Monday, February 20, 2012

The question about justice and the threshhold of mortality

What Plato expected his long-term students to attend to was the understructure of or action in the Republic and the light it casts on the overt discussion. See "Four ways through the Republic’s woods" here. For instance, book 1 ends with Socrates’s suggesting that he had been distracted by particular answers to the question what is Previewjustice, that he had hungrily, rapidly engaged with each, but had articulated no satisfactory definition.

“Then consider your entertainment complete, Socrates, on this feast day of Bendis.” (Thrasymachus)

“You are the one who provided the feast, Thrasymachus, after you ceased to be angry with me and began to speak gently. Nevertheless - and through no fault of yours – I have not dined well. It strikes me that I have been like a glutton, snatching at one dish after another and eating in such haste that I had no time to savor the food. I am afraid this is the way I have gone about our inquiry. We had not finished defining justice when I was off to examine whether it was the same as wisdom and virtue or ignorance and vice. Then I was unable to resist pursuing another line of inquiry into the comparative profitability of justice and injustice. So I must confess that the outcome of the discussion is that I know nothing. After all, if justice still remains undefined, I can hardly know whether it is in fact a virtue or a vice. Nor can I know whether the just man is in fact happy or miserable.” (354a-b)

On one level, this is a signal to students that they must rethink the previous arguments, ask what they have learned about justice (why the previous definitions, actually articulating the injustice of what is, are wrong) and yet notice that they have not yet achieved a definition or vision of justice. Thus, Socrates says that he knows nothing…

But on another level, the action of book 1 reveals that Socrates’s very posing of the question of justice escapes the trammels of democratic or pseudo-democratic religiosity and injustice. That action reveals the seriousness of Socrates’s quest for justice as well as motivating the satire which is involved in the city in speech, the city of the guardians, an armed or soldier's ideal city, Glaucon’s city. See here.

For instance, I suggested in "The Republic’s amusing answer to the Athenian charges: clean up the gods!" here, that the entire discussion of censorship of poetry is a send-up of the Athenian charge of blasphemy against Socrates. Plato is seeking to show how constricted and bizarre the interpretation of Greek culture would have to be – cutting away much of Homer – for one never to have had a dark thought about the gods and the underworld, of the nearing of mortality, and thus, never, in this respect, to “corrupt the youth.” I have also suggested that the initial scene, one of the arrest of Socrates by Polemarchus’s slave and the "many," in Polemarchus's words, threatening to beat him up as he tries to ascend again to Athens from the Pireaus, prefigures the trial. In that context, one should emphasize that Glaucon alone speaks for the two of them and agrees to stay. Socrates has come down from Athens with Glaucon, and stays because of an unstated concern for/connection to him.

“Well, you are going to have to choose between staying here peacefully and fighting us if you try to get away.” [Polemarchus]

“How about a third choice in which we persuade you that you ought to let us go?” [a foreshadowing of Socrates’s speech at the trial]

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

“Obviously not,” said Glaucon. (327e)

And after Adeimantus and Polemarchus urge them to stay for the torch race, Glaucon says:

“It looks like we had better change our minds, Socrates.”

“Well, if you say so, Glaucon, I suppose we must.” (328b)

On one level, this is perhaps homoerotic interest or affection on Socrates’s part. Yet one should note that unlike Meno, the Republic does not present Glaucon, whose name means shining like the gray sheen of the sea, as a beautiful boy. Unlike Meno, Glaucon does not coquet with Socrates. On a deeper level, however, Socrates is concerned to prevent Glaucon, Plato’s brother, son of Ariston whose name means the best, and a military leader/hero in the battle of Megara, from becoming a tyrant. Socrates “goes down” to the democracy in the Piraeus to save the democracy from tyranny. Kateben – Went down - is the first word of the Republic. See here, here and here.

That is the main action of the dialogue. Further, Socrates’s initial descent with Glaucon, and staying with him through the arrest and dialogue (“trial”) is to head off tyranny. Thus, the point of going down is already adumbrated in the initial pages of the first book.

