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Does Lyndon LaRouche Understand Anything About Plato?

By Molly Hammett Kronberg,
January 7, 2010

When I joined the Labor Committee, in the 1970s, Lyndon LaRouche (then using the nom de plume Lyn Marcus, and known familiarly, then as now, as Lyn) never mentioned Plato as one of the Labor Committee “gallery of greats.”
In those distant days, Lyn regarded as his philosophical forebears the German critical philosophers—that is, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx. He also had, in those days, a high regard for Descartes. This might seem unbelievable to someone who joined the LYM in the past 10 years, but Lyn considered Descartes a positive figure in the development of philosophy—so much so that the first imprint used to publish Labor Committee books, before there was New Benjamin Franklin House or anything else, was called University Editions and its motto was Descartes’ famous assertion of the one certainty that survived his process of radical doubt, namely: “Cogito, ergo sum.”
If you look at Dialectical Economics: An Introduction to Marxist Political Economy (DE) (1), the soi-disant economics text that “Lyn Marcus” published in 1975, you will find scarcely any mention of Plato (or Leibniz) in the entire book. On the rare occasions when LaRouche does mention Plato (or Leibniz) it is dismissively. Reference to the index for “DE” (which, by the way, was prepared by my late husband Ken) will show the paucity of mentions of Plato and Leibniz (basically a few footnotes), and of course, reading those mentions will show the ignorant dismissiveness.
In “DE” and elsewhere, Lyn used to tell us that he’d been a Kantian since he was 11, or 12, or 13…. In later years, however, he revisited that assertion and announced that he’d been a Leibnizian since his early teens (2), and had always hated Kant. (3)
Meanwhile, in the early years in3 the Labor Committee—the 1970s—I remember my husband Ken asking a group of NEC members, “If we’re so enthusiastic about the neo-Platonists, why don’t we read Plato?” (The neo-Platonists to whom Ken was referring were not those of Antiquity, like Plotinus, Proclus, et al.—whom Ken and I had read, but of whom Lyn had probably never heard—but the misnamed Renaissance neo-Platonists like Giordano Bruno, Pico della Mirandola, and so forth, who were in those days great favorites of the Labor Committee.)
The leadership group just stared at Ken, incredulous. What red-blooded LaRouchean would bother to read Plato?
Lyn first encountered Plato when then-NEC member CZ (a classically educated man of Greek background) began teaching classes on Plato at the end of the 1970s. LaRouche immediately seized on Plato as a new member of the Labor Committee hit parade, but it is virtually certain that he did not then start to read Plato.
In the late 1970s, a group of Labor Committee members in New York, including CZ and Ken and me, translated Plato’s dialogue the Timaeus, in what LaRouche proclaimed was the only accurate translation ever done of the dialogue [a ludicrous claim, inasmuch as LaRouche knew nothing about Plato, knew no Greek, and—despite the fact that he was attacking 19th-century Plato translator Benjamin Jowett viciously (largely because Jowett was English)—had obviously never read Jowett’s translations, or anyone else’s].
About 12 people of varying degrees of fluency in Attic Greek and varying degrees of familiarity with Plato (right down to none) worked on the Timaeus translation, which was extremely uneven in quality, and in some parts truly incomprehensible. But, with the megalomaniacal grandiosity so characteristic of him, Lyn insisted it was the only acceptable translation, and all others, from Jowett to Cornford, were—not just bad, not just inaccurate—they were British Intelligence-run frauds.
Rather than wander into all the sidetracks offered by the inexhaustible subject of Lyndon LaRouche and culture, let me just identify a few points on which Lyn betrays his ignorance of Plato.

