The State versus Socrates: A Case Study in Civic Freedom

The State versus Socrates: A Case Study in Civic Freedom

The State versus Socrates: A Case Study in Civic Freedom

The State versus Socrates: A Case Study in Civic Freedom

Excerpt

When the Athenians condemned Socrates to die because of his ideas, they placed themselves forever on trial.

The choice they offered Socrates was between conformity and martyrdom. They left no room for freedom. Their decision was an uncompromising one, but the verdict that history has placed upon them has been even harsher. Attempting to liquidate the apparently subversive elements in their society, they were to find they had destroyed their claims to the loyalty of free men. Athens was to, perish because of their failures, and surviving generations were destined ever after to share their sense of guilt. Only a few years ago a Greek court tried to clear the national conscience by reversing the ancient conviction; but the modern world found little inspiration in this posthumous tribute to free speech. The issues in The State v. Socrates remain still unresolved.

The case against Socrates dramatically demonstrated that "freedom" and "order" possess elements of contradiction. Freedom implies the possibility of change, and order forever tends to resist it. Only where order is based upon a tradition of freedom can society accommodate itself to change peacefully and without violating its own convictions. Of course, the issues involved before the bar at Athens could only foreshadow the development of institutions of this kind, which could preserve order while serving freedom; but when So-

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