In origin, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebs. We know, we can still see for ourselves, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is often enough the expression of a development that has been crossed, thwarted by crossing. Or it appears as declining development. The anthropologists among the criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. [“monster in face, monster in soul”] But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates a typical criminal? At least that would not be contradicted by the famous judgment of the physiognomist which sounded so offensive to the friends of Socrates. A foreigner who knew about faces once passed through Athens and told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the bad vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: "You know me, sir!"
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (1889)
“I don’t think it’s going too far to compare him to someone like Socrates or Plato, who were interested in truth. He also does another thing that Socrates did, which was to use the opponent’s own assumptions and presuppositions to then deconstruct them and show that they are, in fact, invalid. And Colbert does that better than anyone I’ve seen in this generation.”
— “Is Stephen Colbert the New Socrates,” TIME.com (July 11, 2012)
If we look closely at discussions about these themes — Socrates, Socraticism, irony and maieutic — we will become aware of a pseudo-problem which is constantly cropping up. It consists of asking oneself whether Socrates actually held the ideas which have subsequently been attributed to him (him of whom we know nothing) after century upon century of transportations and interpretations. Sceptics like to see him as a perpetual doubter, and nothing but a doubter. Value philosophers find, a posteriori, that he was the instigator of value philosophers; while partisans of rational and logical concepts praise him as the inventor of the concept, formally categorized as such. For some, Socrates was the righter of wrongs, the ‘guardian of pure intellectuality’, and consequently the leading apolitical or antipolitical figure of his time. But equally one can maintain that ‘after Socrates politics becomes the jewel in philosophy’s crown’. Pedagogue? Corruptor of the young? Creator of philosophy as distinct from poetry, religion, politics, art — or antiphilosopher who refuted ontologies? ‘Solo dancer to the glory of God’? ‘Tragic hero’ (Kierkegaard)? Or purveyor of antitragic rationalism, harbinger of decadence (Nietzsche)? And what should we think of his ‘daemon’? God or devil? Soul or spirit? Genius of revolt, Promethean spirit? Inspired by the arcanum of mysticism? Religiosity or rationalism? Introversion or communication? Spiritiuality or rhetoric in the service of an ill-defined social practice? Birth of consciousness or death of spontaneity? Dreamer? Sophist? Ideologue? Philistine roué? Rake? Pure hero? Of Socrates everything can be said.
— Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity (1962)
What Stewart and Colbert do most nights is convert civic villainy into disposable laughs. They prefer Horatian satire to Juvenalian, and thus treat the ills of modern media and politics as matters of folly, not concerted evil. Rather than targeting the obscene cruelties borne of greed and fostered by apathy, they harp on a rogues’ gallery of hypocrites familiar to anyone with a TiVo or a functioning memory. Wit, exaggeration, and gentle mockery trump ridicule and invective. The goal is to mollify people, not incite them.
— Steve Almond, “The Jokes on You,” The Baffler No. 20 (2012)