Plato’s Case Against the Philosopher King
Liberal democracies afford their citizens the opportunity to reflect seriously upon the perennial questions of politics and the fundamental alternatives. However, an unfortunate trend, indeed observable in both practical politics and the social sciences, has seen political philosophy largely supplanted by ideology, the co-opting of philosophic thought for partisan ends. Political philosophy is the serious reflection upon and inquiry into the core theme of political thought and practice: the best way to live and the regime that conduces to it. This paper seeks to demonstrate by example the possibility of preserving the serious study of political questions by challenging the dominant scholarly interpretation of Plato’s political philosophy as presenting the philosopher king as the solution to the political problem. By offering some cursory remarks on Plato’s Apology and Republic in order to suggest that philosophic rule is not a serious prescription for political action, this paper argues that Plato’s aim is not to propose a doctrine but to compel us to reflect on the nature of politics, the permanent political questions, and the fundamental alternatives available to the human condition.
Plato; Apology; Republic