The Closing of the American Mind was last year’s liberal cliche of the year. This year, the left’s answer may well be I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates. Billed as an exercise in investigative reporting. Stone’s book does to Athens what I.F. Stone’s Weekly used to do to the United States. Stone’s “original” thesis is that Socrates’ antidemocratic sentiments got him in trouble, but—he argues—the Athenians were still not justified in silencing the gadfly. (One wonders what the Germans should have done with Hitler.)

Stone seems to be everywhere these days talking about Socrates—on National Public Radio, in the New York Review of Books, in Harper’s. The only trouble is, he simply does not know anything about the subject—not Greek, not ancient history, not philosophy—nothing (or, as they say in a language Stone cannot read, ouden). What’s worse, his brilliant original thesis was a commonplace in the late 18th century and was made famous by Hegel. Even Stone might have read Hegel. It is a permanent black mark against Little, Brown to have published this thing—you can’t call it a book—and what’s worse, nobody there has enough scruples (or is it education?) even to be ashamed of what they’ve done.

It is not worth the space it would take to detail all of Stone’s howlers, but this has not silenced the chorus of applause. Writing in The Atlantic, Bernard Knox praises Stone’s “eye for significant detail and the latent connection.” Coming from the usual Atlantic crowd, such a review would be understandable, but—politics aside—Bernard Knox has had a distinguished academic career and has done as much as anyone in the U.S. to further the advancement of classics. That he should soil his hands by petting the likes of Stone is simply a mystery. Equally hard to understand is Glen Bowersock’s velvet-glove treatment in The New Republic: a cautious correction or two interrupt the paean. Only Sidney Hook—not a classicist at all— has actually told the truth in his Wall Street Journal review. What goes on?

One likes to think that for the important things, politics doesn’t matter. There are a great many leftist writers that one can admire—Christopher Lasch, for example; liberals are something else. Real honest-to-goodness liberal scholars apparently know that they have to give up all their standards if they wish to write regularly for The New Republic. (TF)