On “The Cave” in Plato’s “Republic” and Other Matters

by George Anastaplo,

from THE CONSTITUTIONALIST: NOTES ON THE FIRST AMENDMENT  (originally published, 1971; reprinted, 2005), pp. 278-82, 791-800.

 . . .This limitation on the satisfactions of the public life is not a feature of republican government alone but extends as well to the best regime.

The classic examination of the best regime is found in Plato’s Republic.  It is in Book VII of that work that we have the famous discussion of “the Cave.”

We begin our interpretation of the Cave with the observation that Homer, who had been condemned by Socrates in Books II and III (and is to be reproached again in Book X) is somewhat rehabilitated in Book VII, and in a decisive respect.  That is, Socrates quotes part of a saying by Achilles about preferring to live on earth as the serf of another.  (516 D-E)  The rest of this saying, we are required (and intended) to remember for ourselves, is to be found at the beginning of Book III:  Achilles (Homer has reported) prefers life on earth as a serf to the role of ruler over the dead.  (386 C)  In Book III, such passages, and this one in particular, are forbidden:  since they make men fearful of death, they are inappropriate in the training of good citizens.  But in Book VII we find Socrates using this very passage in describing the reluctance of the liberated man to return to the Cave:  Socrates uses Homer, and the very passage that he had earlier condemned as subversive of civic virtue.  Of course, the two uses can be reconciled logically; but there remains an ambiguity, if only psychological, in that he used the same passage in two quite different ways.

Indeed, one is compelled to wonder whether one can accept without question anything that a serious writer presents on the surface of his work.  This reservation is suggested long before Book VII of the Republic, but it should be emphasized for this particular setting.  (One might also have wondered, of course, how seriously Plato took the condemnation of Homer in Books II and III:  he must have known as well as we do that the Homeric accounts had actually had the effect of inculcating in the young men of Greece a noble desire for the glory that is expected to attend heroism.)  In any event, Plato (or, more accurately, Socrates) reverses himself in his attitude toward a particular passage from Homer.21

The reader is put on notice to take care.  We proceed to a consideration of the man liberated from his shackles and led up and out of the Cave, the man who is thereafter reluctant to return to the Cave.  Later on (517 A) we learn of others who would kill anyone who might try to release them and lead them up.  The earlier man was to some extent forced to make the ascent or, at least, to look at the bright light; but nothing is said of him trying to kill anyone.  Thus, there is the implicit suggestion that the man actually liberated may be inherently more receptive to liberation than the homicidally-minded prisoners referred to later.  Then we note that the word “nature” is used in connection with the release of the earlier man.  (515 C)  That man, it may thereby be suggested, is better fitted to be released than most of the others.22  It should also be noted that the other prisoners are not released; nor is an attempt even made to release them.  Those who are in charge of releases seem to be aware of the natural possibilities and limitations of those shackled.

What city, then, does this Cave, the Cave, represent?  It represents a city in which the philosopher does not rise spontaneously.  Rather, the man of a philosophical disposition is led forth and trained, having been selected by the rulers to make the arduous ascent.  In the ordinary city, we are told, the philosopher rises spontaneously—that is, without any deliberate effort on the part of the city to make him a philosopher.23  Consequently, he is not obliged (as philosopher) to share in the labors of ruling.  (520 B)  But in the city of this Cave, the element of spontaneity is missing; and an obligation exists.  Consequently, we find the released man coming back, however reluctantly, to assume duties in the Cave.  Our suspicion grows that this Cave is not simply any city, but the “best city” as well.24

Both cities exhibit features which reflect inevitable limitations of human nature.  What then distinguishes the best from the ordinary city?  In the best city—in the particular Cave that we are shown—there are both shackled and unshackled.  The unshackled must be the rulers, those who create and propagate the opinions which the people are to have.25  Thus, the rulers—who else can they be but those who unshackle men of a fit nature, who have themselves made the ascent and have returned to serve out their obligations as rulers?—the rulers shape the opinions by which the shackled live.  They are educators.

Perhaps it is only the legalistically-disposed reader who would ask the further question: “Who shackled the prisoners?” Socrates speaks of shackles.  This suggests an intelligent agent doing the shackling:  these people could have been pictured as mired down in mud or otherwise caught by natural forces.26  The first answer, of course, is that Socrates has shackled them—Socrates, who is the ruler of the community he has been creating in words.  A more general answer is that such people are shackled by their rulers, by those who have made the ascent and have returned to rule.27

But, to return to an earlier question left unanswered, what distinguishes the best from the ordinary city?  The ordinary city is in many ways similar to this Cave.  There may be shackling in the ordinary city; and people in the Cave also live by opinion.  But in the ordinary city, the people would shackle one another (and their “rulers”) indiscriminately:  the opinions would be promulgated by anyone who thinks it is in his interest to do so (or by those who believe, but cannot know, they are acting for the common good).  Perhaps those carrying the puppets would also be shackled, but in a different part of the Cave, perhaps by longer chains:  they might be deceived by their own illusions or by those of others.28  In the best city, however, the rulers do not share the common illusions or, for that matter, any illusions.  What they do is based on what they know to be for the good of all.  The best city has this further advantage:  the philosophic nature would be systematically recognized and developed.

