Chapter Five: Socrates and the Republic
The transition from natural law societies to sovereign law societies began on Earth about 4004 BC.
Almost certainly, the change started with a single group.
For some reason, the people started to reject the principles their ancestors accepted about the role of the human race in existence. Their ancestors had started with the belief that the world is our home, but it does not belong to us. Basically, they thought that we are guests on this world, at the mercy of nature and the things nature provides for us. Guests have a kind of obligation to their hosts to treat their host’s property with consideration and respect.
The new group started to accept a different belief system. They thought that at least one part of the world (the part they claimed as ‘theirs’) existed only for their benefit and pleasure. They thought they had the right to treat that part of the world any way they wanted, to exploit it, to rape it of its wealth, to build or destroy anything on it, and even to alter nature on that part of the world.
Beliefs are internal things. They don’t directly determine any important realities of existence. However, people organize their existence around their beliefs. They create rules and laws that compel people to act in certain ways; they generally make these rules and laws conform to whatever they believe. The people with different beliefs about the role of humans in existence created different laws and rules. People who had once been required (under rules made by believers in natural laws) to treat the world with respect and care now found that they had to help the ‘owners’ rape the land in order to get the wealth (money or whatever was used to pay them) they needed to support their families. The rules of existence changed.
The rules of the new group that accepted land could be chattel allowed people to do things that made they very wealthy if they could figure out new and better ways to do certain things. The new societies depend on force (using force to make people accept the rules) to work, so people who could figure out new and better ways to apply force, to inflict pain or death on people who stood in their way, could get very rich if they could find better tools and tactics of force. People reacted to these realities and developed new and better tools and tactics to use force to accomplish the goals of the people who ran these societies and owned property in them.
As a result, the new societies—the type built on laws that protected the sovereignty of certain people over land—had truly fantastic advantages in military conflicts over the natural law societies that still covered the entire rest of the world.
Once one group had a sovereign law society, its members could gain by conquering additional land to either add to its ‘nation’ or to form new ‘nations’ built on the same beliefs and laws.
Once created, the new society became almost like a Frankenstein’s monster, beyond the control of the people who initially created. I feel pretty certain that if the first group who came up with this system (whether it was the Abram that the Christian/Moslem/Judaism holy books claimed did this, to be renamed ‘Abraham’ by God, after God granted him the ownership of ‘everything he saw’ in all directions, or someone else) would not have done what they did if they had known how it would turn out. But once the deed was done, they were out of the picture. The new society they had created had new realities.
We can get a pretty good idea about the realities of the ‘first phase of expansion’ of sovereign law societies by what happened in the much more recent ‘second phase in the expansion’ of sovereign law societies. In 1492, people in sovereign law societies found that their system only had a presence in one continent (the Afro-Eurasian super continent). We have Columbus’ logs and we know for a fact that he began the conquest the very same day he encountered these people. The expansion occurred at a lighting pace and, by 1890, the entire ‘rest of the world’ (all continents and islands other than Afro-Eurasia and surrounding islands) had been taken over and their societies transformed.
Perhaps it took longer in Afro-Eurasia, but it could not have taken much longer. The very first artifacts we find of the new modes of existence begin very close to the often-stated ‘beginning of history’ at 4004 BC. By the time of the oldest surviving human records we have (which go back to about the time of Socrates, as we will see), virtually all of Afro-Eurasia had the new type of society. (The exception was ‘Darkest Africa,’ an area with disease that killed all outsiders trying to enter this part of the world until new medicines were brought over from America in the 1500s.)
The expanding nations would have taken the easy-to-take land first. People with natural law societies have significant disadvantages in war (see sidebar for more information) so it would have been far easier to ‘take’ their land than to take land under the control of other nations. The nations would have ‘taken’ this land until all of it was ‘taken.’
Once they had control of all the land in certain areas, the different ‘nations’ would have borders that coincided with the borders of other nations. Once the intervening land was under the control of one or another nation, nations could only ‘take’ additional land if they could attack and defeat one of the other ‘nations.’ Although all of the nations had different military capabilities, they all had inherently superior military capabilities to those of natural law societies. (See sidebar for more information.) As a result, nations had a much more difficult time conquering land from other nations than from people with natural law societies.
The wars between various nations would be entirely different than the conflicts between the armies of sovereign law societies and the people of natural law societies:
When nations fought, both sides would have full-time armies. The soldiers of both armies would be bound to follow any orders they were given—even orders to commit atrocities they personally found morally offensive—knowing that they could be executed for failure to follow the orders. Both sides would have weapons manufacturing facilities. Both sides would have researchers to find new and better weapons and intelligence services to determine the technologies being used by prospective opponents. Both sides would have military academies and other facilities that would research tactics and teach the officers about which methods of warfare, propaganda, and genocide are most effective.
