Philoso­pher-king? No. A leader who thinks? Yes, please

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY KATH­LEEN PARKER

In his most fa­mous di­a­logue, “The Repub­lic,” Plato, via Socrates, ex­plored the idea that a just state would best func­tion un­der the lead­er­ship of a per­fectly just philoso­pher-king.

That is, an in­tel­lec­tu­ally cu­ri­ous per­son who pur­sues knowl­edge, is in­tel­li­gent, re­li­able and wise, and em­braces the sim­ple life. To test the hy­poth­e­sis, Socrates is asked by an in­ter­locu­tor to imag­ine a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween a per­fectly just man – who would be per­ceived by an ig­no­rant pub­lic as un­just – and a per­fectly un­just man, who is ruth­less, im­moral, gets away with mur­der, fig­u­ra­tively, but ap­pears to be just.

Though this is more com­pli­cated than de­scribed here, one un­avoid­ably thinks of Don­ald Trump, who, ap­par­ently seems “just” to – or at least is ap­proved by – 39 per­cent of the elec­torate, yet meets the very def­i­ni­tion of “un­just.” Ruth­less and im­moral, he some­how al­ways es­capes ac­count­abil­ity.

As we know, Trump doesn’t like to read, seems to ab­hor knowl­edge and is un­re­li­able from mo­ment to mo­ment. He’s the op­po­site of the philoso­pher-king and, given the pen­du­lum the­ory of pres­i­den­tial suc­ces­sion, we’re now primed and ready for one. But, who?

Does such a per­son even ex­ist in the land of Twit­ter and Snapchat? Does our nar­cis­sis­tic cul­ture en­gen­der the sort of per­son we last saw strolling along a wooded path lost in thought? If such a per­son were to ex­ist, would he or she stand a chance of at­tract­ing vot­ers with the kind of mes­sage that urges peo­ple to think rather than ca­joles them with sophistry?

The Greek sophists were learned men who made clever ar­gu­ments that were, in fact, false. This also nearly de­fines our pres­i­dent, who has ma­nip­u­lated peo­ple by in­vok­ing emo­tion rather than rea­son. It must be sub­lime to be un­en­cum­bered by con­science, weight­lessly blovi­at­ing to the cheers of ad­mir­ers with­out the bur­den of truth.

Then again, maybe not. My guess is that a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers know that they de­serve bet­ter. And the am­bi­ent un­ease peo­ple feel is the very real sense that the ship of state is list­ing and a lu­natic mans the helm.

So, let’s say we’re in the mar­ket for a philoso­pher-king – or queen – who un­der­stands the ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenges ahead be­cause he or she has stud­ied them. Some­one who is re­li­able and won’t say one thing to­day and its op­po­site the next. Given our dot on the time­line, per­haps he or she might also be a bit witty. We surely wouldn’t want to be bored.

The di­verse ros­ter of Demo­cratic can­di­dates is tes­ta­ment to how far we’ve come from the ridicu­lous era of play­boys, fast cars and the big­ger-bet­ter-richerthan-thou dogma to which Trump has en­trusted his flex­i­ble faith. Is there a per­fectly just philoso­pher-pres­i­dent among them? We’ll find out dur­ing the next 19 or so months.

But which one of them is ca­pa­ble of el­e­vat­ing the di­a­logue, of in­spir­ing ci­ti­zens to look be­yond their im­me­di­ate needs to some­thing that unites all? We’re not only phys­i­cal be­ings with ba­sic needs; we’re also soul-filled and spir­i­tu­ally yearn­ing for some­thing greater than our­selves. It is to the lat­ter that our next pres­i­dent should fo­cus some of his or her at­ten­tion, be­cause we are en­ter­ing a new age with­out much guid­ance.

I don’t know who our philoso­pher-pres­i­dent could be, but I feel safe in say­ing that the coun­try is ready for her – or him.

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