From Plato's Republic:

And above all, I said, and as the result of all, see how sensitive the citizens become; they chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority, and at length, as you know, they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.

Yes, he said, I know it too well.

Such, my friend, I said, is the fair and glorious beginning out of which springs tyranny.


Insignificant Wrangler said...

Responds the rhetorical philosopher:
If stated in enough detail, all these institutions and practices should be seen as together manufacturing, and even inventing, the idea of a sovereign individual who becomes, through them and by virtue of them, the ultimate source of authority. The American version of these practices has, from the earliest days of the republic, made individuality autochthonous while suppressing to the point of disappearance the manifold ways that individuality is beholden to a complex and uniquely modern form of life.

Of course, if you are a libertarian or even a certain kind of liberal, you will object that these practices do not manufacture anything; they simply give individuality its due. The issue here is a central one in modern philosophy: is individual autonomy an irreducible metaphysical given or a social creation?
Sophist that I am, I'll stick with the social.

Of course, there is no unified Tea Party right now. What began as a neo-libertarian movement morphed into a multi-headed hydra. This does not mean the movements do not warrant attention and respect.

I have to say I am pretty much with Bernstein here. I think many of those heads (not all) are voicing a general outrage at the crumbling of the empire. That is a dangerous cry.

Whenever I hear someone dismiss the Tea Party (or Sarah Palin, for that matter) as "crazy" I like to point them to Burke's 1932 piece "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle." Way before knowledge of the Nazi atrocities, Burke warned of something seductive and dangerous in their call to national unity. Ironically, there is something similar, I fear, in the Tea Party call to freedom. Socrates and I would likely differ on whether there can be unwritten laws.

Like Burke, I would simply say that, given its increase in numbers and noise (and contemporary rhetoric's increased interest in the economics of attention), this is not something to simply dismiss as "crazy." That would replicate an ancient [Socratic-Platonic] distrust in the pathetic. Rather, let's recognize that emotion and investment as a signal of unrest.

Its better than apathy?

pure_sophist_monster said...

I am confused here. This quote from Plato's Republic seems to work against the previous post on the Tea Party. Can you speak more to the relationship between these two most recent posts?

Casey said...

Ugh, SophistMonster: you're right! I don't like authority. I downright despise the consensus academic view that individualism is a myth, and academia's preference for the term "subject" over "citizen," and so on... but I also think Plato is right that Oligarchy leads to Democracy, which itself turns into tyranny. So... very well then, I contradict myself! I am large, I contain multitudes!

Wrangler: why does a sophist believe that everything is a social construct? Because others are saying so? How genial of him. What if others said that everything was individualistic?

But more importantly, Wrangler: how is the multi-headed hydra calling for individuality anything like Hitler's bands who were calling for national unity? Isn't it more likely that Obama's bands who were calling for national unity are a closer corollary?

Has nobody watched the Road to Serfdom cartoon?:

If the next Republican elected is a "strong man" tyrant, I won't be surprised... but neither will I blame Republicans; only failed "eutopian" (to coin a swell term) planning could lay the foundation for electing a tyrant.

No! No! I promised myself to be done with all of this "politics" blather! Nooooooooo!

Casey said...


pure_sophist_monster said...

"So... very well then, I contradict myself! I am large, I contain multitudes!"

You did it again. This is precisely why individualism is problematic. Even individuals are not individuals - they are multitudes!

Casey said...

What's problematic about that?!

But seriously, Wrangler: why do sophists have to take the social?--how is sleeping by the pool, as I did today, social or rhetorical? How is jogging in the woods? It seems to me, has always seemed, that there's no need to reduce "being" by calling it exclusively a social phenomenon. I'll grant that my identity is in part contingent on recognition from the other, so meet me halfway and admit that there are some moments where being is, and is alone.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Wrangler: why does a sophist believe that everything is a social construct? Because others are saying so? How genial of him. What if others said that everything was individualistic?

To the second question: depends on the sophist. Both Gorgias and Socrates were considered sophists by Aristophanes. And remember that Socrates wants you to believe he was killed for a bogus charge of stirring up the youth. History suggests he was killed because two of his students went on to lead an aristocratic-tyranny colloquially referred to as the Tyranny of the 30.

To the first question: history shows there's been a few attempts to discern a transcendental Truth. Generally attempts to articulate a meta-human truth don't end well.

Burke's endorsement of democracy is based upon the fact that its overwhelmingly inefficient. All that chatter makes it hard to get anything done. Beware anyone who wants to stifle the noise.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Being is.

But you are not Being. Nor can you have direct access to it.

The thing that mediates the relation / intuition of Being belongs to the other.

Requiring the other (acknowledging) is the price of all manifestation.

Casey said...

How do you know what I am or am not, Wrangler?

As Jesus says to the disciples in the Gospel of Thomas, "Compare me to something and tell me what I am like..."

Either you don't know what I am, or I don't know what you mean by "Being."

Casey said...

Also, I want a source on that thirty-tyrants and Socrates alliance. You say "History suggests," but a quick search of Wikipedia disagrees... which history?

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Bruce McComiskey discusses Socrates' relationship to his students in Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric. There's also a brief discussion of it here. Critias. the leader of the 30, was Socrates's student (although the two didn't always see eye to eye). It is generally held that Critias's influence kept Socrates alive during the tyranny's reign. After they lost power, the people of Athens identified Socrates as anti-democracy and as an aristocratic sympathizer. We know how Plato tells us the story ends.

Of course, its almost impossible for us to reconstruct the actual Socrates's political leanings. But if Plato indicates how his students turn out, we can see there's a pretty strong link between a belief in non-human transcendental truth and the authoritative will of fascism. The republic is pretty much a blue print for establishing aristocratic totalitarianism.

To the idea of Being and the social.

Look at your examples "running in the woods"; "sitting in by the pool." Even if you were alone, these things are social--in that your experience of them takes place against the backdrop of the world (Heidegger would say), or the people in it (to turn to Levinas).

How we come to understand a pool, its function, its possibility for relaxation, is caught up in others. Even if you go on a run to get away from it all, the experience of getting away from it all is embedded in a life in which one must get away.

Emerson, I believe, realized this. Hence "Circles": "there are no fixtures in nature. Permanence is but a word of degrees." Rather, the connections between individual, idea, and world. And literature only moves us to a new field from which new fixtures will grow. But there is no outside the circle.

And it is in Circles that Emerson, perhaps, provides a definition of the Being that I (even the transcendent "eye" of his earlier writings) can never "see" (capture, master):

Yet this incessant movement and progression which all things partake could never become sensible to us but by contrast to some principle of fixture or stability in the soul. Whilst the eternal generation of circles proceeds, the eternal generator abides. That central life is somewhat superior to creation, superior to knowledge and thought, and contains all its circles. For ever it labors to create a life and thought as large and excellent as itself; but in vain; for that which is made instructs how to make a better.

Mere mortals, caught up in the play of Being.

Casey said...

So the concept of "pool" is constructed socially, and that's in my head while I lie by the pool?--but what if it's not? What if I cease conceptualizing?

Meditation is probably the best example, right? -- you might say that "meditation" is a social construct, with its own traditions and structures, etc. -- but that's not what. meditation. is.. That would be like confusing the rules of baseball with baseball itself.

But okay, I guess now I'm not going to push too hard... that was a pretty good reply!