Was Socrates An Anarchist?

By Robert Hanna

“Diogenes Sheltering in His Barrel,” by John William Waterhouse

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THINKING FOR A LIVING: A PHILOSOPHER’S NOTEBOOK (SECOND SERIES, INSTALLMENT 6)

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PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS IN THE SECOND SERIES

#4: Further implications of non-conceptualism: sometimes, hell is other species.

#3: Implications of non-conceptualism: the existential counterpunch.

#2: The incoherence of public philosophy, and what can be done about it.

#1: What is “the debate about non-conceptual content,” and why does it matter so damned much?

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hanna_thinking_for_a_living_omnibus_edition_may18-jan19Download

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THE FIRST SERIES

#18: A new argument against capital punishment.

#17: Fear, denial, and loathing in the philosophy of mind.

#16: The political aesthetics of outer space.

#15: The paradox of distributive social justice, and what is to be done?

#14: How a priori knowledge is really possible.

#13: Is a priori knowledge really possible? Yes; here’s proof.

#12: Is human free agency really possible? Yes; here’s how.

#11: What is democracy?

#10: Fear, loathing, and Pascal in Las Vegas: radical agnosticism.

#9: The philosophy of policing, crime, and punishment.

#8: The philosophy of borders, immigration, and refugees.

#7: The philosophy of old age.

#6: Faces, masks, personal identity, and Teshigahara.

#5: Processualism, organicism, and the two waves of the organicist revolution.

#4: Realistic idealism: ten theses about mind-dependence.

#3: Kant, universities, The Deep(er) State, and philosophy.

#2: When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster.

#1: Introductory; The rise and fall of Analytic philosophy; Cosmopolitanism and the real philosophy of the future; How to socialize the philosophy of mind.

***

And as any reader or student of the Socratic Dialogues also knows, in the Apology and the Crito Socrates explicitly accepts his legal death-sentence, refuses to escape what is clearly a profoundly unjust verdict, and then later, in the Phaedo, he allows himself to be executed by drinking hemlock, on the two grounds that

(i) that he’s a virtuous citizen of the city-State of Athens, and

(ii) that his trial and execution procedurally conform to legitimate judicial practices in the city-State of Athens, even when it’s governed by military dictators,

thereby apparently rationally vindicating philosophical and political Statism.

Furthermore, we do know from the Republic, Statesman, and Laws that Plato was undeniably a Statist, hence we think we know that Socrates was a Statist too.

But very few readers or students of the Socratic Dialogues, whether philosophers or non-philosophers, have critically considered the Euthyphro-argument, the Apology-argument, the Crito-argument, and the Phaedo’s account of Socrates’s death, as complementary proper parts of a single line of reasoning.

Moreover if they had done so, then they would have discovered that Socrates was in fact a philosophical and political anarchist, and not a philosophical and political Statist at all, sharply in contrast to Plato.

More specifically, here’s what I am claiming.

First, the Divine Command Ethics argument in the Euthyphro smoothly generalizes to a rationally compelling, logically sound defense of philosophical and political anarchism.

And second, assuming the soundness of the Euthyphro-argument, then the real-world drama, in the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, of Socrates’s explicit acceptance of his death-sentence, his refusal to escape, and his philosophical martyrdom, not only collectively constitute an ironic reductio ad absurdum of philosophical and political Statism, but also provide the original and also originary[i] act of non-violent social anarchist political rebellion.

Indeed, looked at this way, we can clearly see that Socrates’s apparent Statism on the one hand, and Diogenes’s notoriously anarchist injunction to “deface the currency” and his equally notoriously anarchist claim that he’s a “citizen of the cosmos,” hence that he refuses to become a citizen of any State, on the other hand, differ only rhetorically, and substantively come to the same thing philosophically and politically.

31. This line of thinking might not (and probably doesn’t) line up with widely-accepted scholarly claims about the relative dating and sequencing of the Dialogues, based on stylometric analysis, contemporary testimony, or whatever.

But actually that doesn’t matter for my purposes here, one way or the other, because my interest doesn’t lie in Plato’s actual intentions about the philosophical and dramatic content of the Euthyphro, the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo — since, presumably, Plato’s actual intention was to represent Socrates as a Statist.

Instead, my concern here lies exclusively in the philosophical and dramatic content of those dialogues, as such, in direct relation to one another, and also in direct relation to the manifestly real and thoroughly nonideal world of nature, rational humanity, and society.

So no matter what the actual relative dating and sequencing of Plato’s Dialogues might be, and no matter what Plato’s actual intentions were, nevertheless that twofold content as such and its application to the manifestly real world can still shine through.

Now the academic philosophers of Plato’s and Diogenes’s day were the members of Plato’s Academy; and the professional philosophers were the Sophists.

This is subtly different from our day, when most philosophers are professional academic philosophers: hence they are both contemporary sophists and also contemporary academicians.

