Normally I’m a big fan of Fjordman’s essays, and I still liked the overall thought process of the article, but this is an overly simplistic analysis of Plato, and not very fair to him. First of all, he did succeed – he crafted Alexander the Great, consummate philosopher-king, who conquered the known world under the guise of a Noble Lie, namely his version of Paganism and his pseudo-divine origins. He knew full well that Pagan gods were false, as his letters between him and his mother show, but promoted it anyways.
Secondly, censorship of art that was considered inappropriate existed in all cultures and was promoted by almost all philosophers up until modern day. I for one agree with Plato that certain forms of art have a corrupting influence. Who here would honestly dispute that Western culture has become infected with a subjectivist, marxist trend, at least partially from the influence of subversive art? I mean, of course, literature, movies, television and such, not paintings and sculptures.
Calling Plato a communist is downright insulting to his name. Never once did he rail against private property, and simply because he believed (based on firsthand experience) that democracy was an inherently corrupt system hardly makes him a communist.
And this is not to mention that the West had more than a passing affinity for Plato. His worldview was the dominant intellectual trend in Christendom for a thousand years, before Aquinas and Albert revived Aristotlean thought. The medieval West wasn’t by any means communist.
And finally, as the article mentions, we have nothing from Socrates directly, so any speculation on how his philosophy (as opposed to his inquisitive methodology) differed from Plato is moot.
This strikes me as a case of seeing history through one’s personal lens and imposing it upon an unrelated past. The philosophies of Aristotle vs. Plato no more relate to freedom vs. tyranny any more than any two ancient philosophers picked randomly from a hat. They were not bound to the modern convention of left-right thinking. Not all critics of social convention are created equal. Simply because Muhammad and Plato were both critics of their respective societies does not mean that they are equatable in any sense beyond that. Plato’s criticisms were legitimate; Muhammad’s were not. Acting as though there are anything more than superficial parallels is an insult to a great man.
That’s my two cents, anyways.
@Derv: Plato wasn’t the teacher of Alexander, Aristotle was.
Alexander the Great was not a philosopher-king, in Platonician terms.
“Never once did he rail against private property” it seems that you didn’t read The Republic, Plato not only was against private property but he clearly states that the ruling Aristocracy has to practice collective property!
“His worldview was the dominant intellectual trend in Christendom for a thousand years” Christian thought was and is still influenced by Plato’s ontology, but not Plato’s politics as Fjordman unequivocally stated.
“The philosophies of Aristotle vs. Plato no more relate to freedom vs. tyranny any more than any two ancient philosophers picked randomly from a hat” In fact, history has tought us that both philosophies are opposed, and not only at the political level, we know this for at least 7 centuries. Check out Popper for a detailed view of this opposition.
“Calling Plato a communist is downright insulting to his name” Well, this a philosophical essay not a talk at bar, There is no Hegel’s philosophy without Plato, and there is no Marx’s Philosphy without Hegel and Plato!!!
Fjordman’s essay is below the fold. KGS
WHY MUSLIMS LIKE PLATO
As I indicated in my previous essay Western Civilization and Socratic Dialogue, the Socratic spirit has been a hallmark of Western culture at its best for nearly 2500 years. Yet it has never been shared by Muslims; nor by Western totalitarians starting with Plato in Antiquity. Plato (ca. 428-348 BC) in his early career was closely associated with his teacher Socrates (ca. 469-399 BC), who was executed in Athens when Plato was around 29 or 30 years old.
Plato’ s most positive contribution to Western culture, apart from his support of mathematics, was the fact that he provided us with much of the information we have regarding Socrates methods. Yet it is sometimes very difficult to see when he reports opinions that Socrates the truth seeker probably held, and when Plato puts his own, sometimes strikingly different ideas into the mouth of his former teacher. As historian of philosophy John G. Cottingham states:
Plato was evidently inspired by the ideas of Socrates, whom he makes the chief spokesman in his dialogues; but since Socrates himself wrote nothing, it is impossible to say with certainty how many of the ideas presented come directly from him. The general consensus is that the doctrines developed in the middle and later dialogues (most notably the famous Theory of Forms) represent Plato s own distinctive philosophical views, while the earlier writings more closely reflect the influence of Socrates. The Socratic project is to shake us out of our comfortable preconceptions, by challenging us to give a rational account, or logos, of the concepts and categories we employ, often unreflectively, in our ordinary lives.
The excellent French scholar Remi Brague explains in his book The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea that medieval Christians found inspiration in his personal story and saw in Socrates a pre-Christian precursor persecuted for his monotheism. While he was not the son of God, as Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth was, the parallels between the executions of the troublemakers Socrates and Jesus are nevertheless interesting. Page 113:
Alfarabi and Averroes recall that Socrates preferred to die rather than live in a corrupt regime. The fact remains that the primitive scene of medieval religions is different. Christ died on the cross. Muhammad died in his bed, a victor; there are declarations attributed to him that suggest that he was aware of that difference from the prophets who had preceded him. Consequently, and in parallel fashion, Islam understands the martyr as a combatant who falls while killing, not as a victim who accepts being put to death. Defeat is not conceived as concealing a deeper victory, reserved for resurrection. Thus it seems that an authentic philosopher, in the Islamic context, must be in power. Since being at the head of Plato s ideal city is impossible, he would be the vizier of the actual sovereign. To repeat a lapidary saying: Socrates was judged; Maimonides and Averroes were judges. They might even have considered it their duty to condemn those who, in their own times, might have been equivalent to Socrates.
