Since we have heard so much talk from Plato about the universal laws of beauty in music, perhaps it would be well to take a moment to play some magnificiently ordered music. Here is a piece you will have seen this week if you followed all my links, on what at the time I first posted it I identified as a lute.

I have since learned that is a late development of the lute that is known in English as a "theorbo."

How about one more, accompanied by an academic's explanation of some of the mathematics and musical forms involved?

RIP Charlie Pride

One of the men David Allan Coe said you 'don't have to call me,' Charlie Pride, has died at 86.

Plato's Laws IV

It is fitting that this section falls on the same day as the Army-Navy Game, which is being played at West Point this year. This section treats the question of whether the army or the navy is better, not so much from the perspective of offense and defense but from the perspective of inculcating virtue. 

The issue comes up because the Athenian asks after the physical situation of the new colony. He quickly establishes that he would be a poor city planner by ordinary standards, because his interest is in avoiding anything that would make the city economically viable. He is disappointed to discover that there are harbors available nearby, though somewhat distant from the site of the city, but glad at least that the city is not being built right on the sea. That leads to retail, he says:

Then there is some hope that your citizens may be virtuous: had you been on the sea, and well provided with harbours, and an importing rather than a producing country, some mighty saviour would have been needed, and lawgivers more than mortal, if you were ever to have a chance of preserving your state from degeneracy and discordance of manners. But there is comfort in the eighty stadia; although the sea is too near, especially if, as you say, the harbours are so good. Still we may be content. The sea is pleasant enough as a daily companion, but has indeed also a bitter and brackish quality; filling the streets with merchants and shopkeepers, and begetting in the souls of men uncertain and unfaithful ways-making the state unfriendly and unfaithful both to her own citizens, and also to other nations. 

Also comforting the Athenian is word that the city will be located on rugged ground, not on a plain. While productive this land will be somewhat difficult to farm, and thus require hard work from those who live there, while producing only enough to get by on. A virtuous people is more likely to take root if they have to work hard for little. 

Though I am inclined to agree that mountainous regions have many advantages, especially strategic but also in terms of the character produced by mountain climbing and the regular observation of far vistas,* Plato seems to me to be on shaky ground here. He is worried about love of luxury supplanting love of virtue, and clearly if luxury is impossible then it won't make any difference how much you love it. 

However, Plato has been clear that the education of the individual toward right reason is what produces good men even among Persian elites, or Athenian musicians. Now education is itself a kind of luxury good. Only in a city with enough resources to support a leisured class can you afford teachers, especially teachers of things like philosophy. If the land is hard enough that all hands need to be turned to farming or fishing, you will have no one studying history or music well enough to teach it; nor will the young have leisure for studying rather than labor. 

Indeed, this is so obvious that I wonder if Plato wasn't trying to draw out the objection from the dialogue's audience; perhaps the Athenian is less to provide us with answers than to provoke our own thoughts. The earlier dialogues often end in aporia, a confusion about the truth, which is an invitation for readers of the dialogue to try to pick up and carry the argument. The Athenian's certainty about some dubious ideas might be a similar invitation, this time an invitation to challenge.

Plato draws an even more surprising conclusion when he turns to the defense of the realm. Here he claims that it is good that a naval defense of the city will be impossible, because navies and marines are trained by their military arts away from virtue. The Athenian is contrasting marines with infantry soldiers, notice, not cavalry: for the wheel-and-strike maneuver that cavalry employs, and the ease of getting free and then striking again, characterizes cavalry maneuvers as much as marine tactics.

Ath. Better for [the Athenians] to have lost many times over the seven youths [that King Minos demanded as tribute, in the famous story of Thesesus and the Minotaur], than that heavy-armed and stationary troops should have been turned into sailors, and accustomed to be often leaping on shore, and again to come running back to their ships; or should have fancied that there was no disgrace in not awaiting the attack of an enemy and dying boldly; and that there were good reasons, and plenty of them, for a man throwing away his arms, and betaking himself to flight-which is not dishonourable, as people say, at certain times. This is the language of naval warfare, and is anything but worthy of extraordinary praise. For we should not teach bad habits, least of all to the best part of the citizens. You may learn the evil of such a practice from Homer, by whom Odysseus is introduced, rebuking Agamemnon because he desires to draw down the ships to the sea at a time when the Achaeans are hard pressed by the Trojans-he gets angry with him, and says:

"Who, at a time when the battle is in full cry, biddest to drag the well-benched ships into the sea, that the prayers of the Trojans may be accomplished yet more, and high ruin falls upon us. For the Achaeans will not maintain the battle, when the ships are drawn into the sea, but they will look behind and will cease from strife; in that the counsel which you give will prove injurious."

