Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Mob Rule vs. the Father of Civilization

 

A really old white guy, the Athenian Socrates (469-399 B.C.), is considered by many to be the Father of Western Civilization. He was an epistemologist, a philosopher who was primarily concerned with theories of knowledge, justification, and rationality. And a pretty good example of why when asked what type of government the Founders had given us, Ben Franklin replied not “a Democracy” but a “a Republic… if you can keep it.”

Socrates, the son of a stonemason and a midwife, was what we would consider today as middle-class. His family had enough money for him to join the military and, as an infantryman, Socrates had the opportunity to save one of the future leaders of Athens, Alcibiades, at the battle of Potidaea (432 B.C.) who he probably would not have chosen to save. Alcibiades was not a good dude, not if you like personal freedom. Socrates went on to fight against Sparta in the .3 version of what we call The Peloponnesian War (478 B.C.)

When not bashing the enemy, he liked to hang with the young people of Athens and chat. The playwright, Aristophanes lampooned him in the comedy “Clouds” as an unkempt fellow teaching the youth the benefits of clever talking — aka, “rhetoric” — who used the lesson to avoid paying their debts. The play was not well received.

Socrates was unconventional, both in appearance and philosophy. He questioned everything and had a keen desire for knowledge. He did not settle for status quo. He liked kids. Naturally, he became a teacher. His most famous student was Plato, whose most famous student was Aristotle which is one of the reasons he is thought to be a father of civilization.

The method of teaching that bears his name, the Socratic Method, is basically the use of questioning – relentless questioning – until the student is guided around contradictions and misinformation to the only logical answer. Despite current trends, the Socratic Method is still used in many law schools today. The goal is to learn how to think, not what to think.

What happened to the Father of Western Civilization?

He was put to death.

Athenians invented “direct democracy.” In fact, the government of Athens was the direct democracy. They had tried a few attempts at something akin to democracy earlier but it wasn’t until 507 BC, when the Athenian leader, Cleisthenes, responded to pressure from the middle-class and introduced a reboot of governance that stuck around for a while. It gave the people (“demos”) the power (“kratos”).

The new system had three branches: 1. The “Ekklesia” or Assembly, to write the laws, 2. the “Boule,” a council of representatives from the ten Athenian tribes and 3. the “Dikasteria,” a court system. (No relation to Mike.) Any similarity to our House, Senate, and Judiciary is purely intentional.

Cleisthenes’ new system broke the stranglehold aristocrats had on policy-making, but despite the good press releases, did not guarantee governing power to all. There were about 100,000-150,000 citizens in Athens, persons whose parents had been citizens. The population was filled out with approximately 10,000 resident foreigners and 150,000 slaves. That impressive slave number is only an “impression”; they didn’t really know.

Of the actual citizens, only males over the age of 18 could participate in government as the “Demos.” That group numbered 30,000- 40,000.

The Assembly met 40 times a year and the Demos could attend at any time. Even with the guys off at war, or busy in careers, or spending afternoons with their favorite haetera, Demos attendance usually numbered in the thousands. No professional ball, sexting, or Netflix, so what else did they have to do? They met at an “auditorium” called the Pynx built in the side of a hill.

Socrates was not much of a politician and he gained attention, unfavorable attention, while serving in the Boule during a decision regarding the punishment of six commanders who had left their casualties at the Battle of Arginusae in order to continue pursuing the Spartans.

The people considered this a terrible violation of duty and voted for the death penalty for the six. Socrates blocked the vote saying, “in no case would he act except in accordance with the law” because their decision was not based on actual law but emotions. Eventually, the Court decided Socrates was correct, but that was after the executions took place. “Justice” outside the rule of law is not justice. One of the commanders executed was the son of Pericles, the Athenian leader who advanced this people-power concept during the Athenian Golden Age. No kind deed goes unpunished, right?

Socrates lived in a time of chaos. The Peloponnesian War(s) had gone on forever. And then Athens lost the war. The Demos started questioning their own government. And the victors, the Spartans, were debating whether to flatten and salt Athens or just put them under a very rigid thumb. Failure in government usually means someone will be looking for a scapegoat.

