Saturday, September 29, 2012

Plato and the consensus-police

“Dhanajay” (Jagannathan) has provided a lively commentary on my last post here, and along with Blinn Combs, tries to defend the scholarly honor of Heidegger – that he understands the guardians not just as auxiliaries or warrior-athletes but most as philosophers – and, in effect, trash the political honor of Plato and perhaps even Socrates who seem, on this view, endorsers of proto-Nazi regimes of the “wise.” Dhanajay’s comments are here along with Blinn Combs’ and some of my responses. The tone of his comments is aggressive and demeaning, so I thought I would reprint my final comment and the whole sequence below.


I am very glad to see that you are no longer speaking in the voice of the “philosophy”- police (Blinn, too, often does this). The ambition to state what one takes to be the consensus view – with some cleverness and learning – does not lead to anything of much interest (and is hardly Socratic…).

Hilary is my old friend (politically as well as philosophically), and I and many others have learned a great deal from his work (see Democratic Individuality, chs. 1 and 4, for example). He has given me advice on what I write about Plato and Socrates, but is not a specialist in these areas though, of course, he knows Greek and has powerful insights. I cited him for one of these. Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism as what the guardians do is shockingly bad scholarship, Uwe Meisner thought and Hilary thinks. So do I. And that a vague sentence appealing to a text of Plato is the substance of his Nazism (“the original truth and greatness of National Socialism”) is horrifying and amusing.

To annex this to good Plato scholarship - and allude to Plato in this way aside from those who grew up with Nazism as Heidegger and Strauss did - is a mistake. For instance, nothing in Greek cities, including the supposed city in speech, has much resonance – some quasi-Spartan eugenics aside – with racist mass murder…

The Nazis circa 1943, and Heidegger as a then party-member, are not a poor approximation of Plato's city in speech (i.e. as "true national socialism").

Perhaps one wants to say of Heidegger with Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, disarming Wilmer with his big heaters (guns) - "the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."

I mention the Meno in my essay(s) where Socrates questions a slave who un-forgets (roughly, Heidegger’s translation of aletheia) a theorem of Greek geometry. That doesn’t fit well with your view since the weak can learn as much as “the strong” through questioning. Nor does the surface conclusion of the Meno – that virtue, not being knowledge, can’t be taught - help your claims. For if this is right, the one navigator can’t be the one philosopher-ruler, pace your assertion (since knowledge has nothing to do with virtuous ruling), and if the claim is not fully right (i.e. Tiresias who is blind and yet can see the future and still can see even in Hades, and Socrates), one might want to be a bit less precipitous about feeling strong, philosophically speaking. In fact, that seems to be Socrates’s target in the Apology, that many, including sophists like Thrasymachus, think they know and do not…

For in the Apology which you cite on behalf of your view, Socrates says he is wise only in this: that he knows that he does not know (in a non-self-refuting way, that he knows examples of justice, but not the idea of justice, let alone what a just society looks like). This thought contradicts the city in speech (and your summary of the official views) point-blank. Since Plato was careful about argument – see book 1 of the Republic where Polemarchus, initially a democratic bully, begins to learn about reasoning and thus becomes a philosophical youth (as reported in the Phaedrus) – I would be careful about announcing that “the philosopher-king” in your sense is what Socrates is recommending in his defense at his trial (or in Plato’s rendition/thinking about the speech).

What Socrates appears to be defending is the importance of asking questions even at the cost of his life – and thus, trying to make or maintain a space for philosophy and also political dissent in a democracy (see his remarks about sentencing). If so, philosopher-kingship (in a small circle in this city of cities) would be about, sometimes, when it counts, taking leadership for what is good even at great sacrifice. So Gandhi in his translation of the Apology and King seem to me to have it right at least about Socrates – and the standard academic consensus and your version of it, earlier and now, seems to me mistaken.

