Criticizing Plato's "Philosopher King" Idea -- How It is Flawed
Updated: Sep 11, 2023
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Contemplating Plato's idea of the philosopher king, I came up with my own points of critique simply by improvising how Plato's "utopia" would be if it were to be applied to reality, and how unnecessarily problematic it can get.
1. Plato was a philosopher, and he claimed that philosophers should be in the top of the political structure and government. This makes me wonder if Plato was just or simply wished for more power in his hands by abusing the fact that he was a well-known and respected philosopher. Perhaps if philosophy was not as relevant as it was back then in the eyes of many, proposing a self-advocating idea might have been met with either controversy or mockery. Imagine a jester doing the same thing to get what I mean.
2. Plato's political theory is not democratic. Only philosophers could be in the head of the state. The rationale is that the philosopher king would be a benelovent dictator, and that democracy can lead to the rule of the unfit. If you are not a philosopher, you are unfit to lead by Plato's standards. If you are a mere soldier or a farmer, you will likely remain one until the end of your life, and that office will not be available for your children to run to, unless they will be recognized as philosophers. Only if you are a philosopher can you apply to be the leader of the nation. Additionally, there would need to be a proper definition of who is a philosopher and who is not, to avoid breach or confusion in the law.
3. Philosophers in the top of the hierarchy could be tempted to use their great power and status for bad and become corrupted. Just because you are a philosopher does not make you immune to the temptation of corruption and injustice. Everyone is prone to temptation, after all. Power can tempt regardless of one's resolve.
4. Just because you are a philosopher does not make you excellent in managing an entire country. Philosophy is more than just politics, but about various fields that do not necessarily have anything to do with politics. I am myself a philosopher, and I have no interest in politics practically (unless we consider Philosocom to be a "virtual dictatorship"). Outside of the virtual realm, I would probably be an unsuccessful monarch because of my lack of experience. Even children, in my opinion, can be considered philosophers. Some may even claim that every child is a philosopher. However, it is unlikely that they would lead a country successfully, even if they are philosophers. Would you trust a child to lead your country, even if you support Plato's "Philosopher King"? I assume you wouldn't.
5. One of the temptations a philosopher may have is the temptation to create a cult out of their ideas. Pythagoras is an example of a Greek philosopher who created what I assume was a cult out of his philosophy, and gained powers in the eyes of others that the philosopher did not necessarily have in possession. Combine this power with political power, and you might create an oppressive, undemocratic theocracy, which is a regime that is made mostly out of religion and its rules. This is dangerous because it may lack the freedom of thought that philosophers generally enjoy, thus leading to a state of deception and blind faith, which is immoral as it allows power to grow corrupt.
6. Another problem is succession. As said before, only philosophers can rule in Plato's "utopia." When a philosopher king dies, how can one know what philosopher will come into power? The deceased king may have children, but they may not be philosophers at all. This could lead to a power struggle and even a civil war in that theoretical country. Civil wars can lead to anarchy or to conquest by another nation. When there are few competitors for the throne (who are, of course, philosophers), what are the circumstances for one of them to be worthier to political leadership than the others? If there would be an election, how can we rely on the masses to choose which philosopher is better?
7. What about a candidate that is widely appreciated and wanted to become the next monarch, but the philosopher themselves do not wish to be in power? Do we need to force philosophers to become absolute kings simply because they have a keen interest in philosophy? What if the whole philosopher population of the Platonian republic are unavailable to sit upon the throne? What if there is a shortage of philosophers? The Platonian Republic can easily narrow the demographic of its rulers and it can lead to an insufficent pool of available or competent candidates.
8. Can there be a concise distinction between a superior philosopher and a lesser one, to determine the heir to the throne? How would it be decided otherwise?
That is all I have to criticize about Plato's idea of his ideal state, which is, ironically, far from ideal. Philosophers, as seekers of wisdom, are not necessarily fit to govern by the mere fact of their wisdom-seeking.
Likewise, it could be true to other types of intellectuals, as intellect alone is often insufficient. Traits such as charisma, courage, carefulness, and so forth are or should be not less valuable than intellect and/or brilliance.