Random Thoughts on Principle or the Lack Thereof
Socrates and Plato made their criticism of the Greek sophists a central part of their respective philosophic missions. The core of their criticism: The sophists were paid teachers, who as such had a vested material interest in pleasing their listeners, rather than educating them. Thus, fathers brought their sons to the sophists for lessons in how to succeed in practical, political life. The sophists obliged, advertising their wisdom as the means to practical success, even justifying this pragmatic teaching with quasi-philosophical rhetoric about the relativism of ends and knowledge. This entire educational dynamic, as Socrates and Plato believed, directly undermined true teaching of the highest sort, which necessarily begins with painful challenges to received wisdom (i.e., societal norms and expectations), and results, if successful, in the student’s conversion to a life lived in pursuit of supremely and essentially impractical goods.
The sophists, we might say with clarifying simplicity, were teaching young men how to win friends and influence people. The philosophers, by contrast, were teaching them how to judge friends and ignore people. The conflict was both existential and spiritual, personal and universal, earthly and cosmic.
I think of this contrast often these days as I watch the so-called “conservative media” in America disintegrating during the Trump era. As I have said elsewhere recently, in the realm of ideas and opinion, money is a deeply corruptive influence. Perception and judgment bend, conveniently, before such obvious and immediate practical advantage.
I just read the following headline at Right Scoop: “BREAKING: Trump designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as TERRORISTS, earns praise of Ted Cruz.”
I sure hope that headline writer didn’t conceive of Trump’s “earning” the praise of Ted Cruz as part of the BREAKING news item. For at least two years now, Trump hasn’t burped after dinner without earning the praise of “Lyin’ Ted.” Leading me to wonder, “What does the GOP establishment have on this man? Were the mistress stories and accusations about his father and JFK all true? Or is Cruz really just this cynical and calculating about his career opportunities, putting his practical gains above principle, family, Constitution, and country, all for the sake of petty self-promotion — even self-promotion achieved through the most demeaning and debased means?”
Of this I am convinced, that if the rise of great and rare men had been made dependent upon the voices of the multitude (taking for granted, of course, that the latter knew the qualities which belong to greatness, and also the price that all greatness pays for its self-development), then there would never have been any such thing as a great man!
The fact that things pursue their course independently of the voice of the many, is the reason why a few astonishing things have taken place on earth.
— Nietzsche, Will to Power (Anthony Ludovici translation), §885