Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Voting with Hercules

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Voting with Hercules

Article excerpt

To judge from elections, the purpose of politics is to win power by promising to make people better off. Plato, feeling this made the politician the equivalent of a procurer or pimp, argued that the purpose of politics was to make people not better off, but simply better -- better humans, and therefore better able to run their own lives, as well as better citizens, able to make sound judgements about the qualities required to run a better state. In other words, politics had a high purpose -- the moral good of the whole community, guaranteed by both citizens and their leaders driven by the same purpose.

In a famous allegory, the philosopher Prodicus (c. 465-395 bc) put the choice available to citizens, and by implication communities, in the starkest possible terms. The hero Heracles was setting out on life, and reflecting on which road to take: vice or virtue. Two women then appeared to him: the one clean-limbed, modest and sober, the other soft, plump, brazen and scantily clad. The latter offered him an irresponsible life of uncontrolled ease and pleasure, with no shortage of delightful food, drink, sights, sounds and lovers, dedicated to self-advantage and the effortless enjoyment of the fruits of others' labours. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.