It is apparent now why the philosopher has to be compelled, by being reminded of an implied contractual obligation, to return to rule in the city, in even the best city.29  This is a worse life when a better is possible for him.  (519 D)  He must come back from an attractive private life to play games, to deal in sham and illusion.  But he realizes that this is necessary, that most of the shackled would be harmed rather than helped by being exposed to the light, by “enlightenment.”  Perhaps the regulatory activities are to be left as much as possible to the shackled, to those prisoners most adept in the contests that the shackled hold, to those prisoners who take most seriously the lure and demands of worldly honor.  (515 E)  An adaptation of the saying quoted from Achilles may be appropriate here as well:  the ruler of even the best city is like the ruler among the dead.

This, then, is the “beautiful” or “fair” city (527 C), the best city, that is created in the Republic.  Clearly, Socrates does not present the Cave as a pleasant or inviting place: it is dark and filled with error.  But, Plato would have us understand, this is the result of the limitations placed upon social achievement by human nature and by the nature of things.  This is what even the best city can look like when viewed from the highest perspective.  The man who knows does not expect too much from political life.30

It should be an objective of the founders and perpetuators of republican institutions to nourish in the better men of action enough care for the community so that they will be willing to serve in its highest offices, when the occasion demands, but not so much that they feel deprived or unfulfilled and even desperate when they are not called by the electorate to undertake the burdens of office.31

But, it might be asked, is not the question confronting us, not whether the better men will care too much but, rather, whether they will care enough? Why should there be any dedication on their part to republican institutions or perhaps, indeed, to any political institutions?

Political institutions can be justified easily enough, if only by reminding even the philosophical-minded of the conditions for mere existence, as well as for civilized existence.  The city is needed to produce the philosopher, who knows that the city is not the last word.32  I have already referred in this chapter to some virtues of republican political institutions.  One can add that the inherent flexibility of republican government means that the better men can exercise considerable influence even when they do not hold power, perhaps exercising under this dispensation the maximum of influence with the least trouble to themselves.  The protection afforded the better men by the institution of freedom of speech—which would seem to be critical to the life of a form of government that depends on the popular choice of alternative men and programs—not only induces them to be bolder than they might otherwise be:  it might even make it their duty to contribute, in the way they are best able, to the community that protects and sustains them.33

A further obligation is suggested by considerations of the justice of republican government.  The institution of free speech not only permits, and perhaps thereby obliges, the better man to speak on public issues.  It also extends to the people at large an opportunity to express and protect themselves:  it gives them by this means (reinforced by the ballot, but a ballot that makes sense only if there is truly free discussion beforehand) a share in the government—and thus makes it more likely that their particular interests will be given some consideration.34  This sense of sharing, which is reinforced by participation in the economic goods of a prosperous community, may encourage restraint in political advocacy:  one tends to be more tolerant (and protective) about one’s own. . . . 

[Notes for this discussion, in The Constitutionalist,  of “The Cave” in Plato’s Republic]

             21. Indeed, Achilles as well reverses himself with respect to this very passage in bk. 11 of the Odyssey.  He says he would prefer life on earth as a serf to the role of ruler over the dead; but he also exults upon learning that his son on earth had distinguished himself in battle, something no serf’s son would have had occasion to do.  (I disregard for present purposes the question of the reliability of Odysseus as narrator of these tales from Hades.  I do notice, however, the similarity between Odysseus and Socrates.  Plato, Republic 3290A.  Socrates, too, tells a story of men beyond the grave, introducing it with a reminder of Odysseus’ story.  Ibid., 614B. See, for an even more important point of resemblance, ibid., 620C. See, on earthly distinctions, Matthew 11:11.

            “This ambiguity which could easily have been avoided, is due, as all ambiguities occurring in good books are, not to chance or carelessness, but to deliberate choice, to the author’s wish to indicate a grave question.” Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1952), p. 118. See chap. 8, n. 135 (end), above.

            Even the Platonic epistles are not always what they seem (aside from the question of which are genuine, which spurious). See, for example, Plato, Epistles 8.365B: “‘God’ is at the head of the serious letter, but ‘gods’ [at the head] of the less serious.”  Cp. The Works of Plato (London: William Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library, 1929), 7:611 (see chap. 9, n. 36, below).

            Socrates speaks of the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry.  Republic 607B.  Is Socrates’ first attack on the poets (in Books 2 and 3) from the perspective of the ruler (with the demands of the social order in view) while the second attack (in Book 10) from that of the philosopher (who has, “since” Book 3, been developed in the properly-run city and who recognizes the poet as essentially imitative of the philosopher [see chap. 5, n. 126, above])?  Socrates, we see, rehabilitates Homer; he even imitates the poets.  See, e.g., Republic 550C, 563C.  See, also, Leo Strauss, Socrates and Aristophames, pp. 311, 313-14.

            22. Nature is also used at Plato, Republic 514A, in introducing the story of the Cave.  See Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed (University of Chicago Press edition), pp. 271-72, 294-98, 332, 468, 571.

