civilized people is or becomes militarist...

Even the best cases of self-defense, as my friend the political philosopher Bonnie Honig reminds us about democracy in Athens,* sacrifice individuals, who are often not caught up in the fray but hope merely to survive, grinds up their bodies like meat, attempts to makes holy their sacrifice (consider Heidegger’s speech to the reunion at Konstanz here, the German-Austrian borders, he says, wreathed with the mysterious graves of the dead, to call his living compatriots to genocide in World War II). Democracy sacrifices individuals for the collective when the collective is, as is usual, corrupt and even in the rare case when it is decent. The loss of the young, of the beloved, the finality and tearing apart (for the survivors, particularly the parents) of death, the suffering of an unnatural death (that the old outlive their children), this psychological dimension of war as distinct from the political dimension runs deep.

In this respect, aristocratic war and mourning, heroism and wild grief are a more straightforward and human response to war, as Bonnie suggests, than the overly politicized and for a merely state/patriotic purpose of, say, Pericles’s words. Aristocratic war and mourning leave individuals the horrific finality of loss, the meaning of mortality for themselves and those they love…

There are thus two powerful, often clashing, nearly incommensurable dimensions of war. Here in a moral hard case, the competing elements of aggression and collective self-defense, of individual heroism, death and grieving, are pitted in a unique way. These dimensions are not of equal weight. The first and most important is about whether a war is just. The fate of a collective and sometimes even of humanity and freedom (World War II) is on the line.

But the second is the heroism of personal sacrifice and honor. We are not in this life for the money’s sake (that is a capitalist and, sometimes, an American illusion), and considered political sacrifice by individuals is one startling example as Heidegger in his idea of Being toward death (Sein zum Tode) suggests (mothering and parenting are another…). But the experience of war is also of boredom, fear, often subordination to incompetents (or people simply out of their depth in dealing with fighting), watching others get chopped up, murdering innocents notably children, suffering psychological distress and destruction. The disorientation is now called ptsd – the homeless from Aghanistan and Iraq will haunt America for the next 50 years…. See Lawrence Downes's piece in the Times two days ago below. Psychologically, Hedges has the story right.

In the combining of these two dimensions, honor is often bent and corrupted by the ignobility of war propaganda and war crimes. Consider the core nobility and decency of Pat Tillman (otherwise, just a human being…) and the war criminal that Donald Rumsfeld is (honor is not a word that comes to mind). The war in Afghanistan is predatory and not just (killing Bin Laden was just, though Wild West justice, but showed much about the emptiness of American aggression in Afghanistan and the killing of civilians with drones in Pakistan, see here, here, here, and here). But Tillman's example, in what he gave up to join the military out of response to the attack on America on September 11th and in his death from "friendly fire" lied about by his superiors, still shines…Tillman's were special circumstances. He was least diminished by the public corruption revealed or occasioned by the invasion.

What I said in my original note to Richard Schmitt (see below) about personal sacrifice, however, is not quite right. A sufficiently bad cause – Nazism – poisons the heroism of those deluded enough to fight for it. Ordinary bad causes often do not.

In Crete last month, I journeyed with my students up to the cave of Zeus on Mt. Ida. We drove back through herds of sheep and goats, attended as for millennia, by a rare, dark shepherd on foot (some of the original Cretans emigrated long ago to Palestine, as Jonilda Dhamo told me last year). We noticed on the mountain side the sign PPE painted proudly of the Communist Party. We went to a lovely and inexpensive restaurant, the Eagle, where they serve lamb (the best meal we had in Crete).

In the middle of the restaurant on a wall, there was a shrine of old guns from World War II, 6 of them, with a photo of the grandfather, Giannis Pasparakis, kneeling, watching, ready to fire on the Nazis who were coming. The war pitted the poorly armed, the irregulars or guerillas, against the technological committers of genocide.

The photo has two striking Greek Orthodox icons set below and on either side of it, the guns themselves mounted up above it. The intense feeling for the figure is tangled, not just in the political cause but in the spirituality of the descendants (although the anti-Nazism calls forth something better in the Christianity than Greek Orthodoxy often represents, and the two are, in this case, bound together).

The Cretan resistance to the Nazis has shaped its politics since (long communist and socialist, amusing for a Mediterranean island, also a center for tourists). It later gave honor to individuals in Crete in fighting in the civil war against the American empire after World War II.

There is the nobility of the cause in World War II. And there is the sometime heroism of (some of) the people who fought. The two things are linked, in this case, proudly together.

Richard’s reaction, however, captures the most important thing, which is the usual wanton slaughter of individuals for doubtful causes (what is evil on both dimensions). The political dimension can also be affected, though in a limited way, by the dementia and evil of leaders. Thus, Stalin represented something just in World War II, saved the world from Nazism as the US and Britain would not have, and yet slaughtered comrades, allies and would-be friends as well as large numbers of others and almost (for instance, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) sold out his great accomplishment – a psychotic tyrant. But no one who fought against the Nazis was deluded...

My original reaction to the public dimension of great power wars, particularly those of the United States in my lifetime, grows out of Brecht’s response to the slaughters and feeding frenzy of the elites on all sides of World War I: the Ballad of the Dead Soldier (I could not find a copy on the web, but a German recruiting officer, priest and gravedigger dig up a corpse, dress him up with medals, hang a prostitute on his arm, shower him with incense, and march him off to war, to die, again, a hero's death...).

But I also admire the heroism and seriousness of soldiers of honor. This is a real thing. I admire the presence of mind involved in risking oneself to save one’s comrades on the field of battle. I also believe that this honor can turn sharply against the dishonorable, not to say horrifying practices of war at 30,000 feet, of the cowardice of those who fire endless drones, and of aggressions as in Iraq (Andrew Bacevich’s searing indictments of current American wars and insight into the long corruption of American foreign policy come from such a place; so did Pat Tillman’s opposition to Iraq…). War is basically the chopping up of innocents. It chops them up so that the rapacious can profit. Even the best war has its local Mother Courages and of course, its masters…

Richard Schmitt, who has written well on Heidegger and publishes the blog Out of the Woods, has written to me powerfully below of the dangers of celebration of the sacrifice of youth for predatory purposes. His point about his Jewish uncles who went gladly to the first War and were betrayed by Heideigger – an awful spectacle of a human being – is revelatory. But he goes too far. Many go into war initially and some do sacrifice themselves, with nobility of purpose and honor. Wars (except the US drones as in Pakistan, an unrelieved and for ordinary people in the Middle East and South Asia, enormously embittering evil which breeds new enemies for the United States daily and hourly) are all about the young on each side, the soldier one kills being the possible friend in civilian life easy to empathize with, the civilians, the children…One cannot take in war, even today’s wars, simply by political purpose (one needs to fight for justice, i.e. to stop aggression or apartheid, and yet as Desmond Tutu’s No future without forgiveness shows about Truth and Reconciliation commissions, one must, to heal politically and privately, transcend the bitterness involved in this and allow a way forward in a new society even to those, if they have admitted their guilt, who committed crimes…).

I have always admired those who cast their lot with the underdogs and the decent. To fight for the Spanish Republic, as George Orwell did, and take up the cause of the anarchists was, for all its problems, heroic (the actual experience was, for the most part, anything but heroic). See here. I have come to see the transcendant courage of those who gave their lives in nonviolent protest to bring down the horror of segregation as the genuine and comparatively unalloyed emblem of such heroism. My friend Andy Goodman took part briefly – a single day in Mississippi before he was murdered, taking from him, who knows how he felt in those last hours of capture and slowed down minutes, the life he might have had. But what he did was great and powerful and who he was. See here, here and here. Courage and honor, particularly in a good cause, particularly in not just killing even the soldiers of an evil regime but pointing, in its collapse, to a way out, can combine the justice of the cause and the nobility of individuals.

For the previous posts on Heidegger on the funeral oration, see here, and on Being and Time on historicity, see here and here.


This latest piece of yours [see here] is a bit hard to follow but it sounds to me as if you approved and admired Heidegger's waxing eloquent about the Germans who died in World War I.

I find that a bit hard to take. The Germans started World War I. The fight was about the power of the British to control the seas. The Germans thought the time had come to contest that control. It was one more Imperialist war.

While German troops were marching into Belgium, the German people were told by their government that Germany had been attacked. They managed to whip up a chauvinistic storm and all young men signed up to fight for the Fatherland. The young men who died, died for a lie. That's sad and pathetic but it is neither honorable nor admirable.

Among those who could not wait to enlist were my three Jewish uncles. When Heidegger gave his maudlin speech in Konstanz did he mourn the Jews who died in German uniforms? Did he have a "mystical bond" with fallen Jews?

Many admirable young men and women have died in wars and are still dying. It is difficult to say that they died in vain. To do so seems like dishonoring them. But what about the American soldiers whom someone persuaded that they are fighting in Iraq for American freedoms? Shall we honor them for defending our freedoms or say--the truth--that they were lied to and lost their life for a bad cause?

This response to Heidegger's funeral oration is the opening wedge to chauvinist defense of war. What after all was the Peloponnesian war about? Was it about "freedom or about power?


