Socrates and the Anti-Democracy
The trial, determination of guilt, and eventual death of Socrates, one of the paramount philosophers in history, on the charge of “corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes” (Plato 24c) in Athens, perhaps the most famous freedom-loving, democratic city-state of the Western world, is puzzling. In his earlier days, Socrates was once seen as an eccentric headmaster of a school of thinking, a harmless character wandering the streets, than a serious threat to Athenian values and democracy. In Aristophanes’ Clouds, Socrates is depicted as an irreligious natural philosopher and teacher of unjust rhetoric. Years later, he is perceived as a dangerous and possibly treasonous individual. Socrates was being prosecuted for four related reasons: his philosophical positions were critical of the Athenian democratic ideology; he proposed a different kind of moral understanding that threatened the norms of ancient Greece; he taught three notorious traitors to democracy - Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides; and his complex argumentation caused confusion and irritation among the citizens (Apology Commentary). The decision to prosecute and ultimately execute Socrates was most likely based off his prior involvement in the tumultuous history of Athens in the years preceding his trial.
On the account of corrupting the city-state’s youth, the trial mainly focuses on three former pupils of Socrates: Alcibiades, Critias and Charmides; all of whom betray the democracy of Athens, and take part in the oligarchic governments installed after both overthrows. During the first of two periods of temporary overthrow of the Athenian democracy, from approximately 411-410 B.C.E., Alcibiades, a former student of Socrates, masterminds the initial overthrow. Previously, he had also fled to Sparta to avoid trial for mutilating a statue of Hermes. While in Sparta, Alcibiades proposed to the city-state’s leaders that he aid them in...
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