Today, one reads Socrates "knowing" how a philosopher must be read, as those who have taught one, read him, often not devoting too much time, and not attending to what Plato thought about how his dialogues should be read or the order in which a student might want to read them or what a dialogue is or what Plato tried to teach his students in the Academy and long into the future. But in fact, the hidden writer of the dialogue often makes fun of or questions the “discussion leader” as you call them (Shakespeare is not Hamlet, Romeo or Juliet...) And Socrates, of course, didn’t write…(except for some poems alluded to in the Phaedo).

I appreciate the citations you (and Blinn) bring up. But far from solving the problem of what the Republic means about a philosopher king, they scratch the surface. Just who becomes, for instance, a philosopher-king? The Republic doesn’t say (it does hint this in the decline of regimes which do not complete a circle – kuklos - as I noted in the post, but you won’t allow this since that is precisely a hidden or not surface reading). And of course, you would never get to the further issue: should we take the powerful psychological and moral arguments against tyranny in the Republic more seriously as I do or the largely un-argued hidden pointing (Strauss, Heidegger)?

The Athenian Stranger in book 4 of the Laws shocks Klinias by suggesting a tyrant who can change things rapidly for good or ill (I think the line numbers are roughly 708-711 but am traveling now and don't have the book). Note that Socrates never recommends changing things for ill. One is meant to note that, inter alia, the Stranger is a Socrates who did not take the hemlock (See William Altman’s revelatory essay on “A Tale of Two Drinking-Parties,” those in the Phaedo and in book 1 of the Laws).

The consensus view is often not to read the Laws very much - and one might notice that, in contrast, Strauss pivots his interpretation of Plato on the Athenian Stranger (see his last book in 1973, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws).

Xenophon in Hiero shows the poet Simonides, a wise man (note Polemarchus’ reliance on him taking over from his father in book 1 of the Republic and Socrates’s argument against this view), shaping the unhappy tyrant Hiero up to serve a common good. Strauss routinely refers to a tyrant who listens to a reasonable man being the best ruler, much better than elected ones (see On Tyranny, p. 27). So it is easy to read Plato – not Socrates – as saying this, and to then infer that Xenophon and Plato have the single view of their teacher. And then the Seventh Letter seems to fall into line as well. So then Heidegger would have the right view (and of course, Nazism might seem a variant…).

But there is no evidence that the historical Socrates held such a view, for instance in the Apology (so it makes a difference, for instance, that your brief invocation of the work is so far off). It could be that Gandhi and King are right about Socrates – prefiguring civil disobedience – and Plato is wrong, i.e. really often differs with or makes fun of Socrates.

But Plato seems to have a lot of affection for/admiration of Socrates and to have learned from his questioning and his example (Plato retreated from the market place to an invisible Academy because he did not want to meet the same fate). That he thought democracies often wrong – in Rousseau’s later terms, wills of all – and that ignorance which loudly asserts knowledge is bad, does not mean that he thought badly of Athens as a democracy sometimes tolerant of philosophy. Instead, he, like Socrates, wanted to make it more tolerant of philosophy. The latter view would make Plato (along with Socrates) someone who works, guided by a glimmer of the shining idea of justice, within the present, once again, a leader standing up occasionally, when needed, for the right, but not seeking to impose philosophical rule.

It would also suggest that Plato differed from Xenophon who didn’t like democracy much and plainly thought of advising tyrants i.e. Hiero, to become reasonable. It could even be that as a student of Socrates, Plato was writing a send-up of this idea in the Republic (in the Seventh Letter - I am aware of the controversy about it, but take it as genuine - Plato would experiment with advising Dionysius the younger and more hiddenly, his own student Dion, in Syracuse’s circumstances, and discover how difficult it was, stating that he, who knew most about legislation, would never write a book about laws...).

Socrates is charged by the Athenian “democrats” with defaming the gods. Imagine what it would take to clean up the gods in Athens, Plato’s Socrates seems to be saying in the Republic - complete censorship of myths as well as Homer. Imagine how we will produce guardians (even philosopher-guardians) – a little mathematics and all the same acts, all the same sentiments, all the believing in noble lies. Why that was just how Socrates developed, wasn’t it?

