Justice and Strength


"Justice is the will of the stronger." So said Thrasymachus in Republic. It’s a shocking claim that most readers reject, but is it false? Look around the world and see that everywhere the powerful do what they want, and the weak suffer what they must. In class I used to bring up the example of voting districts, which in Illinois wiggle like maggots into the heart of Cook county, with their tails in the collar counties. Why? So that the dominant party can win all elections, now and forever. It’s the will of the stronger!

Socrates makes an argument against Thrasymachus that takes nine books, but could be summarized thus: the nature of the soul is such that injustice makes the unjust man suffer, and that justice makes the just man happy. You can read it yourself, but it’s a pretty compelling argument. What other argument could you make? Perhaps that the unjust will be damned and the just will have eternal reward? Maybe.

Note what the argument against injustice requires: either 1) a soul that has a defined nature or 2) a God who will punish the wicked. Now consider that in our day we believe neither. There is no such thing as a human nature, we are told. Existence precedes essence, says Sartre. If you identify as a unicorn, by golly you are a unicorn. As for God and judgment, well, nobody believes that old stuff anymore.

What defense do we have against the will of the stronger? So when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, just know that it’s the way of the world. Thrasymachus triumphant!

One thought on “Justice and Strength”

  1. i’ve thought a lot about the wrongs committed by groups/nations and it’s caused me to question my own thinking on justice in the midst of what it takes for a people to survive. The rape of the sabine women. The Israelite conquest that must occur for them to claim the land of milk and honey. The violence that was done for the U.S. to achieve its manifest destiny. Every single civilization violently carving out their place in the world… and the weak suffer what they must. After/in the midst of all these wrongs the men go home to their wives and raise their children. They teach them to be honest and fair with their fellow man. To work hard and earn what’s given to you (or maybe this is naive idealism).

    Is justice and fairness only to be exercised at home amongst your own people?
    Who are YOUR people?
    Your family?
    Your neighbors?
    Your statesmen?
    Your nation?
    Your religious group?
    Your political party?

    I don’t know the answer to these but i needed to put them down.

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