Continuing on our journey just thought of re visiting our last topic of discussion. We saw how leaders had the capability of influencing the world around and how in modern world the corporate are playing the role of a leader. Stumbling upon the topic of leader, I am sure we all would have started thinking so how should an ideal leader be. There is lot of material on the subject in our history and culture, Lord Ram was a case in point. But what is intriguing is how western philosophers have thought about the topic. One such philosopher which comes in mind is Plato. We all know Plato was influenced by Socrates. Socrates’ death and the geo political climate of Athens, these two factors forced him to think, write and experiment in the world of justice, morality and political freedom.
Philosopher King, a concept more than often critically evaluated in terms of its practicality and too utopian in nature changed how the western world looked at leaders. Closer home probably King Janak was the closest to be identified as a Philosopher king. But then Indian culture had more responsive form of governance wherein kings were answerable to the Rishi’s and ruled by the law of the Vedas & Upanishads. Philosopher king as a concept dreamt of a perfect society, a society which grew towards perfection not only materially but also spiritually.
So let’s embark upon another such intriguing journey to understand the need of an ideal leader to have a perfect society.
Premises of Plato, to understand his concept of Philosopher king, starts with morality within an individual person. Plato believed to understand why & how of society’s functioning, one must look towards the king or the leader. According to Plato, the element that makes a city corresponds to the human soul. For Plato there is no set of moral order for the individual and other for the leaders, for he believed in such case no one of the entire political and social system would work for the other and entire state would be fall in a state of chaos. His political philosophy was an extension of his philosophy of tripartite soul (he described human soul to be formed of three elements i.e. human Reason, spirited element & bodily appetites). His philosophy described a state having three parts namely producer class, military class and the governing class or the guardians. Each of these three classes performs inter alia pre defined set of duties to achieve perfection in the society. Think these on lines of chatur varna vyastha of Indian culture, minus the rishi / Brahmin class. Each of these classes corresponds to the part of the tripartite soul, accordingly, producer corresponds to appetitive element, military corresponds to spirited element and guardians correspond to element of reason. Again to understand this one can correlate to the three gunas as described in Bhagvad Gita. Person with Satvik gunas will be guardians, rajasik will be military class and tamasik will form the producer class.
Plato believed in the hierarchical structure of governance accordingly, producers formed the bottom and guardians formed the top of the structure. Plato was against democracy (this could be attributed to the influence of death of Socrates and result of downfall of Athenian society). He opined governing a society was a skill requiring specialized and intense training. He argued we don’t go by what majority say when we need medication for a disease then why rule of majority for the state.
What is interesting in his study is how he describes the nurturing of each of this class for delivering a perfect society. Plato believed that heredity had a big role to play in growth of each of these classes. He believed a typical off spring of a guardian will be a guardian and a producer, a producer. He argued this to lot of factors including the effect of environment and what passes from the parents to the child. But nowhere does he mention that there can’t be exceptions. In fact he insisted on constant observation and testing of children’s so as to change their class if found worthy. He also gave equal importance to women, (a rare idea even if we go by today’s western religious order). He said, ‘Women like men, have the natural capacities which will fit some for the ruler class, some for the warrior class and some to be producers’.
Guardians had to be trained by education and service to the state. Their education started with censored music and literature for mind, gymnastics for the strength and health of the body. Next round of education covered mathematics, astronomy and other sciences. The education was all encompassing as Plato said ‘From the world of flux to knowing the truth’. By the age of 30 those who have been successful in their competitive exams and who have proven themselves to have intelligence, strength and balance of character and bodily vigor and stamina will be moved on to the next level. Eligible ones here will advance to study of dialectic, the highest level of knowledge, in which by reason alone a candidate for the guardian class will come to know of the truth. Five years will be devoted to such study. AT this point the ones who are left in the training will be sent and compelled to hold military or other public post. For next 15 yrs they will be tested as to how they perform in their duty and how they handled various material temptations. At the age of 50 those who met their last test of intelligence and character will be admitted to the governing class with the responsibility of governing themselves and all other class. They will have become Philosopher king.
Obviously there is lot to the life of such a guardian in the form of strenuous discipline, total dedication to the truth and self denying life style. They would own nothing and belong to the state with no family or any material objects that could create attachment or conflict of loyalties. Through ‘Sacred marriages’ they would breed children, who if proven right could be the next philosopher king.
Plato’s political philosophy is built on the premises that individuals are guided by their basic nature of soul. If left alone the most basic attribute of bodily appetite rules a man thereby creating a worldly imbalance if left to follow democratic way of governance. Plato believed only person who has gone through such rigors of philosophical training with demonstrated results can be a philosopher king.
Plato’s philosophy reminds us of uncanny resemblance to lot of philosophical concepts of Indian culture. His tripartite soul reminds us of three gunas; his society reminds us of chatur varna vyastha and philosopher king, the state of stitha pragyna of Gita. There is lot to discuss, understand and argue about the philosopher king but then such a discussion will be more academic. Our efforts are to understand how as an individual am I suppose to live and what is that I need to give our next generation.
I leave it here today till we meet next time with such stimulating topic, till next time happy reading and happy thinking.