Share / Discuss

‘Republic’ Revolution

The Republic dramatizes Socrates’s attempt to convince Plato’s brother Glaucon that the just life of philosophy is preferable to the unjust life of tyranny. Until I read Mark Munn’s The School of History, I’d always assumed Socrates succeeded. But Munn speculates that Glaucon died fighting for the Thirty Tyrants—the brutal oligarchy, led by Glaucon’s relatives Critias and Charmides, that ruled Athens in 404–03 BCE, targeted Socrates’s public philosophizing, and put to death roughly 1,500 Athenians. This idea astonished me, but I found substantial evidence to support it.

Munn’s hypothesis casts the Republic in a new and tragic light. If he is right, Plato’s intelligent and courageous brother—suspended as he was between the corruption of Athenian politics and the integrity of Socratic inquiry, between kinsmen who were leaders of the Thirty and a just friend who fell afoul of them—could not be saved even by the age’s most capable advocate of virtue and philosophy. What went wrong? That is the guiding question of Glaucon’s Fate, which focuses on Socrates’s rivalry with Critias and explores the strange resemblance between the ideological tyranny of the Thirty and Callipolis, the Republic’s supposedly ideal (but in fact totalitarian) city of philosopher-kings.

Available now, Glaucon’s Fate: History, Myth, and Character in Plato’s Republic (Paul Dry Books) is Jacob Howland ’80’s fifth book.