Hermes then turns to Zeus and asks, 'Should I deal out these gifts (the political Arts) as I have the rest of the Arts: All to some and none to others?" For when Hermes had given humanity the gifts of medicine, music, and the other Arts, he had given the gifts unequally to men, so that no craftsman was expert in all of the Arts.
Zeus told Hermes, 'No, give them equally to all men.' This is the reason, Protagoras concluded, that while the government of Athens relies on experts for specialized information, for matters of general political discourse, all men have been gifted equally by the gods, and all have an equal right to speak." (The Trial of Socrates, p.p.47-9)
This parable by Protagoras may well be what I.F. Stone called it, "the founding fable" of democracy. It still echoes today, almost twenty-five centuries later in the General Assemblies of the Occupy Movement, and in our right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances under the protective umbrella of the U.S. Constitution. And it grates upon the sensibilities of the spiritual descendants of Socrates, Plato and Burke, who believe that only an elite can possibly run a country properly.
There were two deities who were sacred to the Athenian democracy: Peitho , persuasion raised to the role of goddess, and Zeus Agoraios , the guardian of the Assembly and its free debates. In the course of his many years as Athens' self-anointed "gadfly," Socrates had disparaged the Assembly and its debates continually, never willingly attending one. It was the insults to these two deities representing Athenian democracy, together with the leadership by his students and friends (Alcibiades in 411 B.C.E., Critias and Charmides in 404 B.C.E.) in the overthrow of Athenian democracy, that led to the charges brought against Socrates in 399 B.C.E..
And that, according to Mr. Stone, is the essence of the charges upon which Socrates was convicted, and for which he chose to drink hemlock. Socrates had become such a danger to Athenian democracy, that he could no longer be permitted to live in Athens. Even with the death sentence, his guards were kept loose: everyone in Athens expected him to flee elsewhere and live out the rest of his days in exile. But Socrates knew he would never be afforded the Freedom of Speech he had under Athens' hated democracy anywhere else. He also knew that the time was coming when his faculties would wane. He wished to be remembered as a martyr against the "democracy" of Athens, not as a demented old man drooling in the corner.
And so Socrates died, giving democracy a bad reputation for far too many centuries.
Justice Marshall completes his dissent with the following paragraph:
The political dynamics likely to lead officials to a disproportionate sensitivity to regulatory, as opposed to First Amendment , interests can be discerned in the background of this case. Although the Park Service appears to have applied the revised regulations consistently, there are facts in the record of this case that raise a substantial possibility that the impetus behind the revision may have derived less from concerns about administrative difficulties and wear and tear on the park facilities than from other, more "political," concerns. The alleged need for more restrictive regulations stemmed from a court decision favoring the same First Amendment claimants that are parties to this case. See n. 1, supra. Moreover, in response both to the Park Service's announcement that it was considering changing its rules and the respondents' expressive activities, at least one powerful group urged the Service to tighten its regulations. The point of these observations is not to impugn the integrity of the National Park Service. Rather, my intention is to illustrate concretely that government agencies, by their very nature, are driven to over-regulate public forums to the detriment of First Amendment rights, that facial viewpoint-neutrality is no shield against unnecessary restrictions on unpopular ideas or modes of expression, and that, in this case in particular, there was evidence readily available that should have impelled the Court to subject the Government's restrictive policy to something more than minimal scrutiny. For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent.
Justice Marshall had a perspective that his fellow Justices lacked: he had been on the other end of the policeman's baton. He understood the necessity of being able to stand your ground for your beliefs, without having the fire hoses aimed at you, or the police dogs being sicced on your friends. Unlike his fellow Justices, who had always been part of the elite, Thurgood Marshall knew the importance of your rights under the First Amendment if you weren't part of the One Percent, and his dissent reflects that fact perfectly.
The biggest problem with an oligarchy, is that because of their lack of empathy for the lower economic classes, the oligarchs run a nation not in the best interests of all, but in their own best interests. They do not like opposition, especially the very public opposition represented by the Occupy Movement. They want sheep to fleece, not sheep dogs to hound them. Their sense of entitlement, including feeling entitled to rob the Treasury blind, makes it all but impossible for the oligarchs to run a country for long without bankrupting it, unless some strong counterpoise exists.
I have no desire to see the United States bankrupt.
The Occupy Movement has once again invoked the spirits of the Athenian Agora: Responsibility and Respect, the protectors of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly from twenty-five centuries ago. Then as now, there are those who would deny them their right to be heard: Socrates and his disciples then, the oligarchs and their lackeys now. The reactionaries who make up the oligarchy continually harp on the members of the Occupy Movement, demanding they assume responsibility for themselves. Never is any mention made of the oligarchs respecting what the Occupy Movement is saying about what is wrong with our country: the intentional destruction of the middle class over the last thirty years; the lack of support for public education, especially in terms of the cost of going to college; the outsourcing of America's best paying jobs in the name of ever more obscene corporate profits; the increasing lack of opportunity, especially for the poor, working, and middle classes; the fact that the top one percent is paying a lower effective tax rate than they were twenty-five years ago on a larger income. (See my December 29, 2011 OpEdNews article, "Let's Sit This One Out," for more on the last problem.)
Without the twin pillars of Responsibility and Respect, any democratic form of government, from direct to representative democracy, cannot long survive. We must speak out in any and every forum that we may take. We no longer have Peitho and Zeus Agoraios to watch over us; the responsibility for the outcome of this struggle against the oligarchs is ours, and ours alone.
We must not fail.