Socrates and the rule of liberty

In one of my favorite Platonic dialogues, The Crito, Socrates is represented at the end of his life, in prison, awaiting execution. It is quite a setting. Crito, loyal follower (loyal in affection but not loyal if loyalty is best for wisdom), arrives to visit with Socrates and persuade him to break the law by paying off the guard and fleeing into exile. To make matters more difficult there is a scholarly literature on the plausibility that this was not an unheard of or hard to complete plan.

But, my interest is in the discussion had between Crito and Socrates. Socrates tells Crito that it is his way to only go where reason (logos) leads. So, he will submit to Crito the principles which he has taken as settled logos and which have guided him thus far. And, if Crito can find anything problematic about the principles, then Socrates says he will be willing to consider changing his settled decision which is to follow the law and court judgment toward execution.

What are the principles? They are two. And they are as Libertarian as anyone can possible imagine. And that is my point. I do not say that Socrates means that such principles are the height of morality unless one takes them in a much richer reading. I will read them first in their minimalist sense. Then I will consider how one of the principles can be deepened.

The principles: First, keep commitments. This is a “contract” principle. Plain and simple. Second, do no wrong and bring no injury to anyone. This is a principle of non-aggression. Plain and simple.

Socrates does not develop the principles. They are taken as settled and Crito has NO way to problematize the principles. We will not develop the non-aggression principle in any depth here, but what it implies is the existence of that to which the individual has a right to and that is out of the control of any other. This includes first and foremost the body inhabited by the soul. Second, that body must have standing ground and supply. It implies the right to any property acquired legitimately.

Oh, I can’t help it. There are three ways of getting property legitimately without aggressing. Here they are: homesteading, production, trade. To homestead is to find it first, and by first is meant before it is anyone else’s property. To produce is to transform material that is yours into something else. To trade is to voluntarily agree on exchanging property rights with another.

Causing injury very simply is to attack the physical integrity of the property to which someone else has a right to. This would be doing wrong.

A common complaint against such non-aggressive liberty is that the impoverished will be left to rot by the greedy. First, note that is happening with aggression of government. So, it is no complaint against non-aggression. That it would happen more is entirely hypothetical and unverified. It is a bet. Nothing more. I will not pursue it any longer here. It is nothing but a Charles Dickens-like 19th century caricature or socialist myth of the evil robber baron operator. All I have to say, here, is that at least Bezos trades voluntarily. Trump does not. He aggresses (and so did every government employee before him).

A deepening of the non-aggression principle to enrich the moral life–to cause no injury is deepened and enriched when one reads in The Crito much earlier in the dialogue that morally wrong action mutilates the soul. Socrates affirms his belief that this is true.

The implication of this relationship between morally wrong action and the soul is that the immoral, the vicious, the unrighteous, before their actions ever effect anyone else, do great damage to themselves. While I am not legitimated in aggressing against them for their self-aggression, I can note it.

Were I to find the seeds of purity and virtue in the non-aggression principle I would train the principle upon my self. Do no harm…not even to your own soul. This self-destructive path of the way of immorality and vice is like suicide. It is harder to see and takes longer to manifest itself in this world. It may look for some time like the vicious are winning. But it is in this sense that the meek inherit the earth. The unrighteous are constantly killing themselves through the mutilation of their own souls.

Legally we should act so as to prevent their aggression against anyone else. Everyone should keep commitments and not injure. But otherwise, we should tend to our own souls. We should do no injury their first. And this is the ultimate implication of liberty and non-aggression. Yes, legally, you should be left to the destruction of your own property, including soul property. But you should note the contradiction. That you aggress against yourself through vice and unrighteousness is no feather in your cap. Nor would it be mine.

To self-tending.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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