1. The Republic. LaRouche and his followers hold Plato’s Republic to be the height of statecraft and political achievement, a vademecum for the aspiring philosopher-king, a how-to for governing. The question that immediately arises is: Which city is the ideal city?
The dialogue brims with Socratic irony. For example: The apparently best cities are based on lies. The concept of the “noble lie” as the substructure of the best state seems to be put forward as a valid one—but is it? How can the best be achieved through lies? Again, in the ideal city, the poets are crowned with flowers or laurels, given prizes, and—thrown out of the city. How could that be? Because, Plato/Socrates tells us (or seems to tell us), they tell lies about the gods. Homer, the greatest of poets (so often quoted by Socrates), tells lies about the gods….
Does this attack on the lies of the poets vitiate the notion of the “noble lie”? Also, can it escape any reader that some time before Plato wrote the Republic in which Socrates takes the dramatic lead, Socrates was executed … for telling lies about the gods? Or can it escape any reader that Plato, too, is a poet?
Anyone who wants to understand the Republic should forget LaRouche and try reading The Music of the Republic by Eva T.H. Brann (publisher: Paul Dry). Two other books which are invaluable in approaching Plato are Commentary on Plato’s Meno by Jacob Klein (publisher: University of North Carolina, University of Chicago) and Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, also by Jacob Klein. (I was fortunate enough to have both Klein and Brann for teachers at St. John’s College, and to have read Plato’s dialogues with Klein.)

2. The Timaeus. LaRouche, who is (despite his blather about creativity) one of the most literal-minded men alive, takes literally the great myth of the Timaeus, as if it represented Plato’s finished cosmological theory. LaRouche ignores Timaeus’s warning that in discussing the physical world, one “should not look for anything more than a likely story” εἰκώς mɪθɒs (eikôs mythos).
Otherwise, LaRouche’s bizarre remarks on the Timaeus (made during a 2004 radio interview with Bob Dobbs of Pacifica-KPFK—see below) demonstrate that he hasn’t a clue what the Timaeus is (and isn’t) about.
Asked by Dobbs whether Plato would have ignored the differentiated aspects of the Logos that Dobbs ascribes to the Sophists, Lyn responded as follows—the transcript I am using is one made available on the [[www.larouchepac.com/pages/interviews_files/2004/040826_lhl_bobdobbs.htm|LaRouche PAC website]]:

LAROUCHE: No. Plato would not. The key thing — to get Plato on the logos, the key work, of course, is the Timaeus, which is the most thorough work addressing that particular issue, in that form. This, of course, is the conception of the logos which was addressed implicitly by the Apostle Paul, for example, and which was the Platonic tradition in Christianity, as opposed to the Aristotelian tradition, which kept cropping up and today, was largely related to the Timaeus, as the key point of reference.

Notice that Lyn doesn’t say what Plato’s conception of the Logos is (Logos in Attic Greek = word, speech, reason, ratio, proportion, account), nor what its role is in the Timaeus. The one thing he does say—that Plato’s meaning is in effect the same usage as the Biblical (Hebrew and Christian Scriptures) specialized use of the word—is 100% wrong. But of course, LaRouche also doesn't understand the Bible’s use of Logos, even though he natters on at length about the Gospel of John and the Letters of St. Paul.
Related to Lyn’s insistence that Platonism and Christianity are one and the same—his absurd claim that Christianity derives principally from Platonic philosophy and not from Judaism—is his misrepresentation of the word ἀγάπη (agapê). This word, so familiar from 1 Corinthians 13, and throughout the New Testament, is variously translated as charity (from Latin caritas), as in the King James translation of the Bible, or as love.
LaRouche and his immediate circle claim that this is a Platonic concept and a Platonic usage—but this is untrue. The verb ἀγαπάω (agapao) is used to translate the Hebrew verb for love throughout the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures carried out by the Jewish community in Alexandria between the 3rd and the 1st Centuries B.C., and it is obviously from there that St. Paul derives his usage. It occurs very rarely in Plato, and in general usage at the time of Plato carried little or none of the theological freight that it carries in the Scriptures, Hebrew and Christian. In fact, some writers believe that the Greek concept and word originated from a Semitic root: The Hebrew word for love, both love of God and love of man, is אהבה (ahava).

