Plato and Aristotle THETHIRD VOLUME of Voegelin’s Order and with rich significance for the middle of the History’ completes his study of Greek civi- twentieth century. lization by explicating the Platonic and The philosophical conflict which largely Aristotelian revelations of the cosmos, the determined the course and spirit of order polis and man’s soul, and presents a view in Greek history was wa,ged between Soc- of order and history which is permeated rates, Plato and, to a degree, Aristotle +Order and History: Plato and Aristotle, by on the one hand, as against such Sophists Eric Voegelin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State as Callicles, Polus and Thrasymachus, and university Press, 1957. the pharisaical leaders of the corrupt order 192 Spring 1959 \ of Greek society. This should not be under- Plato’s historical achievement can best be stood to mean that the order of history, understood as an enduriqg spiritual regen- as an existential phenomenon, follows the eration of public authority in “the life ) ’ norms or principles of triumphant philoso- of the soul, over the deadliness of earthly phy. On the contrary, as Voegelin has passions.” (p. 42). Plato’s achievement re- noted, “On the level of pragmatic history, flects the “fullness of experience” in Greek the philosopher is not the ordering force philosophy, whereas in Aristotle there is of society.” (p. 301). This important point “an intellectual thinning-out.” (p. 291). is well understood even by vulgar people, In the twentieth century the empirical who are proud of their physical presence fact of Plato’s historical significance is and mere pragmatic persistence in the flow still admitted, however reluctantly, even by of human events, and who therefore mis- our sophists, utilitarians, positivists, rela- takenly dismiss philosophy as trivial or tivists and pragmatists, and even when they impractical. do not perceive or will not acknowledge Yet on the level of enduriqg principle, the ultimate basis of his achievement. Liv- in the realm of fundamental ethical norms, ing under the vaguely paralyzed conscious- j the empirical flow of events has no real ness of contemporary social and spiritual significance; a “synoptic vision of order disorder, seeing the shadows of life pass and history” can only be perceived by the like shattered fragments cast on the wall << animating psyche” of sound philosophy of a cave, blinded by pride in the feeble and religion. This is true because “the light of natural reason and of the scientific problem of history as a meaningful order” method, the contemporary enemies of Plato is “the process of revelation.” (p. 43). It occasionally catch faint glimmers of the is self-evident that Plato, and not the prag- Platonic foundations of order and history. matic Sophists or successful politicians of Mistaking the earthly shadows of Utilitar- his era, supplied through his philosophy ianism and Positivism for reality, Plato’s the ethical and metaphysical norms by modern enemies are blinded by the pure which Hellenic society reveals significance sunlight of his principle that order in the to us: “The Platonic vision of order has cosmos, the polis and the souls of individ- become part of reality, and while reality ual men is interdependent and organically resists an embodiment of the Platonic idea whole: “The order of man and society is it cannot escape the fate of being judged part of the embracing cosmic order.” (p. by it. The idea has become a standard.” 51). Therefore, “Society is man written (p. 295). As Voegelin observes, Plato’s large,” (p. 72), and “The soul is a one- claim to be the true statesman of his time man polis and man is the ‘statesman’ who is both philosophically and historically watches over its constitution.’’ (p. 92). To valid : “Plato’s claim has proved historical- those prosaic souls who detest analogy as ly quite sound. The order represented by an impediment to insight, who limit both Callicles has gone down in ignominy; the order and history exclusively to thiqgs order represented by Plato has survived temporal, who hold literally that the proper Athens and is still one of the most impor- study of mankind is only man, nothing ap- ,J tant ingredients in the order of the soul pears more illusory and “idealistic” than I of those men who have not renounced the Plato’s principle that “the spiritual order traditions of Western civilization.” (p. 39). of the soul” requires a full acceptance of “Plato emerged as the victor with world- the transcendent reality of the eternal world historic effectiveness ;” his principles “have of Being, of Divine Ideas or Forms. become the ‘philosophical language’ of Plato’s belief in a transcendent reality Western civilization.” (p. 65). In the light is the key to his philosophical method. As of norms which transcend pragmatic events, Voegelin says, “The charm of Socratic I Modern Age 193 discourse is the resurrection of the soul Plato’s normative conception of history from death to life with the Savior.” (p. as philosophical (or