Plato Belief

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					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.

				
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