On Leadership – Part 2 and half, with Socrates and Aristotle


“… their way of life, if they are to realize our idea of them. In the first place, none of them should have any property of his own beyond what is absolutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or store closed against anyone who has a mind to enter; their provisions should be only such as are required by trained warriors, who are men of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive from the citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year and no more; and they will go to mess and live together like soldiers in a camp. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the source of many unholy deeds, but their own is undefiled. And they alone of all the citizens may not touch or handle silver or gold, or be under the same roof with them, or wear them, or drink from them

First, I think that if our rulers and their auxiliaries are to be worthy of the name which they bear, there must be willingness to obey in the one and the power of command in the other; the guardians must themselves obey the laws, and they must also imitate the spirit of them in any details which are entrusted to their care.

Then there must be a selection. Let us note among the guardians those who in their whole life show the greatest eagerness to do what is for the good of their country, and the greatest repugnance to do what is against her interests.”

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

The quotes above from Plato’s Republic contain prescriptions of qualities leaders should possess, and how we can identify them. A major feature is a disciplined lifestyle, devoid of greed. The recommendations are for people with a deep understanding of the value of leadership of service – gold and silver we tell them they have from God…, not to pollute the divine by the earthly admixture. The question then will be how we end up with the kind of leaders we have now, if the qualities of excellent leaders seem obvious and have been long documented. This quote from Aristotle may explain why:

But yet, whosoever shall introduce any education, and think thereby to make his city excellent and respectable, will be absurd, while he expects to form it by such regulations, and not by manners, philosophy, and laws. And whoever would establish a government upon a community of goods, ought to know that he should consult the experience of many years, which would plainly enough inform him whether such a scheme is useful; for almost all things have already been found out, but some have been neglected, and others which have been known have not been put in practice.” Excerpt From: Aristotle. “Politics: A Treatise on Government.” iBooks.

The world does not make use of what is already known, thus we end up with the leaders who prefer earthly gold and silver to justice. While education is the foundation for good leadership, other factors are important such as respect for the rule of law, experience and manners. As obvious as it should be that proper education is necessary  for good governance at all levels, some persons doubt that education matters much, considering that some terrible leaders claim to be educated and enlightened. To those who take this stance, we refer to the story of the cave dwellers in book seven of Plato’s Republic (I will write about this story in due course), and also to this excerpt:

But if you ask what is the good of education in general, the answer is easy—that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly, and conquer their enemies in battle, because they are good. Education certainly gives victory, although victory sometimes produces forgetfulness of education; for many have grown insolent from victory in war, and this insolence has engendered in them innumerable evils; and many a victory has been and will be suicidal to the victors; but education is never suicidal.”

Excerpt From: Plato. “Laws.” iBooks.

When we fail to select leaders leaders based on considerations of virtues, we end up with absurdities that can be thus described:

Those then who know not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony and sensuality, go down and up again as far as the mean; and in this region they move at random throughout life, but they never pass into the true upper world; thither they neither look, nor do they ever find their way, neither are they truly filled with true being, nor do they taste of pure and abiding pleasure. Like cattle, with their eyes always looking down and their heads stooping to the earth, that is, to the dining- “table, they fatten and feed and breed, and, in their excessive love of these delights, they kick and butt at one another with horns and hoofs which are made of iron; and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust. For they fill themselves with that which is not substantial, and the part of themselves which they fill is also unsubstantial and incontinent. 

Verily, Socrates, said Glaucon, you describe the life of the many like an oracle.”

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

This is the best description of greed I have come across, and this succinctly describes the characteristic of most leaders in this 21st century – brutish and kleptomaniac. For this type of leader, his vision is limited to the area around the green grass which like cattle he grazes insatiably; these kind of leaders do not possess the capacity to look up and appreciate nature and the countless opportunities for humanity which reaches farther than the skies.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial

In the lives of two men, we see examples of when the world got it right. Abraham Lincoln, who overcame several obstacles before and during his presidency; and Nelson Mandela who spent 28 years in prison for fighting for what he believed in – Justice. On rising to the presidency, Mandela demonstrated that indeed he was filled with the divine, when he pursued the path of reconciliation rather than revenge as many of his supporters would have preferred. The foundation he laid with so much genius has made his country to remain a shining star on the African continent. Lincoln and Mandela made very clear what they stood for, and when the world made the right choices in two different climes at different times in history, we were blessed with these gems. This goes to show that the principles remain the same – you reap what you sow. We cannot continue to support the current process of selecting leaders, based on everything but the right education, the law and virtues and expect to end up with the likes of Lincoln or Mandela.

Nelson Mandela

Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher

  • The original article, “On Leadership Part 2 with Socrates and Aristotle” went ‘missing’ and strangely no back ups were found. Part 2 and half is an attempt to piece it back together, thus it is not an entirely new article, but not quite the same as the old, thus the strange title.