Socrates – Democracy’s First Casualty

Socrates is well known to be the forefather of modern Western philosophies and the famed Elenchus Method. He is attributed for teaching Plato, Aristotle and numerous youths who were attracted to the philosopher’s love of wisdom and the spectacle of publicly questioning the elders. Thus his following was born and each subsequent school of ancient Greek philosophy is attributed to the initial philosophies and teaching, as laid out in The Socratic Dialogues, recorded by Plato. This is of course with the exception of Aristippus whose school of philosophy was centered around ethical hedonism.

In book six of The Republic (Socratic Dialogue by Plato), Socrates critised democracy and likened the system to a ship. In this metaphor he discussed whether one would want the ship they were about to board to be manned by other civilians, who also did not have the skills required to sail the ship, or whether one would prefer that a trained captain and ship hands were made responsible for the successful voyage and the lives of all aboard. Thus Socrates highlighted the fact that when unskilled and untrained citizens vote it is a disservice to society. He took no issue with the democratic freedom to vote, however he did take issue with a system that would empower predatory power mongers to take advantage of and prey on the uneducated citizen’s emotions to gain power. Instead he proposed a government centered around a republic. Socrates believed that voting was a skill that needed to be taught and anyone wishing to vote should be thoroughly educated on how to vote, extrapolate information and think critically.

Socrates had firm beliefs regarding morals, ethics and the way in which one should conducts oneself. He was very verbal about it, and very publicly so. He renounced materialism and embraced minimalism whilst striving for the betterment of self, personal responsibility and the spurning of hedonism and sloth. Truth and wisdom were king and were to be pursued over earthly riches. However, this alone is not what led to his literal death sentence. Socrates was highly critical of Athens’ other most famous achievement of the time, democracy. The democratic politicians in charge, who relied on the ignorance of the masses to maintain power and all of its glorious personal enrichment, did not like it. Sound familiar? They did not like the traction his philosophies were gaining among the general populace either.

“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” – Socrates

A commentary on the newly birthed Athenian political system of democracy

Democracy took its first prolific victim in 399 BC with the sentencing of Socrates to death by suicide using Hemlock poison. The jury consisted of 500 Atheneans, who found him guilty by a very narrow margin. The initial grounds for the trial were raised by Lycon the orator, Anytus the tanner, and Meletus the poet who actively and openly sought a death sentence. The accusation read:

“Socrates is guilty, firstly, of denying the gods recognized by the state and introducing new divinities, and, secondly, of corrupting the young.”

Accusation against Socrates by: Lycon the orator; Anytus the tanner; and Meletus the poet

Socrates, represented himself during the trial, and not due to a lack of offers to assist from a large and loyal support base. Instead of vehemently defending himself with the expected self edification of his own virtuosity, he declared his innocence and famously used the metaphor (quoted below) of a gadfly of a horse to illustrate his own usefulness to the state by “arousing”, “reproaching” and “persuading” its constituents. Socrates, was, however, overly confident of the “state’s” ability to find value in his incessant quest for truth and the betterment of man and state.

“If you put me to death, you will not easily find another who, if I may use a ludicrous comparison, clings to the state as a sort of gadfly to a horse that is large and well-bred but rather sluggish because of its size, so that it needs to be aroused. It seems to me that the god has attached me like that to the state, for I am constantly alighting upon you at every point to arouse, persuade, and reproach each of you all day long.”

Apology: 30e ~ Plato

Socrates was found guilty, by a jury of Athenian citizens, for denying the Athenian pantheon of gods, which in itself is explanatory. However, what about the accusation of “corrupting the youth”? Many attributed this, in part, to the hot displeasure of Antyus, whose son absconded from the life of politics for which he was being groomed to pursue the Socratic school of philosophy, as recorded in Pato’s dialogue of the Meno. This accusation regarding the son of Antyus did not make it to the trial however, as evidenced in Meno, it is likely the jury was aware of it. We can be sure that this powerful democratic politician would have rejected any ideas of a republic, and would have been displeased with his son’s changed political philosophies. In this instance a prolific public figure’s son was involved and it is only logical to conclude that the Socratic following was gaining further traction amongst the youth of Athens having reached such families of influence. This would have posed a problem to the politicians of the time, who, as most people with power do, took measures to protect that power, at all costs.

The absolute irony of Socrates’ trial and death is that it epitomises that which he passionately spoke against, the foolishness of unskilled voters, as a jury of 500 Atheneans found him, one of the greatest minds of history, a pillar of virtuosity, guilty and sentenced him to death. So much for free speech, which is foundational to liberty.

As much as Greece can be attributed to birthing democracy and philosophy during the Classical Greek Period, Socrates can take full credit for fathering and philsophising the political system of republicanism, as elaborated on by Plato.

Interestingly, Socrates, refers to a monotheistic God on numerous occasions whilst professing, in humility, his own ignorance and lack of wisdom. Socrates ascribed the wisdom and knowledge that he imparted to the world to the guidance of an inner “divine voice”. His teaching and writings would become to the secular world what the ten commandments were to the Abrahamic faiths. This was completely necessary in a society whose politics and pantheistic beliefs encouraged hedonism and discouraged high mindedness that did not edify the general populace’s belief systems and carnal desires. In lieu of this evidence, one is left to ponder on the possibility that Socrates had in fact had encountered the God of the Jews as opposed to holding purely agnostic beliefs, as no other deity in the ancient world can be continuously attributed through the centuries with the moral and ethical values of the Judeo-Chistian faiths. There is also evidence in the Bahai writings to suggest that during the reign of King Solomon, in the early ninth century BC, Greek philosophers traveled to Jerusalem to learn from the “sages”. Furthermore the Bahai writings also suggest that Socrates traveled to Palestine and Syria. If this is indeed the case then we can justifiably compare Socrates murder, because that is what it was, to the martyrdom of Yeshuah’s (Christ) disciples.

Finally, Socrates took a famous final stand against the court, jury and his fellow Athenians wherein he layed himself up as a martyr to “God” or “The God” stating:

“Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you and, while I have life and strength, I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?  Are you not Ashamed of this? And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I do care; I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater, and overvaluing the less. And this I should say to everyone whom I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For this is the command of God, as I would have you know: and I believe that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth. Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times .

Apology: 29d-30c ~ Plato

Many a virtuous man and woman has been sacrificed to the god of Liberty on the alter of democracy. Which is an ironic and hypocritical act in itself, with the eradication of free speech, and keeping the people ignorant of vital skills and knowledge, evidently being paramount in the long term strategies of the left. The left who hide their fascism under the guise of liberty. The strategy never changes and has not since 399 BC. What has changed however is the information age giving millions access to knowledge, having their beliefs challenged and, for an ever increasing number of people the skills to think critically. Critical thinking is, after all, the corner stone of philosophy itself.

Socrates, the man who changed the world for centuries to come, was an asset not only in thought and word but also in deed. His death was a great loss. Let us remember the first prolific victim to the tactics of the left and always remember the words of Plato, who sat with Socrates as he died, in his jail cell:

“Such was the end of our friend, a man, I think, who was the wisest and justest, and the best man I have ever known”.

Phaedo: 118 ~ Plato