Emily Dickinson, “The Soul should always stand ajar” (1055)

The Soul should always stand ajar (1055)
Emily Dickinson

The Soul should always stand ajar
That if the Heaven inquire
He will not be obliged to wait
Or shy of troubling Her

Depart, before the Host have slid
The Bolt unto the Door —
To search for the accomplished Guest,
Her Visitor, no more —

Comment:

The erotic energy of the Soul standing ajar, awaiting the advance of Heaven, is intense but perhaps submissive:

The Soul should always stand ajar
That if the Heaven inquire
He will not be obliged to wait
Or shy of troubling Her

“The Soul should always stand ajar,” standing attractive, alluring, letting “Heaven” exercise his whim or determination. “Heaven” thinks He has a choice, but in not being “obliged to wait,” or “shy of troubling Her,” He really fulfills Her deepest desire. If freedom or choice seems a plausible theme to consider in the first stanza, it also feels almost completely submerged by sexual fulfillment: Who cares who is in control? Soul and Heaven are both happy if Soul leaves the door open.

Of course, if Soul and Heaven could merge, that would be the purest, truest human happiness.

So why might Soul not leave the door open? The very first line of the poem was an admonition, “The Soul should always stand ajar;” the first word of the second stanza, “Depart,” is an imperative. An impossible set of orders presents itself. We are to have souls open for reception of the highest ecstasy; later, we are to leave our own soul. Initially, these two things do not appear to contradict each other directly, as each, taken by itself, is a problem. The difficulty of the poem’s recommendations emerges in the second stanza:

Depart, before the Host have slid
The Bolt unto the Door —
To search for the accomplished Guest,
Her Visitor, no more —

The first stanza made it sound like Soul and Heaven could meet in perpetual conjugal bliss. Now someone is to “depart,” before “the Host have slid / The Bolt unto the Door.” Someone must leave before Soul is closed by a Host. That leaving, to be sure, has a purpose: “To search for the accomplished Guest, / Her Visitor, no more.” The theme of freedom, of control, returns with a vengeance. Heaven leaves with his so-called accomplishment, and the Soul is left behind. An air of inevitability permeates the whole poem. Soul would open itself completely to Heaven, only to find bliss then desertion. In desperation, a Soul’s owner would try escape herself, looking to find the “accomplished Guest,” but unable to do so.

Heaven’s Host closes the door, leaving Soul with only temporary bliss. If Heaven has a claim on truth, it stands to reason that if it visits us, it does not leave us with the truth alone, but with a multitude of different ideas about what we experienced. One cannot really depart and search for Heaven, as one cannot really leave her Soul and the images it contains, some of which are directly from the highest source, never to be confirmed in this life. The unreality of the second stanza comes from taking the first stanza seriously. A funny thing happens, though, if you take the second stanza seriously: if you were able to depart your Soul and search for Heaven, you would undo the openness of the first stanza. You would deny having a passive soul, that merely waited for Heaven, however clever the trap laid. What would be admitted is that we must engage truth through our perceptions. There is no clever way to avoid experience, including the experience of loving and finding oneself lonely.

Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

The Negro Speaks of Rivers (from poets.org)
Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Comment:

Of rivers the Bible speaks. One watered Eden: in flowing out, it divided into four, encompassing the lands of the earth (Genesis 2:10-14). Homer tells of Proteus, the god by the Nile, who could shift his shape and become anything. Menelaus had to hold him fast to learn the truth about his former comrades (Odyssey IV.412).

Onto the poem. Indignant, proud, he speaks: “I’ve known rivers.” Someone has challenged his authority, questioned his being; it’s as if a whole tradition conspires to rob him of his dignity. The only way to counter tradition is an appeal to the natural, the way things actually are. “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.”

