I know, I know. It’s that perpetually sore spot. The toe you keep stubbing over, and over, and over again until you just want to chuck the whole coffee table to the curb, except then what would you rest your feet on while you Netflix?
I didn’t weigh in much on the US presidential election last year – not here, and not very much IRL (in real life – because this is all imaginary, right?). In truth, there was just no way I was not going to be horribly disappointed by the election. So I did what emotionally healthy people do – I pretended it didn’t exist.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. And I can’t pretend that, horrible disappointment inevitable or not, there could have been a result that would have made me slightly less unhappy.
But I don’t have faith in political elections. I’m sorry, I am no Leslie Knope.
Let me briefly tell you why and then we can all go back to icing our stubbed toes.
There once was a guy named Socrates. Or Plato. Well, Plato was Socrates’s student and wrote down everything he said but we’re not actually sure if Socrates said it or Plato said it and wanted it to sound like Socrates said it.
Plato wrote a book in which Socrates talks about the ideal society and how it would be structured, right down to each little trifling detail like how people should work out at the gym.
I read this book in high school (and again in college), so there’s not much I remember about it. There is one thing, though, that has always stuck with me.
Socrates’s ideal republic would actually be ruled by a king.
Not a king in the monastic dynasty sense. The king would be appointed, not born into the role, and the king would be a philosopher.
(Yes, a philosopher decided that a philosopher should be king. Are you surprised?)
This philosopher king would be wise and benevolent and, most important of all, would not really want to be king.
He (or she) wouldn’t seek office. He would have to be drafted, called up, compelled to serve his (or her) country for a time.
Socrates’s logic for this important quality is that the people who seek power are most often the people you shouldn’t trust with it.
I’m pleased to say that the United States once had a Philosopher King of sorts. And, even though he may have been our last Philosopher King (you can debate that if you want), the decisions he made prevented another monarchy or dictatorship.
George Washington wanted to go home after the war and just be a farmer. But the Constitutional Convention begged him to serve in the office of the president – an office he nor anyone else had campaigned for. A military man, he felt a duty to serve his country when called. They begged him for a second term. They begged for a third term, and he said no, and set a precedent for term limits.
(George Washington also wasn’t a member of any political party.)
I’m not here to talk about George Washington, though apparently I am doing just that. I do want to add, though, that he had feet of clay like every human person and his feet of clay are not what I intend to discuss.
Rather, I want to discuss – or propose, perhaps – the benefits, the possibility, the feasability, of a political leader who does not seek power. I am sure that every person campaigning for political office has a platform of serving the people – how else would they get elected? – but can you really look at recent elections and say the candidates were more concerned with serving than winning? Can you look at the US Congress, paralyzed by the fear of not getting re-elected, and say they prioritize the people they claim to represent?
Is a Philosopher-King* ever possible, except by fluke? Is it desireable? Would you vote for someone who didn’t even want office?
And what do you do, friends, when you get so sick of politics you want to bury your head in the sand?
*Let’s consider King a gender-neutral term at this point please, for the sake of discussion