18 November 2005

Brutes, Yahoos, and Daemons

John Adams, in a letter in reply of July 16, 1814, affirmed his complete agreement with Jefferson's thoughts on Plato. "Some thirty Years ago," Adams wrote, "I took upon me the severe task of going through all his Works."

With the help of two Latin Translations, and one English and one French Translation and comparing some of the most remarkable passages with the Greek, I laboured through the tedious toil. My disappointment was very great, my Astonishment was greater, and my disgust was shocking...

Some Parts of his Dialogues are entertaining, like the Writings of Rousseau: but his Laws and Republick from which I expected most, disappointed me most. I could scarcely exclude the suspicion that he intended the latter as a bitter Satyre upon all Republican Government...

Nothing can be conceived more destructive of human happiness; more infallibly contrived to transform Men and Women into Brutes, Yahoos, or Daemons than a Community of Wives and Property. Yet, in what, are the Writings of Rousseau and Helvetius wiser than those of Plato?
But how could Cicero have been duped? Adams speculates that it is likely that Cicero did decisively refute Plato, but, once again, probably because of priestcraft, Plato's reputation survived:
Cicero was educated in the Groves of Academus where the Name and Memory of Plato, were idolized to such a degree, that if he had wholly renounced the Prejudices of his Education his Reputation would have been lessened, if not injured and ruined. In his two Volumes of Discourses on Government We may presume, that he fully examined Plato's Laws and Republick as well as Aristotles Writings on Government. But these have been carefully destroyed; not improbably, with the general Consent of Philosophers, Politicians, and Priests.
And, giving a new sense to 'contemplation', Adams concludes:
Nothing seizes the Attention, of the stareing Animal, so surely, as Paradox, Riddle, Mystery, Invention, discovery, Mystery, Wonder, Temerity.


Anonymous said...

If ever we needed to be reminded that we'd be mistaken to turn the Founders into idols, let Jefferson and Adams' reactionary version of Enlightenment thought prove the point.

I suppose I'm just one of those wicked, obfuscationary priestly sorts, dazzled enough by paradox to be of the opinion that Plato was a whole lot smarter than Jefferson or Adams. That said, I am glad that they weren't impressed by Kallipolis, since I don't think it'd be a very good place to live if they were the philosopher-kings. Or any of us, for that matter.