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)

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