Plato's Laws IV, 5

This is the last commentary on Book IV. With the completion of Book IV, we are approximately a third of the way through the Laws.

If any of you are reading along, you must be struck by the eerie way in which Plato's work is immediately relevant to our current moment. I'll give two examples. There is a warning against political factions coming to power who intend to use their momentary election to ensure they will always and forever be in power. Such a faction is so destructive to justice that a state that comes under their sway can no longer be said to be constitutional:

Ath. That when there has been a contest for power, those who gain the upper hand so entirely monopolize the government, as to refuse all share to the defeated party and their descendants-they live watching one another, the ruling class being in perpetual fear that some one who has a recollection of former wrongs will come into power and rise up against them. Now, according to our view, such governments are not polities at all, nor are laws right which are passed for the good of particular classes and not for the good of the whole state. States which have such laws are not polities but parties, and their notions of justice are simply unmeaning.

This is the Jowett translation, again; Edith Hamilton gives that "are not constitutions at all," rather than "are not polities." Yet this is a live theory of what Democrats intend if they win the Senate and seat Biden or Harris today: to pack the Supreme Court, to add seats to the Senate with new Democrat-leaning states, to abolish the Electoral College through the Popular Vote Compact, and to add new voters through amnesty and such. Plato's concern is immediately relevant.

A second example, more fun, is that Plato's characters actually have a discussion about who is and is not properly called a "doctor." For Plato as for ourselves, part of the issue is that there are very different standards of training and expertise at work; yet both the superior and inferior classes are granted the title. 

(The issue is pointed specifically at medicine, and since "doctor" is a Latin word, the word would properly be "physician" here. This means 'a scientist of nature,' for the Greek root of our word "physics" translates as "nature" and not "motion" as you might expect. We think of physics as the science of motion, but Aristotle's account for why different things move differently is that they have different natures. Yet it is motion he is interested in -- his Physics includes inquiry into whether motion is philosophically possible given objections e.g. from Zeno, and how to explain it if it is.)

This remarkable relevance is a feature of a truly great work, one that proves how worthy Plato's Laws are of our continued attention. No matter when you read it, you will find things in it that are relevant. Had we read it a few years ago, for example, we would not have found those aspects as important; but we would have been more taken with his account of the nature and function of marriage. Plato gives an account of what marriage is for and about that is in line with the one our traditionalists were advancing a few years ago: the one that our courts decided 'had no rational basis,' even though it was argued for on purely rational grounds both here and in Kant's Metaphysics of Morals

Another eternally relevant matter, and the one with which I will close my discussion of this book, is the proper form of laws. The issue is whether it is better for a law to be concise, or whether it should be verbose about what exactly it intends to accomplish. You might say that the question is whether the 'spirit of the law' should be put into the letter of the law. 

Consider the Second Amendment. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Here we have an example of what the Athenian is advocating: the law does not just say what shall be true ("the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed") but why it is appropriate, and what this right intends to preserve. 

Many have pointed out that the protections would have been a lot stronger if the explanatory dependent clause had been omitted. Had the Second Amendment simply read "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed," there would have been less room for clever arguments admitting infringements. 

The Athenian takes the other view, which is that we help our progeny stay true to our constitutional and legislative order if we explain it to them clearly. Because they are now able to know just why we structured marriage laws (that is Plato's example) the way that we did, it will be clear to them what we thought was at stake in making them this way.

This is an attempt to address Chesterton's Paradox of the Wall. By encoding the explanation in the law, we make sure that no one should be able to say, "This wall serves no purpose!" They may be able to explain that the purpose is no longer relevant, which was Chesterton's proposed condition for allowing the wall to be removed. (Second Amendment opponents often argue that there is no longer a need for a militia, given that we have accepted a standing army and have a developed police force; although in the wake of last year's abdication of the police of their duty to protect communities in the face of mob action, that argument sounds very weak.)

There is a lot more, about the duty to one's parents and family -- just last week I saw someone on Twitter arguing that parenthood is a kind of natural tyranny that should be abolished, but Plato views respect for the debt one owes one's parents and elders as fundamental to society. Much of this is eternally relevant, or cyclically so. It rewards our attention, and provides another perspective -- high and distant from our own -- to consider as we attend to the same debates in our own time and place.

