Xenophon Explores The Pros and Cons of the Social Contract

Memorabilia 2.1.12-14

Socrates: “Come now, if only this path wouldn’t lead through men at all, just as through slavery or dominion, you would be saying something. But, as it is, since you live among human beings, if you think it right neither to rule nor to be ruled, nor again to serve rulers willingly, I think that you may see that the stronger know how to make those weaker weep in public and in private—and how to use them as slaves. Or does it escape you that they cut the grain and harvest the trees where others have sown and planted, or that the powerful set siege to the weaker in every way until they “persuade” them to choose to serve as slaves instead of warring against the stronger? Don’t you think it’s the same in private life—that brave and capable men prey upon the weak and powerless once they have enslaved them?”

Aristippus said, “But, indeed, to avoid suffering these things, I do not bind myself to any state—I am a stranger [guest/foreigner] everywhere.”

Socrates: “You have now described a clever trick!” For since the time of Sinis, Skeiron and Procrustes died, no one has done a stranger wrong! But now men gathered together in their states and make laws so that they might not suffer harm, that they might acquire friends as help beyond what they have acquired by birth, and they have built defenses around their cities and acquired weapons to defend themselves against those who might do them wrong and, in addition to this, they have managed to make alliances in other lands. And even those who have done all these things still suffer injustice. Now you, who have none of these advantages, you spend time on the roads where men suffer harm the most and in every city you arrive you arrive you are weaker than all of the citizens—you are the sort of man who are especially exposed to those who want to harm someone. Given all this, you think that you will not suffer harm because you are a “guest”? Is it because the cities announce your safety when you are coming and going that you are so bold? Or is it because you think that you’re the kind of man who’d be of profit to no master? For who would welcome a man into his home who delights in living well but is unwilling to work?”


᾿Αλλ’ εἰ μέν, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὥσπερ οὔτε δι’ ἀρχῆς οὔτε διὰ δουλείας ἡ ὁδὸς αὕτη φέρει, οὕτω μηδὲ δι’ ἀνθρώπων, ἴσως ἄν τι λέγοις· εἰ μέντοι ἐν ἀνθρώποις

ὢν μήτε ἄρχειν ἀξιώσεις μήτε ἄρχεσθαι μηδὲ τοὺς ἄρχοντας ἑκὼν θεραπεύσεις, οἶμαί σε ὁρᾶν ὡς ἐπίστανται οἱ κρείττονες τοὺς ἥττονας καὶ κοινῇ καὶ ἰδίᾳ κλαίοντας καθίσαντες δούλοις χρῆσθαι· ἢ λανθάνουσί σε οἱ ἄλλων σπειράντων

καὶ φυτευσάντων τόν τε σῖτον τέμνοντες καὶ δενδροκοποῦντες καὶ πάντα τρόπον πολιορκοῦντες τοὺς ἥττονας καὶ μὴ θέλοντας θεραπεύειν, ἕως ἂν πείσωσιν ἑλέσθαι δουλεύειν ἀντὶ τοῦ πολεμεῖν τοῖς κρείττοσι; καὶ ἰδίᾳ αὖ οἱ ἀνδρεῖον καὶ δυνατοὶ τοὺς ἀνάνδρους καὶ ἀδυνάτους οὐκ οἶσθα ὅτι καταδουλωσάμενοι καρποῦνται;


᾿Αλλ’ ἐγώ τοι, ἔφη, ἵνα μὴ πάσχω ταῦτα, οὐδ’ εἰς πολιτείαν ἐμαυτὸν κατακλείω, ἀλλὰ ξένος πανταχοῦ εἰμι.


καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης ἔφη· Τοῦτο ἤδη λέγεις δεινὸν πάλαισμα. τοὺς γὰρ ξένους, ἐξ οὗ ὅ τε Σίνις καὶ ὁ Σκείρων καὶ ὁ Προκρούστης ἀπέθανον, οὐδεὶς ἔτι ἀδικεῖ· ἀλλὰ νῦν οἱ μὲν πολιτευόμενοι ἐν ταῖς πατρίσι καὶ νόμους τίθενται, ἵνα μὴ ἀδικῶνται, καὶ φίλους πρὸς τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις καλουμένοις ἄλλους κτῶνται βοηθούς, καὶ ταῖς πόλεσιν ἐρύματα περιβάλλονται, καὶ ὅπλα κτῶνται οἷς  ἀμυνοῦνται τοὺς ἀδικοῦντας, καὶ πρὸς τούτοις ἄλλους ἔξωθεν συμμάχους κατασκευάζονται· καὶ οἱ μὲν ταῦτα πάντα κεκτημένοι ὅμως ἀδικοῦνται· σὺ δὲ οὐδὲν μὲν τούτων ἔχων, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ὁδοῖς, ἔνθα πλεῖστοι ἀδικοῦνται, πολὺν χρόνον διατρίβων, εἰς ὁποίαν δ’ ἂν πόλιν ἀφίκῃ, τῶν πολιτῶν πάντων ἥττων ὤν, καὶ τοιοῦτος, οἵοις μάλιστα ἐπιτίθενται οἱ βουλόμενοι ἀδικεῖν, ὅμως διὰ τὸ ξένος εἶναι οὐκ ἂν οἴει ἀδικηθῆναι; ἦ διότι αἱ πόλεις σοι κηρύττουσιν ἀσφάλειαν καὶ προσιόντι καὶ ἀπιόντι, θαρρεῖς; ἢ διότι καὶ δοῦλος ἂν οἴει τοιοῦτος εἶναι οἷος μηδενὶ δεσπότῃ λυσιτελεῖν; τίς γὰρ ἂν ἐθέλοι ἄνθρωπον ἐν οἰκίᾳ ἔχειν πονεῖν μὲν μηδὲν ἐθέλοντα, τῇ δὲ πολυτελεστάτῃ διαίτῃ χαίροντα;


One thought on “Xenophon Explores The Pros and Cons of the Social Contract

  1. I think it’s always fascinating to see other cultures struggle with their own codes of behavior and their own partially mythic past. Was there really a time when men did not make alliances, and the like as Socrates (as reported by Xenophon) claims?

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