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The Plato Test for Leadership .. and Education

The Plato Test For Leadership …. And Education


In the June 22, 2019 edition of The Economist, columnist Adrian Wooldridge (Bagehot) proposes that Plato had already foreseen the problem of demagogue leaders emerging within democracies. He reminds us that Plato’s Republic is “haunted by the fear that democracies eventually degenerate into tyrannies”. 

“Citizens are so consumed by pleasure-seeking that they beggar the economy; so hostile to authority that they ignore the advice of experts; and so committed to liberty that they lose any common purpose.”

When this happens, Wooldridge proposes, “... panicked citizens look for salvation in a demagogue.”

These are men who love power, but cannot control their own desires for “holidays and dinners and parties and girlfriends and so on”. Plato calls them the “most wretched of men because of the disorder raging within them”.

Quite apart from the propositions and cautions that Wooldridge so forcefully puts forward, I have a number of very difficult questions for parents and educators today:

  • What would it look like to create an education system in which virtually all grade 12 graduates could understand the cautions that Wooldridge presents -- never mind whether they agreed with them or not?

  • What would it look like to create an education system in which virtually all grade 12 graduates regarded these cautions as important -- i.e. as worthy of their attention? 

  • What might compel parents to insist that their children be exposed to these types of questions at some point in their education?

  • What provisions might contemporary educators put into place to ensure that students have some capacity to wrestle with these sorts of issues?

I think that one unrecognized part of the educational equation is precisely to enable students to discover and develop their unique interests and abilities. But balanced against this must also be the cultivation of a capacity and inclination on the part of all our students to deal with these kinds of collective challenges.

The incredibly difficult question, of course, is how exactly do we do this.