You see that he quite knew triremes on the sea, in the neighbourhood of fighting men, to be an evil;-lions might be trained in that way to fly from a herd of deer. Moreover, naval powers which owe their safety to ships, do not give honour to that sort of warlike excellence which is most deserving of it. For he who owes his safety to the pilot and the captain, and the oarsman, and all sorts of rather inferior persons cannot rightly give honour to whom honour is due. But how can a state be in a right condition which cannot justly award honour?

Invoking Odysseus here is remarkable. Odysseus is of course the great strategist, who was making a tactical point to Agamemnon in the quoted piece. Yet what Odysseus is most famous for doing in the Trojan war was staging a false retreat, in order to deceive the Trojans into accepting the Trojan horse. Plato had Socrates argue that Odysseus was the greater hero than Achilles in his Lesser Hippias, in part based upon the fact that Odysseus was better at deception.** So here, too, I wonder if Plato isn't trying to get a rise out of his readers.

Likewise, of course, the whole Greek army at Troy was an army of marines. Just because marines can retreat does not mean they must retreat; the Greeks spent ten years before the walls of Troy, with their ships handy the whole time. Not just Odysseus but Achilles and all the heroes on the side of Agamemnon were marines by nature. 

But the wider point that the Athenian is making is even worse than the literary analogy. It may inculcate virtue in the individual to learn to die boldly at his post, or to stand in a line of infantry that cannot retreat before the foe. It will not inculcate virtue in the city, however, to be conquered. A conquered people will not be educated with an eye toward virtue, but will be kept ignorant if possible in order to keep them weak and enslaved. In ancient Greece, slavery (or death) was very much the fate of the populations of conquered cities.

Thus, the discussion of honor and dishonor is entirely ill-founded here. In war, nothing is more honorable than a victory that ensures your independence; however you get there, that is the most honorable thing. A cavalry or marine corps that can effectively keep a city free and independent is better than an infantry that would fail to do so, given the terrain; and the greatest honor would attend to belonging to whichever force was most responsible for the continued freedom of your people.

The Athenian of course assumes the necessity of defending the city, however it must be done. His point is that you'll have a better city if it is possible to defend it with infantry than if it requires marines. The argument for this is so implausible, though, I can't help but think it was intended to be provocative:  perhaps of the kind of inter-service rivalry debates that we all so much enjoy, which the Greeks must have had as well.

With that thought, enjoy the game!

* This is a point of disagreement between myself and G. K. Chesterton, who was of the opinion that living on mountains was dangerous just because of the vistas, which make other people look small like ants. He also said that one sees great things from valleys, but only small things from peaks. 

** Hippias claims that Odysseus was worse than Achilles because he relied on deception rather than honorable strength. Socrates argues, successfully, that both Achilles and Odysseus practice deception -- but Achilles practices it on himself in ways that harm himself, and accidentally, whereas Odysseus practices it intentionally for his own gain. Odysseus is thus greater than Achilles, on the same principle that a runner who isn't capable of running well is not as good a runner as one who is capable of running well but chooses to run poorly for reasons of his own.

The Free State Project and Bears

Vox published an article yesterday describing the failure of the Free State Project, a program I remember people recruiting for back in the early 2000s. Apparently a major part of its downfall was its relationship with the black bear.

The experiment was called the “Free Town Project” (it later became the “Free State Project”), and the goal was simple: take over Grafton’s local government and turn it into a libertarian utopia. The movement was cooked up by a small group of ragtag libertarian activists who saw in Grafton a unique opportunity to realize their dreams of a perfectly logical and perfectly market-based community. Needless to say, utopia never arrived, but the bears did! 

Well, actually, they're making more of that than they should because it's an interesting part of the story. The real problem was that it drew a bunch of unmarried, unemployed young men who wanted -- well, they wanted what Plato said that the Athenians wanted, i.e., to live a life unregulated by government authority. They were apparently fairly obnoxious about their lawsuits to try to break the hold of local government on their lives.

Initially they ran into another very predictable sort of trouble, which is that people reliably hate other people who move into town and try to take over. There is a very good reason for this. Most human meaning comes from relationships. We have these relationships in a community of people we know, who live and work together in what we call a "culture," i.e., a way of life. Outsiders moving in who disrupt a community are thus attacking the source of meaning and happiness for those already there. It doesn't matter if this is 'immigration,' or 'gentrification,' or the Free State Project: there will always be friction when lots of people move into town and start changing things.

