The Abraham Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C. | Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr/Creative Commons
In Plato’s Dialogues under the section of the Republic, he argues that the primary goal of the State is to ensure the happiness and well-being of its citizens. To achieve this, he outlines four fundamental principles that should constitute the State: temperance, courage, wisdom, and justice.
In Plato’s mind, the State constitutes the totality of its citizens. The State’s character, particularly the four principles, reflects the citizens’ adherence to them. The State’s governance considers a serious matter requiring special abilities from the head of state, which he refers to as the Philosopher King. According to Plato, only a high-minded person, a lover of learning with a gift of good memory, “noble, gracious, the friend of truth, justice, courage, temperance,” should be entrusted with the State. The ruler must be endowed with the philosopher’s virtues, just and untarnished by financial interests and family loyalty in molding the state’s policy.
The Philosopher King who will establish the ideal state must be a person of experience and action in politics and government and a man of wisdom who has a vision of the supreme good. Plato’s ideal state came to be known as Utopia, a Greek city-state that embodies the principles of a just society ruled by a wise and virtuous king.
“With politics increasingly becoming a culture of “dog eat dog,” the solemn oath of office that each elected government official makes “to serve the people and country” is becoming a thing of the past.”
It may sound antiquated, but it has relevance in today’s state of politics in the U.S. and much of the world. After all, democracy is one of the greatest Greek contributions to Western civilization. With politics increasingly becoming a culture of “dog eat dog,” the solemn oath of office that each elected government official makes “to serve the people and country” is becoming a thing of the past. Our elected officials entrusted to make policies and legislate for the good of the country are the equivalent of Plato’s Philosopher King.
Plato also knows that the State’s ability to embody the four principles will require proper education of its citizens and each finding his place in society according to his God-given gifts and abilities. Plato posits that the state emerges from a necessity to regulate the orderly transactions and interactions of its citizens and ensure justice for all. A just state must provide each citizen opportunities to actualize his potentials and contribute to preserving the state.
In Plato’s Utopia, the ruler does not only possess the philosopher’s virtues but is also a moral and transparent leader. We cannot create a just state that guarantees the well-being of its citizens unless modern-day politicians live by the true meaning of democracy, which Abraham Lincoln famously describes as “the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
” … We cannot create a just state that guarantees the well-being of its citizens unless modern-day politicians live by the true meaning of democracy, which Abraham Lincoln famously describes as “the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The sacred oath of office elected officials makes is an affirmation of this truth. Nowadays, however, that essence has been lost, replaced in a form that does not convey faith and confidence in government. The political party, which is supposed to be only a campaign engine for office, has become the main driving force of politics. The core values of democracy and the preservation of a healthy and just state for the benefit of its citizens have taken a back seat.
It may do us good to go back to the basics and let us be reminded of what makes for a truly democratic state before hurling criticism against communism, fascism, and other isms.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.