The libertarian Plato

Sometimes people make the mistake of asking what I’ve been reading lately. This post may explain why they seldom make that mistake more than once. Now, I may be among the more vehement critics of the dishonest Socratic logic presented in Plato’s dialogues, but even I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the correct reading of Plato’s totalitarian Republic is to conclude the exact opposite of what is written in it, as Patrick Tinsley does in his very unusual paper entitled “Plato and the Spell of the State“:

[W]e will contend that totalitarianism is not at all Plato’s proposed solution to the problem of untrustworthy politicians. His mistrust runs too deep for that. Far from advocating the totalitarian state, Plato opens it up to the light of truth, exposing it as an unjust and literally unnatural breach of the convivial social order. And he does something else as well. As we shall see, Plato attempts to show that the totalitarian state is an abomination not only for its victims, but also for its rulers. This is so, it turns out, because the desire to rule is an unruly desire; it corrupts, corrodes, and even colonizes the soul that it seduces. In the end, the desire to possess the body politic will possess the body of the politician. Whosoever would be master is doomed to be a slave….

Before we understand Plato’s rhetorical strategy, therefore, we must see that the view of Plato as totalitarian proceeds from the false assumption that Plato’s dialogues express the author’s true beliefs, typically through the character Socrates. In fact, Austrians from Menger to Rothbard fail even to acknowledge that the Platonic Socrates is a literary character. They simply read the dramatic elements out of Plato’s plays and treat them as treatises instead. According to them, Plato believes what Socrates says, and nothing besides. But this way of reading Plato produces a paradox. Namely, that if Plato believed the words that he wrote for Socrates, then he should never have written them.

The way out of the paradox is to substitute a literary reading of Plato for a literal one. We cannot take Plato, or Socrates, at his word. Instead, we must read between the lines. In order to understand Plato, we must understand that his meaning, very often, is what he leaves unwritten—and that what his characters say in dialogue, Plato delights in deconstructing with dramatic details and unspoken textual cues. His text “knows for whom it should speak and for whom it should remain silent.” If Plato speaks through Socrates, then, it is only because Socrates’ speech is so frequently
ironic, concealing his true beliefs behind a veil of silence.

It would be an understatement to say that I do not find this argument persuasive. To be honest, I find Sam Harris’s arguments not only more compelling, but less indicative of past drug use. Tinsley’s conclusion strikes me as the bizarre result of combining libertarianism, Plato-worship, post-modern literary interpretation, an obsession with the English Vice, and an imagination unfettered by the limits of reason. This is not a paper that is likely to convince the average conservative Republican that libertarians don’t smoke marijuana. Or marijuana liberally laced with angel dust followed by a crack-infused chaser of tiger’s blood, for that matter.

To begin with, the supposed paradox is no such thing; few would be so foolish as to seriously argue that because Socrates happened to say a few negative things about writing, everything that Plato wrote down about his words is therefore completely and necessarily invalidated. Tinsley builds up a mountain, and a very strange mountain at that, from an insignificant molehill. But he’s just getting started, we haven’t seen anything yet.

One need not assume that Plato agreed with absolutely every word that Socrates uttered to take them at face value. From the ideological perspective, it doesn’t actually matter if the dialogues are faithful recreations of actual conversations in which Socrates participated or if the Socrates of Plato’s dialogues had no more connection to the historical Athenian than the dreaming Scipio of Cicero’s dialogues had to do with the historical Roman to take the words of those dialogues literally.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter if Tinsley is correct and Plato was actually a libertarian opponent of the totalitarian state. As an Italian admiral once told me: “In the end, it all comes down to Plato versus Aristotle. It always does.” Regardless of whether it was his intention or not – and based on what Rothbard tells us of the Greek’s philosophical focus on the polis rather than the individual, I am quite confident it was his intention – Plato has long been the ultimate champion of the collective. His writings serve as the foundation for the intellectual defense of the State and have been utilized as this manner by his fellow statists for centuries.

Even though one could not possibly accept it, one might be inclined to take Tinsley’s argument more seriously if it did not veer off onto a lengthy tangent on “the depraved depth of the tyrant’s erotic abnormality.” What on Earth, one finds oneself wondering, does any of this have to do with Plato, let alone the State?

“This anal orientation can also be found in the Sphinx’s riddle, which, by suggesting the two-, four-, and three-footed sexual positions associated with sodomy, “quite clearly [calls for] a pederastic explanation.” Oedipus must solve the riddle of his father’s crime. That the Sphinx’s “riddle of the foot” plays on the relationship between pedia and pederasty is confirmed by several ancient sources.”