I also have emphasized that the initial procession – pompe (the English phrase "pomp and circumstance" derives from it) - of Thracians and Athenians for Bendis, the Thracian moon-goddess, in the Pireaus, shows how the Athenian democrats were hungering after other gods. It was a novel celebration, a Bendideia mirroring, in form if not extent, the great celebrations, the yearly Panathenaia and the quadrennial great Panathenaia. But for the democrats then to try Socrates for disbelieving in the Athenian gods is, Plato’s action suggests, remarkably ironic. The fact of these processions themselves hints that the trial and condemnation of Socrates are unjust. And they give a particular aspect to this injustice: that Socrates, in fact, goes down and stays, as the whole course of the dialogue reveals, to prevent Glaucon from becoming a tyrant rather than to realize philosopher tyranny. For the city in speech is, once again, the city of guardians, a military city, Glaucon's city, a satire in large part, and not the city of philosophy. See here. Call this a first anti-Strauss or anti-Heidegger thesis on the meaning of being a philosopher king, a dissident protector and perhaps improver (making a space for toleration of philosophy and dissidence) of what is good in democracy and not a (counselor to a) tyrant. See here and here.

But the Republic also awakens the question about the arrest and trial, and thus about Athenian democracy: what is justice?* It is hardly simply a matter of law. Socrates breaks an unjust law by questioning, and accepts the punishment - death – thus modeling what would later be called civil disobedience. It thus worth taking in the exact setting in which the question: what is justice? is posed by Socrates. Here, he is not carried along – acquiescing by silence in or somewhat regretfully echoing, Glaucon’s assents. For Socrates does not bow to force – the Athenians can kill him or beat him but he won’t be silent. His silence here is because he wants to talk with Glaucon. But with Cephalus, Socrates allows no pretence that he is a court jester, present to entertain a dying old man. Cephalus is self-concerned, blind to Socrates and dead to philosophy except as a matter of obtuse use for his own purposes; he is no longer strong enough to climb to Athens. Instead, Socrates speaks directly and changes what the conversation is about. He asks the question which propels the dialogue as a new kind of Platonic apology – not the same as the one offered at his trial, in the action of the dialogue, a convincing of Glaucon not to become a tyrant and thus, a preservation of democracy - for Socrates.

Thus, Cephalus gives a flowery speech, invoking Pindar on hope. about how an old man will have “dark forebodings” about death, but be spared by virtue (arĂȘte) and particularly wealth (it is on this point that Socrates’s questioning – aren’t you just trying to buy favor from the gods? – will drive Cephalus out):

“This is the reward of virtue, and the chief value of wealth which is to strengthen virtue – if not in every man, then in the good man. Money makes it easier for a man to shun cheating and fraud. Money enables him to pay his debts, so that he need not fear the next world because of what he owes to gods or men in this one…” (330d-331b)

Socrates responds with ironic, seeming praise:

“You have nobly praised both honesty and honor as essential virtues in the good man. But are these the same as justice itself?” ( 331b-c)

This is the line on which the dialogue shifts, assumes its powerful character. It is the torch which the riders - the interlocutors - will pass from hand to hand.

“To tell the truth and pay one’s debts – are these invariably equivalent to just behavior?”

Cephalus, as I have emphasized previously, is a metic (an immigrant, not a citizen) and an arms trader. He had accrued enough money to fund the democratic movement, at least through his son Polemarchus who became a leader of the democrats- the name Polemarchus means war leader - and is initially depicted as a fairly dimwitted although naively interested in hearing Socrates – bully.**

Cephalus means the brain or head (the English terms cephalic index or encephalitis come from this root). When Socrates disturbs him with a question, he passes the argument on to his son, his descendant and heir, just as the horse riders at the night festival on the feast-day of Bendis, pass a torch (328a). As my friend Gregory Nagy indicates, studying Plato (Hipparkhus, Timaeus and Critias), in the Panathenaia, the great celebration in Athens, rhapsodoi (rhapsodes) engaged in “relays” in contests singing the Iliad and the Odyssey all the way through (Gregory Nagy, Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: the Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens, ch. 1-2). Stunningly erudite about Indo-European languages, Nagy's writings reveal the dark anthropologicsl roots of the relation of divinities and heroes among the Achaeans, the fatedness or going down of the heroes. It is a little like looking into the mirror in Homer or Aesop of a very powerful, but less redemptive, Joseph Campbell...). So this torch race on horses in a special procession about Bendis - the Bendideia, a new holiday - mirroring in this way too the central ceremony of Athens, the Panathenaia.