All the while, Socrates kept asking questions: like why the Boule was ignoring its own laws and procedures. He was even questioning this thing called democracy! Seems he was concerned if the Demos are not educated to reason, they would use their votes unwisely.

A friend of Socrates asked the Oracle of Delphi who the wisest Athenian was. The oracle replied that it was Socrates. When Socrates heard the pronouncement, he – of course – questioned it. And he went about interviewing prominent Athenians to find the real wisest man. He eventually concluded that it was, indeed, him, because all the Betters thought they knew everything. On the other hand, he knew he didn’t know everything. “I know that I know nothing,” is what he said. Therefore, he was the wisest.

That just irked his Betters even more. In addition to the unkempt, misfit teacher questioning authority and insisting on following the law, the real law, not popular mob rule, he had made the prominent Athenians, the new Aristocrats, look foolish. And he refused to play ball with The Thirty Tyrants, that group of Vichy-like overseers the Spartans had installed. Something had to be done about this “gadfly,” as his pupil, Plato, called him.

He was charged with corrupting the youth and impiety. Seems he never spoke of the gods in the plural as if he might actually believe there be but one God. And corrupting the youth; teaching students how to think for themselves … can’t have that.

The Demos had become the mob he had predicted it would become and the Boule ruled against him.

In a stunning act of condescension, The Snits even asked him to propose his own punishment. He suggested a wage from the government and free dinners for the rest of his life. The Demos didn’t think that was funny, but they did brew him a nice warm cup of herbal tea: hemlock.

Socrates died in 399 BC at the age of 71. Because he did not try to flee and drank the poison willingly, his death was considered a suicide. Our Father of Western Civilization … destroyed by politics and mob rule wearing the sanctimonious cloak, democracy.

The Old White Guys who founded this Republic knew the story of Socrates and were well-versed in the infamous history of democracy. And this is why we are a Republic. Although, it’s getting harder and harder each day to recognize it as such.

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There are 13 comments.

  1. tigerlily Member

    Well done! Thanks.

    • #1
    • November 8, 2019, at 10:20 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Fritz Member

    Would I could give more than one “like” to this erudite and interesting post.

    • #2
    • November 8, 2019, at 10:38 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. OkieSailor Member

    American elites refer to the USA as a democracy and to Red China as The Peoples Republic. How sad. 

    • #3
    • November 8, 2019, at 11:39 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Steve C. Member

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    American elites refer to the USA as a democracy and to Red China as The Peoples Republic. How sad.

    Elites call it The Peoples Republic of China because that’s the name the elites of China chose.

    If my cat births kittens in the oven, I don’t call them biscuits.

    As a conservative doomed to romanticize long forgotten causes, I continue to deploy the name, Red China.

    • #4
    • November 8, 2019, at 7:58 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  5. OkieSailor Member

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    American elites refer to the USA as a democracy and to Red China as The Peoples Republic. How sad.

    Elites call it The Peoples Republic of China because that’s the name the elites of China chose.

    If my cat births kittens in the oven, I don’t call them biscuits.

    As a conservative doomed to romanticize long forgotten causes, I continue to deploy the name, Red China.

    Still as a Hopelessly Old Person I remember when our Congress Crittters and other elites called that place Red China, hopeless honesty IMHO.
    This is similar to Reagan calling the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. He was mocked relentlessly but those in the gulag said just hearing about it gave them hope. Calling a spade a spade doesn’t transform it into a silver spoon but calling it a silver spoon does nothing of value either.

    • #5
    • November 9, 2019, at 6:13 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. Jim Beck Member

    Morning L J,

    If we make Socrates a symbol of Western thought, this idea that we should question all things leads to some of our current difficulties. If one presumes the ability to question, evaluate, judge everything then one presumes a rather great level of wisdom. If one believes one knows nothing then some questions are not usefully asked. The West has questioned its basic understandings, is marriage a thing or is it just a construct to be shaped to our personal desires, when does life cease being scared, is anything sacred? We prefer a Socrates who questions everything, that gives us the most radical freedom, we prefer a total godlike freedom to challenge any obligation we feel is burdensome. We reject the Socrates who claims he knows nothing, we claim we know what is good and what is evil. I assume that there were things that Socrates did not question, however we have evolved past that.

