The community was so bad, educating people so difficult, and tyranny so much in fashion, that Socrates, a man who ends up willing to die for wisdom and his city, had given up. He was done with discussion. (Republic Book II)
That’s frightening news for the community, as telling for the health of the culture as Bobby Flay giving up on cooking and the Food Network. What can be done? Is there hope?
There is, but it needs two type of people rarely found together: the energy of pious youth and older people willing to listen that still wish to find wisdom.
The commencement bromide that “young people are the future” is true, but misses the point. Younger people have a gift of energy and fresh eyes on problems that is much needed.
In a bad situation, older people simply high light the flaws of any generation, and the flaws we create in our children are there. There is little more harmful than the mockery of millennials as if pastoral help could come through cruel memes. Condemnation by generalization is generally useless to save a particular soul and it is particular souls that can be saved.
Yet as hard to hear is a call to piety if you are younger. When younger, I wanted to escape my parents’ religion. That might have been right, if they had been wrong. What would not have been right would have been a hateful, destructive attitude that showed no gratitude for the gifts they had given me. They gave me life and did the best they knew to do even if that had been a worldview that was wrong. The energy of my youth without piety, honoring my parents who gave me life, would have made a revolutionary.
There are few revolutionaries who do not make things worse.
The rare person is the one that is young, full of fight and energy, who does not just accept the pieties of the present, but also honors what is good today. He wants to conserve the good and change the bad.
Rarer still in my experience is the older person with experience who still loves wisdom more than his opinions. Age gives us experience, a great teacher. Yet many of us older folk do not learn from experience, just reinforce opinions that we have had since our own youth. We harden in place as revolutionaries always do. Yesterday’s angry young man is tomorrows apparatchik enforcing the Party line.
The younger and older persons who will listen to each other and bring all they are to the discussion cannot be stopped. They just might find wisdom, but the combination is rare. Usually, the older crush the younger or the younger rebel and brutalize the older. Entrenched power tries to seduce the energy of rebellion and no good result follows.
There is another way: the path of Wisdom.
Plato pictures this possibility in Republic. Book I contains a series of failed attempts to get a good community going. Socrates himself is ready to give up on discussions, but because he still wished for wisdom and the right young people were there to be heard, the end turned out to be the beginning (Book II):
But on the contrary, the end turned out to be the beginning. With his usual energy, Glaucon objected to “I’hrasymachus’s withdrawal from the contest. He went on to ask: Socrates, do you really want to convince us that justice is preferable to injustice, or will you he content tent if we only seem to he persuaded?
Socrates has defended justice, but badly. That’s good enough for the oldsters: “Silence those dangerous ideas!” It is not enough for the younger men. They want reality and do not mind the hard work needed to find reality. If reality is justice, as they hope it is, then this is most excellent, but regardless of the outcome of the discussion the young men want to know the truth.
Socrates and Glaucon, the lover of wisdom in old age and the courageous young man, are the perfect combination.
God help us, but our Republic could use such combinations just now.
*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. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29. Part 30. Part 31. Part 32. Part 33. Part 34. Part 35. Part 36. Part 37. Part 38. Part 39. Part 40. Part 41. Part 42. Part 43. Part 44. Part 45. Part 45.5. Part 46. Part 47. Part 48. Part 49. Part 50. Part 51. Part 52. Part 52.5. Part 53. Part 54. Part 55. Part 56. Part 57. Part 58.