Plato's Fable: On the Mortal Condition in Shadowy Times by Joshua Mitchell
The "fable" in the title of this unusual book on the Republic is not one of the tales Socrates tells but rather the entire dialogue. Not only does Joshua Mitchell doubt that Plato was making an earnest proposal in the Republic; the Georgetown University government professor argues that Socrates' interlocutors can understand almost nothing that he says to them. Mitchell tries to demonstrate this and more in his short book, arguing that a recovery of Plato's understanding of reason in an age dominated by liberalism will help reveal humanity's fatal flaw, the inclination to imitate (as Plato understood it).
Although the reader might be grateful that Mitchell seldom indulges in scholarly quibbles—he barely refers to Plato scholarship at all—the author has a penchant for linking the Republic to a vast array of philosophic, theological, and scriptural writings that often seem malapropos. For instance, he writes as though Thrasymachus thinks like Marx, Socrates like Calvin, and as if Book VIII's cycle of regimes calls to mind Luke's Gospel and the Book of Genesis. The result is an odd and arbitrary volume that leaves little sense of what makes Plato's thought distinctively his own.
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This article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books