Philosopher Kings

Is the idea that all leaders should also be philosophers an idealistic and unattainable goal? Or something we should be striving for? Or an elitist and offensive suggestion?

Cameron and Obama – philosopher kings?

A quotation from Plato, Republic Book 5, section 473, c-e:

ἑνὸς μὲν τοίνυν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, μεταβαλόντος δοκοῦμέν μοι ἔχειν δεῖξαι ὅτι μεταπέσοι ἄν, οὐ μέντοι σμικροῦ γε οὐδὲ ῥᾳδίου, δυνατοῦ δέ.
τίνος; ἔφη.
ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ δή, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, εἰμὶ ὃ τῷ μεγίστῳ προσῃκάζομεν κύματι. εἰρήσεται δ᾽ οὖν, εἰ καὶ μέλλει γέλωτί τε ἀτεχνῶς ὥσπερ κῦμα ἐκγελῶν καὶ ἀδοξίᾳ κατακλύσειν. σκόπει δὲ ὃ μέλλω λέγειν.
λέγε, ἔφη.
ἐὰν μή, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, ἢ οἱ φιλόσοφοι βασιλεύσωσιν ἐν [473δ] ταῖς πόλεσιν ἢ οἱ βασιλῆς τε νῦν λεγόμενοι καὶ δυνάσται φιλοσοφήσωσι γνησίως τε καὶ ἱκανῶς, καὶ τοῦτο εἰς ταὐτὸν συμπέσῃ, δύναμίς τε πολιτικὴ καὶ φιλοσοφία, τῶν δὲ νῦν πορευομένων χωρὶς ἐφ᾽ ἑκάτερον αἱ πολλαὶ φύσεις ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἀποκλεισθῶσιν, οὐκ ἔστι κακῶν παῦλα, ὦ φίλε Γλαύκων, ταῖς πόλεσι, δοκῶ δ᾽ οὐδὲ τῷ ἀνθρωπίνῳ γένει, [473ε] οὐδὲ αὕτη ἡ πολιτεία μή ποτε πρότερον φυῇ τε εἰς τὸ δυνατὸν καὶ φῶς ἡλίου ἴδῃ, ἣν νῦν λόγῳ διεληλύθαμεν. ἀλλὰ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὃ ἐμοὶ πάλαι ὄκνον ἐντίθησι λέγειν, ὁρῶντι ὡς πολὺ παρὰ δόξαν ῥηθήσεται: χαλεπὸν γὰρ ἰδεῖν ὅτι οὐκ ἂν ἄλλη τις εὐδαιμονήσειεν οὔτε ἰδίᾳ οὔτε δημοσίᾳ.

Tony Blair and George Bush engaging in some philosophy

A translation, from Perseus

“There is one change, then,” said I, “which I think that we can show would bring about the desired transformation. It is not a slight or an easy thing but it is possible.”

“What is that?” said he.

“I am on the very verge,” said I, “of what we likened to the greatest wave of paradox. But say it I will, even if, to keep the figure, it is likely to wash us away on billows of laughter and scorn. Listen.”

“I am all attention,” he said.

“Unless,” said I, “either philosophers become kings [473d] in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory [473e] ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun. But this is the thing that has made me so long shrink from speaking out, because I saw that it would be a very paradoxical saying. For it is not easy to see that there is no other way of happiness either for private or public life.”


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