How things actually are is continuous, persisting. The truth is within one; metaphorical identification is literal identification, a carrying across time:

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

“My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” the fundamental response to one who would question your experience, what you have seen. Only a little knowledge of one’s ancestors is needed to grasp your standing with them. Like them, he has “bathed,” “built,” “looked,” “heard,” “seen.” If remote antiquity has an epic, mythical power – whether we are speaking of the origin of civilization (“Euphrates”), golden ages of peace (“Congo… lulled me to sleep”), grand empires (“pyramids”) – then he certainly shares in that, hearing “the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans.” (Once, it was a point of national pride that America was home to the Great Liberator, as opposed to a place that accused MLK of being “the real racist.” That was a long time ago, I realize.)

Rivers speak change and, strangely enough, what is constant about change. They speak nature itself, and by extension, the soul: what is muddy glows golden in the sunlight. Our speaker, appropriately, lets his statement fade as daylight. In the moment, he has provided clarity, should one want the truth: “I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Amiri Baraka, “Like Rousseau”

Like Rousseau (from Poetry)
Amiri Baraka

She stands beside me, stands away,
the vague indifference
of her dreams. Dreaming, to go on,
and go on there, like animals fleeing
the rise of the earth. But standing
intangible, my lust a worked anger
a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.

Then back off, and where you go? Box of words
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.
Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.
They wait and touch and watch their dreams
eat the morning.

Comment:

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” declares Rousseau, and we nod as if the pastor has told the absolute truth, for we too hate getting out of bed and going to work on a Monday. It is too easy to miss the full import of the declaration, as its large scope causes it either to veer to the everyday, and perhaps the trivial (some, of course, are absolutely crushed by their workload), or veer to the cosmic, to utopian notions of freedom, and perhaps truly innocent beginnings (a truly free man seems, in some such way, to transcend man himself).

Baraka brings us back to earth, speaking of love and lust, what we do with dust, how we trap ourselves. Rousseau’s Second Discourse famously features men copulating with women before the advent of property through chance encounters in the wild, unceremoniously consummated, forgettable, brief. DC’s bar scene and property market may or may not match this description. Either way, the dust of the earth, constant in both the wild and DC, stands between the world and us. It is how we craft images of those in the process of imagining themselves:

She stands beside me, stands away,
the vague indifference
of her dreams. Dreaming, to go on,
and go on there, like animals fleeing
the rise of the earth.

She’s beside him, but away, far away, as she is “the vague indifference of her dreams.” He is regarded indifferently, but the power of her dreams only matches their incompleteness. She knows she needs to search, that it will feel right when found, but this sometimes entails fear of what doesn’t seem right, and always an aversion, as if there is always a better object.

She is imagined herself, perhaps the dust of the fleeing animals, the rise of the earth. She stands intangible to him, as he’s watching her, and he is certainly intangible to her:

But standing
intangible, my lust a worked anger
a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.

Knowing his invisibility and her desirability, his lust is nothing but “a worked anger,” the sum total of his thought and skin, “a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.” Everything is a play of the imagination, and his has brought him only so far.

Oh, those chains, those awful, awful chains: desire became thought, but failed to become action. Now he’s back to words, words, nothing but words:

Then back off, and where you go? Box of words
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.

He backs off the chase, but that means he’s back to a “box of words and pictures,” with “steel balloons tied to our mouths.” I can’t help but think of a comic strip panel, where the characters are bound to one moment in time, and the words are piling up fast as he thinks too much about that moment. They pile up with weight, taking his world with it. “The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts. City slides, and buildings slide into the river.” The whole world comes apart in his unfreedom, his intimidation. Rousseau’s call to freedom is not explicitly a call to eros, but it is a call to dignity, a dignity not encumbered by hopeless abstractions. To feel free in the world, to chase dreams and have them transform, that’s growth. That’s life. Not this, stuck with one’s own words, a serial solipsistic hoarder become: “What is there left, to destroy? That is not close, or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.”

The lovers are so much larger than his world, maybe even larger than our world. We leaned away in the angle of language, and now have to salvage a world/words from the river, “pumping and pumping.” Meanwhile, those who actually tried and failed destroy what we thought was real:

Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.
They wait and touch and watch their dreams
eat the morning.