Pressure for Technological Progress
The people who make military decisions in nations know that they have to keep up with military technologies that might be available to potential opponents to avoid being defeated in wars. If they can gain advantages themselves, without these advantages spreading to potential opponents, they can quickly and easily defeat other nations (or turn them into virtual ‘puppet states,’ under the control of the more powerful nations) and gain all of the advantages that come from control of enormous portions of the wealth and productive resources of the planet Earth. They have incredibly powerful incentives to work to develop new and better military technologies.
The next period in the history of the world involved massive expansions in technology, with incredible advances in technologies that may grant military advantages to the nations and soldiers of the Afro-Eurasian world.
The Bronze Age
The rocks we see all around us have very large amounts of metals in them; they are about 13% metals. (The great bulk of the rest is ‘silica’ or silicon dioxide.) Unfortunately for people who may want to use these metals, they are almost always bonded with oxygen. As long as the metals are bonded with oxygen, they don’t even look like metals. For example, copper oxides are found in nature as blue streaks in rocks and tin oxides are found as dark blue to black crystals.
It is possible to separate the metals from the oxygen and silicon dioxide using heat and smoke in a process called (Both heat and smoke are necessary to remove the metals; the ‘sm’ of the word ‘smelting’ refers to the smoke and the ‘melt’ refers to the effects of heat). Once people know how to ‘smelt’ metals, they can remove them from ordinary rocks and use them as pure metals. Some of these metals are extremely useful for weapons. Bronze, for example, is a very hard alloy made of copper and tin. Metal workers can turn bronze into extremely dangers and effective weapons, including knives, swords, pikes, and other cutting tools that can slice off arms or heads with single strokes.
Long before the first sovereign law societies came to exist, people knew how to remove metals from rocks. (See sidebar for more information.) Historians have found examples of tin and lead that go back to 8,500 years, and smelted copper artifacts that go back at least 7,500 years ( to source). These are probably not the earliest smelted metals ever made, of course, they are just the oldest ones we have found so far. We know that people were smelting metals out of rocks at least 2,000 years before the first evidence of sovereign law societies appears. These early metal smiths appeared to lack either the desire or knowledge about how to make weapons out of their metals.
As soon as people had societies that naturally rewarded acts related to large-scale warfare, people began making weapons out of metals.
There are three metals that are easy to smelt:
These metals melt at such low temperatures they can be smelted in naturally aspirated wood fires. (‘Naturally aspirated’ means that these fires are open fires that get oxygen from the atmosphere. Other metals all require special furnaces that are designed to force very large amounts of oxygen through large amounts of fuel with mechanical devices, to create the necessary heat and smoke.)
Unfortunately, all three of these easy-to-smelt metals are very soft. None of them are particularly useful by themselves for weapons. When people started looking for ways to make better weapons, they started mixing these three easy-to-smelt metals together to see what they would get. They found that if they melted all three metals, then mixed them all together, then let the mixture cool and harden, the resulting mixture (called an ‘’) would be significantly harder than the pure metals by themselves. Weapons researchers kept trying various different mixtures until they got the hardest possible alloys of these three ‘easy to smelt’ metals. This mixture is 88% copper, 7%: tin, and 5% lead. The alloy of these metals in this ratio is called ‘bronze.’ You can easily make bronze if you have the starting metals, even in a homemade backyard furnace. (Here is a to a Youtube.com video that shows a man making bronze in a homemade backyard furnace.) Bronze is much, much, harder than any of the three starting metals. In fact, it is far harder than any other metal the people of the time had available to them. It makes excellent weapons.
Armies with bronze daggers, battleaxes, swords, halyards, and pikes, and bronze armor plating to protect them from their enemies could easily defeat groups of people who were armed weapons made out of sticks and rocks and armor made of leather. If you run a nation and your enemies attack with bronze weapons, but you only have weapons made of sticks and rocks, you will almost certainly be defeated. Once weapons makers figured out how to make bronze on the Afro-Eurasian continent, the technology spread extremely rapidly. Some rulers found out about the technology and brought it back to their nations, allowing them to conquer their neighbors who didn’t yet have bronze. Other rulers did not get the technology and were conquered by armies that did have bronze. As a result, the use of bronze spread with such incredible speed that it is not possible to trace the place where the technology first came into use at this time. Bronze became the tool of choice for war and the Eurasian continent entered what historians call the ‘bronze age.’ We don’t have the exact date this age began but oldest bronze weapon that has been definitively dated goes back to 2185 BC:
For more than 4,000 years, a man lay buried in a corner of a field in the English county of Sussex, far from the land of his childhood, holding a rare and precious object that was literally a piece of cutting-edge technology. Then for another 23 years he lay in a museum store until a chance conversation between two archaeologists led to the unraveling of his story.