            The selective silence of Socrates with respect to nature in his exchanges with Anytus in Plato’s Meno is critical.  See, for an exceptional introduction to that (or any other) Platonic dialogue, Jacob Klein, A Commentary on Plato’s “Meno” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965).  (An exceptionally accurate rendering into English of the Meno is available in a translation prepared by John Gormly for the introductory close textual reading tutorial of the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, The University of Chicago.) See, also, on the Meno, Laurence Berns, “Two Old Conservatives Discuss the Anastaplo Case,” Cornell Law Review 54 (1969): 920, 924; Anastaplo, “Law and Morality: On Lord Devlin, Plato’s Meno, and Jacob Klein,” Wisconsin Law Review, 1967, p. 231; chap. 5, n. 94, above.  [See, as well, the translation of the Meno, by Laurence Berns and George Anastaplo, published by the Focus Publishing Company in 2004.]  See, on nature and natural right, chap. 5, n. 87, chap. 7, n. 77, above.  (We do not appreciate the respect for, or dependence, upon, different facets of nature exhibited by the polis in former times and by farm life today.  Consider, also, the opening paragraphs in Alan Monk [an early pen name for Willmoore Kendall], Baseball: How to Play It and How to Watch It, Little Blue Book No. 440 [Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Publications, 1927], p. 5:

“Baseball,” says Manager Miller Huggins of the New York Americans, “is a thing that one cannot pick up—that is, become efficient in, without natural ability.  Even constant practice will not make a good player out a person that hasn’t got the stuff in him.”

            “Therefore,” continues Huggins, “the first step in the process of becoming a good baseball player becomes a question of finding out whether one has native talent for the game.  The second thing to do is to  learn the game: memorize the rules, study the knotty problems given in most rule books, and become a master of the actual theory of baseball.  And the third thing to do, and the most important one, is to practice.  Although, as I have said, practice won’t make a good player out of someone who lacks native baseball ability, it will make a much better player out of anyone.”

 See  Plato, Meno [the opening questions]; chap. 7, n. 112, above, chap. 9, n. 32, below.)  See, on the relation of “nature,” “chance,” and the “divine,” Artistotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1179b22-24.

            See Alfarabi’s Philosophy, pp. 66-67; chap. 8, n. 28, above.

            23. Glaucon, like us, listens as Socrates explains to Adeimantus how those naturally suited for philosophy may happen to become philosophers.  Plato, Republic 496B-C.  Ordinarily, the man eligible by nature for philosophical pursuits might be saved for philosophy if he should be so “fortunate” as to have been either exiled, born in an insignificant town, born to a lowly craft, or born sickly! Socrates’ salvation—his daemonic thing—is rare, he adds.  See, also, ibid., 492A, 493A, 578B-C, 592A; Plato, Laws 875C; Plato, Meno 99e.

            See Plato, Republic 496D-E, 516C, 519D, 520A-E, on the self-preserving tactics of the philosopher in the ordinary city.  See, also, the twenty-six-line central scene of Lessing’s Nathan the Wise (act 3, sc. 6).

            24. Many indications appear in the dialogue to confirm this suspicion.  Thus, at Republic 539E, where it is clear that the discussion is about the training of the guardians in the best city, a return to the “Cave” is spoken of.  Glaucon is later led by Socrates to suggest that the best city may not be found anywhere “on earth.”  Ibid., 592B. (Cp. ibid. 599C-D.)  One alternative is that it is “in heaven” (ibid., 592B); another, that it may be found not “on earth” but “beneath the earth”—that is, in the Cave.

            It is when we go beneath the ground that we become aware of the foundations of things.  (See, on the graveyard scene in Hamlet, chap. 2, n. 39, above.) Glaucon, in his story of the ring of Gyges’ ancestors—which was taken (stolen?) from a corpse beneath the ground—calls into question man’s appetite for justice.  Plato, Republic 359D-360E.  This exposure of the underpinnings of what man says and does is countered by Socrates with an examination of justice and the consequent construction of the best city; but he, too, must go beneath the earth, in the stories which his citizens are to be told (ibid. 414B-E; see chap. 9, n. 27, below), in the story of the Cave, and in the story of Er (ibid., 615A; see chap. 9, n. 26, below).

            The light of the sun, it should be noticed, does not reach into the Cave.  Ibid., 516A-B.  But then, political life, to the extent that it depends on opinion, is not conducted completely in the light of day.  See chap. 8, nn. 135, 169, above.  (The Symposium of Plato, with its discourses on love, opens with “I opine”:  consider how much even the “marriage made in heaven” depends on chance and opinion.  Former lovers have been known to say of one another, “What did I ever see in her [him]?” See chap. 5, n. 126, above.)

            See Judah Halevi, The Kuzari (New York:  Schocken Books, 1964), pp. 143, 224, 259, 273.  (To rise above the city is to rise from the grave?)

            25. Opinion is vital with respect to the gods as well.  “By Zeus” is the oath that comes from Glaucon at a crucial point.  Plato, Republic 515B. See, also, Plato, Epistles 8.356D. Cp. Anastaplo, “Law and Morality: On Lord Devlin, Plato’s Meno, and Jacob Klein,” p. 249, n. 53

            26. Notice that the mouth of the opening into the early (another Cave?), described in the story of Er in book 10 of the Republic, is reported as bellowing and otherwise moving as if sensate, 615E.  See, on the myth of Er, chap. 8, n. 59, above.  (El Greco, in his Adoration of the Name of Jesus [ca. 1580], portrays the entrance to Hell as a large fish’s mouth into which the condemned are fed.)

