A God among Men? Glaucon on Acting with Impunity

Now no one, it seems, would be so incorruptible that he would stay on the path of justice, or bring himself to keep away from other people’s possessions and not touch them, when he could take whatever he wanted from the marketplace with impunity, go into people’s houses and have sex with anyone he wished, kill or release from prison anyone he wished, and do all the other things that would make him like a god among humans.

Glaucon in The Republic (Book II, 359a-b, Reeve translation)

Glaucon is seen here, only a little ways into Book II, laying the groundwork for his and Socrates’ later argument over the nature of justice.

What he describes here is a self-pronounced mockery of justice. It is meant to be a caricature, so over the top that it can only leave a listener incredulous, all this in the service of strengthening the deposition to follow.

Indeed, at one point, Glaucon distances himself, finding it hard to believe that anyone could adopt a bolstered version of Thracymachus’ account: “It isn’t, Socrates, that I believe any of that myself. I am perplexed, indeed, and my ears are deafened listening to Thrasymachus and countless others.” Later also saying: “And if what I say sounds crude, Socrates, remember that it is not I who speak, but those who praise injustice at the expense of justice.”

If it had been easy in undergrad to shut out the world, look at texts for ‘what they were,’ then it is truly a challenge today not to read these lines of The Republic anew (recall: a dialogue with the ambitious project of realizing the ideal “republic”), especially in the waning days of the Trump presidency.

Edit: Insurrectionist Trump supporters have stormed the U.S. Capitol.