Dear Richard,

Thank you. You misread me though I will probably have to clarify - could I post on your letter which I largely agree with? My friend Will Altman celebrates the German dead in the last paragraph (though critical fiercely of all the wars), and I make it clear (the first paragraphs, the rest is Altman's translation), that there is nothing admirable about dying for an evil illusion and in a note that many were forced to die without seeing the cause, even under Lincoln, and that Pericles was also a murderous imperialist. On Lincoln, what is your take on the Gettysburg address?

I do say - those who fought Hitler in Spain and Sophie Scholl are admirable, those who fought for the Nazis are not...

Heidegger not only failed to honor Jews who fought, but grotesquely expelled Jews and others (pacifists during the War - especially the chemist Staudinger though in that case he failed) working with the Gestapo from Freiburg.

I admire Brecht's Ballad of the Dead Solider...

All the best,

Yes, Alan feel free to post my letter. I need to think about admiration for the people fighting Franco. I find myself being very conflicted about that.

One source of that conflict is current history. Nato planes are fighting against a mad dictator. Are the people to send out drone aircraft over Libya heroes? So did the US shock-and-awe fight Saddam Hussein. What should we say about that? And did Nazi troops in Russia not fight Stalinism? Why should we not admire them along with the anti-Franco forces in Spain? Should we admire the Stalinists in the anti-Franco forces, or only the Anarchists?

There are many problems when it comes to identifying good guys and bad guys. There are additional problems affirming that is it admirable when the good guys are trying to kill the bad guys and are instead getting killed in the process.

You can see my confusions.


Editorial Observer
Losing Private Dwyer

Published: July 15, 2008

The photo below [did not reproduce] captures everything that Americans wanted to believe about the Iraq war in the earliest days of the invasion in 2003. Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, an Army medic whose unit was fighting its way up the Euphrates to Baghdad, cradles a wounded boy. The child is half-naked and helpless, but trusting. Private Dwyer’s face is strained but calm.

If there are better images of the strength and selflessness of the American soldier, I can’t think of any. It is easy to understand why newspapers and magazines around the country ran the photo big, making Private Dwyer an instant hero, back when the war was a triumphal tale of Iraqi liberation.

That story turned bitter years ago, of course. And the mountain of sorrows keeps growing: Mr. Dwyer died last month in North Carolina. He was 31 and very sick. For years he had been in and out of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. He was seized by fearful delusions and fits of violence and rage. His wife left him to save herself and their young daughter. When the police were called to Mr. Dwyer’s apartment on June 28, he was alone. They broke down the door and found him dying among pill bottles and cans of cleaning solvent that friends said he sniffed to deaden his pain.

He had been heading for a disastrous end ever since he came home.

Two of his best friends were Angela Minor and Dionne Knapp, fellow medics at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Tex. For a while, they were part of a small, inseparable group that worked together, ate out, went to movies and called one another by their first names, which is not the military habit.

Joseph was a rock, Ms. Minor said, a guy who would change your oil and check your tires unasked and pick you up by your broken-down car at 3 a.m. Ms. Knapp said he was like an uncle to her son, Justin, who was having trouble in kindergarten and brightened whenever Mr. Dwyer went there to check on him.

Ms. Knapp was called up to Iraq, but Mr. Dwyer insisted on taking her place, because she was a single mom. He had no children at the time, and besides, he had enlisted right after 9/11 just for this. He went and stunned everybody by getting his picture all over the newspapers and TV.

A few months later, he was home. He was shy about his celebrity. He was also skinny and haunted. Ms. Minor said he was afraid. Ms. Knapp said paranoid was more like it.

It didn’t help that El Paso looked a lot like Iraq. Once he totaled his car. He said had seen a box in the road and thought it was a bomb. He couldn’t go to the movies anymore: too many people. In restaurants, he sat with his back to the wall.

He said that Iraqis were coming to get him. He would call Angela and Dionne at all hours, to talk vaguely about the “demons” that followed him all day and in his dreams. He became a Baptist, doggedly searching Scripture on his lunch hour — for solace. His friends knew he was also getting high with spray cans bought at computer stores.

“He would call me in the middle of the day,” Ms. Minor said. “I’d be like: ‘Why are you at Best Buy? Why aren’t you at work?’ I could tell he’d been drinking and huffing again.”

His friends tried an intervention, showing up at his door in October 2005 and demanding his guns and cans of solvent. He refused to give them up.

Hours later, gripped by delusions, he shot up his apartment. He was glad when the SWAT team arrived, Ms. Knapp said, because then he could tell them where the Iraqis were. He was arrested and discharged, and later moved to Pinehurst, N.C. His parents tried to get him help, but nothing worked. “He just couldn’t get over the war,” his mother, Maureen, told a reporter. “Joseph never came home.”

It’s not clear what therapy and medication could have saved Mr. Dwyer. He admitted lying on a post-deployment questionnaire about what he had seen and suffered because he just wanted to get back to his family. Ms. Minor said he sometimes skipped therapy appointments in El Paso. One thing that did seem to help, Ms. Knapp and Ms. Minor said, was peer counseling from a fellow veteran, a man who had been ambushed in Iraq and knew about fear and death. But that was too little, too late, and both women say they are frustrated with the military for letting Mr. Dwyer slip away.

Private Dwyer, who survived rocket-propelled grenades and shocking violence, made his way back to his family and friends. But part of him was also stuck forever on a road in Iraq, helpless and terrified, with nobody to carry him to safety.

*Bonnie is writing a book interestingly recasting the Antigone story and war, see here, here and here.

Friday, July 15, 2011





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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A racist pseudo-precedent and military commissions: Sam Morison's article "Andrew Jackson comes to Gitmo"

Sam Morison, a Defense Department attorney for the defendants at Guantanamo, recently wrote me below about a striking article he has published on the Obama administation's invocation of General Andrew Jackson’s aggression on behalf of slave-owners against Seminoles in Spanish Florida and arrest and execution of two innocent Englishman in attempting to justify “military commissions” at Guantanomo. See here. Let me repeat that: Andy Jackson's aggression against Seminoles to recapture or kill escaped slaves on foreign territory, and, inter alia, murder of two innocent Englishmen...Trying to write satire, a Jonathan Swift could not invent such a story…How did America, under Barack Obama, come to this?

Attorneys outside and inside the government, notably the Center for Constitutional Rights and subsequently, the ACLU, have led the way in fighting to hold the line for restoring and repairing the rule of law in the black holes, the secret prison sites which Bush and Cheney created. Cheney bent the stick so far to authoritarianism and the murder, torture and indefinite detention of anyone who fell within the government’s power - see below - that it will take a very long fight from below to bring the rule of law back.

More generally, as Yale Constitutional lawyer Jack Balkin has eloquently put it, the American legal system is evolving toward a bipartisan National Surveillance State. Obama and many of the Democrats in Congress (Barbara Lee and some others stand out as exceptions) endorse the very policies that they rightly criticized as illegal - more importantly, they are evil - under Bush. They thus consolidate a torture or anti-legal - anti-habaes corpus - merely seeming "legal" regime.

This is true internally, with illegal spying on Americans increasingly practiced, as well as externally. The domestic justice system – which one might perhaps particularly for young blacks and the poor already call an injustice system –jails over 2 million people, one quarter of the world’s prison population, more than half for largely victimless, drug crimes. See Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and here. Racism toward blacks brings down chicanos and whites as well. According to a Justice Department study, among blacks, 1 in 3 male babies born in 2001 can expect to go to jail sometime in their life, 1 in 6 chicanos, 1 in 17 whites (a much higher percentage among poor whites, and the percentage of poor whites, as the United States slides back into a new depression and promises, with the “deficit deal,” to make a much larger percentage of whites poor). Racism toward Arabs including Arab-Americans maintains and advances this system of injustice, pulling everyone down with it. As Martin Luther King rightly said in his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”

Let us recall the startling scale of the American police state within a formal democracy or rule of law. The United States has a small percentage (roughly 3%) of the world’s population. 25% of the world’s prisoners the US government holds is more than say, those in all the authoritarian (as well as formally democratic) regimes in China, the Middle East and South Asia combined….

Since the 1970s Congressional requiring of mandatory sentences, the number of prisoners has shot up from 300,000 – still very large but comparatively sane – 8 times. This escalation resulted from a reactionary Congressional move which has substituted prison for segregation as the way to keep most blacks and other poor people down (Obama might have made, and in a second term, perhaps with pressure from below, still might make some difference about this). But the only signs of abatement of this terrible shift in the public sphere, aside from the very good campaign of Glenn Greenwald, Michelle Alexander, Andrew Sullivan and others on the explosive imprisonment for drug “crimes,” are that the prisons are so expensive they must be scaled down. Current revenue collapse, particularly in states which are required not to run deficits (these laws are largely destructive of decent state government and foolish), creates some pressure to relinquish the vampire hold of the prison system on the lives of most young blacks. Once one is involved in the prison system, even framed up, one is barred from getting a regular job or having a life, even in poverty – see my comments on Michelle Alexander here. It is these lives, not the fetishism of budget cutting, which are the deep moral issue.

