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Socrates and Justice in the United States

Updated on March 24, 2015

Justice is not as easily defined once one becomes exposed to how Socrates questions the definition of justice. In the United States, in general, justice has been established by a moral code of what is right and what is wrong. The states, individually, all have similar standards of what is right and wrong but the degree of how wrong a wrong is can vary considerably from community to community. In Socrates’ perfect state, justice is exactly the same, regardless of the community standards. Also, Socrates’ concludes that this type of justice cannot exist on earth.

Socrates believes that people need to be just with each other so that they may live in common with each other. He states “But tell me this: if it is the work of injustice to introduce hatred wherever it is present, will it not, when it comes to be present among people, whether free men or slaves, cause hatred and faction among them, and render them incapable of acting in common with each other?” (Allen). This passage refers to what could happen in an unjust society and to show that people need justice in order to live with each other safely.

By applying what Socrates states about individuals needing to be just in order to live in common with each other, it will allow the foundation to be built for a state to form. In Book II Socrates describes how one man will begin to associate himself with another for one purpose, another for another, because they need many things. (Allen 51) In this description, he describes how specific people will be assigned specific jobs based on their ability and level of happiness obtained from doing this job. Justice among people will allow them to come together to for the community because they are not self-sufficient as individuals and without cooperation with each other, they would not be able to supply themselves with food, shelter, and clothing. (Patterson)

The next thing, after the citizens, that a just city will require, according to Socrates, is Guardians because the state will be required to slice off some of the neighbor’s land in order to have enough to plow and please, this will lead to war. (Allen 56) The Guardians will also need to be just so they can be trusted not to turn on the citizens and put them under control of the Guardians. In Book V, Socrates states that the men and women need to be equal, (Allen 151) that all women and children belong in common will all the men and none shall live privately with any man, (Allen 159) and that the leader/ruler must be a philosopher king. (Allen 176) Of all the needs that Socrates states a just city must have, the philosopher king was the most difficult to accept.

In order to correlate the Socratic Method to justice and injustice in the United States, one must understand it.

Justice and injustice in the United States is primarily based on a general moral code, conditions over the last few years has begun to cloud the issue more as more and more people are getting lead down a path, by people seeking power, that anything that happens to them via general life events has been an injustice perpetrated on them by someone or group of other people. Some leaders in the United States are stoking the flames of “class warfare” at this time, where one group of people is being manipulated to believe that due to either their lack of motivation or just bad luck, that their predicament has nothing to do with their own personal choices but rather a grand scheme put into place by “rich people” and bankers to keep them down, thus making them believe that a grave injustice has been done to them.

These same leaders, while stoking these flames of hatred and violence, also have the audacity to accuse those that disagree with them or those that they oppose of committing acts of hatred and violence themselves; very hypocritical to say the least. This type of behavior can also be found in those that have been advocating for social justice in the United States since the early 1900s. Medea Benjamin, co-founder Global Exchange and Code Pink, defines Social Justice in the following way:

“Social justice means moving towards a society where all hungry are fed, all sick are cared for, the environment is treasured, and we treat each other with love and compassion. Not an easy goal, for sure, but certainly one worth giving our lives for!” (Benjamin)

While this certainly sounds honorable, many have used this type of practice as a cover for violence. One such group was the Black Panther Party, founded in 1966; they eventually listed a “10 Point Program” that called for “Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace.” (Newton) During the history of this group, members have been linked to and convicted of several murders ranging from police officers to their own bookkeeper. (Schlussel) While this organization may have espoused social justice issues, they were definitely not concerned with peaceful means of justice. Once can surmise that the victims and the families of the victims of this group would most likely claim that the murders and crimes committed against them were clearly the opposite of justice. These murders were unjust in the eyes of just society.

In general, what one group sees as justice, another group will see as injustice. In the United States, free speech is a right that many people use to their own advantage and to further what could be seen as unjust causes but because there are people willing to listen and to follow anyone that espouses a cause that may pander to another’s belief that may be less than moral, this un-just cause will be painted as a just cause. A current example is the Occupy Wall Street movement. The call to this movement is generally rooted in social justice as they call for the bankers to give back to society, many occupiers have been quoted to say that they are occupying because they have student loans that they do not want to pay back or that “we should eat the rich.” Many of these quotes have been played on some media, they have not been noted on the mainstream media and the exact quotes cannot be found from internet sources to be cited or verified. One could surmise that the reasoning for this is due to the difficulty in sourcing the speaker due to it being at a protest or because the mainstream media does not want to publish the quotes as to not have document-able evidence that these protestors are not actually what they are portrayed to be.

Could this misleading portrayal of the protests or the movement itself have anything to do to the backers behind the protests? One could draw many conclusions based what is witnessed. This whole argument in this piece regarding the Black Panther Party, the Occupy Wall Street movement, to the leaders that are stoking the flames of class warfare is quit confusing. It is confusing because the lines of justice and in-justice have been so blurred and crossed that it makes it hard to define because justice has become to mean many different things to many different people. It all depends on the person’s values of right and wrong. Many people think it is right to take from those that have and to give to those that do not have; this belief is based on the socialism of Karl Marx. Many people will consider this belief and un-justice because it takes from someone that has worked and earned what they have and gives it to the person that has not worked to earn anything. It rewards the lazy with the fruits of the non-lazy. Many people that support socialism, do so because they believe the reason they have not been successful is because some injustice has been perpetrated on them by those that have wealth, thus it gives them the right to take from the wealthy to give to the un-wealthy. Another problem this creates is how to define the wealthy from the un-wealthy.

The long discussion in the Republic on how to define justice is complicated because it is hard to define based on the different perspectives and life experiences of people. Most likely the simplest way to define justice is the old golden rule of “Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You” (Mathew) but unfortunately that is not good enough for some and they will still want more than they deserve.

Works Cited

Allen, R. E. Plato the Republic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Benjamin, Medea. "Reach and Teach." n.d. Reach and Teach. 16 October 2011 <>.

Mathew. The Bible. n.d.

Newton, Huey. "War Against the Panthers." 6 1966 October. 16 October 2011.

Patterson, C. H. Plato's The Republic. Lincoln: C. K. Hillegas, 1963.

Schlussel, Debbie. "40 Years of Violence & Murder: UnHappy Anniversary, Black Panthers." 16 October 2006. Debbie Schlussel. 16 October 2011 <>.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the modern day leader of Social Justice and the peaceful means to achieve it.

Not only a great Civil Rights leader but also an advocate for social justice by peaceful means.
Not only a great Civil Rights leader but also an advocate for social justice by peaceful means.


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