Butler, Nussbaum, Paglia

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Tue Mar 2 16:19:37 PST 1999

Catherine Driscoll wrote:

> What *exactly* would
> be wrong with being a sophist (not that I'm saying Butler is), and hey
> isn't that criticism rather obscure, except within a certain field?

My interest in Butler is tepid, but I would like to say a word for the Sophists, who were the originators of democratic thought. Plato (the *fons et origo* of reactionary thought in the west) gave them their bad reputation, but what he had against them was that they belived that virtue (i.e., political capacity) was within the reach of ordinary people, and dared to teach political techniques to "the mob." Or to put it another way, they believed that political wisdom arose from political practice, while Plato wished to reserve political power for those who by birth had a direct pipeline to eternity. This is flippant, but if you wish to see it in more scholarly form, read Ellen Meiksins Wood, *Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy*, plus some of the items in her bibliographies. Butler's problem is mostly (as far as I can see) that she is an anti-sophist. She is litterally a sophist (as are most on this list) in that she accepts money for teaching.

When Plato spoke of "making the worse the better reason," he was objecting to peasants in politics. And incidentally, while I'm a bit shocked at Maggie's support of the death penalty, I can think of one regrettable but quite understandable application of it -- the doing in of that reactionary old ironist and side-kick of state terrorists, Socrates.


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