It turns out that the point of this anal extravaganza is to inform us that Plato has constructed Socrates as the anti-Oedipus, who we are instructed was apparently was a passive sodomite in addition to being a parracide and a literal motherfucker. What we are supposed to conclude from all of this is that Plato is attempting to show us, in a subtle manner so subtle that it has been lost on classic scholars for more than two millenia that “when a tyrant perverts the natural order, the natural order perverts him, afflicting him with the most revolting and unnatural appetites”. This, apparently, is a “unique method for dispelling the state”.

Unique? Most definitely. Effective? Highly dubious. The correct reading of the author of The Republic? Let us just say that I remain unconvinced. But let us not speak too harshly of “Plato and the Spell of the State”, as what it lacks in compelling argument it more than makes up for in pure, unadulterated comedic appeal. I couldn’t care less if Tinsley is right or not, because on a scale of one to ten, I would give “Plato” a twelve. Because in this case, eleven just isn’t enough.

Fear and the dead dragons

Alpha Game’s intrepid omega is bold enough to tell the tale of how he attacks his fear of approaching women:

The biggest obstacle to success with women, or success in anything, is fear. The first time I cold-approached a girl it took me three hours to actually talk to her. When I finally did approach, I was a mess: my hands were shaking, my face was hot, my palms were sweaty, and when I spoke I sounded like a lost lamb my voice was shaking so much.

And on the other end of the spectrum, Nate does his best to belie my assertion that alphas have little to contribute to Alpha Game apart from idiotic braggadacio:

An insightful blogger here pointed out that the alpha ego, enormous as it is, is based in reality. The alpha’s positive self-image and confidence are the direct result of what? It comes from success. But success at what?

I have to say, I am suddenly beginning to feel a rather delightful sense of superflousness. Of course, being a well-paid professional not-writer, I see no reason why I should not succeed in becoming a hugely popular not-blogger as well.

They can’t leave anyone alone

Well, they’re not about to say anything about Islam, you understand. But they are sufficiently intrepid to take on the adherents of a fictional religion:

The government uses census data to determine government policy and funding in various areas, including that of faith-based schools and organizations. The group running the “You’re Not a Jedi” campaign claims that “Jedi” is not an acceptable religion and hopes that people will check “No Religion” in the census instead of saying that they follow the ways of the Force.

“If your religion is of low enough importance to you to that you are willing to put in a religion from 3 good sci-fi films from years ago, and 3 more recent rubbish ones,please consider ticking ‘No Religion’ instead,” the campaign writes. “By ticking ‘No Religion’, you will ensure that the Government receives an unambiguous message about the number of non-religious people in the UK.”

Sweet Darwin, but they’re just intrinsically obnoxious, aren’t they! “God doesn’t exist!” “You’re not a Jedi!” “I am intelligent than you are based on the fact of my historical ignorance and illogical conclusions!” And then they get offended when a Christian believes – doesn’t say anything, just believes – that the God atheists hate, fear, and deny does not look upon them with approval. They really are bossy little assholes right down to the core, and it’s the authoritarian assholery, not the absence of God belief, that ultimately defines the atheist.

The amusing thing about atheists, of course, is the way in which they will claim someone whose religion is “Jedi” or has no religion is an atheist, while simultaneously denying that overt and militant self-identified atheists who also happen to be Communists are atheists. Unless, that is, the Communist atheist happens to be alive today, in which case he can’t be responsible for historically killing anyone and therefore can safely be considered an atheist… so long as he is sufficiently obnoxious. The punchline is that these are the people who consider themselves to be the most rational people on the planet. Forget the Jedi religion, it is more logically respectable to describe yourself as a worshipper of Jar-Jar Binks than as an atheist.

Which leads us to the correct response to the announcement, (and it usually is an announcement, isn’t it), that someone is an atheist: “Ah, so you’re an asshole. Good for you. How’s that working out for you, then?”

WND column

The Totalitarian State of America

“Keep your laws off my body” is a popular abortionette slogan, but like so many feminist ideas, it is an observably nonsensical assertion. It is not at all difficult to find a whole host of laws that directly concern our bodies. There are laws dictating how we must clothe them, what we are permitted to ingest in them, how we are allowed to transport them from place to place and whom they are permitted to sexually penetrate. It is a rhetorical device, nothing more, and a remarkably silly one at that.

Unfortunately, the panoply of laws concerning one’s body are merely the tip of the legal iceberg. Americans are now living in a literally totalitarian society.