Test 3

Done on an older-than-my-laptop Dell PC running Win10Pro--this part typed in "regular" mode. This line tped in HTML. ital, bold, strikethrough.

Eric Hines

Test 2

 Typed in "regular" mode.

Typed in HTML view. ital, bold strikethrough.

Eric Hines

Test Post

Test done on a Dell Precision 3510 running Win7Pro and Firefox v 84.0 browser.

Eric Hines


There's a refreshing absence of lunacy from these public-medicine policy proposals for a vaccine roll-out.

"Dr. Jill"

This debate about whether to call Joe Biden's wife "Dr." is more annoying than it should be. It's a courtesy title. No one has to use it, and anyone may use it. Do what you want.

"Doctor" is from the Latin for a teacher, not a healer, so it's older and more appropriate to use it for someone whose education is pointed at educating. Her degree, Ed.D., is much, much less rigorous than a Ph.D., it is true. It is a teacher's union degree, as is the lesser M.Ed., a degree that a full-time public school teacher should be able to pursue and obtain. It's professional education for someone involved in the labor of teaching children. There's nothing wrong with that, even if it's not the same thing as a 5-10 year full time pursuit with a punishing dissertation at the end of it. 

Since it's apparently important to her, the courteous thing would be to use the courtesy she prefers if it's important to you to be respectful of her wishes. If you wish to demonstrate disrespect, it makes it easier than ever to do so. Either way, it makes it easier for you to do what you'd prefer to do. Take your pick.

Being Reasonable

I talked to Jim Hanson yesterday, and he is not at all convinced there is anything to the Dominion stuff. He used to work in cybersecurity, and thinks that the audit is unlikely to be reproducible in other areas because if it were then literally every single thing that could go wrong would have gone wrong. Well, fine; let's see if it is reproducible in other machines in other states. Only let's do it soon, yeah? Not in February or March. I'm prepared to accept that it's not true, I'd just like to see it tested in time to do something about it if there's anything to it. 

Meanwhile Michael Flynn, a man I respect for his work in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, is talking about maybe having Trump use the military to re-run the election in swing states. That's definitely a non-starter in my opinion. There's no reason to think it would work anyway. I imagine that many Trump voters would change their votes in the face of a move to re-run the election 'until we get it right.' Should a President endorse such a move, that would be an excellent reason to vote against him. 

What I would like to know is what really happened, that night when in Atlanta the poll counters were dismissed and then they pulled out suitcases of ballots and counted them for hours. That part is very interesting, and the time to get any kind of truth about it is short. There will definitely be no truth forthcoming after January 20th, not with Biden/Harris in office. 

Deleted Post

The post "Nothing to see here" was deleted because Blogger became non-operational until I deleted it. Here is a screenshot, though.

No messages suggested that the blogging interface was locked up because of the post, nor to suggest deleting it as a way to fix things. Probably it was just one of those odd coincidences. If it should happen to any of my co-bloggers in the future, please let me know. 

Plato's Laws IV, 4

I want to talk a bit about the approach to government that the Athenian is recommending as the ideal. To people who lived through the 20th century, it sounds like totalitarianism. Plato did not live through the 20th century, but he was also writing at a time and in a place where nothing similar was really possible. 

Governments in the ancient world could be oppressive -- Herodotus talks about some awful tortures and slaughters, for example -- but they weren't capable of monitoring your every move, nor trying to control it. Saying that the government ideally should try to guide you in all areas of life wasn't a commitment to anything like the kind of levels of control that a government could exercise today.

It is also an approach that was very widely endorsed in the Middle Ages. Christian writers believed that the function of the government was to shape the morals of the population as well as protecting whatever rights people enjoyed ex officio to their social class and standing. Raymond Llull, for example, argued in his writings on chivalry that the knighthood existed to defend innocents, but also to serve as a guiding hand by restraining evil impulses. 

