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[Opinion] A True Politician

Posted April. 17, 2005 23:37,   


Socrates puzzled Athenian citizens by criticizing popular politicians. He denounced Miltiades, the “Hero of Marathon,” Themistocles, the creator of Athenian sea power, and Pericles, who developed the Persian War victory into a glorious civilization, as “false politicians.” Among the heroes mentioned, Pericles was greatly praised by the public for building grand shrines to demonstrate the superiority of Athens and by appeasing the citizens with large-scale public projects.

Why were they subjected to criticism then? According to Socrates, they are the major players of Athenian imperialism. In fact, large empires come from people’s minds. They saw wars as the essence of politics and this inspired the “imperialistic urge” in the public’s mind. Self-centered desire, such as insatiable thirst, can fill an entire country when the virtue of control is lost. In this case, a word of a politician can start a war, and one war can lead to another.

Socrates regarded himself one of the few “true politicians.” Athenian citizens scorned this. Socrates viewed politics as “soul-craft,” which implied that a true politician is someone that instills a sense of control and justice into the soul of his or her friends and citizens. The reason he stressed the meaning of the maxim “know thyself” was to promote the importance of self-reflection and control. According to him, the control of desire is the only way to gain peace.

The recent remarks of Japanese rightist politicians have been causing controversy. They agitate the “imperialistic urge” to secure their power supremacy. If their attempt creates a synergy effect, coupled with anti-Japanese demonstrations, peace and order in East Asia will be shaken.

The tragedy and pain caused by instigation of senseless politicians will all be borne by the public. Past and present alike, there are few politicians that give a sense of control to people.

Yoo Hong-lim, Guest commentator, Political science professor at Seoul National University, honglim@snu.ac.kr