The greatest step that one can currently take to fight for American liberty is to combat the prison system and the racism off which it feeds. We need to end militarism, but its roots are deeply in the prison system. For instance, Charles Graner, jailed at Abu Ghraib as proxy for the war crimes of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld et al, was before a prison guard in the South. He learned to put panties on the heads of Arab males from abusing blacks…

The election of Barack Obama, a former head of the Harvard Law Review and a professor of constitutional law before he went into politics, promised some abatement of this. His second day in office Obama issued an executive order against torture (some prominent lawyers who had fought the tyranny of the Bush administration were also appointed by Obama). But to be the head of the Empire transforms even good Presidents, who are fairly rare, into administrators of a corrupt system (by militarism, I mean, for instance, 1280 bases around the world and some $700 billion in official Pentagon expenditures. That is roughly 12 times the amount the U.S. government speands on the State Department or diplomacy). That system includes the gigantic prison apparatus domestically and the current move away from the rule of law…

Perhaps high on himself as a constitutional lawyer - illustrating hubris in the idiom of the ancient Greeks - Obama has recently striven to outdo the Bush administration in fatuousness about the law. Perhaps the outstanding example we all know about recently has been the European/American war in Libya. Obama launched this war in violation of the Constitution, never going to Congress for the required approval. In defence of this crime, he has offered that US missiles, daily crashing into Libya and killing, are somehow not “hostilities” because the US has no troops on the ground.

Merely to say these words aloud ought to produce laughter. But not, of course, in the kept corporate media.

But it is, of course, a) not true that the US has no troops in the Libyan desert. The CIA, the Pentagon, and Blackwater/Xe corporation, inter alia (the Pentagon is better than half privatized troops, an increasingly pseudo-governmental body) have many “stealth” troops on the ground. The are stealth only from the American people because of Congress and the corporate press. These institutions are all part of the war complex – the military-industrial-congressonal-political-media-intelligence-think tank complex which is at the center of American destructiveness internationally as well as its rather obvious self-destructiveness. This self-destructiveness is part of the increasing insecurity of ordinary Americans as the US wages more and more war, the economic collapse, and a likely budget "deal" which will substantially cut social security - have older Americans eating dog food and dying from lack of medical care - and refusing to deal with the real problem of unemployment. See James Galbraith here. Doing little about rising unemployment and punishing and demobilizing many of his supporters in the last election, Obama is making his own defeat likely in 2012 (a cost of hubris).

But b) imagine if in the later 21st century a powerful Saudi-China rained drones down on the US. If it blew up a school or killed a child of a future President, would we Americans regard the action as "non-hostile"? See here and here. One would think that only a drowsy and foolish emperor, a W, could have invented a rationalization like this.

There is thus a danger in being too smart, as Obama and his attorney who “legitimized” this, Howard Koh, a former Dean at Yale and a legal scholar on the War Powers Act are. They have set a standard of fatuousity even compared to the Bush administration and offer it with a straight face (see Bruce Ackerman’s fine "Legal Acrobatics, Illegal War" in the Times about how Obama dishonored the Office of Legal Counsel and made binding advice as to administration criminality simply one “voice” among others, here).

But Sam Morison has described a case that tops this for an emperor’s new clothes award. The first black President, a constitutional lawyer and inspiring speaker, a decent person unusually in American politics but a President (being and wanting to be reelected President often trumps decency and suborns intelligence), wants to use the Military Commissions Act of Congress to try prisoners in special military courts in violation of the rule of law. Under domestic law, giving material aid to terrorists is now a crime. Proceedings could occur in a real court of law. There is a tradition of justice here, as Sam rightly says, that such courts sometimes live up to.

But Congress made up, out of whole cloth, a previously undiscovered “crime of war” of such aid, allowing those accused to be shunted off to extra-legal “military commissions.”

There is no international agreement, like the Geneva Conventions or the Convention against Torture, mandating this pseudo-crime. No other country recognizes it. The Obama administration frees officials who tortured without a hearing or even a Congressional investigation recounting the criminal acts in order to bar them in future - the future that Obama looks to is, in this respect, an increasingly degraded one - but fabricates pseudo-war crimes.

There is, one might say following the administration, the no doubt insignificant matter of torturing people to death – over a hundred people were murdered so far in American secret prisons by the Pentagon’s own account (see the movie Taxi to the Dark Side, and Jane Meyer, The Dark Side) – but in that case, Obama says “The United States must look to the future.” There is, however, the undoubtedly very weighty legal matter of breathing life into the military commissions’ phony trials of those captured by the US government and thrown into secret prisons. Can Obama’s lawyers find, in American history, a precedent?

Sam Morison tells the story in this article of an Englishmam and a Scot who were trading – a perfectly legal activity, the core of Republican and often Democratic imagination of a good society – in Florida, then under the power of Spain. General Andrew Jackson invaded, destroying Fort Apalichicola, the so-called Negro Fort, with 300 men, women and children inside (a cannon ball hit the store of powder inside the fort and exploded it).

One of the Englishman, Robert Ambrister, had urged the Seminoles not to fight, since American power was too great (this was obviously a mistake; it supposed a civilized and not genocidal enemy). Jackson, as Morison relates, proceeded to destroy here and there, without opposition.

He put the captured Englishmen to a “court martial”, but Ambrister threw himself on the mercy of the court; the court ruled not to kill him. In an act of murder (unfortunately, not a disqualification for his later becoming President), Jackson ordered him to be hanged. Morison describes the sycophancy of his political supporters as others tried to point to the horror of what he had done (very much like Howard Koh, the leading academic writing about the War Powers Act, who decided, to please the leader, that really, firing missiles into Libya aren’t “hostilities”).

But even Obama's attorneys have become shamefaced. That Andrew Jackson’s aggression for slaveholding involved murders of these Englishmen – as straight and unmitigated evil as lynching – some have recognized now as “unsavory.” But it is a “precedent” and a so-called court approved it. Perhaps this “precedent” will now get to the Supreme Court, and the four authoritarian judges can find a fifth to declare American illegality “international law.”

The election of Obama miraculously healed for a time the damage that the Bush\Cheney police state had done to America’s reputation. But this appeal to Andrew Jackson's "justice" shows why that change is likely to be short-lived…

Sam has written a very important article on this precedent, worth taking in. Aside from incredulity, it is very hard to absorb fully: Obama, the first black President, the Constitutional lawyer, invokes Andrew Jackson’s murder of innocents on behalf of an aggression waged to defend property in slaves...

In February 2008, I took my then 12 year old son to hear Barack speak at the University of Denver with some 30,000 others. His speech brought tears to the eyes of pretty everyone present (me, too), though I noticed critically that he praised Andrew Jackson as a great American President. I figured he didn’t know much about the genocidal “Indian-killer” (after all, most lawyers aren’t historians). But now, his attorneys have supplied him with this seemingly useful - as long as no one looks at it; otherwise, one might die laughing - falsehood. As a parallel, it would be like Obama pinning a medal of freedom on some surviving and unrepentant segregationist and proposing the lofty precedent of lynching for his offing of Bin Laden...

Sam calls the Obama administration – by what is good in the American tradition, the notion that all men and women are created equal, enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the long fight for its extension – to account. He is a courageous lawyer, defending the prisoners at Guantanamo from the wasteland that Bush, and now, Congress and Obama have mandated. If these things can happen under Obama, leaving in place tyranny, what will happen under future Presidents who are not constitutional lawyers and sometime anti-racists?

Only a movement from below can sustain decency here and move toward reversing American illegality (violations of habeas corpus abroad and at home) and the militarist-prison industrial complex. Every one of us should join Sam in doing this. At the least, naming this issue is of great public importance.


From: Sam Morison
Sent: Monday, July 04, 2011 11:52 AM
Subject: Andrew Jackson goes to Gitmo

Prof. Gilbert,

We haven’t met, but I'm a defense attorney at the Office of Military Commissions in DoD, where as you probably know we're responsible for defending persons detained at Guantanamo Bay and charged with alleged war crimes. In that regard, I thought you might find some interest in my latest piece, which is titled History and Tradition in American Military Justice, and will be published this fall in the Univ. of Penn. Journal of International Law. I've posted a draft on my SSRN page at Here's the abstract:

At present, there are two military commission cases involving terrorism defendants incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay making their way through the appellate courts. In both cases, the defendants are challenging their convictions for “providing material support for terrorism.” While this is a federal offense that could be prosecuted in an Article III court, the legal issue in these appeals is whether providing material support is also a war crime subject to the jurisdiction of a military tribunal. Congress incorporated the offense into the Military Commissions Act, but that is not dispositive, since it is arguably beyond Congress’ legislative competence to create war crimes out of whole cloth and then impose them on foreign nationals having no jurisdictional nexus to the United States.

As a result, the Government has not disputed that there must be at least some historical evidence that the conduct now styled 'providing material support' to an enemy previously has been treated as a war crime, where the defendant was a non-resident alien who owed no duty of allegiance to the injured State. In what might be fairly described as a desperate attempt to discharge its burden of persuasion, the Government has now embraced the only “precedent” that comes close to fitting this description. This is problematic, however, because it is also one of the most notorious episodes in the history of American military justice.