In the Catholic world, the Church's own power and authority was strong enough that this did not lead to a total power in the secular state, but rather an alliance between the "Lords Temporal and Spiritual." The Church was jealous of its own privileges, but in return for having its privileges respected, it was willing to endorse the idea that God himself had sent the king to rule and guide royal subjects in a just and moral order. 

In Islam, the total power did devolve upon a state that was both temporal and spiritual. The Caliph was meant to guide his people to lead upright and moral lives in all matters. Avicenna gives a discourse on jihad in which he says that it is a kind of double blessing, because it both improves the soul's position with God by doing God's work, and also the material body's position by providing extra wealth and slaves to serve us in this world. Similarly, the Caliph was meant to lead his society in such a way as to encourage both material and spiritual flourishing. 

So what the Athenian is suggesting here has probably been the ordinary understanding of most of humanity for most of recorded history. This is especially true insofar as the Athenian recommends what we might call The Rule of Law:

"I call the rulers servants or ministers of the law... not for the sake of novelty, but because I certainly believe that upon such service or ministry depends the well- or ill-being of the state. For that state in which the law is subject and has no authority, I perceive to be on the highway to ruin; but I see that the state in which the law is above the rulers, and the rulers are the inferiors of the law, has salvation, and every blessing which the Gods can confer.... Now God ought to be to us the measure of all things, and not man, as men commonly say (Protagoras): the words are far more true of him. And he who would be dear to God must, as far as is possible, be like him and such as he is. Wherefore the temperate man is the friend of God, for he is like him; and the intemperate man is unlike him, and different from him, and unjust."

So too the Church and the Islamic world believed that there was a law that was above kings, and which no legislature nor king could justly void. Aquinas gives an account of how natural law follows from divine law, and is prior to and has priority over any laws made by kings or parliaments. God is to be the measure of whether or not the society is just or unjust, right or wrong; the laws are to follow from what can be understood about the divine; and the divine shall thus stand in the position of the ruler of the ruler, just as the ruler is the ruler of men. 

In this way, something like the shepherd/herd metaphor is to be attained. We can't be ruled by gods, but only by other men; but we can at least find a way, the Athenian believes as many others have also believed, to ensure that those men trusted to be the rulers are acting in a way that is in accord with what God would want for us.

Beethoven's 9th

Beethoven was perhaps born on this day, though what we have recorded is the date of his baptism, which was tomorrow. Apparently Charles Schultz' Peanuts used to make a big deal about his birthday regularly. For the same reason that it seemed right to talk about the theorbo a few days ago, it seems reasonable to play some of his great music today.

Plato's Laws IV, 3

Now to return to the Laws, which is our proper inquiry at this time. 

Plato's Athenian now begins to ask after what the best form of government for the new colony shall be. He begins this in a surprising place, which is by asking what form of government would provide the best beginning for an eventual transition to the truly best form of government. You have to start somewhere, after all, so that the legislation can be put into place for the government you wish to have. You don't start with the legislation already in place, but with a form for creating the legislation that is to follow. 

We don't see this insight often in political philosophy. We tend to think about the ideal as something like the construction of our own Constitution, which was created by legislators before it was enacted. But Plato is right: before the Constitution was crafted by the Founders, there was a time when they had only the Declaration of Independence. This provided no laws, only a statement of principles that ought to guide the construction of laws. After that, they tried to establish a system under the Articles of Confederation, which did not work out. There was a long debate -- the Federalist Papers are still read -- under the prior system about how to revise it towards a better system. 

The Athenian argues that the best origin point will be a tyranny -- provided, that is, that the tyrant is the right kind of man. If that is not so, a tyranny will produce disaster. But fortunately, the Athenian thinks he can say exactly which man is the right one:

Ath. "Give me a state which is governed by a tyrant, and let the tyrant be young and have a good memory; let him be quick at learning, and of a courageous and noble nature; let him have that quality which, as I said before, is the inseparable companion of all the other parts of virtue, if there is to be any good in them."

Cle. I suppose, Megillus, that this companion virtue of which the Stranger speaks, must be temperance?

Ath. Yes, Cleinias, temperance... 

