Socrates the Privateer and Socrates the Philosopher King

Decentralized Socrates (Part 7)

Socrates Looking in a Mirror, 17th century, Bernard Vaillant, Dutch
Socrates Looking in a Mirror, 17th century, Bernard Vaillant, Dutch

Previous post.

For Plato, the ideal philosopher-king was indeed Socrates himself. This is because he was the one who ruled the body with the soul the most. Therefore, if necessary, he could go to the place of death voluntarily, restrain the body, which is the “ masses” (the will of the people) for the soul, and do just the things he thought were right (meaningless suicide).

Socrates himself, however, rejected politics as a public office, as I wrote in Part 5. He wanted to be free from interest. Moreover, political activity through the method of dialogue was not about domination but the mutual openness and equality of the interlocutors.

It is unclear whether Socrates had perfected the “domination of the body by the soul” or not. According to “The Origin of Philosophy,” Socrates did not want “domination and subordination” in any form, whether it is the domination of the body by the soul, the domination of the people by a tyrant, or the domination of the body, technology, and the field by intellectual labor.

At the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche begins to argue for a signification of “the soul's domination by the body,” which, again, Socrates would not want. For it is simply a reversal of the ruler from “soul” to “body.”

Plato’s philosopher-king is still ruling, no matter how much it is “rule by a man who does not want to be a ruler. The “Socrates as philosopher-king” is not the same as the “Socrates himself as a private citizen.” The former is the ruler; the latter is the one who tries to eliminate the rule. Thus, if Plato asked the resurrected Socrates to become a tyrant, he should refuse.

With this, Karatani interprets the “Platonic philosopher-king” as a skeleton of the “Socratic method of dialogue.” Even a tyrant with goodwill is still, in the end, a system of rulers and subjects. It is no different from the state tyranny that trades protection for taxes (which was considered “Exchange Form B”). There is no freedom and equality (“Exchange Form D”). In other words, in Karatani’s interpretation, Plato’s philosopher-king is a kind of parody and alienation state that betrays the intentions of Socrates’ method of dialogue. The mirror image is not the person himself, no matter how much it resembles him.

There is a history of dictators who emerged one after another in communist countries, all of whom self-identified as “ideal human beings without selfishness” and forced others to believe so as well. The distance between Socrates the Privateer and Socrates the Philosopher is significant. Socrates, the philosopher-king, advertises himself as an ascetic philosopher-king and orders massacres behind a mask. It is, in a sense, a consequence of Plato’s thought. The slight difference between Socrates’ method of dialogue and Plato’s philosopher-king, which is seemingly an ancient issue, and the difference between the mirror image and the person himself, is an issue that is directly relevant to our time.

The question, however, is whether Socrates’ method of dialogue, as a “one-man political system,” or the body that is not a mirror image, will work?

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