Monday, September 26, 2011

Polemarchus as a symbol of the Republic's theme - a philosophical warrior for democracy against tyranny

The action of Plato’s Republic is centrally about Glaucon, who is convinced, it seems, not to become a tyrant. Glaucon – the son of the best, an aristocrat, a military leader - had that possibility, but is not otherwise known to history (Socrates may really have persuaded him). He is Socrates’s companion in book 1, has a few strategic remarks, and then becomes the leading interlocutor in book 2. His subtle story of the ring of Gyges, praising the unjust man who appears just and is celebrated and denouncing someone like Socrates who is just and is murdered for it, drives the rest of the dialogue. In book 1, the leading figure is Thrasymachus, who nearly jumps on Socrates like a beast – Socrates says that he is lucky enough to have seen Thrasymachus first, as in a tale, for otherwise Thrasymachus would have frozen him, and appears later in book 2, in Glaucon’s characterization, as a “tamed snake.” But even a charmed snake is still venomous. If one starts from the arrest of Socrates in the Piraeus in the opening lines, one may see the first book too easily as the story of the eventual execution of Socrates by the democracy for asking: what is justice? – with Thrasymachus as the democracy's initial representative with the crushing assertion: justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger. But then charmed by Socrates, he becomes perhaps a strange ally of Socrates (“we have just become friends though we were not enemies before.” The question: what is justice? goes beyond Athens, but there, as in America, that what appears to be justice is the advantage of stronger, short of protest from below, is obvious enough, as the spectacle of the execution of Troy Davis underlines. See here, here, here and here) *

In this way of looking at the first book, Cephalos and particularly Polemarchus fade out. But contrary to initial appearances, I will argue, Polemarchus is the most important, and hopeful character in book 1. He is spoken of only once otherwise in the dialogues, in Phaedrus as someone who has become “philosophical” and, in contrast to his brother, Lysias, the rhetorician, held up by Socrates to Phaedrus as a model of turning toward philosophy (Phaedrus, 256e-257b).** This characterization is demonstrated – with an implied, broader public significance - in book 1 of the Republic. For instance, one would not characterize Thrasymachus as a philosopher of any sort, nor for that matter Glaucon and Adeimantus, Plato’s brothers, who are interested in philosophy particularly about the question of justice and whether evil with a good appearance is the best life, in Glaucon’s case, and persuaded not to do harm through Socrates's questioning. Glaucon perhaps becomes one who listens to philosophy like Apollodorus or Crito. But they do not live to fashion arguments daily. They are not, in Steven Wagner's wonderful phrase, "besotted." They are not philosophers.

As I have emphasized here and about the Phaedrus, Plato’s dialogues need to be understood in terms of what they teach his present and future students. That was Plato’s standpoint in writing them. He, like Socrates, was an example as well as a teacher of becoming a philosopher. But every interlocutor does not become such a student. Similarly, many readers, like listeners and interlocutors, come away with a (mis-)impression, a fragment. The dialogues do not open for them a vocation. This is, thus, the fundamental question to ask about the dialogues if they are to reveal their depths, their secrets.

Leo Strauss suggests that there are pretty wooden hidden meanings buried beneath the surface of the dialogues – to establish authoritarian executive power, the lawless rule of the wise – which a careful reader can decode (his Persecution and the Art of Writing is a decoder). Strauss lives by the saying of Al-Farabi about the pious ascetic whom the tyrant hunts; banging on a cymbal, the ascetic pretends to be drunk and goes to a gate of the city. The watchman asks: who goes there? The apparent drunk slurs: that pious ascetic you are looking for. The watchman lets him pass…

One may rarely say the exact truth, Al-Farabi suggests, and nonetheless be taken, by a careless reader, a sleepy watchman, not to mean that. Strauss is, as William Altman demonstrates in The German Stranger, a master of this kind of statement. Hence, the need, Strauss avers, for great care in reading.

From this tale, however, Strauss derives a rule that writers who practice coded meanings are to be believed about things they seem to repeat many times not in the most prominent and common meanings, but only in the variance. One must read for the odd, the different, the opposing. If the latter remarks seem a contradiction to the surface, they alone are to be taken in. In master writers, Strauss foolishly insists, there are no mistakes or ordinary contradictions, but only hidden truths.