More deeply, the metaphor of the torch race adumbrates philosophy in the Republic – views of (in)justice are passed from hand to hand, with increasing sophistication in the formulation of injustice – but the common processions adumbrate poetry – a parallel succession of singers as well. It is a contest (athla), the results or new arguments increasingly sophisticated, each striving for the lead. That vying in Plato underlines the contingency of philosophy. One formulates arguments for a day in a specific context – with particular interlocutors – but there may be a more sophisticated challenge, a better argument or with the rhapsodes, song – to be given or sung and thus, answered. Philosophy is a lifelong quest, as the story of Socrates or by analogy, perhaps all the singers who composed or varied "Homer" before the fires of the night, the villagers circling, illustrate. Philosophy is not simply an accomplishment (or set of accomplishments) but as it were, a series of way stations in a continuing ascent (and/or decline into death...). As in the Phaedo, sing or philosophize (there are the numbers Pythagoreans, find and the ideas, particularly of justice - see here) while it is light.

Socrates knows some things, for instance that his trial and death are unjust and thus, to pose the question of justice. Yet I know, says Socrates, that I know nothing…

In this metaphor of the contest – the relay – the relation or parallel of philosophy and Homer (poetry) is underlined. The torch of visions of (in)justice passes in the circle at Cephalus’s house from Cephalus to Polemarchus to Thrasymachus to Glaucon and Adeimantus. The golden ring of Gyges (the ring of power as Tolkien calls it) calls powerfully from the dark. See here. Here is, politically speaking, the cave, here is, for Socrates and all others, the issue of justice.

With the dying speaker, Cephalus, Plato again points, ironically, to the shadows of (pseudo-)Athenian religiosity. Cephalus is one of those successful immigrants who believes the religion of his new fatherland more fervently than its citizens who are off chasing after Bendis. It is, of course, also “the religion” for which the Athenians will force Socrates to drink the hemlock.

While others stray to a foreign, Thracian goddess, however, Cephalus, dying, makes sacrifices to the city's gods lavishly and piously. His money did not and could not get him admitted to the aristocracy - mere piety and wealth were not enough for that...Cephalus does not live near Ariston and the others up in Athens. His trade buys him only a high house down in the Piraeus. Though he fits out and provisions the conquering fleets, he is but a would-be Athenian, not one “of the best.” As his relation as an arms dealer is to actual warriors like Glaucon and Adeimantus, so his zealous, would-be Athenian religiosity is to Athenian religion - actually, chasing the new - as practiced by the democrats in the Piraeus. In this scene or action, there is something compromised about the very fealty to the gods of Athens which will be used, unjustly, to bring Socrates to his death.***

Plato's subtle contrast of artificial religiosities here, the democratic procession for Bendis and the metic’s zealous sacrifices, underlines the charge against Socrates of disbelieving the gods of Athens. The charge thus also motivates the dialogue, and thus Plato's send-up: what it would take, through the censorship of poetry, really, to clean up the gods?

Cephalus is on “the threshold of old age” the first phrase from Homer that appears in the Republic, without Homer’s name and without criticism. For Socrates asks Cephalus how the future looks to him being on that “threshold,” meaning near death. But in Homer, the phrase has none of the seeming serenity of Cephalus. All the good of life, in the city and in the family, has been stripped abruptly from the formerly powerful speaker Priam, King of Troy, now a grieving old man. For Priam has seen Achilles (who also goes down to die) avenge his lover Patroklus, who had been slain wearing Achilles’s armor - as Patroklus held up the Trojans who looked to burn the Acheaen ships - by Priam’s son Hector. By killing Hector and dragging his body after his chariot around the city.*** Achilles is, for a shining moment in war (there is also some real degradation or madness here), the most possessed of bie (might).

