by Miller Saltzman
You know Plato—the Greek philosopher? Well, it ends up he came back to life and wrote an Op-Ed column in The Peel about how disappointed he is that American politicians aren’t taking his advice about how to be just. Before you read this, you should know that Plato is focusing on Book 1 of his book, The Republic, which is presented as a debate between Socrates, Glaucon, Adeimantus, Polemarchus, Cephalus, and Thrasymachus.
This presentation is quite ambiguous since Plato uses real people, but it’s safe to assume that Plato is simply using these characters to show his thoughts. That’s why in the article he says that he believes the things that each of these characters said in his book. Think of it as Plato arguing with himself. Each character’s ideas represent his ideas, and each character’s refutations represent his refutations with himself. The ideas Plato presents are still relevant today because they’re about life and how to live. We added quotes and page numbers for where he used his own writing in the Op-Ed.
I must begin by letting you all know that “I don’t know a thing” (30). (That’s why I can’t tell you how I got here because I truly don’t know.) I am writing today to let you all know what I think about your polis, or—as you call it today—country. Your biggest problem is that you didn’t read my book, The Republic, or skimmed it. If you skimmed it, shame on you. You seem to only understand my Trasymachus arguments—which is leading to your demise. I have good news for you, though. I’m willing to help. Even if it means summarizing my book that you all should have read. But you must promise me that you will make sure future generations read my book because I am still relevant today!
First, “I don’t know what justice is. I can hardly know whether it’s an excellence or not and whether its possessor will be happy or unhappy” (30-31). Maybe that part threw you off when you were skimming my book. But just because I don’t know what the answer is, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what I have to say. For example, your 2014 Midterm elections could have been a lot more just if you made every American read my book in school. Why? Because in the book, I told you that good men don’t rule for money or honor. If they make money they are crooks. Well, that means that the Supreme Court should never have passed Citizens United. It also means that real politicians with real ideas should have won the elections instead of dark money from Super PACs.
I may not know what justice is, but I think that it has to do with telling the truth. Obviously, you Americans are having a hard time with that. Your politicians contradict themselves and lie so they can get as many votes from as many different people as possible. But maybe my Trasymachus arguments were right. Maybe injustice should be valued higher than justice. The results of the elections show that America might very well believe this. Then again, maybe it’s just that you didn’t read my book so you don’t know the arguments against this way of thinking. Well, here they are.
The Socrates side of me believes that just men are happier and live better lives than the unjust. A person with a bad soul rules badly, and a person with a good soul rules well. Since nothing is getting through Congress you must have a lot of bad souls in there. My Polemarchus arguments say “justice is helping a friend if he’s good and harming an enemy if he’s bad” (9). Well America, maybe it’s time for you to harm the enemies you have in Congress by voting for the good people running next time. Just like, “you don’t return money due to a friend if doing so would harm either of you,” don’t vote for someone if doing so will harm you and your friends (6).
My Socrates arguments also argue that the function of injustice, “makes joint action impossible because of disagreement and strife, and it makes the group an enemy of itself and of its opponents and of the just” (27). This is why your Congress is unjust. It can’t agree on anything because the parties are not willing to work together. This perpetual disagreement is creating an unjust Congress that is its own enemy because it’s keeping itself from getting anything done. You need politicians who will not run because of the money or honor they will receive, but because they feel like they must since there is no one better. Only these individuals will bring justice back to Congress.
America seems to be a very unhappy country because it’s obsessed with money. The real unhappiness in life comes from money. You must stop being a slave to money because it’s unjust. Money takes advantage of justice because—as my Glaucon arguments would say—it lets me get away with things as if I were invisible. Just like the ring of Gyges, money lets me do anything I want—even if it’s unjust. No candidates won in the 2014 Midterm elections—money won. Money bought the election with negative campaign ads funded by anonymous corporations donating to super PACs to keep their anonymity.
If you still don’t understand what I’m saying, think about my Adeimantus arguments. The only reason to pursue justice is because of the consequences that may occur if you don’t seek justice. Such consequences include living in a nation where politicians can’t get anything done to improve our lives and protect us. When it comes down to it, members of Congress are being unjust to the people that elected them—the people they represent. A democratic nation is supposed to be governed for its people and promote liberty and freedom. But America is turning into an oligarchy. Elected officials are not governing to help the people they represent, they are governing to help the people that paid for their election. This country is ruled by rich. Since you didn’t take my advice on how to prevent this, let me teach you how to fix it.
First, let’s talk about why it’s bad to have injustice and be ruled by oligarchs. My Trasymachus arguments say “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger” (13). I argue that unjust men always get the better of just men in every way. For example, unjust oligarchs have the money to campaign against just candidates. They see no problem with saying awful things about fellow human beings. The candidates they are campaigning against are just, and therefore don’t want to use the same evil attacks to get back at the oligarchs. So even if they have the money, they don’t feel comfortable being unjust by saying awful things about those who are saying awful lies about them.
My Trasymachus arguments continue to argue that it’s “wrong to value justice higher than injustice” (20). But my Socrates rebuttal argues “no skill—not even a ruler’s—benefits itself” (21). Instead, “it benefits and provides for its subject, by considering the advantage of it—of the weaker, not of the stronger” (21). What you should take away from this is that people interpret justice differently. My Trasymachus arguments explain why the oligarchs controlling Congress do what they do. In their eyes, it’s just. But my Socratic arguments explain a more correct way to interpret justice. Ignore money and honor, and doing what you think will help the most people. The biggest difference is the amount of people you are helping. The oligarchs are helping the rich one percent, and the Socratic politicians are helping the 99 percenters.
This brings us back to the question about how to fix a country ruled by the rich. The answer is education and waiting. First, teach The Republic to children in high school and college. Make sure they understand my arguments, and the points I have made in this article. Second, wait for them to become adults and change the world. The root of the problem is that powerful Americans are misinterpreting justice. Society must hold out against injustice by being realistic about what justice is.