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Topic #B21

Xenophon, Memoirs of Socrates 3.3, 3.4, 3.6, 3.7


26 October 2001

Scribes: Steven Chabot and Suzanne Dhaliwal


These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes


            What would you rather have, power or friendship?  Apparently, our class would strive for the latter.  The professors noted that bulk of this weeks position papers were on the topic of friendship, as opposed to the skill that Xenophon has Socrates analyzing: the skills that make for good leadership in a bureaucratic enterprise.


            Any organization, such as a company or a charity, can be seen as a network of skilled persons, who require direction.  In these dialogues, Socrates describes the best way to direct these organizations.  It is natural for Socrates to have quite a lot to say here, for his main focus was dealing with man and his relationships.  This is a contrast from Plato, who dealt with a more abstract philosophy.  Xenophon had a natural interest in such pragmatic and utilitarian philosophy, as he himself ran the armies of Athens.


            Among the selections for this week, 3.6 and 3.7 have a political subtext.  However, in 3.6, Socrates is trying to dissuade Glaucon from making a fool of himself in the political arena.  Yet, in 3.7, Socrates does just the opposite: he urges  {  } on and encourages him to use his political talents.


            Glaucon, the professor noted, was Plato s brother, and Socrates intervened on their behalf, to prevent Glaucon from making a fool of himself.  To do this, Socrates begins be flattering the young Glaucon.  Glaucon has an empty ambition, which shows through when Socrates notes that Glaucon must aspire to help his country, and the naive Glaucon has no idea.  At every turn, Socrates has Glaucon confess his ignorance.


            First, Socrates begins with the wealth of the state, at 3.6.3.  This is a natural place to start in a discussion of how a state is benefited, as very few regimes ever ignore their wealth.  When focusing on the ways to generate revenue, Glaucon suggests the pirate s employment: stealing from one s enemies.  This brings Socrates to a further need for a leader of a country: he must know the strength of his own country, both militarily and economically, to protect oneself from the enemy.


            Here, Socrates goes into considerable detail.  He even goes into the state of the silver mines and the grain grown.   This knowledge of all-important resources can be extremely beneficial.  For example, when the Spartans were looking to invade Athens, they occupied their farmland and starved the city into surrender.  Socrates tells us that you cannot benefit a country without detailed knowledge of it s strengths and weaknesses.


            This portrayal of Glaucon is a different one the character in Plato s Republic, says the professor.  Among Plato s brothers here, Glaucon is serious minded, in contrast with Xenophon s Glaucon.  It is the professor s theory that in the Republic, the dialectic between Glaucon and Socrates represents a change from a Socratic or negative dialectic to a Platonic or positive dialectic that was common in the generation of Plato and his brothers.  This shows Socrates as old-fashioned, and illustrates a new, non-combative approach.  In this way, Glaucon could be seen to represent Plato himself, as he often used the people nearest to him to represent him.  Plato s idea was that you can push forward research without having all the virtues.


            In 3.7 we see that Charmides is much more experienced with the ways of political life.  Charmides is Plato s uncle, and that entire family figured very prominently in Athens at this time.  It is interesting to note that Charmides figures prominently in Plato s dialogue on self-control, as it was something Charmides in life lacked.  He was the most important member of an anti-democratic league which took power for a short period in 404 BC, and was in effect a client government of Sparta.  When people began disappearing, as government agents would take them away in the night, a group of rebels formed outside the city, started a civil war and restored the Assembly.  Charmides died in the conflict.  Plato s reputation was tarnished because of this family disgrace, and it signalled the end of his political career.


            Xenophon shows Charmides being encouraged by Socrates, showing the great philosopher had a role in the career of a tyrant.  Writing after Socrates death, Xenophon helps show us the misconceptions and prejudices about Socrates at the time.  It was felt that Socrates was weird, and he associated with the wrong people.  However, the true fault lies with Charmides and his co-conspirator Critas.


            In the dialogue, Socrates notes that Charmides gives good advice, reasonable criticism, and often gets consulted for advice by other men, and he therefore should consider public life.  Charmides replies that giving private advice is not the same as a public debate.  Socrates replies that a person can count equally in public and private, and equates Charmides advice to a simple skill such as counting.


            Charmides admits his fears, and notes that public speaking brings out the humility in men.  The professor noted this fact when dealing with the speaking scribes of the class, and how some of them dreaded standing before the class.  Charmides notes that people often laugh at things suggested in the Assembly.  However, Socrates comments that Charmides has no reason to be afraid, because those that make up the Assembly are merchants and retailers.  In other words, Charmides is of a different class.  This classification of people into different classes of quality led to further contempt for Socrates by the lower classes.  Furthermore, while Xenophon tries to exonerate Socrates, he lets this idea slip, which further enflamed democrats.  Xenophon himself is oligarchic, and believes the workers are less qualified to make decisions about the state.


            Here a question was asked about workers in the Assembly.  The professor emphasized that democracy, and that all citizens directly participated in the decision making process.  In fact, he noted that for a period the government would pay people to appear in the Assembly.  Therefore, there would be a greater representation of the population, and not just the rich who had the leisure time to attend.  This too applies to the jury, which was made up of hundreds of members.  Some of these would be of a low social status.  This too applies in the case against Socrates, as he tries to defend himself against the underprivileged and undereducated.  Often, during both Plato and Xenphon s rendition of Socrates  Apology, there are cries for the jury in outrage over Socrates  statements.


            It can be noted that while Socrates was not Aristocratic, he did believe that the people with the means should be in power, as it was those people who had the leisure and money to acquire education and skills in politics.  Politics for Socrates was no simple matter; the young had to be educated, and this was determined by economics.  Socrates thought that the only qualification for leadership was the skill to do it.  If a person lacks skill, then they should not be in a position of leadership.  Therefore, he could be said to be purely meritacratic, or he believed in those with merit holding the power.


            What was this merit?  It is hard for us to know.  In 3.3 and 3.4, Socrates talks about the election of generals.  While this may strike us as odd, the professor noted that the United States elects their general, who is the President.  However, in Canada or generals are selected by the Cabinet.  In ancient Athens, there was a one-year position of military commander.  This was to prevent another military rule, the first being in the early 5th Century BC.


            Therefore, this elected official not only had to have military prowess, but political skill as well.  In 3.4, Nicomachides is upset at losing the election for general to another man.  He comments that the winner of the election has experience making money, and has no battle distinction, like Nicomachides.  What Socrates goes on to tell Nicomachides could be taking as a template for leadership.  While he may not have experience in battle, Antisthenes had led the chorus to victory.  This shows that he has a very important leadership skill: he can choose and manage those below him well.  Socrates notes that anyone in a management position needs to make people obedient, and this applies as well today.  There was even a paper written entitles  Was Socrates a Harvard Man?


            Finally, in a short discussion of 3.3, Socrates asked why anyone would want to ride at the head of the cavalry, and he equates the desire for recognition with lunatics, for everybody notices lunatics.