Hektor had been the great defender of Troy and of Priam, his father and king. The death of Hektor brings near both the death of the city of Troy and, also, of Achilles (this is the marvelous insight into Homer of Simone Weil in "The Iliad or the poem of force"; Homer has empathy for the fighters on both sides, does not in any obvious way take a side in the war…Her writing learns from this experience of mortality, catching up unexpectedly, as if from the underworld, with each proud, glory (kleos)-seeking warrior even in his moment of triumph, that humanity needs to put war behind us).

Priam says to Achilles in a speech which touches him, recalls to Achilles the grieving of his own father, Peleus: “now am I past the threshold of deadly old age.” (h/t Jim Cole) This song is worth taking in, allows each of them to win the race of raw tears and finally, some understanding:

"But Priam prayed his heart out to Achilles:
'Remember your own father, great godlike Achilles- 570
as old as I am, past the threshold of deadly old age!
No doubt the countrymen round about him plague him now,
with no one there to defend him, beat away disaster.
No one-but at least he hears you're still alive
and his old heart rejoices, hopes rising, day by day,
to see his beloved son come sailing home from Troy.
But l-dear god, my life so cursed by fate ...
I fathered hero sons in the wide realm of Troy
and now not a single one is left, I tell you.
Fifty sons I had when the sons of Achaea came, 580
nineteen born to me from a single mother's womb
and the rest by other women in the palace. Many,
most of them violent Ares cut the knees from under.
But one, one was left me, to guard my walls, my people the
one you killed the other day, defending his fatherland,
my Hector! It's all for him I've come to the ships now,
to win him back from you-I bring a priceless ransom.
Revere the gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right,
remember your own father! I deserve more pity ...

I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before- 590
I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son.'

Those words stirred within Achilles a deep desire
to grieve for his own father. Taking the old man's hand
he gently moved him back. And overpowered by memory
both men gave way to grief. Priam wept freely
for man-killing Hector, throbbing, crouching
before Achilles' feet as Achilles wept himself,
now for his father, now for Patroclus once again,
and their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house.
Then, when brilliant Achilles had had his fill of tears 600
and the longing for it had left his mind and body,
he rose from his seat, raised the old man by the hand
and filled with pity now for his gray head and gray beard,
he spoke out winging words, flying straight to the heart:

'Poor man, how much you've borne-pain to break the spirit!
What daring brought you down to the ships, all alone,
to face the glance of the man who killed your sons,
so many fine brave boys? You have a heart of iron.
Come, please, sit down on this chair here ...
Let us put our griefs to rest in our own hearts, 610
rake them up no more, raw as we are with mourning.
What good's to be won from tears that chilI the spirit?
So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments--the gods live free of sorrows.
There are two great jars that stand on the floor of Zeus's halls
and hold his gifts, our miseries one, the other blessings.
When Zeus who loves the lightning mixes gifts for a man,
now he meets with misfortune, now good times in turn.
When Zeus dispenses gifts from the jar of sorrows only,
he makes a man an outcast - brutal, ravenous hunger 620
drives him down the face of the shining earth,
stalking far and wide, cursed by gods and men.
So with my father, Peleus. What glittering gifts
the gods rained down from the day that he was born!
He excelled all men in wealth and pride of place,
he lorded the Myrmidons, and mortal that he was,
they gave the man an immortal goddess for a wife.
Yes, but even on him the Father piled hardships,
no powerful race of princes born in his royal halls,
only a single son he fathered, doomed at birth, 630
cut off in the spring of life and
I. I give the man no care as he grows old
since here I sit in Troy. far from my fatherland,
a grief to you, a grief to all your children ...
And you too, old man, we hear you prospered once:
as far as Lesbos, Macar's kingdom, bounds to seaward,
Phrygia east and upland, the Hellespont vast and north that
entire realm, they say, you lorded over once,
you excelled all men, old king, in sons and wealth.
But then the gods of heaven brought this agony on you- 640
ceaseless battles round your walls, your armies slaughtered.
You must bear up now. Enough of endless tears,
the pain that breaks the spirit.
Grief for your son will do no good at all.
You will never bring him back to life sooner.
You must suffer something worse.'" (The Iliad, book 24, Fagles translation)

