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For Love of Democracy: Eros, Reverence, and Ritual in Plato’s Laws

Both deontological and classical liberalism have been criticized by communitarian thinkers who contend that liberalism is rooted in an incoherent conception of the self because it fails to take into account the communal aspect of our self-conception, thereby making the liberal doctrine of acquisitive individualism inadequate as a foundation of civic virtue for a community of free and equal citizens.[1] According to these critics, liberalism as both a theory and a practice is incapable of creating institutions aimed for a common good because it is unwilling to acknowledge the necessity of our moral and political attachments to our fellow human beings. The only way to cultivate a common good for society is for moral and political authority to be grounded in a shared understanding of our institutions rather than to rely upon individual choice and social contract theory.

Liberals, however, criticize communitarians’ vision of the common good as a potential threat to the individual’s rights and liberties: a citizen, or group of citizens, can be denied their rights and liberties in the name of the common good or the community.[2] It is better to have a society with a “thin” understanding of the common good so everyone can enjoy their rights and liberties as opposed to a “thick” understanding where people’s rights and liberties could be denied to them. Although the liberal conception of the common good is not as robust as communitarians want–and therefore is vulnerable to some of the criticisms made against it– liberal society is still a better alternative of having all citizens’ rights and liberties protected than a society which could deny one or a few citizens’.

Communitarians recognize the threat that communities can pose to the individual and consequently seek to incorporate liberal political institutions, which safeguard our rights and liberties, within a communal framework. As Kautz aptly puts it, the communitarian vision “often takes the form of an imagined synthesis of the ancient polis, so to speak, with the modern liberal state, a synthesis that is said to be superior to either alternative.”[3] But is such a synthesis possible? Can communitarians construct a civic culture that orientates the individual towards the common good while at the same time create political institutions that would protect citizens’ rights and liberties against communal demands? Or are we stuck with an impasse between these two schools of thought and simply just have to pick one without the other?

One possible way to push past this stalemate is to return to a classical conception of politics, such as Plato’s Laws, where ritual, reverence, and reason play a role in forming a civic culture conducive to the common good. Although Socrates in the Republic had expressed a disparaging view of democracy because of its love of excessive freedom, the Athenian Stranger in the Laws resurrect democracy as one of the two paradigms for establishing the “second best regime.” By exploring the Athenian Stranger’s proposal to create a cohesive civic culture for his newly-founded polis, I show how the practice of philosophy, the acceptance of revelation, and the habituation of ritual contributes to an understanding of human flourishing that transcends the liberal-communitarian dichotomy. What we find in the Laws is the creation and encouragement of an array of participatory modes for citizens to partake in the life of the polis which ultimately leads to a conception of politics that avoids the liberal reductive account of human nature and the communitarian inclination to absorb the individual into the community.

If this is the case, then the Laws is not merely an ancient treatise of how philosophers can chisel out of the polis a refuge place of rational bliss for themselves; rather, Plato’s dialogue recognizes the value of reverence for the philosopher qua philosopher. By accepting reverence as a check on rational inquiry, the philosopher’s reason does not turn into rationalism, the supremacy of reason as the constitution of wisdom. As Strauss points out, this tension between reason and revelation is the “secret vitality” of western civilization; therefore, Strauss recommends that philosophers be open to the challenge of theology.[4] If Strauss is correct, then some form of reverence is required, whether for the neo-Kantian liberal state, the communitarian society, or the classical polis. Although Plato did not have access to biblical revelation of which Strauss spoke, my analysis of the Athenian Stranger’s defense of the gods in Book Ten reveals that the Greeks did recognize the value of reverence as a check on reason.

Equally important is the practice of ritual for the philosopher as philosopher. Ritual compels the philosopher to recognize that he or she is merely part of a greater whole–that the practice of philosophy alone is not sufficient for virtue. Confronting the philosopher is the danger that he or she becomes enraptured with the study of immortal things, thereby neglecting other relationships with reality (e.g., familial, social, political) and possibly fall into the rut of rationalism. Thus, the philosopher must be forced back to return into the cave to realize that he or she is part of something greater than him or herself. As Socrates informs us, philosophers long to comprehend both human and divine things (Republic, 486a5-11); and the Athenian Stranger constructs a polis in speech that also aims for both human and divine things (Laws, 631b4-631e1). What the philosopher requires, then, is a re-orientation towards both the human and the divine–a knowledge of the whole–which ritual compels him or her.

Finally, the introduction and cultivation of philosophy in the “second best regime” affords the individual a certain type of armor against the conformity of the polis. The Nocturnal Council accedes a place for the philosopher to explore rationally how both human and divine things are interrelated as a singular whole. Within the confines of reverence and ritual, the practice of philosophy therefore resists the passionate pressures and irrational demands of the community. For Plato, the practice of philosophy is reserved only to a few because only a few are capable to engage in rational inquiry. The institution of the Nocturnal Council is way to allow philosophy to exist in the polis for those few who are qualified.

The acknowledgement of the few and the many may be an uncomfortable but necessary truth to both liberals and communitarians to accept, especially with our recent past of imperialism, racism, and sexism that have arbitrary categorized and excluded people. However, this acceptance that only a few are capable of philosophy does not necessarily equate into denying rights and liberties to the many. The practice of philosophy in the Laws is based on a person’s ability rather than his or her right or liberty as a citizen of the polis. Philosophy therefore is neither a right nor a liberty but a privilege for those few capable of practicing it.

Again, the restriction of philosophy to the able few may make both liberals and communitarians uneasy because it appears to violate the principle of equality. But in our liberal society we assign certain activities to those who are capable: not everyone gets to go to Harvard or play in the NFL or elected Senator of your state. Furthermore, we allow only certain people access to privileged information and conduct secret activities to protect our country. If we think of philosophy as something akin to activities in this category, the Athenian Stranger’s proposal of the Nocturnal Council seems less controversial.

Although the practice of philosophy is reserved to the able few, the practice of ritual and reverence is required for everyone so citizens have a shared understanding of the common good. The Athenian Stranger requires that all citizens participate in reverence and ritual to create a cohesive civic culture for his regime. Philosophy is merely an additional rather than the sole epistemological inquiry into both human and divine goods. The Laws therefore can help us see how to explore the manifold ways citizens can participate in politics–reason, reverence, and ritual–so a common good can be formed without sacrificing the rights and liberties of all citizens.

Education and Politics in the Second-Best Regime

By asking Kleinias whether to a god or to some human does he attribute the authorship of Crete’s laws, the Athenian Stranger raises the more general question about the nature of law and its essence (624a1-624a2).[5]8 Is the law grounded in divine revelation, in nature, or something else? For now, the Athenian Stranger holds back from answering these questions since neither Kleinias nor Megillus have agreed with the Athenian about how best to proceed in their investigation of the laws (638b1-638c). In fact, Kleinias’ quick response that it is most surely a god who had founded Crete’s laws reveals his disposition towards tradition: the neglect to mention Minos as the human legislator of Crete would have diluted tradition’s claim of the polis’ divine foundation (624a3-6). Though Kleinias’ and Megillus’ attachment to reverence is admirable, the Athenian Stranger recognizes that the sanction of reverence alone cannot provide a firm foundation for politics. Until Kleinias’ and Megillus’ prejudices about what is best have been adequately peeled away, the Athenian Stranger will continue his parallel task of education: the cultivation of the Dorian’s synoptic capacity for the practice of dialectics and the introduction of education into the polis.

Appealing to his reverential nature, the Athenian Stranger replies to Kleinias with a question whether he follows the tradition of Homer that it was Minos, not the gods, who establishes Crete’s laws (624b1-3). Kleinias corrects himself, after which the Athenian proposes to the two Dorians whether they would like to discuss about political regimes and laws on their way to the Cave of Zeus (625a5-625b2). Consenting to the Athenian Stranger’s proposal, Kleinias remarks that it would be a pleasant way to spend their journey talking about politics and law (625c1-3). The Athenian Stranger, knowing that Kleinias is reverent about the myths of Apollo as the founder of Dorian law, recognizes that he must proceed carefully in his criticism of Crete (i.e., the political foundation of Crete is defective). Thus, the Athenian Stranger praises the reputation of Minos as a legislator to remove any hard feelings that Kleinias may hold against him for correcting the Dorian’s mistake (625a5-625b2).

Starting over in his synoptic task, the Athenian Stranger asks Kleinias towards what telos does the laws of Crete aim with its custom of common meals and gymnastic training (625c7-9). According to Kleinias, the legislator had the view of was in mind when he founded the city since cities are by nature in a continual state of war against one another (625e1-2; 626a4-5). Instead of directly rebuking his answer, the Athenian Stranger agrees that Kleinias has a fine understanding of the legal customs of Crete, however, he does not understand exactly what Kleinias means that a well-ordered polis seeks victory over other cities in war (626c2-3). Kleinias and Megillus react in surprise in having to repeat what the Athenian Stranger had just heard for is it not obvious that the polis’ telos is victory? What other ends could exist besides warfare? (626c-6).