Strauss is sometimes right. About himself, if one applies the decoder, one will know that the occasional comments about his affection for constitutional democracy, to put the audience and some of his leading followers to sleep, are, prima facie, doubtful…See here.

In any case, if one knows how to decode (how to count sections, where, in the text, the message is likely to be found, and the like), one knows which message to believe. But this substitutes cryptography for thinking.

Such decoding leads Strauss to an interesting, sometimes revealing kind of scholarship: Al-Farabi’s story has an important meaning. But it is not philosophy. One does not ask of contradictory pointings whether the latter are right. One does not reason further about a tension, or think about the possibility that some such thoughts might be right, if elaborated, others false paths. One simply adopts the hidden stand. In Strauss’s own life, an affection for Heideggerian Nazism - see his posthumously published "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" - and an attempt to move the United States, through his some of his students, to become a more centralized or tyrannical and imperial regime, are coded messages (see here, here and here).***

Plato, too, defends a version of hidden writing. The words in an essay or even a dialogue are like statues, says Socrates in the Phaedrus (275d-277a); if you ask them a question, they have no father to defend them. Many who do not read well will carry away a foolish interpretation. But if one reads carefully, if one tests out every argument and character as Plato and his students spent years doing in the Academy – Aristotle was Plato’s student for 20 years… - then perhaps the meaning of the dialogues will become, over time, a little clearer, the introduction or the first steps toward understanding the mysteries which Plato taught (this is all the dialogues are) available. It is in this context that Polemarchus becomes a decisively important figure in the Republic.

At the opening of the Republic, Polemarchus has his slave arrest Socrates on behalf of Polemarchus and his friends. (327b) Socrates asks whether Polemarchus will allow him to persuade them that he and Glaucon should leave, and Polemarchos, acting like a thug, says:

“But do you see how many of us there are?”

Here is a core appeal to democratic injustice, the rule by brute force of “the many.”

“Of course

Well you are going to have to choose between staying here peacefully or fighting us if you try to get away.

How about a third choice in which we persuade you that you ought to let us go?

But could you persuade us if we don’t listen?

Obviously not, said Glaucon” (327c-e)

Polemarchus is the symbol of the democrats in Athens, centered in the Piraeus who will kill Socrates to compel his no longer questioning.**** On the surface, Polemarchus speaks jocularly – though there is little evidence that he has a sense of humor- but dully.

It is Glaucon who insists that the two will stay. By silence, Socrates makes clear that he does not submit to force. He has come down from Athens with Glaucon (the shining one, Plato’s brother)*****, and aims to be with him for erotic, political and philosophical reasons.

Adeimantus, Plato’s other brother (Plato is nearly here in the dialogue, although some sibling rivalry – mockery – is also in the presentation) breaks in that there will be a horse race that night to Bendis, a Thracian moon goddess.******

Socrates says mockingly: “Now that’s something new. Do you mean a relay with horses in which the readers pass on the torches to one another in sequence?

Not a fool, Adeimantus falls silent. In contrast, desperately hoping to throw enough considerations against the wall at Socrates so that one will stick, Polemarchus leaps in:

“Exactly said Polemarchus. And the festival will continue all night [for young men, this might have proven a distraction…]. After dinner we will go out and see it and then meet with some of our friends and have a really good talk. Don’t refuse. Do stay with us.” (328a)

One might be alerted to Polemarchus’ importance, despite his dull democratic thuggery, by his name – war leader (polemos, archos). Cephalus, a name that means the head or brain, is actually an immigrant or metic from Syracuse. He is Polemarchus’ father and the first interlocutor with Socrates in book 1. One should look closely at who Cephalus is: a wealthy arms maker and dealer. He does not live up on the hill with the aristocrats, but, though wealthy, down in the Pireaus with the rowers in the navy, the heart of the democracy. He bequeaths a tyrannical argument to his son (one quite characteristic of much ordinary politics), whom he has named not only for war but to be a war leader. *******

Polemarchus is a leader of the democrats in Athens, who will be executed by the Tyranny of the Thirty. He stands for Athenian democracy in two ways. Athens became great, as Pericles tells us in Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, through war. Athenians were unusually free, invented participation in deliberation in the assembly, and were restless for conquest; they sought to build up a splendid dominion. Glaucon’s name, shining, an Athenian military leader and son of the best – Ariston - is a serious threat to become tyrant and contrasts with Thrasymachus, who is an immigrant from Chalcedon and, in our terms, but an ideologue. Polemarchos’s name also recalls that splendor centered in the democratic Piraeus and in arms manufacture and rowing; the democracy and its war merchants were scorned by the aristocrats up on the hill.