However, the Free Staters found that many of the existing folks were persuadable on at least some of their designs. This is the part that harmonizes with Plato's Laws:

By pretty much any measure you can look at to gauge a town’s success, Grafton got worse. Recycling rates went down. Neighbor complaints went up. The town’s legal costs went up because they were constantly defending themselves from lawsuits from Free Towners. The number of sex offenders living in the town went up. The number of recorded crimes went up. The town had never had a murder in living memory, and it had its first two, a double homicide, over a roommate dispute.

So there were all sorts of negative consequences that started to crop up. And meanwhile, the town that would ordinarily want to address these things, say with a robust police force, instead found that it was hamstrung. So the town only had one full-time police officer, a single police chief, and he had to stand up at town meeting and tell people that he couldn’t put his cruiser on the road for a period of weeks because he didn’t have money to repair it and make it a safe vehicle.

This actually sounds a lot like the "anarchist" free zones from last summer: more violence, more sex offenders, fewer police to deal with them, and those having their funding cut. We are seeing something like this play out outside of outright anarchist zones: Minneapolis is continuing to slash is police force even though their violent crime is way up. 

It could be that Plato has more of a point here than those of us with an anarchist or libertarian strain might like to believe. Those ideologies are quite different but aligned in their rejection of formal authority, and they have both led to the same sort of results. 

The author being interviewed in the Vox piece oddly reasons that the real problem is philosophy itself:

Sean Illing

There’s a lesson in this for anyone interested in seeing it, which is that if you try to make the world fit neatly into an ideological box, you’ll have to distort or ignore reality to do it — usually with terrible consequences.

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

Yeah, I think that’s true for libertarianism and really all philosophies of life. 

It's certainly not true of pragmatism, that most American of philosophies, which judges the worth of projects (and even the truth of claims) by how well they work out practically in the world. Really, though, I think that the older philosophies are stronger on this score as well. Plato may be wrong about some things (both you, dear reader, and I have said that he is quite wrong in places); even Aristotle may be wrong at times. They're robust, though, in being willing to criticize approaches based on practical results. As we've seen, Plato sharply criticizes both Persia and Athens -- two highly successful societies by some measures -- based on pragmatic concerns. 

Plato's Laws III, 4

When the Athenian turns his critique on Athens, he hits at our part of American society very strongly. His criticism is that love of liberty, if not tempered with submission to authority based on common good, is just as disastrous as Persian luxury. It is for the same reason:  love of pleasure, exercised in Athens by the individual, and in Persia by the elite.

He begins with what philosophers call a 'contingent' account, that is, a discussion of a set of particulars that might or might not have happened. This is chiefly of interest to historians, not to philosophers. After that he tries to shift to a formal account of the universals involved, once again by invoking music and its laws.

Ath. I will. Under the ancient laws, my friends, the people was not as now the master, but rather the willing servant of the laws.

Meg. What laws do you mean?

Ath. In the first place, let us speak of the laws about music-that is to say, such music as then existed-in order that we may trace the growth of the excess of freedom from the beginning. Now music was early divided among us into certain kinds and manners. One sort consisted of prayers to the Gods, which were called hymns; and there was another and opposite sort called lamentations, and another termed paeans, and another, celebrating the birth of Dionysus, called, I believe, "dithyrambs." And they used the actual word "laws," or nomoi, for another kind of song; and to this they added the term "citharoedic." All these and others were duly distinguished, nor were the performers allowed to confuse one style of music with another. And the authority which determined and gave judgment, and punished the disobedient, was not expressed in a hiss, nor in the most unmusical shouts of the multitude, as in our days, nor in applause and clapping of hands. But the directors of public instruction insisted that the spectators should listen in silence to the end; and boys and their tutors, and the multitude in general, were kept quiet by a hint from a stick. Such was the good order which the multitude were willing to observe; they would never have dared to give judgment by noisy cries. And then, as time went on, the poets themselves introduced the reign of vulgar and lawless innovation. They were men of genius, but they had no perception of what is just and lawful in music; raging like Bacchanals and possessed with inordinate delights-mingling lamentations with hymns, and paeans with dithyrambs; imitating the sounds of the flute on the lyre, and making one general confusion; ignorantly affirming that music has no truth, and, whether good or bad, can only be judged of rightly by the pleasure of the hearer. And by composing such licentious works, and adding to them words as licentious, they have inspired the multitude with lawlessness and boldness, and made them fancy that they can judge for themselves about melody and song. And in this way the theatres from being mute have become vocal, as though they had understanding of good and bad in music and poetry; and instead of an aristocracy, an evil sort of theatrocracy has grown up. For if the democracy which judged had only consisted of educated persons, no fatal harm would have been done; but in music there first arose the universal conceit of omniscience and general lawlessness;-freedom came following afterwards, and men, fancying that they knew what they did not know, had no longer any fear, and the absence of fear begets shamelessness. For what is this shamelessness, which is so evil a thing, but the insolent refusal to regard the opinion of the better by reason of an over-daring sort of liberty?