The image of Socrates as a martyr who died for his beliefs might make sense to Christians, but less so to Muslims. This is because a Muslim shahid, a term often translated as martyr, is not a person who dies for his beliefs but rather one who murders others for their beliefs and himself dies in the process, for example by blowing up a bus full of unarmed non-Muslim civilians. According to such an Islamic worldview, Socrates was a weakling and a failure.
Muslims, as did most European scholars, generally considered Aristotle to be a better writer than Plato and held him in high regard as the greatest thinker of Antiquity. One notable exception to this rule was in politics. We have no certain knowledge of any medieval Arabic or Hebrew translation of Aristotle s Politics, which was translated directly from the Greek to Latin by William of Moerbeke.
If an Arabic translation of this major work of political theory ever existed at all, which appears unlikely, it was at best treated with indifference, at worst with outright hostility. This blatant rejection of Aristotle s political philosophy stands in sharp contrast to the enthusiasm for his natural philosophy and requires an explanation.
Brague concludes (page 116) that Aristotle s Politics appears to have been unknown in that part of the world. This was an absence that had one important consequence: Islam founded its political philosophy, not on Aristotle, but on Plato, whose political reflections the only ones available thus replaced Aristotle s, to play the role in the East that the latter filled in the Christian West. If there was a deliberate decision not to translate Aristotle s Politics, it is not impossible that this was because the work was judged less appropriate than Plato s dialogues on the ideal regime for use in connection with the Muslim community in search of a theory of its own, and therefore that in Muslim lands such theory was deliberately founded on principles that were more Platonic than Aristotelian.
Despite their love of Aristotelian physics, Islam had an affinity for Plato. One historian has compared the Muslim political community with the organization of Plato s ideal city. The Law of God, page 117:
One author whom one might not expect to meet in this context Nietzsche saw this similarity with an astonishing clarity. For Nietzsche, Muhammad is a Plato who succeeded. If the philosopher, necessarily a critic of the mores of the society in which he lives, does not manage to become the legislator of new mores, he leaves behind him the image of a dangerous dreamer. This was the case with Plato. But in his Syracusan adventure, Nietzsche continues, Plato thought he could do for all the Greeks what Muhammad did later for his Arabs, establishing both minor and more important customs, and especially regulating the daily life of every man. His ideas were quite practicable, just as certainly as those of Muhammad were practicable. A few hazards less and a few hazards more and the world would have witnessed the Platonization of Southern Europe. The philosophers of Islam seem to have seen in Muhammad the philosopher king that Plato had postulated, and to have seen the Muslim community as the realization of Plato s city. Did they sincerely believe this? Their practice shows, in any event, that they felt an affinity between Plato s political works and Islam.
I have also heard the claim that Muhammad was the Hitler who succeeded.Both statements could be considered true. That s what Muslims have in common with both international Socialists and national Socialists, or Communists and Nazis: A complete rejection of Western liberty and a passion for Platonic political totalitarianism. This explains why Marxists and radical left-wingers within the Western world often team up with Muslims: They have a mutual enemy and make common cause to stamp out the Socratic spirit of the West.
There are those who view Plato as the real founder of Communism, more than two thousand years before the birth of Karl Marx. In his work Western Philosophy: An Anthology, John G. Cottingham comments on Hegel, whom he regards as a difficult and often contradictory philosopher but concludes that individualism is deemphasized by him in favor of the state and that Hegel often seems insufficiently concerned with the practical safeguards needed to protect and foster the autonomy and individual freedom which his state is supposed to realize. It would be fair to put Hegel squarely in the anti-Socratic camp of Western thought, with roots at least back to Plato. Karl Marx himself soon followed in the Hegelian tradition.
Plato talked about the corrupting influences of art and argued for strict censorship of the kinds of music and poetry that should be allowed in his ideal state. He viewed the painter as a kind of trickster who seduces his audience by producing pale imitations of reality. Fortunately for the future evolution of European art and music, Aristotle had far greater sympathy with the artistic enterprise than did his teacher. Had Plato s views on this prevailed, much of the incredible variety of later Western art and music, from the Hellenistic period to the Northern Renaissance, would have been impossible. In this regard, Plato was very clearly an ancient forerunner of modern totalitarian movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
It is instructive here to remember that while the Nazis and the Communists both wanted and practiced strict regulation and censorship of decadent art, even they didn t go as far as to ban all works of pictorial art, European Classical music or ballet per se. Muslims, however, did do so. This means that mainstream Islam was even more totalitarian than the most totalitarian strains of Western thought, but it also means that the Platonic view of art and politics reflected by the Nazis and the Communists was more in line with Islamic thought than with the best and most creative elements of European culture. This again explains why a disproportionate number of Western converts to Islam today are either Marxists or neo-Nazis.