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Plato, Hitler, & Totalitarianism

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Today, Western liberals are ambivalent about Plato. On the one hand, liberals claim they are the heirs of Greco-Roman civilization and philosophy, and as Alfred North Whitehead famously said, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”[1] On the other hand, Plato is denounced by some – notably the Jewish thinker Karl Popper – as the ancient originator of “totalitarianism” and the archetypal enemy of the “open society.”

Fascists in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany eagerly claimed the pedigree of Plato. The philosopher, like the fascists, was obviously a communitarian elitist and not an individualist democrat. The French historian Johann Chapoutot goes so far as to write, “The official philosopher of the Third Reich, the man who could simultaneously offer substance and political prophecy was not Nietzsche, but Plato.”[2] Indeed, National Socialist intellectuals such as Hans Günther, Werner Jaeger, Fritz Lenz, Adolf Rusch, and Richard Darré cited Plato. Some wrote entire books on the subject, such as Joachim Banns’ Hitlers Kampf und Platons Staat and Kurt Hildebrand’s Platon, Der Kampf des Geistes um die Macht. Hitler’s press officer, Otto Dietrich, would plead in his repentant post-war memoirs that he had seen in National Socialism “the mirage of a classless Leader State such as Plato had celebrated in his Laws.”[3]

The liberals often agreed that there was considerable overlap between Platonism and Nationalism Socialism, and so condemned Plato like Popper did. The liberals’ incomprehension of and hostility to Plato goes at least as far back as the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was disgusted by Plato’s Republic, writing to John Adams, “While wading thro’ the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this?” Jefferson blamed Plato’s prestige on his popularity among the obscurantist Christian priesthood. If one considers that Jefferson was one of the most influential liberal statesmen of all time, perhaps this is an appropriate response. (In contrast, Adams wrote that the American Revolution was based on “the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and Cicero, and Sidney, Harrington, and Locke; the principles of nature and eternal reason.”)

A few liberal classicists tried to salvage Plato, however, such as Glenn R. Morrow, who emphasized the importance of the rule of law in Plato’s otherwise firmly authoritarian final work, the Laws.[4] The Communists, in contrast with the liberals, competed with the fascists in claiming the Platonic heritage. I do not find this very defensible: Plato is an emphatic inegalitarian. The communism of property and wives described in The Republic is an aristocratic one, reserved for the ruling elite, a proposal he in any case does not repeat in his more practical work, the Laws.

There is no question that the regimes described in The Republic and even in the more moderate Laws have strictly nothing to do with what we mean today by “liberal democracy.” There is precious little in Plato’s thought that I can see which is compatible with such as ideas as “human rights,” “all men are created equal,” or “individual liberty.” Plato is clear: the better should lead the worse, individual interests must cede to those of the community, and the enlightened should establish laws aiming at systematic cultural improvement through education and training, and biological improvement through eugenic population policies. Scholars endlessly debate about the extent to which Plato’s Republic was meant as a practical proposal. What is less often pointed out is that Plato’s more practical Laws are almost as authoritarian and communitarian in approach, the regime being admittedly moderated into a “mixed constitution” with democratic and aristocratic elements, somewhat akin to Sparta. In the Laws, Plato explicitly praised Sparta as the happy medium between Athenian egalitarianism and Persian despotism.

So far, so “totalitarian.”

All this needs to be qualified, however, with a very important caveat. Plato did not come up with most of this stuff as part of some crazed, megalomaniacal dream of his. As is clear from Aristotle’s Politics, it is not merely Plato who is “totalitarian” in comparison with modern liberalism, but indeed all politics in the Greek city-state. The Greeks in general believed that there was no separation of private and public life, and just about everything about individuals’ lives could be regulated if it was deemed to be for the good of the community. In particular, ensuring the reproduction of the population in appropriate numbers (neither too high, nor too low) and in high quality (eugenics) was recognized as one of the most important duties of the state, which was notably responsible for the institution of marriage. In Sparta, this went so far as the lawgiver mandating rewards for citizens who had many sons and requiring the killing of all deformed newborns. In democratic Athens, the law could also be very intrusive, such as Solon’s banning women from weeping loudly at funerals. The philosophers considered the state’s highest role to be the education and training of the citizens in virtue. In general, “citizenship” for the Greeks did not mean a set of “rights” to do as one pleased or to be treated the same as everyone else, but rather it consisted of the elaboration and enforcement of the rules of the polis, to whose disciplines all were subject. Citizenship for the Greeks meant not individual liberty and equality, but in Aristotle’s worlds, “to rule and be ruled in turn” (Politics, 1317b). Arguably, Plato is often merely systematizing the practice of politics which the Greeks took for granted.