In 1818, then Major General Andrew Jackson led an armed invasion of Spanish Florida, thereby instigating the First Seminole War. In the course of the conflict, his troops captured two British citizens who had been living in Florida among the Seminole Indians. In his inimitable style, Jackson impetuously ordered the summary trial and execution of these men, allegedly for “inciting” the Seminoles to engage in “savage warfare” against the United States. Worse yet, Jackson’s immediate motivation for the invasion was to recapture fugitive slaves, who had escaped from the adjacent States and found refuge among the Seminoles. In addition to territorial expansion, his mission was to return this “property” to their “rightful” owners and prevent Florida from serving as a safe haven for runaway slaves.

Remarkably, the legal basis of the Government’s assertion of military jurisdiction over material support charges therefore rests on Jackson’s decision to execute two men, who were almost certainly innocent, in the context of a war of aggression waged to vindicate the property rights of antebellum Southern slaveholders. The purpose of this essay is to reintroduce the episode to a wider audience, and to reflect on the implications of the Government’s decision to rely on it as a precedent for a modern war crimes prosecution.

Best regards,
Sam Morison
Appellate Defense Counsel
Office of Military Commissions

Dear Sam Morison,

Thank you very very much for doing the job you do- the rule of law and decency need every passionate defender they can find particularly with the Obama's administration’s increasing affection for executive power and the most empty justifications (no "hostilities" in Libya, therefore no need to go to Congress) - and for sending your fine piece. I am part way through it, but the example of Andy Jackson murdering an innocent British man in an aggression on behalf of slavery as a precursor to what the Obama administration is doing at Guantanamo beggars satire....Would you mind if I post your link and the link (or the article) on my blog?

All the best,

From: Sam Morison []
Sent: Saturday, July 09, 2011 9:58 AM
To: Alan Gilbert
Subject: RE: Andrew Jackson goes to Gitmo


Thanks so much for the reply. I'd be delighted if you post something about the paper on your blog, which I visit regularly. We're trying to keep the issue alive, so any attention your blog might generate would be greatly appreciated. Not surprisingly, we've gotten a good reception from the Native American community, and the National Congress of American Indians has agreed to submit an amicus brief in the DC Circuit and/or Supreme Court…

In my view, it would be difficult to overstate the danger of the military commissions as they are currently constituted, which I think is the proverbial camel's nose under the civil liberties tent. With the passage of the Military Commissions Act, which purports to legislate new war crimes out of whole cloth and then apply them extraterritorially, the United States is quite literally attempting to impose a form of martial law on the entire world. The hubris is just breathtaking. Indeed, the CMCR actually invoked the spectre of "crimes by analogy" to avoid ex post facto concerns with material support charges under the MCA, which as we pointed out is a legal concept borrowed from the Soviet Union. Soviet law included an “article permitting a judge to consider the social danger of an individual even when he had committed no act defined as a crime in the specialized part of the code. He was to be guided by analogizing the dangerous act to some act defined as crime.” Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 169, n.12 (1972) (quoting J. HAZARD, THE SOVIET LEGAL SYSTEM 133 (1962)). The Supreme Court rejected this because “[p]unishment by analogy . . . though long common in Russia, [is] not compatible with our constitutional system.” Id. at 169; see also Zaimi v. Untied States, 476 F.2d 511 (D.C. Cir 1972). Somewhere, Stalin is smiling.

Moreover, as you know, military commissions traditionally have been viewed as courts of necessity, temporary expedients justified by the exigencies of an ongoing armed conflict. Now, we've used the metaphor of a "war against terror" to institutionalize a system of second class courts martial for foreign nationals, which logically presupposes a permanent "state of exception," as Carl Schmitt would have it. The pressure to expand the jurisdiction of the commissions is inevitable; one benighted congressman recently introduced legislation to designate several Mexican drug cartels as "enemy aliens" and subject them to military trial at Gitmo for drug trafficking, which, last I checked, is not a recognized violation of the LOAC [Law of Armed Conflict]. While that attempt failed, it surely will not be the last.

Thanks again for positive feedback.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Inter Press Service

Calls Mount to Investigate Bush Era Officials for Torture
by Naseema Noor

WASHINGTON - Senior officials under the former George W. Bush administration knowingly authorized the torture of terrorism suspects held under United States custody, a Human Right Watch (HRW) report released here Tuesday revealed.

Titled "Getting Away with Torture", the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others.

Newly de-classified memos, transcriptions of congressional hearings, and other sources indicate that Bush officials authorized the use of interrogation techniques almost universally considered torture – such as waterboarding – as well as the operation of covert CIA prisons abroad and the rendition of detainees to other countries where they were subsequently tortured.

HRW also criticized the United States under the current Barack Obama administration for failing to meets it obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other inhumane treatment.

"President Obama has defended the decision not to prosecute officials in his predecessor's administration by arguing that the country needs 'to look forward, not backward,'" said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth. "[He] has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime."

To date, both the Bush and Obama administrations have successfully prevented courts from reviewing the merits of torture allegations in civil lawsuits by arguing that the cases involve sensitive information, which, if revealed, might endanger national security.

Last year, Bush defended the use of waterboarding on the grounds that the Justice Department deemed it legal. In 2002, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel had drafted memos approving the legality of a list of abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. However, HRW documents evidence that shows senior administration officials pressured the politically-appointed lawyers to write these legal justifications.

"Senior Bush officials shouldn't be allowed to shape and hand-pick legal advice and then hide behind it as if were autonomously delivered," Roth said.

HRW further recommends that Congress establish an independent, nonpartisan commission to examine the mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and compensate victims of torture, as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

"Without [a commission], torture very much remains within the toolbox of accepted policies. People are not going to back away from it until there is accountability," Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security and author of "The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days", told IPS.

In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate detainee abuse, but limited the mandate to only "unauthorized" acts, which effectively excluded violations like waterboarding and forcing prisoners to maintain stress positions that were approved by the Bush administration.

But on Jun. 30 of this year, the Justice Department announced that it would continue probing only two of nearly 100 allegations of torture. The open cases involve the deaths of two men – Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi, and Gul Rahman, an Afghan – in CIA custody.

Human and civil rights group criticized the narrow scope of the torture investigations, while HRW said they failed to address the systematic character of the abuses.

"The U.S. government's pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from acts of individuals who broke the rules," Roth said. "It resulted from decisions made by senior U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast aside the rules." If the U.S. does not pursue criminal investigations, HRW is urging other countries to exercise universal jurisdiction under international law and prosecute the aforementioned officials.

A number of former detainees have already taken this step by filing criminal complaints in courts outside of the U.S.

In February 2011, alleged victims of torture living in Switzerland planned to file a suit against Bush, causing him to cancel his trip there.

Another investigation is underway in Spain, where the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights requested a subpoena for a former commander of the Abu Ghraib prison to explain his role in the alleged torture of four detainees.

Washington's failure to investigate its own citizens for abuses like torture ultimately undercuts its efforts to hold other governments accountable for human rights violations, according to HRW.

"The U.S. is right to call for justice when serious international crimes are committed in places like Darfur, Libya, and Sri Lanka, but there should be no double standards," Roth said.

"When the U.S. government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice," he added.

Failing to prosecute ultimately sends the message that "if you are powerful, you can get away with even torture," Greenberg said.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2 senses of context in the startling Xenophon: Stone's Trial of Socrates, part 2

See part 1 here.

In chapter 15 of The Trial of Socrates, “How Socrates might easily have won acquittal,” Izzy imagines Socrates appealing to the Athenian jury (the 500) in the light of Athens's own principles of free speech (isegoria). Izzy reports in “The Four Words” that Athenians had for freedom of speech – again a model, scholarly speaking, for thinking about Athens in its splendor. “You who value deliberation so much are accusing me of having taught Critias. But the teacher may easily be misunderstood by a student (One might add here as Izzy does not recognize, ”I have taught democrats too, Chaerophon, and particularly Polemarchos, who died as a leader of the democrats, fighting to overthrow the Tyranny of the Thirty in the Piraeus.”). And each student follows her own course, finds his or her own destiny.*

“But I refused to do Critias’ bidding. I did not participate in, but shunned the murders. I would have stopped them if I could. I am accused only of having anti-democratic ideas. But in Athens which defends free speech, it would be a betrayal of the regime to put me to death merely for expressing unpopular ideas.” (In the Apology, Socrates also points out that but for a “scrap of time” until he would have died of natural causes, the Athenians are going to acquire the reputation of the city that puts to death its wise man or a man thought to be wise. Plato and Socrates, were in this respect, prescient…).”