Like Homer in this question asked by Socrates, Achilles is not mentioned by name in the Republic. Yet his words about the meanest lord on earth and the underworld figure in book 3 and 7. In contrast, his competitor for the "best of the Achaeans," Odysseus figures by name. One might think, mistakenly, that Plato just meditates on one figure in the poem. In fact, this scene where Achilles responds humanly and compassionately to Priam, gives him the body of Hektor, though but adumbrated in the phrase "threshhold of old age" in book 1, is central in the Republic.

Mirroring Cephalus's definition, Achilles tells the truth and pays debts of honor. But here his compassion for Priam transforms love for Patroklos and vengeance. Here Priam kisses the fell hands that slew Hektor and Achilles recalls his own suffering father, who will not see again his son...Here is a sense of justice (and common humanity) which goes beyond and shatters Cephalus's vision (or his definition of justice as named by Socrates).

Socrates, as we know and is adumbrated in the first pages of the Republic, is also on that threshold, will drink the hemlock. It is the mortality of someone who has lived his own life and fought as a soldier. Socrates has not enacted the role and death of the warrior or hero, but heroically created the role and death of the questioner. For a philosopher, as a public figure under threat, there was no script until Socrates enacted it****...Here the issue of justice - of going beyond the arbitrariness of the gods (Apollo arbitrarily hates and eventually kills Achilles, but death is also, in this respect, unexplainable, contingent, arbitrary for most of us) - comes to the fore, For the story of Socrates - who raises the question of justice and stands against injustice - shines long after his death.

This first allusion to Homer’s poetry, by Socrates, is thus a very serious warning, one not to be indicted or censored, to students both about reading the idle references by Cephalus to Pindar and Sophocles with some care, and to distrust the proposed censorship of poetry in book 3 and 10. For if one does know the context in Homer, it appears that this allusion is a powerful motivation to flee war and fear the cycle of death for individuals and cities. It would thus seem to be a prime candidate for the censorship at the beginning of book 3. But no word of censorship refers to the image from Homer in book 1. See here. In a kind of parallel to Socrates, Achilles goes down to avenge his lover Patroklus, sacrificing his immortality for vengeance, and also, to do, in a hero's or warrior ethic, what is right. It is not clear that one could take away this going down from Homer and understand the similarity - going down to a considered or accepted death - and difference - to save philosophy or questioning in Athens and to save dissidence which is vital to the decency and intelligence of democracy, as distinct from Achilles' avenging his friend and the broader spiritual significance of his name and sacrifice - which enables the complex music of the Republic to respond to Homer as a counterpoint.***** No Homer about death, no Republic...

In addition, the very metaphors supposedly to be excised in book 3 – for instance, Achilles’ statement: better to be a slave to the meanest lord on earth than king of all the dead – glitteringly reoccur in book 7 to gesture at the hold of the light on the philosopher, the lack of desire, once ascended, to return to the cave. See here. So the argument for putative censorship is sandwiched between uses of poetry which are in the texture of the Republic. (See Nagy, Plato's Rhapsodies and Homer's Music, ch. 3).