            Rousseau speaks, in the opening sentence of the first chapter of the Social Contract, of man being born free but being “everywhere in chains”; Jefferson (chap. 9, n. 39, below) speaks of “the shackles” which should be “knocked off at the conclusion of this war”; Tocqueville (Democracy in America, 2:12-13) speaks of the danger that “after having broken all the bondage once imposed on it by ranks or by men, the human mind would [in a democracy] be closely fettered to the general will of the greatest number.”  See chap. 2, n. 3, above.  Cp. Plato, Phaedo 67D.  See, also, W. B. Yeats’s poem, “To a Wealthy Man Who Promised a Second Subscription to the Dublin Muncipial Gallery If It Were Proved the People Wanted Pictures,” which concludes:

                        Look up in the sun’s eye and give

                        What the exultant heart calls good

                        That some day may breed the best

                        Because you gave, not what they would,

                        But the right twigs for an eagle’s nest!

            27.  Everyone can see here what the “noble lie” really means:  people are to be ruled by “cheat and . . . illusion.” Plato, Republic 515D.  See ibid., 414B; cp. ibid., 382D.  And this, we are told, is required by justice.  “Falsehood,” Aristotle reminds us, “is in itself base and reprehensible, and truth noble and praiseworthy.” Nicomachean Ethics 1127a29.  See ibid., 1127b25.  See, also, Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, act 4, sc. 2.  James Mill warned, in his essay, Liberty of the Press, “[T]here is no safety to the people in allowing any body to choose opinions for them. . . .”

Blackstone, however, did defend legal fictions,

these fictions of law [which], though at first they may startle the student, he will find upon further consideration to be highly beneficial and useful; especially as this maxim is ever invariably observed, that no fiction shall extend to work an injury; its proper operation being to prevent a mischief, or remedy an inconvenience, that might result from the general rule of law. [Commentaries on the Laws of England, 3:43]

 (See ibid., 1:212-13, 2:2, 3:266-68, 350, 390.)  See, also, Plato, Republic 378A, 381A-382C, 494A, 536D-E, 617E (“the blame is his who chooses”) (cp. ibid., 413A); Cicero, De Officiis 1.41.148; Plutarch, Lives, pp. 805-06. 840-41; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (New York: Cooperative Publication Society, 1900), pp. 420-21; Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963), pp. 341 (Bacon), 718-19 (Kant and Marx).  See chap. 2, n. 1, chap. 8, nn. 178, 181, above. 

            It is said that false carding on defense in bridge is not usually recommended inasmuch as it is apt to fool one’s partner as well as the opposition.  But it is also said that some men do not “deserve the compliment of rational opposition.”  Jane Austen, The Complete Novels (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), p. 150.  Thus, Mike Royko announced, in his Chicago Daily News column of October 27, 1970:

My choice for [United States Senator from Illinois] is Adlai Stevenson III, who has demonstrated that he is a sensible man.  He started his campaign by trying to talk sense to the people.  He found out that he wasn’t getting anywhere that way, so he had the sense to throw in some double-talk and since then things have gone fine. 

 Or, as Jack Point suggests in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard,

 When they’re offered to the world in merry guise,

Unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will—

For he who’d make his fellow-creatures wise

Should always gild the philosophic pill!

 (Does not Kant’s transformation of the maxim discussed in chap. 8 n. 107, above, permit him both to seem unequivocal and to be sensible?  See Plato, Charmides 166D.  See also, Marium Zetterbaum, Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy, pp. 19, 21, 29-30, 89, 108-109, 116, 147, 155, 158, 160.  See, chap. 8, n. 97, above, for Edmund Burke’s salutary reminder, “I could hardly serve you as I have done, and court you too.”  See, also, chap. 8, n. 135, above. 

            See, for the mandate of Avicenna with respect to these matters, Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi, eds., Medieval Political Philosophy (New York: Free Press, 1965), pp. 100-01.  See, also, chap. 6, n. 78, chap. 7, n. 60, above.  Cp. Paine, Writings, 4:74.  But see ibid., p. 202; Alfarabi’s Philosophy, pp. 36, 41-42; Burke, Works, 4:19-20, 100 (“It has been the misfortune [not as these gentlemen think it, the glory] of this age, that everything is to be discussed, as if the constitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of altercation than enjoyment.”), 148; 5:96.  (Political problems do not primarily concern truth or falsehood.  They relate to good or evil.”)

             28. Yet is this not what “freedom of speech, or of the press” looks like to the man who truly knows?  See chap. 8, nn. 46, 161, 181, above.

            I believe my study may seem vulnerable to the criticism that has been directed against John Stuart Mill: “Mill’s fundamental difficulty is that he wishes to combine a maximum of duty with a maximum of freedom without granting priority to either.”  Hilail Gildin, “Mill’s On Liberty,” in Joseph Cropsey, ed. Ancients and Moderns, p. 301.  See, in support of Gildin, Allan Bloom, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau,’ in Strauss and Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy, pp. 514, 532-33; Harry V. Jaffa, Equality and Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 42-66.  See, also, Willmoore Kendall, “The ‘Open Society’ and Its Fallacies,” American Political Science Review 54 (1960): 972; chap. 5, n. 61, above. 

