“Most People are either stupid or evil, or both”

“Most people are either stupid or evil, or both.”

                                       -Hugh Mann


Using Hugh’s statement as my guideline, I would like to explore the question: to what extent do the characters behave like “normal” people?

In Kleist’s story, Earthquake in Chile, we can see there is no shortage of either of these qualities. Jeronimo and Josefa are extremely stupid and naive. They abandon all of their sensible plans in exchange for ill-conceived, emotionally driven antics. The ravenous religious zealots are probably more evil than stupid but they are certainly both, as they can barely even be bothered to lynch the right people. Witch-hunting is one of the world’s oldest pastimes (in Christian communities, mostly) and mobs like this are far more “normal” than a sane person can be comfortable with. Sadly, the only abnormal character is also the most honourable. Standing between a mob and their would-be victims is truly nothing short of “Godlike [heroics]” (Kleist 31). I guess it is also pretty commendable how Jeronimo and Josefa sacrifice themselves as well.

Moving to Lieutenant Gustl, I am immediately reminded of Jonathan Swift, when he said that “satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.” I think this is important to keep in mind given our discussion today. It is too easy to say that Schnitzler was simply making fun of European militarymen of his time. He is making fun of you and me too. Much of his initial instincts strike me as very normal, then his reactions are taken way out of proportion for the purpose of satire. I would assert that no normal human being has never taken an embarrassing incident way out of proportion, lashed out at someone for something that they really had no business in, or secretly rejoiced when someone who has wronged them suffers. It is only the ridiculous extremes that he takes these thoughts that is abnormal.

Right, now onto the next question: how are the settings important and what do they tell us about the author’s thoughts?

In Earthquake in Chile the setting is a more rural, developing area. Kleist basically portrays this as a hive of superstition and religious violence. Perhaps he thought of modern European cities to be beyond that sort of thing. He does also write as though this is a place of love and generosity, most notably when his characters are in the actual forest. I suspect he likely  shared many of Rousseau’s thoughts on civilization. Schnitzler’s story gives a similar impression, but his criticism is pointed directly at urban Europe. His world is filled with arrogant, obnoxious, chest-puffing lunatics. Gustl is completely self-entitled and self-absorbed and even the baker is appallingly rude and confrontational. We also see a critique of a “culture of shame,” as we see that Gustl derives his entire sense of worth from the perceptions of others and societal expectations of him. There is certainly no room for the simple joys present in Earthquake in Chile in this story.


Make the Kallipolis Just Again

It takes a great deal of integrity to admit one is wrong. I do not have this integrity and fortunately neither did Plato. However, despite our many disagreements that will never truly be solved I do think that in light of America’s most recent election, Plato does deserve some credit. Congrats, Plato. You were sort of right about something. Don’t let it go to your head.

In celebration of such a rare event, I have put together a short dialogue. Hope you all enjoy.



COOPEREON: Good evening from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. I’m Coopereon and will moderating tonight’s debate. The first question is: Socrates you claim that only a true philosopher can rule over a city. Who is a philosopher and who is not?

SOCRATES: Philosophers are those people who are passionately devoted to and love the things with which knowledge deals, as the others are devoted to and love all things with which belief deals. The latter love and look at beautiful sounds, colours, and things of that sort, but cannot every bear the idea that the beautiful itself is a thing that is.

COOPEREON: Thank you, Socrates. Trumpidus, same question to you.

TRUMPIDUS: Look, here’s the story. I want to make the kallipolis just again. I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t believe Socrates will. He’s been a disaster as a philosopher. He was asked what justice is. He couldn’t answer the question. He didn’t know. I’m not a fan of Socrates. He’s a nasty guy. A really nasty guy.

COOPEREON:  All right. Let’s move on to the subject of forms. Socrates, how can someone gain knowledge of these forms?

SOCRATES: The realm revealed through sight should be likened to a prison dwelling, and the light of the fire inside it to the sun’s power. And if you think of the upward journey and the seeing of things above as an upward journey of the soul to the intelligIble realm–


SOCRATES: Only god knows whether it is true–

TRUMPIDUS: Wrong. You’re wrong. The allegory of the cave is the worst allegory maybe ever created anywhere, but certainly ever created in this city. He’s been doing this for 30 years. And why hasn’t he made the allegories better? The allegory of the cave is defective. So you say to yourself, why didn’t he make the right allegory? This is one of the worst allegories ever made by anyone in history.

SOCRATES: So you think I quibble do you?

TRUMPIDUS: Excuse me. Quiet. You were very much involved — excuse me. My turn. You were very much involved in every aspect of this city. Very much. And you do have experience. I say the one thing you have over me is experience, but it’s bad experience, because what you’ve done has turned out badly — Our guardians are fleeing the city. They’re going to Thebes. They’re going to many other cities. You look at what Sparta is doing to our country in terms of training our guardians. They’re taking our guardians, and there’s nobody in our government to fight them. And we have a very good fight. And we have a winning fight. So we’re losing our good guardians, so many of them.

COOPEREON: We have to move on to the final question. Do you believe your opponent is just?


TRUMPIDUS:  Well, I have much better judgement than he does. There’s no question about that. I also have a much better reason than he has, you know? He doesn’t have the look. He doesn’t have the justness. I said he doesn’t have the justness. And I don’t believe he does have the justness. To be in charge of this city, you need tremendous justness. Socrates is the unjustest person on stage right now. Thrasymachus said Socrates has very bad reason. This is a perfect example of it. I am going to make the kallipolis just again. It’s going to be very, very just. It’s going to be tremendously just. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.

COOPEREON: Your response, Socrates?

SOCRATES: No comment.