Crito and Civil Disobedience

Yesterday I went to the second protest at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. I went there with a friend who was sympathetic to that cause and we filmed the event in order to make a video that I will share when it is complete.

Looking at the small crowd of people gathered outside the building in the heat, chanting, signs held high, I felt pity for them. They were doing the best to change the world, but at best they were an irritant for passersby.

I started to think about protests in general. It seems like a relatively modern phenomenon. History is full of change induced by violence, but as far as successful peaceful gatherings, I can only think of Dr. Martin Luther King’s marches and Mahatma Gandhi’s fasting efforts off the top of my head.

It seems like a lot of historical figures didn’t advocate civil disobedience, but change through example and education. Jesus Christ of Nazareth, famously said,  “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Which leads me to Plato’s Crito. This book is about one of Socrates’ friends, Crito, who visits him in prison after he has been arrested for “corrupting the youth of Athens.” Crito earnestly tries to convince Socrates to escape, but Socrates refuses. We know from history that Socrates is convicted of that crime and is forced to commit suicide by drinking hemlock.

Soc. From these premises I proceed to argue the question whether I ought or ought not to try to escape without the consent of the Athenians: and if I am clearly right in escaping, then I will make the attempt; but if not, I will abstain. The other considerations which you mention, of money and loss of character, and the duty of educating children, are, I fear, only the doctrines of the multitude, who would be as ready to call people to life, if they were able, as they are to put them to death- and with as little reason. But now, since the argument has thus far prevailed, the only question which remains to be considered is, whether we shall do rightly either in escaping or in suffering others to aid in our escape and paying them in money and thanks, or whether we shan not do rightly; and if the latter, then death or any other calamity which may ensue on my remaining here must not be allowed to enter into thecalculation. 

Cr. I think that you are right, Socrates; how then shall we proceed? 

Soc. Let us consider the matter together, and do you either refute me if you can, and I will be convinced; or else cease, my dear friend, from repeating to me that I ought to escape against the wishes of the Athenians: for I am extremely desirous to be persuaded by you, but not against my own better judgment. And now please to consider my first position, anddo your best to answer me. 

Cr. I will do my best. 

Soc. Are we to say that we are never intentionally to do wrong, or that in one way we ought and in another way we ought not to do wrong, or is doing wrong always evil and dishonorable, as I was just now saying, and as has been already acknowledged by us? Are all our former admissions which were made within a few days to be thrown away? And have we, at our age, been earnestly discoursing with one another all our life long only to discover that we are no better than children? Or are we to rest assured, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, of the truth of what was then said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Shall we affirm that? 

Cr. Yes. 

Soc. Then we must do no wrong? 

Cr. Certainly not. 

Soc. Nor when injured injure in return, as the many imagine; for we must injure no one at all? 

Cr. Clearly not. 

Soc. Again, Crito, may we do evil? 

Cr. Surely not, Socrates.

You can read Crito in full for free (legally) HERE.

Socrates didn’t escape and start some Pan-Hellenic resistance because he knew that it would cause more harm than good. He had been judged guilty and even though he disagreed with it, it would be hypocritical of him to flee from the law when he advocated obedience of the law.

I know protesting is legal in Atlanta, but I do not believe it is as effective as leading a good life and having good ideas. Have discussions, be skeptical, and don’t be afraid to ask a question. We are all students of life and our goal should be to learn as much as possible.

Do you agree or disagree with this article? Please comment your thoughts.

All are welcome here. Please be respectful, courteous, and patient with your fellow readers.



One thought on “Crito and Civil Disobedience

  1. Socrates’ sophomoric hypocrisy in The Crito is perhaps best counterbalanced by reading Howard Zinn’s autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neurtral on a Moving Train.” Most social progress has been made by civil disobedience and conscientious objection, not the Socratic plea for obeying unjust laws. Even Socrates says in The Apology that he has a “higher duty” (to conscience, self, soul, divinity/Apollo) than to a court of law persuaded by sophistry.


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