Plato’s Views on How Best to Govern a State

We live in a time where government is seen as being far from the people. Most persons have a general distrust of their government, and the reason for this feeling is not far-fetched. When appointed to a position of leadership, most rulers go back on on the promises they made to their people. Instead, they prefer to work on fulfilling their selfish needs and interests. Governments are also known to neglect any commitment to the good of the public much to the dismay of the citizens who elected them. These actions have led to most individuals dismissing those in governments and doubting their sincerity.

But without trying to excuse such irresponsible behaviors, you must admit that the process of governing is not an easy task. For instance, a leader is constantly faced with taking weighty decisions that can either benefit or harm his state. He has to know a little about everything in order to help his decision-making process. Also, he must listen to every needs and whim of his people, no matter how insignificant, so that they do not feel neglected. Looking at all of this, you would agree that a leader is bound to falter if he does not have any clue on the best way to govern his state. In our bid to prevent this from happening, we have enlisted the help of Plato to offer guides on how a state can be governed.

Plato, the philosopher

Most people regard Plato as the undisputed founder of Western Philosophy. His influence cuts across all spheres of philosophy ranging from epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics. However, he started out as a playwright but had to abandon this craft when he came in contact with Socrates who is arguably the most influential philosopher in history. Under the tutelage of Socrates, he was exposed to the world of philosophy. When Socrates died, he left to begin his school of philosophy known as The Academy. This school became the standard for other institutions of learning and later on for European universities. And just like Socrates, he became a teacher to another influential and prominent philosopher known as Aristotle.

Apart from mathematics, Plato also had an interest in politics. His political philosophy revolved around how the conflicting interests exhibited by different parts of a society can be harmonized for the common good of the state. He also proposed a political order which he believes is suitable to actualize the unity of a state without infringing on the right of the citizens. To him, the aristocracy which consists of the smartest minds is the best form of government a state can operate. He also suggested that people he called “philosopher-kings” should be given an opportunity to rule as they are smart enough to know what governance is all about. Our focus, however, is not in discussing the merits or demerits of such a suggestion. Rather in this article, we shall try to find out Plato’s views on how best a state can be governed:

  • Keep the peace: According to Plato, one of the best ways to govern a state is by maintaining an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Plato was of the opinion that civil war and factionalism are not the only greatest threats to a state. He believed that the war that takes place between the citizens of a state is much more dangerous than external conflict. He also stated that peace that is gotten by one faction at the expense of the other is dangerous. To him, the only type of peace that is preferred in a state is that in which there is cooperation and friendship among the citizenry. Thus, he encouraged any person who has set his mind on governance to try all possible means to achieve what he calls “social peace.” This social peace creates a healthy environment of togetherness, friendship, and cooperation among the citizens irrespective of their social group. And also, every participant will stand to benefit from this environment, and it will contribute to the common good of the state.
  • Seek to acquire wisdom: Plato listed the willingness of a leader to pursue wisdom as one of the best ways needed to govern a state. The responsibility leadership thrusts on an individual can be enormous and burdensome. A majority of the decisions a state needs to make progress stops at his table. Besides, the leader would be faced with situations and issues that may appear strange to him. If he is not well-informed, he stands a chance of making uninformed decisions with disastrous consequences. Plato believed that the strength of a state lied in the ability of its leader to be able to make sound decisions that would be beneficial to the people of the state. This view is one of the reasons for his clamor for philosopher-kings in positions of authority. The reason is due to their insatiable quest to acquire knowledge and wisdom. In conclusion, he states in his work Crito that the thought of a wise man is better than the many thoughts of the foolish.
  • Engage in physical fitness: Plato was particular about the state of the physical body. According to him, a healthy body also indicates a sound mind. He followed the Greek culture of his day which placed emphasis on physical fitness. Plato believed that the rigors of government could be a huge burden on anyone. Therefore, the leader has to be healthy to carry out the daily tasks required by his position. Also, being physically fit would prove to his citizenry that he can protect them from external agitations. He concludes that whoever would want to govern his people should first of all have the power to defend himself.
  • Avoid favoritisms: Another view of Plato on how best to govern a state is to stay away from favoring some sects of people over another. When a leader is perceived by his people to have favorites who are above the law, it can spell doom for his government. Thus, according to Plato, a leader should be fair and impartial at all times. He should dispense justice, favors, and punishments without any discrimination. Also, there should be no sacred cows in his government as this can draw the ire of his citizens.

Conclusion

Governance is not a simple role that should be taken lightly. There have been cases of people starting out well with the goodwill of the people only to end up crashing a few moments later. However, unlike other schools of thought that suggest external factors for a leader to adopt, Plato’s philosophy concerning governance only deals with a leader adopting habits which would be valuable in governing his state.

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