Plato and leadership

Adrian Wooldridge writes about the ancient wisdom of Plato and how it relates to democracy and society’s classes. The most prescient part of the article for me was:

If a society run by educated guardians is the best sort of society, in Plato’s view, a society run by the masses is the worst. Plato conceded that democracy is in many ways the most attractive form of society, because it combines the maximum of opportunity for the regular citizen with the maximum of freedom. But these attractions are purely superficial – democracy is like a ‘coat of many colours’, he says, that looks good when you see it in the market but turns out to be threadbare after you’ve worn it a couple of times. Voters invariably favour the short-term over the long-term and the exciting over the wise. And they are usually drawn towards bad leaders – demagogues who can weave wonderful fantasies about the state’s future but are really nothing more than charlatans, lying their way to power or buying votes with other people’s money. Plato was particularly scathing about aristocrat-demagogues who enjoy the advantage of the best education that money can buy but nevertheless prefer to pander to the mob rather than to guide it to the light.

Democracy’s fetishisation of freedom inevitably gives way to anarchy. Fathers pander to their sons, teachers to their pupils, humans to animals, and ‘the minds of the citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable’. Anarchy produces class struggle, as the poor attack the rich and the rich retaliate; class struggle produces war and disorder. When all this becomes intolerable the masses will turn to a dictator who can restore order.

Highly recommended reading.