Paulliver (paulliver) wrote in bookish,

The Trial of Socrates

“The Trial of Socrates” by I. F. Stone is a real eye opener. I never liked Plato, with his abstractions and dictatorial politics, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the Socrates might have been given him philosophical rationalizations for anti-democratic ideas. Socrates is most famous for trying to prove that most people are ignorant, but few people realize that his next step was to try showing that common ignorance was part of his attack upon democratic practices. Socrates’ students took part in the temporary overthrow of Athenian democracy, and both he and Plato were fans of Sparta. Socrates’ defense at his own trial for corrupting the youth was hamstrung by his philosophical disregard for freedom of speech; since he didn’t believe in it, he couldn’t use it to defend his own ideas. And apparently Socrates really was guilty of corrupting the youth, since he turned them against the freedom of their fellow man.

I suppose Socrates and Plato appealed to the authoritarian Middle Ages, dictatorial papacy, and oligarchical Italian city-states, but if Americans are to look back for a philosophical tradition of freedom, it should be to the Athenian city-state that, despite is well known flaws and interruptions by conquerors, maintained freedom of speech for most of 600 BC to 600 AD, until the Christian Roman emperors disbanded the academies, in part to snag their endowments. Philosophers like Libanius (free speech), Xenophanes (freedom of religion), and Aristotle deserve a higher place in our minds.
Tags: author: s, subject: history

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