In an attempt to correct Kleinias’ misapprehension of the polis’ telos, the Athenian Stranger invokes the analogy of the family (627c8-627d5). He no longer plays the role of the “student” but seeks to investigate the subject in common only after Megillus had asked the Athenian Stranger to explain what other goals are possible besides warfare for the polis. This plead of ignorance is the first peeling away of the Dorians’ unthinking dogmatic reverence towards tradition. By switching roles from “student” to “co-investigator,” the Athenian Stranger embarks on the first step towards a gradual unfolding of a new ground and a new goal for the polis. The purpose of the laws is not towards war, the Athenian Stranger claims, but towards peace and the whole of virtue since the ground of the polis is rooted in nature and not solely in tradition (626b-632d; 688a-d).

To prove this point, the Athenian Stranger invokes the analogy of the family where a judge, not parental authority, is the arbitrator between two brothers who are quarreling among themselves. However, the Athenian Stranger wants to uncover what is correct and faulty according to nature, a standard which would seem to have parental authority as the arbitrator of the conflict (627d5-10). The apparent inconsistencies of the Athenian Stranger’s proposal are resolved if we understand that the Athenian Stranger is subtly removing tradition as the sole ground of authority: the judge, not parental authority, is the best arbitrator because he knows what makes people worthy according to nature and not according to (a flawed) tradition (627e3-5).

By resorting to arguments of analogy and other rhetorical devices, the Athenian Stranger recognizes that the mere presentation of a superior logos will not convince the Dorians’ mistaken opinion about the polis’ end. At this point in the dialogue, the introduction of a superior logos would only degenerate the debate into eristics, the presentation of arguments that merely talk past one another (refer to 638c2-638e9). The Athenian Stranger therefore must engage the debate indirectly to foster Kleinias’ and Megillus’ synoptic capacity to practice dialectics. That is, the Athenian Stranger must re-orientate Kleinias’ and Megillus’ fundamental disposition–their synoptic capacity–towards reality by means other than logos. It would seem that human nature demands more than a superior logos to change its orientation toward what is most best and just. Kleinias’ refusal to acknowledge the supremacy of the Athenian Stranger’s argument confirms the fact that an educative effort other than logos is required to re-direct Kleinias’ soul toward the practice of dialectics (628c-628e).

In a series of arguments and exchanges, the Athenian Stranger demonstrates the contradictions of Kleinias’ answer about the proper end of the polis being war. However, Kleinias still clings, albeit not with the same conviction, that the customs of Lacedaimon pertains somehow to warfare (628e2-4). Sensing Kleinias may revert back to dogmatism, the Athenian pleads that, as friends, they should not disagree with one another so harshly; rather, they should continue the inquiry calmly about the matters at hand (629a1-3). The Athenian Stranger then invokes the authority of tradition (i.e., Theognis) to slip in a new ground for the foundation of Dorian laws on the pretext that he is actually defending the goals of Minos and Lycurgus since they all have misunderstood the goals of these “most just” legislators (629b-630d). Not only does this invocation of Theognis lends the Athenian the opportunity to introduce the idea of virtue as the goal of political order but it also inflicts a sense of shame in Kleinias and Megillus for not properly understanding the intentions of their legislators and consequently leads them onto the preliminary path of self-examination (630c-632d).

It is virtue, not war, towards which the polis should strive because the city will receive both the divine and human goods: wealth, strength, beauty, health (the human goods), courage, justice, intelligence with a moderate soul, and prudence (the divine goods). These rewards will be dispensed to the polis if it follows the gods, who, in turn, looks towards nous for guidance (631b4-631e1; 688a-b). By categorizing and ranking both the divine and the human goods, the Athenian Stranger implicitly affirms that a metaphysical order exists within the cosmos to which the polis should conform. The Athenian Stranger rejects Kleinias’ contention that all laws should aim for victory in war, the agon, as the ground to order the polis since the Athenian wants to assert that a hierarchy of values exists within the universe.[6] If Kleinias is correct–all are enemies of all in public and each is an enemy of himself in private–then the cosmos would seem to be inherently contradictory and consequently tend towards disorder than order (626d8-10). The political consequences of such a metaphysical position is that the polis cannot conform to order as rooted in being since ends do not exist for human, beast, or god. Accordingly, the Athenian Stranger re-directs the conversation towards an ontological order embedded in reality, a hierarchy of divine and human goods, so that political legislation can be planted on a firm foundation.

Thus, the Athenian Stranger suggests to start over the discussion on political regimens and laws (632e1-3). This time the Athenian Stranger engages Megillus in their endeavor of finding the best laws by insinuating that the Spartan practice of common meals corrupts the youth into habits of sodomy (636b1-636c). Standing his ground, Megillus returns the insult by retorting that the Athenian practice of drinking banquets leads them to the greatest sort of insolence and mindlessness possible to humans (637a-637b). This barb provides a pretext for the Athenian Stranger to rise to the defense of his polis in explaining the purpose of drinking banquets and thereby talk about the importance of education (638c2-638e9). What will determine the truth or falsehood of this practice is not appeals to particular claims of each polis; rather, an appeal to all things, a knowledge of the whole of reality, will decide the validity of drinking banquets (638e4-638e9). Megillus consents to the Athenian’s criteria of rationality (638e10-11) and is eventually shown, along with Kleinias, that drinking banquets contribute to the education of the citizen in the cultivation of proper pleasure (641b4-641d2; 646e10-650b10).[7]

For the Athenian Stranger, then, the regime exists for the sake of education, a priority that runs counter to liberalism’s and to Kleinias’ and Megillus’ views on the polis.[8] Education does not exist to prop up the regime; rather, the regime exists for the education of the citizen. Of course, the polis’ education lends legitimacy to the political regime, but this legitimacy is secondary in its function to cultivate virtue in its citizens.

This regime, therefore, is more procedural than the liberalism because the state is merely an instrument of the citizens’ education towards virtue. The dichotomy between liberalism and communitarianism is transcended in the Laws since neither the liberal nor the communitarian accepts the priority of education over politics in their defense or criticism of democracy. Both the liberal and the communitarian accepts the premise that education, whether is a commitment to human rights or its devotion to civic culture, is for the sake of the regime. By contrast, the Athenian Stranger privileges education over politics and thereby avoids the debate between acquisitive individualism and communal totalitarianism. But what is the precise nature of this education? And how does it lead to a full human flourishing?

For the Athenian Stranger, education is the correct nurture of a child both in serious and light-hearted play so that he or she becomes the perfect citizen, the one who knows how to rule and be ruled with justice (643e4-644a1). When the child’s desire (eros) corresponds with what is virtuous, the cultivated youth will unusually turn out to be good (643d1-5; 644a3-644b5). Education is the polis guiding the souls towards the virtue of citizenship. Within this pedagogical framework moderation of one’s pleasures and one’s pains is essential since these two principles will attach themselves to the two opinions about the future: one which is apprehensive (phobos); the other confident (tharros) (644c9-644d4). Superimposed upon these expectations is reason (logismos) which is concern with our movement towards what is to be feared and what is to be blessed. When this superimposed reason becomes the common opinion of the polis, then it is accepted as law: insight and judgement about one’s future therefore precedes the act of law-giving itself.

This relationship between legislation and reason can be clarified in an analysis of Athenian Stranger’s “Puppet Myth” (644d8-645b16).[9] In the myth each living thing is like a puppet of the gods contrived either for their play or for some serious purpose. Although we do not know to what end the gods have set out for us, we do know that the passions work within us “like tendons or cords” that pull us in different directions towards opposite directions between the regions of virtue and vice. The cord that the individual should follow is the golden and scared pull of logos, which is called the common law of the polis, because this cord requires helpers of the race of gold within us may conquer the other races. In this way, the myth of virtue would be saved. However, once the individual acquires a true logos of these cords and lives according to it, it is necessary for the polis to take over this reasoning from either the gods or from one who knows these things and set this reasoning into law for itself and in its relation to other cities.

It is unclear whether the Athenian Stranger’s “Puppet Myth” is a noble lie, as Strauss and Pangle have argued, a facile resolution of the tension between the good of the polis and the good of the philosopher.[10] Although the Athenian Stranger does restrict knowledge about the cords to what “we know,” the ellipses, pregnant pauses and other rhetorical devises Plato’s protagonist uses in the Laws does not necessarily equate into an esoteric teaching either for the reader of the dialogue or for the Dorian interlocutors. Alternatively, the Athenian Stranger could be employing various rhetorical tricks to foster Kleinias’ and Megillus’ synoptic capacity for the practice of dialectic. Superior logos cannot benefit individuals who remain in a condition of synoptic incapacity: logical air-tight argumentation is not enough to lead the prison out of the cave; rather non-dialectical exercises such as poetic myths and preludes may be required to re-orientate individuals towards the possibility of philosophy. In fact, the Athenian Stranger only engages in a poetic exercise when Kleinias and Megillus have difficulty in following his logos (641e1-642a1). The use of myths and the emphasis on play throughout the Laws, then, is not just a vulgar mode of education for the many to understand the nature of the laws but serves to foster Kleinias’ and Megillus’ synoptic capacity in preparation for philosophical thinking (e.g., 803c1-803d1).

We must consider also the possibility that myths may be able to communicate a type of knowledge to the philosopher that is inaccessible to reason: the experience of the divine may be best convey in symbolic form such as a god who pulls the strings of human marionettes or tug a prisoner out of his cave.[11] The works of Voegelin are particularly useful in understanding the experiential dimensions of knowledge.[12] The philosopher must be open to the prospect that myth can provide knowledge that is different in kind than reason. By being open to the prospect that myth provides knowledge which is inaccessible to reason, the philosopher can check his or her reason from turning into rationalism. Yet if this is correct, then what does this say about Athenian Stranger’s conception of human nature? And how is myth related to philosophy and politics?