But of course, Plato’s Socrates’s account in the Republic about how philosophers develop suggests how easily they are corrupted in most societies, how close they may be to tyrants (tyrants are those who rule badly, without laws). And Socrates speaks in the Apology of his daimon which makes him avoid hubris/pride/seeking to be a god or have more than human status, and ask questions (his ignorance again). His daimon warns him when his questioning or argument is going astray, something one can learn from the Phaedrus where he initially mocks the god Eros, and the Symposium where he shows in the voice of Diotima that Eros is not a god, the child of Poros and Penia (resource and poverty), always swelling, as it were, with passion (or argument) and falling short, waxing and waning, and is like…Socrates.

But it is a Socrates or a philosopher who is seeking, who is not arrogant (Oh, I forgot, both these dialogues are on your proscribed list along with many others…).

Of course, the Phaedrus and Symposium show that Socrates does blaspheme a god, i.e. Eros. But Plato perhaps wishes to affirm Socrates’s questioning – to show that he does not go along with the consensus (even among the philosophers of Athens, so to speak), but certainly not to agree with their putting him to death for it (sneering at democracy is really for Straussians, though I should note, that the attitudes displayed here are not on balance better than those of the more sect-like acolytes of Leo).

One major implication of the Apology and the Crito is that the laws, in Athens, to become better, i.e. more just, need to be reformed (even the “laws” whom Socrates invokes speaking to Crito seek to distinguish themselves from the unjust sentence of men…). One would think that the law against disbelief in the Athenian gods as well as the law confining capital trial to a single day might be candidates.

So I take Plato to be mocking Xenophon (at least the Hiero). I don’t know if there is much chronology on this (see for example Gabriel Danzig's interesting but speculative article on "IntraSocratic Polemics" on the relation of the two Symposiums here) but Plato would have known of and probably heard and argued with Xenophon a bit, given their common teacher. And perhaps Aristotle disagrees here also with Plato, his teacher, in book 5 of the Politics where he seeks to promote wise tyranny, invoking Xenophon's Hiero at length, and in life, where Aristotle sided with Alexander against Athens and against Plato’s other student, Demosthenes who died as a defender of Athens at Alexander's order...

A note of 503b itself which speaks of philosophers becoming the most precise guardians and thus seeming to override or at least qualify the notion of auxiliaries as soldiers. Socrates here speaks daringly, but elliptically. It turns out that few (oligoi) have the temperaments to do this (very hard to find the relevant traits together).(503d) Glaucon, for example, is impulsive (hungry: where are the relishes?" he says earlier) and a potential tyrant. Steady, he is not. Philosophical, he is not.

Socrates speaks shortly thereafter of how the goal of the many is pleasure, though of others, knowledge (of some sort). (505b, c) This launches the discussion alluding to the idea of the good (ton agathon idea), something described only by metaphor (the sun in the noetic universe more grand than the visible sun in the physical universe; 508c).

But are there enough potential guardians who are philosophers, one might wonder? And who, even in this circle of discussants with Socrates, are candidates?

Given the presence of Socrates and with no attention to irony, a shadowy philosopher-king is imaginable. But a number of philosopher-guardians?

The text is also peppered with warnings about reading with caution, how little Socrates is revealing, perhaps can reveal, to the interlocutors at least in one session.

But when Socrates reaches toward the idea of the good, Glaucon gasps at an immense beauty and then, revealing himself, stammers of the good: surely you can't mean pleasure. (509a)

This reveals again Glaucon's impetuous striving, as a military figure, tempted by injustice (his resonant story of the ring of Gyges) toward tyranny; the guardians - down to: the biggest hero gets the most girls - are an echo of this, not of philosophy. The discussion with Socrates pacifies Glaucon, makes him listen, persuades him not to become a tyrant. He was Plato's brother and otherwise, unknown to history. So the element of philosophy - Socrates - in the dialogue with Glaucon may actually have done this, persuaded and thus saved him. But unlike Polemarchus, he does not appear in another dialogue.

