Sunday, May 5, 2019

On The Politics of Philosopher Kings

In Plato’s the Republic, Socrates says: “Unless the philosophers rule as kings or those now called kings and chiefs genuinely and adequately philosophize, and political power and philosophy coincide in the same place, while the many natures now making their way to either apart from the other are by necessity excluded, there is no rest from ills for the cities, my dear Glaucon, nor I think for human kind, nor will the regime we have now described in speech ever come forth from nature, insofar as possible, and see the light of the sun.” ~ (Allan Bloom’s translation in The Republic of Plato)

In his "Interpretive Essay," (The Republic of Plato; Page 390), Allan Bloom writes: “we are in some sense the heirs and beneficiaries of Socrates' work, even as we are the children of the Enlightenment which radicalized that work. Partly because Socrates and Plato were so effective in arguing the usefulness of philosophy to civil society, and partly because the meaning of philosophy has changed, we no longer believe that there is a tension between philosophy and civil society. Although we might doubt whether philosophers have the gift of ruling, we do not consider the activity of philosophy to be pernicious to political concerns. Hence the notion of philosopher-kings is not in itself paradoxical for us. But, precisely because we take it for granted that the hatred of philosophy was merely prejudice, and that history has helped us to overcome that prejudice, we are in danger of missing the point which Socrates makes here.”

Socrates is taking the position that a just city is not possible unless philosophy is tolerated and encouraged. Without philosophy the regime cannot find impartial rulers. Only the philosopher is capable of devoting his attention to the whole—only he can make a fair distribution of the good things that the city has to offer. Bloom notes that “Philosophy is a rare plant, one which has flourished only in the West; it is perhaps the essence of that West. Its place is not simply assured everywhere and always as is the city's. The writings of Plato and a few others made it respectable. The Republic thus represents one of the most decisive moments of our history. In this work Socrates presents the grounds of his being brought to trial and shows why philosophy is always in danger and always in need of a defense.” ("Interpretive Essay"; Page 390)

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