Needless to say, fascists could easily find rationales for many of their actions in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. The Hitler Youth, positive and negative eugenics, expulsion or enslavement of aliens, the Ministry of Propaganda and Popular Enlightenment: all this could be justified by referring to Greek philosophy, if they indeed improved the cultural and biological character of the people.

I am not saying that classical philosophy necessarily leads to fascism. What I am saying is that there is substantial overlap, and from a certain chauvinistic late-liberal point of view, just about everything but liberalism itself is “totalitarian.” The stringent disciplines of the Greek polis and even of Plato’s city-states are normal for traditional societies, in which individual behavior for most was constrained by family, religion, and rank. The authoritarianism of the Greek polis is merely the extension of familial discipline and solidarity to the entire city through the laws established by the family fathers in concert. The authoritarianism of Plato’s Republic, I believe, is similarly an extension of the pious self-discipline of the Socratic philosopher and the monastic order to the entire city. What, the extremely regulated and self-disciplined life of a monk is freedom, you say? I understand this will be incomprehensible to those who believe that “freedom” means, for instance, having the opportunity to get drunk on a whim.

We can also safely say that Hannah Arendt’s claim that “Nazism owes nothing to any part of the Western tradition, be it German or not, Catholic or Protestant, Christian, Greek, or Roman,”[5] is patently false.

Classical political philosophy and modern fascism thus share an adherence to an authoritarian and hierarchical communitarianism. However, I would also emphasize the obvious differences between National Socialism and Platonism.

Firstly, the one-party state with a powerful, charismatic dictator as proposed by fascism is not really compatible with the ideal citizenship of the Greek polis or of Plato’s Laws. Under fascism, there is citizenship, but this is reduced to one’s role in the bureaucratic hierarchies in the Party and the State, ideally the best being systematically promoted to leadership. It has no equivalent to the Greek assembly, where all qualified citizens are present and vote in elections. Both Hitler and Aristotle, the latter no doubt speaking for many educated Greeks, believed that power and rights should be commensurate with one’s contribution to the community. But fascism and the Greek-state have very different ways of putting this citizenship into practice.

The fascist party-state is much closer to the ideal regime in The Republic, Callipolis. The regime of the Guardians can be considered analogous with the Party (the enlightened leadership) and the SS (the enforcers). However, I would argue that Hitler’s regime significantly differs from Plato’s simply because it is not a philosophical one, but a passionate one. Hitler’s Party was a populist mass organization which achieved power and sustained itself through appeals to emotion, above all through the Führer’s own inspiring oratory. In contrast, Plato’s Callipolis is ruled by dispassionate and almost ethereal philosophers.[6]

Plato’s notorious attacks on the poets and Homer in particular could also be justifiably aimed at Hitler: the poet’s masterful manipulation of the public’s emotions overpowers their reason and blinds them to reality. Hitler himself was well-read and something of an intellectual, but he was obviously not of a philosophical temperament, but rather of an artistic one. No one would deny that he had an incredible ability to intoxicate himself and his followers through the power of the spoken word, inspiring all who would listen to join together and sacrifice in an epic struggle for greatness.

Secondly and more briefly, Hitler’s highest end in politics was evidently the maximization of his racial state’s power, notably military power. Plato and Aristotle considered martial states to be superior to those dedicated to commerce or pleasure, but still second to the best state: that dedicated to philosophy.

A third difference: Plato and Aristotle put a high value on the rule of law. By this, they did not just mean the modern attachment to rules and procedure, but rather a basic law which stipulates and trains the citizens for a specific way of life. Hitler was quite contemptuous of law. (I would also note that Hitler did agree with the philosophers in believing that there was a law of nature, a law with which politics should be in harmony.)

All in all, I would not saddle Plato with Hitler. Though I do believe – in my mystical moments, listening to Dan Houser or watching Aguirre, the Wrath of God – that, through the dark mists that necessarily shroud human existence, Plato and Hitler saw the sublime rays of the same glorious Sun.

If one must look for ancient antecedent to Hitler, it was not Plato, but Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver. In both Sparta and the Third Reich, one has militarism, natalism, eugenics, and unabashed rule over racial inferiors. Hitler himself wrote in his unpublished Second Book, “Sparta must be regarded as the first ethnostate.” Observers such as Ezra Pound also noted the similarity between the two states.

Of course, in one sense, to compare philosophers and statesmen is inappropriate. Plato was drafting paper-polities, Hitler was building a great state and empire. Plato and Aristotle achieved almost nothing in the field of practical politics to actually realize their ideals, whereas Hitler knew astonishing, if brief, success, founding a worldview which continues to haunt the Western mind to this day. Hitler’s passion and poetry were necessary to this, the same passion and poetry which undid him, when he made enemies of too many great nations and treated the Slavs like Lycurgus’ helots rather than as cousins and allies against liberalism, Communism, and Semitism.

