“A democracy that creates dolls leads to emptiness, just like a dictatorship that rules slaves.” René Kraus attributes this crude reasoning to Pericles, the glorious ruler of Athens, faced with the dilemma of how to make Athenian democracy survive without his tutelage and inspiration, raised by the still young Socrates during their meeting at the Lyceum, where the philosopher imparted his doctrine.
It is one of the many scenes that Kraus recreates with admirable vividness in his book ‘The Private and Public Life of Socrates’, published in 1940 and recovered more than opportunely by the Arpa publishing house.
Not only because it is an exquisite fresco of that Athens in whose streets Phidias, Hippocrates, Sophocles, Herodotus or Anaxagoras lived together, to name just a few, but also because of the many ideas from then that help us to interpret the present.
Our Europe, heir to that Athens, is currently witnessing a war in which a dictatorship that rules over slaves puts in check a democratic society that has largely lost that consistent paste that gives it a committed and free citizenry, replacing it by inert and lazy consumers who allow themselves to be moved by the strings of various puppeteers.
In the heart of that same Europe, in France, someone who has flirted unashamedly with the bellicose dictator – has even come to accept his money – and who brings in his program, as a great promise, just got more than four out of ten votes , file rights and freedoms and emulate that direction by force from which Pericles always wanted to preserve his fellow citizens.
That European democracy is in crisis, that many of those who are governed by it have been disappointed to the point of embracing the party of dogmatic apostles, is becoming more and more obvious. Just as in those same years Athenian democracy entered a crisis, which would soon end up collapsing.
But the solution to this crisis does not pass through leaving public affairs to the short-cut prescribers, nor through the clumsy compromises with which Europe, for example, has tried in the previous two decades to appease the despot of Moscow.
Kraus recounts that Socrates made Pericles ugly by his dealings with the king of Sparta, whom he bribed with twenty talents of silver to try to save the city. “You will never save it with twenty, with two hundred or with two thousand talents” -the philosopher predicted- “but with free, brave and honest men.”
Neither slaves nor dolls: that is the arduous challenge that awaits us. Unless we feel like falling into the void.