If you’ve read the Apology of Socrates (by Plato), then you probably have the same reverence for Socrates that I always had, until I read “The Trial of Socrates” by I. F. Stone. This astonishing work reversed everything I had ever imagined about ancient Athens.
And if you put it up to me now whether Socrates should drink the hemlock, I’m very, very close to saying, “Chug-a-lug, pal!”
Socrates was an enemy of democracy. At one time his disciples took over the city, with the help of the Spartans, Athens’ ancient enemy, and murdered more than 1,500 citizens. In many ways, Socrates was like the blind sheik, who was convicted under US law for inciting others to commit acts of violence.
Socrates was a great admirer of Sparta, which is ironic because Sparta did not allow philosophers. He would have been killed there. Sparta had a type of democracy that Bill O’Reilly would really like: The question is put to the assembly with no debate. And there’s no counting votes. The loudest shouting wins.
The most telling criticism of Socrates, my former hero, is that he wanted to censor the works of Homer. Socrates admired Agamemnon, and believed the bad things Achilles said about him should be expunged, somehow, from this national Greek epic that everyone already knew by heart, which the Roman emperor Caligula also knew by heart four centuries later.
Censor Homer? This guy has got to be a butthead. I intend to publish one or more blog entires about why Agamemnon was the ultimate butthead, from the slaughter of his daughter to the greed he showed, the indifference to the suffering of his soldiers. And this was the guy Socrates most admired!
At one point one of Socrates’ disciples asks him if a ruler should be allowed to kill someone for telling him the truth, and Socrates goes into one of his long song and dance routines. But one thing he definitely does not say is, “No.”
Then I went to the showing of this film, “War Made Easy,” based on the book by Norman Solomon, and I learned that I. F. Stone was the only American journalist to question the veracity of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which authorized US military action in Vietnam. All the rest were led along like sheep.
And that’s a big pain in the ass because now I have to go read everything this guy wrote. Well I guess you pick your problems.