3. The Parmenides. Lyn’s take on this dialogue is the most telling of all, and is of a piece with his absurd claim that Plato is the “philosopher of Becoming,” or the “philosopher of change.”
What do I mean by this? As anyone who has read Plato knows, a fundamental distinction is made between Being and Becoming. Being is the realm of the forms—the Platonic ideas—the εἶδος / εἴδει (eidos, eidei). The Good, the Beautiful, the True, all are to be found in the realm of Being. That is the realm of reality.
Then there is the world of Becoming—where the evanescent, the transitory, the changeable, the imperfect come to be, exist, and pass away. To the extent that the things in the world of Becoming are, they are because they participate in Being. But they are ultimately overwhelmed by their Non-being, for Becoming is a mixture, so to speak, of Being and Non-being.
But somehow, Lyndon LaRouche has misconstrued this fundamental Platonic dichotomy (or dialectic), to conclude, in a concoction so grotesque I wonder if any other reader of Plato has ever made it, that Plato is about change, about Becoming, about motion, that Plato is somehow like Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher beloved of Marxist “dialecticians” because he is reported to have said Πάντα ῥεῖ (“Panta rhei”)—”everything flows.” Or, put another way, everything changes.
Lyn was always taken with the pre-Socratics, or at least, Thales and Heraclitus—not that he knew anything about them, mind you, but he had read of them in some leftwing philosophical tracts (by the way, Lyn produced one of his own, “The Philosophy of Socialist Education”—worth reading for an insight into the early days of Lyn’s method of appearing educated by flinging around the names of people he never read).
Because Lyn is himself all about change—overthrowing this, uprooting that, destroying the other—because he is at bottom an enraged anarchist—he wanted to recast Heraclitus in his own image. Ditto Plato—which is impossible to do, or rather, it’s impossible for someone familiar with Plato to do.
But Lyn did not have the disadvantage of such familiarity. So, since the time when he first had to deal with Plato, he has insisted that Plato embodies a supposedly Heraclitan worldview where the only constant is change, that Plato is therefore the Philosopher of Becoming.
That being the case, you can imagine how Lyn views an encounter between Plato and Parmenides—as expressed in the dialogue in which Plato reports on an encounter between the young Socrates and the aged Eleatic philosopher Parmenides. Since Parmenides is the philosopher par excellence who insisted on the unchangeable oneness of Being as the reality—his poem, of which we have only fragments (see The Poem of Parmenides), was dedicated to the conception that what is, is One; that the One is, and that the One is One. That reality is timeless, changeless, oneness. That thinking and being are the same (αὐτὸ εἶνα&#953); noein einai, or to think [=] to be). In Lyn’s world, nothing could be more threatening than Parmenides, who stands for everything Lyn hates and fears. So Lyn sent Plato into battle against Parmenides.
Therefore, Lyn’s “analysis” of Plato’s Parmenides dialogue—which has become an article of faith in the organization—is that Plato (in the form of the young Socrates) takes on and destroys the terrible, the wicked, the fascist old man Parmenides.
The dialogue, of course, represents nothing of the kind. Parmenides and his younger companion Zeno, also an Eleatic philosopher, are in no way portrayed as the villains. Parmenides is a wise old man, and plays the Socrates to the young Socrates.
I was in a Plato reading group with a number of members in Leesburg—we read the Republic, the Symposium, the Phaedrus, the Phaedo, etc.—and I knew people were getting uneasy with the way I kept undercutting what Lyn said on the various dialogues (there was real distress when I had to inform my colleagues, as we read the Symposium, that none of the words used for “love” was agapê (4).
But the Plato group ground to a halt, and its members defected to other, more politically correct Plato reading groups, when we were reading the Parmenides. The end came when one of the members kept saying, “Here’s where Plato really nails Parmenides!” or “Here’s where he gets him!” and I finally said, basically, “Lyn is wrong on this. Plato doesn’t go after Parmenides at all—that’s not what’s happening here.”
Well, you can imagine! That was the last meeting of that reading group, I can tell you.
Can any serious reader of Plato work through the dialogues and still entertain the notion that Lyn has read them? I don’t see how.


Notes:

  1. See Map=Reality?
  2. See LaRouche believed he was (philosophically) a "Leibnizian/Platonist"
  3. See Immanuel Kant - The Most Evil Man Of The Last 200 Years
  4. See Plato on Friendship and Eros at plato.stanford.edu
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