The Preludes of the Gods: Thumos and Eros

To inquire about the relationship between reason and reverence, the Athenian Stranger’s account of human failing should be examined. Right before the Athenian Stranger speaks about education in Book Seven and Eight, he refers to the three desires within the human psyche that motivates actions: the need of food, drink, and sex (782d11-783b2). If these three desires are guided correctly, then virtue will result; otherwise, human nature will degenerate into vice. Continually directing these human longings towards what is best and away from what is worst, the legislator hopes that virtuous citizens will arise in his regime by the means of fear, law, and true reason. The correspondence between desire and virtue is so critical to the education of the legislator’s citizens that it must begin before the birth of the child: pregnant women must engage in certain exercises so their children will have correctly ordered desires when born (783d10-785b10). This arbitrary nature of desire, its ability to attach itself either to virtue or vice, would seem to undermine the claim that convention or nature could be the ground for virtue.

This suspicion is confirmed when we look at the Athenian Stranger’s previous remarks. According to the Athenian Stranger, people once had refrained from tasting cattle but now they do not; and animals and plants that once had a specific form have changed in order to adjust to the shifts in their climate (782c1-782d2; 782a7-782b7). Convention and nature therefore is malleable. Given this consideration, the Athenian Stranger seems to reject both nature and convention as ontological ground to order the cosmos; consequently, philosophy becomes a deficient epistemological mode to understand the whole of reality since philosophy seeks to understand nature not revelation. Confronted with this situation, the Athenian Stanger can either abandon an ontological ground for politics or he can accept another ground in which to root politics (i.e., the divine). In either case, philosophy alone cannot lead to knowledge of the whole.

This limitation of philosophy as the endeavor of reason is best revealed in the Athenian Stranger’s defense of the gods against the young atheist in Book Ten. Described as one who scorns the sacred things of the polis and desecrates private tombs and lots, one who defiles his parents, uses things without the owners’ permission, and ignores the political rights of his fellow citizens (884a7-885a9), the young atheist acts not out of willful defiance against the polis but out of an ignorance that stems from the beliefs that the gods do not exist, do not care about human beings, and can be bribed with sacrifices and prayers (885b6-12). The cure of this condition is the use of persuasion by someone who know better about the nature of the gods than someone who can speak better about them (885e3-6).

The Athenian Stranger’s insistence of someone who know better about the nature of the gods in spite of his or her lesser abilities as a rhetorician is to prevent the arguments about the gods between the atheist and the believer from collapsing into eristics. The exchange of rhetorical and rational arguments, even if arguments for the existence of the gods are superior, will not convince the atheist. As a result, there must exist other modes of communication that transcend logos, whether they be preludes, myths, or the mere presence of someone who invokes moral authority though lacking the finesse of oratory. A discussion about the gods with someone whose presence commands respect may prompt the atheist out of his ignorance like a flame that is kindled in one soul and leaps into another.[13]

Kleinias, however, does not recognize the limitations of logos as he provides a rational defense for the divine’s existence by observing that both barbarians and Greeks acknowledge the gods’ existence when they observe the beautiful orderliness of the cosmos (886a1-4). By appealing to the inherent order in the cosmos, Kleinias’ defense of the gods is rooted in reason, to which the Athenian Stranger refutes, equally, on rational grounds (886d8-886e2). Although Kleinias does not completely understand the refutation of his argument (886e3-5), he vigorously consents to the Athenian Stranger’s proposal that they, as representatives of the polis, should defend it against the young atheist in an imagined courtroom (886e6-887a9. The length of prelude’s law does not concern Kleinias since “it makes no small difference” whether the gods are just or noble (887b1-887c5; also, refer to 890e4-891a9). Unfortunately, Kleinias’ thumos (spiritedness) prevents a philosophical account of the gods; the passionate nature of his piety reverts him back to religious dogma instead of dialectical inquiry (887c7-887d2). The Athenian Stranger therefore must first subdue Kleinias’ pious thumos by the means of preludes, not of philosophy, in order to investigate the nature of the gods (888a7-11).

According to Pangle, thumos differs from eros in that the former is a love of something as one’s own while the latter is a love of something that makes us forget who we are.[14] The Athenian Stranger assuages Kleinias’ thumos not only because he mistakes the gods as deities of a particular polis, but he has forgotten that the gods do not exist for men but that men are like puppets who exist for the gods (643c-d; 644d8-645b16). Although it is difficult to parse out the relationship between eros and thumos (717d; 782e-783b), the legislator must cultivate eros correctly so that a person can forget him or herself in virtue instead of debauchery (733e-734b; 782e-783b). Recognizing that Kleinias’ religious zeal to defend the gods stems not out of eros but thumos, the Athenian Stranger refrains from presenting a proof of the gods’ existence because logos by itself cannot transform Kleinias’ thumos into eros: prayer (887c6-8) and prelude are required (887e7-888a10).

This psychological condition of thumos is one which a person cannot acknowledge that he or she is subordinate to and part of a greater whole in reality. The refusal to participate in civic ritual, as in the case of the young atheist’s case, or the belief that the gods exist only for a certain polis, as in the case of Kleinias, is rooted in his psychological condition of thumos, a withdrawal in one sphere of privacy and self-importance (887c6-888a3). To remedy this malaise, the Athenian Stranger addresses the youth not in logos (argumentation) but in prooimion (prelude) to avoid eristics (885a6-888d6) since thumos only can be subdued by extra-ordinary rational means.

The prelude opens with an appeal to the authority of experience of one who has watched the young alter their opinions frequently about the greatest of things: the correct thoughts about the gods and how to lead a noble life (888a11-888c2). Given his experience in these matters, the young atheist does not strike the Athenian Stranger as a novelty, especially since no one in his youth who once held these opinions about the gods continue to hold them in his old age. The young atheist therefore should hold his tongue and do nothing impious until the Athenian Stranger and others (e.g., the legislator) are able to make the doctrine about these matters clear as they can: the gods exist, they care about human beings, and they cannot be bribed (888c3-888d5).

At a first glance, the Athenian Stranger’s prelude about the gods hardly strikes one as convincing; however, this perceived deficiency misses the point of the prelude: the taming of the young atheist’s thumos. The use of the preludes, after all, is to persuade the citizen to be in a frame of mind that is more favorably disposed to the law and therefore learn something from it (723a6-723b3). Unlike the tyrannical doctor who treats his patients without their input, the legislator should be like the physician who treat free men by listening to his patients and in turn explain to them what is wrong with them (720b8-720e6; 722e10-723a5). It would seem that preludes are an alloy of reason, as articulated in logos, and imagination, as expressed in muthos. Preludes therefore do not appeal strictly to the rational aspect of human nature but to its thumotic part (717d, 789d-790a, 863b). When compared to the criteria of rationality, the prelude falls short of the mark; but, when compared to the criteria of soothing the atheist’s thumos, then the prelude is an appropriate means to achieve this goal.

By listing the itinerary of symptoms, the atheist suffers (884a7-885a9), the Athenian Stranger’s strategy to appease the atheist’s thumos makes sense. The atheist defies his parents, the polis, and the gods because his thumos demands that these entities reciprocate his love for them; but such a reciprocation is impossible because of the inherent inequalities between child and parent, citizen and polis, and human and divine.[15]  Instead of thumos, the atheist should participate with his superiors–be it family, polis, or the divine–in eros, an acknowledgment of something that is greater than oneself and consequently should forget oneself in this acknowledgment(s). At the core of thumos is an appreciation of oneself that can be inappropriate when reciprocation is demanded form one’s superiors.

The Athenian Stranger’s prelude subdues the atheist’s thumos by gently reminding the young atheist of his place in the polis: the novelty of his views is only novel to him but not to the polis as a whole. In recognizing that his views are not new, the Athenian Stranger’s prelude cajoles the atheist out of his deluded sense of self-importance, his misguided thumos. The prelude’s claim that the atheist’s beliefs are not new and actually are part of a tradition that is greater than himself is an attempt to prompt him out of his sphere of self-importance–to acknowledge that he is merely part of a larger whole, even if that whole is tradition of heretical beliefs. The young atheist is further compelled to acknowledge his particularity when the Athenian Stranger commands him not to do anything impious until he has heard arguments against atheism. Presumably, this prohibition against impiety would translate into the atheist partaking in ritual and other conventions of the polis. By participating and therefore relying upon other individuals, the young atheist’s incapacity for eros is remedied as much as gentle persuasion allows. Preludes, thus, are the didactic devices to subdue thumos and to encourage eros within the citizen due to the limitations of logos. For logos not to disintegrate into eristics, a person’s thumos must be assuaged so as to open up his or her capacity for eros.

