Distorting Plato

By: Thomas E. Brewton

The “common good,” Democrats’ current campaigning slogan, is a new name for the same old attack upon the moral virtues championed by Plato and Aristotle.

Academic propagandists of atheistic materialism have warped Plato’s dialogues into a formulaic skepticism aimed at discrediting Western civilization’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

A couple of illustrative examples:

A classic that used to be on most college reading lists illustrates the negative aspects of public opinion, the hook upon which liberals hang their demand for elimination of the electoral college and selection of the President solely by popular vote.

Plato’s short dialog, “The Apology,” recounts Socrates’s address to the Athenian assembly that was to decide whether his fate was to be death or exile. The democratic assembly, 501 Athenians chosen randomly by lot, and thus a good representation of public opinion, had already convicted Socrates of talking to young people in ways said to be subversive to the Athenian city-state.

Socrates outlines the charges of which he had been convicted and shows conclusively that the assembly, i.e., public opinion, had not understood what he actually had said, nor could it demonstrate that his activities were subversive. In fact, Socrates traced the public opinion against him to a small handful of individuals who had spread false rumors about him, more or less what our own political campaigns consist of.

The message of “The Apology” that liberal-progressive teachers today inculcate in their students is a false extrapolation from Socrates’s famous assertion that the untried life is unworthy of living, meaning that the true philosophic mind should always enquire about the truth of commonly accepted dogma of public opinion. This is taken by today’s liberal educators as an endorsement of radical efforts to undermine traditions of religion and morality, to say that students should question and reject the paradigm of the founding generations of our nation. In the words of the Baby Boomer student anarchists, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.”

In fact the overarching theme of Plato’s dialog is the ignorance and wrong-headedness of public opinion when government does not foster moral virtue. Raw public opinion, in practice, seldom is founded on full knowledge, and is subject to manipulation in the opinion-polling process itself.

When journalists, commentators, and editorialists, by more than 2-to-1, are self-proclaimed liberals, the media are no longer the bulwark against tyranny envisioned by Thomas Jefferson. Public opinion has become a very poor basis for rational structuring of public policy.

A second example is a book review


in the November 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The review headline is “The Afterlife of a Skeptic: How the execution of a philosopher has been reinterpreted for every era.”

The the book reviewed by Thomas Meaney is “The Death of Socrates,” by Emily Wilson.

Reviewer Meaney writes:

“…His disciples were prepared to help him escape, but Socrates baffled them when he cheerfully swigged his lethal cup of hemlock after praising the city that wanted him gone…”

Plato’s account of Socrates last hours in the “Phaedo” dialogue reflects no bafflement on the part of his disciples.

Speaking to his friends and disciples who were present with him in prison, when he drank the hemlock poison decreed the the Athenian Assembly, Socrates said, “…But now I wish to render an account to you … of the reason why a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy, when he is about to die, appears to me, on good grounds, to have confidence, and to entertain a firm hope that the greatest good will befall him in the other world when he has departed this life…Is [death] any thing else than the separation of the soul from the body?…

“Does it appear to you to be becoming in a philosopher to be anxious about pleasures, as they are called, such as meats and drinks?…does he seem to you to value or despise the possession of magnificent garments and sandals, and other ornaments of the body except so far as necessity compels him to use them?…Does not, then,” he continued, “the whole employment of such a man appear to you to be, not about the body, but to separate himself from it as much as possible, and be occupied about his soul?…the journey now appointed me is set out upon with good hope, and will be so by any other man who thinks that his mind has been, as it were, purified…the really true virtue is a purification from all such things, and temperance, justice, fortitude and wisdom itself, are a kind of initiatory purification…”

The serenity with which Socrates contemplates his imminent death, placing his hope on virtue in life and immortality of the human soul, stands in sharp contrast to the professions of liberal-progressive materialism by Democratic Party presidential candidates.

They speak of religious faith, but what they really mean is that they place their faith in earthly salvation, the social justice of the collectivized political state, dedicated not to pursuit of moral virtue, but to the dispensation of the material pleasures that Plato rejected for the life of the lover of wisdom.

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 http://www.thomasbrewton.com/

About The Author Thomas E. Brewton:
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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