The man died of a sword wound and was buried holding his dagger – a weapon the archaeologists say is the oldest bronze object ever found in Europe. He was buried lying on his left side, with his hands clasping the dagger in front of his face. The dagger is an exceptionally rare type: the wooden hilt, long since rotted away, was ornamented with tiny studs, each a little masterpiece of ancient metal work which when new would have gleamed like gold.
Its owner was a fighter. The unhealed sword slash near his elbow probably caused him to bleed to death, and the soil clinging to the bone proves that it was a raw gaping wound when he was buried. He also had another old sword injury near the shoulder, and the blade of his beautiful dagger had been sharpened, proving it was no mere ceremonial object.
The results of scientific tests on his bones and teeth, just announced at a museum in Chichester where his remains are now on display, dated his dagger to 4,200 years ago, the earliest securely dated bronze object ever found in Britain.
It was made at the dawn of bronze-working techniques, when metalsmiths in Britain learned from the continent how to alloy their copper with tin and make a harder and more beautiful metal. Within a few decades bronze had almost wiped out copper work, used for ornaments and weapons that could be sharpened to a murderous edge. ( to source.)
Once militaries gained access to bronze, they stopped using weapons made of lesser materials almost immediately. Technology gives armies advantages in war and, 4,200 years ago, ‘technology’ meant bronze weapons. Most likely, the use of bronze spread by conquest, as armies with bronze weapons were able to defeat armies without bronze tools. Once they had gained control of the additional land, they could create new refineries, forges, and foundries in these new areas, and use the resources of these new areas to create additional bronze weapons.
The Iron Age
Iron is much, much, harder to remove from rocks than copper, tin, or lead; after iron has been removed from rocks, it is much, much harder to turn into weapons than the other metals. However, steel is much, much harder and stronger than bronze and makes far superior weapons. Military leaders must have felt incredible pressure to make even better weapons, because they began to make steel weapons only a few centuries after the Bronze Age began.
Steel is incredibly hard and can hold a very sharp edge for very long periods of time. Almost all weapons built today, are made out of steel. For practical purposes, no one has found a superior raw material for weapons, even to this day.
Unfortunately for military leaders who want steel weapons, steel making is an incredibly complex project requiring a very large number of people with different skill sets (some of which require many years to acquire) and highly specialized equipment to come together in one place. This reality of steel making—and the absolute military necessity to have this material if enemies have it—forced the decision makers in society to create certain societal structures that hadn’t existed before, namely ‘cities.’
To understand why, it helps if you understand a little about what it takes to make steel:
The first step starts with iron oxide (also called ‘iron ore’). Iron ore is pretty much everywhere. (If you see any orange-red pigment in rock or dirt, you are almost certainly seeing ‘rust,’ the oxidized form of iron. Any materials containing ‘rust’ can be used to make iron, which can then be used to make steel.) To remove the iron from the iron oxide, you must put it into an extremely hot furnace. This furnace has to be specially constructed to blow immense amounts of oxygen through a very large quantity of basically pure carbon fuel in order to generate the necessary heat.
Before you can make steel, therefore, you need very large amounts of this pure carbon fuel. Certain hardwoods can be turned into pure carbon fuel (high quality charcoal) through a complex process that requires immense amounts of fuel itself. Because of the incredible amounts of fuel required to make steel, steel makers need an enormous supply of high-quality hardwood charcoal, which has to come from hardwood forests. To supply the fuel, large numbers of sawyers have to be employed full time cutting down the necessary trees and hauling them to charcoal-making facilities. These facilities require large numbers of workers and need to operate literally 24 hours a day, without pauses, to make the fuel. (The process requires about 72 hours of steady heating of a mound of hardwood covered by dirt, with a fire inside the mound. If the fire gets too hot, the entire thing will burn down; if it ever cools down during the process, the carbon content of the charcoal won’t be high enough to make steel, so the entire batch will be ruined. Since people can’t stay awake long enough to make charcoal by themselves, crews must rotate into and out of the mounds, carrying fuel all the time to keep the fire going inside.)
Once the refiners have enough charcoal, they can start operating the smelter. The smelter has a special furnace designed to blow enormous amounts of air through the burning coal, to get it hot enough. (Here is a link to a very good video showing steel manufacture from beginning to end, including the manufacture of the smelter, bellows, and other necessary equipment.) The smelter takes so much intense physical effort to operate that people can only do most of the tasks for a few minutes at a time, and they have to work in relays. (In the above link, they work in 15 minute shifts, spending their breaks loading up on carbohydrate rich foods so they will have enough energy for their shift.) Any slow down in operation of the bellows or shoveling in additional fuel will ruin the batch. With several good crews working around the clock, and a steady supply of fuel for the smelter, each smelter can produce about 2-3 pounds a day of iron per day.