The philosophers were quite conscious that to actualize their theoretical ideals was no easy thing and was something beholden to the vagaries of fortune. Hitler was no scribbler but a spiritual lawgiver and political leader, on par with Muhammad or Lenin, doing in the sphere of policy and ideology what Lycurgus had done in that of basic law. Both Plato and Aristotle had written that the exceptional lawgiver will, in establishing or transforming a regime, be a temporary sovereign dictator. Both Plato and Aristotle argue that a supremely good man of almost impossible perfection but, if only by chance (he must occur eventually on a long enough time scale), should rule supremely as a lawgiver (see Laws 681d, 710a-712a). Aristotle writes of the supremely good man, “There can be no law governing people of this kind. They are a law in themselves” (Politics, 1284a3). And: “It is surely clear that [the one best man] must be a lawgiver” (Politics, 1286a21).

Hitler was obviously not such a man, however. Though he’d made an effort while Hindenburg was alive, in the depths of the war he even lacked the self-control to go to bed on time, reading books and watching films until four or five in the morning and getting up around noon. This was a nightmare for his aides.

However, Plato does say of Lycurgus that he “combined human nature with some of the powers of a god” (Laws, 691e). And while poetry is inferior to philosophy in the pursuit of truth, nonetheless, “poets as a class are divinely gifted and are inspired when they sing, so that with the help of Graces and Muses they frequently hit on how things really happen” (Laws, 682a).

In conclusion, perhaps it is also worth noting the disagreements between late-liberalism and classical philosophy. The Greeks were certainly tempted by egalitarianism, with recurring claims that all had an equal claim to rule. This view is explicitly rejected by their philosophers, however. Plato and Aristotle’s denunciations of egalitarianism and individualism are among their most damning and eloquent. The Greeks have much to say on the evils of belly-chasing, comfort-clinging, effeminacy, decadence, luxury, and those eternal crabs who are driven to drag down the best of humanity into a collective slop bucket out of spite and envy. I cannot read Plato and Aristotle’s warnings without thinking of the downward slide of Western culture since the 1960s, if not earlier. Much of the truth is necessarily unpopular, and what was unpopular then must necessarily become much more so today, given how childish the average Westerner’s character has become.
Personally, I think this whole affair is more embarrassing for modern liberals than it is for Plato.



Aristotle (trans. Ernest Barker & R. F. Stalley), Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Plato (trans. Trevor Saunders), Laws, in John M. Cooper (ed.), Plato: Complete Works (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 1997).



1. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: Free Press, 198 ), Part II, Chapter 1, Section 1.

2. Johann Chapoutot, Greeks, Romans, Germans: How the Nazis Usurped Europe’s Classical Past (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), p. 195.

3. Otto Dietrich, The Hitler I Knew: Memoirs of the Third Reich’s Press Chief (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010), p. 91.

4. Glenn R. Morrow, “Plato and the Rule of Law,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 14 (1940), pp. 105-126. Morrow lists a few of the National Socialist books dedicated to Plato. Clyde Murley, another classicist of that era, in an article attacking the National Socialists and Communists, went so far as to argue that Plato was really a democratic individualist. I find this extremely forced and unconvincing. Murley overlooks Plato’s explicit negative eugenics and makes light of Plato’s muscular advocacy of censorship (notably against what we would today call pop culture):

There is some censorship and some propaganda in the Republic. We may not like that. But it is benevolent in intent, and people are to be told as close an approximation to truth as they can understand and will act on. If there are tactful subterfuges, they are merely a device, like the physician’s device in Lucretius – of coating the edge of the cup containing bitter medicine . . .

Clyde Murley, “Plato’s Republic, Totalitarian or Democratic?,” The Classical Journal, Vol. 36, No. 7 (April 1941), pp. 413-420.

5. Hannah Arendt, “Approaches to the ‘German Problem’,” in Essays in Understanding (New York: Schocken, 2005), p. 108.

6. I leave aside the speculative question of whether the Third Reich could have evolved in a less populist and more philosophical direction. We see a clear elitist tendency over time:

  1. Power is seized by inspiring a critical mass of the German people and a historic compromise with the traditional conservative/military elites.
  2. Power shifts to a new elite, selected for their patriotism, willingness to sacrifice, and ideological soundness.

This shift was embodied by the fall of the SA and the rise of the SS. The SS’s power and the constant wars in the East were meant to prevent the inevitable slouching into bourgeois materialism and individualism. SS-Reichsführer Himmler was a quite schoolmasterly type, very interested in history and spirituality, and he planned special meditative retreats for his men. There were also a good many genuine intellectuals among the SS, such as Werner Best.

