To the editor:
Nadya Williams’ viewpoint write-up arguing that character judgments of community intellectuals make any difference has remaining me experience queasy. Specially flawed and sick-recommended appears to me Williams’s recommendation that there is a beneficial analogy to be drawn concerning the latest dismissal of Joshua Katz from Princeton and Socrates’ trial and execution at Athens—with the implication that there are a person or two issues here which we may well learn from the Athenians. Four factors of the analogy strike me as particularly troublesome.
Initially, in buy to make the analogy perform, Williams has to crassly misrepresent the historical realities of classical Athens. She phone calls Socrates a “scholar” who was in the business of “grooming college students to be considerate and engaged citizens” (incidentally, must citizens not be considerate and engaged?) and even slept with a single of his pupils, Alcibiades. But ancient Athens had no universities, and Socrates was not a tenured professor with official electricity above students enrolled in his programs and dependent on his grading (and Socrates’ patchy publication document would not have qualified him for a tenured professorship anyway). If anything, Alcibiades was Socrates’ social and financial exceptional. Distorting the earlier to make it in good shape the existing is not illuminating it is merely negative heritage.
Secondly, according to our historical sources, Socrates was condemned in a courtroom of law for “not worshipping the gods acknowledged by the city, bringing in new gods and corrupting the younger.” When there has been much scholarly discussion about the exact indicating of those people charges, to maintain, as Williams does, that Socrates was condemned since of his ‘flawed character’ as an alternative of selected particular behaviors and steps grossly oversimplifies matters. In fact, if there is any stage to the analogy, it really should maybe be that the Athenians by now comprehended that persons who behave in unacceptable techniques ought to be tried out by an acknowledged authoritative overall body and their actions revealed to have violated proven regulations and regulations. (Students have frequently noticed that all through true trials, including potentially that of Socrates, Athenian litigants routinely tried character assassination anyway—but that is a various story, and not 1 which I have ever prior to heard currently being mentioned as an eye-catching or inspiring feature of Athenian culture).
Thirdly, it is inaccurate to say, as Williams states quite a few moments in her post, that Socrates was condemned by “the Athenians:” he was in point condemned by a jury consisting exclusively of white, male grownup citizens, quite a few of whom will have experienced enslaved people in their households. This places the emphasis on a urgent query which Williams’ short article raises, but which she does not remedy: who shall be the judges in the trials of character which she advocates? Definitely, she would not maintain that in this regard, much too, the analogy with Socrates’ demo holds good?
At last, and most worryingly, when Williams writes that “Socrates’s protection in the system, about the higher high quality of his scholarship as the ‘gadfly’ stinging Athenians into contemplating extra deeply, sounded as tone-deaf to these Athenians who voted to condemn him as Katz’s own words and phrases ring now to some” (followed by the assertion that “cancellations of community intellectuals are by no means random”), it is virtually as if she is implying that execution—by hemlock?—rather than “mere” dismissal may possibly be a superior thought in the case of Katz and other scholars convicted of overstepping the mark as perfectly. As soon as extra, the query rises how significantly Williams thinks we really should drive the analogy with the historic Athenians, whom she would seem to have faith in so significantly when it arrives to judgements of the “decency of character.” It would be fantastic to listen to no matter if she and the editor of IHE regret the implication of her text.
All in all, the report is an case in point of how not to use the previous to guidebook the existing: it is traditionally inaccurate, conceptually inadequate, unedifying in tone, and sinister in its implications. Some of its argumentative tactics resemble those of the pernicious tales about antiquity told by particular teams on the much proper of the political spectrum. It would do the job quite very well as a spoof of this sort of stories, but as it stands, it is an unhelpful—and probably even harmful—contribution to a sensitive debate.
Assistant professor in Historic Greek
University of Amsterdam