Secondly, the name Polemarchus also means the warrior who fell for democracy in the civil war against the murderous Tyranny of the Thirty. In his first appearance, Polemarchus is just a democratic thug who arrests Socrates in the name of the many, and will, as did the majority at the trial, not listen. He is but one of those who attempts, in killing Socrates, to kill philosophy (asking questions).

But in book 1 of the Republic, Polemarchus is taken by Socrates’s asking of questions, follows the argument, shifts…

At his trial, on Plato’s account in the Apology, Socrates does not advocate philosophical rule. The Republic as a philosophical account notwithstanding, he is not shown in Plato as promoting such an idea in Athens. But the idea of a seemingly just city in speech, offered cautiously as but a way to illuminate the appropriate order of the three parts of the soul (nous or mind rules spiritedness - thymos - and the desires or appetites - to epithumetikon; the philosopher rules guardians and the artisans and farmers) could be a hidden message, a la Strauss. I have explored this possibility further – see here – and will come back to it in part 2 of this post. But is also inconsistent with Socrates’s wisdom. In the Apology, Socrates says: I tested out the oracle’s riddle, and found that I am wiser than others only in this, that they think they know and do not, and I neither know nor think that I do…********

I should also note that rule in the politeia is modeled on Glaucon’s psyche; the guardians as warriors are the key figures. It is Glaucon’s own dream with the obscure possibility that some will become philosophers, that a philosopher might rule, far beyond what Glaucon can yet take in or understand. Not the philosophers but the celebration of the phylaches (guardians) is what is shown. One should be careful as a student to recognize: it is Glaucon’s dream with the addition of Socrates’s dazzling and obscure indication of what it is to be a philosopher….

In book one by contrast, we have not only Polemarchos following and stumbling around, but thinking for himself. He is a philosophical witness.

As the second speaker, Polemarchos defends the view of justice of Simonides (he also prefigures the vision of politics of Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political that it is entirely about friends and enemies and lacking a common good). In Xenophon’s Hiero or on tyranny, the poet Simonides offers the complaining Hiero a way to become a successful and well-loved tyrant. Strauss’s first book in America (1948) on the Hiero – On Tyranny - gives the clue to his interpretation of Plato’s Republic and the Laws (see also "Politics and the God," part one and two, here and here); it is a sign of his continuing authoritarianism, and Heideggerian pro-Nazism and echoed in his last book on The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws (1973)...Plato knew the story and had very likely seen Xenophon’s dialogue.

But as a student might note, the dialogue with Polemarchus differs radically from the fight with Thrasymachus (this name means bold or confident fighter (thrasos, mache or fight). But the war leader refers to wars (imperial, democratic); the fierce fighter refers to style of argument in debate. The war leader is educated through becoming philosophical, the rhetorician charmed like a snake.

Philosophy in the Republic takes root among aristocrats and powerful democrats and ideologues who are all caught in, consumed by war (that the Greek civil wars murdered endlessly, that Athens in particular was brutal and corrupt, is part of the motivation, in context, of Plato’s Socrates casting up the lean city, the city in speech). Philosophy moves out of, and begins to engage even those engaged in war.

Polemarchus is plainly thinking about what he is saying, disturbed by the conclusions he comes to under Socrates’s questioning. In contrast, Thrasymachus is trying merely to defeat Socrates and his alleged rhetorical snares for prize money (actually it is Thrasymachus who lays out such snares, insisting that Socrates not speak of justice as an interest, say a common interest, for example, when Thrasymachus himself says that justice is nothing but the advantage or interest or the stronger. He is a beast or a wolf; he gets embarrassed, turns beet-red and sweats. Despite his name - warleader - Polemarchus does none of things.

Socrates tries to pin Polemarchus down on what justice is good for. Polemarchus is not quick-witted and the argument does not go swiftly. But unlike other interlocutors, even the initially brilliant Glaucon and his story of the ring of Gyges in book 2, he is more cautious, more thoughtful.