Real lovers don’t sit and idealize, but move on. They have loving to do, he thinks. We know better, he knows better. Their success is a failure: not everything will work out. Still, their unreality trumps our reality. Their dreams eat the morning, as we’re weighted by what they think they’ve experienced. Our words don’t mean anything without a certain courage, one like our erotic impulses, one like Rousseau’s.

Arrival

Arrival. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Ted Chiang. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, & Forest Whitaker. Paramount, 2016.

Spoilers ahead. Please do not read ahead if you haven’t seen it.

It feels like a gray, silver light permeates much of Arrival, on the one hand, lingering over moments of hope, giving them a sense of foreboding; on the other, rendering the violence of a world descending into chaos almost mute. “We are so bound by time; by its order,” muses a professor of linguistics at the opening, fully aware that language and memory conspire to create perceptions of time, perceptions which confuse order, perhaps even attempt to cancel its significance altogether. However, without our usual perspective, in the sheer bluntness of facts, we will confront a gray haze: the truth is always shrouded, especially when most needed. The need to communicate, to know what has been said, to know the truth relative to another, accompanies Arrival‘s stark palette, whether one speaks of a cloudy lake overseen by a window, an egg-like spacecraft hovering over the earth, dark grays ascending into a windowed chamber, grays of a makeshift military camp, a white, silvery mist keeping the aliens alive. That need nearly drowns cataclysmic cries as well as the hope there is something beyond this life as we know it. I felt numb, as I wanted to understand how the alien language could possibly work, how they could be spoken to, whether our heroine could prevent a nuclear strike directed at them.

“But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life,” Louise says. Arrival begins by briefly summarizing the life of Louise and her daughter Hannah. She cradles her baby when born; they play in the yard between the window and lake; she grips her teenager tightly as the daughter dies in a hospital bed. The action then shifts to what will, at last, be revealed as an earlier time, the time when aliens visited the earth in various locations, in spacecraft that hovered gently over the earth. Louise, a professor of linguistics, makes studying the structure of language the most badass occupation possible: she realizes that sound might be useless when trying to talk to squidlike creatures; she steps out of her protective suit so they can she what she is; she writes “human” on a whiteboard, pointing to herself, and in response they reveal the inky circles they communicate with. She earns trust by showing faith, and it is natural that the accompanying scientist falls in love with her while learning from her methods. Trust and faith are accompanied by wonder at the creatures as well as a rigorous exploration of the language they employ. At one point Louise explains how complicated it is to ask the question “What is your purpose here on Earth?” The aliens have to understand what a question is and what sort of information it should elicit; there’s the difference between a collective “you” and a specific “you;” “purpose” implies intent, and therein lies the concern of whether the aliens can understand a “why” question; finally, one has to give the aliens enough of a vocabulary to appropriately respond.

The alien language is revealed to be a language which speaks the future – well, not quite. The heptapods perceive time in a nonlinear fashion; past, present, and future are spoken all at once. Close, technical examination of their inky logograms demonstrates this, but Louise does not solve the puzzle with analysis alone. Her encounter with the aliens gives her flash-forwards, where she starts seeing the future in bits and pieces. Her daughter, her husband, her daughter’s disease, her husband leaving her, her daughter’s learning, her daughter’s death. The film demands multiple viewings, as Louise’s recollecting her encounter with the aliens and the flash-forwards she had is her attempt to find Hannah again. It is not an attempt which feels in vain. The window overlooking the yard at the lake house parallels the protective screen the aliens stay behind; Hannah is the result of her marrying the scientist she was paired with for communicating with them. Her daughter is as much an alien as the aliens themselves: the flash-forwards include ones where she reaches for words that help her daughter and the problem of the aliens.

