Socrates on Modern American Political Rhetoric

Make your own applications.

When many of them are sitting together in assemblies, courts, theaters, army camps, or in some other public gathering of the crowd, they object very loudly and excessively to some of the things that are said or done and approve others in the same way, shouting and clapping, so that the very rocks and surroundings echo the din of their praise or blame and double it. In circumstances like that, what is the effect, as they say, on a young person’s heart? What private training can hold out and not be swept away by that kind of praise or blame and be carried by the flood wherever it goes, so that he’ll say the same things are beautiful or ugly as the crowd does, follow the same pursuits as they do, and be the same sort of person as they are? (Republic 492b-c)

It’s as if someone were learning the moods and appetites of a huge, strong beast that he’s rearing – how to approach and handle it, when it is most difficult to deal with or most gentle and what it makes it so, what sounds it utters in either condition, and what sounds soothe or anger it. Having learned all this through tending the beast over a period of time, he calls this knack wisdom, gathers his information together as if it were a craft, and starts to teach it. In truth, he knows nothing about which of these convictions is fine or shameful, good or bad, just or unjust, but he applies all these names in accordance with how the beast reacts – calling what it enjoys good and what angers it bad. He has no other account to give of these terms. And he calls what he is compelled to do just and fine, for he hasn’t seen and cannot show anyone else how much compulsion and goodness really differ. Don’t you think, by god, that someone like that is a strange educator? (Republic 493a-c)

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