Cle. You would assume, as you say, a tyrant who was young, temperate, quick at learning, having a good memory, courageous, of a noble nature?

Ath. Yes; and you must add fortunate; and his good fortune must be that he is the contemporary of a great legislator, and that some happy chance brings them together. When this has been accomplished, God has done all that he ever does for a state which he desires to be eminently prosperous.

So notice that's two men, not one: a tyrant who is young, temperate, quick, good memory, brave, noble, and fortunate; and also a legislator who is presumably older and wiser, and ready to inform the active young man who has the energy to enact the older man's wiser designs. 

There's a brief debate here about the order in which other forms of government are inferior to the 'good tyranny' as a starting point. Democracy is not at the very bottom, but it is close. The problem is that the more centers of real power there are, the harder it will be for the legislator's designs to be realized. A tyrant can just force everyone to obey the new laws. If there are two competing power centers, however, their competition may weaken the purity of realization of the new laws. Three is worse than two, etc. An oligarchy, in which several centers of power exist, is thus the worst one of all -- it will be very hard for the legislator to persuade them all to cooperate.

Democracy is not quite as bad as an oligarchy because no one actually has any power as an individual. The majority is the only power center, though it is made up of many people. Thus it is harder to persuade the majority than it is to persuade the single excellent tyrant, or a couple of noble co-kings (as Sparta had multiple kings). But it is easier to persuade 50%+1 voter than to get several competing power centers to work together, each of whom is powerful enough to be a problem. 

There's a similar discussion in Aristotle's Politics about which governments are best, but Aristotle wisely contrasts his discussions of potential best government with a discussion of which forms are most dangerous. A good tyranny may indeed have the greatest potential for goodness, Aristotle finds, but tyranny is also the most dangerous sort of government: should the tyrant not be this ideal character, the tyranny can produce an awful situation very rapidly. Democracy has much less potential for good, but somewhat less potential for harm because you have to convince a majority to go along with the harm (although Aristotle expects them to do so eventually, usually over the issue of voting themselves access to the minority's wealth).

Government by an aristocracy of nobles, whose class values aspire to proofs of virtue, has most of the potential of a good tyranny but with little of the downside from getting a single bad actor in the bunch. But the safest of all governments, Aristotle decides, is government by the "middle class," that is, people who have property but are not rich. These people will not want to accept the principle that private property should be taken away by the government, because that would mean their property was endangered too. But they also will not want to spend much time governing, because they aren't rich enough to waste time on it:  they'll want to get back to minding their own business as quickly as possible. They need to be minding it, to ensure they don't lose what they have.

Plato's Athenian gives little thought, here, to the dangers of government. Having established that it would be best to start with a good tyranny, he then goes into a series of mythic arguments about how it would be best for men to be ruled by gods, as it is better for oxen to be ruled by men (rather than by other oxen); and by reference to Cronos, the old god, setting spirits over men to govern them and provide for their every need. We seem to be getting a picture of human happiness in which we would be happiest if managed carefully by those wiser than ourselves; cared for, like herd animals, rather than free. 

Undeceptions: Plato

If you're a regular reader of AVI's page, you know he's got a series called "Undeceptions" going. It's well worth your time. Since we've been doing a lot of Plato here, I thought I'd take a moment to bring forward the argument from the Lesser Hippias.

One of the things that Plato had to do in his work was to convince the people of Athens to rethink their judgment of Socrates. They had executed Socrates for corrupting the youth of Athens, after all, and Plato wanted to build his Academy on the principle of furthering Socrates' work. That would be a dangerous thing to do if people still considered that kind of work a sort of corruption, especially in an age when the people were empowered to kill those they thought of as corrupting influences.

There are several approaches Plato adopts towards this end, but one of them is this rather playful dialogue. Socrates is often likened to Odysseus (whose name means something like 'troublemaker'): a clever, strategic thinker who can talk even those who proclaim themselves wise into knots. Hippias is a Sophist at the height of his fame and power during this dialogue, and is readily convinced to proclaim himself the greatest of calculators and thinkers. Socrates and he undertake to debate whether Achilles or Odysseus is the greatest of Homer's heroes. 