Meg. Very true.

Ath. Consequent upon this freedom comes the other freedom, of disobedience to rulers; and then the attempt to escape the control and exhortation of father, mother, elders, and when near the end, the control of the laws also; and at the very end there is the contempt of oaths and pledges, and no regard at all for the Gods-herein they exhibit and imitate the old so called Titanic nature, and come to the same point as the Titans when they rebelled against God, leading a life of endless evils.

This is different from the earlier discussion of music, which held that there were universal laws of beauty that should govern music. Here the argument is that there were once several forms with defined purposes, which upheld specific social functions as well as each form adhering to internal laws governing that form. The admixture of the forms ended up damaging each. 

Meanwhile, the shift of the seat of judgment from the musical experts to the popular audience meant that the ability to judge how and why the music was losing its quality was lost. 

Remember to read back in Plato's concern about who the right experts are, however. It is not the most talented, but the ones who understand the right relationship between the music and the goods it is to produce. They are the ones who understand what the music is really for, and can thus judge properly whether a change is for good or bad. Changes are not forbidden under the Athenian's ideal, but regulated by the right kind of trained and educated mind.

One runs into a similar debate if one goes to a church that allows music, or explores different churches while traveling. Here too music is supposed to support a sacred form, and there were once well-established basic norms about this. That did not disallow innovation! The great period of church music, from the Baroque through the Classical to the Romantic, was marked by much greater technical innovation than now. Yet it was done by people who were trained in the mathematics that underlie music, who knew and appreciated the earlier forms, and who were striving to intensify the experience. Along the way, much of the greatest music of human history was produced by these same great minds -- quite a bit of it that very church music.

Now compare that to an experience I imagine you all know well, that of stopping in a church and encountering... well,  you know just what kind of  'music' I mean, don't you? The kind where you console yourself with a story about how this might help you remit some of your sins, while practicing important virtues like tolerance and patience.

So Plato's clearly on to something, at least as music attends to holy forms. Does the analogy hold up well when pointed at the general society? The Athenian moves very quickly from this discussion of the damage to music from popularization to 'consequently, look how bad things are when we stop looking to expert judgment in society at large.' 

Yet this is an old problem that Plato and Socrates both knew well:  crafts like music, or shoemaking, or navigation, admit of genuine experts who really do know best. Politics seems to be a realm in which expertise does not have the same role. Everyone is affected by it, and each one is the most expert in just how it affects him or her, and just what they'd like most to get out of it. Excluding anyone seems to exclude an important perspective:  that is the whole argument for democracy (and something Plato treated both mythically and through philosophical argument in his Protagoras).

The Laws like the Republic attempts to restore a role for experts in politics. Again, though, the people who are to be the right experts are going to be those who understand the relationship between authority and the rationally-understood good that society ought to want to obtain. They are not much like our credentialed class, yet it is definite and certain that members of that class -- should they read the Laws, which very few people of any class do -- would see in it an argument that they are the proper authorities who have a duty to rule and govern mankind. 

Well, they would not say 'mankind,' but something else intended to dispose of the oppressive weight of history and tradition. That, though, underlines the distance between themselves and those Plato hopes to find. They are not the musical masters who understand what the traditional forms were for, and can judge innovation rightly as a way of heightening access to the goods that the old forms obtained. They are the ones who are sweeping away all the reliable old forms, and establishing new things that attain none of the goods but that are found pleasing to themselves and their class.

The book ends with a preview of the next book's discussion, as the Cretan announces that, actually, Crete has just been tasked with setting up a new colony and needs to draft laws and a constitution to govern it. Wouldn't this be an excellent opportunity to move from theory to practice? 

Some Olde Fashioned Humor

 Just a little something funny I came across on Twitter-


A neat winter tradition from the Scottish isles, “100% Scandinavian” in its roots. 

Plato's Laws III, 3

Once Plato has outlined what he takes to be the chief destroyer of nations, he then has his Athenian return to the question of what went wrong with the Greek alliance. Unsurprisingly it turns out to be that the leaders had the quality he identified as the chief destroyer. So how can a nation remain healthy?