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  1. Proofreader
    Posted March 23, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    “Indeed, National Socialist intellectuals such as Hans Günther, Werner Jaeger, Fritz Lenz, Adolf Rusch, and Richard Darré cited Plato.”

    Werner Jaeger, the author of the three-volume Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, wasn’t a National Socialist. It appears that he had difficulties with the National Socialist regime and emigrated to the United States in 1936, and that his second wife was a Jewess.

    Hans F. K. Günther’s lecture on Plato was published as a slender book, Platon als Hüter des Lebens, which has been translated into French as Platon, eugéniste et vitaliste. I remember browsing through a book by the Jew Leonard Peikoff, a follower of the Jewish prophetess Ayn Rand (Alicia Rosenbaum), who referenced Günther’s book in relation to the supposed wickedness of Plato. (Incidentally, I’ve sometimes thought it would be nice to lock up the Objectivists and the LaRouchites in a room, and have them sort out their differences over the vices and virtues of Plato and Aristotle.)

    • Guillaume Durocher
      Posted March 26, 2017 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      Thank you for the comment. I always appreciate corrections and new information!

  2. Gunnar Tyrsson
    Posted March 25, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    This was a great essay. It got me thinking of how, in an age of ever increasing technological progress, do we prevent that slide into bourgeois decadence so closely associated with peace and prosperity?

    Perhaps the answer does lie in the Spartan ethos, as the author asserts.

    • Guillaume Durocher
      Posted March 26, 2017 at 4:02 am | Permalink

      A problem which often makes me pessimistic, I have to say! We’ll need creative solutions.

      I like to wonder about, if the Axis had won the war, how “the Sixties” and the Affluent Society/consumerism would have played out in the Third Reich and Fascist Italy. Very hard to say!

  3. Posted March 26, 2017 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    A very fine article, Mr. Durocher. There is little that can be added to your analysis of Platonism’s relation to totalitarianism. I also think your dismissal of Plato’s supposed links to communism is completely correct. In the Republic, before beginning the analysis of the just city which makes up the bulk of that work, a brief description is given of a city which strongly resembles the communist ideal. This city is dismissed by Socrates as a “city of pigs,” a city which is unfit for the consummation of human nature. I find it impossible to glean any support for communist principles from Plato’s writings.

    The relation of Plato to modern liberalism seems to me more complicated. It is certainly true that one of the most scathing denunciations of democracy to be found anywhere in our literature comes in Plato’s Republic, but this does not alter the fundamental fact that Socrates and Plato both lived, and to a large extent thrived, in the democratic city of Athens. True, Socrates was sentenced to death by this same city—but not before he had gone about philosophizing publicly and freely for half a century. The Platonic Socrates moreover refuses to flee from his condemnation, though the possibility is most urgently pressed on him, but instead remains in his prison cell to face his demise. He defends this decision with reference to the loyalty he owes to the laws of the city which gave him life.

    Given that he was executed for practicing philosophy, this might seem ridiculous. It becomes less ridiculous if one considers that Socrates himself would have been impossible in almost any other city in the world in antiquity. In Sparta, for instance, he probably would have not survived even infancy, but would in all likelihood have been exposed as a babe. Plato himself was almost executed, not in Athens, but in the tyrannical city of Syracuse. The birth of philosophy in the West was in a democratic state, and philosophy itself enjoys certain advantages under democracy which it enjoys under no other human government, real or possible.

    Now, Athenian democracy, as you rightly point out, is a far cry from modern liberalism. The madness of the modern liberal state finds no defense in Plato, and is indeed well chastised by him. Nonetheless, the similarities, rather than the differences, between contemporary liberalism and ancient democracy are likely decisive, so far as classical philosophy is concerned. The freedom accorded to speech in the present day, which is inseparable with democracy, is a clear and irreplaceable boon to philosophers; and so it seems that the classic philosopher’s position with respect to modern liberalism would be to attempt to temper its excesses but to salvage its principles, insofar as this is possible.

    For this reason, Platonism seems to me better ally of democracy than of totalitarianism.

    • Guillaume Durocher
      Posted March 26, 2017 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      Hello Mr. Leopard. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree there is a real paradox in the fact that only democratic Athens – as ancient Greece’s major hub, I suppose – produced philosophers and these philosophers generally condemned that very same democracy. I personally reconcile this in this way: both Athens and Sparta were necessary to the Golden Age of Greece, the latter protecting it from the Persians on land, the former enabling that flowering of free thought. Sparta left virtually no writings. So I think we Westerners sometimes need uncritical barbarism and martial spirit, sometimes “decadent” self-doubt and criticism. We need both in different times and places.

