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The Choirmaster and the General

Nicomachides once poured out his woes to Socrates because despite being an outstanding officer in the army, he was not elected as a general. Instead, Antisthenes was given that honour. Nicomachides was disgusted because Antisthenes never served in the infantry and was useless in the cavalry. The only thing he was good at was making money. Socrates argued that this quality would allow him to provide supplies for his men, moreover, whenever Antisthenes managed a chorus, he always won.

Nicomachides was indignant and hardly felt that managing a group of singers and dancers to compete at a festival sacred to Apollo would be equivalent to managing an army. He asked Socrates if a good chorus-trainer would also make a good general. Socrates replied that if a person was given a responsibility, and he knew what was needed and was able to provide it, he could perform that responsibility efficiently on any scale, whether a chorus or an army or even the country.

Nicomachides remained unconvinced so Socrates went ahead to ask him a series of question that drew parallels between a chorus-trainer and an estate-manager:

‘do both of them need to make their subordinates loyal?’

‘do both of them need to delegate tasks effectively?’

‘do both of them need to reward the good and punish the bad?’

‘do both of them need to win allies?’

‘do both of them need to be careful and hardworking in all their duties?’

‘do both of them make enemies?’

Nicomachides replied in the positive to all these questions and so Socrates proceeded to deliver the conclusion. The difference between the care of private and public affairs is minimal. The same factors that apply to successful private properties apply to managing public affairs.

If people knew and understood these factors and were able to provide for them, they would carry out their duties successfully.

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