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XI: PUBLIC MEN 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. I Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. I (Autobiography, Letters and Misc. Writings 1725-1734).
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The following is a dialogue between Socrates, the great Athenian philosopher, and one Glaucon, a private man, of mean abilities, but ambitious of being chosen a senator and of governing the republic; wherein Socrates in a pleasant manner convinces him of his incapacity for public affairs, by making him sensible of his ignorance of the interests of his country in their several branches, and entirely dissuades him from any attempt of that nature. There is also added, at the end, part of another dialogue the same Socrates had with one Charmidas, a worthy man, but too modest, wherein he endeavors to persuade him to put himself forward and undertake public business as being very capable of it. The whole is taken from Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, Book Third.
“A certain man, whose name was Glaucon, the son of Ariston, had so fixed it in his mind to govern the republic, that he frequently presented himself before the people to discourse of affairs of state, though all the world laughed at him for it; nor was it in the power of his relations or friends to dissuade him from that design. But Socrates had a kindness for him, on account of Plato, his brother, and he only it was who made him change his resolution. He met him, and accosted him in so winning a manner that he first obliged him to hearken to his discourse. He began with him thus:
‘You have a mind then to govern the republic?’
‘I have so,’ answered Glaucon.
‘You cannot,’ replied Socrates, ‘have a more noble design; for if you can accomplish it so as to become absolute, you will be able to serve your friends, you will raise your family, you will extend the bounds of your country, you will be known, not only in Athens, but through all Greece, and perhaps your renown will fly even to the barbarous nations, as did that of Themistocles. In short, wherever you come, you will have the respect and admiration of all the world.’
These words soothed Glaucon, and won him to give ear to Socrates, who went on in this manner. ‘But it is certain that if you desire to be honored you must be useful to the state.’
‘Certainly,’ said Glaucon.
‘And in the name of all the gods,’ replied Socrates, ‘tell me what is the first service that you intend to render the state.’
Glaucon was considering what to answer, when Socrates continued. ‘If you design to make the fortune of one of your friends you will endeavour to make him rich, and thus perhaps you will make it your business to enrich the republic?’
‘I would,’ answered Glaucon.
Socrates replied: ‘Would not the way to enrich the republic be to increase its revenue?’
‘It is very likely it would,’ answered Glaucon.
‘Tell me, then, in what consists the revenue of the state, and to how much it may amount. I presume you have particularly studied this matter, to the end that if any thing should be lost on one hand you might know where to make it good on another, and that if a fund should fail on a sudden you might immediately be able to settle another in its place?’
‘I protest,’ answered Glaucon, ‘I have never thought of this.’
‘Tell me at least the expenses of the republic, for no doubt you intend to retrench the superfluous?’
‘I never thought of this either,’ said Glaucon.
‘You were best then to put off to another time your design of enriching the republic, which you can never be able to do while you are ignorant both of its expenses and revenue.’
‘There is another way to enrich a state,’ said Glaucon, ‘of which you take no notice, and that is by the ruin [spoils] of its enemies.’
‘You are in the right,’ answered Socrates; ‘but to this end it is necessary to be stronger than they, otherwise we shall run the hazard of losing what we have. He therefore who talks of undertaking a war ought to know the strength on both sides, to the end that if his party be the stronger he may boldly advise for war, and that if it be the weaker he may dissuade the people from engaging themselves in so dangerous an enterprise.’
‘All this is true.’
‘Tell me, then,’ continued Socrates, ‘how strong our forces are by sea and land, and how strong are our enemies?’
‘Indeed,’ said Glaucon, ‘I cannot tell you on a sudden.’
‘If you have a list of them in writing, pray show it me; I should be glad to hear it read.’
‘I have it not yet.’
‘I see, then,’ said Socrates, ‘that we shall not engage in war so soon; for the greatness of the undertaking will hinder you from maturely weighing all the consequences of it in the beginning of your government. But,’ continued he, ‘you have thought of the defence of the country; you know what garrisons are necessary and what are not; you know what number of troops is sufficient in one and not sufficient in another; you will cause the necessary garrisons to be reinforced and will disband those that are useless?’