Socrates begins by convincing Hippias to accept that a liar is a better liar if he lies voluntarily than if he lies involuntarily. This is a relatively simple argument: a mathematician who can arrive at the right answer, but intentionally provides the wrong answer to an enemy, is a better mathematician than one who isn't actually capable of working out what the right answer is anyway. Both give wrong answers, but one of them is demonstrably a better mathematician. So too a liar who understands the truth, but is manipulating for his own reasons, is better than one who is telling an untruth because they aren't capable of seeing the truth -- or admitting it to themselves. 

Having gotten Hippias to agree to this basic principle, Odysseus proves to be the better man according to Socrates:

SOCRATES: [Y]ou say that Achilles does not speak falsely from design, when he is not only a deceiver, but besides being a braggart, in Homer's description of him is so cunning, and so far superior to Odysseus in lying and pretending, that he dares to contradict himself, and Odysseus does not find him out; at any rate he does not appear to say anything to him which would imply that he perceived his falsehood.

HIPPIAS: What do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Did you not observe that afterwards, when he is speaking to Odysseus, he says that he will sail away with the early dawn; but to Ajax he tells quite a different story?

HIPPIAS: Where is that?

SOCRATES: Where he says,—

'I will not think about bloody war until the son of warlike Priam, illustrious Hector, comes to the tents and ships of the Myrmidons, slaughtering the Argives, and burning the ships with fire; and about my tent and dark ship, I suspect that Hector, although eager for the battle, will nevertheless stay his hand.'

Now, do you really think, Hippias, that the son of Thetis, who had been the pupil of the sage Cheiron, had such a bad memory, or would have carried the art of lying to such an extent (when he had been assailing liars in the most violent terms only the instant before) as to say to Odysseus that he would sail away, and to Ajax that he would remain, and that he was not rather practising upon the simplicity of Odysseus, whom he regarded as an ancient, and thinking that he would get the better of him by his own cunning and falsehood?

HIPPIAS: No, I do not agree with you, Socrates; but I believe that Achilles is induced to say one thing to Ajax, and another to Odysseus in the innocence of his heart, whereas Odysseus, whether he speaks falsely or truly, speaks always with a purpose.

SOCRATES: Then Odysseus would appear after all to be better than Achilles?

HIPPIAS: Certainly not, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Why, were not the voluntary liars only just now shown to be better than the involuntary?

Hippias now tries to argue that you can't be a better person by being better at something evil, and accuses Socrates of being troublesome and dishonest (i.e., a troublemaker, like Odysseus). Plato is re-explaining Socrates by example, showing him to be an analogue for a Homeric hero involved in a kind of combat -- a duel of ideas, which he is winning like Odysseus won more practical combats, and in a way that makes him subject to the same criticisms as Odysseus.

Socrates says something I often think of at this point, which is worthy of any of us who are disagreeably inclined to speak our minds even when no one else aligns with our thinking.  "My deficiency is proved to me by the fact that when I meet one of you who are famous for wisdom, and to whose wisdom all the Hellenes are witnesses, I am found out to know nothing. For speaking generally, I hardly ever have the same opinion about anything which you have, and what proof of ignorance can be greater than to differ from wise men?"

What proof indeed?

A Blade for the Space Marines

By KA-BAR, of course.

I've been wearing my KA-BARs a lot more since moving to North Carolina. Georgia law -- a law I helped draft -- allows a concealed weapons permit holder to carry either a gun or a knife as he prefers. I thought that was reasonable:  why should you wish to ensure that the only option for concealing a weapon was a firearm?  If someone can defend himself with a blade, it carries far less risk of ricochet or of striking someone on the other side of the target. 

North Carolina law is fine with you carrying concealed firearms with a permit, but there is no legal way to conceal a knife. Thus, if you're carrying openly it's perfectly OK, but if it's ruled by a court to have been concealed you're in serious legal trouble. The KA-BAR depends from your belt, with the hilt entirely below the top of your belt. There's no way anyone could miss it.

