“Then, if that is his chief concern,” he said, “he will not willingly take part in politics.” “Yes, by the dog” said I, “in his own city he certainly will, yet perhaps not in the city of his birth, except in some providential conjuncture.” “I understand,” he said; “you mean the city whose establishment we have described, the city whose home is in the ideal for I think that it can be found nowhere on earth.” “Well,” said I, “perhaps there is a pattern of it laid up in heaven for him who wishes to contemplate it and so beholding to constitute himself its citizen. But it makes no difference whether it exists now or ever will come into being. The politics of this city only will be his and of none other.”--Plato Republic, 592ab
At the end of Book 9 of the Republic, in the quoted passage, Socrates distances himself, and thus (I stipulate) the philosopher, from the possibility of political rule and even participation in active political reform (or revolution). In fact, at first sight it seems he accepts an a-political role. In a way this is no surprise, because throughout the Republic, the role of philosophy and expertise in a political community is (to use an ugly word) problematized. (I tend to call this the Socratic Problem in my own research.)
Instead, if we allow that Socrates is an exemplar, he offers two philosophical tasks: (i) ongoing theoretical exploration of ideal theories that are humanly possible, but unavailable given the near-impossibility to solve the transition problem from any present status quo to getting up and running; (ii) the practice of private self-governance--what we would call the art of living well.
On (i), I use the plural because while undeniably the (the divinely crafted) heavenly pattern is univocal (597c), the human models inspired by, and their inner relations, can be multiple. I have two arguments for this claim: first, Socrates discusses two such models in the Republic; the true city (372e) also known as "the city of pigs" (369b-372d)) and the luxurious city (372e-451b). Second, the human models will -- because they are constituted in and explored by the understanding (διανοίᾳ) -- all rely on (partially) empirical axioma (and not purely intellectual, univocal eternal truths); that means that there will be room for variation. (511) The latter point is non-trivial because it follows that one can be practicing Socratic political theory about ideal theory without adopting the details of either of the Republic's cities as long as they are, somehow patterned on the heavenly pattern;* it is an open question if anybody else has practiced Socratic political theory about ideal theory, (but through some of my blogs I have hinted this may be true for Bacon, More, Thoreau, and Adam Smith).
On (ii) unlike contemporary new age, quietest practices in 'the art of living well,' Socrates's private self-governance is intrinsically political because the emendation is (as it were) patterned on, and oriented toward, the heavenly political city. (It also engages in ongoing speculative political theory.) But the expression of this politics is curtailed.
Even so, Socrates leaves us with the question if his activities in the Athenian market-place fall under this practice of self-government. If so, then (ii) involves considerable 'public' activity that has non-trivial 'political' consequences (including reformist, revolutionary, and reactionary). If not, then it is possible to see them as falling under (i); yet, as is well known these activities do impact his hometown. (And then we're dealing with a form of irony.) But, if his activities in the market-place fall neither under (i) nor under (ii), it is worth asking how to understand them at all.
*(There is a sense in which this brings Plato's Socrates closer to a feature of Aristotle's project, but I explore that some other time.