It is late in the morning one day in 399 BC. Soft light from the warming Mediterranean sun flows in through a window slit near the low stone ceiling of a small Athenian cell. The cool stone room echoes with the muffled sobs of the young men sitting by one wall, their heads on their arms, fighting their own endless tears. The still figure of their friend and mentor lay on the other side of the cell. Through the light cloth covering his body, they could make out his closed eyes and mouth, the outline of his puggish nose and wild beard. The man that loved them as a father was gone. Socrates was no more.
Outside in the great City State of Athens, the wealthy and political elite were getting back to the business of the status quo, having done away with Socrates, their greatest political foe. They turned their attention back to soothing their wounded egos, still aching from the crushing defeat at the hands of the Spartans just five years prior. Even though the Spartans showed uncharacteristic mercy, offering lenient terms of surrender, the Athenian elites wanted to avenge their lost power, wealth, and prestige.
With Socrates’s powerful voice of reason silenced, the elites played on Athenian pride and ego, convincing the people to support a military alliance with Thebes and Macedonia to take revenge on Sparta. It was this general madness of anger, pride, and desire to get even that led to the war that would break the back of Athens as a Greek power. Athens never recovered from this conflict with Sparta, eventually losing its independence entirely to Macedonia.
“Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don’t forget.”
-Last Words of Socrates-
The trial and death of Socrates is the crucial and defining moment that doomed the once powerful Athenian democracy. When the people should have known better, they chose to listen to the same Athenian establishment that led them into destructive conflict with Sparta just three decades earlier, then silencing a popular and principled voice of dissent. America sadly seems to be headed quickly in the same direction, and the window of opportunity to avoid this disaster becomes narrower every day unless we do what the Athenians should have, and listen to what Socrates had to say, even if it shames us.
Socrates was tried for the crimes of “impiety” (failing to show proper deference to the gods, whom the Athenian elites claimed to gain their authority from) and “corrupting the youth of Athens” (convincing the young men of Athens who would suffer the greatest cost in a war with Sparta to question the infallibility claimed by the Athenian elites). Socrates was, by many indications, fairly popular among the “Millennials” of his day. The most “corrupting” ideas he taught seemed to be that the political elite were actually painfully ordinary.
Through his public shaming of politically powerful Athenians, Socrates revealed that the political leaders often were completely unable to defend their political beliefs. Nothing he taught was necessarily new, being the collected wisdom of well known philosophers who had come before him. Yet even if the political elite had thought about their positions at all, they couldn’t deal with any serious challenge of their own beliefs. They obviously didn’t care about the moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of their decisions, worse, what Socrates revealed was the political elite erroneously believed that because they were politically powerful, they were necessarily right.
Does this not have a frightening ring of familiarity to our political leaders today?
From Socrates and Plato, Stoicism found its philosophical roots, and the Stoics influenced not just the Greeks, but also their share of Roman Emperors. Through the Romans, these kernels of Western philosophical thought found their way into Christianity, and, through Christian doctrine, ultimately they found themselves into the philosophical bedrock of the Founding Fathers.
Of the many pieces of ancient wisdom from classical culture comes four cardinal virtues, in their classic senses:
- Prudence – “acting with or showing care and thought for the future“
- Justice – “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair“
- Temperance – “moderation or self-restraint, especially in eating and drinking“
- Courage – “strength in the face of pain or grief“
Just as they were in the ancient democracy of Athens, these four virtues remain central to what should be most desired in not only the People but specifically in the politically powerful. Among all of the lessons Socrates taught during his life, the one that he taught in his death was one above all others, and Americans need to pay special attention to that lesson today more than ever. There are always many more who seek the laurels of power than possess the virtue to deserve it.
Whether an individual is running for the office of President or dog catcher, it is up to the People to demand of whoever they elect the highest virtue. Can we tolerate a candidate who would ignore national Prudence and spend away the wealth of the nation, shackling the citizens to a pile of debt of insurmountable size? No? Too late, we already have, one Baby Boomer after another. Now both Democratic candidates and the Republican front runner are all the same Baby Boomers that have bankrupted us only more promises to spend even more money that does not exist.
Do we tolerate a candidate that uses Justice as a toy, embracing it while it enriches them, and dismissing it when it becomes a nuisance? No? Too late, we already have, one Baby Boomer after another. The Democratic and Republican front runners have both abused the Rule of Law against the People’s interest and to enrich and empower themselves. Both have demonstrated a willingness to flaunt or abuse the law to the detriment of others.
Do we tolerate a candidate that has no notion of Temperance, living far beyond the needs of the human body and spirit to the point of extravagance beyond the common propriety? No? Too late, we already have, one Baby Boomer after another. The Democratic and Republican front runners have numerous homes, and have sold their principles for silver and gold hundreds of times over.
Do we tolerate a candidate that has abused the meaning of Courage, embellishing their struggles while denigrating the actual Courage of others? No? Too late, we already have, one Baby Boomer after another. Both the Democratic and Republican front runners have embellished their personal resumes, including fabricating life threatening circumstances and comparing high school military academy experience as being superior in any way to experience of young men and women who have actually served in the actual armed forces.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We are facing the loss of our Constitutional Republic. It rests now on the razor’s edge of competing visions, left, right, and center. On one side, we have the empty promises of the left, to offer us benefits without costs. If only we listen to them, this time their failed ideas will work. We know that their ideas would lead us to ruin. As conservatives of all stripes, we reject those failed ideas and look to alternatives.
The first alternative is the promise of the Athenian elite himself, promising the restoration of power, wealth, and prestige. If we elect him, he promises that Athens will win the war with the great foes of Sparta this time. Trust him, because he has the best ideas and knows the best people and uses the best words. Pay no attention to the sad track record of our nation or his own misadventures and questionable principles. Many are responding in anger and pride to this siren’s call of restoration and dominance.
The last option is promising nothing but to restore the wisdom of those that have come before. A return to the principles of Natural Law and the basis for our Republic. He says we need to restore the Constitution, reduce the power and scope of the federal government, and move America before looking to move the rest of the world. The Establishment elitists are trying very hard to sentence this last voice of reason to political death. For the sake of the Republic, we cannot allow that to happen.
We must Be Brave. We must Be Free.
Liberty is For The Win!