Whereas the prelude seeks to soothe the atheist’s thumos, the Athenian Stranger’s logos is the rational defense of the divine against the atheist’s claims about the gods. According to the “wise men”, all of things in the cosmos come into being either by nature, chance, or art (888e4-889a2). At its core, the cosmos is composed of things (i.e., fire, water, earth, and air) that are generated either by nature or by chance; and, from these first things arises the planets and the stars, beings which lack a soul, who in turn, give rise to the rest of the things in the cosmos (e.g., plants, animals) as determined by necessity. Compared to nature and chance, then, the practice of art appears much later and does not partake greatly with the truth, though some art does contain truth by having some things in common with nature. For example, political art possesses truth albeit it is only a minute portion of truth. All incorrect political legislation therefore is rooted in art and not in nature (888e8-889a1; 898b1-898e2).

In the voice of the wise men, the Athenian Stranger makes the distinction between nature, chance, and art using the criteria of time: nature and chance produces the greatest and finest things because they come first and art produces the lesser things because it comes last (889a4-8). From these remarks, it would seem that nature is restored as a possible foundation upon which to order the polis. The case for the ontological foundation of nature is further bolstered when the Athenian Stranger argues that the cause of the young’s impiety is their failure to recognize that what is just corresponds to what is by nature and what is unjust corresponds to what is by convention (889e4-890a13).[16]  But instead of defining nature, the Athenian Stranger establishes the principle of causality as equated with a priority in time (891c1-891d5).[17] This equation of temporality and causality is the introduction of philosophy into the regime as Kleinias consents to the Athenian Stranger’s prospect that is may be necessary to go outside the realm of legislation to handle the arguments of the atheist (891d9-891e6). It is not revelation, therefore, but philosophy which will come to the defense of the gods in the Athenian Stranger’s refutation of the impious youths.

The chief flaw of the atheist’s beliefs stems from a confusion of the priority of time (causality) with respect to the soul and to the body: the atheist believes that the body precedes the soul in time and in generation where in actuality the soul precedes the body (891e6-891e13; 892a7-892b2). The underlying cause of the atheist’s confusion is the erroneous premise that nature is equivalent to the act of generation (892c2-3). If this premise is faulty, then it follows that the soul is not nature itself but is generated only by nature since it appears among the first things in the universe (892c3-8; 892a2-7). Since the soul is generated by nature, it is prior to the first things in the cosmos (i.e., fire, water, earth, and air) which come into being by nature or by chance (889b1-889b5). However, the actions associated with the soul–the first and great actions of the first things–are actions of art and intelligence instead of actions of nature or chance (892b4-892c1).

From these statements, then, we can draw the tentative conclusions that nature is neither the soul nor eternally (or temporarily) generating being; and out of nature arises the soul which governs the cosmos by art and intelligence (891c1-6). The relationship between the actions of the soul (art and intelligence) and the first material realities (i.e., fire, water, earth, and air) is ambiguous and remains so; but it appears that the soul, either by nature, chance, or art with intelligence engenders the stars and the planets, being without soul, which are composed of these first materials. Finally, in partnership with necessity, the soul also creates out of these the rest of the things in the material temporal world.[18]

Instead of delving into what constitutes nature of the soul, the Athenian Stranger at this point restricts his defense of the gods to a demonstration that the inception of the soul is prior to the inception of the body (892c6-8). The Athenian Stranger then makes another strange detour in his argument by making it clear that Kleinias and Megillus can have no active part in the defense of the gods due to the unfamiliarity with the atheist’s arguments: they are to avoid the prospect of ridicule from their younger peers in the event that they fail to obtain the great things for which they have reached (892d4-893a8). The ducking of talking about what constitutes the soul and nature will late be shown to be one of the critical points in the Athenian Stranger’s logos about philosophy’s ability to defend the divine on rational grounds. With these important caveats in place, the Athenian Stranger inaugurates his defense of the gods against the impious youth.

The Defense of the Divine: The Cultivation of Eros and the Limitations of Logos

The Athenian Stranger begins his defense of the gods by invoking the aid of the gods “in all seriousness” to assist him in his demonstration that the existence of the soul is prior to the existence of the body (893b1-5).[19] If the gods are human’s superiors, which presumably they are, then it makes perfect sense to ask for their aid in order to defend them against the claims of the atheist. By requesting the gods’ help, the Athenian Stranger seems to indicate that humans cannot furnish an adequate account of the gods on their own. The relationship between the gods and humans, then, is not one of thumos (the gods are a possession of man) but one of eros (humans, like puppets, are possessions of the gods).22 Whether it be the atheist or the Athenian Stranger, one must accept that he or she is part of a greater whole and accordingly orientate him or herself towards that whole. In other words, the philosopher requires divine assistance to orientate him or herself towards the gods so to transcend his sphere of self-absorption.

The Athenian asks the atheist whether all things move, remain static, or do some move and some remain static, to which the atheist replies that some things move and some things do not move (893b6-893c5). Continuing to ask the atheist questions about motion, the Athenian Stranger distinguishes motion into its spatial (893c5-10), rotational, and linear character (893c10-893d3). The harmony of the different types of rotational motions in the universe is the “source of all wonders” in humans (893d3-7) since they generate both growth and decay (893d7-894a2). Underlying this process of growth and decay is the durable quality of a thing’s character. Change, thus, is a change in a being’s substance (essence) and not merely of its appearance (quality) (893e7-894a2; 894a7-9).

By using a geometrical allegory, the Athenian Stranger explains how this process of change brings about the substance of sensible reality: non-dimensional points (arche) are transformed into  a second-dimensional surface which, in turn, becomes third-dimensional, perceivable solids (894a1-7).[20] With respect to the non-dimensional points, there exist two motions that transform them into a two-dimensional surface, both of which belongs to the soul:1) the motion capable of moving others but incapable of moving itself, and 2) the motion capable of moving others as well as moving itself (894b1-2; 894b9-14). The origins and the dynamics of these non-dimensional points (arche) would seem to belong to the power and nature of the soul.

The Athenian Stranger opens his argument by postulating a first cause: there exists a self-moved mover who directs all the other motions in the universe (895b1-9); however, the Athenian does not defend his postulate, thereby making it susceptible to Kant’s criticism of first causes.[21] Assuming that the existence and need of a self-moved mover, the Athenian Stranger investigates the nature of this first cause, whether it is made out of the primordial elements or something else (895c3-6). Kleinias asks whether this first cause is alive, to which the Athenian Stranger answers that it is, though, again, there is no proof given to defend his reply (895c7-13). It is possible that the first cause could be a being without a soul like a planet or a star; but, the Athenian Stranger does not consider this possibility, even after Kleinias had asked whether this first cause was alive. Eventually the Athenian and Kleinias recognize that the soul is this living, first cause once they had matched the definition with its name (895d1-896b2). But the definition of the soul as the first, living cause of motion in the cosmos is not a proof; rather, it is a postulate provided by the Athenian Stranger. Consequently, it has not been adequately demonstrated that the soul is the eldest of all things that rules the body in spite of Kleinias’ eager agreement (896b2-5; 896c5-8): the Athenian Stranger merely has presented a series of postulates that must be taken on a leap of faith instead of accepted as a philosophical proof.

Proceeding from this unproven premise that the soul is prior to the body, the Athenian Stranger examines the nature of the soul (896b6-896d4) and concludes that the soul is the cause of all things good and bad, shameful and noble, just and unjust since it is the first cause of all things (896d6-9). Specifically, the soul sets into motion the primary forces of the cosmos from which secondary motions arise that are, in turn, responsible for growth and decay in the universe (896e8-897b1). If the soul takes up reason (nous)–god as correctly understood–then all things are guided towards what is correct and happy; but, if the soul takes up unreason, then it produces the opposite results (897b1-7; 897c4-897d2).[22] The decision to take up reason or to take up unreason would seem to reside in the soul, not in the body, given the fact that the soul is the first begetter of motion.

Since the soul, the Athenian Stranger is talking about includes all living things (895c4-7), humans would also possess a soul (899a8-11); thus, the responsibility of one’s fates falls upon every person’s own shoulders. As Pangle cognitively argues, every person is called upon to assume his or her responsibilities according to reason–god correctly understood–to satisfy the major demands of his or her thumos, a love of what one’s own while, at the same time, to be able to be called to take something up outside him or herself (eros).[23] Thumos is honored but not at the expense of eros in the Athenian Stranger’s account: the role of thumos  in a person’s decision-making between justice an d injustice is noted as one’s responsibility to follow nous in eros. The Athenian Stranger’s testimony of the soul as the first cause, then, is nothing more than therapeutic effort to cure the defective nature of the atheist’s thumos, an encouragement to follow his eros as prompted by the sight of nous.  

Given that the Athenian Stranger’s logos are a series of unproven statements to defend that the soul is prior to the body, the ability of philosophy to defend the divine appears to be defective. What is required to help the impious youth is not a superior logos rooted in reason but a logos that is a mixture of philosophy and extra-philosophical argument to accomplish the task of transforming the atheist’s thumos into eros. Such a logos would be a “saving tale” of the “myth of virtue” for man and the polis (645b-c).[24] Philosophy therefore requires divine assistance (893b1-5) to defend the gods because of its limited ability to furnish a “saving tale” for the atheist: human’s thumos is not receptive to logos alone but to a mixture of muthos, preludes, and logos. The atheist’s psychological state would seem to be a type of intellectual self-absorption caused by his excessive thumos, one which ultimately leads him towards a rationalized understanding of the universe. By accepting reverence, the philosopher acknowledges the fruits from and the limitation of reason.