Once people have iron, they still have the hardest part of the manufacturing process ahead of them: turning the iron into steel. Steel is made by heating iron in a charcoal furnace (much like the smelter) until it is white hot. Then the steel maker (called a ‘blacksmith’) hammers the white-hot iron with a hammer against an anvil to flatten it into a sheet. The blacksmith must put the iron back into the furnace several times during this process to get it white hot again. The blacksmith then folds over the white-hot sheet of iron by holding it on the edge of the anvil and hitting it with a hammer, and keeps folding to hammer the entire thing back into a lump.
Early blacksmiths didn’t know why this made the iron harder, but it did. We know why now: Steel is a mixture of carbon and iron. The carbon comes from carbon monoxide which comes from the carbon fuel burning (actually from carbon monoxide, which is in the smoke). When the iron is heated, it picks up a tiny, tiny bit of carbon. The blacksmith then beats it in a way that puts the carbon-containing layer on the inside of the lump.) Each time the blacksmith repeats this process, the steel attracts more carbon and gets harder. The best steel has carbon content of about 3%. It will take an very skilled blacksmith about a year of steady work to turn a pound of iron into a pound of high quality steel.
In 2000, archeologists found the oldest steel weapon to be discovered to date at the Kaman-Kalehöyük archeological site in Turkey. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
A piece of ironware excavated from a Turkish archaeological site is about 4,000 years old, making it the world’s oldest steel, Japanese archaeologists said on Thursday. Archaeologists from the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan excavated the 5-centimetre piece at the Kaman-Kalehoyuk archaeological site in Turkey, about 100 kilometres southeast of Ankara, in 2000. The ironware piece is believed to be a part of a knife from a stratum about 4,000 years old, or 2100-1950 BC, according to them.
An analysis at the Iwate Prefectural Museum in Morioka showed that the ironware piece was about 200 years older than one that was excavated from the same site in 1994 and was believed to be the oldest steel so far made in 20th-18th centuries BC. The ironware is highly likely to have been produced near the Kaman-Kalehoyuk site as a 2-cm-diameter slag and two iron-containing stones have also been excavated, Kyodo news agency quoted the archaeologists as saying. ( to source.)
Steel is one of the hardest metals known.
Even today, the hardest and most durable tools are made of steel. If you want saw blades or drill bits that will hold sharp edges in extreme conditions, you can buy high-carbon steel tools. The only practical tools that are harder and more durable than steel tools are made of diamonds or diamond dust that is bonded to the steel tools.
When weapons makers got steel, they basically got the best metal technology available.
The bronze weapons were far superior to the sticks and rocks used before.
But bronze doesn’t cut through steel armor. Steel blades can cut right through bronze armor. A great many people have to come together and work very hard—and they have to have enormous quantities of resources and fuel at their disposal—to make steel. As a result, steel was incredibly expensive. Militaries couldn’t afford to issue steel weapons to all of their soldiers. Generally, the officers and other key personal would get steel weapons. The great bulk of the soldiers would have to make do with bronze weapons.
Steel was a sign of wealth for armies. The more wealth a nation had, the more steel its militaries would have. The military planners of nations wanted as much steel as they could get. If they had more steel, they would have advantages in war. They could protect their land better and they would be more likely to win offensive wars. Once they won additional land, they would be able to collect its wealth, year after year, making the high cost of the steel needed to conquer the land seem trivial by comparison.
The First Cities
To make steel, a great many people must come together in one place. If you want to make a lot of steel, you will need armies of people cutting down forests; they will burn the soft woods as fuel to turn the hardwoods into charcoal. You will need armies of teamsters with wagons to haul the trees to the charcoal makers and then haul the charcoal to the smelters. You will need miners removing the ore and additional wagons and teamsters hauling the ore to the smelters. Obviously, you will also need wagon makers, a lot of them, and people to make tackle, train the teams to haul the wagons, and many, many teamsters to actually drive the wagons. You will need smelter operators and blacksmith workers. Many of the required skills take many years to learn, so you will also need a training system of some kind.
You will also need a lot of construction workers. These smelters have to be made correctly or they won’t work, so the people who build them have to be highly skilled and highly motivated to do a good job on the smelters. The blacksmiths shops also require large facilities that will have to be built.
It won’t make sense to have these highly skilled people divide their labor, spending part of the time raising their own food, cutting their own fuel, and building and caring for residences. This means that a large number of people must be employed building homes for these workers, making sure they have food, clothing, fuel, and other necessities. If you want to have steel weapons, you will have to set up an organized framework where a very large number of people can come together and work together and work in an efficient way.
You will need the kind of establishment we now call a ‘city.’
The feudal sovereigns probably did not want cities to exist.
