Front Page Titles (by Subject) State and Morality - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
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State and Morality - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
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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State and Morality
“Socrates on Political Disobedience: A Reply to Gary Young.” Phronesis (UK), 21 (1976): 185–197.
Despite dissenting interpretations, the argument of the personified Laws in Plato's Crito (51b-c), that the good citizen must always obey the laws, is a misunderstanding. It is reconcilable with Socrates' belief in the Apology (29d) that civil disobedience is permissible if the state were to forbid the philosopher's mission of rational cross-examination.
Far beyond allowing political disobedience in the narrow case of the philosopher forbidden to philosophize, the Platonic Socrates is concerned with deeper, more radical issues: the nature and binding force of political law as such, and the subordination of law to justice.
The apparent legal positivism of the Crito dissolves when we recognize that the speech of the Laws, taken in context, does not advocate blind obedience to do injustice. It calls for a very qualified notion of obedience subject to rational judgment and the norms of justice. In their discussion, Socrates and the Laws both acknowledge justice rather than mere law (49b-c) as the standard to decide the crucial question: should Socrates escape, or should he suffer the injustice of drinking hemlock in obedience to the laws?
Socrates draws a distinction between “doing injustice” and “suffering injustice.” Morally, we can never do injustice but we may be allowed to suffer injustice, as from the state (49e-50a). He argues that we may obey laws in such cases where we suffer injustice, but never when obedience requires our doing injustice.
Other Platonic dialogues clarify the Crito discussion of political obedience. These parallel texts allow us to formulate a coherent Socratic philosophy of law opposed to an amoral legal positivism or voluntarism. In these texts, Plato consistently rejects the voluntaristic conception of law as the subjective will (voluntas) and interest of the lawgiver, in contrast to the rational content of what is willed. For Plato, a law is a true law because it is just; it is not just because it is a law.
Now the problem arises: what if the state does not grasp the standard of justice in framing its laws? Might it not give other unjust but “legal” commands besides the narrow command to abandon philosophy? The Apology teaches that we cannot obey state laws if they conflict with divine commands (Apol. 38a). But it is up to the individual citizen to judge such a question rationally. Plato does not call for blind obedience to any law, but a careful evaluation of each law by the standards of justice, reason, and the good of the governed.
Thus he subordinates law and obedience to justice and philosophy. The Republic I and Gorgias demolish the voluntarist view of law championed by Trasymachus and Callicles. Justice and truth demand that each law undergo the process of cross-examination: the critical analysis by each citizen of any act commanded or forbidden by law. In principle, civil disobedience becomes possible on philosophic grounds. Philosophy, the true mentor of politics, encourages rational discernment of laws, not blind obedience.