How Could Socrates Save America?

Socratic Questioning, Stoicism and a Return to Virtue Ethics

Why did an angry mob storm the U.S. Capitol Building on 6th January? Perhaps simply because it seemed to them like the right thing to do. In their own imagination, they were acting quite righteously, and felt completely justified in doing things that looked to the rest of the world like madness, and a form of insurrection.

On hearing the initial news that the building had been breached, the crowd protesting outside cheered loudly. One woman turned to a reporter and said excitedly: “We should all go in, get them, and teach them a lesson.” Indeed, hot tempers can turn many people into budding educationalists. Take moral confusion, stir in self-righteous anger, and what you end up with, though, is a recipe for all sorts of violence.

A few hours earlier, the crowd had been marching along Pennsylvania Avenue, past the statue of Benjamin Franklin that stands outside what’s currently the Trump International Hotel. Ben Franklin’s reflective, philosophical attitude toward his own values stands in contrast to the brash confidence of the angry mob. They believed an outburst of violence would teach their political enemies a lesson. He believed the republic would flourish only if the freedoms secured by The Constitution could be lived with wisdom and virtue. Franklin therefore took the matter of improving his own character extremely seriously.

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2 comments

  1. Interesting article – thank you. In your book “How to think like a Roman Emperor” you refer to the attempted coup by Avidius Cassius against Marucs Aurelius in AD175 and how Marcus Aurelius wisely pardoned Cassius and his followers for the unity of Rome (and how Cassius then ended up being killed by his own support). It leads me to ask whether the current impeachment of Trump is wise and whether Biden, Pelosi and others would better serve the Republic by following Aurelius’ approach to Cassius.

  2. Indeed. How are we to move forward societally when we are mired up to our necks with demands for retribution against each and all ?

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