And of course the Republic ends with Odysseus who finds the life of a private man. This is both a recapturing of Homer about how Odysseus frees himself from war and strategem, and also a satire of Odysseus as the clever and deceptive warrior who escapes to come home (in book 1, Socrates suggests that Odysseus’s grandfather, Autolycus, is a model of 'theft and perjury" linked to tyranny – lines 334a-b and 336a - and adumbrating the ring of Gyges in book 2. See here). As Nagy points out, the Iliad pits force (bie) of Achilles and the metis (strategems) of Odysseus. The strategems are better in war or for injustice than mere force (as American over-weaponization proves in Vietnam and Iraq, and now possibly Iran - see here). And yet, Achilles is straight (is what he seems to be and finally taking mercy on Priam, giving up to him Hektor's body, dies for it). And Odysseus is unstraight, and has the long journey home to burn out the terrors of war - Odysseus is the first exemplar of "shell shock" or post-traumatic stress disorder (the last is awful, dead jargon compared to the Iliad! - see Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America (h/t Matt Morgan). But Achilles finds Odysseus who is a tricky diplomat, who never says what is in his mind, infuriating, hateful, inimical (ekhthros). (Nagy, Best of the Achaeans, p. 52). In contrast, Achilles goes down (forfeits his own life) to do a kind of justice and reaches his understanding, grieving, with Priam.****** In a parallel and deeper answer to the question what is justice and with acceptance, without abandoning himself to grieving ("it is better to suffer injustice than ever to do it"), so does Socrates in the Apology and the Republic.

Plato, too, uses metis in his writing, as Strauss discerns. And in that respect, Plato's writing draws metaphorically on Odysseus and opens a path to the ring of Gyges (an appearance of decency on the outside, an inner philosophical-tyranny). But Strauss's view of Plato's artifice as protecting the tyrannical - in his case, a projected pure national socialist, not just German or carried out by Hitler - "philosophy" is mistaken. He reads Plato without the idea of justice (as merely tearing it down), without the vision against tyranny. He thus sees in the mirror of Plato only himself, Nietzsche and Heidegger...(see Altman, The German Stranger, ch. 6). On the contrary, as I have suggested, Plato hoped to engage aristocratic students in thinking about their initial zeal for tyranny, and as in the case of Glaucon, to head it off. Socrates and Plato encouraged philosophical democrats like Polemarchus, Chaerophon and Demosthenes. The latter went down to die for the democracy and against tyranny.

About Plato's strategy of argument, one might note, it is a danger of a little questioning (taking over and making grandiose one's initial political predisposition) to become a philosophical tyrant. Critias exemplifies this (and Socrates's ironic response to Critias's love for Euthydemus - perhaps Xenophon himself - and banning of philosophy, as revealed in Xenophon's Memorabilia, stands out against this. Xenophon suggests that the engagement of Critias and Alcibiades as young men with Socrates held them up from becoming mere tyrants. But of course, there remains the more subtle issue of Plato and Dionysius in Syracuse and the question of whether the regimes are to be a cycle - in which some kind of tyrant turns into a philosopher-king in the Republic, Xenophon's Simonides and Hiero in the Hiero. Xenophon hopes for a kind of common good through the wise poet Simonides counseling a beneficial tyrant; Plato and his student Dion hope for laws. Note that Plato differs markedly from Xenophon here as also in the account of Socrates's actual interest in philosophy, the ascent...

If one elides the soaring of philosophy - the idea of justice and the example of Socrates as a proto-civil disobedient as Strauss does, then a certain philosophical or scholarly sheen may become part of a deception and perhaps self-deception of a would-be (counselor to a) philosophical-tyrant. Even Heidegger, an inventive philosopher with poetic power and fascinated by the Republic and Plato, is a pseudo-Platonist without the ideas, notably the idea of justice...(see here on Heidegger's "Platonic" National Socialism).

Consider Socrates’s and the democrats's choice for going down to die to fight tyranny as a second Platonic or anti-Straussian and anti-Heideggerian thesis.