    • #6
    • November 9, 2019, at 6:33 AM PST
    • Like
  7. WI Con Member

    I recall meeting this women law student, a friend of my wife’s cousin back in 1996 or so – she was arrogantly going on about the ‘Socratic Method’ and how it was biased against women, that it was no longer useful and that’s why her East Coast school (can’t even recall which one) was abandoning it.

    If one can’t question something, the only alternatives are to accept or reject a premise. It increases polarization. Better to question, analyze and debate – at least then, the pro’s & con’s, more information is revealed for all to evaluate an assertion, a premise or an initiative more fully.

    • #7
    • November 9, 2019, at 7:12 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  8. Fritz Member

    When I was teaching business law to MBA students or those majoring in business as undergrads, I often used the Socratic method. If an issue seemed to have the class mostly lined up on one side, I’d seek out a student to articulate a challenge with a different take. If none seemed to be ready, then I’d take the opportunity to present that opposing viewpoint and press the issue. I even included a warning in the course syllabus that this could happen, so best come prepared.

    Nowadays, though, I am confident that my approach would lead to my quick ouster, perhaps with tar and feathers (or the social media equivalent) along with harsh insults to my ancestry and male privilege or some such nonsense.

    It is a very sad thing that our young people are being taught to avoid thinking.

    • #8
    • November 9, 2019, at 9:37 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. J Climacus Member

    Socrates famously insisted that he was not a teacher.

    • #9
    • November 9, 2019, at 10:02 AM PST
    • Like
  10. J Climacus Member

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Morning L J,

    If we make Socrates a symbol of Western thought, this idea that we should question all things leads to some of our current difficulties. If one presumes the ability to question, evaluate, judge everything then one presumes a rather great level of wisdom. If one believes one knows nothing then some questions are not usefully asked. The West has questioned its basic understandings, is marriage a thing or is it just a construct to be shaped to our personal desires, when does life cease being scared, is anything sacred? We prefer a Socrates who questions everything, that gives us the most radical freedom, we prefer a total godlike freedom to challenge any obligation we feel is burdensome. We reject the Socrates who claims he knows nothing, we claim we know what is good and what is evil. I assume that there were things that Socrates did not question, however we have evolved past that.

    Socrates did not “question everything” in the modern sense. The modern version is a radical individualism that insists that tradition and societal norms have no claim on the individual unless and until the individual accepts them. The Socratic version accepts that the traditions of the city are normative for the individual from the day he is born, but that those traditions should be rationally examined even as they are lived. That is, in fact, how traditions are authentically developed. This is one reason Socrates did not avail himself of an opportunity to flee Athens while awaiting his execution; Socrates accepted that as an Athenian he was subject to Athenian justice even if he thought its decision unwise in his case. He also followed the traditions of Athenian religion even as he investigated its rational foundations.

    Socrates’s execution was unjust because he never denied the local Gods, nor did he corrupt the youth as a teacher; he insisted he was not a teacher – he only asked questions. He followed the laws and traditions. He merely asked questions about the traditions, which unfortunately drew a deadly reaction as his questions exposed the irrationality of much of what was believed. It was probably inevitable as a Bronze Age culture developed the rational foundations of true civilization.

    We need more Socrates, not less.

    • #10
    • November 9, 2019, at 10:13 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. Full Size Tabby Member

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Morning L J,

    If we make Socrates a symbol of Western thought, this idea that we should question all things leads to some of our current difficulties. If one presumes the ability to question, evaluate, judge everything then one presumes a rather great level of wisdom. If one believes one knows nothing then some questions are not usefully asked. The West has questioned its basic understandings, is marriage a thing or is it just a construct to be shaped to our personal desires, when does life cease being scared, is anything sacred? We prefer a Socrates who questions everything, that gives us the most radical freedom, we prefer a total godlike freedom to challenge any obligation we feel is burdensome. We reject the Socrates who claims he knows nothing, we claim we know what is good and what is evil. I assume that there were things that Socrates did not question, however we have evolved past that.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily true. A proper questioning of something should include the willingness to listen to the wisdom in the answers others give – it does not necessarily require assuming that the questioner knows better than the person questioned. But, you are right that today’s “question everything” actually means “throw out everything” and is spouted by arrogant twits who believe they know everything, and so they “question” without any interest in listening to the answers. 