Reception is mixed. Usually people out here are not the least bit surprised by knife-wearing, or gun-wearing as open carry of firearms is also legal. I did get a long look from a bouncer in Asheville when he noticed it, but he didn't say a word about it. He just filled me in on the current COVID-appropriate way to order a Guinness from the bar. An old man out toward Cashiers asked to see it the other day, and wanted to know if it was an old one. Well, the same way I'm getting to be old; I've been carrying that particular knife for thirty years. It was the one I took to Iraq, and wore strapped to my body armor when I went outside the wire. 

He said a knife like that was probably worth some money. It's not. They're pretty good knives for the money, but inexpensive enough that every Joe (or Space Marine) can carry one if he'd like. For that reason there's so many of them from so many wars and decades that none of them are very valuable. Or rather, all of them are in their way:  it's a proven design of many years' service. There are better designs for combat alone, but it is designed as a "fighting/utility knife" that is good for broad applications. I use it for tons of things; there's nothing handier than having a good knife on your belt.

New Gubernatorial Restrictions

Language warning.

Dominion Audit

A forensic audit is released to the public on authority of a Federal judge. 

"Ramsland’s team concluded that Dominion’s system 'intentionally generates an enormously high number of ballot errors.'"

Well, what's really important is that the election is over, and it's just too late to worry about that. Or anything else, like the use of state police to bar Republican electors from the state capitol. (Or making the audience stand for the National Anthem "and the Black National Anthem," a more symbolic but still striking attempt at fragmenting America along racial lines.)

Laws IV, 2

We will not get much farther into Book IV today, as Plato brings up and then disposes of quickly two titanic subjects. The first is immigration, and the difficulty of diversity; the second, the effect of fate on constitutions.

The first subject arises because the Athenian wants to know from whence the population of the new colony is coming. He then gives a general set of remarks on the subject of the difficulties of trying to forge a new colony either of a homogeneous or a diverse population. Each has its challenges, he says:

Ath. Cities find colonization in some respects easier if the colonists are one race, which like a swarm of bees is sent out from a single country, either when friends leave friends, owing to some pressure of population or other similar necessity, or when a portion of a state is driven by factions to emigrate. And there have been whole cities which have taken flight when utterly conquered by a superior power in war. This, however, which is in one way an advantage to the colonist or legislator, in another point of view creates a difficulty. There is an element of friendship in the community of race, and language, and language, and laws, and in common temples and rites of worship; but colonies which are of this homogeneous sort are apt to kick against any laws or any form of constitution differing from that which they had at home; and although the badness of their own laws may have been the cause of the factions which prevailed among them, yet from the force of habit they would fain preserve the very customs which were their ruin, and the leader of the colony, who is their legislator, finds them troublesome and rebellious. On the other hand, the conflux of several populations might be more disposed to listen to new laws; but then, to make them combine and pull together, as they say of horses, is a most difficult task, and the work of years. And yet there is nothing which tends more to the improvement of mankind than legislation and colonization.

We can see plenty in American history to sustain these opinions for our own nation. The early colonies tended to be ordered around a particular faction that came of its own accord, with a homogenous view of life. These sometimes had trouble adapting to the harsher conditions of the new land, until they finally managed to overcome their convictions and adapt. The Plymouth colony famously had a religiously-inspired socialism at their root that failed them terribly; they were saved by the introduction of anti-socialist reforms. 

Likewise you have the story of ancient hatreds from the Old Country surviving for a time in the New World, until it became clear that they were no longer valuable. Even among those driven to emigration by destitution, pride in 'where one came from' was one of the last sources of personal meaning. It took a while for people to realize that it was not worth much in the new country, and to abandon it in favor of learning a new way of life that was functional.

Plato uses a nice metaphor for this process, that of two horses who have both been traced to the same chariot learning to breathe together as they run. As long as they fight the new conditions, and struggle against learning to work together, they will have a more difficult time of it. When they get it together, though, the work will go more smoothly for everyone.

We use 'the melting pot' for the same idea, a metaphor from cooking. Things that were quite different when they were put into the pot meld together into something that is -- hopefully! -- tastier and better than the two different things were alone. You can imagine a rich fondue as the ideal, but the truth is that the products are more like a stew: one recognizes that this element is a carrot and that one a piece of meat, but they have taken on each other's character to some degree and been joined in a broth that provides a savory harmony to each and to both.