      I am not sure I agree with your final comment however. Perhaps I can put it this way: the Greek city-states practiced in effect “totalitarian citizenship” and the ancient democracies sometimes practiced “totalitarian democracy.” Whereas the modern fascists practiced “totalitarian bureaucracy.” (You could also replace “totalitarian” with “holistic” or “communitarian,” as opposed to individualist.) So, Platonism endorses fascism’s totalitarian ambition, while perhaps not approving of citizenship reduced to rank in a bureaucracy. Conversely, Platonism may endorse the modern democracies’ practice of participatory citizenship and legal procedure, while certainly rejecting the individualism, “human rights,” egalitarianism, and “cultural democracy.”

      What do you think?

      • Posted March 27, 2017 at 5:26 am | Permalink

        And thank you, Mr. Durocher, for a thoughtful response.

        The idea of an alternation in the Occident between, as you put it, “barbarism and martial spirit, sometimes ‘decadent’ self-doubt and criticism” is extremely intriguing. It is of course sometimes suggested that an infusion of barbarism is necessary to revitalize a decadent society, but the thought that this barbarism might come from within is rarer. Your idea is rich with implications, and highly worthy of contemplation.

        So far as the question of Plato’s relation to modern liberalism goes, I believe we largely agree, and it is possible we agree altogether. Tell me what you think of the following.

        To suppose that Platonism “endorses fascism’s totalitarian ambition,” as you have succinctly put it, we must hold, first that Plato had concluded that such totalitarianism is healthy for society, and second that he meant to publish this conclusion. We must take the Republic and the Laws, for example, as political tracts, the principles of which can be directly applied to a given society in order to establish or to promote good government. But this is immediately problematic. In the first place, Plato did not write tracts; he wrote dialogues. He wrote dialogues, moreover, in which his own name never appears, save in rare allusion. These dialogues are notoriously full of claims and conclusions so patently absurd that we cannot possibly believe that Plato himself would have sponsored them. Then the very act of applying the dialogues of Plato to any society requires interpretation and selection, which in turn requires philosophizing. But philosophizing is very far indeed from politicking.

        We are thus made aware that the political questions are not settled by Plato; they are opened by him. The foremost political teaching of Plato would thus appear to be, that we are in wont of a society which permits and promotes the free inquiry of ideas, as much as this is possible. To say it again—and here, we indubitably agree—Plato would find our present society rife with vice and perversity, and prone to dangerous excesses. Insofar as our present society fosters free inquiry of ideas, I think Plato would support it; insofar as it suppresses or injures that same inquiry through its vicious and perverse excesses, I think he would oppose it. I suspect the ideal regime for the classic philosophers was the mixed regime, a combination of democracy (for its tolerance and its freedom) and aristocracy (for its promulgation of virtue and its adherence to law). From what you have said, this might well be compatible with your idea of totalitarianism. I would be most curious to hear your thoughts on this.

        • Guillaume Durocher
          Posted March 27, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

          I am very unsure about and very interested in what Plato would like to see concerning the “free inquiry of ideas.” Indeed, how long would Socrates have lasted in Plato’s ideal states?

          On the one hand, Plato laments the death of Socrates and is very bold and radical himself in questioning convention. On the other, he is very eager to suppress anyone spreading “bad culture,” be they poets, children, or atheists. I also take – though I am open to other interpretations – Socrates’ submission to the death penalty as reflecting his endorsement of the state’s right to suppress cultural subversives, even if Socrates did not consider himself a subversive. Does Plato then restrict free inquiry to the private discussions of gifted men, i.e. philosophers? In the Laws, the Nocturnal Council seems to take up this role.

          The Ancients seem to have distinguished “right speech” from any “right to free speech.” I think of Julian on Diogenes: only those who really are philosophers, who have disciplined themselves, have the right to speak out and violate convention so boldly. They do not seem to think “right speech” can be guaranteed by a legal right or “right politics” by some electoral procedure. There seems be rather a tragic conception: the person who believes himself to be in the right in speech simply has to take the risk and pay the price. Your sacrifice is proof of your piety. Perhaps it is the same in politics: the statesman convinced of his rightness has to take the chance of founding a new city through settlement or revolution. The latter is a conjecture, but Plato (and Aristotle) do mention these possibilities and leave few other avenues for perfecting politics.

          • Posted March 28, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

            I wonder if this does not indicate a certain lack of will on the part of the classic philosophers to engage in politics? It seems to me that the philosophical rage for state-building, or for forging the destiny of peoples and the form of societies, is a phenomenon we owe to modern philosophy. The classic philosophers seem much more interested in understanding politics, than in perfecting it; they are much more fatalistic, if you will, much humbler in their perception of their own political influence, and much more skeptical of the possibility of interceding deeply in history.