Socrates could have said – Izzy inspires me to say – 3 additional things. First, philosophy itself could be more explicitly invoked in his defense. For it is asking questions, not providing answers beyond at most policies since ideas of the whole, of justice in the sense of the good, are not easy, are provisional, remain questions which is the core of democracy. Now there is also a core of moral standards or preconditions about justice (see my Democratic Individuality or roughly, Rawls's idea of the right as distinct from the good) which is mutually understood and cannot be violated. For instance, Izzy’s point is that there is, to a high degree, a high estimation of freedom of speech in Athens, something not yet a “right’ but, nonetheless, a deep understanding about what membership in a decent regime entails. A decent regime halts power when it seeks to kill unjustly or in modern terms, violate individual rights.

Socrates could have said: I served honorably in battle (see the Apology and especially Alcibiades’s account in the Symposium here), cleaved to my station (as I do in pursuing the riddle of the god, questioning others), honored or participated attentively in religious observances (see the opening of Xenophon’s Memorabilia)** But it is also observable that Athens had wiped out many innocents, for example, in Melos. Questioning policies and proposals, even when they come from the influential, the powerful, is the exemplary action both of democracy and of public deliberation when it is good. (Note that there is a Socratic edge of criticism of Athens in these remarks that might not have gone over well with its fanatic – “my city right or wrong” - “defenders”).

Second and relatedly, in Pericles’ famous funeral oration, the leading sentence about Athens, in contrast to Sparta, is that it pursues a kind of democratic individuality (with a stress more on democratic than on individuality, in contrast to the modern time, see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 1). “We do not cast censorious looks (this is a phrase from Hobbes’s elegant, 17th century translation of Thucydides) on one another’s eccentricities, so long as we come together for a public good.” In this context, Socrates might have said: “my speaking out critically about the democracy, sometimes in an anti-democratic vein, even sneering at my fellow artisans (there is perhaps an inflection of the aristocrat Plato, son of Ariston – the best - here) and my soldiering for the democracy exactly illustrates your or perhaps our greatest leader, Pericles’s thought. As I said in the Apology, I stuck to my post in battle, and did the same, following the riddle of the God told to Chaerophon, your democratic colleague and my best student and friend, as a gadfly: asked questions and fashioned arguments daily about justice and other leading issues about how to live, approximating but never reaching truth. I know that I do not know (or to make the statement not self-refuting, know little about, must search anew for what the idea of the good is…).

Third, Socrates is charged with not believing in the Athenian gods. In the first book of the Republic, Plato makes fun of this charge. “Yesterday I went down to the Piraeus with Glaucon, son of Ariston, to see the new festival of Bendis.” The sailors in the navy, the core of the democracy, were having a festival for a moon goddess from Thrace. There is no persona among the Athenian gods quite like Bendis (not Athena, not Hera, not Aphodite, not Artemis…). But the Athenians themselves, liking free speech and free thought and in some crisis with the war, were looking around for (not to say, in a sexist vein, “whoring after”) foreign gods.

Socrates is then arrested by Polemarcos (threatened to be beaten up unless he comes; Glaucon agrees to come and only then and for that reason, Socrates comes) and brought to the house of Cephalos, a rich man, an immigrant in Athens, and father of Polemarchos. Polemarchos is the leader of the democratic party; his view of justice is to benefit friends and harm enemies. The latter is a tyrant’s view as Socrates shows.

Cephalos (his name means the head or brain – the English "cephalic index" comes from it) is on the verge of death, slipping away, making sacrifices to the gods, paying his earthly debts. Thus, the most pious man in Athens, the father of a democratic war-leader (which is what the name Polemarchos means – in English, polemic, monarch have the same roots), is a rich metic, an immigrant. Who else would have such zeal for Athenian piety?

In the myth of Er in book 10 of the Republic, the first soul who chooses a guiding spirit rushes in, against a prophet’s warning, to seize the life of the greatest tyrant, and only afterwards notices that it fates him to eat his own children. He then howls against the gods for his own choice. He had been good by habit in the life before and gone on a “thousand year” (not earth time) journey of the blessed before he took up this fate. Plato means one to recall Cephalos. The charge of blasphemy about the Athenian gods against Socrates in this trial is frivolous and unintentionally ironic.

But the acceptance of other gods was not just a feature of Athenian decline. When I came to Athens four years ago, I was shown the monument to the unknown god on the Acropolis. I thus discovered (I did not know from my academic learning in these matters) that the Athenians always expected new gods. St. Paul came and sermonized for Jesus at this spot, and certain fundamentalists are much more likely to know about the monument and Athenian toleration (sadly, they often do not value it) than scholars.

But toleration about the gods was deep, in the bone, in Athens. This point adds to Izzy’s fine account of the democracy. So Socrates could also have said: “You who are most tolerant about the gods, who expect an unknown god, can hardly try a man for also believing in other gods (Socrates's daimon).”

Socrates, as Plato often shows, is somewhat critical of the Athenian gods (Zeus the rapist, Hera the slaughterer of rivals, etc. are doubtfully avatars to worship…). But this was neither a major sin (any one for offering daughters, sisters, mothers to Zeus?) nor even the charge against him according to Plato and Xenophon.

Socrates could have said all this, in addition to Izzy’s speech, and won the acquittal, given who he was, and Athenian principles. He did not quite. Izzy rightly concludes that he was not trying to win acquittal. But he goes too easily for Xenophon’s misguided theory, being absent during the trial as a mercenary fighting for the Persian emperor, informed by Hermogenes about what happened, in his Defense of Socrates at his Trial – that Socrates was committing suicide. There is some evidence for this theory, which is also Plato, to some extent. The Socrates of the Phaedo expresses a desire for swift death to other philosophers, Simmias and Cebes, Pythagoreans – as, perhaps, was Plato.*** The Phaedo’s Socrates maintains that the home of the soul is against, away from the body, and therefore one should, as a philosopher, yearn to leave.

But one should be careful here. Socrates famously jokes around and what he said about Evenus - well, if he is a philosopher, he should want to join me quickly -is plainly meant to be viewed skeptically by his and Plato’s students. The Phaedo is a narrated dialogue, long after the event, by Phaedo, with the most objections and questions to Socrates’s argument, the most failure to be convinced, of all the dialogues, and the physical absence of Plato…(Plato, perhaps, did not want to weep publically, against Socrates's wishes, like the others…).

In contrast or adopting the notion as a kind of surface extreme, Xenophon’s Memorabilia conclude with a claim that Socrates wanted simply to avoid the loss of philosophical powers of old age. He also, Xenophon shows, acted with moral fortitude, a lack of complaint. The latter is a good point and perhaps connects with the teaching of virtue, but is surprising non-philosophical (the surface of Xenophon’s Socrates is never philosophical):

“First, he had already reached such an age, that had he not died then, death must soon have come for him. Second, he escaped the most irksome stage of life and the inevitable diminution of mental powers and instead won glory for the moral strength revealed in the wonderful frankness and honesty and probity of his defense, and in the equanimity and manliness with which he bore the sentence of death.” Memorabilia, 4. 7. 1-2.****

A central weakness in Izzy’s account is that he does not take up Socrates defending questioning (philosophy) in Athens. It is that for which he went to his death. Repeatedly in the Crito, Socrates’ speech – the laws’ speech - says: it would not be dignified for me to slink off in the disguise of a slave for a symposium (a banquet in Thessaly). It would not be, as a matter of self-respect for a philosopher, becoming or livable to have defended raising questions in Athens and to have rejected exile when he could have proposed it in the sentencing phase of his trial, and to slink off now, to do without the permission of the democracy now what he could have had the permission of the city to do then.

The first argument of the laws, that Socrates is their “slave” and that they deserve obedience more than a father, is of course, the common prejudice which philosophy, at its starting point, famously rejects (cf. Aristophanes where Phidippides learns in the thinkery to beat his parents and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, ch. 1). See my "How to read Plato" here. The later part of this same speech mocks the idea of Socrates’ living like a slave, in case the reader – especially one of Plato’s students – had been inclined to the rather stupid argument, advanced with an increasingly agitated rhetoric if one reads it aloud, by the laws at first.***** The point about slavery, about the lack of dignity in Crito’s proposed escape, is repeated. It is an important clue to understanding what Socrates did.

Socrates stands up for doing philosophy in the trial. He says he does not deserve punishment for asking questions, thinking about arguments. He says he will not, as is customary, grovel to the court for life. He regards the trial as a farce in which the democrats are likely unjustly and “lightly” to put him to death (they would soon raise him and others back up if they could…). Socrates says what he can, given the need to defend philosophy as he understands it. He is not lawyering for himself, as Izzy, mistakenly, is against him. He is right and, in fact, admirable to do this (as many readers have sensed for 2400 years…).

Though his inner voice had told Socrates he would die (and had not warned him against speaking as he did), he did nearly win acquittal with a defense of being a philosopher. That honors Athens (though the trial itself is not admirable). Socrates thought his defense honorable. He was prepared to go to his death. The story that he just committed suicide, for instance, because he was aging and wanted to die, is, in fact, an offshoot of this higher purpose. Xenophon did not see it. His defense merely emphasizes Socrates’s “big talk” in the court, without a gesture at what the talk was to defend.