            I have tried to reconcile in this book the demands of both duty and liberty, of both the Apology of Socrates and the Declaration of Independence.  (See chap. 2, n. 1, chap. 6, n. 43, above, chap. 9, n. 39, below.)  I realize, however, that an inevitable tension remains, a tension that comes in part from trying to adapt ancient teachings to our modern circumstances.  One cannot help moving, in assessing our regime, between “It can’t work” and “Its works very well.”  My concern has been—by throwing old light on new problems as well as new light on old problems—to get away from the doctrinaire quarrels that our constitutional issues are often reduced to.  See chap. 8, n. 3, above.  See, also, chap. 7, n. 60, above. 

            I have, in my argument about freedom of speech in the United States, kept in view a prudential rule taught by Tocqueville (Democracy in America, 1:172), “A proposition must be plain, to be adopted by the understanding of a people.”  I dare not, in order to anticipate the abuses of liberty, narrow the meaning of “freedom of speech,” but rather indicate which governments need not be bound by that full meaning.  See chap. 7, n. 107, above.  (Even if I should be thought untimely in my suggestions about the role of the States, the principles of my definitions and of my allocations of power remain available for study and use.  See chap. 8, n. 85, above.)  I try, furthermore, to preserve the public character of that which is public and to respect the privacy of that which should be private. 

            A somewhat successful effort to “live with” “inevitable tension” may be seen in the Constituion itself.  The original document opens with “We the People” and closes with “the States so ratifying the Same.”  It opens, that is, with a proclamation of the aspirations of a united people, it closes with a recognition of the reality of disparate States.  Both aspiration and reality were needed to make a people one and to make a constitution work.  What was the ground upon which aspiration and reality could meet without overtly sacrificing either? It was ground which depended upon the reputations and dedication of the signatories to the document, upon recourse to the seeming unity of a “Unanimous Consent,”  and upon the common sense of the American people.  Otherwise, there would be the bloody ground of civil war from which it would take more than a century to recover.

             29.  An obligation of a similar character may be that of children to parents.  See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1161b17, 1162a5, 1163b19. Cp. Plato, Republic 562E-563B (on the unnatural relation of parents and children in a democracy).

            The philosopher, in the ordinary city, does not throw himself into public affairs, preferring to mind his own business.  Plato, Republic 500A-C, Gorgias 526C.  He knows, as Bacon says (in his essay, “Of Great Place”), “Men in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business.”  Cp. Plutarch, Lives, pp. 78-79.  See chap. 7, n. 100, chap 6, n. 1, above.

While philosophy presupposes social life (division of labor), the philosopher has no attachment to society: his soul is elsewhere.  Accordingly, the philosopher’s rules of social conduct do not go beyond the minimum moral requirements of living together.  Besides, from the philosopher’s point of view, observation of these rules is not an end in itself, but merely a means toward an end, the ultimate end being contemplation.  [Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, p. 139]

 See, also, Plato, Republic 499A; Harry V. Jaffa, Thomism and Aristotelianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952).  p. 199. n. 8, p. 206, n. 40; Jacob Klein and Leo Strauss, “A Giving of Accounts,” The College, St, John’s College (April 1970), pp. 1, 4-5. Cp. chap 9. n. 9, above. 

            Strictly speaking, then, the person addressed in this chapter is not the philosopher.  See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1095a26, 1162b34-36.  See, also, Alfarabi’s Philosophy, p. 49: If…no use is made of [the true philosopher], the fact that he is of no use to others is not his fault but the fault of those who either do not listen or are not of the opinion that they should listen to him.”

             30. Naturally, the philosopher (as is the case with any thoughtful man) can present in this manner a much more decisive critique of his own argument than anything his much less perceptive critics confront him with.  See, e.g., Plato, Republic 540E-541B; also, the choice of Odysseus, ibid., 620D: Aristotle, Politics 1267a10. 

            Philosophy serves, in securing the truth, that desire for eternal things that other men seek in the life of pleasure (which culminates in the procreation of children) and in the life of politics (which offers both glory and dedication of oneself to a community that will survive).  Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1.5, De Anima 2.4 (See chap. 5, n. 126, chap. 8, n. 2, above.)  The yearning of the political man may be seen in the closing sentence of the Gettysburg Address.  See, also, Plutarch, Lives, pp. 71-72, 74; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Treatise on Law), Q. 96, A. 1 (citing Augustine, The City of God, ii, 21, xxii, 6); Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937), 1:464.

            The philosophical reservation with respect to political matters rests, in part, on the sobering (yet liberating) realization that

thousands upon thousands of cities [have] come into existence, and, on a similar computation, just as many [have] perished.  And have they not in each case exhibited all kinds of constitutions over and over again?  And have they not changed at one time from small to great, at another from great to small, and changed also from good to bad and from bad to good?  [Plato, Laws 676B-C]  

             See, also, Herodotus, History 1.5; Plato, Republic 487D; Hume, Political Essays (concluding paragraph, “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth”: “The world itself probably is not immortal.”); Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws 11:6 (“Have not Rome, Sparta, and Carthage perished?”) (cp. Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 2d ed. [Boston: Little, Brown & Co.], chap. 38, sec. 1780); Rousseau, Social Contract, book 3, chap. 11 (“If Sparta and Rome perished, what state can hope to endure forever?”); Blackstone, Laws of England 3:325-27; Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1:26.  See, for a most revealing clearing among the affairs of the world, Andrew Marvell’s wondrously complex poem, “An Horation Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.”

