This post was originally published at The Financial Philosopher, by Kent Thune.
“I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.” ~ Socrates
Every time I see news coverage of street protests in today’s Greece or of political leaders discussing Greek Austerity, I imagine, if Socrates were living today, if he would be there among the protestors and, if so, what he might say or do. Would he support the protestors? What might he say to the government leaders? Would he approve of Greek Austerity measures?
Luxury is Artificial Poverty
Socrates never recorded any of his thoughts or ideas on paper and all that is known about him comes from the writings of his contemporaries, such as Plato. However, it is clear from these writings that Socrates cared little about money and materiality and he certainly shared no affection with the ruling Aristocrats. Many accounts of Socrates describe him as something of a poor, unattractive hermit wandering the streets of Athens, teaching his philosophies to anyone who would listen. In a time when men labored for a living and spent much of their free time working for the affairs of the city aspiring to political power, Socrates did neither.
In today’s Greece, I believe Socrates would still find himself in the unique position of standing in a corner completely his own–neither with the protestors, nor with the government. While he might sympathize for the struggle of the Greek people against the governing leaders, he would remind the people that money is the corrupting force at the root of all of their troubles and that they would find contentment to let go of their material desires and to end their reliance on government to cure their ills.
Socrates to Greece: Die But Don’t Forget to Pay ‘Debt’
The featured quote at the beginning of this post comes from Plato’s account of the trial of Socrates, where Socrates was accused of “corrupting the youth of Athens” and was given the choice to either denounce his philosophies or die by drinking the poison hemlock. Socrates chose death.
His last words were reportedly spoken to Crito, where Socrates said, “We owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.” Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness. Therefore these words are interpreted to mean that death is a cure and a means to freedom.
I would never expect a political body to take the path of a wise philosopher, but Socrates would likely say today that Greece must metaphorically die–to split from the European Union–to be cured of its ills… And, yes, don’t forget to pay your debt to Asclepius…