We are far enough along in our own project that the initial failings of the homogeneous have been worked out, and many of the new additions have already successfully learned to breathe with the team. Others are still learning, but the process is ongoing in spite of ideological efforts to discredit it. The reason is Plato's reason:  it is a pragmatic reason. Things get easier as we learn to live and work together. They get easier for everyone. Whatever values or resentments you hold against the idea are expensive: you must literally pay for them, in your own life and in the extra difficulties they cause you. A particularly devout man might pay for his values, or resentments, but over time simple economy causes most of us to dispose of them. 

There is much, much more to be said about this, but I will leave it for you to say in the comments if you like.

The second huge idea is the effect of fate on human intentions. This rises naturally from the discussion of how hard it is to transplant homogeneous ideas from one area to an area of different physical conditions. How much do we really legislate, the Athenian wonders? How much are we not planning our political ideals, but just admitting to the necessities that reality is forcing upon us?

Ath. My good friend, I am afraid that the course of my speculations is leading me to say something depreciatory of legislators; but if the word be to the purpose, there can be no harm. And yet, why am I disquieted, for I believe that the same principle applies equally to all human things?

Cle. To what are you referring?

Ath. I was going to say that man never legislates, but accidents of all sorts, which legislate for us in all sorts of ways. The violence of war and the hard necessity of poverty are constantly overturning governments and changing laws. And the power of disease has often caused innovations in the state, when there have been pestilences, or when there has been a succession of bad seasons continuing during many years. Any one who sees all this, naturally rushes to the conclusion of which I was speaking, that no mortal legislates in anything, but that in human affairs chance is almost everything. And this may be said of the arts of the sailor, and the pilot, and the physician, and the general, and may seem to be well said; and yet there is another thing which may be said with equal truth of all of them.

Cle. What is it?

Ath. That God governs all things, and that chance and opportunity co-operate with him in the government of human affairs. There is, however, a third and less extreme view, that art should be there also; for I should say that in a storm there must surely be a great advantage in having the aid of the pilot's art. 

"That God governs all things" is the Jowett translation, which is 19th century. He was an Anglican, and not the only one to shoehorn Greek theology into Christian wording. He doesn't have to go far, though, because the original Greek is "θεός," that is, "Deus," which for a long time now has been given in Latin as "God" in English. It had a somewhat different usage in classical Latin. This is from scroll 709b, if you want to look at it yourself.

This is a point of great importance at the moment: we ourselves are struggling to find a way to reinforce our constitution against the winds brought by a disease and our fellow citizens' adaptations to it. Our constitution provides for unfettered free expression of religion; our governors ban church services. Our constitution calls for most powers to be divided among the state governments; yet such diversity of planning and legislation proves to be inefficient as a way of responding to a disease, though it does tend to give us opportunities to test which of the legislated ideas were really effective. Governors assume heretofore-unknown powers to close businesses or to forbid you purchasing seed to grow food. Mail-in-voting schemes may be adopted unconstitutionally in order to minimize disease spread; should they be accepted in view of public health, or set aside in view of the constitutional order? Are these temporary changes, or permanent ones?

Wars have also brought major changes to our constitutional order, especially but not only the Civil War. Immigration likewise was behind major constitutional changes: at a minimum the 18th and 19th Amendments were about making America less attractive to immigrants and diluting the power of mostly-male immigrants respectively. It is very likely that, absent circumstances in Europe that led to the flight of millions of migrants, we would never have had Prohibition or women's suffrage. These things are, then, accidents rather than the careful products of our legislation -- but we have come to think of the former as a ridiculous mistake, but the latter as a fulfillment of principles embedded in the work of earlier legislators, rather than an accidental product of pressures no one planned to endure.

The Athenian invokes this big idea briefly in order to bring the discussion back around to the skill of the navigator, who in our analog is the legislator. Constitutional changes may be products of necessity, but they can be made skillfully or not. That will be the subject of the next section.