Nonetheless, perhaps Leo Strauss’s unlikely analogy that Xenophon is like Jane Austen, a writer of supreme subtlety, is right. ****** The first chapter of the Memorabilia suggests this (with a little too much about how Socrates was just piously for making his interlocutors good, too little explicitly, here and elsewhere in Xenephon’s writing, on what the ascent of philosophy, the dizziness and delight, is).

ln the Phaedo, Socrates addresses his fellow philosophers, who also, like Crito, want him to escape, do not have the idea that he needs to go to his death to defend and thus establish philosophy in Athens , or perhaps in a more ideal Athens. See here and here. The modern democracies are better, in this respect, for they have equal freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and academic freedom, precisely as Martin Luther King said, because of Socrates. Athens putting Socrates to death for questioning is the root of equal basic rights, rights which should, if honored here, have protected the gadfly I.F. Stone against the vile persecution of the Truman-McCarthy period and its subsequent echoes after his death.

The main point is that Socrates defended questioning, philosophy, and went to his death for it. All of his friends were dismayed to lose him and, at the end, wept (Socrates says, in a sexist vein, “I sent the women away…”; Plato did not attend.) How will we ever have such good conversations, ever have as much fun listening to and talking with anyone else? In this respect, Socrates and Plato commend self-reliance. Learning from the model, one might try oneself, as Plato did, to ask a question, put in a word…

Izzy spent 10 years working on Greek and Socrates. He got much farther than most scholars in setting the context for the trial, and politically, in spelling out some aspects of Athens that were genuinely admirable and worth fighting for. But the literature is weak on, and he did not ask himself the question: what was Plato trying to teach his students? (I ask this question in: “Do Philosophers counsel tyrants?,” Constellations, 2009, here). He saw that Plato was hiding messages about the trial in the Apology. But he never thought about what a dialogue is, how there might be other, or perhaps broader, connected hidden messages in Plato.

Did the dialogues tell all that Plato thought, if read correctly, or are they the start on a philosophical/mystical pathway (one suggested by the dazzling idea of the good in the Republic, which brings all things to life in the noetic universe, as the sun all life in the physical universe; in the Republic, this is just a metaphor at which those newly initiated in the Socratic/Platonic journey can hardly make a gesture). Further, Plato’s hidden teaching appears to rely on numbers and again, one is just at a start in the Republic. The tyrant has 729 times less happiness than the just man, Socrates says. 729 is 9 to the power of 3 or 3 to the power of 5, and one might look further into these numbers….

The mystery religions in which Socrates and Plato participated used among other means, poppies (see here and here) and worshipped Demeter and Persephone (the heritage of the mother-led spiritually, comparatively egalitarian island civilizations which the mainland had destroyed (even Athens was a prison for women; in contrast, Socrates and Plato, defend women as guardians and as philosophers, for instance, in the idea of love explained by the prophetess Diotima in the Symposium, and were founders of the first enlightenment as Hilary Putnam sometimes speaks of it (h/t Steve Wagner). Put another way, and in one respect, Socrates thought doing philosophy was a better high than the mystery religions.

Izzy also baldly asserts that Socrates and Plato were pro-slavery:

“Socrates and Plato never questioned slavery and Aristotle thought it ‘natural.’" (p. 45) He then asserts, foolishly, a maxim often true, but not for a thinker as complex as Socrates or Plato: "The moral is even the greatest philosopher may share the blinkers of their time, where clearer vision would threaten a property right."(p. 45)

Izzy alludes to the Meno; he misses, however, the counterevidence right there. The dialogue is about whether virtue can be taught. Meno, the beautiful, young interlocutor from Thessaly (interestingly, the place where Critias goes, according to Xenophon in the first book of the Memorabilia, and is corrupted), is reduced to silence by Socrates’s questioning, and analogizes Socrates to a “sting-ray” which has numbed him, otherwise able to speak eloquently, made him unable to talk. Socrates then says: I perplex you because I am perplexed. He asks him to bring any slave who speaks Greek and under questioning, gets the slave to prove an advanced theorem of Euclidean geometry. The slave, by the way, is notably quicker than Meno (h/t Steve Wagner).

Socrates then suggests that the slave, since he could do this in response to questioning, thinking he knows but discovering a mistake, learning further from questions,***** must have had this knowledge from eternity. Truth in Greek is aletheia, not-forgetting (Unvergorgenheit) as Heidegger brilliantly translates it (lethe is the River Lethe, the river at the border of Hades where those who cross forget, the river of forgetfulness…) The particle a in Greek means not. See here.

Socrates says: all souls have this knowledge from eternity (both when they are in human form and not) and are thus equal. This is the most radical anti-slavery argument ever put down on paper (Stone cites a fragment of another anti-slavery advocate, Alcidamas, a sophist, of whom an important phrase survives: “God has left all men free. Nature has made none a slave.” (p. 45)

Not only is Socrates against slavery, Plato’s city in speech in the Republic, hierarchical though it is, includes no slaves. Aristotle is Izzy’s favorite who says some more favorable things theoretically about democracy than Plato (citizenship is ruling and being ruled in turn, for example, or that the many sometimes see things that the wise man or great leader does not). But Izzy ignores that Aristotle was also for the rule of the outstanding man, and advised Alexander the Great, went down the line for tyranny in a way that Plato eschewed, at least after the bitter experiment in Syracuse in which neither Dionysius nor Dion became a philosopher-king; neither followed the recommendation of the Seventh Letter: to uphold laws. (Dion, though engaged in personal vengeance against Dionysius, acted also as a philosopher, but was murdered by his ostensible friend, Calippus).

Plato was the teacher of Demosthenes, the biting critic of Phillip of Macedon, Alexander’s father – see Demosthenes’s Phillipics – whom Alexander’s agents murdered. It was perhaps not accidental that Aristotle, in many ways Plato’s best student, was not chosen to head the Academy when Plato died. In any case, even Aristotle’s idea of natural slavery is hedged. Such slavery, he says perhaps ironically in book 1 of the Politics, is one that nature intends though it so rarely achieves its goal, and never among Greeks nor even in barbarian Carthage, one of the three best cities in book 2. Aristotle’s idea of natural slavery is a challenge to Plato’s argument in the Republic and most to Plato’s teacher, Socrates. But Socrates was right, as Izzy would have agreed if he had noticed.

When I was a graduate student at Harvard, I knew many people in philosophy (many colleagues in SDS). A dogma in the Harvard Philosophy Department at that time apparently was that no Greek philosopher opposed slavery. That idea, which Izzy imbibed from reading the literature, is false.

Reading Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Izzy brilliantly recovers Thersites, the alleged buffoon whom Odysseus upbraids. Socrates is alleged by an accuser Polycrates, writing just after the trial, to have often conjured this story from Homer’s Odyssey. (Thersites’s spirit is also sneered at in Plato’s Myth of Er in the tenth book of the Republic, getting into the body of an ape). Thersites is an ordinary soldier, discontented when as soldiers are often, misused; he resembles the rowers in the Athenian navy. Izzy rightly gets the anti-democratic sentiment hinted at but disguised in Xenophon, and makes a powerful point about Xenophon’s, Plato’s and Socrates’ anti-democracy. As I have underlined here, Plato and even Socrates defended democracy only against tyranny.

Polycrates, as Xenophon relates,

“accused [Socrates] of constantly quoting the passage from Homer (Iliad, 2,88-91, 199-203), which says about Odysseus:

‘Whenever he met some king or man of distinction,
He would stand there and try to stop him with gentle words:
‘Sir, you ought not to be scared, like any base coward;
Keep a grip on yourself and check the rest of the people….’
But when he came across a common man and found him wailing,
He would lash out with his staff and dress him imperiously:
‘Sir, stop your trembling and listen to the words of others
Who are your betters – you unsoldierly weakling.
Worthless in battle and in counsel. (Memorabilia,1.2. 57-59)

Xenophon tries, deliberately and unsuccessfully as Izzy underlines, to deflect a sleepy reader from the obvious, anti-poor people, anti-citizen sentiment here:

“It was alleged that [Socrates] interpreted this as meaning that the poet commended the beating of commoners and poor people. But that was not what Socrates meant. If it had been, he would have thought he ought to have been beaten himself.” (1.2.58-59)

Now Socrates, as Plato’s Apology and Symposium, show us, was fearless in battle. So he would not have fit that part of the indictment. And kings are sometimes, as Homer suggests, shaky (and cannot easily be replaced). So one could not beat Henry the fifth – the best example of an ideal, brutal soldier (Shakespeare shows him ordering the killing of baggage boys away from the fighting) -for doubts.

Still, the core here is pretty irreducibly anti-democratic. Xenophon tries to fob it off, saying it refers to the rich, too, and that Socrates was democratic in being willing to speak to anyone, unlike sophists who charged a high price. Both points are true. But Xenophon’s very effort underlines (quite deliberately for some readers, I suspect) the point.