The Athenian Stranger analyzes the specific nature of the motion of the soul by creating an image out of the previous types of motions which he earlier had described to the Dorians (897e1-6). The motion attributed only to the soul is the one which drives all the other motions of the lesser, individual souls (e.g., heavens, stars) (898c1-898d5).[25] By focusing on one heavenly body, like the sun, the Athenian Stranger distinguishes between the senses, which can grasp the sensible objects, and reason (nous) which can grasp rational thought alone (898d8-15). Reason therefore can comprehend things which are inaccessible to the senses. But in the next sequence of his argument, the Athenian Stranger continues the argument unreasonably by postulating instead of explaining that the mover of the sun is “held to be a god by every person” as are the other souls who move things in the cosmos according to virtue (899d20-89911; 899b3-11). Though the proof of the gods’ existence has been completed, the equation of the soul with the gods remains unproven.

There are two possibilities for this omission in the Athenian Stranger’s defense of the gods: 1) reason is not able to provide an account of the gods because of human’s ontological and epistemological relation to them, or 2) reason is able to provide an account of the gods but the results of such an endeavor would run contrary to the appearances of the myth of virtue. An evaluation of the argument of the Athenian Stranger after his defense of the gods would seem to support both positions with qualifications. The philosopher’s reason cannot provide a fully rational account of the gods because of human’s inferior ontological and epistemological place in the cosmos; consequently, the philosopher must acknowledge and follow his or her eros to prevent this reason from falling into rationalism, a condition of thumos as in the case of the atheist. Thus, the philosopher must make him or herself open to the possibility of revelation (reverence): reason is able to pride an account of the gods–a saving tale as it were–as long as it restrains itself; otherwise, reason’s account would be a rationalist one which would obscure the true nature of the divine.

The More Precise Education: The Study of the Virtue and Nous

For a person to participate in eros, he or she must presuppose that one is part of the whole: one cannot step outside to some Archimedean point to survey the whole of reality; rather, one must acknowledge that one is part of something greater than oneself and attempts to understand the whole the best one can from that vantage point. The philosopher’s recognition that one is part of the of the whole is what Strauss has called the philosopher’s openness to the possibility of theology–an acceptance of the Homeric gods that checks reason from disintegrating into rationalism. By acknowledging and by following one’s eros, the philosopher preludes a Cartesian dichotomy of subject and object in his epistemology since a person is merely part of a greater whole (i.e., participates in a relational matrix of reality). The trick for the Athenian Stranger is to draw out of the atheist’s soul his eros so that he will recognize that his account of the cosmos is simply a rationalist explanation. Instead of accepting that he or she is just a “puppet” of the gods, the atheist, out of excessive thumos, views him or herself as the center of universe, demanding recognition from even his or her superior beings.

The end result is the atheist’s transformation of reason into a type of rationalism that cannot acknowledge a being superior to him or herself, a being whose superiority prevents reason fully comprehending its nature. Within this context, the omission of what constitutes nature and what constitutes the soul is not a fear out of persecution but an appreciation of the limits of reason’s ability to access the truth of beings who are superior to the philosopher. The expectation of a Kantian logos to prove the existence of the gods will always fall short as evident with the deficiencies in the Athenian Stranger’s argument about the priority of the soul (gods) over the body (material-temporal reality). The philosopher, in other words, should not confuse his search for the whole of reality with first causes.

Yet it is only the philosopher, not the common man, in the Athenian Stranger’s “second best regime” that can examine these first causes, specifically the idea of virtue as being both one and four beings at the same time (965c1-3; 964a1-12). Underlying this more “precise education” (965b1-2) is the assumption that the many are unable to reach a synoptic state to practice dialects in the study of virtue (964d4-9). This assumption would agree with the Athenian Stranger’s earlier argument about how the polis strives towards the divine and human goods: the existence of an ontological, hierarchal reality would seem to demand that a hierarchy exists within nature and the polis, but hierarchy (order) can only exist if there are superiors and inferiors in nature and society. Consequently, it makes sense that only a few would be able to reach a synoptic state to practice philosophy, as constrained by reverence, in the polis if an ontological, hierarchal reality exists. The Athenian Stranger therefore rejects both the communitarian’s and the liberal’s common presupposition of human nature that all men can be philosophers if they so desire.[26]

The need for this more “precise education” arises from the Athenian Stranger’s recognition that the polis requires an intellectual defense against poets and other educators who arrive into the city to espouse their own teachings, some of which may run contrary to the dogma of the gods (964b9-964d2; also see 960d1-7). This intellectual defense is not only aims at the muthos of the poets but also against the logos of the sophists, who had discovered reason and subsequently planted a new pedagogical foundation upon it. Mythical accounts of the cosmos are no match for the sophists’ logos, even if muthos portrays a more accurate picture of the gods, nature, and man: a superior logos is required to meet the sophists’ arguemtns.[27] Although the sophists’ aim, as best represented by Protagoras, was admirable in the cultivation of young men in a knowledge of ethics, politics, and rhetoric based on a rational instead of poetical ground, the foundation of this rational speculation was not God but humans themselves.[28] Since humans can neither know nor not know about the existence of God, “man” must become “the measure of all things,” the measure and the standard of all educational excellence.[29] In the realm of dialectics, then, muthos is unable to provide a sufficient challenge to logos (reasoned argumentation); thus, a “more precise” education about the gods is required to protect the customs and traditions of the polis in logos form.[30]

The Athenian Stranger’s response to the sophist’s search for a standard in education is the replacement of “man as the measure of all thing” with “God as the measure of all things” (716c1-716d5). If the great strength of the sophists was the creation of a formal, rational education system, then their great weakness was the absence of an intellectual and moral foundation (i.e., first principles) in their pedagogical theory.[31] The sophists’ neglect of studying first principles, which includes the study of the proper ends for man, not only led to a moral relativism among their students but equipped them with an arsenal of rhetorical weapons they could use to further their own self-interests. This oversight, and occasional contempt for, of first principles was the primary objection that Plato lodged against the sophists’ pedagogical theory (Republic 336a-354c; Gorgias 482-508c; 511b-526c). A recovery of these first principles in the polis’ educational system was of preeminent importance for Plato if one desired to know to what end humans existed (Republic 536d).[32] In this light, we must understand the Athenian Stranger’s (or Plato’s) introduction of a more “precise education” as the dialectical attempt to guide to the rational breakthrough of the sophists to a pedagogical ground rooted in first principles (i.e., the first mover).[33]

This first principle, the subject of this more “precise education,” is virtue and its leader nous, to which the polis should aim all its laws, customs, and manners (963a1-11). By gathering the young and the old in the polis to study how virtue can be both four and one, the polis will be able to take advantage of those who are sharpest in perception and prudent in thinking to formulate proofs of the existence of the gods (964e-965a8; 966c1-966d3; 951d-953e). However, the Athenian Stranger does not elaborate on the connection, if one exists, between the proof of the gods and the study of the first principles, virtue and its leader, nous; nor does the Athenian Stranger lends much credence in reason’s ability to grasp these principles and to prove the gods’ existence (965d7-965e6; 966c1-9).

It would seem from the Athenian Stranger’s comments that reason is limited in its ability to know the whole of reality since an account of virtue will be contrived by some other means if reason is unable to fulfill this task (963e2-6). In fact, it is that divine part of man’s eros which needs to be activated towards the gods before he can even produce a philosophical proof of the gods’ existence (966c9-966d4). But this desire to know something outside of oneself, this sense of wonder, can be prompt by a more “precise education” (philosophical inquiry): the study of the motions of the orderliness in the cosmos brings into the soul a sense of wonder and amazement that man is merely part of a greater whole (966e1-967a6). Philosophy, therefore, can stir within one’s soul eros. However, philosophy requires reverence towards the gods (or postulates about the gods) so that mistakes about the priority of the soul and body are not made (967b1-967d3). Specifically speaking, it seems that philosophy requires a certain type of piety in the acceptance of two postulates: 1) the soul is the eldest of all things and 2) the soul is immortal (967d5-967e4).

Still, the Athenian Stranger has not made the connection between the gods and the soul (or the first principles of virtue and nous); instead, the Athenian Stranger describes the nature of this more “precise education” in the Nocturnal Council (968a7-968b1). Given our previous discussion of preludes and proofs of the divine, the Athenian Stranger’s silence about the relationship between the soul (or first principles) and the gods would seem to indicate reason’s inability to make this connection. Any attempt to bridge this gap between the soul and the gods would be nothing more than an exercise in rationalism as noted earlier by the Athenian Stranger (967b1-967d3). If philosophy does require limits to prevent it from collapsing into rationalism, then the Athenian Stranger’s silence about the equation of gods and souls make perfect sense since philosophy itself could not make this connection. In this context, the Athenian Stranger’s remarks about philosophical education, the absence of logos of the gods as souls, is an implicit statement about the limitations of reason. The reason why philosophy accepts philosophical postulates to circumscribe its reason (967d5-967e4) is that the philosopher may also require rational limitations, in addition to mythical ones. Since the philosopher relies mostly on his reason to participate in the world, muthos and preludes may be dismissed as being irrational; therefore, the presentation of limitations in logos form (philosophical postulates) may make the philosopher more receptacle to constraints on reason. In short, the connection between the soul and the gods must be accepted as a matter of faith, whether it is presented as a myth, prelude, or philosophical postulate.

