Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP.

X.

ances ! We may indeed be convinced that Socrates was in all these points right in the main, and it is quite true that he was the precursor and founder of our moral view of the world ; but how could this new idea of right be admitted by any one who shared the traditions of the ancient Greek world ? How could a state built upon these traditions allow such an idea to be spread, without commiting an act of suicide? Even remembering, then, that Socrates laboured and taught in his simple manner, not in the Sparta of Lycurgus, but in Athens and amongst the generation that had fought at Marathon, we shall still find quite natural for the state to endeavour to restrain his action. For Athens was absolutely ignorant of that freedom of personal conviction, which Socrates required, nor could she endure it.

In such a community the punishment of the innovator can cause no surprise. For was not a dangerous doctrine, according to old notions, a crime against the state ? And if the criminal resolutely refused to obey the sentence of the judges, as Socrates actually did, how could the penalty of death fail to follow ? To one therefore starting from the old Greek view of right and the state, the condemnation of Socrates cannot appear to be unjust.?

| To say that the line adop- which was, it is true, an insti. ted by Socrates was not opposed tution later than Solon's time, to the constitution of Solon, but he disliked the popular but was instead a return to elections of Solon; and his old Greek custom, as Georgii principle of free investigation (Uebersetzung d. Plat. Apolo- is widely removed from the gie, p. 129) asserts, is not spirit of Solon's times. correct. For not only did he 2 Compare the remarks of express disapproval of appoint- Kock on Aristophanes, i. 7. ing by lot to public offices,

CHAP.

X.

the times

A very different question is it whether Athens at that time had a right to this opinion, a point which the defenders of Athens assume far too readily. To (3) Rela

tion borne us the question appears to deserve an unqualified by his negation. Had a Socrates appeared in the time of theory to Miltiades and Aristides, and had he been condemned in which then, the sentence might be regarded as a simple he lived. act of defence on the part of the old morality against morality

(a)The old the spirit of innovation. In the period after the was al.

ready in a Peloponnesian war such a view can no longer be state of admitted. For where was the solid morality which decay. Anytus and Meletus were supposed to defend ? Had not all kinds of relations, views, and modes of life long since been penetrated by an individualising tendency far more dangerous than that of Socrates ? Had not men been long accustomed in place of the

[ocr errors]

sory fine.

Hegel, 1. c. p. 100, is here when a verdict of guilty had most nearly right, although he been brought in, the judges regards the Athenians exclu- could only choose between the sively as the representatives penalty demanded by the of the old Greek morality. plaintiff and that asked for by Forchhammer, on the contrary, the defendant; in the present is anything but impartial, in case between death and an illumaking the Athenians conser

But the question vative, and Socrates a revolu- really is whether Socrates detionary, and attributing to the served punishment at all, and latter the extreme consequences to this question a negative of those principles, notwith- answer must be given both standing his protest. Nietzsche, from our point of view as well too (Sokr. u. d. Griech. Tragödie, as from that of his cotemporp. 29), overlooks the difference aries; from ours, because we of times in thinking that, when take liberty of judgment to be Socrates had once been im- something sacred and inviopeached, his condemnation was lable; from theirs, because the quite just. If this were allowed, Athenians had long since denot a word could be said against parted from the ancient state the sentence of death. For, of things. according to Athenian custom,

CHAP.

X.

great statesmen of old to see demagogues and aristo-
crats in feud with each other on every other point,
but agreeing in the thoughtless play of rivalry and
ambition ? Had not all the cultivated men of that
time passed through a school of rationalism which
had entirely pulled to pieces the beliefs and the
morals of their ancestors ? Had not men for a gene-
ration lived themselves into the belief that laws are
the creations of caprice, and that natural right and
positive right are very different things ? What had
become of the olden chastity when Aristophanes
could tell his hearers in the midst of his attacks
on Socrates, half in joke, half in derision, that they
were one and all adulterers ?2 What had become of
ancient piety at a time when the sceptical verses of
Euripides were in every one's mouth, when every
year the happy sallies of Aristophanes and other
comedians in successful derision of the inhabitants
of Olympus were clapped, when the most unprejudiced
complained that fear of God, trust, and faith, had
vanished, and when the stories of future retribution
were universally derided ? 4

This state of things Socrates did not make; he crates only found it existing. What he is blamed for really con

X sists in this, that he entered into the spirit of his found existing.

time, trying to reform it by means of itself, instead
of making the useless and silly attempt to bring it
back to a type of culture which was gone for ever.
It was an obviously false attack of his opponents to

(6) So.

what he

t

1 Conf. p. 29.
2 Clouds, 1083.

3 Thuc. iii. 82 ; ii. 53.
4 Plato, Rep. i. 330, D.

CHAP.

X.

hold him responsible for the corruption of faith and morals, which he was trying to stem in the only possible way. It was a clumsy self-deception on their part to imagine themselves men of the good old time. His condemnation is not only a great injustice according to our conceptions of right, but it is so also according to the standard of his own time; it is a crying political anachronism, one of those unfortunate measures, by which a policy of restauration is ever sure to expose its incompetence and shortsightedness. Socrates certainly left the original ground of Greek thought, and transported it beyond the bounds, within which this particular form of national life was alone possible. But he did not do so before it was time, nor before the untenableness of the old position had been amply demonstrated. The revolution which was going forward in the whole spirit of the Greeks, was not the fault of one individual, but it was the fault of destiny, or rather it was the general fault of the time. The Athenians in punishing him condemned themselves, and committed the injustice of making him pay the penalty of what was historically the fault of all. The condemnation therefore was not of the least use : instead of being banished, the spirit of innovation was, on the contrary, thereby all the more aroused. We have then here not a simple collision between two moral powers equally justified and equally limited. Guilt and innocence are not equally divided between the parties. On the one hand was a principle historically necessary and higher in respect of import

between

and his

CHAP. ance, of which Socrates had an unquestioned claim X.

to be the representative. On the other hand, one far more limited, represented by his opponents, but to which they have no longer a just right, since they do not faithfully adhere to it. This constitutes the peculiar tragic turn in the fate of Socrates. A reformer who is truly conservative is attacked by nominal and imaginary restorers of old times. The Athenians in punishing him give themselves up as lost; for in reality it is not for destroying morals that he is punished, but for attempting to restore

them. (c) A

To form a correct judgment of the whole occurbreach

rence, we must not forget that Socrates was conSocrates demned by only a very small majority, that to all country

appearances it lay in his own power to secure his

acquittal, and that undoubtedly he would have esabsolutely necessari. caped with a far less punishment than death, had he

not challenged his judges by the appearance of pride. These circumstances must make us doubly doubtful of regarding his ruin as an unavoidable consequence of his rebellion against the spirit of his nation. As they place the guilt of the Athenians in a milder light, by laying it in part on the head of the accused, so too they at the same time prove that accidental events, in no way connected with the leading character of his teaching, had great weight in the final decision. No doubt Socrates was at variance with the position and the demands of the ancient morality in essential points; but it was not necessary in the then state of opinion at Athens, that it should come to a breach between him and his nation. Although

men was

« PreviousContinue »