Polemarchus the Republican

Socrates: What, and to whom, does that craft give which we would call justice?

Polemarchus: It must follow from what was said before, Socrates, that is is that which benefits friends and harms one’s enemies.

The above quote is from Plato’s Republic, and if you asked me to provide a better summary of what I felt the Republican Party’s view of good government was, I would be unable.  They rail against big government, until it can be turned to support them, by outlawing gay marriage and telling people whom they can and cannot marry, by keeping marijuana illegal, by mandating that students learn about the second amendment in school, and by outlawing abortion.  Yet they think that owning land is too much for the federal government. 

They decry government spending, until they and their friends are the recipients, in the form of farm subsidies for themselves and their families, profits for their supporters, increased business for their and their spouse’s investments, and enormous contracts for their former companies.  Yet they claim that food stamps are too great a cost to be supported.

Ensuring that citizens have adequate health care and education are evidently beyond the scope of government, but when it comes time to ensure undocumented immigrants get deported, why, there’s a cause they can get behind!

This is an old idea of government and justice: that the tools of the state should be in the service of private men for private vendettas.  Far more fair, just, and beneficial, is that idea that the state should be above everything personal.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is when Fabius Maximus Cunctator, defender of Rome, former consul and dictator, and one of the most distinguished Romans of the republic, rode his horse past his son, who was now consul.  His son ordered him to alight from his horse, as no one should ride past the consul.  The crowd glared at the younger Fabius, who so greatly disrespected both his father and a war hero, but the Delayer leaped from his horse and embraced his son for his civic duty.  “My son,” he said, “you are right in thought and act. You understand what a people has made you its officer, and what a high office you have received from them. It was in this spirit that our fathers and we ourselves have exalted Rome, a spirit which makes parents and children ever secondary to our country’s good.”

Hopefully, the Republican Party will reach the Third Century BCE some day, but I’m not holding my breath until then.

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2 Responses to Polemarchus the Republican

  1. kaushik55 says:

    Strange ! Democracies everywhere struggle to uphold the spirit of democracy! In India, another big democracy like the US, we have similar problems. The specific issues may be different but the broad conflict is the same: the Government wants to over-govern areas which are basically in the domain of individual freedoms, while individual politicians want to convert every public issue to their private advantage. From Ancient Greece to present times human nature has not changed much, has it?
    Who was Polemarchus, who gave this cynical definition of Justice? I am sure Socrates would not have agreed with him?


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