This connection between the soul and the gods has to be accepted as a matter of faith because of the limited nature inherent in logos. Although rational argumentation can explain much of the cosmos, there might be some realities which are ineffable or, at best, can be articulated imperfectly. The Athenian Stranger’s warning that the discussion of certain matters in writing should be avoided because it would be impossible to determine whether the pupil had truly understood what he was reading would seem to indicate logos is limited in its ability to convey experiences and explain knowledge of the whole (968d1-968e). As a result, the Athenian Stranger recognizes that his two philosophical postulates must be accepted as a matter of faith because of reason’s inability to comprehend the whole of reality as well as its inability to articulate ineffable reality.

This philosophical education takes place in the Nocturnal Council, to which the polis should be handed over, to safeguard the laws of the regime 969b1-969c4). The Nocturnal Council therefore should not be viewed as a refugee camp for philosophers who live in fear of the opinions of the polis and seek rational bliss apart the many; rather, the Nocturnal Council is the institution designed to protect the polis’ laws by the few who are capable of philosophical thought (969c1-4). Restricting entry into the Nocturnal Council is a recognition that the many are incapable of philosophical inquiry: there exists only a capable few who are able to practice philosophy from dusk to dawn (951d8-11). The Athenian Stranger’s decision to practice philosophy is a prudential decision that recognizes the inherent need in human nature which demands equality. As Aristotle, has diagnosed, the root cause of political revolutions is a mistaken notion of equality (or inequality); thus, the Nocturnal Council gathers together at night to practice philosophy to prevent the un-philosophical many from becoming envious of the philosophical few.[34]

It could seem that the Nocturnal Council could be nothing more than a safe-haven for the philosopher in the polis to practice a philosophy that is unconcerned about politics. This scenario seems unlikely due to the purpose of the Nocturnal Council (to safeguard the laws) and the requirement of ritual for old men, a prerequisite from which not even the philosopher can be exempted. Since the Nocturnal Council is composed both of young and elderly men to gather knowledge of the whole of reality which is accessible to philosophy, the particulars and the generals become known to the polis. Hence, philosophy is able to formulate laws and protect them since philosophers possess this philosophical knowledge of the whole. If the Nocturnal Council were an institution designated only for the practice of philosophy, then young men would not be required as members for their sharpest perceptions: the elderly philosopher could become enraptured in his thoughts about eternal things. The Athenian Stranger therefore requires the young in the Council to assist the elderly men in their search for knowledge because the young can see the particularities of reality better than the elderly; and the Athenian Stranger requires old men to partake in rituals to remind them of their civic obligation to the polis when they formulate general laws. The Nocturnal Council is the philosophical institution that seeks philosophical knowledge of the whole, both generalities and particularities, and to legislate laws as required by their obligation to the state.

The Reminder of Eros and Duty: Choral Rites and Holidays in the Polis

The purpose of the choral rituals that the Athenian Stranger outlines in Book Two is to habituate the people in moderation both in the body (dance) and in the soul (music) (673e3-8). Like the Puppet Myth, the nature of these choral rituals is to be playful, a civic reinforcement of the idea that man is merely a puppet of the god. By stressing play throughout the first two books, the Athenian Stranger would seem to be indicating that there is something about play that encourages man’s eros, the orientation of his soul towards something greater than his individual self. It would seem that play precludes any attempt to cultivate man’s thumos, the desire to make man and his reason the center of the cosmos; rather, play seems to cultivate man’s eros because man does not take himself seriously but as part of something else (i.e., the polis, the gods). The Athenian Stranger’s emphasis on play suggests, then, that logos by itself is not enough to access man’s eros. Although the study of the planetary motions of the cosmos (philosophy) invokes wonder in man (967b1-967d3), this sense of wonder can either be directed at oneself, as in the case of the atheist’s thumos, or be directed towards something outside of oneself, as in the case of the philosopher’s eros. The choral rituals required by both the young and old alike, therefore, not only accomplishes this feat of accessing man’s eros but directing it towards virtue instead of vice (653b2-653c5).

The citizens of the polis participate in these choral rites on holidays (“holy days”) in honor of the gods as authorized by the legislator (653c8-653d6).[35] Since the citizen’s education in virtue as corresponding with pleasure weakens over time, the legislator must continually reinforce this education through choral activity on holidays. This reinforcement would seem to apply to the philosophers, too, especially given the Athenian Stranger’s special arrangements to coax the elder citizens to partake in choral dances and songs (665d12-663c3). One would think that the elder citizens would not need to participate in choral ritual because the passions within them would have been more controllable as one ages (Republic 329a-e) and that some of the elders would be philosophers, as alluded to in the composition of the Nocturnal Council, and therefore they would be able to control their desires.

However, the Athenian Stranger’s ruse of drinking banquets to cajole the elder citizens to participate in choral rituals suggests that philosophy and age alone are not sufficient conditions to remain virtuous. And later, the Athenian Stranger refers to all human beings possessing a perpetual desire of motion within them that needs to be tamed and directed towards virtue, a need that would also include the philosophers (643d6-654a6; 653a6-653c5). If human nature seems to require more than philosophy to be virtuous, the participation in ritual would appear to fill this void for a proper human flourishing.

Since the philosopher is not able to escape the common urges of men–food, drink, and sex–these passions must be moderated in such a way to direct them towards virtue (782d11-783b2). The participation of ritual not only directs the citizen’s passions towards virtue but makes a connection between virtue and pleasure: the more a person acts virtuously, the more pleasure he or she feels. As the Athenian Stranger had argued earlier, the sensation of pleasure is malleable (653a6-653c5); therefore, the task of the legislator is to make a connection between pleasure and virtue so his citizens will want to act virtuously because it feels pleasurable. And though the philosophers may be at the pinnacle of the polis, they are still creatures of desires and these desires demand regulation and reinforcement. Thus, the philosopher’s education is not just the study of the cosmos and the gods but it is also the installation of moral habits through the practice of ritual.

Furthermore, the philosopher’s participation in ritual reinforces the idea that a citizen is dependent upon the gods for his or her polis’ fortune. The health of the polis, according to the Athenian Stranger, depends on the gods, not humans; consequently, the faith in human ability of reason to order the polis is discouraged since it is the gods who will set human things right in the polis. The celebrations of the holiday are nothing short than the city’s supplication to the gods, a supplication which requires not thumos but eros. Recognizing that he or she is merely part of a greater whole, the philosopher acknowledges the limitations of his or her reason to understand the whole of reality and his or her ability to order the polis towards virtue. This recognition of the limitations of reason, the ability to organize society on purely rational ground, is a lesson worthwhile for those liberals who accept the Kantian premise of human nature. It through his or her philosophy as circumscribed by his eros that the philosopher is able to participate in communion with the divine.

Finally, the practice of ritual compels the philosopher not only to acknowledge his or her dependence upon the gods but to the polis, too.[36] In their study of virtue and the proofs of the gods’ existence, the philosopher may become enraptured in his study of these immortal things and thereby neglect his or her duty to the polis. Of course, the purpose of the philosopher, as a member of the Nocturnal Council, is to safeguard the laws of the polis, not to carve out for him or herself a private place of apolitical rational bliss. The requirement of ritual therefore compels the philosopher to recognize his or her obligation to the polis, to remind him or him of his or her civic duty, and to reinforce the idea that he or she is merely part of a greater whole not only among divine things but among human things, too.

According to the Athenian Stranger, this habitual education takes place in the polis every day since there will be three hundred and sixty-five festivals (holiday) without interruption throughout the year (828a9-828b4). Each tribe will have its own festival, making a monthly sacrifice to the gods and holding a series of choral, musical, and gymnastic contests (828b9ff). The regulation of these contests and festivals is under the supervision of the education guardian who knows which athletics, songs, and other activities best correspond to virtue. Since pleasure seems to be malleable, it is able to attach itself either to virtue or vice, the regulation of the polis’ rituals and games is critical for the education of its citizens (653a6-653c5). Generally speaking, innovation in the polis’ education tends to lead to unlicensed freedom as in the case of Athens where everyone believes that they themselves are the best judge of everything, a state of thumos, instead of obeying those who possess superior judgement about education and virtue (700a3-701b3). Hence, the legislator should copy the Egyptian custom where the polis’ rituals and games were written down so the poets could not deviate from them and thereby cause disorder in the city 656d5-657a1).

Though the rigidity of the Athenian Stranger’s education system may not seem relevant or practical to a liberal society, the Athenian’s conception of ritual and holidays does offer a serious contribution to the intellectual debate between communitarians and liberals. As stated previously, unlike both liberals and communitarians, the Athenian Stranger assumes the regime exists for the sake of education; therefore, the state regulation of education is the fundamental issue for the polis. The mandatory practice of communal ritual is not seen as a threat against the defenseless individual because the Athenian equates rights with virtue: the purpose of the polis is to make citizens free (virtuous). Likewise, the practice of ritual is not for the sake of propping up the state, as the communitarians implicitly claim in their desire of a common civic culture; rather, the Athenian Stranger comprehends politics as the practice of education, not the other way around. It is unlikely, then, that the Athenian Strange could support liberal democracy in any form since the modern state does not exist for the sake of virtue but for life, liberty (thumos), and private property.[37]

Conclusion

Although the applicability of Plato’s inversion of virtue and liberty to western, liberal democracies may seem limited, if feasible at all, an investigation into political orders that are oriented towards a common good but are not by nature totalitarian can assist political theorists to evaluate our regime. The return to classical political philosophy and classical political thought is critical for communitarians to understand empirically what community meant in the West and how it functioned: the benefits reaped from a sense of community and the limitations imposed upon individual liberties. Though we should not forget the insights of the communitarians–it is not only the arrangements of institutions that will determine a regime’s success but also its culture–we should recognize the consequences of the political choices that communitarians then to obscure or wish to avoid (e.g., the cost of civil liberties).

