This week in The Atlantic, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein posed a question:
What happens when a society, once a model for enlightened progress, threatens to backslide into intolerance and irrationality—with the complicity of many of its own citizens? How should that society’s stunned and disoriented members respond? Do they engage in kind, resist, withdraw, even depart?
Goldstein is wondering what a citizen should do when they feel like democracy has failed. How should we react when the people around us have vote in a way we find horrible? Though that sentiment might apply to many citizens in the modern world, Goldstein looks at a much older example: the vote to execute Socrates.
Goldstein describes how in 399 B.C.E., Athens was worn down from war, and seeking to Make Athens Great Again, the citizenry found a scapegoat in the old philosophical gadfly Socrates. Finally fed up with his criticism of Athen's claimed moral authority, a jury of 501 citizens voted to execute the old man.
After the vote—which represented trial by a jury of peers, a pinnacle of supposed democratic justice in the ancient world—Socrates's greatest student, Plato, was inconsolable. Disgusted with his once-beloved city, he left Athens and traveled far and wide, venturing down to Egypt to study astronomy, and to southern Italy to study with the mathematically mystical Pythagoreans.
Goldstein remarks on how Plato's political theories changed during his journeys--and then reflects on what it means that Plato eventually came home. Later in his life, Plato came back to Athens to start his Academy, which Goldstein calls the first university in Europe.
The journey of Plato might well reflect the soul-searching many citizens are experiencing right now—but, even in the best of times, reading about the famous philosopher’s reaction to injustice can serve us all well.
Read the whole article: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/making-athens-great...
Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch philosopher who laid the foundations for the Enlightenment. He made the controversial claim that there is only one substance in the universe, which led him to the pantheistic belief in an abstract, impersonal God.