Front Page Titles (by Subject) Is Philosophy Politically Subversive? - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1979, vol. 2, No. 3
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Is Philosophy Politically Subversive? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1979, vol. 2, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Is Philosophy Politically Subversive?
“The Offense of Socrates: A Rereading of Plato's Apology.” Interpretation 7 (May 1978): 1–21.
In 399 B.C. Socrates was found guilty by an Athenian court of the charges of corrupting the youth and religious irreverence through his practice of philosophy. Plato's Apology gives the indictment as follows: “Socrates does wrong corrupting the youth and not respecting the gods whom the city respects, but other, new half-divinities.” We need to appreciate the plausibility of the guilty verdict to appreciate the real threat posed perennially to politics and the “city” by philosophy. The nonliberal tradition of Burckhardt and Sorel perceived how politically subversive Socrates was as the prototype of the questioning philosopher. How would we today deal with an analogous court case involving the perennial Socratic issue of the freethinker in collision with various religious, moral, or patriotic beliefs that we may hold sacred and unexamined?
Was Socrates guilty as charged? Important issues of political philosophy lurk in this question. On the surface Socrates rebuts the specific charges of corrupting the youth and religious impiety; but he turns his defense into an offensive and defiant provocation. His counterindictment of the Athenians—that they lack philosophic self-examination—exposes the political subversion always latent in philosophy.
In a disturbing sense Socrates is “guilty,” at least from the perspective of the political city. The Athenian jurors were infuriated by Socrates' tone and style of defense that invited conviction. On the charge that Socrates had novel notions about the city's gods, the jurors might naturally suspect Socrates' very personal and unorthodox inner voice, his daimonion, which pitted private conscience against public law and authority. On the other charge of corrupting the youth, the jury understood that Socrates communicated a “corrupting” esoteric teaching to his inner circle. Socrates' negative teaching, his exposing politicians, poets, and craftsmen to embarrasing crossexamination became an object lesson in skeptical attack for the young.
Decent, nonphilosophic jurors might well be suspicious of how Socrates' damonion made him refrain from participating in politics (31d). “This is Socrates' negative politics: to deny that the public realm is the truly political realm and to assert his inner logos intransigently in the service of the city.” What public good could result from the Socratic questioning that ended in perplexity and undermined the old orthodoxies? In effect, Socrates' court defense recapitulates his offenses as a philosopher against the city. The Apology implies: “When philosophy comes upon the city it comes as a threat.” Plato no doubt sensed this danger but also felt that “The side resisting enlightenment also has something vital to defend and should be addressed.”