What is alien is acceptance. This much the film makes abundantly clear, as Louise sees the future and accepts it for the sake of giving love. If the aliens have the language man had before Babel, the all-powerful language which was the whole of the race, they regard it as a gift to mankind. They let it speak to them and us, and indeed, one of their logographs is an entire timeline of their race’s history. Acceptance – letting the language speak – might be thought horribly cornball if it weren’t so powerful in this particular context. The wonderment of hearing a child speak for a first time, or figuring out how to say “hi” in a meaningful way, are products of such acceptance, as is a science which forges ahead question by question, consideration by consideration, without forcing the issue of control. We do know the future, after all. We make choices and have a rough idea of how they will or won’t work. If we could truly accept the consequences of our words and actions, it would be the same as knowing the future. It would be the same as decoding an alien cipher about another topic entirely and understanding how one’s life unfolds. Language links knowledge and self-knowledge – the same questions one asks to see if one is understood are used to see if one understands anything at all. Louise tells the Colonel to ask a competitor for the job of translating alien what the Sanskrit word for war means. The competitor says it means “argument;” Louise says it means “a desire for more cows.” The difference between the definitions is meaning itself. Still, these remarks are incomplete, as I have spoken a sort of consequentialism, with an emphasis on beginnings (our actions and words) and endings (their results). When one sees the world in a nonlinear fashion, when timelines are scrambled together as they actually are, language reflects a fuller, richer reality. Acceptance isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning of a series at which one’s words only hint.

On Esotericism

John Smith, according to Jill Lepore, was prone to making things up. He claimed to have bedded princesses while battling by land or sea the world over. Russia, Morocco, the Ottoman Empire, Poland – it’s almost like he had his own Eurail pass and then some. It makes sense, then, to question his account of life at Jamestown, a colony that was starving to death before he set them to work. The only problem with questioning him is that it does seem that life did get better for those he ruled. Maybe he was too harsh and self-promoting when he attacked the indolent, aristocratic character of many of the colonists. But those under his charge recognized necessity and acted accordingly. They worked, for a time, not to starve.

Perhaps politics is about the recognition of necessity. Maybe it’s about agriculture, sewage systems, bonds for bridges, jobs, and defense. That can’t quite be right, though. If you have to put a traffic light next to that bridge, you’re not just buying something needed, but creating rules and norms. People come together in politics and create law, and laws have a life of their own. To challenge them is to challenge an entire people at a moment.  The law does not merely stem from necessity. It shapes citizens a certain way, making claims about what can be said or thought, defining the scope of one’s virtue and freedom. The law educates in ways with radical depth: in all societies, it has spoken what it is to be divine.

It feels tempting to strip clean politics, prophesying a return to simpler necessities. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates initially describes a city which lacks spectacles, fancy houses, and banking systems. Instead, there’s a farmer, housebuilder, weaver, and shoemaker. Socrates says four or five people can comprise this city of “utmost necessity” (369d).  This becomes far more complicated almost immediately. If each produces for all in common, not paying attention to how exactly he receives goods, then the city of utmost necessity could conceivably provide for everyone without people making claims. However, since it is more efficient to create a lot of an item and trade some of it for things you need, a concept of value sneaks into the simplest city (369e-370b). Socrates emphasizes that what is held in common is replaced by minding one’s own business. If you, a farmer, trade part of your foodstuffs for shoes, you’ve held the shoemaker at a distance in a way you wouldn’t if you saw him as part of a whole you and him comprise. Perfect justice involves not having to think about justice, but the very concept of individuality involves understanding the value of your claim.

The complications become a hundredfold in the space of a few lines of dialogue. After all, maybe one is better than being a farmer than shoemaker, and vice versa. Maybe each of us can excel at one job: one man, one art, each of us specialized for a role in civic life (370b). It is only a matter of time before Socrates asks whether some arts are more important than others, thus placing different values on human life, but the Republic does not go where any given society goes just yet. Socrates continues treating all arts as necessary, as crucial even. People need to do their best at their jobs and not make mistakes. By implication, everyone depends on their work (370b-d). This causes an explosion of specialization: carpenters, craftsmen, smiths, herdsmen, merchants, sailors, tradesmen, and laborers all join the city, as they help everyone else get their jobs done well (370d-371e). A currency is established in this wave, thus doing completely away with any remnant of the time things might have been held in common (371b-c).

