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The Circle is Now Complete: On Socrates and Marx

April 18, 2011

This blog has been an incredible venue for showing off knowledge of the material in absolutely astronomical ways. I have been honored to be a part of it since January and despite the fact that not everyone agreed with me sometimes, we were able to have interesting, vigorous political theory debate day in and day out. And now, as Darth Vader said in Star Wars Episode IV: “The Circle is now Complete.” I would like to tackle the first political theorist we discussed and the last as an exercise on how one can synthesize seemingly differing political theory from completely different time periods and come up with a many similarities as a result. Let us begin with one of the first political thinkers, a founder of Western thought, Socrates:

A Museum of the Vatican bust of Socrates, one of the first political thinkers in the West.

Socrates, a theorist who lived during the transition from Athens’ golden age to its downturn following a defeat by Sparta, dared to challenge the conventional wisdom that democracy was the be-all end-all of civilization. He believed that leaders were chosen on their rhetorical flourish rather than their ability to truly lead the people. Next, Socrates’ views on wisdom must be tackled.From Plato’s text of Socrates, he posits that: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (38a) He believes that to be truly wise in society, one needs to take a private pursuit of truth in order to fully realize life and what is out there. Finally, however, in the argument against Crito, where Crito persuades Socrates to flee from his death following his guilty charge for not worshiping the state gods and corruption of the youth, Socrates believes that one needs to follow the laws of the state and its Social Contract when one lives in a state (46c-49e).

These ideas are strikingly similar to those of Karl Marx, a philosopher living in the 19th century.

The philosopher Karl Marx in one of his most famous portraits.

While worlds away from Socrates in time and cultural technology (as well as political differences), the two had remarkably similar stances on the above three issues: anti-democracy, pursuits of truth, and following the laws of the state. Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, argues that democracy and capitalism allow a few rich people, known as the bourgeoisie, to dominate the proletariat, the working people. Marx, similar to Socrates, emphasizes that this is not the best method to convey human enlightenment and fairness, and just as one leader is usually foolishly chosen, a community leading would be preferrable following revolution. Also, Marx was an advocate on pursuing truth through education and community interaction. Through community interaction and listening to the perspectives of many people, truth is discovered. Marx calls for “rescu[ing] education from the influence of the ruling class.” (pg 807), strongly advocating free public education for all in “Proletarians and Communists.” Although the third subset, following the rules of the state, is a tricky one, Marx does advocate the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the necessity for the leaders of this dictatorship to listen to one another and for the bourgeois oppressed to follow their rule (pg 809).

The key element I take out of this comparison is the general similarities of Socrates and Marx in many areas. Although they disagree on implementation vigorously (private pursuit vs. revolution), there are key tenets such as the necessity for truth, following the state’s rules, and making sure not just one foolish leader is in power, that are incredibly similar. One can  find similarities with many of our political theorists, and in this manner can compile a political theory all their own. Thus, the circle is now complete. Have a great night, folks.

SOURCES:

1F. Engels and K. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, reprinted in Modern Political Theory, 2nd Edition (D. Wooton Ed.), 2008, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, In

2Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates, 3rd Edition (Cooper Ed.), 2001, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, In


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