Glaucon is no philosopher, the city in speech is not a philosophical city, and the dialogue is not - in any straightforward way - a "teaching" about how to order a good city (the qualifications on what the city in speech is, for instance, that it is discerning a kind of order in a city to find the order in a soul, no more, is already a warning to an attentive reader that all is not as it seems. The standard reading of the sentence is a sleepy reading, and Heidegger is sometimes better than this...).

Hush, says Socrates. No, pleasure is not the good...

I appreciate your and Blinn’s scholarship (and thanks for the work on the Protagoras). And Heidegger liked to think of himself (he apparently served as a medic and not at the front lines in World War I) and his students as soldiers, i.e. philosopher/guardians in your terms. The military service is of no philosophical or for that matter, political merit; Heidegger grew up as a reactionary and saw things as one; his philosophy and/or poetry is a metaphorical overlay on baseness. Alternately, he puffed himself up and harmed others at Freiburg and would happily have killed, though, remaining a Nazi party member on the home front, he mostly was still lucky enough to/managed to avoid this...

But as for your raising of eyebrows – including, appeal to particular and thus isolated sentences (in contrast, Heidegger's is deliberately a fleeting mention) and current scholarly consensus about what parts of texts are important - i.e. how particular sentences must be read - and which texts are important in your and his comments and the continuing undertone of scorn in yours, there are only the words of the sentence, i.e. no further argument or interpretation in context. In terms of writing as scholars - the appeal to consensus substituting for reading and thinking deeply, in effect a form of self-censorship - your effort is self-defeating.


The other comments on the previous post, including Dhanajay's and Blinn's and my earlier responses are below:

Matt said...

This is a nice and useful essay, though this bit:

"One imagines from the title that Strauss will discuss Tycho Brahe and Kepler – burned at the stake – and Galileo, threatened and forced to recant as well as the followers of Darwin..."

Seems to imply that Brahe or Kepler (or both) were burned at the stake. The cause of Brahe's death is disputed, (I guess that slow mercury poisoning is now a common idea, though a kidney infection was long thought to be the reason) and Kepler also died of illness. Kepler had some problems later in life, but they were as much or more political than religious. Neither, as far as I can tell, faced very serious persecution for their beliefs. Perhaps you meant Giordano Bruno? Anyway, it's a small point that's not central to the interesting essay, but it jumped out at me.

September 23, 2012 12:30 PM

September 23, 2012 12:53 PM

Dhananjay said...

I know nothing about Heidegger, so on that matter I shall fall silent. But this essay itself contains sloppy mistakes and esoteric interpretation.

First on this offhand remark: "Contra Aristotle's later argument for "natural" slavery (even Aristotle notes in book 1 of the Politics that nature makes many mistakes...), the Meno shows that humans are equal in having the capacity to question and learn, to find (some of) the truth."

It is customary for philosophers to bash Aristotle for his defense of both slavery and sexism in Politics I, but it behooves us to get the details right. The former prejudice is at least given some argument, and to Aristotle's credit, the argument for natural slavery is explicitly set against the custom of slavery as practiced in his time. All consistent with the wonderful demonstration with the slave-boy in the Meno. Indeed, by Aristotle's lights, we have no reason to suppose that de jure slaves, prisoners of war and their children, are natural slaves. The question who is a natural slave turns on the possession of autonomous reason, and since we too judge some people incompetent to live their lives independently due to mental deficits, the difference between us and Aristotle is certainly smaller than we'd like to think. He may of course have made bad empirical estimates of how common this state was, and his later remarks in Politics VII about the necessity of slaves even in the ideal city are troubling. The worst part of this offhand dismissal of Aristotle is that the claim about nature making mistakes is part of the argument against slavery as practiced in Greece in his time - it is meant to challenge the common assumption that from slavish parents come slavish children.