Plato now proposes a typology of constitutions, quite different from Aristotle's. Aristotle famously held that there were three basic types of government, of which each had a healthy and a diseased form, yielding six total. The three types are 'rule by the many,' 'rule by the few,' and 'rule by the one.' Thus we get constitutional government and democracy (note that democracy is diseased -- mob rule that tends toward theft of wealth and abuse of the minority); oligarchy and autocracy; kingship and tyranny. 

Plato's model is both simpler and capable of more complexity. He proposes that there are two 'threads' of government, which can be woven together in myriad ways. These are kingship and democracy. He says that Persia is the perfect example of kingship, Athens of democracy, and that Sparta and Crete are both mixed forms -- which, the Athenian says, actually work better than either pure form. 

The next section is an examination of the rise and fall of Persia. Once again, the fall is going to come from what I called in the last post the 'country music' cases -- dissolute men who identify pleasure as the good they pursue rather than the goods that reason itself identifies. 

The Athenian puts this down to the fact that the Persians in their great days were so busy winning their empire in glorious battle that they forgot to educate their sons. Instead, even Cyrus the Great left education of the youth to the women, leading to disaster in the next generation:

Ath. I imagine that Cyrus, though a great and patriotic general, had never given his mind to education, and never attended to the order of his household.

Cle. What makes you say so?
Ath. I think that from his youth upwards he was a soldier, and entrusted the education of his children to the women; and they brought them up from their childhood as the favourites of fortune, who were blessed already, and needed no more blessings. They thought that they were happy enough, and that no one should be allowed to oppose them in any way, and they compelled every one to praise all that they said or did. This was how they brought them up.

Cle. A splendid education truly!
Ath. Such an one as women were likely to give them, and especially princesses who had recently grown rich, and in the absence of the men, too, who were occupied in wars and dangers, and had no time to look after them.

Cle. What would you expect?
Ath. Their father had possessions of cattle and sheep, and many herds of men and other animals, but he did not consider that those to whom he was about to make them over were not trained in his own calling, which was Persian; for the Persians are shepherds-sons of a rugged land, which is a stern mother, and well fitted to produce sturdy race able to live in the open air and go without sleep, and also to fight, if fighting is required. He did not observe that his sons were trained differently; through the so-called blessing of being royal they were educated in the Median fashion by women and eunuchs, which led to their becoming such as people do become when they are brought up unreproved.... 

Ath. Let us note the rest of the story. Observe, that Darius was not the son of a king, and had not received a luxurious education.... he made laws upon the principle of introducing universal equality in the order of the state, and he embodied in his laws the settlement of the tribute which Cyrus promised-thus creating a feeling of friendship and community among all the Persians, and attaching the people to him with money and gifts. Hence his armies cheerfully acquired for him countries as large as those which Cyrus had left behind him. Darius was succeeded by his son Xerxes; and he again was brought up in the royal and luxurious fashion. Might we not most justly say: "O Darius, how came you to bring up Xerxes in the same way in which Cyrus brought up Cambyses, and not to see his fatal mistake?" For Xerxes, being the creation of the same education, met with much the same fortune as Cambyses; and from that time until now there has never been a really great king among the Persians, although they are all called Great. And their degeneracy is not to be attributed to chance, as I maintain; the reason is rather the evil life which is generally led by the sons of very rich and royal persons; for never will boy or man, young or old, excel in virtue, who has been thus educated. 

Right after this he goes on to note that the Spartans avoided this problem, in spite of their attachment to war, by making no distinction between the poor and the rich in education. So we might ask whether the problem isn't really that the children of wealth are ill-suited to rule precisely because of their luxurious upbringing (as opposed to the absence of fathers or the presence of eunuchs and princesses).

In favor of this proposition is the fact that the children who failed Persia were all raised in luxury. Plato's description of the luxurious education of the Persian elite is the opposite of what Herodotus says, by the way, which is worth noting because Herodotus' account is quoted by American fighting men as praiseworthy (see first comment, by Raven). They agree about the women being primary influences, but Herodotus says it was only for the earliest part of their lives.

Here is what Herodotus claims:

Next to prowess in arms, it is regarded as the greatest proof of manly
excellence to be the father of many sons. Every year the king sends
rich gifts to the man who can show the largest number: for they hold
that number is strength. Their sons are carefully instructed from
their fifth to their twentieth year, in three things alone,- to ride,
to draw the bow, and to speak the truth. Until their fifth year they
are not allowed to come into the sight of their father, but pass their
lives with the women. This is done that, if the child die young, the
father may not be afflicted by its loss. 

