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(Photo credit: Fox News Channel)

By Jerry D. Salyer, Crisis Magazine, November 7, 2018

Although somewhat overshadowed by the allegory of the Cave, the myth of the ring of Gyges, and other powerful images found in Plato’s Republic, the account of the ship of fools is still memorable and compelling. While Socrates—the Athenian philosopher and mentor of Plato—is discussing with his young friends the nature of justice and the ideal political community, he finds it necessary to describe one of the perennial dilemmas of mankind—corrupt, ignorant leadership. Thus Socrates invites his listeners to imagine a seafaring vessel in dire straits:

The shipowner is bigger and stronger than everyone else on board, but he’s hard of hearing, a bit short-sighted, and his knowledge of seafaring is equally deficient. The sailors are quarreling with one another about steering the ship, each of them thinking that he should be the captain, even though he’s never learned the art of navigation, cannot point to anyone who taught it to him, or to a time when he learned it. Indeed, they claim that it isn’t teachable and are ready to cut to pieces anyone who says that it is. They’re always crowding around the shipowner, begging him and doing everything possible to get him to turn the rudder over to them. And sometimes, if they don’t succeed in persuading him, they execute the ones who do succeed or throw them overboard, and then, having stupefied their noble shipowner with drugs, wine, or in some other way, they rule the ship, using up what’s in it and sailing in the way that people like that are prone to do.

The fools “don’t understand,” continues Socrates, “that a true captain must pay attention to the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds, and all that pertains to his craft, if he’s really to be the ruler of a ship,” nor do they “believe there is any craft that would enable him to determine how he should steer the ship.”…continue reading…