“For I believe a good king is from the outset and by necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.” – Munsonius Rufus
The concept of the philosopher king has been around since at least Plato. The picture of a leader who carefully weighs the ethical and moral worth of each decision before committing to an action is comforting. It would certainly be a huge step in the right direction if one were to imagine how to fix the current mess of the global political system.
But could that really work? The sheer number of topics to be deliberated and weighed seem to make this type of thoughtful governance impracticable. Can you imagine a president or prime minister debating with her cabinet like Socrates in the agora for hours at a time over every little issue. While I am sure the actions eventually taken would be on much firmer ground than many are today, I think government as a whole would come to a near standstill. What may have theoretically worked for Athens, a city state of 250,000, would simply fail to scale to the 83 million citizens of a modern Germany to give one example.
So does this mean the whole idea of the philosopher king is a bust? Not necessarily, we are all after all kings of our own destiny, and our lives are fertile ground for exactly the kind of deliberation Rufus was getting at. Our major life decisions would benefit greatly from some Socratic dialogue before we render decisions and decide on a course of action. So we then can be philosophers who are kingly persons, if we chose to be.