As happens with all earlier stories in Plato, Plato’s invocation of Odysseus’s choice in the other world goes beyond and transforms Odysseus’s fate in Homer. Allan Bloom misreads this passage in the Myth of Er (book 10) to suggest that Odysseus in life finally achieves wisdom and is Plato’s analogy in the underworld to Socrates and philosophy (see his interpretative essay to his translation of the Republic). He pits the wisdom of Socrates, a fully developed questioning, against the recovering warrior - the (spirit of) Odysseus - achieving the wisdom of a private man. But this is doubtful. Odysseus recovers from the cave of war through vast journeyings. He does not go down, but finds, at long last, a way out. He is clever and deceptive; though ironic, Socrates is amazingly straight…

And Socrates does not, in the Republic's exoteric image, hide in a dust storm behind a wall, does not emulate Odysseus. He does not, in Strauss's discovery, go to advise a potentially philosophical tyrant (a hinted-at message that the overt argument and action about Glaucon of the Republic refutes). Philosophical rule must at least give laws as in Plato's and Dion's hopes for Syracuse in the Seventh Letter, and in the image of Socrates must fight for a decent democracy (Socrates in the Apology) or for a democracy against tyranny (in the Republic). That is the point of philosopher-kingship or leadership from below from the small city of philosophers in contrast to Glaucon's city and philosopher-tyranny (a rule without laws, an imagined expulsion of everyone in the city over 10 - by whom?, a censorship of poetry and the odd breeding arrangements centered on leading warriors i.e. Glaucon...).

Strauss also sees Odysseus and the more elaborate Athenian stranger - he who does not drink the hemlock, who escapes Athens and tricks, with religion, his interlocutors to accept laws (the legislator as disbelieving believer as Altman also emphasizes – see The German Stranger, ch. 9) - as models. But he does not mean to overcome war. His aim, as with Schmitt (Remarks on the The Concept of the Political) and in support of the Nazis in 1933-34, was to encourage it, and he urges war to both Charles Percy - see his fierce memoranda to Percy urging taking out Cuba as a way to intimidate the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis had nearly provoked nuclear war and in the dark conclusion to his "Restatement" in On Tyranny, inviting such war and destruction as an antidote to the "last men," a return to the human "spring" of the stone age here. His followers, the Straussian life of the fantasist and robotic neo-cons among Republicans (and neo-neo-cons among Democrats), are imperial authoritarians and seek conquest in the Middle East (whether Strauss would have supported the war in Iraq, a foolish attempt to remake the Middle East at gunpoint, is questionable. See here). Like many of those who worshipped Strauss as well as a reactionary but one who did not embrace fascism by name, Bloom has barely a clue of what Strauss thought.*******

Consider the parallel with Achilles and Socrates’s philosophical and personal choice about going down to die as a third Platonic or anti-Straussian and anti-Heideggerian thesis.

In this context, we might return to Cephalus. Also revealing artifice and artificiality, Cephalus, the metic, uses his money - gotten by profiting in a war in which he is no hero, has not gone down, has not sacrificed himself - to pay off the gods for his fear about mortality:

“I hadn’t seen [Cephalus] for a long time, and he seemed to me to have aged greatly. He sat on a cushioned chair and was wearing garlands, for he had been offering sacrifices in the courtyard. “ (328c)

This is the point of Socrates’s question which drives Cephalus out. On one level, their conversation is not philosophical. Philosophy starts with Polemarchus who is shown to take seriously and think about the arguments, to become a student. See here.

But in another way, the action of book 1 already tucks in a serious answer to the question of justice. Cephalus symbolizes the power of the democracy, its war-making piety, its immigrant letter-of-the-law devotion (Socrates is always shown as at least externally pious as in the Bendideia, “after we had made our devotions” to the goddess...(327a-b)********

Now Socrates’s piety is taken as merely external or exoteric by Strauss, but it is more complex or multifaceted than this (his daimon communicates with him about what he can, with divine or inner sanction, do; hence writing the poems, from Aesop’s stories in the Phaedo).*********

Strauss thinks that Socrates’ paying his debt to the city by going to his death is intended only to bring Athenian democracy into disrepute over the ages. Apology, 38c. But this is no thought on which any sane person would happily go to his death – see, in contrast, Strauss’s own rather beautiful letters in dying with Scholem in Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3). Socrates has, as I have suggested, a different or intrinsic relation to the laws and one in which the piety is also real and ironic – see here).

Socrates proceeds justly in a democracy, asks questions, encourages virtue, tries to stem democratic tides which are murderous (“wills of all” in Rousseau’s elegant later phrase).