            I think you are very right in your distinction between “right speech” and “right to free speech,” nor did I mean to conflate “free inquiry of ideas” with “freedom of speech”; freedom of speech is a very late-appearing notion. I intended rather to say that the classic philosophers distinguished between forms of government which were more permissive of the philosophical life (as Athens) and those which were less permissive of it (as the tyrannies of the near East), and that they favored, for obvious reasons, the former over the latter. It is indubitable that free inquiry for the classic philosophers is and must be a private affair; even Socrates limited himself to conversations, and rejected oratory. But then the classic philosophers must support those societies which make possible, in one form or another, the private exchange of ideas. Hence my doubts as to whether they would encourage totalitarian forms of social order, given that these tend to be “invasive of privacy,” as we would say today.

            “On the other [hand], he is very eager to suppress anyone spreading ‘bad culture,’ be they poets, children, or atheists.” I wonder if this is not overstating the point? In the first place, I would ask, who is the “he” in this sentence? You see the problem: Plato himself never speaks in his own voice. Even supposing he speaks through Socrates (which is not an unfair assumption in at least the Socratic dialogues) we do not get very far: Socrates contradicts himself numerous times over the course of a single conversation, and this because Socrates tailors his conversation to his interlocutor’s peculiar character. But then it is doubly hasty to assume that what Socrates pronounces in any given case, is identical to Plato’s true thought. Plato does not permit us to rest content at the utterances of his dialogues; he forces us to think, and, in forcing us to think, forces us to desire the kind of society which best fosters contemplation.

          • Posted February 22, 2020 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            On account of the reasoning by John Bruce Leonard quoted below,

            “I wonder if this does not indicate a certain lack of will on the part of the classic philosophers to engage in politics? It seems to me that the philosophical rage for state-building, or for forging the destiny of peoples and the form of societies, is a phenomenon we owe to modern philosophy. The classic philosophers seem much more interested in understanding politics, than in perfecting it; they are much more fatalistic, if you will, much humbler in their perception of their own political influence, and much more skeptical of the possibility of interceding deeply in history.”

            I propose here that Plato and Aristotle belonged to a tradition of secret societies, going back to Pythagoras, Hermiticism, and much further back.
            These societies acted in secret (closed schools, where apprentices were only accepted on the basis of a set of very critical requirements). The reason for this secrecy must be obvious, man has always hunted down, persecuted and prosecuted what it considered dangerous heresies. This happened during the dictatorship of Christianity, but also before that period, both the masses and elites have engaged in prosecution and killings throughout all of history.
            Hence, followers of this tradition had to operate secretly and carefully, also only publishing part of their writings, leaving out things which where at the time not acceptable. Hence the writings of Plato are likely very incomplete. This may not be about fatalism, but rather, a dead man, hanged, stoned or burned at the stake, or a man in prison, has no influence at all (if he dies before his works are completed).
            Another thing to propose is that these secret societies are very old, forming a small masonic thread from the pagan pre-Christian world into the Christian ages, through the renaissance and the enlightenment, their object might not be small time contemporary politics, but the scale of breath of their vision includes millennia. Their object being to influence thought, the realm of ideas, as Plato wrote ‘ideas rules the world’. Ideas become slowly implemented in governing systems and systems of law indirectly, gradually, and very slowly. In short, the Mason builds with bricks of ideas, he works at the large structure, extending into millennia, he works with the mind, knowing that contemporary systems based upon the views of contemporary minds come and go in cycles. The horizon of interceding extends far beyond any usual horizon. Meanwhile it is stoicism which guides his views, with its disregard of the importance of contemporary affairs. Like Goethe wrote ‘all is but a reflection’.

            An example of an idea which changes society drastically, is the idea which gained adherence in the nineteenth century, the idea of evolution.
            The idea is currently embedded deeply in society, even in popular thought, so that we look to the future and engage in planning to the extent which knows no historical precedent, the idea is revolutionary and has an enormous impact. Since the ancients held that there is nothing new under the sun, it might be that they had a conception of evolution, but since this view could be considered a heresy, a very disturbing and dangerous idea in relation to maintaining status quo and the rule of contemporary authority, it could very well be that they kept the idea indoors for the time being…

    • Posted February 22, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      “The birth of philosophy in the West was in a democratic state, and philosophy itself enjoys certain advantages under democracy which it enjoys under no other human government, real or possible.”