“And how about a just man? [Socrates asks] In what situation is he best able to help his friends and harm his enemies? [Simonides’ definition, offered by Polemarchus]

In war, Socrates, when he joins his fellow countrymen in battle against the foe

I see. All this leads me to conclude that when we are well and safe on dry land, we have no use for doctors or captains. [note that Socrates does not directly challenge or answer the thought here].


But how about justice? Will justice be useless in peacetime.

I don’t want to say that.

[here is Polemarchus thinking about the argument]

Then justice has its uses in times of peace?


Just like farming and shoemaking?

It is useful in business, in drawing up contracts and in forming partnerships.

But if you were competing in a game, whom would you prefer as a partner? A skillful player or a just man?

A skillful player.

Just as you would prefer partnership with a mason if you were laying bricks or with a musician if you were making music?


Then for what kind of partnership is the just man best suited?

In a partnership involving money.

But surely not where money is changing hands. If we wanted to buy or sell horses, it would be better to have a canny judge of horseflesh as our partner. If ships were the commodity, we should want a shipbuilder or sea captain on our side.

No doubt.

Then in what transactions will the just man be the best partner?

When one wants to deposit money for safekeeping.

You mean that the just man is useful only when money lies idle?

Exactly. [Polemarchus is still a little slow, grasping at straws].

Justice is useful when money is useless? [Socrates rubs the point in]

Apparently. [again, Polemarchus, disconcerted, is thinking). [332e-333d]

…So one who guards well is also good at stealing? The just man who guards money well, will also be good at stealing it?


Then it seems we have revealed the just man to be a kind of thief. That is one of Homer’s lessons. Homer often stressed his admiration of Odysseus’s grandfather Autolycus ["lone wolf," a son of Hermes], extolling his surpassing skill in ‘theft and perjury.’ Apparently you agree with Homer and Simonides that justice sanctions even the art of stealing so long as a man steals things to benefit friends or injure enemies. Is that what you meant?

Certainly not, although I confess I no longer know what I said.” (334a-b)

This recognition can be, as in Polemarchus, the beginning of thinking seriously. Or it can be in Thrasymachus, the source of bullying********* and embarrassment (his famous blushing and profuse sweating).

In contrast to Thrasymachus, Polemarchus begins the process of thinking about the questions Socrates is asking and reconsidering or reformulating his position. Perhaps he is moving from being a tyrannical democrat, the bully prefiguring the trial in the opening scene. For Polemarchos now studies the argument and is surprised and dismayed by what follows from it. “Apparently,” he says down to: “I no longer know what I said”…

Socrates also hangs him out to dry (likewise, Thrasymachos) on the idea that human beings are psychologically complex and often make mistakes about who their friends and enemies are.**********

Book 1 is not just the beginning of this long dialogue. It also teaches the student about what doing political philosophy – asking questions as Socrates does – is. It is, for the careful reader, a kind of initiation.

In addition, the preceding discussion of Socrates with Cepahalus, the war merchant and pretend old-time Athenian, going to his death by paying off the gods, involves an apparently good but domineering man. But appearances are deceptive. Cephalus comes back in book 10 in the Myth of Er as he who chooses first, “good by habit in a former life,” the life of a tyrant, then looks more closely and discovers that the tyrant is fated to eat his children, and blames the fates/weavers, not himself, for the choice…. He is caught up in war and its cycles, not free for thinking (Brecht’s Mutter Courage – Mother Courage – comes to mind). He is filled with high sentences from Pindar’s poems, stories of Themistocles, a veritable Polonius from Hamlet...

Cephalus is introduced by Socrates’s asking how it looks to him being “on the threshold of old age.” The poetic line from Homer’s Iliad seems innocent (nothing in Plato is; Plato changes every story). But Homer’s epics are a parallel theme, a kind of underlying chord or counterpoint to the symphony of the Republic. In book 24, Priam, King of Troy, has just seen his son Hector, his city’s leading warrior, slaughtered by Achilles, and dragged around behind his chariot, for murdering Patroclus, Achilles’s lover, who had garbed himself in Achilles’ armor. Now am I, Priam screams who have seen my child destroyed before me, my city destroyed, “on the threshold of old age.” Priam implores Achilles for the mangled body of his son:

“Remember your own father, great godlike Achilles—
as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!” h/t Jim Cole)

By pressing Cephalus on whether he is content because he is rich, trying to buy off the gods, Socrates drives the old man out. No longer able to ascend to Athens, Cephalus had wanted Socrates to entertain him, to be a court-jester (most philosophers sit at the door of the rich, Socrates notes aptly later in the Republic). It is only once Cephalus leaves that philosophy, really questioning an argument and more or less direct responses and continued questioning, can begin (see Peter Steinberger’s fine essay "Who is Cephalus?," Political Theory, 1996). Along with the argument, Cephalus bequeaths his fortune, gained from war, to his son and heir, the democratic war leader, Polemarchus.

