The Judgment of the Dead -Part 2
"Only the Good Souls are in Hell"

[We continue with Voegelin's account of the Gorgias. Voegelin uses the language of Christian mysticism to describe the immortalization that can take place while we still live.]

Life can mean either earthly existence, or freedom of the soul from the frenzy of the body. The shifting between these several meanings is the source of the richness of the Gorgias.

Let us begin with the meaning of the symbols on the level of history. In the historico-political process those who live lustfully like Callicles are the "dead," entombed in the passion and frenzy of their body; they are judged by the "living," that is, by the philosophers who let their souls be penetrated by the experience of death and, thus, have achieved life sub specie mortis in freedom from somatic passion. The transfer of authority means the victory of the life of the soul over the deadliness of earthly passions.

This tension between the life of the soul and the tomb of the body, however, has only "recently" developed in history. Formerly, in the age of the myth, the distinction between life and death had not been so clear; at that time earthly existence could easily be mistaken for the life of the soul. The soul had first to be separated from the body through the experience of death. Only when Thanatos had entered the soul could it be distinguished clearly from the sema of the body; only then could its nonsomatic nature, the co-eternity of its existence with the cosmos and the autonomy of its order, become intelligible.

The life and death of Socrates were the decisive events in the discovery and liberation of the soul. The soul of Socrates was oriented toward the Agathon through its eroticism; and the Agathon invaded the soul with its eternal substance, thereby creating the autonomous order of the soul beyond the passions of the body. Through this catharsis, the soul in its earthly existence received the stigmata of its eternal postexistence.

The life of Socrates was the great model of the liberation of the soul through the invasion of death into earthly existence; and the imitatio Socratis had become the order of life for his followers, and above all for Plato. Only now, when the Sons of Zeus have died, when death embraces them in life, is the catharsis of the soul revealed as the true meaning of life; and only the souls who have died have the clearness of view that enables them to judge the "living." The authority of the judges, thus, is the authority of death over life.

But what is the status of those who do not have the experience of death in existence and through this experience gain the life of the soul? On this question hinges the problem of history as a meaningful order, i.e., as the process of revelation.

The revelation of divinity in history is ontologically real. The myth of the people and the poets is really superseded by the myth of the soul. The old myth is in full decadence; it is corroded by pleonexy and reason, as evidenced by Gorgias, Polus, and Callicles. The order of the soul as revealed through Socrates has, indeed, become the new order of relations between God and man. And the authority of this new order is inescapable. To bury oneself in the tomb of bodily existence (the escape of Callicles) is of no avail; the way from the old myth leads, not to the darkness of nature, but to the life of the soul; and the soul must die and, divested of its body, stand before its judge.

The new order is understood secretly even by those who meet it with sulkiness and recalcitrance, for this secret understanding binds the partners of the dialogue together at least for its duration. We remember the passage of the Cratylus. The "desire for virtue" is present even if it is obscured by the mania of the body; and it will reign freely when the obstacle of the body is removed. Insofar as the dialogue is an attempt at existential communication, it is an attempt to liberate the soul from its passions, to denude it of its body.

Socrates speaks to his interlocutors as if they were "dead" souls, or at least as if they were souls who are capable of death. On the part of Socrates, the dialogue is an attempt to submit the others, at least tentatively, to the catharsis of death. The judgment of the dead thus is enacted in part in the dialogue itself, concretely, in the attempt of Socrates to pierce through the "body" of his interlocutors to their naked souls. He tries to make die, and thereby to make live, those who threaten him with death.

Hence Socrates, after he has finished the tale of the myth, turns to Callicles for the last time and offers him an exhortation of his own in exchange for his former friendly admonitions. He assures Callicles that he is persuaded of the truth of the judgment and that he wishes to present his soul undefiled before the judge; and that, to the utmost of his powers, he exhorts all men to be equally persuaded. He now exhorts Callicles, therefore, to take part in this combat ( agon ), which is the agon of life and greater than any other. Otherwise he will suffer before his eternal judges the fate that he predicted for Socrates before the earthly judges. "Follow my persuasion"—and he will lead Callicles to eudaimonia in this life and after death (527C).

The existential appeal is now supported by the ultimate authority of the demand to submit freely to the inevitable judgment right here and now: to enter the community of those whose souls have been liberated by death and who live in the presence of the judgment.

The barriers between the earthly existence of the soul and its post-existence have broken down. Catharsis is the meaning of existence for the soul on both sides of the dividing line of disembodiment. The catharsis that the soul has not achieved in earthly existence will have to be achieved in postexistence. Hence the punishment, the timoria, that the soul will have to undergo in afterlife does not differ from the punishment that it has to undergo in this life for the purpose of purification.

This purifying timoria is a social process; it can be applied by gods or by men. Those who are touchable by it are those whose misdeeds ( hamartemata ) are curable; they are able to undergo the purification by pain and suffering. And there is no other way for the soul to be delivered from evil ( adikia ) "in this world or the next" (525C). In this idea of the catharsis through suffering "in this world or the next" there can again be felt the Aeschylean touch of the wisdom through suffering as the great law of the psyche for gods and men.

The curable soul, thus, is permanently in the state of judgment; to experience itself permanently in the presence of the judgment, we might say, is the criterion of the curable soul; "only the good souls are in hell," as Berdiaev, on occasion, has formulated the problem.

This conception, however, would have an unexpected consequence if it were understood not existentially but dogmatically. If the symbol of punishment in afterlife were misunderstood as a dogmatic hypothesis, the not-so-good souls might arrive at the conclusion that they will wait for afterlife and see what is going to happen then; if suffering is the lot of the soul under all circumstances, they can wait for their share of suffering (which is no more than a dogmatic assertion) in postexistence and meanwhile enjoy some pleasurable criminality.

It is a problem in the psychology of dogmatic derailment similar to that which has arisen in some instances in Calvinism: If the fate of the soul is predestined, some may arrive at the conclusion that it does not matter what they do. This psychological derailment, through the dogmatic misunderstanding of the existential truth of the myth, Plato forestalls by the threat of eternal condemnation for the incurable souls.

In the symbolism of the myth eternal condemnation is the correlate to the refusal of communication on the level of the myth of the soul; eternal condemnation means, in existential terms, self-excommunication. The revelation of the divinity in history moves on; the authority rests with the men who live in friendship with God; the criminal can achieve nothing but the perdition of his soul.

  Vol 16 ( Order and History, Vol III)
The Gorgias  (Chapter 2)
§ 5 The Judgment of the Dead
pp 96-99.