In a New Yorker article last fall, Kathryn Schultz attacked the legacy of Henry David Thoreau, calling Walden’s author “pond scum” and dismissing as unrealistic any political vision built upon his “rugged individualism.” Based on her reaction to Thoreau, she’d likely recoil in horror from Diogenes of Sinope (412-323 BCE), founder of the Cynic school of philosophy in ancient Greece. Known as “The Dog,” Diogenes lived in a tub, begged for food, and went barefoot, haranguing rich and poor alike for their pointless conformity, irrational behavior, and moral bankruptcy. Compared to Diogenes, Thoreau was pampered and tame.
You might be familiar with the image of a white-haired man carrying a lamp in daylight, searching for an honest man. That was Diogenes.
Brilliant philosopher, shameless exhibitionist, ragamuffin — take your pick, but before we concede to people like Schultz and dismiss the man, we have to ask the question, why is Diogenes still remembered some twenty-four hundred years after his death?
I recently came across a book by Professor Luis Navia of New York Institute of Technology, Diogenes the Critic: The War Against the World, which sheds some interesting light on this question.