Thrasymachean Activists

“There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”—Lord Voldemort in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

LordvoldemortIt’s always deeply problematic when activists reduce everything to power à la Thrasymachus—“justice is simply what is good for the stronger” (Plato, The Republic, 338c)—as it undermines the idealism that is the sine qua non of their commitment to social justice. Even so, pragmatically speaking, it might make sense to reduce everything to power when you’re trying to wake a sleeping elephant—viz., when the oppressed group you wish to mobilize is the silent majority, when they vastly outnumber the oppressors. But when the oppressed group you wish to mobilize is a small minority, reducing everything to power is just plain stupid.

Telling an oppressed minority group that they can find justice by going it alone, that they don’t need to work with others, that they don’t need to build bridges, that they don’t need to make their case, that they don’t need allies, is profoundly irresponsible—sort of like encouraging your eight-year-old son to pick a fight with UFC champ Georges St-Pierre.

“Cynicism of the Thrasymachean sort,” as the philosopher Martha Nussbaum rightly observes, in Cultivating Humanity (1997), “is the best recipe for continued oppression of the powerless.” Thrasymachean activists like to talk tough. They like to see themselves as hard-nosed realists. But they’re actually quite naïve. Listening to their advice is political suicide.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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