Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Socrates: A Man for Our Times

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Socrates: A Man for Our Times

Article excerpt

Socrates: A Man for Our Times BY PAUL JOHNSON VIKING, 2.2-4 PAGES, $25.95

About halfway through the book - once he hits all the expected sights on the tour of preSocratic thought, Greek government, and Athenian social life - Paul Johnson suddenly opens fire in spectacular fashion on commonplace progressive assumptions about the philosopher. He dismantles the idea that Socrates was a pre-modern Richard Dawkins, seeking to overturn the pantheon with rationalistic atheism. He calls Socrates "a monotheist" who, while clearly ahead of his time, tolerated Athenian popular religion with a degree of joviality and ultimately sought to defend belief in God against cynics and epicureans who believed they knew better. Johnson also blasts the notion that Socrates was gay, or even that he thought homosexuality was beneficial, by referencing both Greek cultural trends (which by the fifth century had become derisive of male sodomy) and the philosopher's own life, in which he repeatedly rejected advances from the flamboyant Alcibiades.

Perhaps most controversially, Johnson seeks to rescue Socrates from Plato, whom he openly disdains as an ideologue. He goes to great pains to distinguish the authentic Socrates, whose only agenda was teaching people "how to think," from the theoryspouting "Platsoc" hybrid character of later dialogues, who is really a "marionette" suffering post-mortem "abuse" by Plato. …

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