Volume 10, 2007
Ancient and Modern Philosophy
Emerson on Socrates and the Tyranny of the Majority
Emerson's Representative Men reveals his awareness of the dangers of the tyranny of the majority and his admiration for figures of great genius. These trends of thought, which led Emerson's contemporaries Carlyle and Nietzsche to reject democracy, are combined in Emerson with support for democracy. To understand and justify Emerson's combination of fear of the tyranny of the majority, admiration for genius, and support for democracy, it is helpful to examine his portrait of Socrates in Representative Men. Emerson's Socrates is a figure of genius who, by his ironic profession of ignorance and demonstration of moral truths, is capable of freeing the citizen of a democracy from the tyranny of the majority.