Socrates explains why democracy is stupid

In the Gorgias, Socrates is being ridiculed because his philosophical method has no practical use, unlike the skills of the sophists, which allow someone to manipulate the public for his own benefit.  He replies:

Socrates:  I think that I am the only or almost the only Athenian living who practices the true art of politics; I am the only politician of my time.  Now, seeing that when I speak my words are not uttered with any view of gaining favour, and that I look to what is best and not to what is most pleasant, haning no mind to use those arts and graces which you recommend, I shan have nothing to say in the justice court.  And you might argue with me, as I was arguing with Polus–I shall be tried just as a physician would be tried in a court of little boys at the indictment of the cook.  What would he reply under such circumstances, I someone were to accuse him, saying, ‘O my boys, many evil things has this man done to you, cutting and burning and starving and suffocating you, until you know not what to do; he gives you the bitterest potions, and compels you to hunger and thirst.  How unlike the variety of meats and sweets on which I feasted you!’  What do you suppose that the physician would be able to reply when he found himself in such a predicament?  If he told the truth he could only say, ‘All these evil things, my boys, I did for your health,’ and then would there not just be a clamour among a jury like that?  How they would cry out!

Callicles:  I dare say.

Socrates:  Would he not be utterly at a loss for a reply?

Callicles:  He certainly would.

Socrates:  And I too shall be treated in the same way, as I well know, if I am brought before the court.  For I shall not be able to rehearse to the people the pleasures which I have procured for them, and which, althought I am not disposed to envy either the procurers or enjoyers of them, are deemed by them to be benefits and advantages.  And if anyone says that I corrupt young men, and perplex their minds, or that I speak evil of old men, and use bitter words towards them, whether in private or public, in is useless for me to reply, as I truly might.  ‘Gentlemen of the jury’–as your rhetoricians say–‘All this I say and do justly’–or anything else.  So I’ll take whatever comes to me as a result.

Callicles:  And do you think, Socrates, that a man who is so defenseless is in a good position?

Socrates:  Yes, Callicles, if he has the defense, which as you have often acknowledged he should have–if he be his own defense, and have never said or done anything wrong, either in respect to gods or men; this has been repeatedly acknowledged by us to be the best sort of defense.  And if anyone could convict me of inability to defend myself or others in this way, I would blush with shame, whether I was convicted before many, or before a few, or by myself alone; and if I died because I have no powers of flattery or rhetoric, I am very sure that you would not find me fretting about death.  For no man who is not an utter fool and coward is afraid of death itself, but he is afraid of doing wrong.  For to go to the world below having one’s soul full of injustice is the last and worst of all evils.

translation by Benjamin Jowett

Democracy is bad because comforting lies will always win a popularity contest over harsh truths.  Also, rule by flattery is degrading to both demagogue and mob.

By the way, can you imagine one of our modern philosophy professors saying something like this?  From what heights the lovers of wisdom have fallen!

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