Chapter 14 of the Economist

The Morality of the Bailiff

September 19, 2015
Socrates

Soc. Supposing the man is now so fit to rule that he can compel obedience. Is your bailiff absolute?

or even though possessed of all the qualifications you have named, does he still lack something?

Most certainly (replied Ischomachus). One thing is still required of him, and that is to hold aloof from property and goods which are his master’s; he must not steal.

Socrates Consider, this is the very person through whose hands the fruits and produce pass, and he has the audacity to make away with them! perhaps he does not leave enough to cover the expenses of the farming operations! Where would be the use of farming the land by help of such an overseer? What (I exclaimed), can I believe my ears? You actually undertake to teach them virtue! What really, justice!

Isch. To be sure, I do. but it does not follow therefore that I find all equally apt to lend an ear to my instruction. However, what I do is this. I take a leaf now out of the laws of Draco and again another out of the laws of Solon, (3) and so essay to start my household on the path of uprightness.

If I mistake not (he proceeded), both those legislators enacted many of their laws expressly with a view to teaching this branch of justice. (4) It is written, “Let a man be punished for a deed of theft”; “Let whosoever is detected in the act be bound and thrown in prison”; “If he offer violence, (5) let him be put to death.” It is clear that the intention of the lawgivers in framing these enactments was to render the sordid love of gain (6) devoid of profit to the unjust person.

What I do, therefore, is to cull a sample of their precepts, which I supplement with others from the royal code (7) where applicable; and so I do my best to shape the members of my household into the likeness of just men concerning that which passes through their hands. And now observe—the laws first mentioned act as penalties, deterrent to transgressors only; whereas the royal code aims higher= by it not only is the malefactor punished, but the righteous and just person is rewarded. (8) The result is, that many a man, beholding how the just grow ever wealthier than the unjust, albeit harbouring in his heart some covetous desires, is constant still to virtue. To abstain from unjust dealing is engrained in him.

Those of my household (he proceeded) whom, in spite of kindly treatment, I perceive to be persistently bent on evil-doing, in the end I treat as desperate cases. Incurable self-seekers, (10) plain enough to see, whose aspiration lifts them from earth, so eager are they to be reckoned just men, not by reason only of the gain derivable from justice, but through passionate desire to deserve my praise—these in the end I treat as free-born men. I make them wealthy, and not with riches only, but in honour, as befits their gentle manliness. (11) For if, Socrates, there be one point in which the man who thirsts for honour differs from him who thirsts for gain, it is, I think, in willingness to toil, face danger, and abstain from shameful gains—for the sake of honour only and fair fame. (12) (10) Lit. “Those, on the other hand, whom I discover to be roused” (to honesty—not solely because honesty is the best policy). (11) Or, “men of fair and noble type”; “true gentlemen.” This passage suggests the “silver lining to the cloud” of slavery.

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