Friday, May 21, 2010

Plato and Democracy

FLG doesn't know why he continues to read Rufus' posts on the canon. And he has no idea why he continues to read the ones on Plato. Most recently, he blogged Crito, one of FLG's favorites.

First, he writes:
An interesting point here is that Socrates agrees wholeheartedly with Crito about the bulk of “ordinary people”, grousing that they have no power to make people wise (and thus good). In the next section, he tells Crito not to worry about the popular opinion because one should always prefer expert opinion to majority opinion, especially in matters of the soul. Let’s take this as the typical Platonic argument against democracy- under the popular regime, the soul is not improved and the few good people are killed. Again, Plato is not a believer in democracy. So why in the world does Socrates accept the ruling of these brutish “ordinary people” and insist on staying in prison?

Let's step back for a second. Socrates was not an Athenian and chose to live there. So, doesn't his choosing to live there, and that's a big point in the dialogue, mean that Socrates and Plato are, in some at least practical sense, believers in democracy?

I won't bother to continue with much of the rest because it will just piss me off even more. The issue is this: Rufus brings modern sensibilities to his interpretation of Plato. These sensibilities blind him to a more nuanced, and in my mind, more correct understanding. He understands Plato largely as an authoritarian. Plato's deeper meaning is ignored as Rufus' democratic soul recoils in horror at the first whiff of that authoritarianism.

Make no mistake: Plato is not opposed to the Laws- the Republic suggests he’d like a lot more of them. But his authoritarian impulse is tied to his faith that, if the right experts made enough of the right laws, without the interference of the mob, the average person could be made better. This is, incidentally, the faith of many authoritarians. I prefer to think that the real Socrates would have thought it was nonsense.

Rufus analyzed the Polity-Soul parallel when he was blogging the Republic, but its consequences didn't fully sink in. Again, I've read the Republic four or five times. The first time you say, oh sure, there's this parallel between the two. But ultimately it only makes sense if the real focus is on the correct ordering of the soul.

From Emile:
Do you wish to get an idea of public education? Read Plato's Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written.

A digression: Apparently, even many scholars are confused about this stuff. In a note about the above quotation at the Columbia site that I linked to, it says:
Rousseau read Plato avidly and copied down numerous passages from the Republic. Given the social and political milieu in which Emile is to be educated, however, the "education of nature" that Rousseau describes will be diametrically opposite to the very "public" education laid out in the Republic.

God fucking dammit! Rousseau is saying that the whole fucking thing is an allegory for education of the fucking soul! It's times like this that FLG thinks he dumb, but most people, including apparently noted scholars, are fucking village idiots.

Plato's so-called authoritarianism should largely be understood as your reason dominating your will and appetites within your own soul. This isn't to say that there aren't aspects of Plato's actual political prescriptions that aren't what we'd call authoritarian, but Rufus just isn't getting this shit. He's reading superficially and with a lack of pensiveness.


Withywindle said...

At least he's choosing to read to good stuff. Pretentiousness is the tribute ignorance pays to wisdom, no?

FLG said...

"At least he's choosing to read to good stuff."

Allow me to retort in metaphor:
You say, "he is eating a Peter Luger steak."

I reply, "But he's ordering it well-done and putting A1 on it!"

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