However, Socrates takes this massive, boisterous city and stops. He was in dialogue with Adeimantus, Glaucon’s brother, when discussing it. Adeimantus more than likely loves the quaint origin of this city and the end. The end occurs when Socrates asks where justice and injustice lie within the city (371e). Adeimantus can’t figure it out, so Socrates describes the citizens as happy. With “bread, wine, clothing, and shoes,” they will be satisfied with their work. They’ll have houses: no need for clothes in the summer, when they work, and clothes and shoes and homes are there for the winter. They’ll eat barley meal and wheat, drink wine, sing of the gods. They will have “sweet intercourse with one another,” not produce too many children, and guard against poverty and war (372a-c).

Perhaps this satisfies Adeimantus: the need for divine intervention in this vision hides neatly in the midst of simple joys. Glaucon calls this a “city of pigs,” angered at its lack of ambition. He wonders why these people don’t want relishes for their bread. When Socrates provides the relishes, he again complains why the city doesn’t feature people who have couches or tables (372d-e).

Swift once remarked that ancient esotericism followed the bee. The sweet produces more sweet, whereas modern esotericism follows the spider: from the foulest comes the fairest. It’s entirely possible for a young man to see himself like Adeimantus, hoping for a simpler, more honest world, or like Glaucon, seeing ambition as a reality one must grapple with. And if one sees oneself in their place, one stands chastened. Ask for simplicity and you need the gods to provide, strive and conquer and you trade your health for specious goods. The moral critique provided by ancient esotericism is quiet but powerful. You can name innumerable thinkers of revolution or prophets of the future who can’t escape its silent judgment. They’re too busy writing one paragraph summaries of Plato which say that Socrates posited an ideal city which was doomed to fail. That paragraph, of course, is prelude to the rest of their argument, where they will tell you about their city which cannot fail.

The question “What is justice?” might be the most powerful legacy of Plato and Xenophon. In their direct and indirect consideration of the Socratic life, they find Socrates divinely mad, seeking knowledge and the truth, and strangely moderate. Moderation towards other human beings and moderation towards the gods is justice of a sort. Socrates did not indulge in hubristic enterprises or preach atheism; he left Athenian convention intact. He kept his life simple and counseled his companions to practice virtue. A focus on moderation can be said to change the question of “What is justice?” to “What is man?” Man, according to Aristotle, is between beast and god. What does it mean to create standards one wants to live up to, but cannot fully attain? What does it mean to guard against regression? In the latter case, consider the one of the chief concerns of classical political thought: the tyrant. Tyranny is the result of democratic collapse, the Republic tells us. Governed by desire, a law unto himself, man is the worst of all the animals.

II

In a way, the classical legacy is too elegant, too beautiful, too simple. Cicero spoke of Socrates compelling philosophy, brought down from the heavens, to speak about the human things. Cicero hints at Socrates almost wrestling with philosophy, struggling with it. Whereas there are many times people go to old books, read, and instantly feel smarter about themselves and their world, refreshed by a magical fountain of knowledge. The classical legacy makes itself known through difficult, carefully wrought books that reward diligence. Those books educate, but they educate relative to their narrative. They treat large, pressing questions, but in showing how more typical answers fail, they sometimes miss that the challenge of human life isn’t formulating an answer, but a question.

Above all, classical political thought only alludes to the questions and thoughts born in anger, in exile, in darkness. I can think of no better example of this than Thucydides’ hidden but utterly pitiable autobiography in The Peloponnesian War. He caught the plague and somehow survived; he fought the brilliant Spartan commander Brasidas and lost; he was exiled for that loss. None of this comes to us in a paragraph entitled “About Me.” They are scattered in his work of hundreds of pages, and while one can see that this tactic does lend itself to generating great sympathy on the reader’s part, I have to wonder about the combination of a powerful restraint and incredible trauma.