Classical political philosophy, thus, helps clarify the communitarian’s critique of liberalism as well as provides an apparatus to critique communitarianism itself. By examining classical political philosophy and thought, like in  Plato’s Laws, we can see a privileging of politics over education both by the liberals and the communitarians alike; consequently, both parties could benefit from a re-thinking of their paradigms of politics and education. A return to classical political philosophy can not only assist scholars in their re-conceptualization of these political ideas but can also suggest a third way, if one is possible, between rights and community.

 

References

Aristotle. 1926. Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1926 Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1981 On the Soul. Translator. Hippocrates George Apostle. Grinnell, Iowa: Peripatetic Press.

Augustine. 1984. City of God. New York: Penguin Classics.

Burkert, Walter. 1979. Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cooper, Barry and P. Emberley, eds. 1993 Faith and Political Philosophy: the Strauss-Voegelin Correspondence. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Durkheim, Emile. 1995. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.

French, Alfred. 1964. The Growth of the Athenian Economy. London: Routledge & Paul Press.

Jefferson, Thomas. 1975. “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia.” In The Portable Jefferson. New York: Penguin Books.

            . 1984. “Letter to John Brazier.” In Thomas Jefferson: Writings. New York: Library of America.

Gluckman, Max. 1965. Essays on Ritual of Social Relations. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Kant, Immanuel. 1964. Groundwork of Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Harper and Row.

            . 1977. Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

            . 1987. Critique of Pure Reason. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press.

Kertzer, David. 1988. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Klein, Jacob. 1965. A Commentary on Plato’s Meno. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1974. The Complete Works. New York: Gordon Press.

Pangle, Thomas. 1976. “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws.” American Political Science Review. 70/4: 1059-1077.

            . 1980. “Interpretive Essay.” In Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Plato. 1917. Crito. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1921. Theaeteus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1925. Gorgias. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1925. Symposium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            .  1926. Cratylus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1926. Laws. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            .  1929. “Seventh Letter.” In Epistles. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb

Classical Library.

            . 1929. Timaeus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1977. Protagoras. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 1999. Phaedrus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

            . 2013. Republic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library.

Rahe, Paul. 1992. Republics: Ancient and Modern. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Strauss, Leo. 1952. Persecution and the Art of Writing. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

            . 1959. “What is Political Philosophy?” In What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

            . 1964. The City and the Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            . 1975. The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            . 1979. “The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy.” The Independent Journal of Philosophy. 3:111-118.

            . 1983. Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Vernant, Jean-Pierre. 1980. Myth and Society in Ancient Greece. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Voegelin, Eric. 1952. New Science of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            . 1978. Anamnesis. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

            . 1990. Order and History: Plato and Aristotle. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.

Werner, Jaeger. 1939. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. Volumes I-III. Oxford: University of Oxford Press.

 

 

Notes

[1] MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981); Sandel, Michael. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) and Liberalism and its critics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984); Walzer, Michael. Radical Principles (New York: Basic Books, 1980) and Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

[2] Downing, Lyle and Robert B. Thigpen. “Virtue and the Common Good in Liberal Theory,” Journal of Politics. 55/4 (1993): 1046-1059; Grant, Ruth W. “Locke’s Political Anthropology and Lockean Individualism,” Journal of Politics 50/1 (1988): 42-63; Kautz, Steven. Liberalism and Community (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995); Moore, Margaret. “Liberalism and the Ideal of the Good Life,” Review of Politics 53/4 (1991): 674-690; Sinopoli, Richard. “Liberalism and Contested Conceptions of the Good: The Limits of Neutrality,” Journal of Politics. 55/3 (1991): 644-663.

[3] Kautz, Liberalism and Community, 5.

[4] Strauss, Leo. “The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy” in The Independent Journal of Philosophy. 3 (1979): 111-118; and Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

[5] Plato. Laws (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Loeb Classical Library, 1926). All translations are my own and citations are in-text.

[6] Nietzche’s insights about the agon as the basis of tragedy can also be applied to the sophists’ conception of education. Though the students of the sophists learn the skills of rhetoric, these facilities were employed not towards philosophy but towards self-interested end. Consequently, the pupils of the sophist engaged in eristics, a type of agon which rejects the possibility that objective truth exists and can be recognized. Nietzsche, Friederich. The Complete Words. Oscar Levy, editor (New York: Gordon Press, 1974); also refer to chapter one of The Birth of Tragedy and chapter three of On the Future of Our Educational Institutions; for more about the agon in Hellenic society, refer to Homer and Classical Philology; to know more about the sophists’ influence on Athenian and Spartan education, refer to Werner, Jaeger. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. Translated by Gilbert Highet (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1939). Vol. I. as well as Plato’s Cratylus (385e-386a), Gorgias (481a-508c, 511b-526c), Protagoras (318d, 319a, 324a-b), Republic (336a-354c), Theaeteus (152a).

[7] Strauss’ remarks on the role of wine in the Book One of the Laws is especially helpful in showing that conversion about wine not only has a rejuvenating effect upon the interlocutors in their task to discover the best laws for Kleinias’ regime but also makes them more susceptible to notions that run counter to their Dorian prejudices. Strauss, Leo. The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 19-21.

[8] The classic example of education as subordinate to the political aims of the regime can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s writing on the University of Virginia where “among the benefits of education, the incalculable advantage of training up able counsellors to administer the affairs of our country in all its departments, legislative, executive and judiciary, and to bear their proper share in the councils of our national government; nothing more than education advancing the prosperity, the power, and the happiness of the nation.” Jefferson, Thomas. “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia” in The Portable Jefferson. Editor, Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Penguin Books, 1975), 337. Also refer to Jefferson, Thomas. “Letter to John Brazier” in Thomas Jefferson: Writings (New York: Library of America: 1984), 1425.

[9] Strauss, Leo. The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 18.

[10] Ibid.; Pangle, Thomas. “Interpretive Essay” in Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 400-1. Also refer to Strauss, Leo. The City and the Man (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 1964); Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); and Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952).

[11] The arguments about the political limitations of speech can be found in Strauss, The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws and Persecution and the Art of Writing; Pangle, Thomas. “Interpretive Essay” in Laws and “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws” in American Political Science Review. 70/4 (1976): 1059-1077.

[12] Refer to Voegelin, Eric. Anamnesis. Gerhart Niemeyer, trans. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978) and New Science of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952); also, refer to Plato’s Seventh Letter (341c-d).

[13] Seventh Letter. 341c-d.

[14] Thumos comprises 1) a response which serves desire, 2) a self-esteem for oneself as compared to all men, and 3) an assignment of responsibility to that which frustrates desire. Pangle, Thomas. “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws,” 1059-1077. Also refer to Plato’s Symposium (212a-212e).

[15] The inequality between the polis and the citizen is best expressed by Plato in the Crito (50a-54c). Also refer to Aristotle’s comments on the role of equality in friendship in Book Eight and Nine of the Ethics.

[16] The distinction between nature and convention arose out of the Athenian search for a new type of education (paideia) as she emerged as a center of Hellenic culture (Rahe, Paul. Republics: Ancient and Modern (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992)), 186-190. The sophist movement, best represented by Protagoras, sought to anchor education not in blood or in physical ability but in man’s ability to comprehend nature (reason). The result of this revolutionary pedagogical theory was a rift between Athenian religious convention and cultural practice (rational speculation) (Werner, Paideia, 285-328; also refer to Protagoras. 3129a). The ground of the sophists’ rational speculation was the human alone. Since a person cannot know about the gods’ existence, he or she must become the: measure of all things, “including educational excellence (Theaeteus. 152a; Cratylus. 385e-386a). Although the sophists resigned themselves to the insolubility of religious ritual, they nonetheless recognized that religion was somehow “intimately connected” with the “high ideal of culture” (Jager, Ibid.). The consequences of this schizophrenic position were for the sophist to relegate all traditional values as relative while, at the same time not to relegate his own epistemological position to the same criteria. The ultimate consequence of these tow contradictory positions was the inability of the sophists to uncover any permanent ground within man to construct a theory of paideia. The persistence of the varied religious practices among the numerous Hellenic poleis only reinforce this fact. A new search was required to locate a social and political foundation for the pedagogical theory paideia of rational thought – such was the task of Plato’s.

[17] Pangle, “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws,” 1066.

[18] Pangle’s distinction between the pre-Socratic science of nature (889b1-889b5) and the Socratic science of nature (892a2-892c8; 886d3-7) is a useful analytical tool to demonstrate how the Athenian Stranger integrates both conceptions of nature into a single paradigm. Pangle, “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws,” 1059-77; also refer to the Timaeus for a more detailed account of the Socratic science of nature.