theological) revelation 59). The Socratic dialogue, with its at- is the foundation of the order in history, tendant instruments of parables, myths, and also of the history of order. If the ( symbols and fables, so baffling to prosaic whole transcendental realm in Plato’s phi- fundamentalists, is in Voegelin’s words, losophy is set aside (for convenience in “the ineluctable instrument for communi- discussion), it will still be found that the cating the experience of the soul.” (p. order of man in society reflects a parallel 170). In his use of myth Plato is concerned interrelationship with the cosmos: “Plato with “the imaginative symbolization of di- plays back and forth, in the Republic, be- vine forces.” (p. 101). All this is of great tween the order in the polis and the order importance to the study of order and his- of the soul, illuminating the one by the tory, because “The soul as the creator of other.” (p. 88). In any given civilization, the myth, and the myth as the symbolism the social order reflects the collective spirit of the soul, is the center of the philosophy of its members. Ultimately, the spirit of of order.” (p. 170). All this, of course, is man (the personal soul) and the nature of also very troublesome to those poor souls society (the body politic) are identical. 1 who deny there are souls and who believe Plato had seen too much of the corruption on faith in the scientific myth of rationalis- in Greek politics to believe that a sound tic man against myth. social order could be constructed merely Plato flatly contends that the proper by changing the machinery of government, study of mankind is God. This cardinal while men remained morally unaltered: conviction underscores his perception of “Plato was not obsessed by the superstition the greatness and achievement of Socrates: that the blueprint of a constitution will “The order of the soul as revealed through deliver the world from evil.” (p. 250). It Socrates has, indeed, become the new order is highly ironical that doctrinaire idea- of relations between God and man.” (p. logues who reject Plato as an impractical 43). Before men can justify the ways of “idealist” are generally themselves guilty man to man, they will have to cease being of adherence to some variety of Utopian unjust to God. Voegelin accepts Plato’s blueprint, without reference to man’s moral c belief that philosophy (or religion) deter- nature. The death of Socrates (like the mines the order and spirit of civilization later crucifixion of Christ) was proof throughout history, that principles and that it is not possible for just men to long dogmas shape human destiny. Among con- remain in an unjust state, ruled by sophis- temporary historians his position is prac- tical theorists and pharisaical politicians. tically identical with that of Christopher The salvation of a corrupt society depends Dawson, who holds that “civilization exists ultimately upon the willing martyrdom of to serve religion and not religion to serve its best citizens. civilization.” (Dawson, Dynamics of World It is in this light that we must view History, p. 396). Intelligent Positivist his- the conflict between the true philosophers, torians, who have taken part in the great Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and their op- conspiracy of silence concerning the crea- ponents the Sophists. The true philosopher is the law-giver of society; the sophist is tive role of philosophy and religion in history, should regard Voegelin’s Order the false prophet who corrupts the souls 6. and History as a formidable challenge to of its citizens and on an empirical level their unconscious complacency. It is not destroys the just order of society. Voegelin hard to picture the bland smiles of humani- notes that to Plato, “Philosophy is not a tarian commiseration for Voegelin on the doctrine of right order, but the light of faces of the less intelligent prisoners in the wisdom that falls on the struggle.” (pp. cave. 62-63). This light of wisdom is like the 194 Spring 1959 I Christian concept of sanctifying grace. In for injustice than be martyred for justice. both, God is the source of all good. Since Following the Socratic method through this the individual soul as a factor in shaping chain of sophistical reasoning, in a dramat- the order of the polis is supremely impor- ic scene Socrates exposes to all his listen- tant, the battle between philosophy and ers the essence of Callicles’ sophistry: “The sophistry for the souls of men, and par- advocate of nature [Callicles] is brought ticularly for the younger ,generation, is to realize that he is a murderer face to face perennial. If there is to be a sound social with his victim. The situation is fascinat- order, youth must be taught to believe in ing for those among us who find ourselves and abide by normative principles of ven- in the Platonic position and who recognize eration of God, and of self-restraint in in the men with whom we associate today worldly pursuits. They must learn to so the intellectual pimps for power who will love justice that even when life itself is at connive in our murder tomorrow.’’ (p. 37). stake, like Socrates they will not sacrifice In brief, Callicles is to Socrates as Judas it to any temporal self-interest. True phi- Iscariot and Pontius Pilate together were losophy in the soul results in a sound social to Christ. The conniver in criminality who order, with moral leadership and disci- pursues a life of hedonistic pleasure or I plined obedience to public laws, with a caters to the evil passions of the masses, sense of civic solidarity and spiritual kin- merely illustrates the sickness and disorder ship between all citizens, and with justice in the soul which yields to the pressure and liberty for all. of the surrounding corrupt society, and In the struggle between philosophy and which sophistry defends as a good. sophistry, Voegelin observed, “the resis- It should be self-evident that the strug- tance [of philosophy] depends for its suc- gle against sophistry is still the chief con- cess on a precise understanding of the cern of man in the twentieth century. Nor enemy, and Plato indeed analyses the vari- do we mean the mundane sophistry of the ous aspects of sophistic corruption with petty shyster lawyer, quack doctor, dil- care.” (p. 7 1 ) . The dictum that “society letante artist, hypocritical politician, epi- is man written large” applies to the ex- curean playboy, and so on. These merely \ istential corrupt Greek society, “the great illustrate on the existential level the exces- beast itself,” (p. 81). “The S o p h i s t sive value placed on ccsuccess,yy “respect- [Thrasymachus] proclaims his disease as ability,” “expediency,” “the pursuit of the measure of human and social order.” pleasures,” and so on, to those sick souls (p. 71). The power-hungry pharisaical which follow the sophistical conclusion that politician, with his external respectability “the successful wicked are happier than and inner moral corruption, mistakenly be- the honest poor.” (p. 80). It is on the level lieves that conventional standards “apply of life of what should be intellectual and to the divine substance of order in the moral philosophy that the struggle becomes S O U ~ . ” (p. 57). Yet he is not nearly so truly significant. But here we are faced dangerous to a well-ordered and just soci- with a terrible irony: the very men who ety as the sophist who presumes to be its would have been designated sophists or law-giver. Socrates admits to Polus, the “philodoxers” by Plato and Aristotle are corrupted disciple of the Sophist Gorgias, that the majority of the “best” Athenians today considered as philosophers. We are believe it is better to be a successful tyrant the heirs of seventeenth and eighteenth than to be good but powerless, that it is century rationalism and nineteenth century better to do evil than to suffer evil, and Positivism. The philodoxers whose theories better to escape punishment for evils done dominated these centuries-Hobbes, Locke, than to suffer any punishment; in short, Rousseau, Bentham, Marx and Comte- and ultimately, that it is better to murder in one way or another preached an “in- Modern Age 195 verted philosophy of existence,” centered basis of mass production in murder. And in the ancient sophistical conviction that then there is that vast army of the philo- “goodness and justice consist in the satis. sophically stillborn, with one leg in each faction of desires.” (p. 35). Hobbes would camp, leaning either way, who don’t quite (. have agreed with Polus that each man know how they feel about the struggle, would be a knave if he could, and also and want to know first who will win before with Callicles’ definition of justice as they commit themselves, or who, when they “the rule of the stronger over the weaker.” are not the victims of sophistry, face away , Like Callicles, Bentham identified pleasure from its horrible consequences. with virtue, and condemned self-denial as The social disorders of our century are weakness. It would be a simple matter to not merely the result of intellectual confu- correlate the fundamental assumptions and sion, although that is important; at bottom arguments of the ancient sophists with our worst catastrophes reveal a disorder those of their modern counterparts, and in the souls of modern men. Voegelin’s to draw out the consequences to society. analysis of the principles of order in Greek The modern disciples of ancient sophists society transcends even Plato and Aristotle, are legion: jurists who make no distinction because he writes from the vantage point between de jure and de facto law, so. of our era. Every discerning reader of ciologists who confound normative and dis- Order and History will perceive its rich cursive reason, and convert existential facts application to modern society, and will into categorical imperatives, politicians understand better how the order of history who operate concentration camps on the is determined by true philosophy.
Pages to are hidden for
"Plato Belief"Please download to view full document