    • #11
    • November 9, 2019, at 10:27 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. Jim Beck Member

    Afternoon Climacus and Tabby,

    Tabby when you note that today’s “question everything” actually means “throw out everything” you are stating what I also believe. I also believe that when certain “sacred ideas” no longer are unquestioned then inevitably what begins as “rational” examination ends with rejection. Climacus, I am not sure we agree, using Hegel and the post-Hegelians as an example once we start down the path of asking are the miracles real or is the Bible true in just a poetic sense, as was true at the time, it is just a jump to the Bible is false and there is no God. I suggest that we do not know the essential linchpins of culture and that by believing that nothing is sacred, that is set aside, as not a measurable good but only an immeasurably wonderful end, we, because we always prefer being our own god, will allow nothing to be sacred, especially if it will block our desires. Now concerning tradition, I would observe that traditions came before the city, marriage, religion, etc. (all the things that make up culture), and they did not emerge from rational choice either individually or by groups. The idea that a life unexamined is less worth living is also rubbish. Lastly, I would choose to be ruled by the first 2,000 folks in any phone book, than by any philosopher king or even worse, 2,000 philosopher kings.

    • #12
    • November 10, 2019, at 11:49 AM PST
    • Like
  13. J Climacus Member

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Afternoon Climacus and Tabby,

    Tabby when you note that today’s “question everything” actually means “throw out everything” you are stating what I also believe. I also believe that when certain “sacred ideas” no longer are unquestioned then inevitably what begins as “rational” examination ends with rejection. Climacus, I am not sure we agree, using Hegel and the post-Hegelians as an example once we start down the path of asking are the miracles real or is the Bible true in just a poetic sense, as was true at the time, it is just a jump to the Bible is false and there is no God.

    You skipped over about 2300 years of philosophical history in jumping from Socrates to Hegel. The Socratic tradition developed through Plato and Aristotle and was later “baptized” by Christian theologians like Augustine and, preeminently, St. Thomas Aquinas. Far from undermining the Faith, Augustine used Greek philosophy to defend the faith and show that belief in miracles was rational, as did Aquinas even more profoundly. Hegel is part of the Modern tradition of philosophy that has its roots in Descartes and the Enlightenment, which specifically rejected the classical philosophical tradition rooted in Socrates and started over. Part of that modern tradition is the conviction that faith must be opposed to reason, where the classical philosophers understood that faith and reason, properly understood, support each other. Fides quaerens intellectum.

    … Now concerning tradition, I would observe that traditions came before the city, marriage, religion, etc. (all the things that make up culture), and they did not emerge from rational choice either individually or by groups. The idea that a life unexamined is less worth living is also rubbish. Lastly, I would choose to be ruled by the first 2,000 folks in any phone book, than by any philosopher king or even worse, 2,000 philosopher kings.

    I wonder if I could find a phone book you might not want to be ruled by – Tehran, perhaps, or Riyadh. Unless you look forward to living under sharia law.

    I agree that traditions do not typically develop by rational choice. Does it follow that they must automatically be good or remain unquestioned? If we accept that, then we must accept that the Aztec tradition of ripping out the hearts of men in human sacrifice was unquestionable. The classical tradition had developed the philosophy of “natural law”, by which traditions might be respected yet subject to examination. Unfortunately, it was one of the many things jettisoned by modern philosophers, leaving us with the bald choice between blind faith in tradition or religion, and an extreme rationalism that makes an idol of the individual intellect. A truly human approach to reason and to God is impossible in either case.

    • #13
    • November 10, 2019, at 6:52 PM PST
    • Like