Socrates finds 21st-century political thought shallow and confused.

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

Bryan Caplan presents a Socratic dialogue based on the premise that three Greek luminaries have time-traveled from ancient times to the 21st century:

A few months after immersion in the modern world, Pericles is a convinced member of what modernity calls “the left,” while Leonidas is an equally staunch member of “the right.” Socrates, in contrast, finds 21st-century political thought shallow and confused.


Pericles: It’s not so hard. Leftists like me care about everyone. Rightists like Leonidas only care about people like themselves.

Leonidas: [harumphs] You don’t “care about everyone.” You only care about people on your side — and you expect the rest of us to foot the bill.


Socrates: I see. Another common view is that the left cares more about the poor, and the right cares more about the rich.

Pericles: More or less. I don’t intrinsically care less about the rich; I just think they already get a lot more than they need or deserve.

Leonidas: I don’t know any rightist who says, “We’ve got to stand up for the rich.” I care about middle and working class people who play by the rules. If we can help them by taxing the rich more, great. But I don’t trust leftists to do that. When they say, “Let’s tax the rich to help the poor,” they mean, “Let’s tax everyone who plays by the rules to help everyone who doesn’t.”


Pericles: I’m a big fan of dialogue, but not because I feel “safe.” As I said, I think the world faces serious — and maybe even existential — problems. We need dialogue because it’s the only viable way to wrest control of our society and our world back from moneyed interests.

Leonidas: Leftists’ idea of a “dialogue” is them talking down to the rest of us, and shaming anyone who fails to loudly applaud. I’d love to have a series of frank discussions — discussions where the answer is genuinely up for grabs, and pragmatism prevails. And we really need such discussions, because Pericles is right about level of danger we’re all in. He just can’t see that people like himself are a big part of the problem.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Existential Comics tries to do this, but not always this well.

    I don’t think there can ever be meaningful dialogue between major ideological factions. The factions exist in the first place because there’s not enough common ground or common concept space to build on. The failure to see eye to eye is a mere symptom, not the core problem.

    Politics is what you get when dialogue fails. War is what you get when politics fails.

  2. McChuck says:

    The proper argument is for Leonidas to shank Pericles, before Pericles has him declared outlaw for existing while opening the gates to invite the Persians in.

    Politics is war by other means.

  3. Sam J. says:

    Go Leonidas!

  4. Jim says:

    It makes more sense when you begin with the baseline assumption that “politics” is an increasingly geriatric muppet show increasingly halfheartedly staged by intelligence agencies and other occult groups as a kind of magician’s flourish meant to dazzle, confuse, and mystify.

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