Gabriel Niforatos | Tuesday, September 25, 2018
In political theory, there can be a fine line between justice and morality. Recently, I was wondering what the conversation would be like if the current President of the United States and Socrates had a conversation in the spirit of this unique relationship between justice and morality, as well as the qualities it takes to make an effective leader. Borrowing Plato’s use of dialogue, perhaps part of the conversation would look like this:
Socrates: It is only by good fortune and the favor of the gods that I stand before you today. It is many a decade ago that I partook of the hemlock and died according to the laws and sentence decided by my accusers. I suppose it is a form of justice — or irony, to use a softer word — that I now take the position that they once had. I do not wish to “sentence” any president to any fate. Instead, let the current president stand before me and meet my words. Let us seek to discern his spirit in discussion of politics and rule.
President: It’s good to have you. What a great guy.
Socrates: I will be forward and start with the fundamentals of your style of leadership. Perhaps I will begin with the fact that you were not a politician before you held office. I am well aware (although I was across the veil for these thousands of years, I watched the history of democracy in your country with intrigue) that several presidents of your country have not come from a line of rulers or the realm of politics. This may be a foreign concept to me, but I shall entertain the merits of your point of view for a brief moment. I am of the opinion that one cannot understand or comprehend the meaning of truth or justice unless it be from the private sphere. If we equate the fact that you are a political outsider with existing outside the “public sphere,” that is the one solely motivated by politics and opinion, then we would have to admit that you are in a unique position to discern truth and adequately lead the nation.
President: Well, as you mentioned before, the climate of politics has changed. Ideas about the separation of public and private spheres seem to be purely philosophical. I don’t know if it’s still relevant in modern society. But you say I’m in an excellent position to discern the truth.
Socrates: If you truly existed outside the public sphere. That was purely hypothetical. As a makeshift celebrity before you came to office, you didn’t truly exist outside of that sphere. You are a commercial leader; a People magazine advertisement where the sensationalism is actuality.
President: I won states that my opponent should have won with her eyes closed. It was a monumental victory. Broke records. You, if you even existed all those years ago (historians disagree on that, you know), philosophized all day before a jury that ended up killing you anyway. So much for the power of words.
Socrates: Quite interesting that you bring up the power of words. Isn’t this something that you wield every day, on that tool of the Rhetoricians, Twitter?
President: He knows what Twitter is, everyone.
Socrates: A true leader doesn’t use rhetoric as a weapon of deflection. If I step back and attempt to lend credence to your argument for the sake of impartiality, fighting complacency with the status quo is indeed a key to finding the truth. Even if one can never firmly grasp their hands on the truth, the unexamined life is no life for a human being to live. If you used your words to examine the institutions of this nation with an eye geared toward constructive critique and useful change, this would be pivotal to effective rule. I would go so far as to say it would be noble. And yet, it appears from your words that this is not what you seek to accomplish. The tweets that compose an aspect of your reactionary midnight foreign policy hearken to the golden-tongued sophists, though your words lack the brilliant honey that they used, who wield words for the sake of wielding them; who wield them to sow seeds of chaos and push the pursuit of truth into the backdrop of an argument that would have no end.
President: As I have said before, there was no collusion.
Socrates: When my friend Chaerephon went to the Oracle at Delphi all those years ago and had the audacity to ask her if there was another in the land any wiser than me, she replied that there was none. If this is indeed true, it is only true for one simple reason. I am the wisest in the land for I alone know that I know nothing. There is an analogy to be made here. You claim to know everything, over-stretching yourself to politics and economics and foreign policy, indeed, your self-assessment has singularly consisted in the use of positive superlatives. And yet you yourself also know that you know nothing. There is an intellectual humility that is a responsibility of any effective rule.
President: Can I get a word in? The political climate has changed. America needed to be woken up; it needed a shakeup in every way. My crooked former opponent would have given us four more years of the status quo.
Socrates: When will you move past an election that occurred almost 700 days ago? In the name of waking up your people? A quality leader is an extension of his or her people, the community, the nation-state that they govern. A good leader cannot exist for him or herself or the entire concept of leadership becomes empty. And here we come to the verdict. You are a sophist, though not necessarily a good one. You wield words as weapons to divide, tools to distract from corruption. An effective ruler does not build walls. He or she tears them down and builds bridges to bring people together. I shall soon quickly fold back into a restless sleep and my words will be memories to you. I want to emphasize that I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think. You must remember this: When the debate is over, slander becomes the tool of the loser.
Gabriel Niforatos is a sophomore who has diverse interests ranging from political science to music. When he’s not at school, he is busy hiking and running in the New Mexico mountain range. His email is [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.