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!

Black-pilled? Do some work!

I don’t post much on the current crisis. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that saying it is usually not productive. See this podcast if you want to know why. So much preparatory work needs to be done before you can have a good conversation that it’s unlikely ever to happen. “You keep using the word ‘good’. What do you mean by it?”

In The Republic, the participants talk about what an ideal city would be like. Little noticed, however, is the end of the dialogue, when Socrates recounts a story of the afterlife. Souls are lined up to be reborn into new lives, and they choose according to the life they lived before. Agamemnon chooses to be an eagle and Ajax a lion. Thersites wants to come back as an ape. These are appropriate choices, but there is a better choice.

Odysseus, the man of twists and turns, gets his turn:

Now it chanced that Odysseus’ soul drew the last lot of all, and came to make its choice. Remembering its former sufferings, it rejected love of honor, and went around for a long time looking for the life of a private individual who did his own work, and with difficulty it found one lying off somewhere neglected by others. When it saw it, it said it would have done the same even if it had drawn the first-place lot, and chose it gladly.

He doesn’t choose a political life, but a quiet life of work, specifically as a cure for former sufferings. Maybe he’s right? Rather than getting more and more sad by things that I can’t control, I should do some work. I suspect that physical work is better for this purpose than mental or office work. If you have a fence to mend, you will care much less about what is happening in the capital city.

I like to think of the new incarnation of Odysseus. What would he be like? Silent, competent, and content, I think.