I follow little of the jagged discussion of "Heidegger's philosopher-king". The standard reading of the Republic in 'analytic' Anglo-American circles is the one that seems to be attributed here to Heidegger. It is also, contra Professors Gilbert and Putnam, the plain surface meaning of the text of the Republic. (On these points, see my second comment below.) Professor Gilbert does not give us either of the two most important texts relevant to this question from the Republic, but instead quotes rather arbitrarily from the Phaedrus and other dialogues, and makes interpretive assertions at least if not more controversial than that in the quoted passage of Heidegger. (Is it not standard scholarly practice to put such a quotation at the head of the essay, to allow readers to form their own opinion?) According to Professor Gilbert, "the proposal for a philosopher-king is largely a satire". This is not exactly the consensus position amongst Plato scholars. Nor is the claim that the Athenian Stranger of the Laws is an anti-Socrates likely to win widespread approval.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

September 23, 2012 9:55 PM

Dhananjay said...

Here are those two quotations from the Republic (my translation).

(1) Rep. III, 414b1-6: "Isn't it then most truly correct to call these [the rulers] guardians (phylakas) in the fullest sense, against both the will of external enemies and the ability of dear ones at home to do wrong, and to call those young men whom we just now labelled guardians instead assistants [or 'auxiliaries', epikourous] and defenders of the decrees of the rulers."

(2) Rep. V, 473c11-d6: "Unless either philosophers come to take up rule in cities or those who are now called kings and lords come to take up philosophy genuinely and capably, that is, until political power and philosophy unite, while the many kinds of people who now go their way in one or the other occupation are forcibly kept from it, cities will obtain no relief from misfortune, Glaucon, nor in my view will humankind." (Cf. also the whole discussion at the beginning of Book VI of why the true philosopher is fit to rule.)

It seems perfectly reasonable to identify the philosopher-rulers with the (true) guardians, that is, the guardians of the laws and not merely the military class, who are only helper-guardians in the sense that they defend the decrees of the rulers, who themselves are tasked with preserving the constitution and especially the education system of kallipolis. What is described as a "shocking slip", then, seems to be little more than a reference to Republic 414b1-6.

There are of course intriguing differences in the views put forward in the Republic (main discussion leader: Socrates), the Statesman (the Eleatic Stranger), and the Laws (the Athenian Stranger), especially about the importance of the rule of law and its relation to embodied political expertise. But there are important continuities which also vindicate reading the views developed by the main discussion leader in each of these dialogues as harmonious with the behaviour and doctrine of the Socrates Plato depicts in the aporetic dialogues such as the Protagoras. (Note that I make no assumptions about the development or chronology of Plato's views.) These continuities include the ideas that knowledge is powerful and ignorance weak, that the true statesman or king would have technical knowledge, that no such people exist in cities as we know them, and that we must find a way to live as best we can without such knowledge while holding out hope that it comes our way. These ideas can be found in various forms in the Apology, the Crito, the Gorgias, the Protagoras, the Republic, the Statesman, and the Laws, i.e., all the importantly political works of Plato. Seeing this as the core of Plato's political vision does not require esoteric reading, either as Strauss or Heidegger practice it or as Professor Gilbert does.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan
September 23, 2012 9:56 PM

Blinn Combs said...

Hi Alan,

I'm having a very difficult time identifying precisely what you take the alluded slip to be. Is it the identification of philosophers and guardians? (One would hope not, given the strength and quantity of quotes of the type Dhananjay provides; 473c-d is usually taken as the central claim of the entire work).

Is it something else? I noticed that you have two different transcriptions of the Greek for "guardian." Putnam's "philakes" is a fairly gross error of transcription, but as such errors go, and especially considering that he's working from an English translation of Heidegger's work, it would be difficult to attribute it to Heidegger himself.

What am I missing?

September 24, 2012 4:44 AM

Alan Gilbert said...


