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David Franke: Socrates, Galileo, and Today’s Covid-19 Authorities

At every turn, we are admonished to accept the dictates of the Authorities regarding the Covid-19 epidemic—the officially designated public health authorities, the Wise Men like Bill Gates, the media babbleheads who scold us when we stray from their ideological nostrums, and the politicians who kowtow to all of the above.

Who are we to think we know better than these Authorities and their media and political flacks?

It can be intimidating to fight back when their official wisdom consumes every pixel of the Washington Post and the New York Times, of CNN and MSNBC and all the rest.  All the more important, then, to put our current Authorities into historical context.  We need to remind ourselves how the Authorities and Wise Men of any era can easily become the fools and villains of history.


The Greek philosopher Socrates is generally considered one of the fathers of Western philosophy and the West’s first moral philosopher.  He left no writings, so we know him best through his students Plato and Xenophon, as well as the playwright Aristophanes and later philosophers such as Aristotle.  The names of his opponents—the Authorities of Athens—are forgotten in the dustbin of history.

We do know that 399 years Before Christ he went on trial in Athens and was forced to drink a potion that included the poison hemlock.  His crimes?  Corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and impiety—“not believing in the gods of the state” (what an apt description of the accusations levied against the opponents of today’s Authorities!).

In 399 B.C. the practical path was to obey the dictates of the Authorities of Athens.  They were in control, and they let you know it.  But where are the defenders of those Authorities today?


If Socrates calls into question the wisdom of the political Authorities of the day, Galileo calls into question the wisdom of the scientific Authorities of the day.

Galileo has been called the “father of observational astronomy,” the “father of modern physics,” the “father of the scientific method,” and the “father of modern science.”  I challenge you to name any of his accusers, the Authorities of his day.

Galileo is best known, of course, for questioning the accepted wisdom of his day—that the Earth is the center of the universe and the other planets revolve around Earth.  This brought him into conflict with both the scientific Authorities of his day and the religious Authorities of his day—and specifically the Roman Inquisition.  He was tried by the Inquisition, found guilty of heresy, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Today, of course, we laugh at the positions of those Authorities.  Galileo was vindicated by history, but his fate demonstrated the power of their authority in his and their time.

Of particular interest to us during today’s pandemic is Galileo’s role in developing the scientific method.  It is a continuous process in which you constantly question and revise your hypotheses when that is called for by new observations and evidence.  In short, there is no final scientific Truth that cannot be questioned.

This is the opposite of what we see today.  Our medical Authorities dictate what “works” (ventilators, vaccines) and what doesn’t work (intravenous vitamin C, hydroxychloroquine) despite the observations and successes of front-line doctors around the world.  That is what happens when your medical system is controlled by the State.  Dr. Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control are today’s equivalent of the Inquisition and Vatican of Galileo’s day, dictating what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected.

This Happens Throughout History

Socrates and Galileo are two of the most famous examples of heretics who defied the Authorities of their day—and paid the price.  But this is nothing unusual in history.  People also repeatedly submit to mass hysteria, and later observers wonder how they could have ever fallen for such ridiculous notions.  The witch trials are perhaps the best-known example.

Today we are living through such a period of mass hysteria and fear.  We have allowed our Authorities to bring down the strongest economies in the history of the world—those of the United States and other developed nations—on the basis of mass hysteria and fear involving the Covid-19 virus.  Hoping to make sense out of the era I’m living through, I have started reading the classic account of such phenomena—Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published in 1841.

Outside of the witch-hunt hysteria, the most famous example may be Tulipomania—when hordes of supposedly sane people believed Dutch tulips were destined to become the new world currency.  But Mackay, a popular journalist with a flair for investigating and documenting such delusions, gives us dozens of examples from throughout the history of the West.  This is social history, political history, financial history, religious history, and scientific history combined.

Somehow I feel that perhaps I can better cope with today’s crazy world by laughing at these earlier delusions and realizing that we managed to survive these earlier bouts of mass panic and fear.  Any such comfort, however, will not relieve us of our duty to expose today’s extraordinary popular delusion and madness.  If we don’t, this could be the world’s last, final bout of insanity.

David Franke's Previous Articles on the Coronavirus Pandemic:

David Franke

David Franke was one of the founders of the conservative movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, starting his media career at Human Events and National Review (editorial assistant to William F. Buckley Jr.). His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Esquire, and many other publications. His books have included Safe Places, The Torture Doctor, Richard C. Young’s Financial Armadillo Strategy (as co-author to Dick Young), and America’s Right Turn (with Richard A. Viguerie). He was Senior Editor of Silver & Gold Report in the 1980s, and served as the writer/editor of John Naisbitt’s Trend Letter in the 1990s. A native Texan, David now lives in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

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