“What he did say was that any people who could neither say nor do anything useful, and who were incapable, if the need arose, of helping the army of the city or even the citizen body, ought to be placed under every kind of restraint (especially if they are presumptuous too) even if they happen to be very rich. No, on the contrary, Socrates was obviously a friend of the people [too rhetorical, this is nonetheless true, for instance in upholding a genuine common good like not murdering citizens or doing philosophy] and well disposed toward all mankind. Although he gained many admirers, both native and foreign, he never charged any of them a fee for his company, but shared his resources unhesitatingly with everyone. Some people, after getting some scraps of wisdom from him free, sold them to others at a high price, and were not as democratic as he was, because they refused to converse with those could not pay." (1.2.59-60)

Izzy rightly thinks he has discovered, through investigating, the context in one important sense, that Xenophon is concealing Socrates’s anti-democratic sentiments and implied enthusiasm for Critias and the Thirty. This important sense of context differs from a second sense which I have emphasized: that Plato’s dialogues are complex, often offering false trails in argument (some deliberately deceptive or obviously contradictory) for students to assess. As I will show below, Xenophon’s writing, though not explicitly philosophical, is a paradigm of this second sense, too.******

But in his own sense of contextual research, Izzy, mistakenly, leaves out the rest of Xenophon’s argument. Critias and Alcibiades (whom Xenophon treats less subtly and interestingly than Plato) are but two of Socrates’s students. To each of his students, Xenophon shows, Socrates taught, by example, a disciplined life. Critias and Alcibiades, least of all , led such a life, but had eyes for politics, glory, wealth (“where’s the relish?,” asks Glaucon of Socrates’s austere city, early in the Republic).

Listen to Xenophon’s depiction of how Socrates annoyed Critias (Xenophon’s Socrates is also a sometimes nasty, in your face gossip) and how Critias came to venge himself on philosophy and Socrates. These passages – defying and mocking tyrants and showing little concern for death - sound no more like timid subordination or support than what Socrates offered in the democracy, in fact, rather less so. On both Xenophon’s and Plato’s descriptions, Socrates often defied force or threats against him. In addition, Izzy’s claim of the alleged favorability of Socratics toward Critias will not survive reading Xenophon:

“However, even though [Socrates] himself did nothing discreditable, if he had expressed approval of these men when he saw them behaving badly, he would have deserved censure. Well, when he noticed that Critias was in love with Euthydemus and was trying to seduce him, like one seeking to gratify his sexual appetite, Socrates tried to dissuade him by insisting that it was slavish and improper for a truly good man to solicit his favorite, to whom he wishes to appear in a creditable light, importuning him like a beggar and entreating him to grant his favors, especially when those favors are far from honorable. And when Critias paid no attention to these protests and was not to be diverted from his purpose, Socrates is reported to have said, in the presence of several people including Euthydemus himself, that Critias seemed to be suffering from pig’s itch; he wanted to scratch himself against Euthydemus like a piglet scratching himself against a stone [Kritias epithumon Euthydemo prosknesthai hoster ta hudia tois lithois.” (Memorabilia, 1.2, 29-31 trans. Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield).*******

Critias was incensed. For there was more to the story than Xenophon lets slip at the outset. In book 4( the final book), Euthydemus is the leading character and Socrates’s plots to and succeeds in enticing Euthydemus in becoming his student. In effect, there is an erotic rivalry between Socrates and Critias over Euthydemus, and at Critias’s expense, Socrates wins Euthydemus’s affections.********

Tyrannically (though motivated by the sting of jealousy and envy as well as fear), Critias sought to silence his former teacher:

“This made Critias take a dislike to Socrates so that when as one of the Tyranny of the Thirty [the apt democratic name; originally, as introduced by Sparta, it was "the Thirty," an oligarchy] he became a legislator along with Charicles, he held it against Socrates and introduced a law against teaching the ‘art of debate.’ [logon technon, literally the art of words]. He did this out of spite toward Socrates since he had no means of attacking him other than misrepresenting him to the public by applying to him the usual layman’s allegation against all philosophers [unclear: perhaps “making the worse argument the better,” mocked in Aristophanes’s The Clouds]. I never heard Socrates do this myself, nor did I ever know anyone else to claim that he had done so.” (1.2, 31-32)

Socrates was also outspoken in his criticisms of Critias politically, so outspoken that Critias made a law against Socrates conversing with the young. As Izzy fails to recognize, the authoritarian persecutors in the democracy and Critias echoed one and the same charge against Socrates: he corrupts the youth. He must be silenced through a law against teaching the art of debate, the art of words…

Had Izzy not been too engaged in trying to conjure the good of democracy, he would have noticed that this was a powerful defense for Socrates. Tyranny – including ones emerging from within a democracy - seek to suppress philosophy. Anytus (who also fought the Tyranny of the Thirty, like Polemarchos, in the Piraeus) and Meletus have thus much in common with Critias, join with him to suppress and, finally, murder Socrates. Genuine democrats should have shunned this, as 220 did. In America, this is the tyranny of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, McCarthyites and the neo-cons…

“[Socrates] made his position quite clear. When the Thirty were putting to death many of the citizens (and those not the worst among them [sic – murder of innocents is enough; Xenephon suggests here, as in his famous dialogue On Tyranny or Hiero here and here, that some might usefully be murdered, a rather different idea] and were inciting many others to do wrong, Socrates observed

'It seems strange that a one herdsman [genomenos boun] who made his cattle fewer and worse than they were before should not admit that he was a bad tender of cattle [kakos boukolos], and still more extraordinary that a man appointed a political leader[genomenos poleus] who makes the citizens [politas] fewer and worse than they were before was not ashamed and did not consider himself a bad political leader.'” (1.2.32-33)

When these remarks were reported to Critias, Socrates was summoned and threatened. Xenophon’s account of this dialogue again shows Socrates’s mocking their commands, suggesting that their words and threats go beyond their meanings (but what, asks Socrates to Thrasymachos in book 1 of the Republic if the stronger mistakes his advantage…?), and making a fool out of a belligerent interlocutor Charicles (typically, as in Plato, Socrates does with Thrasymachos or Callicles), and reducing him to threats. Note that Critias, who was a student of Socrates, knows perfectly well what is going on – Socrates intends him to – and is silent:

“This was reported to the tyrants, and so Critias and Charicles summoned Socrates, and calling his attention to the law, forbade him to converse with the young. Socrates asked them if he was allowed to ask for information about anything in their proclamation that he did not understand. They said he could.

‘Well, ’ said he, ‘I am prepared to obey the laws, but in order that I may not unwittingly offend through ignorance, I want you to make this point clear to me. When you order abstention from the art of debate, is it because you think it is accompanied by correctness or by incorrectness of speech? If by correctness, clearly I would have to refrain from speaking correctly; and if by incorrectness, clearly I would have to try to speak correctly.’

Charicles was annoyed with him and said, ‘As you are so dense [agnoies], Socrates [this is projection on Charicles’s part], we issue you this warning which is easier to grasp: do not converse with the young at all [tois neois holos me dialegesthai].”

‘Well, then,’ said Socrates, ‘that there may be no question raised about my obedience, give me a definition of the age up to which one should regard people as young.’

Charicles replied: ‘As long as they are considered to be too immature to serve on the Council; on this principle, you are not to converse with men below the age of thirty.’

‘Not even if I am buying something,’ asked Socrates, ‘and the seller is below the age of thirty? Can’t I even ask what the price is?’

‘ Yes, of course you can ask that sort of question,’ said Charicles. ‘But Socrates, most of the questions you like to ask are ones to which you know the answers. That is the kind you must stop asking.’

‘Am I not to reply either, then,’ said Socrates, ‘when a young man asks me something, if I know the answer – like ‘Where does Charicles live?’ or ‘Where’s Critias’?

‘Yes, of course you can answer that kind,’ said Charicles.

Critias interrupted: ‘The people you will have to keep off, Socrates are the cobblers and carpenters and smiths. They must be worn out by now with all your talk about them.’[1.2.32-37]

In Xenophon as a writer, like Plato, the interruption is significant. Socrates makes a fool out of Charicles. But Critias then warns him against talking with, asking questions of the demos: cobblers and carpenters and smiths and rowers/soldiers. Why did the tyrants try to bar Socrates from teaching? It is because, very likely, his teaching would encourage not just aristocrats or rich democrats (Polemarchos) to think, but rather, spur democratic questioning and revolt. Socrates would make the better argument the better…

Were Critias right – “they” must be exhausted with Socrates’s talk –the point of banning it would be slight. People just wouldn’t listen. It appears that the tyrants feared philosophy and sought to curb it – just as Meletus and Anytus, acting tyrannically, urge the same crime on the democracy. That, too, is a devastating point, Socrates could have made in his defense. But contra Izzy, perhaps he thought that disobeying commands to fetch people to be murdered was sufficient…

Even if Critias meant merely Socrates’ use of the people as examples in argument (also a possible meaning of the Greek), his unique intervention betrays the quasi-conscious worry which the above wording renders explicitly: Socrates’s questioning will stir up dissidence against injustice.

Xenophon continues:

“’Then must I also keep off the topics that they lead to,’ said Socrates, ‘morality and piety and so on?’