Herodotus died in 425 BC, however, and his histories mostly concern the period of Cyrus the Great. Plato was born about the time Herodotus died, but both of them lived in the right timeframe to have known about Xerxes as well as Cyrus. So for what it's worth, there's a difference in their accounts about how the Persian youth is raised. Herodotus thought it praiseworthy, and many of our own have as well. 

(Also praiseworthy, in my opinion, is another custom Herodotus claims for the Persians: that they debate weighty matters first while drunk, and then again when sober, and only take the actions their drunken company proclaimed if the sober reconsideration approves those actions. In this way they probably came to many creative and bold solutions, tempered by reason and reflection, that a purely sober reflection could have missed.)

After this, the Athenian turns his critical eye on Athens. 

Banning Election Talk

YouTube is the first to bar discussion of a stolen election. 

Philosophy and Pandemics

There's a longstanding sense that philosophy is kind of up-in-the-clouds; Aristophanes drew on that image in ancient Greece, and it remains with us today. One rarely turns to philosophers for practical advice as a consequence. 

Yet if asked, philosophers generally have some, and for those whose study encompasses the great sweep of the philosophical tradition, it's generally pretty good. The continual disagreements can mask the fact that the field has come up with important and worthy answers. 

Black Guns

 They matter, argues Megan Fox.

Not all victims of violent crimes are so lucky, and business owner Tieesha Essex took the opportunity to make a viral video out of the incident, encouraging women to carry firearms to protect themselves. Essex, a military veteran and police officer, owns, a company that sells firearms accessories like holsters. Posing as the victim, Norma Nimox, Essex took the story in a whole new direction. (This is a parody video, not a news report.)
We know it's not a news report, because people defending themselves with guns happens every day but rarely makes the news. In general only negative uses of firearms are considered newsworthy.

Being Ordered to Do What I Want

Governor Cooper has just issued a revised 'Stay at Home' order that mandates you to be at home from 10 PM until 5 AM, unless you have a good reason not to be. I can't remember the last time I was out after 10 PM or before 5 AM without a damn good reason. 

So on the one hand I object to the order, which I don't believe to be good policy nor within the bounds of his authority. On the other hand, I'm nearly certain to obey it because it's what I wanted to do anyway.

Plato's Laws III, 2

The great destroyer of states is a kind of ignorance, Plato says. 

Ath. That the greatest ignorance is when a man hates that which he nevertheless thinks to be good and noble, and loves and embraces that which he knows to be unrighteous and evil. This disagreement between the sense of pleasure and the judgment of reason in the soul is, in my opinion, the worst ignorance; and also the greatest, because affecting the great mass of the human soul; for the principle which feels pleasure and pain in the individual is like the mass or populace in a state. And when the soul is opposed to knowledge, or opinion, or reason, which are her natural lords, that I call folly, just as in the state, when the multitude refuses to obey their rulers and the laws; or, again, in the individual, when fair reasonings have their habitation in the soul and yet do no good, but rather the reverse of good. All these cases I term the worst ignorance, whether in individuals or in states. You will understand, Stranger, that I am speaking of something which is very different from the ignorance of handicraftsmen.

Cle. Yes, my friend, we understand and agree.

Ath. Let us, then, in the first place declare and affirm that the citizen who does not know these things ought never to have any kind of authority entrusted to him: he must be stigmatized as ignorant, even though he be versed in calculation and skilled in all sorts of accomplishments, and feats of mental dexterity; and the opposite are to be called wise, even although, in the words of the proverb, they know neither how to read nor how to swim; and to them, as to men of sense, authority is to be committed. For, O my friends, how can there be the least shadow of wisdom when there is no harmony? There is none; but the noblest and greatest of harmonies may be truly said to be the greatest wisdom; and of this he is a partaker who lives according to reason; whereas he who is devoid of reason is the destroyer of his house and the very opposite of a saviour of the state: he is utterly ignorant of political wisdom. 

That this should be described as a kind of ignorance is a position we might well expect from Plato, who appears to have been persuaded by Socrates that virtue was a kind of knowledge. Aristotle ends up rejecting this position in favor of virtue being a kind of habituated character, which he thought solved a key problem Socrates kept running into -- if virtue is a kind of knowledge, why can't it be taught reliably?

But what kind of ignorance is it that Plato is talking about? It is not a failure to correctly discern, and thus know, what is noble or good. It is not a failure to know what is base. Those kinds of things would be more obviously called "ignorance," since in that case the person would be lacking in knowledge. But this person does know what is noble, and what is base, and errs in assigning his love to the base and his hate to the good.