      What is merely pointed out here is that in a democracy, different than a totalitarian system, one relatively enjoys great deal of free space and freedom before the authorities crack down on it. Democracy basically consists of a mediocrity, mediocrity rules in abundance, to the extent that it buries and over-shouts all excellence, and that as such excellence before it arrives in a dangerous situation, it needs to pass through a huge mountain of mediocrity, it is first subject to ridiculization and general stupdity before it becomes by often random reasons be seen as dangerous.

      Regarding stupidity and random reasons. As an example of the above we can take examples from our current democracies. If we take the attempts of censorship from liberal-progressives in relation to ‘alternative views’, you can see that the liberal ban and censorship policies are highly random and unintelligeable, the bans are placed on the basis of what mediocrity and ruling collective hysteria and psychosis randomly and unintelligently recognizes as threats, unintelligantlly as due to mediocrity, of which the level is quite near to stupidity. As such, often censorship is even appplied to those who are not even involved in counter views. Basically one needs to take into account the unintelligeableness of collective ideological madness, and that such maddness does not engage in censorship and banning on the basis of intelligence. Intelligent targeted censorship can only be enacted by an individual or very small group, as intelligence degrades into stupiditiy very rapidly as soon as the collective is involved (which is the case in a democracy).

      Since the ideology of democracy rules supreme, it is currently perfectly possible for instance to criticize it, to burn all of its ideological assumptions to the ground, rather bans and censorship take place on the level of warring ideological factions within the ruling ideology of the collectivist democratic system. To destroy the ideological assumptions foundational to democracy means to be burried under the massive noisemaking of the current ruling mediocrity (all ruling contemporary parties), and if not completely buried under its massive noisemaking, it would be subject to ridiculization. As such excellence can critizize the whole of the current ideology, and if it stays on a meta level, due to medicrity ruling, medocrity being sure of itself as the fool with its own wisdom, it is even incapable of recognizing critique on its foundations as dangerous intelligence.
      Hence, the excellence of an Arisotle, a Plato, a Socrates, as critical counter forces and denouncers of democracy, in our current democracies, which are on a much lower level, as full participant collectivist systems (universal suffrage), it poses no threat at all. In the Greek democracies, the situation was different, probably due to their smaller size, and not being full participant democracies, excellence could become the target of censorship sooner, if a certain carefullness was not taken into account, or if accidentally it gained the focus of authorities.

      Our current democracies bury all excellence safely, the parties being engaged with fighting each other, fighting the ghosts in their minds.

      Regarding the advantages of democracy allegedly only enjoyed in a democracy, some quotations:

      “The structure of human society is like a pendulum swinging between two impulses, two evils in polar opposition, despotism and anarchy. The further it gets from the one, the nearer it approaches the other. From this the reader might hit on the thought that if it were exactly midway between the two, it would be right. Far from it. For these two evils are by no means equally bad and dangerous. The former is incomparably less to be feared; its ills exist in the main only as possibilities, and if they come at all it is only one among millions that they touch. But, with anarchy, possibility and actuality are inseparable; its blows fall on every man every day. Therefore every constitution should be a nearer approach to a despotism than to anarchy; nay, it must contain a small possibility of despotism.” – Schopenhauer

      Translated to the situation of democracy: the rule of the people consist of a thousand dictators whom are present everywhere, while the despotic aristocrat, king or emperor is limited in quantity and presence. The type of modern despot like those which emerged in the twentieth century, Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc. do not count as such as their power and extensive control over society is based on the cooperation of mass man. They are different from despotic kings and emperors, they are the result of the dictator called mass man. They emerge from collectivism, they depend on collectivism, they personify the rule of brutal semi-barbarian mass man.

      “There is this to be said in favour of the despot, that he, being an individual, may have culture, while the mob, being a monster, has none. One who is an Emperor and King may stoop down to pick up a brush for a painter, but when the democracy stoops down it is merely to throw mud.” – Oscar Wilde

      Translated to the situation of democracy: democracy, meaning the dictatorship of mediocrity kills higher culture, including the higher culture of thinking.

      I argue that the emergence of higher culture in a Greek type of democracy could happen on the basis of some basic requirements being fullfiled. Which is that higher culture needs a solid basis of law and order, and of course, basic phsyical needs have to be met, it can emerge in a democracy if the democracy is still limited in scope (different from a media democracy with universal suffrage like ours, which is the worst kind of collectivist decline).