‘Certainly,’ said Charicles, ‘and from herdsman [kai ton boukolon]. Otherwise you had better take care or else you may find the cattle decrease. “ (1.2.37-38]

Here again, Charicles threatens Socrates; Critias is silent. But Critias’s role in this incident was also known to Plato; he speaks of the Tyranny making the democracy seem a golden polity at the outset of the Seventh Letter and one should look, unlike Izzy, with deep skepticism, at the role of Critias in other dialogues. For instance, Critias’s account of Socrates’ city in the Timaeus, existing before the storm and flood, has only guardians and laborers and lacks a philosopher-king. (h/t Peter Minowitz) What it lacks, therefore, among other things, is the role of wisdom, and of guardians tempered from brutality (mere gymnastics) by music, and perhaps Plato means to criticize the authoritarianism and wanton murderousness of Critias for his students by drawing this difference.

Xenophon concludes “This made it plain that their hostility to Socrates was due to their having been told of his remark about the cattle.” It is interesting – Strauss insists on Xenophon’s Jane Austen-like delicacy of statement – that Xenophon does not underline the threat to Socrates in Caricles’ last remark.

Xenophon denounces Critias and Alcibiades for pride (hubris) and wantonness. Critias, he says, was able to restrain his desires while listening to Socrates (Xenophon makes the clever point that Socrates prevented Critias from doing damage while young, but Critias then sought out worse teachers…1.2.26-28). Becoming political, “Critias was banished to Thessaly and attached himself to men who indulged more in law-breaking than in justice [anomia mallon he dikaiosune].” (1.2.24) Thessaly was for Critias training in becoming the grandest in anomia and self-indulgence – the tyrant. Of the hubris of Critias and Alcibiades, Xenophon says:

“Since this is what happened to Alcibiades and Critias, and since they were exalted by their birth, elated by their wealth, puffed up with their power, and spoiled by many people, is it any wonder, when they were corrupted for all these reasons and long separated from Socrates, they became overbearing? (Memorabilia, 1.2.25 – one might think also of the common corruption of potential philosophers in the Republic against which his daimon makes Socrates unusual).

Plato’s Apology indicates, perhaps more forcefully than Xenophon, that Socrates did not put on airs, that his wisdom (being aware of his own ignorance…) was of a merely “human sort,” that most spoke in areas of which they had no knowledge, affected god-like powers,and as politicians, "lightly" murdered others.

I will take up distinctons between Xenophon (some additional points Xenophon makes in favor of a philosopher-tyrant and Izzy’s account), Plato and Socrates in part 3.

*I was once the teacher of Condi Rice, see here and here.

**The opening shows that Socrates wore the outer garment of the law as Joseph Campbell says of sufis and other mystics, and was spiritual; it carefully does not say what he actually – philosophically – thought about the Athenian gods or, as Plato sometimes refers, the god.

***We do not know not much about what Pythagoras taught, except that the universe was explicable mathematically and the Pythagorean theorem, or about the mathematical mysteries of Plato’s Academy.

****Leo Strauss’s greatest personal virtue, as he saw it, was probity. Unlike Socrates, the probity was for national socialism…

*****Here Plato’s discussion does not quite illustrate the point. Neither Socrates nor Meno is perplexed about the theorem. But nonetheless, becoming perplexed and perplexing interlocutors are vital to thinking, fashioning arguments….

******Many people, even some translators like Robin Waterfield, read Xenophon stupidly. Waterfield gets some of Xenophon's points, but has the illusion that he is smarter or more careful than Xenophon.

*******See my discussion of Alcibiades’s account of so-called Platonic love in the Symposium here in which Socrates comments on sexuality allegedly being “far from honorable.” But none of this implies sexual abstinence – just self-restraint…

********The story of Euthydemus has a deeper meaning for Xenophon, made clear only in book 4 (the last book) of the Memorabilia where Xenophon tells the back story of Euthydemus the beautiful (to kalon - in this, Euthydemus is like Alcibiades). Euthydemus collected books of philosophy, trying to make himself wise without a teacher. Socrates goes several times to entrap him and finally does in discussion. Euthydemus wants to be a statesperson, a political leader. Here is again a warning from Xenophon that Socrates's aim, as we will see, is to produce good political leaders. But the danger here is of course that a good political leader for Xenophon (see his Hiero or on tyranny) often stems from a certain kind of tyrant and rules without laws.

Much like Meno, this Socrates shows that Euthydemus is good at speaking, and thinks he knows, but does not. Euthydemus is smarter, however, than Meno. Meno becomes a mercenary in Persia and after a year or so, the Emperor impales him. After realizing his ignorance, Euthydemus annexes himself to Socrates.

Much of what Socrates says to Euthydemus is wholesome (Xenophon is at pains to emphasize the useful and the decent, how much attention Socrates pays to family obligations and the like. But of course, all this, as Plato and Aristophanes show, is blowing smoke (exoteric in Strauss's terms). How much his advice to Euthydemus is geared to statesmanship is revealed at the end of a first long discussion where Xenophon reveals his attentiveness to Plato's Crito and Apology. This is stepping aside from the seeming discussion and making clear what the significance is (Strauss's notion of manifesting a quasi-hidden meaning in Persecution and the Art of Writing).

In addition, though Socrates emphasizes obedience to the laws (also in his discussion with Hippias that obedience to law and justice are the same), he is shown to oppose lawlessness by those in authority (his role as part of the Prytany against those democrats who wished to put the naval leaders to death who had failed to pick up the bodies of fighters in the midst of a sea battle - see also Plato's Apology) - and not to obey the command, arguably the law if Critias and the Thirty were a regime, to arrest Leon. The latter, as Xenophon does not recognize though Plato does, is a different kind of act, a precursor to civil disobedience, as is Socrates's refusal to give up questioning. Here is a sharp difference between Xenephon and Plato. In Xenophon's words,

"Again, concerning justice, he did not hide his opinion but proclaimed it by his actions. All his private conduct was lawful and helpful: to public authority he rendered such scrupulous obedience in all that the laws required both in civil life and in military service, that he was a pattern of good discipline to all. When chairperson in the Assemblies, he would not permit the people to record an illegal vote, but upholding the laws, resisted a popular impulse that might have overcome any but himself."

This is a striking point about Socrates's unusual strength of character, his fearlessness in the face of death as Plato's Apology, inter alia, tells us. Xenophon continues:

"And when the Thirty laid a command on him that was illegal, he refused to obey. Thus, he disregarded their repeated injunction not to talk with young men”

Here one might particularly think that Socrates had committed (proto-)civil disobedience against them, as Xenophon seems to recognize, in a way that mirrors what he did against proto-tyrannical democrats like Anytus:

"and when they commanded him and certain other citizens to arrest a man on a capital charge, he alone refused, because the command laid on him was illegal. Again, when he was tried on the charge brought by Meletus, whereas it is the custom of defendants to curry favor with the jury and to indulge in flattery and illegal appeals, and many by such means have been known to gain a verdict of acquittal, he rejected utterly the familiar chicanery of the courts; and though he might easily have gained a favorable verdict by even moderate indulgence in such strategems, he chose to die through his loyalty to the laws rather than to live through violating them. (4. 3.18-4.5).

This point is the same as the speech of the laws in the Crito, except, again, that Socrates refuses explicitly and “unlawfully” (corrupting the young is what he was on trial for on an obscure law against blasphemy), in Plato’s Apology but not in Xenophon, not to raise questions.

Reading book 4 of the Memorabilia, the rivalry of Socrates and Critias over the beautiful appears to be that Socrates gives Euthydemus advice in virtue (to attend to the good) and to be self-restrained, and on how to argue, and Critias generally, a la Dominique Strauss-Kahn, wants to throw himself on Euthydemus. This point resembles closely Alcibiades's description of how Socrates gets to lie next to Agathon whom Alcibiades wishes to court (though he is still in love with Socrates) in the Symposium. That erotic or romantic rivalry is characteristic of Socrates, and that he wins and in the end, probably sexually (as he produced children, he doesn’t seem to have especially practiced “abstinence” and every love is perhaps not as unconsummated as with Alcibiades), leaves Critias with some malignant bitterness. But the other side is that Euthydemus does not become one of the thirty, is not famous for evil, does not betray himself in his relationship with Critias, and becomes, in contrast to Critias, the virtuous person (though perhaps not quite the leader) he hoped to be. That is like Glaucon in the Republic. So Xenophon seems to have some scruple about tyranny, despite the Hiero, even if he did not arrive at the conclusions of Plato (see my "Going down," here, here and here), nor was he, in the deepest and most attractive sense, besotted by philosophy.

Plato also has a dialogue named Euthydemus, but it is about a foreign philosopher or expert in eristics (fighting) so perhaps not the same Euthydemus.

*******In his account of Socrates’s moral advice to his son Lamprocles, not to hate and defy Xantippe’s sometimes biting advice to her son, Xenophon goes out of his way to answer this charge – here is Socrates arguing at length for gratitude to a mother and parents. And yet there is deliberately no mention of the father – who is shown giving this advice – nor of his not getting along with Xantippe nor of philosophy as questioning the fathers. Strauss repeatedly drives home Xenophon’s thought that Socrates is not among the married men…

Xenophon knows how to feint, perhaps as well as Plato, in defense of philosophy or at least hidden meanings….