            Americans like to think of the United States as imperishable; after all, they themselves are the government—and if it should perish, so must a vital part of themselves.  See the passage from Lincoln in the text at chap. 7, n. 121, above (“through all time’); cp. chap. 7, n. 13, above (“untold generation yet to come”).  See, also, chap. 6, n. 50, chap. 8, nn. 178, 186, chap. 5, n. 131, above.  Cp. chap. 5, n. 97, chap. 8, n. 107, above.

            Consider the tension with respect to these matters in the following remarks by Pericles to the Athenians (cp. chap. 7, n. 107 [end], above):

Evils that come from heaven you must bear necessarily, and such as proceed from your enemies, valiantly; for so it hath been the custom of this city to do heretofore, which custom let it not be your part to reverse.  Knowing that this city hath a great name amongst all people for not yielding to adversity and for the mighty power it yet hath after the expense of so many lives and so much labour in the war, the memory whereof, though we should now at length miscarry (for all things are made with this law, to decay again), will remain with posterity forever…[Emphasis added]

 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, bk. 2, chap. 64. (The translation of Thucydides drawn upon here is, by far, the best one into English, perhaps indeed into any language; that is, Thucydides found in Thomas Hobbes a translator worthy of his Greek.  The Hobbes translation is now available in the careful edition prepared by David Grene and published by the University of Michigan Press, 1959.)  See, also, Cicero’s Third Speech against Catiline, sec. 11:  but within a decade Caesar’s time had come; indeed, it could be said to have come already, even as Cicero was celebrating the salvation of the Republic by Cicero.  Cp. Churchill in chap. 9, n. 11, above. 

            Consider, also, the choice of Odysseus in Plato, Republic 620C.  One easily gets the impression that there is something Socratic about Odysseus and that consequently he knows what he is looking for.  Does his choice suggest either that Socrates’ “best city” does not, perhaps cannot, exist anywhere or that the man who know would not care to be a philosopher-king (or to live in the regime of the philosopher-king)?

             31.  Does not the usurper (cp. Banquo’s nemesis) who is moved merely by the desire to make a name for himself (a literally childish objective) destroy, if he is successful, the very community by which he wants to be well regarded?  That is, it is no longer the country which he knew, the country of his childhood and of his dreams.  Such men—who deserve only to be forgotten—should be reminded of the sentiments of Henry Austin Dobson’s “Fame and Friendship,” “Fame is a food that dead men eat…. But Friendship is a nobler thing.”  See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics1095b23-30, 1161b2-10 (chap. 8, n. 195, above); cp. Pascal, Pensees and the Provincial Letters (New York; Random House, Modern Library, 1941), sec. 6, 404, sec. 7, 425.  See, also, Plato, Republic 576A-B, Menexenus, 235B-C.  Cp. Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, chap. 2, “acknowledg[ing] that which Cicero saith, borrowing it from Demosthenes, that bona fama propria possessio defunctorum…(but see, in his essay, “Of Great Place,” “Illi mors gravis incubat, qui notus nimis omnibus, ignotus moritur sibi [It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else, and still unknown to himself].”): Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided, pp. 210-11 (but see ibid., pp. 216-19, 225, 265).  Consider Morris on Hamilton, chap. 7, n. 91, above.  Consider, also, the unintentionally self-revealing ( and self-disparaging) condemnation by Macbeth of his betters, “Why should I play the Roman fool and die on my own sword?”  Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5, scene 8, lines 1-2.  See chap. 7, n. 115, above.  (Consider as well the condemnation by Paine of Homer [Writings, 4:119].  Cp. chap. 9, n. 21, above.)                       

            Handel’s Solomon (Solomon, act 1, sc. 1) dismisses anyone who, “having all the substance lost, attempts to grasp a name.”  Cp. Pierre Bayle’s comment on Alexander the Great (Dictionary Historical and Critical [London: J. J. and P. Knapton, D. Midwinter et al., 1734]). 4:4:

He wept when he heard the Philosopher Anaxarchus say, there were infinite worlds [citing Plutarch, de Tranquillitate Animi, page 466]; his tears proceeded from his despair of conquering them all, seeing he had not yet conquered one. … The world was to Alexander [paraphrasing Juvenal], what a little island was to malefactors confined in it.  If they were straitened in their walks, Alexander for his part looked upon the possession of the whole earth, as the misery of being reduced to a little corner.  A Spanish author goes higher than Juvenal; he calls Alexander’s heart an archheart, in a corner of which the world sate so easy, that there was room for six more.  But does it not seem, that so vast a heart confined its happiness within very narrow bounds, when it proposed only to be praised by the Athenians?… Is not this, say some, to be at the same time insatiable, and yet contented with the least thing in the world? 

 Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was not permitted to learn in the closing months of his life that he had been replaced as premier of Portugal.  New York Times, July 28, 1970, p. 1.

            Consider, also, the despairing speech of Northumberland, Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, act 1, sc. 1, ll. 68-81:

How doth my son and brother?

Thou tremblest, and the whiteness in thy cheek

Is apter than by thy tongue to tell thy errand.