I wasn't writing an essay on aristotle. But you are right that Aristotle is very critical of existing practices of bondage as I argue in detail in Democratic Individuality ch. 1. By the way, one of the three best cities in book 2 is Carthage, a barbarian city, so the common idea that Greeks may enslave barbarians conquered in war is placed in question.

September 24, 2012 7:56 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

On your second note, I am sure consensus among contemporary students of philosophy is often a good thing. But it is not yet an argument. And since you know nothing of Heidegger, you say, you obviously have a firm basis to comment (he worked on the Greeks for some 20 years, and his work is serious).

September 24, 2012 7:59 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

I cite a lot of posts, almost a book's worth, on these matters on my blog. You are under no obligation to pay any attention to them before commenting, but I note that your comment is not based on reading them and on an average rejection of deviation from a current scholarly norm.

On the substance, you are right that philosophers emerge seemingly from guardians though one might want to consider whether the education of a guardian to feel always the same emotions as others, have the same thoughts, even with preparation in mathematics, amounts to a likely philosophical education (it is not Socrates's story of his own, or of the role that an inner voice or guiding spirit, a daimon, plays in it.

But I mention here and in the citations the discussion with Polemarchos on friends and enemies and how Socrates overcomes this. And I then mention that Socrates at the beginning of book 2 suggests that philosophers are like dogs (or guardians) who know friends and don't bark, and bare their teeth at those they do not know. I detect some skepticism in Adeimantus's responses. But in any case, Plato, I think, means us to see that this argument is doubtful, based on book 1. The standard reading you refer to is I think that a philosopher-king rules over the guardians (since the guardians are full of misconceptions or myths like the one of the metals. The guardians are not yet philosophers...I explore the possibility that the guardians are an ideal version (or god) for Glaucon, Socrates's companion and the main interlocutor. And perhaps this is responsible for some of the satirical tone in much of the argument. My apologies that I did not meet your standards of scholarly rigor, and that Heidegger's unusual affirmation of a Platonic Nazism (I think again pseudo-Platonic), though you have not read him, does.

September 24, 2012 8:09 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

Sorry for typos. The last sentence should speak of Heidegger's unusual affirmation of a Platonic Nazsim - it is the one time that he does this, and until I studied Essence of Truth and some of the background in Heidegger, I had no idea that "the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism" was Platonic...

September 24, 2012 8:12 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

For any one who would like to follow this up, you can hit on the links in the blog, marked here, to access the relevant posts.

September 24, 2012 8:15 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

Oh, one other matter. Heidegger thought that the philosophers should set the rules for the leader, meaning Hitler. Was Hitler, the man of "beautiful hands," as Heidegger called him, plausibly a philosopher? And in what way does the stand-aside ruler of Heidegger's citation manage to be a philosopher? And what kinds of philosopher (examine Heidegger's own activity as a Nazi, in speeches, writings, and for a short cut in Faye's recent account?) serve Hitler? Perhaps this is all some reason to reconsider Heidegger's philosophy and, as he saw it, straightforward activism. But it is not Plato.

September 24, 2012 8:27 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

Matt, thank you. Good point (I was trying to clarify the difficulties in so-called exoteric writing in Heidegger and Strauss, and did not check this point.

September 24, 2012 8:32 AM

Dhananjay said...

I'll note that my comments were confined to Aristotelian and Platonic exegesis, things I do know a little about. The reason I mentioned briefly the present state of Plato scholarship was for readers who may not be familiar with it, partly because you seem to appeal to Professor Putnam's authority. In any event, it was not an argument ex consensu omnium. The theme of your essay is that Heidegger, normally a sensitive reader of Plato, here makes an extraordinary slip, intentionally, in service of his Nazi political views. If the putative slip is what I think it is - the identification of the philosopher-rulers as phylakes (φύλακες) - then it is no slip at all, but rather usage of Socrates' own preferred terminology, given Rep. III, 414b. If it is in service of Nazism, then it is using Plato in service of Nazism, whether fairly or unfairly to Plato's own broader political views. The usual non-esoteric reading of Plato's political philosophy reveals a hostility both to the mob rule that killed his teacher and to democracy in general, and seemingly mixed feelings about the value of the rule of law over the rule of even wise individuals, much as we find in the later chapters of Aristotle, Politics III. But in any case, these are matters of continued scholarly controversy, and maintaining that Heidegger is a shoddy classicist on the basis of the quotation you target is unsupportable. That is all I meant (and mean) to say.