‘I should be of opinion,’ said Glaucon, ‘to leave none of them on foot, because they ruin a country on pretence of defending it.’
‘But,’ Socrates objected, ‘if all the garrisons were taken away there would be nothing to hinder the first comer from carrying off what he pleased; but how come you to know that the garrisons behave themselves so ill? Have you been upon the place? Have you seen them?’
‘Not at all; but I suspect it to be so.’
‘When therefore we are certain of it,’ said Socrates, ‘and can speak upon better grounds than simple conjectures, we will propose this advice to the senate.’
‘It may be well to do so,’ said Glaucon.
‘It comes into my mind too,’ continued Socrates, ‘that you have never been at the mines of silver, to examine why they bring not in so much now as they did formerly.’
‘You say true; I have never been there.’
‘Indeed they say the place is very unhealthy, and that may excuse you.’
‘You rally me now,’ said Glaucon.
Socrates added: ‘But I believe you have at least observed how much corn our lands produce, how long it will serve to supply our city, and how much more we shall want for the whole year, to the end you may not be surprised with a scarcity of bread but may give timely orders for the necessary provisions.’
‘There is a deal to do,’ said Glaucon, ‘if we must take care of all these things.’
‘There is so,’ replied Socrates; ‘and it is even impossible to manage our own families well unless we know all that is wanting and take care to provide it. As you see, therefore, that our city is composed of above ten thousand families, and it being a difficult task to watch over them all at once, why did you not first try to retrieve your uncle’s affairs, which are running to decay, and after having given that proof of your industry you might have taken a greater trust upon you? But now, when you find yourself incapable of aiding a private man, how can you think of behaving yourself so as to be useful to a whole people? Ought a man who has not strength enough to carry a hundred pound weight to undertake to carry a heavier burden?’
‘I would have done good service to my uncle,’ said Glaucon, ‘if he would have taken my advice.’
‘How,’ replied Socrates, ‘have you not hitherto been able to govern the mind of your uncle, and do you now believe yourself able to govern the minds of all the Athenians, and his among the rest? Take heed, my dear Glaucon, take heed lest too great a desire of power should render you despised; consider how dangerous it is to speak and entertain ourselves concerning things we do not understand; what a figure do those forward and rash people make in the world who do so; and judge yourself, whether they acquire more esteem than blame, whether they are more admired than contemned. Think, on the contrary, with how much more honor a man is regarded who understands perfectly what he says and what he does, and then you will confess that renown and applause have always been the recompense of true merit, and shame the reward of ignorance and temerity. If therefore you would be honored, endeavour to be a man of true merit; and if you enter upon the government of the republic with a mind more sagacious than usual, I shall not wonder if you succeed in all your designs.’ ”
Thus Socrates put a stop to the disorderly ambition of this man; but, on an occasion quite contrary, he in the following manner exhorted Charmidas to take an employment.
He was a man of sense and more deserving than most others in the same post; but as he was of a modest disposition he constantly declined and made great difficulties of engaging himself in public business. Socrates therefore addressed himself to him in this manner:
“ ‘If you knew any man that could gain the prizes in the public games, and by that means render himself illustrious and acquire glory to his country, what would you say of him if he refused to offer himself to the combat?’
‘I would say,’ answered Charmidas, ‘that he was a mean-spirited, effeminate fellow.’
‘And if a man were capable of governing a republic, of increasing its power by his advice, and of raising himself by this means to a high degree of honor, would you not brand him likewise with meanness of soul if he would not present himself to be employed?’
‘Perhaps I might,’ said Charmidas, ‘but why do you ask me the question?’ Socrates replied: ‘Because you are capable of managing the affairs of the republic, and nevertheless you avoid doing so, though in quality of a citizen you are obliged to take care of the commonwealth. Be no longer then thus negligent in this matter; consider your abilities and your duty with more attention, and let not slip the occasions of serving the republic and of rendering it, if possible, more flourishing than it is. This will be a blessing whose influence will descend not only on the other citizens, but on your best friends and yourself.’ ”