All Plato’s students would have noted that the domination of the wealthy arms merchant who, though an immigrant, mindlessly follows customs and the ancients ways of Athens, must be dispensed with for a philosophical discussion to begin. Here force and money are finally displaced, though not their power in rhetoric. Rhetoricians (pseudo-philosophers), who sit at the doors of the rich and embroider the emperor’s new clothes, are customary as Thrasymachus illustrates. Philosophy begins with Polemarchus.

In an unusual move, again a signal for his students and unique to this dialogue among the dialogues, Plato interrupts the discussion between Thrasymachus and Socrates for a comment by listeners. Here one listener, Polemarchus, serves as witness to the argument, displacing the unwilling Thrasymachus. And this witnessing about argument, as we learn also from the Crito (46b-49a), is the main point. Philosophy is asking questions of and fashioning arguments with one witness. It is thus dependent on both where the philosopher has gotten (and her psychology) in the argument and the witness’s. Socrates notably makes mistakes about whether virtue can be taught in the Meno because the beautiful young boy is coquetting with him . He discusses the subsequent question whether virtue can be taught, at Meno’s insistence and oddly concludes that it cannot without first discussing what virtue is.*********** But one subtheme of the action of the Republic is that Glaucon agrees that justice is better than injustice. He gives up his initial hunger, the temptation to become a tyrant. In this sense, he learns virtue – at least not doing evil – from Socrates. The action of the Republic is an antidote to the inadequate argument of the Meno.

Here in the Republic, every student of Socrates and Plato learns how to do argument, what Polemarchus has discovered, as opposed to Cleitophon who does not follow and is no witness, and Thrasymachus who also not a witness.

“Now most wise Thrasymachus, [says, Socrates], can you see how you contradict yourself? Your indiscriminate equation of justice with what the strong command and the weak obey leads only to its own negation; it actually requires the weak to injure the interests of the strong.

Nothing could be clearer, Socrates, said Polemarchus.

If one could believe Polemarchs’s testimony, said Cleitophon.

No witness is necessary, said Polemarchus. Thrasymachus himself said that rulers may command what is not in their interest and that subjects obeying these commands are doing justice.

You are right, Polemarchus. Thrasymachus himself said that rulers may command what is not in their interest and that subjects obeying these commands are doing justice.

Yes, Cleitophon, but he also said justice is [nothing but] the interest of the stronger, that sometimes the strong mistake their interest, but that the subjects must nevertheless carry out what the stronger mistakenly order them to do. The inference is unavoidable that justice may equally be to the advantage or disadvantage of the ruler.”

Here Polemarchus understands and develops the argument. He speaks as a philosopher.

“What Thrasymachus meant, said Cleitophon, is that justice is what the stronger believes to be in his interest. Obedience to this belief, in turn, is the just duty of the subject.

But he didn’t say that, objected Polemarchus.

It doesn’t matter, Polemarchus, said I. If that is the position Thraymachus now wants to take [it isn’t], let us accept it. Is that what you want to say Thrasymachus? Is justice what the stronger thinks is in his interest, whether it really is or not? (339e-340d)

Comparable to Shakespeare, the interlude here between Polemarchus and Cleitophon might appear comic. It highlights how belligerent Thrasymachus is, how unwilling to take part in an examination of his own position. What is evident to the attentive reader here, however, is that Polemarchus has also become a philosopher, following the argument, and thus proving that he is a good witness by being able to spell out the contradictions in it. At this point, the student is meant to take in sharply what it is to do argument. One is also meant to notice the evolution of a democratic war leader into a philosophical fighter for democracy against tyranny. It is but one image in Plato. But as I have emphasized in "going down" here, here, and here, it is also an important, perhaps decisive one.