~Dhananjay Jagannathan

September 24, 2012 10:37 AM

David said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks for the entry. One question: I'm a bit confused as to why, in discussing the origin of Strauss' esoteric reading of Plato and other ancient philosophers, you do not even mention his deep interest in medieval jewish philosophy, but focus instead on his interaction with Heidegger. No doubt Heidegger was influential for Strauss, but if you read, for instance, Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, which if I remember correctly Strauss discusses in the first chapter of Persecution and the Art of Writing, Maimonides just says that he has composed his work at a number of different levels for different sorts of readers. Why not think, then, given Strauss' extensive background in Medieval Jewish philosophy, that his esoteric reading of ancient philosophy stems primarily from his (in my view, quite reasonable) method of reading medieval jewish philosophy and not from his interaction with Heidegger?

September 24, 2012 8:05 PM

Blinn Combs said...

Just one quick point. Quite apart from the purposes to which Heidegger is putting his analysis of the Republic, he appears in the gloss only to be providing a synopsis of "the final section of book VI of the Republic." And by way of introducing that material, he simply reports the conclusion reached in the long preceding section: That "those who are to be established as guardians in the strictest sense must be philosophers" (Translating τοὺς ἀκριβεστάτους φύλακας φιλοσόφους δεῖ καθιστάναι. [503a]) And in fact, Heidegger's gloss is an almost verbatim restatement of this bit of text, allowing for his usual habit of over-translation: "the authentic guardians of human association in the unity of the polis must be those who philosophize." And read in the context of the surrounding paragraphs of this section of Book VI, which detail first the possibility of the ideal state, and then review the character traits of the rulers, Heidegger's remarks are just an apt--and by his standards, remarkably lucid--description of Socrates' procedure.

So it's very difficult to see how this could plausibly be taken to be "an incredible blunder" especially by a classicist.

September 25, 2012 12:45 PM

Blinn Combs said...

Correction: the quotation is from 6.503b, toward the middle. I'm currently without my OCT, so I'm uncertain of the precise line numbers.

September 25, 2012 2:44 PM

Alan Gilbert said...


You are right that Strauss also learned this from Maimonides. But I would pay attention to Strauss's descriptions of his encounters with Heidegger, who made Weber whom he had encountered look like an "orphan child" and of whom he said posthumously - and one writes more honestly he says "one foot in the grave" (a comment on a passage he found puzzlingly direct in the late Hobbes) - that he was the "one great thinker of our era" (maybe there will be another, in 2200, I seem to recall, in Malaysia...). The essay "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" is worth pursuing with great care in the context of Strauss's writings in the 1920s. In addition to my posts on it (linked in the essay), see William Altman, The German Stranger.

September 26, 2012 7:29 AM

Alan Gilbert said...

About the ancients (he had heard Heidegger analyzing Aristotle's Metaphysics at first), Heidegger was a primary, perhaps the primary guide.

But Strauss disguised his relationship to Heidegger in America - told admiring students like Catherine Zuckert not to read him (hardly philosophical or Socratic advice...). So the reference to Maimonides may be what he means to tell us about how he got into this, or it may be a feint (exoteric) to put off sleepy readers. Since Strauss is not good at argument (he is, however, a very serious scholar), his discussions and extreme care about writing (one must read him literally and not bring a bevy of obvious allusions - i.e. a German Jew in America can't, just can't admire Hitler...), it is probably true that much of what he says dissolves under examination. Dissolves: is self-contradictory or once one knows the politics, uninteresting except as a statement of preference, not as political philosophy or worked out argument.

September 26, 2012 6:36 PM

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