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!