For members of a certain esotericist school of thought, Exhibit One is Plato’s Republic.  They take to an extreme the commonplace observation that Plato makes his character Socrates speak ironically.  According to them, the Republic hides Plato’s disturbing real teaching behind a comforting, conventional teaching that does not even come close to representing what he actually believes.  We are told that all the great philosophers wrote in this way.

But a disturbing esoteric teaching hidden behind a comforting surface teaching is the opposite of what we actually find.  Socrates puts his most radical proposals front and center:  Community of property, community of wives, “noble” lies, and the same way of life for men and women.  What the esotericists consider his hidden teaching -- that since a perfect regime is impossible, we ought to practice moderation – is not subversive.

So what esotericists say publicly contains a contradiction.  If I reasoned about them as they reason about great thinkers – which I think is how they would like to be viewed – then I would regard the contradiction as a deliberately planted clue that it is they, not the ancients, who write esoterically.  The reassuring, conventional counsel of moderation is just a cover story, and their real view is radical and disturbing.

But of course that couldn’t be true, could it?



So-Called Self-Ownership