The Philosopher-King

In today’s democratic world, the idea of a king may seem archaic and unwanted
"The king is easily fooled and manipulated by his courtiers, and ultimately overthrown by a revolution led by a group of children." [Representational Graphic]
"The king is easily fooled and manipulated by his courtiers, and ultimately overthrown by a revolution led by a group of children." [Representational Graphic] Pixabay [Creative Commons]

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes is a famous fable that comments on vanity and the dangers of blind faith in authority. It satirizes the idea that people are often willing to accept what they are told by those in power, even when it goes against their own senses and reasoning. Perhaps, because authority is seen as a symbolic idol.

In the novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian author Carlo Collodi, a wooden puppet named Pinocchio dreams of becoming a real boy. Along the way, he meets many strange characters, including a king who is a complete buffoon. The king is easily fooled and manipulated by his courtiers, and ultimately overthrown by a revolution led by a group of children.

Yet another familiar fable is about a kingdom ruled by a king who believed that he was the greatest ruler in the world. He surrounded himself with sycophants who praised him endlessly, and he never listened to any criticism or opinion. One day, the king decided to hold a grand parade in his honor. He commanded his subjects to line the streets and cheer for him as he traveled through the city on his golden chariot. The people, being scared of his wrath, complied with his orders.

As the king rode through the city, he noticed that one of his subjects was not cheering. In fact, this subject had a livid look on his face and was muttering something. The king was outraged and demanded that the subject be brought before him. When the subject appeared before the king, the king demanded to know why he was not cheering like the other subjects. The subject replied, “Your Majesty, I am sorry, but I cannot pretend to be happy when I see you wasting the kingdom’s resources on your own vanity and ego.”

The king was infuriated and ordered the subject to be punished harshly. But the subject was not frightened. He continued to speak truth to power. Eventually, the king realized that his arrogance and conceit were leading to the collapse of his kingdom.

At last, the king learned a valuable lesson: True leadership is not about being worshiped or obeyed blindly, but about listening to the needs of one’s people and working for their welfare. The kingdom prospered under his judicious and just leadership, and the people finally had a ruler who put their needs before his ego.

What is the message of all these instances? Those who believe themselves to be above critique and accountability are not fit to rule, and those who are willing to listen and learn from their subjects are the ones who truly deserve the crown. Down through history, there are several examples of Kings who abused their power and caused significant harm to their public. It usually happens when a King accumulates unbridled power. He then naturally turns into a tyrant, and his actions can trigger disgusting damage to his subjects. This was the case with King Louis XVI of France who was unable to address the economic and social problems facing his country. Upshot: His policies contributed to the mounting unrest that conclusively led to the French Revolution.

Unchecked Kings can also be prone to making irrational and impulsive decisions that lead to conflict and war. For example, King Henry VIII of England’s decision to break with the Catholic Church and dissolve the monasteries led to widespread persecution and violence, while King Richard III’s actions helped spark the Wars of the Roses, a protracted conflict that devastated England.

In today’s democratic world, the idea of a king may seem archaic and unwanted. However, it is important to mull over the role a true king can play in society, both historically and in modern times. First, what do we mean by a king? Conventionally, a king is a monarch who holds supreme power and authority over a kingdom or nation. The king’s authority is usually inherited through a royal bloodline, and he is fated by a higher power. In present day, the idea of a king has evolved to cover a broader definition of leadership, such as CEOs, politicians, celebrities and other influential individuals.

So, is king relevant and needed in today’s world? Democracy is touted as the best form of government, where power is distributed among the people. But then, we know democracy has its flaws and monarchy too has its own evils. Actually, a true king is not just a ruler, but a leader who serves his people. He takes responsibility for the welfare of his subjects, and ensures justice and fairness. In this sense, a king is seen as a ‘demigod’ to his people, guiding and nurturing them towards a better future.

Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, can be cited as a sort of true king. Despite being incarcerated for over three decades, he emerged as a leader who was committed to reconciliation and forgiveness. He worked vigorously to end apartheid and uphold racial equality in his country, inspiring millions around the world. So, who is the real king in a philosophical sense? In ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato argued that the ideal king is a philosopher-king, someone who is wise, just and virtuous. As per Plato, a philosopher-king is the best person to govern because he possesses both the knowledge and the integrity to make good decisions for his people.

In contemporary era, it’s hard to look for figures that can fit in Plato’s criterion—those who epitomise the qualities of a philosopher-king; and can be known for compassion and commitment to nonviolence; whose leadership can inspire millions around the world, regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds.

The bottom-line is that even as the idea of kingship may seem outdated in today’s much touted democratic world, it is important to recognize the value of a true king as a leader who serves his people and makes decisions for the greater good. While democracy has its merits, it can be slow to act and can lead to division and polarization. A true king (leader), on the other hand, can provide stability, guidance and a sense of unity. The real king, in a philosophical sense, is someone who possesses wisdom, justice and virtue, and uses these qualities to benefit his people.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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