Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Should the Tories follow Frank Field's lead and, in the light of their 'broken society' campaign, make it their policy to produce 'the good citizen'?

In Plato's dialogue Protagoras, this famous intellectual is said to produce the 'good citizen' by teaching him 'proper management of his own business and of the city's too, so that he can make the most effective contribution to its affairs both as a speaker and man of action'. But Socrates rejects this claim, arguing that 'goodness' (Greek arete) is not a teachable management skill, but something more akin to our 'virtue', with strong moral overtones to it - a difference not of degree but of kind. They found no meeting of minds.

Perhaps Mr Field meant something much simpler, e. g. obeying the law. Socrates would certainly have applauded that. For example, in his death-cell in 399 BC he did not disagree that he had been wrongly condemned to death, but absolutely refused to do anything about it: the law must never be undermined, and so brought into disrepute.

So will David Cameron's 'social responsibility' agenda be enforced by more laws? Plato (429-347 BC) would have been horrified. In his Republic, he likens philolegislative societies to the sick, who imagine they will get better by stuffing themselves with medicines, when they should be changing their way of life instead. …

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