And when you think about that compound fact — sophistry together with academician-hood — in relation to advanced capitalism, contemporary neoliberal nation-States, and what I’ve called the military-industrial-university-digital complex, this self-evidently provides a sufficient reason for being both against professional academic philosophy and also an anarcho-philosopher.

Correspondingly, Diogenes was neither a Sophist nor a member of Plato’s Academy — he was a Cynic and a proto-Stoic, and sharply critical of both kinds of (from his point of view) faux-philosophers — in particular, he was sharply critical of the Platonists’ interpretation of Socrates’s ideas and his philosophical legacy.

Therefore, my argument will also have the further pleasing feature that it vindicates Diogenes’s Socrates, not Plato’s Socrates.

OK: Are you shocked?; I hope so.

Now I’m going to explain further what I’m claiming, and also explicitly unpack my argument for it.

32. Here’s what I’ll call the Kant-Socrates argument for philosophical and political social anarchism.[ii]

(1) By political authority I mean the existence of a special group of people, aka government, with the power to coerce, and the right to command other people and to coerce them to obey those commands as a duty, no matter what the moral content of these commands might be.

(2) By coercion I mean

either (2.i) using violence (for example, injuring, torturing, or killing) or the threat of violence, in order to manipulate people according to certain purposes of the coercer (primary coercion),

or (2.ii) inflicting appreciable, salient harm (for example, imprisonment, termination of employment, large monetary penalties) or deploying the threat of appreciable, salient harm, even if these are not in themselves violent, in order to manipulate people according to certain purposes of the coercer (secondary coercion).

(3) By the State or any other State-like institution I mean any social organization that not only claims political authority, but also actually possesses the power to coerce (or as Weber puts it, actually possesses a putatively legitimate territorial monopoly on the means and use of coercion), in order to secure and sustain this authority.

(4) And by the specific problem of political authority I mean: “Is there an adequate rational justification for the existence of the State or any other State-like institution?”

(5) This problem applies directly to all kinds of political authority, States, and State-like institutions, from Mesopotamian potentates, Egyptian pharaohs, pre-Socratic tyrants, Athenian military dictatorships, caesars, kings, popes, and emperors, to constitutional monarchies, communist states, fascist states, religious fundamentalist states, capitalist liberal democracies, provincial or city governments, military organizations, business corporations, and universities — basically, any institution with its own army, navy, air-force, police-force, or armed security guards.

(6) The thesis of philosophical social anarchism says that there is no adequate rational justification for political authority, States, or any other State-like institutions; and the thesis of political social anarchism says that we should reject and exit all such States and State-like institutions, in order to create, belong to, and sustain a real-world, absolutely universal, cosmopolitan ethical community in a world in which there are no States or other State-like institutions, but instead only a world-wide network of constructive, authenticity-enabling, radically enlightened, true-human-needs satisfying, post-big capitalist, post-State, post-State-like institutions, aka the Kosmopolis.

(7) As Kant argued, all human persons, aka people, are

(7.i) absolutely non-denumerably infinitely, intrinsically, objectively valuable, beyond all possible economics, which means they have dignity,

(7.ii) autonomous rational animals, which means they can act freely for good reasons, and above all they are

(7.iii) morally obligated to respect each other and to be actively concerned for each other’s well-being and happiness, aka kindness, as well as their own well-being and happiness.

(8) Therefore it is rationally unjustified and immoral to undermine or violate people’s dignity, under any circumstances.

(9) If it is rationally unjustified and immoral for ordinary people to undermine or violate the dignity of other people by commanding them and coercing them to obey those commands as a duty, then it must also be rationally unjustified and immoral for governments to undermine or violate the dignity of people by commanding them and coercing them to obey those commands as a duty, no matter how those governments got into power.

(10) But all governments claim political authority in precisely this sense.

(11) Therefore, there is no adequate rational justification for political authority, States, or other State-like institutions, and philosophical social anarchism is true.

(12) It is well known since Plato’s Socratic dialogue, the Euthyphro, that what is called Divine Command Ethics is rationally unacceptable.

(13) Divine Command Ethics says that the gods’ or God’s commands are good and right, just because the gods or God say(s) that they are good and right, and the gods or God have the divine power to impose these commands on people, no matter what the moral content of these commands might be.

(14) But this means that the gods or God can command anything, including commands that undermine or violate of the dignity of people, which is rationally unjustified and immoral.

(15) So Divine Command Ethics is rationally unacceptable.

(16) Correspondingly, Statist Command Ethics says that governments’ commands are good and right, just because governments say that they are good and right, and they have the coercive power to impose these commands on people, no matter what the moral content of these commands might be.

(17) In other words, governments play exactly the same functional and logical role in Statist Command Ethics as the gods or God do in Divine Command Ethics.

(18) So, just as in Divine Command Ethics, the gods or God can command anything, including commands that undermine or violate of the dignity of people, so too in Statist Command Ethics, governments can command anything, including commands that undermine or violate the dignity of people.