[19] For a brief, alternative explanation why the Athenian Stranger invokes the aid of the gods at this point, refer to Pangle, “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws,” 1072-1073.

[20] Refer to Aristotle’s On the Soul (404b18ff.) for further clarification on this “geometrical” process.

[21] Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Norman Kemp Smith Translator (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1987), 426-429; The Ephesians (e.g., Anaxagoras) also taught that all things were always in motion, thereby rejecting the principle of a first cause (Theaeteus. 179c180e).

[22] Like Pangle, I also follow the major manuscripts with Burnet. Pangle, Thomas. “Interpretative Essay,” 534. Footnote 22 of Book Ten. Also refer to the Timaeus (34a-b; 90c-d) for a similar account of Plato’s metaphysics.

[23] Pangle, “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws,” 1075-1076.

[24] Also, refer to Socrates’ reference to saving tale in the myth of Er in the Republic (521c) as another example of Plato employing philosophical and extra-philosophical arguments in his dialogues.

[25] The Athenian Stranger’s description of the heavens and planets possessing souls seem to contradict his earlier statements where he argues that the sun and other stars come into being without souls (889b-889c). This previous account can be reconciled if we observed that the account of the stars not possessing souls is per the “presumably wise men” (888e8-889a2), who may be represented of the pre-Socratic science of nature. The Athenian Stranger’s argument that the heavenly bodies have souls should not be seen as a flat-out contradiction of the pre-Socratic science of nature; rather, it should be viewed as building upon the foundation that the “presumably wise men” have built. Voegelin’s theory of the differentiation of consciousness is especially useful here to analyze how, in this case, a reconciliation between the pre-Socratic science can occur without a dilution of truth. Voegelin, Eric. New Science of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952); Anamnesis. Gerhart Niemeyer, translator. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978); Order and History: Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1990).

[26] In fact, the metaphysical implications of the communitarian’s and the liberal’s common assumption of human nature could lead to a view of the cosmos that Kleinias had earlier suggested in Book One.

[27] Voegelin’s theory of differentiation of consciousness, again, is useful here to analyze how the discovery of reason requires rational instead of mythical clarification.

[28] Protagoras (318d; 319a); also refer to Werner, Paideia, 298-301.

[29] Theaeteus (152a); Cratylus (1926. 385e-386a).

[30] The question of the foundation of the polis; education (paideia) was the question during Socrates’ and Plato’s time: what type of education would lead to arête (human excellence in both mind and body as a unitary whole) since aristocratic training had become replaced with the sophistic endeavors in this new, democratic and commercial polis of Athens. Although the ideal of arête was still cherished among her citizens, Athens had not adjusted her educational system to the novel circumstances in which she found herself: Athens had become the preeminent trading center in Hellas, a capital of a great empire, and a democratic-bourgeoisie city-state. In short, the Athenian polis still relied upon the outmoded aristocratic system of paideia to educate its youth in service of the state, a pedagogical system that could no longer meet the demands of Athens as one of the leading poleis of Hellas. The problem of creating a new, deliberate education system for Athens, then, was not a problem for the state but a problem of the state (Werner, Paideia, 283-285; French, Alfred. The Growth of the Athenian Economy. London: Routledge & Paul Press, 1964).

However, the creation of a paideia aimed towards the aristocratic ideal of arête was hampered by the conditions within Athens herself: the polis’ accordance of full political rights to the citizens simply on the criteria of their status as free men, the insurance of payment for jury duty ad attendance to the assembly, and the filling of magistracies without respect to talent or virtue did not encourage the ethos of reverence, friendship, and shame of an earlier age. The unregulated life of Athens, a case of unmitigated freedom, soon dispensed the opinion that “everyone is wise in everything,” an opinion which could only lead to a state of shamelessness among the populace since nobody would be able to recognize or fear a superior’s “better opinion” about social, political, or cultural matters (Laws, 701a6-701b3). As Aristotle ascertained, this license to do “whatever one wants” ultimately is undesirable because “it is unable to guard against the paltriness that is in all human beings” (Politics, 1310a28-36). The political consequences of this unregulated life is the eventual repudiation of all parental, civil, and religious authority: the polis was now governed by the passions of the demos, resulting in such rash actions like the Sicilian expedition (Laws, 701b5-701c7). Athens eventually would fall into this state of shame by the time of the Peloponnesian War where piety towards the Homeric gods had lost much of its force, thereby opening the gap between the public and the private realm for the likes of the sophists and Socrates to fill (Rahe, Republics: Ancient and Modern, 194-195).

In spite of all these blemishes, democracy had proved to be the most advantageous to men like Socrates because it presented him the use of “free speech,” the opportunity to “organize his life privately in whatever way please him” and to examine the various types of citizens (e.g., democrats, tyrants, oligarchs) in a regime that permits undiscriminating taste (Republic. 557a-558a; 561a-d). In a state, which was portrayed by Socrates like the American Wild West, the democratic regime revealed the true nature of men’s souls as demonstrated by their various pursuits and discordant opinions; consequently, the democratic regime best enabled the philosopher to complete his task in his study of souls with their virtues, vices, and disposition (Crito. 51c-53a). But this study of manifold types of men’s souls did not affect the philosophers’ moral habituation and intellectual endeavors since democratic regimes provided an oasis to individuals who, in the words of the Athenian Stranger, are “alone without constraint are good by their nature (autophuos), by a divine dispensation (theia moira) are truly, and not at all artificially (outi plastos), good” (Laws, 642c9-462d4). The philosopher’s concerns as a citizen and as a philosopher per se would seem not, at times, one and the same: the conditions best suited for the philosopher might not be the best for the polis unless philosophers become kings or king’s philosophers (Republic, 473c-474a). This argument, as contended in this paper, is not entirely correct since political (ritual) duties required for the philosopher may actually benefit the philosopher qua philosopher. We must also keep in mind that this fabled prospect, philosophers as kings or kings as philosophers, is abandoned later by Plate when the Athenian Stranger condemns democracy. Since the democratic regime inevitably follows a course of atrophy in its reverence and fears towards its laws, thereby begetting excessive freedom and shamelessness, the polis would eventually collapse because the foundation of its friendship, i.e., its moral and cultural unity, will have been destroyed by the opinion “everyone is wise in everything” (Laws, 646e-649c; 698b-701e).

[31] Werner, Paideia, 305-328. Protagoras’ rejection of the ancestry causal theory of punishment in favor of the explanation of ignorance is a step forward in the rational endeavor to explain human actions and to establish a civic education on a rational foundation. However, Protagoras and the other sophists were never able to persuade the polis of Athens to institutionalize a civic for of education, much less able to systemize their own teachings in a coherent and complete pedagogical method. This gap between the sophists’ search for a rational foundation and the failure of the polis to implement that their ideas in its civic education can be accounted for by the practical orientation of the sophists’ pedagogical method: the absence of first principles (the theoretical science) in their teaching made it possible for someone like Callicles to despise knowledge for its own sake, thereby subordinating his sophistic techne to his political ambitions (Protagoras 324a-b).

[32] Since the proper ends of man cannot be known without an understanding of first principles, it is no wonder why an educated man like Callicles would mistake the good with the strong. Without a proper training to distinguish good and bad pleasures, i.e., between proper and improper ends, Callicles was not able to recognize that the theoretical science was the most important science of them all, i.e., knowledge for its own sake (Gorgias. 486d-522).

[33] Although Plato does not speak in his own voice in his dialogues, I contend that an understanding of the work as a whole speaks for him; consequently, I use the Athenian Stranger and Plato interchangeably. Also, refer to Klein, Jacob. A commentary on Plato’s Meno (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), 23-31; Strauss, The City and the Man, 50-60.

[34] Aristotle, Politics, Book V.

[35] The Athenian Stranger’s conception of ritual is compatible with modern understandings of ritual, though a person’s eros is not limited just to his community; rather, it can extend to the divine itself (something which modern scholars reject). Refer to Gluckman, Max. Essays on Ritual of Social Relations (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1965); Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (New York: Free Press, 1995); and Kertzer, David. Ritual, Politics, and Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988). For a structural account of Greek rituals, refer to Burkert, Walter. Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) and Vernant, Jean-Pierre. Myth and Society in Ancient Greece. Translator Janet Lloyd (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980)

[36] Crito 501-54c.

[37] Historically speaking, Athens was probably the closest realization of a polis that value civil liberties and maintained a sense of community. Although Athens in practice failed to completely subjugate the individual as part of the collective, she did create a paradoxical situation by granting liberties to citizens in certain spheres of their life while conserving rigidity in other areas to preserve a sense of community. On the one hand, citizens could make laws, examine the conduct of magistrates, and impeach and condemn generals to death while, on the other hand, citizens had to conform to the laws and customs of piety or face the consequences of ostracism. In this democracy of “excessive freedom,” the Athenian was free to engage in pursuits deemed by him as useful or profitable as long as he did not inspire public distrust since there were no effective institutional constraints to check the exercise of the popular will against the individual. In short, civic education was for the sake of the polis, not for the individual, though the individual did possess a certain amount of liberty in this regime if he were careful in his use of it (Rahe, Republics, 186-218).

Lee TrepanierLee Trepanier

Lee Trepanier

Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present).

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