I think Plato might be doubly wrong here. I think he might be wrong to have decided that this is a sort of ignorance, and I think he is definitely wrong to think it is the worst kind. Rather, what is going on here is that a person knows what is right and chooses to do the wrong thing anyway because it is more pleasurable. This is a regular feature of country music songs about men who ought to be home being good fathers, but are instead out honky-tonking and drinking up their paycheck. (Roger Miller's "Dang Me," for example.)  It may well be ruinous behavior, but they aren't doing it out of ignorance. They know it is wrong, and are doing it anyway.

What strikes me as a worse kind of ignorance -- and properly a kind of ignorance -- is to have come to the conclusion that the base is actually noble, the bad actually good. It seems to me that the great destroyer of our nation is not the country music song case, where people are failing in what they nevertheless recognize are their duties. The great destroyer is that people have embraced a host of things that are wrong, but that they have learned and taught each other to uphold as right. Arson in our cities and riots that result in great damage to public buildings and the common peace, for example, are celebrated as the pursuit of justice. Abortion is said to be health care.

These people are often college educated, so they are not ignorant in the sense of having never been educated. They are nevertheless possessed of a towering sort of blind ignorance, which can no longer discern good from bad, but instead names the bad as good and navigates as if that were the case. 

Likewise the reverse: a boy on the verge of becoming a man tries to help preserve his community in the face of riots, is attacked by a mob, defends himself, and is now on trial for murder. Public officials who cannot do the things their offices exist to do -- such as preventing riots or the burning of people's buildings -- act as if they are doing good and just things by behaving in this way. 

These are the people of whom I say, as Plato says, that they are to be stripped of power even if they are the best at calculations; and that those who can reason about the good more rightly, even if they are otherwise buffoons, are better choices for these public offices. This is close to the famous Buckley quote about preferring to be governed by the first 500 names in the phone book, but it is not quite that; Plato is going to give a strong argument against 'government by lot' later in the Laws. It is, rather, that even relatively simple people who really at least know right from wrong and good from bad are better choices than well-educated, credentialed, professional men and women whose judgment on these most basic issues is backwards. 

It is of those people, who make up so much of our government and managerial class, that I say as Plato says:

He who is devoid of reason is the destroyer of his house and the very opposite of a saviour of the state: he is utterly ignorant of political wisdom. 

Alwyn Cashe Closer to Congressional Medal of Honor

The legal hurdles have been cleared away, though there remains the business of getting the DOD to actually submit an award nomination. He was one of the Iraq War's heroes, honored by the soldiery closer to his death: I visited Combat Outpost Cashe during the war.

Plato's Laws III

This book begins with an inquiry common to political philosophy: how do governments arise in the first place? The most famous of these texts in America are John Locke's Second Treatise on Government and Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, but Aristotle's Politics also begins with an account of how governments come to be. 

Unsurprisingly, Plato's account here is not far off from Aristotle's account, and probably informed it: governments arise when clans, whose patriarchs have given them their laws by natural authority, begin to join together into larger unions. These unions develop codes of laws because the natural authority of the (extended) family is no longer available in a society that does not share blood bonds.

What I want to comment on first are some striking facts about Plato's inquiry. When we think of Ancient Greece, we tend to think of it as the beginning of the project of constitutional democracies. Writing more than two thousand years ago, though, Plato's characters view constitutional states as already very old. So old, in fact, that they are incapable of giving an account of when they might have arisen:  such states are so old that they must be founded on myth.

Ath. Why, do you think that you can reckon the time which has elapsed since cities first existed and men were citizens of them?

Cle. Hardly.

Ath. But are sure that it must be vast and incalculable?

Cle. Certainly.

Ath. And have not thousands and thousands of cities come into being during this period and as many perished? And has not each of them had every form of government many times over, now growing larger, now smaller, and again improving or declining?

Cle. To be sure.

They then turn to the myth of the Flood, which they know in a form that isn't exactly Biblical. The Athenian describes this as one of several mythic traditions about how there was a great calamity that ended everything, and everything had to arise again from the few survivors. The inquiry into the origin of government thus takes as its assumed starting point such a calamity, looks at what the facts would be for far-flung survivors (such as bands of shepherds in the mountains), and then ropes in Homer's account of the Cyclopes for a view of what a savage society like that might be like. 

By coincidence, this once again gives us reason to reference Robert E. Howard. As you all know from reading this page regularly, I subscribe to the view that Howard was correct in his central conceit of 'The Hyborean Age' -- that is, that civilization is much older than we believe it to be, but that we have lost knowledge of what it was once. 

