In Crito, Socrates decides to stay in prison to face his execution. Socrates’ argument is: to live in a state (or in this case the city of Athens which acts as a state) one’s whole life (with the option to expatriate one’s self). Then to renege on the contract (that is: citizenship), would be unjust and wrong. It is obvious, the function of government is to protect/benefit its citizens. If one follows the laws then there is no problem. However, when one decides to stray from the law, the state reserves the right to revoke the citizens rights and privileges. If people choose to follow laws only when convenient for them, there is no point in law. By not allowing a law to be enforced, the citizen effectively diminishes the purpose of law and enforcement thereof. Socrates has benefitted his whole life from Athenian law, he actually never once left Athens (keep in mind he is 70 and Athens is a metropolis). This would obviously constitute the contract of citizenship wherein both parties are obliged to meet certain stipulations. The citizen must act in accordance with law, the government must enforce the law.
Crito suggests that because Socrates was wrongfully sentenced in the first place, this constitutes a mistrial. Herein lies the real question, if wrongfully convicted in the first place, is the convict then obliged to serve the sentence? Socrates says: YES! They establish it is wrong to renege on a contract or an agreement. If they leave Athens without the consent of the people of Athens, then they are harming the people thereby destroying the laws and voiding the contract between citizen and state.
This is difficult for me to comment on. I would argue laws are good and anarchy is bad. However, laws are not always right and not always enforced correctly(as seen in the Apology). Governments are not always right, and not always run correctly. We know that either Socrates was convicted of “corrupting the youth” or impiety. Although we don’t know if he was convicted on both counts, we do know the sentence: death. People have been executed for impiety for millenia. Execution for corrupting the youth, however, seems draconian (Draco’s law was ended shortly after his death when the constitution of Athens was written around 590 b.c., over a hundred years before Socrates). Imagine the Beetles being executed for corrupting the youth in the 60’s or Elvis in the 50’s or pretty much anything the older generation can’t match up on with ideals in all of history.
In the ’70’s, in Haiti, Francois Duvalier had a secret police force that murdered, raped and tortured any opposition to his government. His son, Jean-Claude, succeeded him as the anointed prince, all the more sociopathic and all this with U.S. support. The point being, governments are not always good and laws not always just. Obviously “Jim Crow” laws and other legal evils have been seen in U.S. history. If a law is evil, are we still obliged to follow it? People shape governments, governments don’t shape people. What I mean by that is, (particularly in the case of democracies) laws are reactions to society’s will. Socrates knew: being executed by the will of the pople for something he didn’t do would logically lead to people questioning the very foundation of their government. If you knew people could routinely be executed in America, wrongfully, wouldn’t you want to change the goernment? Would we be talking about Socrates today if he had fled Athens?