How Democracy Dies (Summer in The Republic 3)

How Democracy Dies (Summer in The Republic 3) June 7, 2018

Democracy dies in the light looking around for edutainment, hoping for an enlightenment that is fun! Democracy dies when academic bully boys use their power to make lovers of wisdom perform, because they have the money and power.

Education dies when college presidents fire scholars to hire grifters that promise increased endowments and student life directors who promise fun (!). Education dies the moment we say “no” to any idea without considering whether it is true.

Plato pictures this kind of dysfunction in education at the start of Republic. Socrates has gone to the City and done his duty, but now is hurrying back to his work: loving wisdom. A fan, Polemarchus who does not want real education, but does enjoy the “Socrates show” sees him leaving and urges him to stay.

Then Polemarchus said: Socrates, it looks as though you and Glaucon are hurrying to leave us and return to Athens.

That is a good guess.

But do you see how many there are of us?

Of course.

Well, you are going to have to choose between staying here peacefully or fighting us if you try to get away.

Education always goes badly when power gets involved. In this case, Polemarchus demands that education come to him, be done on his terms, and will not take no for an answer. He has his gang and the teacher must come to his house. A customer buying a credential or a party-goer purchasing entertainment can demand convenience, but education is discipleship, not credentialing.

The mentor may pass on skills and a credential or two, but when Jesus walked with his students they were not looking for an accredited degree! So it was with Socrates . . . Polemarchus has forgotten that the enjoyment or skills gained in a good education come as secondary goods. The good student wants Wisdom and to be taught by wisdom.

In reality nobody is the teacher, Wisdom teaches. We walk together in equality seeing what we can, sharing, learning. 

The moment Polemarchus introduces his demands, backed with force, relationship, mentoring, is gone. Instead, he is looking to fill some free time before the party of the evening with edutainment. What Polemarchus does not realize is that education is a human relationship and not for profit. No money, power, or rhetoric can make education happen.

How about a third choice in which we persuade you that you ought to let us go? said Socrates.

But could you persuade us if we don’t listen? Polemarchus replied.

Obviously not, said Glaucon.

Then you might as well know right now that we won’t listen.

Socrates offers a third way. Perhaps, real education can happen right then on the roadside! He can persuade this gang of educational toughs to let him go! (I always think of the teacher at a college mugged by administrators dragging that teacher off to perform his tricks so they can make money.) Any moment that we can stop, listen, and be open to changing our minds means that education might happen! We hear from wisdom together.

Polemarchus does what so many of us do: he wants what he wants and so will not listen. (Lord have mercy!) Polemarchus will “win” and get his way, because he has the power and will not listen to wisdom. Socrates’ young friend, Glaucon, agrees that Polemarchus has “won.”

This is a bad start to Republic and it will take much discussion before real education can happen.

Jesus is the great teacher, but so many of us (God have mercy!) try to use him for religious edutainment. We cannot drag Him to where we are at without warping our relationship with the Divine. We cannot force Him to perform at our convenience or use Him to get a credential. The Rabbi, the great teacher, does not act this way.

May we listen.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.


*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

**I have no idea how much of what I know is just Professor Al Geier filtered through my eccentricity. Here is to you Al!

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