They can control things that happen on agricultural land: people who do their jobs in the country will eat; those who don’t will starve. But sovereign have a much harder time controlling people in cities. Almost certainly, sovereigns realized that people in cities may not like the way the societies they live in work. They may start to cause problems for the sovereigns. People with absolute power generally don’t want to take this risk. Almost certainly, they would not have wanted to allow cities to exist at all.
But they didn’t have any choice.
Military necessity forced them to have steel, and they couldn’t have steel without cities.
They had to allow cities, no matter what their risks.
Socrates was born in one of these cities slightly more than 2,470 years ago.
He looked around him and saw people who devoted their lives to building tools of organized mass murder. He saw the great bulk of the people of the world reduced to virtual slavery to serve the tiny minority of people who lived in luxury beyond imagination. (This refers to the sovereigns; industrialists will not gain the same wealth positions as sovereigns for thousands of years more.)
Socrates asked himself: Is this the best the human race can do? Might we possibly be capable of more?
Socrates saw that the society he was born into had very basic flaws. One basic problem with societies that divide the world into ‘nations’ with imaginary lines called ‘borders’ is the problem of war. He called societies that worked like this ‘republics.’ In the set of dialogues called ‘,’ he works out the basic principles of societies that work this way.
First, he points out that war is an inherent part of societies built on this premise:
Socrates: Then a slice of our neighbours’ land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours?
Glaucon. That, Socrates, will be inevitable.
And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?
Glaucon. Most certainly, he replied.
Socrates: Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in nations, private as well as public.
Socrates: And our nation must once more enlarge; and this time the enlargement will be nothing short of a whole army.
Even in Socrates’ time, people realized that war created jobs and jobs brought economic benefits. Because of this, people were divided as to whether war was good or bad. Socrates wanted to sidetrack this issue and get to the key point: without making any value judgments, we must affirm that, if we start with the idea of ‘nations,’ we get to war as a practical necessity. It must exist.
After having determined that war is an ‘inevitable’ part of republics (societies that divide the world into ‘nations’), Socrates goes on to work out the basic structures that will be necessary in to keep people willing to make the immense sacrifices needed for the perpetual wars that these societies need to continue to function.
War is a horrible thing. War requires large amounts of weaponry; to have war, a large number of people must spend their lives cutting down forests to make charcoal, digging through the ground for ore, smelting, and doing things that cause immense harm to the world. The majority of the people who will die in the war are women, children, and the elderly; this is true because war affects everyone and the majority of the human beings on the planet are in these categories. People must kill and kill and kill, while other people are trying their very best to kill them. They must do these things in horrible conditions, often living in trenches with fetid, rotting corpses for weeks on end, knowing each time they go to sleep they may not wake up again.
People are not normally drawn to these conditions.
They would not do them unless their minds had been prepared to make them think that they were necessary, and brought about some greater good. Logic and reason would tell us that there is no greater good. The killing is not about making the world a better place, it is about meeting the structural needs of the societies we were born into. People would not do the things needed for wars to take place if they were raised and trained to think about existence logically, so they must be raised and trained to think entirely differently.
Here he provides some basic information about things that all republics must do to keep the mindset needed for war intact:
Socratesbegin by telling children stories which, though not wholly destitute of truth, are in the main fictitious; and these stories are told them when they are not of an age to learn more complex ideas.
Adeimantus: Quite right.
SocratesYou know also that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken.
Adeimantus: Quite true.
SocratesAnd shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?
Adeimantus: We cannot.
Socrates:Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers…
The first thing that is necessary to make people willing to accept the reality of societies divided into nations (republics) is to ‘establish a censorship of the writers.’ We must make sure that we regulate the things that children ‘receive into their minds.’ We want to make sure that they can only receive into their minds the exact thoughts that ‘we should wish them to have when they are grown up.’
He goes into very great detail about the specific aim of such indoctrination: it is to train the people to override their moral restraint and personal views of right and wrong, so they will follow orders to commit the atrocities that are a part of war:
Socrates:As we were saying, the members of the warrior class were to be dogs, and to hear the voice of the rulers, who are their shepherds. The young man should not be told that in committing the worst of crimes he is doing wrong; and that even if he chastises his father when he does wrong, in whatever manner, he will only be following the example of the first and greatest among the gods.
Socrates and Adeimantus then discuss the required indoctrination process in great detail. For example, they note children are extremely susceptible to the power of music. Their education can start by associating certain ecstatically happy melodies with nations, war, and misery. As you will see later, the people who designed the societies that you and I were born into learned very well from Socrates and do exactly what he told them to do. I went to my first two years of school in France and learned the Marsailles. It has one of the most euphoric, happy melodies ever written, a melody associated with these words: ‘They come right to our arms to slit the throats of our sons and our friends’ and ‘after we fill the furrows of our fields with blood, the day of glory will have finally arrived.’ You will find similar messages in the songs that young children are required to sing around the world, which associate wonderful and uplifting messages with stories of tools that blow children into tiny pieces and destroy people’s life work. These associations are made when children are too young to fully understand the concepts; even at adulthood, many people who have learned these songs don’t fully realize that they have been tricked into associating the most horrible activity of human existence with glory and happiness.