Thus, in the midst of two visions of Socrates’s persecution, the first the procession of democrats worshipping Bendis, moved often by fashion or the glimpse of fashion, the second the pious metic trying to purchase the favor of the Athenian gods, we have the arrest of Socrates and his being brought before those he is asked to entertain. To Cephalus, he is expected to jest, to the Athenians in the Apology, to grovel and beg for mercy. He does neither. In reality, the Athenians will put him to death for asking questions (and people like Cephalus, stung by his refusal to play the jester, by his pointed questions, will vote to convict him. Apology, 20e-24b). And the image will be set of a philosopher's courage, of a democracy wise enough not to persecute and murder those who question (what will at the time be glimpsed, in Socrates's speech, as a regime that could take four days for a trial instead of one; what will, some twenty one hundred years later, emerge as the equal basic rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech).

The two visions of persecution each have an implicit idea of justice – one embodied in the laws of Athens which they will tyrannically apply against Socrates. Their so-called justice is injustice. It is thus the question of justice which they bring to the fore, what Socrates sharply articulates in the context of injustice.

For the conviction of Socrates for asking questions strikes not only at philosophy but at the heart of democracy: democratic dissent. Socrates raises the profound question: what is justice? He does so in going down to the Pireaeus with Glaucon to convince him against tyranny even were he to possess the ring of Gyges…

The subsequent discussion in book 1, in which Polemarchus learns to do philosophy, takes some first steps on the quest, provides a signal to students about which way to go. But the setting of book 1 also provides students with a reminder – as forceful as could be – of the injustice of the trial and murder of Socrates as the context for the dialogue.

Socrates, of course, does not find the idea of justice at the end of book 1. But just considering this action, he highlights injustice and raises the question about justice in a startling, memorable and ultimately politically productive way.

*Hanna Pitkin has some interesting insights into Socrates' question in Wittgenstein and Justice.

**“Do you see how many of us there are?“ Polemarchus threatens (327c). And then after Adeimantus has been silenced by Socrates's irony, Polemarchus leaps in to urge him: "Don't refuse us. Do stay." (328 a-b)

***The first character in the myth of Er in book 10, one good by habit in a previous life, hastily grabs up the life of a tyrant. He then notices that it is fated to him to eat his own children, wails, and blames the weavers for his choice. One is meant to recall Cephalus here.

****Antigone's resistance to Creon's orders, in Sophocles's Antigone, also sets an example of standing up for decency.

*****In ch. 5 of Best of the Acheaens, Nagy does an etymology of the name of Achilles which includes akhos - grief - and laos - the warrior group, and means grief of the warriors (the grief which came to the Achaeans when Achilles's menis - anger - took him out of battle and he sulked while Hektor slayed heroes, burned the ships; the grief the Trojans suffered when Achilles slew Hektor, and, in turn, the Achaeans when Apollo, in the form of Paris, slew Achilles...).

******For a powerful discussion of grief or pain and its relation to warrior and godly anger (menis), see Nagy, Best of the Achaeans, ch. 4-5.

*******In a letter I found in the Strauss papers in Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, Bloom characterizes Strauss as a wise rabbi, wants to draw near him to imbibe some of his wisdom. There is less argument or thought in Bloom, who is a good translator and a gossip, than perhaps any other Straussian.

********That he makes his devotions to the goddess shows that he is pious and also that he does not exclusively believe in the gods of Athens. In this, he follows the Athenian democrats and their procession to Bendis as well as the plaque to the unknown god on the Acropolis. Athens was, as I figured out when I saw this plaque three years ago, vastly more tolerant than the trial, 5 years after its defeat in the Peloponnesian War, would indicate, and that many Anglo-American scholars, for example, Bloom, have taken it to be.

*********His last words are for Crito to sacrifice a rooster to Asclepius the god of health and medicine. Here he is pious in the sacrifice and yet at the last, memorably ironic – offering his payment to the god of health passing over into death. And yet the paying of debts to the gods with Socrates is not only ironic…

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