…This thou wouldst say, “Your son did thus and thus;

Your brother thus; so fought the noble Douglas”—

Stopping my greedy ear with their bold deeds;

But in the end, to stop my ear indeed,

Thou hast a sigh to blow away this praise,

Ending with “Brother, son, and all are dead.”

 See Plutarch, Lives, pp. 1044, 1054, 1060, 1064-65; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1094a1-3, 1115a7-1117b21, 1129a3-1133b16, 1144a1-1145a11, 1177b16-26.  See, also, chap. 8, nn. 186, 193, above.

             32. One may find variations of this problem, seen in the relation between city and family, presented in plays such as Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannos and Aeschylus’ Oresteia.  (See chap. 7, nn. 35, 91, chap. 8, n. 2, chap. 9, n. 9, above.)  Creon, invoking the claim of the city against the family, fails to discern that his authority comes to him through his family; Antigone, invoking the claim of the family against the city, fails to discern that her pride of family has been nurtured by the political role of her family in the city.  Agamemnon is greeted on his return home as “king, sacker of Troy’s citadel, and issue of Atreus.”  Agamemnon 783-84.  But what he had to do to become the sacker of Troy (as well as to remain king?)  corrupted his family relations and led to his destruction.  (This juxtaposition is seen as well in the conflict in Aeschylus’ Eumenides between the family-linked old divinities and the city-linked new ones.)  Seth Benardete says of the Oedipus (“Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos,” pp. 2-3):

…The play therefore moves from the question of who killed Laius to that of who generated Oedipus.  It moves from a political to a family crime, which is, paradoxically, from the less comprehensive theme (cp. 635 ff.).  Oedipus’ discovery of his parents silently discloses his murder of Laius, but to discover himself as the murderer of Laius would not have disclosed his origins.  Sophocles indicates this shift from one theme to the other by the absence of the word polis after its twenty-fifth occurrence at 880, the context of which is the denunciation of tyranny.  Tyranny links the political and family crime.  [Emphasis added]

 Consider the shifting back and forth in the play between “one” and “many” murderers of Laius.  See Bernadete, ibid., pp. 5, 7, 14 n. 13.  It is useful to notice that, although both Oedipus and the audience are convinced that he did kill Laius, the evidence is not brought forth to support this conclusion; that inquiry is abandoned when Oedipus gets on the track of who he is.  Sophocles leaves this vital question technically (legally?) open.  (An identification of Oedipus as the killer at the crossroads could easily have been brought in to round out the case if the author had so desired.)  May not this be because the question remains essentially open?  Who did kill Laius? One or many? Oedipus, alone, at the crossroads?  Or Oedipus as an instrument of the gods, of the “fates,” perhaps even of Laius and Jocasta, to say nothing of the city itself?  The audience cannot help moving (without perhaps being conscious of it) from one assessment to the other (as does Oedipus himself in Oedipus at Colonus?).  Does not this contribute to the timeless fascination, and even terror, of the play?  One is responsible—and yet again one is not?

            Consider also Antigone’s “distracted” lines at Antigone 836-45:  these reflect the fact that the family (one’s parents and brothers) is for a child something “given,” perhaps even natural.  One realizes, on the other hand, that one’s own husband or child depends upon marriage and hence upon the city.  Thus, the lines which scholars dismiss as distracted, perhaps even as spurious, point not (as some say) merely to irrationality on her part but rather to her awareness of both her strength and her vulnerability.  But awareness is not the same as understanding:  and so she challenges a new convention (Creon’s decree) in the name of an older one (which some mistakenly see as either natural or divine in its origin).  And yet the city does depend on the very family that it legitimates:  it is appropriate that Creon is destroyed through his family.  See chap. 8, nn. 135, 169, above.

            Consider, in Shakespeare’s Roman Plays, the parental influence on behalf of the Republic that is brought to bear on Coriolanus and Brutus and the absence of such influence on Julius Caesar.  I can suggest the deterioration of the Republic by remarking that what Volumnia was to Coriolanus, Cleopatra was to become to Antony.

            Creon’s attitude is reinforced by contemporary anthropology:  “Far from being the basis of the good society, the family with its narrow privacy and tawdry secrets is the source of all our discontents,” said Edmund Leach, provost of King’s College, Cambridge.  “The family looks inward upon itself.  There is an intensification of emotional stress between husband and wife, and parents and children.”  Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 27, 1967, p. 5.  But the political community would also be vulnerable to the anthropologist’s invocation of “the good society,” a society which (to the anthropologist) would be in principle worldwide but which is likely in practice to promote “individuality” at the expense of all communities as well as of the family.  Cp., in Plato’s Meno, the first attempt by Meno to say what virtue is (71E-72A):  the attempt breaks down, something which Meno himself is perhaps aware of as he limps to his conclusion after a brave (i.e., self-centered) start.  Socrates’ use in an illustration immediately thereafter (72A-B) of the gregarious bee hints at the crippling lack of respect for the community in Meno’s opinion about virtue.  (An excessive emphasis upon community may be seen, on the other hand, in the Chorus in Antigone immediately after it is discovered that someone has defied Creon [ll. 332-372]: nothing is said, in the comprehensive anthropological history set forth there, about the family! This unnatural state of affairs invites and receives violent correction.) Cp., also, chap. 7, n. 35, chap. 8, n. 193, chap. 9, nn. 3, 21, above.