Socrates and Adeimantus then discuss various other tools, including distorting history to make it consistent with the way people need to think to keep war going. The truth is not consistent with these ways of thinking, so the truth must be replaced by carefully crafted lies:
Socrates:The lie in words is in certain cases useful and not hateful; in dealing with enemies–it is useful and is a sort of medicine or preventive–we make falsehood as much like truth as we can, and so turn it to account.
Arrest, Trial, Conviction, and Execution
Long before Socrates was born, the people who ran the nation-based societies had found ways to make people think the way they were supposed to think. They used the techniques that Socrates explained. All Socrates did was to point out to the people that they had been indoctrinated.
He showed people that they had been lied to.
The people they called ‘teachers’ and the politicians in their governments had manipulated them, starting when they were very young. The people who claimed to be ‘experts’ were actually what Socrates called ‘hirelings:’ they were selected from among the children who had fallen entirely for the teachings and believed them, and were paid when they found new and better ways to teach these truths. At his trial, he says that if he is convicted and put to death, it will be because he exposed the lies of people he called ‘pretenders to wisdom:’
I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows:
When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.
Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and my conclusion was exactly the same. Whereupon I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him. Then I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity was laid upon me. And I swear to you, Athenians, by the dog I swear!—for I must tell you the truth—the result of my mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better. This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion to these calumnies. (Source, .)
Socrates pointed out the truth to people who had been trained to think with their hearts, rather than their heads. Their hearts had been filled with love of ‘nations’ and the belief that all good things come from nations. Their heads told them that the nations were not responsible for anything the nations claimed to bring, and the hatred of enemies that filled their hearts was irrational. (The so-called enemies were human beings, with the same basic motivations as other human beings. It is irrational to devote your existence to killing people who you could be working with.) People who think with their hearts want to silence anyone who tries to tell them that their hearts have been manipulated. They believe they know in their hearts what is right.
Socrates told them if they thought with their heads, they would see that the societies they were raised in did not work to benefit the human race as a whole. They would see that the human race was capable of forming societies that did meet the needs of the human race as a whole.
People hated this message.
If they accepted it into their minds, they would have to question their entire belief system. They would have to accept that the things the leaders and experts said really were not logical and could not move the human race toward a better existence. If they accepted Socrates’ message, they would have to start to think for themselves. They would have to accept that war for the benefit of their nation—which they had been raised to believe was the ‘rightist’ possible thing anyone could do—might not actually be ‘right’ after all. They would have to accept that history did not happen as they had been told and therefore reality wasn’t really what they had been taught to believe it was. The modes of existence or ‘societies’ that divided the world into nations (republics) were not the only possible modes of existence humans could have. Their sacrifices ‘for their nation’ did not improve the world in any way. Their relatives who gave their lives, their limbs, and their sanity in war did not make these sacrifices for a good cause. Rather, they made them to keep a defective mode of existence in place.
People did not want to allow their minds to accept these things. They wanted to turn off their brains and not even think about the things Socrates discussed. The prosecutors gave them an alternative. They called for the death penalty. If Socrates died, his heretical ideas would die with him.
His prosecutors were good at their jobs. They knew that the people had been raised to hate and fear the people their governments called ‘enemies.’ The prosecutors could use this hatred and fear to their advantage. The people they were fighting, the jury was told, were horrible and evil barbarians who would stop at nothing to destroy the very fabric of civilization. They were inhuman monsters who only wanted chaos and terror, and had no regard for anything that the good people of the jury cared about and believed in.
Socrates’ timing was bad. He was turning people’s attention away from the war effort when the war was at a stalemate. Socrates’ ideas were hurting morale. People wouldn’t fight with full vigor against the horrible enemies if they had doubts about the reason for the war. If they didn’t give everything they had to the ongoing battles, the enemies would win and move in to do all of the horrible things that enemies do when they win, including burning houses, raping women and girls, and cutting up babies for souvenirs. At his trial, Socrates tries to defend himself against their claims:
I turn now to the second class of accusers: They are headed by Meletus, that good man and ‘true lover of his country,’ as he calls himself.
Against these, too, I must try to make a defense:—Let their affidavit be read: it contains something of this kind: It says that Socrates is a doer of evil, who corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state, but has other new divinities of his own.
Such is the charge; and now let us examine the particular counts.