      The advantage of ruling mediocrity on the level of our contemporary mass man media democracies is that excellence is completely unhindered by censorship, remaining fully unrecognized and buried under an enormous mountain of assertive mediocrity, and if it would become subject to censorship, if it would gain focus, it would be a mere unintelligeable case of random bad luck, not even ‘a half understanding’ as:

      “Look on these two pictures—the life of the masses, one long, dull record of struggle and effort entirely devoted to the petty interests of personal welfare, to misery in all its forms, a life beset by intolerable boredom as soon as ever those aims are satisfied and the man is thrown back upon himself, whence he can be roused again to some sort of movement only by the wild fire of passion. On the other side you have a man endowed with a high degree of mental power, leading an existence rich in thought and full of life and meaning, occupied by worthy and interesting objects as soon as ever he is free to give himself to them, bearing in himself a source of the noblest pleasure. What external promptings he wants come from the works of nature, and from the contemplation of human affairs and the achievements of the great of all ages and countries, which are thoroughly appreciated by a man of this type alone, as being the only one who can quite understand and feel with them. And so it is for him alone that those great ones have really lived; it is to him that they make their appeal; the rest are but casual hearers who only half understand either them or their followers.” – Schopenhauer

      To summerize: excellence can operate relatively safe in collectivist systems as wel as in aristocratic systems, of course it cannot assert much influence, but this is not the goal anyway, the target is the future, and future excellence, which gradually and very slowly grows into a greater public. The target is a very slow absorption of its ideas into the whole of human life and its governing systems. As Oscar Wilde wrote ‘history moves in cycles, but ever greater cycles’, so that we currently do not kill the excellent of mind anymore as happened in the past.

    • AutosNomos
      Posted February 22, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      “Platonism’s relation to totalitarianism. ”

      It seems better to speak of it in the appropriate order, of the relation of the modern type(s) of totalitarianism to Plato. It being a relation of modern semi-barbarian ideological counterfeit if such relations be assumed. Modern mass man, in his technological setting and historically unprecedented size, being a very different creature than Greek mass man, evolved two millennia beyond, being subject to a very different zeitgeist, exposed to new ideas, being hyper-regulated, being unable to even remotely understand the spirit of Greek citizens, and remote from the most excellent thinkers of that time.

      “For this reason, Platonism seems to me better ally of democracy than of totalitarianism.”

      Contemporary democracy, with its universal suffrage, feminism, the whole media system.., large armies of regulating bureaucracies, and large quantities of policy makers who are engaged in policy making fulltime would even be the ultimate horror to Aristotle, who had something positive to say about a limited democracy, with a very select amount and class of policy makers who engage only partime in politics (their lack of time and means to enage in politics was considered to be a good thing by Aristotle, probably for reasons of the risk of hyper-regulation by a thousand small dictators as we suffer today..).
      Both the totalitarianism and long term democracies of the twentieth century (consider also that a democracy departing from a previous system evolves during a long period) may be argued to represent the ultimate unprecedented horror of both Plato and Aristotle. They are both collectivist, unprecedented scale, the totalitarian system being a system of one big dictator, aided by a thousand small ones, our current democracies consisting of a thousand small and petty dictators (structurally and even globally governed though by a contemporary oligarchy).

  4. Proofreader
    Posted March 27, 2017 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    In The Alternative, Oswald Mosley rhetorically asked: “The world may be indifferent to the exchange of a Roland for an Oliver, but who would not swop a Popper for a Plato?”

    • Posted March 28, 2017 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Amen to that. Reading Popper’s interpretation of Plato is like to watching an ant disassembling a cathedral.

  5. Posted February 22, 2020 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    On the whole the article is quite thoughtful and nuanced, i’d say, a rare case of thoughtfulness.
    At large though, while it shines through a bit, is seems to me to remain structurally unrecognized that the emergence of Hitler should be seen in the context of collectivism, and technological empowerment. In a situation where European populations had grown enormously throughout the previous century. He emerged in a situation of the growth and (social and technological) empowerment of mass man, in the context of what José Ortega y Gasset indentified as the ‘colossal’. Hence mass gatherings, mass psychosis, and historically unprecedented mass barbarism and war fare. Hitler was an average, and as an average he was the perfect leader of mass mediocrity. For instance, a much more intelligent individual like Goebbels could never lead the masses, as the masses cannot recognize greater intelligence, they choose one of their own kind. Hitlers views and ideas are also very crude copies of original ideas, and his aesthetic taste also wavered between crude copies of classicism, infantile interest based love for the picturesque, and on the whole, petty and crude interest based abuse of art (including music). When interest becomes the greater factor in the love for art, one knows that it is the mark of inferiority and a recipe for abuse.
    Hitler personified mass barbarism, a megalomaniac individual, stealing ideas from excellence, bringing them down to the level of semi-barbarism, which always has disastrous results. When mediocre semi-barbarian man seizes on the ideas of genius and spirit, they become grotesque crude counterfeits, and when a megalomaniacal man with great demagogical skills rises from the masses, it causes collective psychosis among the masses, it all being founded upon mass irrationality and brutallity.

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