            Cp., on Oedipus and Antigone, Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Garden City: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., 1961), pp. 90-91, 123-39, 143, 148.

            The traditional relation between city and family is revealed by the license plates assigned to the household of Chicago’s remarkable mayor, a revelation which reflects the fact that the “real man” is expected to lose himself in political life, while the woman is expected to devote herself to the life of the family.  (See Thucydides, Peloponnesian War 2.45.)  Thus, the license plates on Mrs. Daley’s automobile bear the initials of her married name and the number in the street address of the family home; his license plates display the number of votes he secured upon his first election as mayor.  They are said to be, as a couple, quite happy.  See Plato, Republic 433A-E, 453B-D; chap. 7, nn. 59, 77, above.  Cp. Plato, Republic 454D ff., Apology 31D-32A.

             33.  Perhaps it is sometimes necessary to point out and promote respect for the obvious: it is reported that Churchill, during the Second World War, responded to the complaints of those who said they could not understand what the war was about with the observation, “If Hitler wins, they’ll soon find out.”

            “. . . But perhaps Aristotle was even more of a Whig than of a trimmer—a Whig of the type of Locke or Burke.  Every analogy has its defects and is no sooner stated than it has to be corrected.  But if there is any modern climate which is the climate of Aristotle’s Politics, it is the climate of 1688.”  Ernest Barker, The Politics of Aristotle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. xxxi.  See Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 21.

            See chap. 4, n. 103, chap. 5, n. 140, chap. 8, n. 76, above; cp. chap. 4, n. 111, above; see, also, chap. 9, n. 7, above.

            “It would not be difficult to show that the classical argument cannot be disposed of as is now generally thought, and that liberal or constitutional democracy comes closer to what the classics demanded than any alternative that is viable in our age.”  Leo Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy? p. 113.  See, also, ibid., pp. 306-07; chap. 4, n.103, above.

             34. I spoke at an Athens dinner in 1968 (see chap. 8, n. 161, above) of the intimate relation between free discussion and a free ballot (see Burke, Works, 3:9, 12):

. . . We know that the most distinguished opponents of your proposed constitution—the politicans who we know have had popular followings for years—have been for some time under house arrest and will not be released before next Monday, and only then in order to be able to vote the following Sunday on the proposed constitution.  It has been made clear to them that they are not to speak publicly against the constitution.  How can it be said in such circumstances that a genuinely free referendum is being held, irrespective of how the balloting itself is conducted or comes out? . . .Yet, we have been told several times this evening that we are about to witness free balloting, that this is confirmed by the fact that some newspaper criticism of specific articles in the proposed constitution has been permitted.  But we Americans know what a free election is.  We know this from our own experience.  We know what a free election feels like.  We know what it sounds like.  We know what it looks like.  And we know this is not it.

            . . .We Americans do know what to think when we see government resources and government personnel marshalled as they have been here in a massive (and no doubt successful) campaign to produce the desired result.  This is no more a free referendum than similar exercises are free either in Spain or in Russia.

            And yet our host and his government have tried hard to persuade us that we are witnessing a genuinely free expression of the will of the Greek people.  It seems important to them that Americans believe this.  We Americans may not be informed enough about or familiar enough with Greek history and Greek affairs to be able to judge other claims of this government.  But, as I have said, we do have the experience and the ability and the information to judge whether an election is truly free.  And when we can see that this government claim about a free referendum, of which we have heard so much, is simply without foundation, what are we to think of all the other claims that we hear from the same government about what is has done for Greece, about what its motives are, about its innocence of deliberate torture of political prisoners, and about the imminent Communist danger from which it saved Greece by seizing the power last year?  Are we not entitled to judge what we may not know by what we can and do know?

            . . . We have been speaking tonight of liberty.  Liberty is what we Americans do know something about.  And when an American visitor, who respects both the truth and Greece, is confronted as we have been at such length, not only tonight but ever since our arrival in Athens, by the insistence that liberty is to be found in Greece today, he is obliged to dissent, if he presumes to speak at all.

            If what Greek citizens have now is what you mean by “liberty,” then we should all reconsider what we mean by “the free world.”  [“Dissent in Athens,” Notes on World Events (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations), May 1969, pp. 3-4; Congressional Record 115:E5156 (June 23, 1969)]

 The vote “for” the Colonels’ constitution was 92 percent.  Cp. chap. 4, n. 100, chap. 8, nn. 58, 85, above.  See chap. 6, n. 1, chap. 8, n. 58, above.  See, also, Congressional Record 116:10520 (1970).  [[I was, thereafter, declared persona non grata by the Colonels’ government.]]

            Consider also the significance of the unanimous vote in juries:  every position held by each juror must be given some thought, some argument.  See, also, chap. 9, n. 105, above.

 George Anastaplo is Professor of Law, Loyola University of Chicago; Lecturer in the Liberal Arts, The University of Chicago; and Professor Emeritus of Political Science and of Philosophy, Dominican University.  See www.anastaplo.wordpress.com.  See, further, on freedom of speech and the Constitution, George Anastaplo, The Amendments to the Constitution: A Commentary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s