Is Ratko Mladić Miserable?
From Dictionnaire Infernal, by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy and illustrated by Louis le Breton, 1863
by Keith Doubt
At one point in Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates says to Polus, Gorgias’ young student of oratory, “What’s this Polus? Laughing? Is this a new type of proof, laughing at what your opponent says instead of giving reasons?” Jacob Klein gives the following advice when reading a Platonic dialogue, “What is being said in a Platonic dialogue must be watched most carefully: every word counts; some casually spoken words may be more important than lengthy, elaborate statements.” Let us follow Klein’s advice, treating this seemingly superficial exchange between Socrates and his interlocutor as a crucial aspect of the Platonic dialogue, equal to and maybe more important than the philosophical arguments.
What, then, are we to make of Polus’ laughter? Does Polus think that Socrates is joking? Is Socrates’ argument so ridiculous that it does not merit a serious reply? Does Socrates’ argument deserve the mockery of Polus’ laughter? In his defense, Polus points out to Socrates, “Do you suppose that reasons are needed, when you say things that no one else in the world would say? Ask any of our friends here.” Well, what is this Socratic argument that no one else in the world would say? Socrates had just said, “Neither the man who established a dictatorship by crime nor the man who is punished for attempting to do so can ever be described as the happier; you can’t compare the happiness of two people who are both miserable. But the man who gets away with it and becomes a dictator is the more miserable.” Polus then laughs. The argument that the person who establishes a dictatorship by crime and gets away with it is more miserable than the person who is caught for doing so and punished is laughable to Polus. Polus imagines the man who established a dictatorship by crime and gets away with it is not only less miserable but happy.
Let’s take an example. On November 22, 2017, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found former Republika Srpska Army commander Ratko Mladić guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. When, then, according to Socrates, was Mladić more miserable? When he committed genocide and over a long period of time was not arrested, convicted, or punished; or when he eventually was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for having committed genocide? In both cases, Socrates insists, Mladić is miserable. But when is he more miserable? When he commits genocide and is not punished for it or when he commits genocide and is punished for it? Socrates would say that, while still miserable, Mladić becomes less miserable after having been convicted and punished with imprisonment for having committed genocide. Mladić would be more miserable than he is now if he, in fact, got away with genocide unpunished. Polus laughs at this argument as if Socrates is being ridiculous.
Is Socrates’ argument laughable? Would nobody in the world today say what Socrates said to Polus? Perhaps Polus is right. On the one hand, Mladić’s passionate supporters in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina believe Mladić is now more miserable because he has been convicted and punished for committing crimes against humanity. On the other hand, Mladić’s victims would not agree with Socrates because it grants that Mladić is receiving some advantage through his conviction and imprisonment, if only in that now he is less miserable than he was before he was convicted. Why should he, of all people, be the beneficiary of some good, namely, the benefit of justice after having committed genocide? It would mean Mladić has a moral conscience that can be influenced, that, to some degree, can be partially healed upon being punished for his wrongdoing. Neither Mladić’s supporters nor his victims would abide by Socrates’ argument.
If Polus is right, if nobody agrees would say what Socrates has said, what then is it they do agree with? Later in the Gorgias, another interlocutor, Callicles provides an image of what Mladić’s supports admire about Mladić, and for what his victims abhor about him. To Socrates, Callicles says, “I tell you frankly that natural good and right consist in this, that the man who is going to live as a man ought should encourage his appetites to be as strong as possible instead of repressing them, and be able by means of his courage and intelligence to satisfy them in all their intensity by providing them with whatever they happen to desire.” Callicles makes a bold and clear argument for natural right and articulates the passion with which Mladić’s supporters, consciously or not, idolize Mladić. Increasingly in global politics, people are looking up to leaders who encourage their appetites to be as strong as possible and with all their might satisfy them in all their intensity. Is this argument for natural right that Callicles provides not also laughable? Whose argument, then, is more laughable? Callicles or Socrates’? Is Callicles or is Socrates standing on thin ice? Is the world standing on thin ice?
Jacob Klein, A Commentary on Plato’s Meno. Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1965.
Plato, Gorgias. Translated by Walter Hamilton. London: Penguin, 2004.
About the Author:
Keith Doubt is Professor of Sociology at Wittenburg University. He is the author of Towards a Sociology of Schizophrenia: Humanistic Reflections (University of Toronto Press), Sociology after Bosnia and Kosovo: Recovering Justice (Rowman & Littlefield), Sociologija nakon Bosne (Buybook, Sarajevo), Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia (Fordham University Press), Through the Window: Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Central European University Press), and, recently, Ethnic and National Identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Kinship and Solidarity in a Polyethnic Society (Lexington Books) co-authored with Adnan Tufekčić.