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I. F. Stone (1907–1989)

Författare till The Trial of Socrates

18+ verk 2,213 medlemmar 21 recensioner 4 favoritmärkta

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Athens put its most prominent philosopher, Socrates, to death by hemlock in 399 BCE, when he was 70 years old and had been practicing philosophy all over Athens for many decades. Why? And what does the fact of the trial and its resulting death sentence mean?

Here’s the accepted narrative over the centuries: Socrates was a martyr to the cause of philosophy, free speech, and truth-seeking. He was so devoted to questioning everything to find the underlying truth that he came into inevitable conflict with the authorities, and eventually the state, even open-minded democratic Athens, had to silence him by execution.

I.F. Stone does a great job digging through all the layers of this story to seek out the underlying facts, to the extent they can be known over 2400 years later. As usual, the truth is much more nuanced - and interesting - than the simple story.

Start with the political backdrop, to which Stone, with his background as a political journalist, is especially attuned. We are used to seeing freethinkers (and speakers and writers) being silenced by authoritarian regimes. But in this case it was the democratic government that did the silencing. And Socrates, although politics was never his focus, had been critical of democracy, a relatively new invention, through the decades.

Furthermore, Athens had suffered through two recent bouts of authoritarian rule by groups of so-called oligarchs. The most recent was just four years before the trial, at the end of the Peloponnesian War, when The Thirty took over, backed by Sparta, and purged their enemies, executing many of their political adversaries and even just wealthy citizens to seize their assets. The strongman leading the regime was Critias. And Critias, it turns out, had been a student of Socrates.

So this is the political counter narrative that Stone promotes: Socrates was a long-standing opponent of democracy in Athens and supporter of authoritarian governments in places like Sparta and Crete. One of his students takes action and overthrows the democratic government, becoming a murderous dictator. When the democratic forces eventually return to power, Socrates is under suspicion and even held to blame for the political disaster. He is put on trial a few years later.

A modern analogy would be democratic Germany putting Hitler’s teacher and mentor on trial in 1949.

Of course, it’s not that simple; it never is. For example, some of the texts cited by Stone in evidence of Socrates’ pro-authoritarian views come from Republic and other Platonic dialogs where Socrates was basically a literary character mouthing positions that Plato held decades after the death of Socrates. Stone then has to speculate the extent to which Plato’s views were “inspired” by the historic Socrates.

And as Stone does acknowledge, the conviction and execution of Socrates did in fact make him the greatest martyr for free speech and free thought in the 2500 year history of Western civilization. So the accepted story has some core of truth after all. And did Socrates actively seek that martyrdom? That’s another of the many interlocking issues that Stone investigates.

Overall I found Stone to be an honest investigator, acknowledging weaknesses and gaps in sources, and counterarguments to his thesis. It is obvious that he has spent a great deal of time investigating both the primary and secondary sources, and his comments about various reference works, commentators, and translations are evidence of the great amount of time and energy he has put in to this work.

Especially notable is Stone’s careful use of ancient Greek to parse the subtle shades of meaning of key words in Plato, Xenophon, Thucydides, and other contemporary writers. He is very eloquent on the beauty of reading Aeschylus’ Oresteia in the original Greek - and the amount of time and effort needed for him to work through the entire trilogy in the original.

Although I don’t accept Stone’s full thesis, he is convincing on key parts, and the depth of the political and social backdrop to the trial make every chapter of this book richly rewarding.
… (mer)
 
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viscount | 14 andra recensioner | Aug 23, 2022 |
Uma carreira de setenta anos fez de I. F. Stone um dos jornalistas mais importantes e confiáveis do mundo. Irônico, radical e bastante polêmico, Stone aproveitou a aposentadoria para investigar temas que sempre o haviam perseguido: a liberdade de pensamento e de expressão. Dedicou dez anos ao estudo da história da Grécia antiga e de Roma, tornando-se grande conhecedor de grego arcaico e especialista no julgamento de Sócrates - que, acusado de corromper a juventude com suas idéias, foi condenado a beber cicuta. O resultado é uma obra extensa, fruto de pesquisa quase obsessiva; uma das mais completas sobre o pai do método indutivo e a Atenas de seu tempo. Com apresentação do jornalista Sérgio Augusto e tradução do premiado poeta Paulo Henriques Britto.… (mer)
 
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BolideBooks | 14 andra recensioner | Jun 16, 2021 |
Stone, I. F. The Best of I. F. Stone. Edited by Karl Weber. Introduction by Peter Osnos. Public Affairs, 2006.
The recent death of Pete Hamill got me to thinking about some of my other twentieth-century journalism heroes. Izzy Stone is high on the list. From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam, from McCarthy to Nixon, he did the kind of open-source investigative journalism that few reporters these days have the time or energy to pursue. His small-circulation weekly newspaper was read by everyone on Capitol Hill because he attended the dull committee meetings, read the reports, and delved into the seldom-read pages of the Congressional Record. He was a leftist at a time when leftists were called before Congress for public pillorying. He was a Zionist who defended the right of Nazis to speak. He was a friend of Robert Kennedy who was not afraid to charge him with equivocation on Vietnam. Finally, when he closed I. F. Stone’s Weekly, he spent his retirement getting a doctorate in classical literature and writing scholarly books on Socrates and Athenian Democracy. This well-edited and introduced anthology of his journalism will give you some idea of the clarity of his mind. Recommended.… (mer)
 
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Tom-e | 1 annan recension | Aug 10, 2020 |
This excellent, well-researched, engaging and even at times sadly funny book is well worth owning, rereading, and researching further. Stone suggests, highly recommends in the strongest terms, learning the ancient Greek for oneself, and I heartily agree. These ancient plays and commentaries have the strongest bearing on our current situation, and need to be looked at critically again.
 
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FourFreedoms | 14 andra recensioner | May 17, 2019 |

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