In Book 1, of Plato’s famous dialogue The Republic, Thrasymachus one of Socrates’ interlocutors states that justice is that which serves the interests of the strongest so that what is right is always determined by might. Socrates refutes Thrasymachus’ notion of justice by simply arguing that justice as a virtue cannot be what serves the interests of the strongest as those interests might result in vice and evil and not in virtue, which is the hallmark of justice, the other cardinal virtues being courage, moderation and prudence.
In the present context of the collapse of the talks in Crans-Montana it is obvious which form of justice Turkey favoured and vigorously promoted at that conference: it is the notion of “justice” put forward by Thrasymachus and refuted by Socrates in Plato’s Republic: the notion that justice for Cyprus is what serves the exclusive interests of Turkey by maintaining their unilateral right to intervene in the internal affairs of the Cyprus Republic through its military presence in Cyprus, just as it did in 1974, with the disastrous consequences for Cyprus on both sides of the divided island.
To use an argument from analogy, often favoured by philosophers, allowing Turkey to intervene militarily as it did in 1974 would be similar to allowing a rapist to oversee and guarantee the rightful and just interests of his raped victim. Allowing the other two countries as guarantors would equally be unwise and unjust as Britain stood by and did nothing to stop Turkey’s invasion or minimise its disastrous harm, and Greece prior to the collapse of the Junta was the prime motivator for the Turkish intervention by furnishing Turkey with the much-needed pretext to invade. Conflicts of interest abound in having those same three countries involved as guarantor powers for Cyprus’s independence and integrity as a modern state in the 21st century.
The arguments in the Cyprus press recently and throughout the talks ignore the fundamental issue that the Cyprus problem is not merely a political issue, an issue for a bit of horse-trading of “give and take” but far more importantly it is a significant ethical issue concerning justice, as Socrates argued 2500 years ago. It is not only disappointing but also shameful that the EU and the rest of the civilised democratic world should stand by and watch Turkey threaten and bully an EU member, simply because Cyprus is a small country and Turkey is a very large country with a powerful army that serves the West’s military and trade interests.
Perhaps it might seem that Thrasymachus’ was right after all – that “justice” is just whatever secures the interests of the powerful and “might is right”. But if that were the case, we should then drop the facade and give up on the humanist values of our civilised world for which Socrates lived and died for. Would such a life be worth living, however: A life of vice and lies and not a life of virtue and truth? I sincerely hope not.
Dr Edward H. Spence, Australia,
Affiliations: Charles Sturt University and University of Sydney, Australia, and 4TU Centre for Ethics and Technology, Netherlands.