How to Deal with the Tyrannical Teacher (Summer in the Republic 20)

How to Deal with the Tyrannical Teacher (Summer in the Republic 20) June 24, 2018

Work for a tyrant and if you survive, you learn a great deal, but at a cost. The tyrant has a plan, but it changes all the time. What does not change, whether it is Napoleon or the local boss man, is that the tyrant has a plan. The job of everyone else, citizen, worker, teacher, is to follow the plan or die, be terminated, go away.

What can be done with the tyrant?

A Christian cannot hate the tyrant: we love our enemies, so hate is out. A Christian might kill a tyrant, think Bonhoeffer and Hitler, but the local tyrant is no Hitler and murder is generally out. How can we best resist the tyrant? Better: is there a way to resist the tyrant that has hope of winning him over to justice?

Plato’s great work, Republic, is about education and one soul that is educated, civilized, is a tyrant. There is hope, as Christianity proves and Plato’s philosophy affirms even for the worst of leaders if they will change. How can we encourage this change?

In Republic, the great teacher Socrates is making progress with a difficult student, Polemarchus. Just as the conversation takes a promising turn, another teacher, a narcissistic attention grabber named Thrasymachus roars into action. He kills the good that is being done.

This the way of the tyrant educator: he is suave, until he is angry. He is avuncular until he starts firing everyone. He can tolerate mediocrities or syncophants, but let Socratic discourse begin with the danger that it will turn on his own ideas, and he is enraged. He must end it!

The tyranical leader, like Plato’s Thrasymachus, is into money and power. He will always strive to be The Boss and he will be well compensated for it. Plato called such men sophists and the “education” they sold for profit sophistry. The sophist loudly proclaims his love of wisdom, but does very, very well, by selling his cut-rate education. He credentials rather than educates.

Socrates in Republic is afraid of Thrasymachus for good reason. His reduction of education to power and money will corrupt the younglings and put Athens in peril.

The good news is that before Republic is half done, Thrasymachus has become a functional member of a better society. He has been tamed. 


That’s a long story, but the good news (see the beginning of Republic Book IV) is that it can be done. Have hope! The tyrannical educator, the man with the power, goes after Socrates forcefully. Here is his response:

I was thunderstruck and could hardly look at Thrasymachus without out trembling. Indeed, as in the proverb, I should have been speechless had I not already spotted this wolf before he saw me. In fact, I was watching him all the while his temper was waxing hot, and so I was able to reply.

Socrates is able to respond, because he has seen the tyrant coming. If you recognize the corruption of the narcissist, then when he yells and bullies, you are ready. Often the tyrant will brag to you about other times he has feigned anger to get his way. “I yelled at them and threatened them and then walked out . . . And. . . .” His “war stories” will be rich with bluff and bluster and he will telegraph this to you in his manner and in his own account.

The educational bully will be proud of this anger. How do you deal? You just respond. Note that Thrasymachus is so angry, so threatening, that Socrates can hardly look. That implies he does look. Be like Socrates: look. The Thrasymachus educator is generally insecure and must shout to cover for his lack of ideas. He fears a continued examination of his plans or ideas, because he is rootless. The only constancy in Thrasymachus will be a lust for money and power.

An out of control leader is frightening, but keep in the discussion. Ask questions. Challenge his assumptions. Don’t respond in kind. The tyrant leader is the master of insult, firings, humiliation. He cannot handle calm, dialectical examination of his plans, prognosis, or principles.

Be like Socrates: reply.


Thrasymachus too can be civilized and become a friend.


*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!