This view is also held by G. K. Chesterton, as he explains in The Everlasting Man.

The modern man looking at the most ancient origins has been like a man watching for daybreak in a strange land; and expecting to see that dawn breaking behind bare uplands or solitary peaks. But that dawn is breaking behind the black bulk of great cities long builded and lost for us in the original night; colossal cities like the houses of giants, in which even the carved ornamental animals are taller than the palm-trees; in which the painted portrait can be twelve times the size of the man; with tombs like mountains of man set four-square and pointing to the stars; with winged and bearded bulls standing and staring enormous at the gates of temples; standing still eternally as if a stamp would shake the world. The dawn of history reveals a humanity already civilized. Perhaps it reveals a civilisation already old. 

The Athenian goes on to give a philosophical account of why the Flood -- if there was a Flood -- must have been extremely long ago if it occurred at all. Men who remembered a Flood would not have build their cities on plains by giant rivers, but the great cities were so built; and how long would it have taken to re-learn how to make all the old tools, if you had only shepherds trying to rediscover smith-craft? Small wonder, then, that these learned Greeks cannot even estimate how long civilization has existed, or how many thousands of civilizations there have been.

The conversation snakes along until it comes within the field of what is properly history, at least for them: the founding of the three kingdoms of Lacedemonia, of which Sparta is the most famous. The Athenian asks the Spartan why the project failed; the Spartan proudly demands to know in what manner it can be said to have failed. The Athenian points out that the original project was that all three kings swore a great oath to uphold the political order, and the idea was that whenever one should depart from that oath the other two should ally against it. Yet that did not happen; in fact, all but Sparta itself fell into corruption, and rather than peace in the valley there was continual warfare. 

In fact the Spartan cannot answer why that happened, and the Athenian tries proposing that the issue was not a lack of strength -- those Lacedemonian warriors are even today famous for their valor -- but rather a kind of corruption in which vice was mistaken for virtue, and affection arose for pleasure and comfort instead of right.

I will pause here to give any of you interested the chance to read that account; also, to compare this book with Chesterton's parallel account, in the chapter cited above. He too is wondering about civilizations that might fall, and how they might rise again. Chesterton says some things that he intends as a challenge to his contemporaries, but they also serve as an effective challenge to Plato, for example:

[I]t is obvious on the face of it that any peoples reduced for any reason to a ruder life would have some things in common. If we lost all our firearms we should make bows and arrows; but we should not necessarily resemble in every way the first men who made bows and arrows. It is said that the Russians in their great retreat were so short of armament that they fought with clubs cut in the wood. But a professor of the future would err in supposing that the Russian army of 1916 was a naked Scythian tribe that had never been out of the wood. It is like saying that a man in his second childhood must exactly copy his first. A baby is bald like an old man; but it would be an error for one ignorant of infancy to infer that the baby had a long white beard.

So I will resume tomorrow with the discussion of corrupted vice and virtue.

A sensible medical blog

This doctor posts on a number of topics, not just COVID, and applies more statistical rigor than most commenters.

A Different Kraken

J. Christian Adams shines the light on a Kraken that may account for a legitimate* Trump loss.

Two things happened in 2020. First, COVID led to a dismantling of state election integrity laws by everyone except the one body with the constitutional prerogative to change the rules of electing the president – the state legislatures.

Second, the Center for Technology and Civic Life happened.

According to Adams, the CTCL is a "non-partisan" nonprofit that focuses on get-out-the-vote efforts in urban areas. Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg gave them hundreds of millions, and they in turn spent that to reach urban voters and get them to the polls last month.

They are non-partisan to the extent that they didn't focus on Democrats or Republicans, just generic "Go Vote" type efforts, but they focused their efforts on urban areas that typically vote Democrat. Little was done to get people to vote in areas that typically vote Republican.

Adams's article is worth a read. The CTCL may account for some things that look like anomalies in this election. And it's something Republicans may very well need to duplicate if they are to be competitive in future elections.

Adams based his article on research by the Capital Research Center, if you want to take a deeper dive.


* Grim rightly points out in the comments that the "dismantling of state election integrity laws by everyone except the one body with the constitutional prerogative to change the rules" would not be part of a legitimate loss by Trump. I was too focused on the CTCL when I wrote. My apologies.

Pearl Harbor Day

This year it suddenly seems as if it doesn’t even matter; China, our old friend, now threatens human freedom. Our ancestors fought for good reason, but times have changed. New wars are before us. 

Perhaps this is a better moment for prayer than for memory. Pray, then.