He says that I am a doer of evil, and corrupt the youth; but I say, O men of Athens, that Meletus is a doer of evil, in that he pretends to be in earnest when he is only in jest, and is so eager to bring men to trial from a pretended zeal and interest about matters in which he really never had the smallest interest.
But Mellitus was an expert in his field. He knew how to inspire patriotism and fear. Mellitus’ words filled the jury with terror. If they listened to Socrates, the terrorists would win. Civilization would collapse and the terrorists would average them like wild beasts. If Socrates had waited until the wars were over and all threats were gone to open a dialogue on society, we would all have welcomed these discussions. But in times of war, people can’t be allowed to say things that hurt morale. Socrates had to die.
Mellitus presented this very simple argument.
It isn’t logical or reasonable, but the people weren’t thinking with their heads, they were thinking with their hearts. By a vote of 280 to 220, Socrates was convicted and sentenced to death.
Socrates was convicted of two counts: heresy and corrupting youth. At his trial, he discusses the reason for the second count:
There is another thing:—young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine others. There are plenty of persons, as they quickly discover, who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing. Instead of being angry with themselves, the ones who have been examined are angry with me:
This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous misleader of youth!
If somebody asks them: Why, what evil does he practise or teach? They do not know, and cannot tell. But in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected—which is the truth.
One of these ‘young men of the richer classes’ of the western hemisphere who came to Socrates and followed his example was named ‘Plato.’ Plato felt that Socrates’ ideas were too important to be allowed to die with the teacher. He was rich (he inherited his wealth). He had taken very thorough notes of Socrates’ conversations and lessons. He published them at his own expense under various titles.
The Second Message
The most important title was ‘The Republic.’ ( to full text of ‘The Republic.’) This book was to change the world, not once, but several times. In fact, as you will see, a large part of the modes of existence that were here when we were born came directly from the words and messages in The Republic.
In order to understand why Plato’s book has had and continues to have such a profound effect, it is important to understand that the book actually contains two entirely different messages. We must understand both of them to understand why our world is the way it is today.
The first message is the one discussed above: societies that divide the land into ‘nations’ must have war. War is nothing but organized terror and misery. If we want to have a society that can meet the needs of the human race, we must look for other societies, find them, and build them.
The second message concerns religion. What if we can’t find another type of society that can meet our needs? If we are stuck with nation-based societies (republics), and have to have them, we need to find a way to get people to act as responsibly as we can make them act within the context of these societies. Socrates proposed that we do this by inventing an entirely new religion with a new theme. This religion would teach people that the world we live on is not the real world. It is only a kind of test world for souls. This test is indescribably brief compared to our real world existence, which is eternal. If we pass this test, our real existence will be wonderful, comfortable, and luxurious; if we fail, our real existence will be miserable beyond imagination.
Socrates points out that the Greek Gods are not suitable for this new religion. The Greek gods fought and argued all the time, they were alternately good and evil, and they were responsible for both the good that we see and the evil. This would not do. The new religion would have to invent an entirely new concept of God.
Socrates: We shall never mention the battles of the gods and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods with their friends and relatives. All the battles of the gods in Homer–these tales must not be admitted into our nation.
Socrates points out that that the general tone of the new religion could be set by political leaders, but the details would have to be worked out by professionals:
Adeimantus: There you are right, he replied; but if any one asks where are such models to be found and of what tales are you speaking–how shall we answer him?
Socrates: You and I, Adeimantus, at this moment are not poets, but founders of a nation: now the founders of a nation ought to know the general forms in which poets should cast their tales, and the limits which must be observed by them, but to make the tales is not their business.
Then he describes the way God must be portrayed in this new religion. This would be a singular god (rather than the multiple gods that were worshiped at the time) who would be portrayed as a stern but benevolent father. The new God would be totally good always and only do good things. Even when He was doing things that punished his children and inflicted horrible misery on them, He would only be doing this to teach them a lesson so they could have a better existence:
Adeimantus: Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology which you mean?
Socrates: Something of this kind, I replied:–God is always to be represented as truly good. He is never the cause of evil and the source of all well being. We must not listen to Homer or to any other poet who is guilty of the folly of saying that two casks ’Lie at the threshold of Zeus, full of lots, one of good, the other of evil lots,’ and that he to whom Zeus gives a mixture of the two. And if any one asserts that the violation of oaths and treaties were the works of God, or that strife and contention were instigated by the gods, he shall not have our approval; neither will we allow our young men to hear the words of Aeschylus, that ’God plants guilt among men when he desires utterly to destroy a house.’
And if a poet writes of sufferings, either we must not permit him to say that these are the works of God, or if they are of God, he must devise some explanation of them such as we are seeking; he must say that God did what was just and right, and they were the better for being punished. That God being good is the author of evil to any one is to be strenuously denied, and not to be said or sung or heard in verse or prose by any one whether old or young in any well-ordered commonwealth. Such a fiction is suicidal, ruinous, impious.
