Eros and Socratic Political Philosophy (Recovering Political Philosophy)

Eros, Wisdom and Silence of Plato (Part II)
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I myself am a professor of more than thirty-five years standing. I, too, have attempted to model my praxis on that of Socrates. Like Bloom, I have gotten to know many of my students.

I do not need to claim that I have done this as well as Bloom did. However, I have had ample occasion to see and hear a lot. At other times, students come to see one because they desperately need help, not with their studies, but with problems in their personal lives. These youngsters have cheerful, confident, public personas. Privately, they are wretched. They say why. At any rate, a professor does get to know what is going on generally, if not in every particular. Having seen what I have seen, I have the distinct impression that Bloom has diagnosed genuine dangers and trends in the United States but that our youth are not as far gone as he thinks.

First, it is true that the great majority of American students believe that truth is relative. So do most of their professors.

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Hence, it is soft rather than hard. Both intellectual honesty and prudence prohibit attempts to impose truth and natural right on the students as dogmas. If the educator does begin every quest sincerely convinced that the relativists might turn out to be right, the students become excited about the investigation and fruitful conversations ensue. This process requires self-discipline and endless hard work of the teacher, but there is no other way.

It also keeps the instructor in the thick of the philosophic life, so it is a happy labor.

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Second, it is true that relativism, bankrupt education, popular culture, and the immaturity that is natural to the undergraduate age group deprive students of intellectual ambition. However, I also think that college teachers are subject to amnesia and optical illusions.

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We forget how frivolous we were and how little we knew when we were eighteen or twenty. Soon, we imagine that we were always as well read and well informed as we are now. We owe the students the same chance to develop that we had. We must remember that it is not for nothing that Socrates requires his apprentices to reach their fifties before they take up philosophy. Socratic professors might be able to inspire half of their students to diligent study by awakening their wonder about the great questions.

Stimulating wonder is our job. We ought not to complain because no one has done this work for us. I meet some of the families of my students annually. We should sympathize with such parents rather than denounce them. The Socratic professor must build on the good work that parents have done and try to support them in cases in which they have been overwhelmed by the prevailing forces. On the other hand, divorce really is a grave problem.

It scars children permanently. Still, the plights of these youths are not hopeless. As often as not, I have seen young victims of divorce driven toward the philosophic life by their injuries rather than away from it. Fourth, Bloom is certainly right to contend that our college youth culture consists mostly of rock music. Further, much rock music and also much of rap is sheer alienation and unbridled aggression.

A great deal more is revolting kitsch, chock-full of maudlin, artificial feeling, not unlike most of the popular music of earlier generations. Some is not sexual at all, but has a happy-go-lucky bounce that expresses sheer joy of living. It is pure fun.

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Much as Louis Armstrong was the starting point from which I naturally moved to Bach, Mozart, and philosophy, in an era that seems Paleolithic to students now, some good rock might propel our youths toward meditation on the eternal realities. So, rather than tarring all rock music with the same brush, as Bloom does, we should distinguish cases, differentiating the pernicious from the healthful.

It is more important to observe that our students have been exposed to both kinds throughout their lives. Accordingly, some will become casualties of rock and end up sexually, erotically jaded, in the manner that Bloom so adroitly analyzes. Others will fare better. The outcomes are not predetermined. Professors can help decide which influences will win out by throwing invitations to the philosophic life into the balance. Fifth, it cannot be denied that sex has become the American national project. Indeed, many young people feel tremendous pressure to establish their credentials as liberated individualists by cohabiting with their sexual partners ostentatiously.

The recent annihilation of the great barrier to this behavior, fear of pregnancy and childbirth, has probably made such casual sex more common than it used to be. In these instances, the eros has surely become sterile, devoid of Socratic divine madness, and incapable of taking wing into eternity, as Bloom contends. Also, there is usually exploitation in these kinds of relationships.

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Almost invariably, somebody gets hurt. Undoubtedly, there are exceptions. There must be a number of cases in which there is perfect mutual giving of self to other and a firm intention of permanence. These instances are marriage in all but name and can be expected to eventuate in the Socratic winged flights.


Herbert Spencer and Social Theory. The content of the second book is rather though not entirely different as well. Only now, with the recently granted permission of his daimon, has he spoken to an Alcibiades who has come of age and is about to attend the Assembly. In his courses at the New School in the s Strauss had already composed an argument about the problem that would find its way into Natural Right and History. S trauss evaluates modernity from pre-modernity.

The normal result, though, is heartbreak. Socratic teachers cannot save students from these mistakes by prying into their private lives or policing bedrooms.

When this occurs, the youths do not need pinch-faced authorities in tall, pointy hats to inform them that something has gone badly wrong with their love affairs. Rather, they need advice on how to heal their wounds and fulfill their erotic natures in true love. Here, Bloom seems mistaken if he supposes that the eros of the damaged souls can never take wing. Sometimes, it is disaster that opens unhappy souls to philosophy. The teacher must be prepared to lead the students to a more philosophic eros when it is needed and wanted.

In this role, the Socratic professor can help some of the sorrowing youngsters. Finally, it is true that a majority of the students are self-centered. Then he seduced the queen, with her help murdered the king, seized the throne, took whatever he wanted from the marketplace, snuck into houses and slept with anybody he pleased, killed whomever he wished, released prisoners from jail if the whim took him, and generally did as he desired, like a god among mortals cb. In the eyes of this man, the good things in life were sex, wealth, and power. For thirty-five years, I have been asking students in my introductory courses what they would do if they had the ring.

I have administered this survey by secret ballot to some three thousand youths.

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That would be too gruesome. However, they would make progress with the sexually attractive, empty vaults, peek at the answer keys of law school entrance exams, take steps to ensure corporate promotions or political victories, and, occasionally, play Robin Hood. These students charmingly exhibit the lower varieties of eroticism.

They, too, perceive the greatest goods in human existence to be sex, wealth, and power. They plan to grab these greatest goods for themselves as comfortably as they can, again failing to see misery ahead. The 45 percent are scandalized but find themselves both incapable of persuading their peers to be more just and accused of lying to themselves about how they would react if they had the ring. What this means to me is that more than the 55 percent perceive the good as the shepherd did.