(19) Therefore, as Kant and Socrates teach us, Statist Command Ethics is just as rationally unacceptable as Divine Command Ethics, and again, philosophical social anarchism is true.

(20) Since the time of the Mesopotamian potentates, Egyptian pharaohs, and pre-Socratic tyrants, humanly-created States and other State-like institutions have explicitly claimed to possess political authority, and then have proceeded to use the power to coerce, especially the power of primary coercion, frequently of the most awful, cruel, and monstrous kinds, thereby repressing, detaining, imprisoning, enslaving, torturing, starving, maiming, or killing literally billions of people, in order to secure their acceptance of these authoritarian claims.

Even allowing for all the other moral and natural evils that afflict humankind, it seems very likely that there has never been a single greater cause of evil, misery, suffering, and death in the history of the world than the coercive force of States and other State-like institutions.

(21) Now imagine a world without States or other State-like institutions, in which all the members of humanity freely form various dignity-respecting sub-communities built on kindness, mutual aid, the satisfaction of true human needs, personal radical enlightenment, and the pursuit of authenticity, and then freely link them all together in a worldwide network of partially overlapping sub-communities, aka the Kosmopolis.

Isn’t that an infinitely better world than the world of States and any other State-like institutions?

To make this moral intuition fully vivid, simply listen to John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

(22) Jesus preached the ethical gospel of universal human love.

Yet he also reportedly said:

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.[iii]

By a crucially important contrast, political social anarchism says:

(i) If Caesar and God can command things that undermine or violate human dignity, then why should we render anything unto them?

(ii) Therefore, forget Caesar and God!, and instead render unto humanity all and only the things that respect human dignity.

But is it not obvious that this is the ethical gospel of universal human love?

So, leaving aside Jesus’s mistakes about rendering unto Caesar and God, Jesus was implicitly a cosmopolitan social anarchist.

(23) Therefore we should reject and exit the State and all other State-like institutions, in order to create, belong to, and sustain a real-world, absolutely universal, cosmopolitan ethical community in a world without any States or State-like institutions, but instead only a world-wide network of constructive, authenticity-enabling, radically enlightened, true-human-needs satisfying, post-big capitalist, post-State, post-State-like institutions, aka the Kosmopolis.

33. Assuming the soundness of the argument I’ve just laid out, it’s self-evident that Socrates could not consistently have been a Statist, given his devastating critique of Divine Command Ethics: so in fact, assuming he was a consistent reasoner, he must have been committed to philosophical anarchism, at the very least.

Then, further assuming that in the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo Socrates is still arguing consistently with his views in the Euthyphro, how should we interpret the compound fact that in the Apology and the Crito Socrates explicitly accepts his legal death-sentence, refuses to escape what is clearly a profoundly unjust verdict, and then later, in the Phaedo, allows himself to be executed by drinking hemlock, on the two grounds that

(i) that he’s a virtuous citizen of the city-State of Athens, and

(ii) that his trial and execution procedurally conform to legitimate judicial practices in the city-State of Athens, even when it’s governed by military dictators,

thereby apparently rationally vindicating philosophical and political Statism?

The blindingly obvious answer is that he’s only apparently rationally vindicating philosophical and political Statism, but in reality, his official argument is intended to be an ironic reductio ad absurdum of Statism, given what he’d argued in the Euthyphro.

Then, just like the later figure Jesus, who was fully prepared to become “the word (i.e., in Greek, logos, also meaning reason) made flesh,” and a real-world martyr, where the relevant logoi are “universal human love,”and die on the cross in order to expiate the individual and Statist sins of humanity, so Socrates too, even earlier, was fully prepared to become the logos made flesh, and a real-world martyr, where the relevant logoi are “social anarchism,” and drink the hemlock as an ironic reductio of Statism and as the original and originary act of non-violent social anarchist political rebellion.

Diogenes was ultimately kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery, and thus became the logos made flesh too, and a real-world martyr, where the relevant logos is “anarcho-philosophy.”

And Imagine-era John Lennon was assassinated, and thus also became the logos made flesh, and a real-world martyr, where the relevant logoi are “gun abolitionism.”

Martin Luther King Jr most certainly also belongs to this list of social anarchist martyrs–but I’ll leave it to the reader to fill in the missing further details and the relevant logoi.

34. So, in conclusion, we find Socrates, Diogenes, Jesus, Imagine-era John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr, and Kant, all thinking the same basic thoughts about social anarchism, five of them real-world martyrs for the sake of rational humanity, and the other one the world’s preeminent philosophical theorist of the nature of rational human animals: how good and right can it get?

Socrates the anarchist

NOTES

[ii] For two slightly different versions of the same basic argument, see also R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (aka THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), PREVIEW, sections 2.4 and 2.5.

[iii] King James Bible (Matthew 22: 20–22).

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 255

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