Thucydides’ work is a great, tragic, daring history. It challenges the moral order of Homer and the storytelling of Herodotus. The Iliad and the Odyssey can be read as the withdrawal of the old order, that time when gods directly entitled heroes, god-men, to rule. The wrath of Achilles that is sung of in the first line of the Iliad causes the death of all the heroes, save one. Odysseus survives, but his job is not to rule, but to pass Ithaca down to Telemachus, who is emphatically not a hero. Martial virtues are replaced by domestic ones, and the Olympian gods themselves withdraw by the end of the Odyssey, preferring to be worshiped in accordance with virtue and law. Herodotus’ History dwells on Persian imperialism, taking their claims to justice and rule seriously. In doing this, he initially demythologizes Homer, talking about the events that lead up to the Trojan War as a tit for tat between Greeks and barbarians. The Greek gods are nowhere to be found as divine entities, as their names are found among regular people. Instead of virtue, Herodotus is interested in the stories people tell which define their political order. Quietly, a notion of “Greekness” emerges which opposes Persian excess, fighting for freedom and nobility rather than empire.

Thucydides will have none of this. His work is anchored by major speech after major speech. Of those speeches, he pledges that he remembers the ones he witnessed as best he could, and of the others, he put the words that must have been said in the speaker’s mouth. Necessity is Thucydides’ governing principle. If a speaker pleads for justice, that means there is some very pressing necessity that must be taken care of and need not be spoken about. If a speaker does his best to show how necessary something is, that indicates he is concerned about the justice of a given action.

You are more than likely wondering how I can call such a brutal, harsh look at the world “too elegant, too beautiful, too simple.” It does look like Thucydides’ personal tragedy is intimately wrapped up with his recounting of events. And it is true that Thucydides brings into being much of that thought we consider “modern:” a focus on power in politics, a “realism” starkly opposed to pious or moral concerns, a concern with stability all the while understanding its opposition to passion and, practically speaking, freedom. But honestly, I wish I were challenged a bit less intellectually, being told as opposed to shown.

Because when all is said and done, the people who need political philosophy the most aren’t those who make up the elite class. They’re not being groomed to rule or become captains of industry. The people who need to hear from Plato and Thucydides need to hear that reasonable people get angry, make mistakes, fight for what’s better, don’t give up. They need to know that their anger matters just as much as any tolerance they profess or virtue they show, even though society keeps them as second or third class citizens. Even though rules are applied strictly to them where others get a pass. Even though they are forced to apply for jobs where the posting was merely a formality on the employer’s part. Even though they can be given nothing and still be told they are being given everything, and resented for it. Those who need political philosophy are always measured against another’s greatness, and found wanting. They’re the Other, the reason for the breakdown, considered deserving of exile by those who never feel shame.

The beauty of esoteric writing is also its curse. Dig deep into an esoteric work and you find the author’s humanity. You find the pain and the anger and the bewilderment. It’s beautiful but it takes years of careful probing. It takes years to find the slow burn of anger and disappointment, sitting there with the ideas which changed the world. Where do we find the self-respect we need, the ability to stand up to bullies and not break in the present? Where do we find the discipline to be ourselves? Certainly not among our fellow readers, where people can punish you for an “incorrect” read for years of your life, not to mention dismiss you because you’re different.

The fundamental problem of classical esotericism is that in the end you’re left alone. There’s you and the book, and in the book is a person you think you see. John Smith was an ass who once in his life did right. He knew he did right, as he saw that colony of his in America improve. When he was recalled to England, he was desperate to get back, but it was not to be. He died desperate. Was he broken? The only feeling pulsing through my veins right now is the number of times I’ve been ashamed to be myself compared to the utter lack of shame my country feels. Thucydides probably understood the great irony of his own narrative: the opposition of justice and necessity ultimately points to the necessity of justice.

Notes & References

Lepore, Jill. The Story of America: Essays on Origins. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012. 17-30.

Plato. The Republic. Ed. Allan Bloom. 2nd ed. New York: Basic, 1968. 46-49.

Strictly speaking, justice is moderation toward men, piety moderation toward gods. This is discussed in the following: Strauss, Leo. Xenophon’s Socrates. Reprint. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2004. 101.

Swift’s distinction between ancient and modern esotericism is discussed in the following: Benardete, Seth. “Strauss on Plato” in The Argument of the Action: Essays on Greek Poetry and Philosophy. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.