Adeimantus: I agree with you, he replied, and am ready to give my assent to the law.
Socrates: Let this then be one of our rules and principles concerning the gods, to which our poets and reciters will be expected to conform,–that God is not the author of all things, but of good only.
In the final pages of The Republic, Socrates tells a story that might make people believe the message of this new religion: A son of God dies, witnesses the afterlife, and then returns from the dead with this news:
The world we live on is not the real world. It is simply a testing ground for souls. We have an earthly life where we are subjected to temptation to get rich at the expense of others. If we give into this temptation, we have failed the test; we will then be punished by being sent to a real world existence (the afterlife, which lasts for all eternity) of horrible punishment and misery. If we don’t give into temptation, we have passed the test; we will go to a wonderful real world existence (again, the afterlife, which in this story IS the real world) with all possible comforts and luxuries:
Socrates: Well, I said, I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale of a hero, Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth.
He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a nation of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world. He said that when his soul left the body he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above.
In the intermediate space there were judges seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs.
Then he beheld and saw on one side the souls departing at either opening of heaven and earth when sentence had been given on them; and at the two other openings other souls, some ascending out of the earth dusty and worn with travel, some descending out of heaven clean and bright. And arriving ever and anon they seemed to have come from a long journey, and they went forth with gladness into the meadow, where they encamped as at a festival; and those who knew one another embraced and conversed, the souls which came from earth curiously enquiring about the things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the things beneath.
And they told one another of what had happened by the way, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey beneath the earth (now the journey lasted a thousand years), while those from above were describing heavenly delights and visions of inconceivable beauty.
The story, Glaucon, would take too long to tell; but the sum was this:–He said that for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered tenfold; or once in a hundred years–such being reckoned to be the length of man’s life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved countries or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behaviour, for each and all of their offences they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness were in the same proportion.
The book ‘The Republic’ has two basic messages. The first involves the fact that societies that divide the world into nations will have war. War cannot be a foundation for a society that can truly meet the needs of the human race. If we want such a society, we must use our minds. We must use logic to work out the different modes of existence or ‘societies’ that humans can have. We must find modes of existence based on some other premise and make it a reality.
In the meantime, however, we need to do our best to give people some reason to act responsibly in the societies that divide the world into nations. Our best hope here is to invent a religion like the one described above. If people can be made to believe that this world is not real, but a short test to determine which real world we will live in, they may act responsibly in spite of the great rewards offered for people who do harm:
Socrates: And according to the report of the messenger from the other world this was what the prophet said at the time: ’Even for the last comer, if he chooses wisely and will live diligently, there is appointed a happy and not undesirable existence.
And thus, Glaucon, the tale will save us if we are obedient to the word spoken. We live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when we receive our reward.
Both suggestions that Socrates made would ultimately be acted on. The suggestion to create this new religion wouldn’t be acted on for another 720 years after Socrates was dead. The work to build a new society would start shortly after his death, and would involve two of the most important personalities ever to live, Aristotle and Alexander the Great.
The Academy and The Most Brilliant Man in History
Plato was wealthy. He wanted to use his wealth to advance the message that Socrates brought to the world. He created a kind of school which is often called ‘the worlds first university.’ Historians call this university ‘the Academy.’
The Academy attracted talented thinkers from very far away to Athens, where they studied the works of Socrates. The most famous student, and eventually the most famous teacher this academy produced, was Aristotle of Macedonia. Aristotle, together with a boy who was soon to become the most powerful man on Earth, were soon to change the destiny of the human race.
If you read what survives of Aristotle’s writings, you will have no doubt of his brilliance. I have many of his books in my own library and read them with awe and astonishment.
Half of Aristotle’s work was devoted to physics. He categorized and coordinated all work in this field to write general treatises on physics that were considered complete until very recently.
The other half of his research involved coming to understand the fundamentals of human societies.
The type of society he was born into was clearly based on very primitive principles. Is it possible to build on solid, logical, foundations?
This is what Aristotle cared about.
He rose to the top of his class in his school in Macedonia and looked for a place he could learn more. He heard about Plato’s academy and traveled to Athens, where he became a star student and later a star teacher in the Academy.
There doesn’t seem to have been anything that Aristotle couldn’t figure out. He writes on any topic under the sun and everything he writes makes perfect sense. He was the best of the best in the best school in the world at the time.
The king of Macedonia, King Phillip, had a brilliant son. The king wanted to get the best teacher he could for Alexander. Aristotle was Alexander’s personal tutor for 7 years.
Aristotle is generally considered to have been a philosopher. He cared about knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Alexander was the heir to the throne of a nation. He would have the practical ability to put the idea of Aristotle into practice.