30 June 2008

The philosopher-king - an unrealisable ideal?

Is it necessary that the true philosopher, the individual who pledges himself to wisdom, to truth, to love, beauty and objective values, is unable to achieve political power and thus influence society to recognise, cultivate and defend the good? Is his very fidelity to virtue an insurmountable obstacle that blocks him from leading society towards a nobility of character? Is the contemplative, virtuous mind doomed, in Socrates's words, to be 'deserted, lonely, and neglected' because he 'leads a life opposite to the needs of the masses' and doesn't betray his principles to pander to their folly and delusions?

I don't think that a philosopher by definition cannot be king as well. I don't hold the Socratic opinion that the philosopher-king can only ever be a model to aspire to but is ultimately unrealisable. This opinion is unlike an absolute law such as that of 'cause and effect', for while one cannot expect such a law to ever be invalid, one can always hope for the realisation of the virtuous leader (or group of leaders) who love truth and virtue more than power, wealth and fame.

Yet things aren't so ideal in the current political situation across the world, where, for example, to proudly declare one's rejection of religious faith can be political suicide, where power, wealth and fame are prioritised over truth and virtue, and expediency is the judge of which values to uphold and which ones to discard should they be inconvenient.

Extreme egalitarianism contributes to this woeful scenario, where morally inferior people become indignant at the mere suggestion that there are better characters than theirs who have much of value to teach them, if they were only receptive to truth and wisdom. When the idea of 'equality' turns into fundamentalist dogma and the cultural climate is an impoverished one, this situation becomes an incubator that cultivates citizens who are 'equally' undereducated, ignorant and crass. Moral elitism as an idea must step out of the shadows of undeserved shame and neglect where it was consigned to by those resentful, fearful, of its implications. Virtuous people everywhere, be proud of your moral superiority! Harness this well-earned pride to educate others in respecting, revering, truth and virtue. They need you, though they care not to admit it.


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