Intelligent people going back thousands of years have returned again and again to desiring a particular type of leader: The Philosopher King.
Some leaders have actually tried to embody Plato’s Kallipolisian ideal, including Marcus Aurelius of Rome and Matthias Corvinus of Hungary and Croatia, not just by being super-intelligent, but by studying and applying the craft of leadership, the ideas and ideals of kingship and stewardship.
The problem with the idea of a Philosopher King though is each of us, from the brightest to the dullest, are as human as every other, and a Philosopher King would be as prone to human failings as you and I.
This humanity-chained Hercules of the mind came to full and ugly fruition in the Progressive dreams of the 20th century, and bloodbaths resulted.
Like most of us, Progressives and Leftists want to fix things. The problem with their root ideology though is that they believe mankind can be perfected. They believe that when social problems are done away with, a new and perfect humanity will take over. They believe the heart of the problem is in the System, and that fixing the System will free our basic goodness.
This was the dream of Marxists, Communists, and Socialists.
The problem with this dream is how to apply it, how to bring it about.
Seeing the squabbling ineffectiveness of the democratic republic in the US and various constitutional monarchies such as the United Kingdom, governments going nowhere fast, Progressives knew they needed efficiency and efficacy in their perfect transition government, and that means one person at the top, and knowing the impenetrable corruption of the true monarchies of Europe, they needed a true believer who would use the perfect power of being the one person in charge to bring about the transition to progressive perfection.
They needed a Philosopher King, with the intelligence and will to rule mankind into utopia. They needed someone who was already on the other side to pull the rest of us over.
This combination of the Philosopher King and the progressive view of a perfected mankind is toxic 100% of the time.
The belief that mankind can be perfected makes the idea of a single person holding ultimate acceptable, given that person appears already perfected. The wrongness of the idea that mankind can be perfected means this will fail every time.
This is what happened in Russia, in China, and even in Germany. Progressives around the world, including in the US were enamored of all these regimes when they began, because they agreed with the root goal of each of them, the perfection of mankind.
Whether the progressives were useful idiots, manipulated by lofty words and high goals, or whether the leaders began as true believers is immaterial: The siren call of a perfected mankind is hard to resist for someone who holds this false view.
Conservatives have generally held a view quite contrary to progressives, that man is not perfect and cannot be made perfect under their effort or the effort of any other person. This is the root disagreement between progressives and conservatives.
When you recognize that humans are incapable of perfection, you create and support systems that decentralize power, that create tension internally so that competing groups each with different sorts of power will keep each other in check.
Systems like a republican government or a government governed by a Constitution all hold the people comprising them to an external standard which is to be applied equally to all, regardless of power or money.
While we’re in no such dream state today, the squabbling ineptitude of Washington DC does serve its purpose, and the Constitution still holds us to an achievable dream, not of human-kind’s perfection, but of the ability to live free of those who would seek to perfect us but would destroy us in the process.
Featured Image Credit: WildCulture: Francis Fukuyama: Political Order & Political Decay