*Strauss interprets Thrasymachus as a rhetor, speading the word for Socrates’s philosophical kingship or tyranny (rule of the wise without laws). As we will see, there is exactly no evidence for this; what Socrates – and Plato – urged for Athens is something quite different (see the last links).

**There is much subtlety in the Phaedrus, in which Socrates acknowledges Eros as a god and the Symposium, in which "Diotima," whose story he tells, does not. Nonetheless, with the beautiful boy Phaedrus, the lover of Lysias, Socrates identifies inchoate rhetoric and contrasts the life of an orator to the philosophical life, with Polemarchus, brother of Lysias, as the paradigm.

***In a descriptive but largely nonphilosophical account of my views and William Altman’s - shortly to appear
in Perspectives in Politics, “Who Was Leo Strauss?”, my friend Peter Minowitz cites my argument about hidden meanings in Plato as equivalent to Strauss’s:

“When discussing Plato, Gilbert sometimes echoes Strauss: ―one has to learn the Delphic meanings of the dialogues, take in what one can of the force of the spoken word, 'the word written upon the soul,' not just the written word. One cannot read a dialogue, even persistently, and wrestle with surface arguments as if they alone were the issue (they are often contradictory or incomplete). Instead, one must follow out the whole meaning, including the setting, and the elliptical comments‖ (Alan Gilbert, ―The Divine, the Charioteer and Writing in the Phaedrus, Part 2,‖ 12/23/10,“ This is at p. 5, n. 14 of his article.

Now as Peter suggests, Strauss is a very helpful reader of Plato in that he grasps the complexity of the dialogues and I have learned from him in this respect (he is, in this way, a more apt reader than many historians of philosophy and philosophers who read Plato). That seems a powerful recognition, which Peter exaggerates by attempting to reduce what I say to Strauss. What Peter fails to see is that one may differ with Strauss utterly about what the meanings of the dialogues are. That is a central point, for example, of this essay. More deeply, that there are hidden meanings requires further thought about whether and in what sense or context, they may be right. They are not a ring of Gyges, a ring of power, which one may, with Strauss’s idol Heidegger, brandish to serve Hitler…

Strauss’s view is also wooden because he thinks the hidden meaning of a dialogue – the pointing by Plato in the Republic to how a tyrant of a certain kind may become a philosopher-king or tyrant ruling wisely but without laws must be what Plato recommends, despite the Republic’s fierce indictment of tyranny. But the hidden meaning is just a possible, if often contradictory conclusion. It is not argued for or if argued for, advanced shakily by doubtful characters like the Athenian Stranger (in "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?", I mistakenly take the Stranger as speaking for Plato in a passage where he says shockingly that only a tyrant may change things quickly for good or ill. The latter is not a Socratic locution). As I suggested in that essay which Peter cites but does not take in the argument of, however, the surface argument refutes the hidden pointing; the argument is self-refuting. See here. The most vivid and psychological opponent of tyranny, in fact, contradictorily embraces this possibility – by signs and a shard of argument, that extremes are nearest one another, that some rare tyrant might become a philosopher - against his own main argument. I was sad to discover that the Republic, this great and moving work, was, on this understanding, incoherent.

But suppose after long consideration and some experimentation in journeying to Syracuse, Plato rejected the hidden argument. Suppose he left it there as a dead end for some of his haughty aristocratic, initially pro tyranny students to find and think about and others to argue with them about (he did not foresee pro-Nazi philosophers in Weimar Germany for whom the story of the philosopher-tyrant would become a religion – 3 out of 6 leading pro-Nazis of whom Heidegger was the most gifted). Suppose the aim of all of this questioning and study was to convince many of the students, to fight for democracy against tyranny (even the tyranny of Dionysius in Syracuse that Plato advised and which then imprisoned him and almost sold him into slavery – see the Seventh Letter). Perhaps Plato learned the hard way not to dream of tyranny, but to defend even democracy, not the greatest regime but one tolerant of philosophy, against it. Once one has noticed that the argument is self-refuting, this is a possible and different conclusion, an affirmation of the main argument against the hidden pointing…

I have said that Strauss is sometimes a very clever cryptographer but not a philosopher. He finds the clues; he adopts the message (it coheres with his preexisting fascist prejudices). He does not name or think about the self-refutation (nor does Peter) and the evidence elsewhere in the dialogue or elsewhere in Plato. But is striving for wise tyranny a good idea, or is the more intelligent thought to check tyranny before it triumphs? Do philosophers fare well in tyranny (can one do philosophy in “philosopher”-tyranny?) or do they, in sometimes small circles, fare better in democracies?

