Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reflections: The Marriage of Politics and Religion

I recall once making what I thought to be the non-controversial observation that Plato was a "religious philosopher" in a comment box discussion, only to have the jamoke with whom I was arguing tell me flat-out that I was wrong. I wish that I had had Iris Murdoch's essay on Plato, "The Fire and the Sun" on hand at the time so that I could have backed up my statement with the following excerpt:

Plato's work is...largely concerned with ways to salvation. We may speak of a (democratic) "way of justice" which, without necessarily leading to enlightenment, is open to anyone who is able to harmonize the different levels of his soul moderately well under the general guidance of reason. The characteristic desires of each level would not be eliminated, but would in fact, under rational leadership, achieve their best general satisfaction. The baser part is really happier if rationally controlled. The reasonable egoism would be accessible to the lower orders in the Republic. Plato certainly thought that few could be 'saved', but allowed that many might lead a just life at their own spiritual level.

That should settle things for the religiously minded. Any philosophy that is "largely concerned with ways to salvation" is certainly concerned with the "religious."

That said, on the same page Murdock throws out some tidbits for the intractably political, particularly those of a partisan bent. Plato, she says, taught that "most people want power not virtue and must be trained by pleasure and pain to prefer justice." That's grim enough. "Political systems make men good or bad", she adds. I agree completely. It is the role of the progressive (the good) to train the bad (the conservative) to "prefer justice" by the application of pain (confiscatory taxation). At this juncture do religion and politics form an uneasy union, allowing us to get on with the daunting task of making a better world for men at every spiritual level.


Anonymous said...

The unexamined life is not worth living.
-Socrates, Plato's teacher.

The ancients thought the soul had parts -like Freud's id, ego and superego -and the idea was to get the parts harmonized.

In no way was Plato a religious philosopher. The term religious would have to lose all modern meaning for Plato to be called religious.

Rodak said...

Read the Timaeus. When one is talking about where the soul comes from, and where the soul goes to, one is talking about it in a different sense than was Freud--who, incidentally, on this very issue referred to our man as "the divine Plato," I believe.
Murdock mentions that. She also says that while Plato never got around to delineating the characteristics of a Father God, he was in the neighborhood.
I'll look the quote up tonight, when I get home. You might also want to read Simone Weil on the subject of Plato, if you think he wasn't a religious philosopher.

Rodak said...

In the same essay, Murdoch is comparing Freud's triparite soul to Plato's:

"Plato often speaks of the soul as being sick and in need of therapy. Both Plato and Freud wish to heal by promoting awareness of reality. ONly Freud holds that we grasp reality through the ego and not through the 'critical punishing agency' of the ideal; whereas Plato hold that, above a reasonable egoism, there is a pure moral faculty which discerns the real world and to which sovereignty properly belongs. To put it another way, Plato is in favor of religion and the Father...and although he never 'invents' a full-dress Father-God, his work abounds in images of paternity; while Freud is against religion and against fathers."

And, bit further on:

"Of course Plato's Eros, the daemonicnegotiator between God and man...etc."

There is a direct link between Plato and Christianity in the Neo-Platonist school