One of the keys to the human body's health appears to be its ability automatically to distinguish between things that are harmful and those that are not, and then act on the distinction in order to eliminate destructive organisms before their activity leads to critical damage. This is the function of the body's immune system. Once AIDS was accurately diagnosed in the latter half of the 20th century, it caused enormous concern because viruses of the HIV type, which leads to AIDS, not only target certain immune system cells for destruction, they deploy a virus-directed "Trojan horse" strategy that effectively reprograms the defense system of the cells they infiltrate, allowing the virus to evade detection.
When I was first briefed on the HIV's infiltration strategy it brought to mind the passage in Plato's "Republic" in which Socrates compares the disposition required in the guardians of a city to that of one of the "noble dogs" who are:
as gentle as can be with their familiars and people they know, and the opposite with those they don't know. … When it sees someone it doesn't know, it's angry, although it never had any bad experience with him … this does look like an attractive affection of its nature and truly philosophic … in that it distinguishes friendly from hostile looks by nothing other than by having learned the one and being ignorant of the other … so how can it be anything other than a lover of learning since it defines what's its own and what's alien by knowledge and ignorance. … Well … aren't love of learning and love of wisdom the same? … So shall we be bold and assert that a human being too, if he is going to be gentle to his own … must by nature be a philosopher and a lover of learning. ("The Republic," Book II)
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This conclusion prepares the way for the discussion that leads Socrates to propose the famously startling conclusion that "Unless … the philosophers rule as kings or those now called kings adequately philosophize, and political power and philosophy coincide … there is no rest from ills for the cities … nor I think for human kind. …." This conclusion prompts Socrates' interlocutor in the passage (a high-spirited young man named Glaucon) to suggest that Socrates had better defend himself because "very many men, and not ordinary ones, … taking hold of whatever weapon falls under the hand of each, [will] run full speed at you to do wonderful deeds."
Socrates gives such a defense that his the imagined account of it has helped to define the fundamental challenge of just and effective government for nearly 2,500 years. It goes without saying that "there has been no rest from ills for humankind," which suggests that the coincidence of wisdom and power Socrates envisaged has not come about. Yet, as I mentioned in a recent article, I believe that "during the generation in which the United States came into being, America came closer to realizing Plato's ideal of "philosopher kings" than any other in the history of humankind."
Given the elitist faction's deep hostility toward America's founders, those who serve the anti-American agenda it has spawned may greet this conviction with the urge to "run at full speed … and do wonderful deeds" of mayhem against anyone who sincerely voices it, albeit their studious Machiavellianism induces them to dissemble instead. For all the wrong reasons, Plato's "Republic" has often been taken for a paean to elitist totalitarian government, which is precisely what present-day elitists aim to achieve. Yet, in fact, the moral of the story Plato depicts lies in the wisdom that sees nobility in the disposition that leads the guardians of human society to recognize those they guard as "their own," based on knowledge they derive from a natural disposition their education leads them to understand and rely upon.
In a word, those with the extraordinary qualities most needed to defend the community in which they live learn to identify themselves with others who are bereft of those qualities, recognizing those others as somehow "their own," which is to say, like themselves, in spite of the disparity that might otherwise lead them to despise those others as their inferiors. Unlike Achilles in the movie ("Troy," 141), they do not live as if "There are no pacts between lions and men." Socrates does not portray them as children of the gods, differing with their compatriots as lions differ with their prey. They are rather, born of the earth.
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This is the first hint of the sense of justice Plato's Socrates has in common with the founders of the United States. The founders, too, wisely accepted an understanding of humanity that sees our present nature written in the dust. "… [F]or dust you are, to dust you shall return," says the Lord to Adam, after the Fall. (Genesis 3:19) But unlike Plato's teaching, the wisdom of America's founders did not rely on an understanding of virtue drawn by reason of models subsisting in the realm of disembodied intellect. Rather they drew upon the model of the Word made flesh, informed by means of senses and a body, like the body of dust in which the Creator infused His breath of life.
As man was made in the image and likeness of God, so Christ became like one of us, in the image and likeness of our humanity. In this respect, he came as man to man, representing us to ourselves in order that we should recognize, in and through him, the presence of God amongst us, and even within ourselves. Human beings may seem to differ among themselves, as the divine differs from the human, or as powerful lions differ the creatures that they are equipped to prey upon. But the example expressed in human terms by God in Jesus Christ leads us to understand that the one who represents us at our best represents what God intends for all, and brings within the grasp of any who are willing to represent His will for all, even as Jesus, did however lowly they appear.
The elitist faction's agenda for America's demise is driven by their hatred of the egalitarian premise America's founders' embraced. But the premise of human equality that informed America's founding derives from the standard of human perfection for which Christ is the example, in history and truth. It is the standard of Christ's self-sacrifice, wherein God reasserts, for our benefit, the true destiny of our humanity. It reconciles the imperfection to which all human beings are subject, with the more than human hope that drives us to aspire to lives that fulfill the perfect intention of God for us. ("Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48)
Understood in these terms, equality is not a matter of material perception, but of moral and spiritual hope and intention. It allows those who share God's hope and commit to His intention for humanity, to act with equal right upon the choices they make to carry it into action. On account of this mutual representation of good faith, the greater may serve the less without false shame or pride, and the less may serve the greater without fear, because all look to God as their standard, their example and their hope.
Madison asserted that what he called "the scheme of representation" was the American Republic's cure for the "mischiefs of faction" that had plagued the failed democracies of the past. Could it be that the Christian understanding of good faith is the active ingredient that gives to that cure its healing power? Is America's politics falling prey to those mischiefs because we have abandoned and turned against that understanding, thereby letting go the ability to distinguish the friends of God-endowed liberty from its enemies, an ability that was once the second, and better, nature of our body politic?
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Media wishing to interview Alan Keyes, please contact [email protected].