The followers of Socrates and Plato might fight against the tyranny of the Bush-Cheney authoritarians and in many respects the Democrats as well; Strauss and particularly his political followers (Peter is not one) actively affirm and encourage that tyranny. They might emulate the students Chaerophon and Polemarchus of Socrates, Demosthenes of Plato, rather than Alcibiades, Critias or Aristotle. The political or democratic stakes of a philosophical understanding of Socrates and Plato are high.

****Shining here may have the suggestion of the blue-green shine of the sea or the gray shine of an owl's eyes. His name also suggests owl - glaux - and recalls glaukopis, gray-faced, used of Athena and her owl avatar in Homer – h/t Matt Morgan.Athens is a sea-power as Pericles stresses, and its shining splendor linked through war to the sea, the owl a symbol, perhaps a mocking one from his brother Plato, of Glaucon's struggles with philosophy in the rest of the dialogue.

*****In Phaedrus, the main interlocutor is the lover of Lysias, brother of Polemarchus. To get a conversation from Socrates, he says jocularly: I am younger than you are and will beat you up if you don't comply.

"Just make up your mind you won't get away from here until you speak out what you said you had in your breast. We are alone in a solitary spot, and I am younger and stronger than you; so under these circumstances, take my meaning, and speak voluntarily rather than under compulsion." (236 c-d)

This, of course, parallels - and is meant by Plato, he of broad shoulders, a gymnast or wrestler, to be understood as parallel to - Polemarchus in the opening scene of the Republic. The initial, youthful response, Plato suggests, is often force; wisdom, insight into a common good and persuasion come after...

******The Athenians are graphically shown to lust after other goddesses, the charge singling out Socrates for ‘not believing in the gods of Athens,” stands out, in this action, for its falsity.

*******His other two sons are present though silent, Lysias and Euthydemus. Lysias figures strongly as a rhetorician in the Phaedrus where Socrates strikingly and poetically shows Lysias's lover, Phaedrus, that his rhetoric has no order, and contrasts Polemarchus as philosophical. In Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Euthydemus is shown as the beautiful boy whom the murderous tyrant Critias, a student of Socrates and Plato’s cousin, wishes to throw himself on. Socrates says, in Euthydemus’s presence, that Critias has a pig’s itch for Euthydemus and wants to rub himself on the young man as a piglet scratches itself on a rock (see here and here on I.F. Stone part 1 and 2). Part of the charge against Socrates, as Stone has underlined, was that he stayed in Athens under the murderous Tyranny of his student. In fact, he resisted at the threat to his life, refusing to bring back Leon of Salamis to be murdered.

********I will leave aside the appalling and fairly monstrous character of the city in speech – if murdering “defective” babies, driving out everyone over 10, and making each have the same passions, the same reactions or habits, is said to make this “a beautiful city” (Kallipolis),” this adjective will elude many of us…

*********“My dear Thrasymachus, do you really think me a quibbler?

Of course I do.

And do you imagine that I design my questions in order to trick you and sabotage your arguments.

It’s not a question of imagination [and Thrasymachos is not wrong…]. I know very well that’s what you do. But your tactics will fail. Whether you choose open debate or resort to cunning, you won’t get the better of me.

I wouldn’t dream of trying [Socratic irony]. But let us try to put misunderstandings behind us. (341a-b)

**********An aristocrat and rhetorician from unruly Thessaly, Meno becomes a mercenary in Persia and is impaled by the Emperor at 24. Socrates is killed by the city; one of his accusers, Anytus, is Meno’s host in Athens, and appears briefly in that dialogue to threaten Socrates

***********In the Seventh Letter, Dion’s mistake about his “friend,” Calippus, who murders him, seals the fate of philosophical-tyranny as an unlikely regime for Plato and those students who listen carefully. For Dion, Plato’s best student, was a likely philosopher-king, though the Seventh Letter underlines, on behalf of laws…). Similarly, Thrasymachus is stumped by the question: don’t the stronger sometimes make mistakes about their interests, i.e. choose false friends.

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