• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Embracing platonic politics

Embracing platonic politics

In a discourse on civic and political life in Polis, the Grecian city state of Plato in 375 BC developed a framework on the nature of politics and governance that combined political skill and philosophical knowledge in an ideal state. To Plato, an ideal state “can never grow into a reality” until philosophers become rulers in this world, or until those we now call leaders truly become philosophers. The issue, however, is how exactly Plato’s utopian society, with a ruler (philosopher king) as the grand organiser to dictate the policies of the nation, would identify, choose, and measure who falls within the “best and brightest” minds to lead the rest of the people.

In today’s political leadership landscape, Plato’s theoretical framework can be tested on the variables of four cardinal virtues in the art of political leadership: prudence as wisdom, justice as fairness in designing and implementing public policies, temperance as moderation or restraint, courage as resilience, and political will to achieve the common public good. Whereas these variables sound dewy in today’s political practices, it is not naive to aspire for a functional society through decent democratic practices; as John Lewis noted, “democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.” If concepts such as corruption can become a thriving social reality, emerging political leaders must ensure that platonic politics is not abandoned on the pages of utopian theories but practised as a pragmatic political reality in rebuilding societies through political leadership.

In Nigeria, we have had philosophers as public leaders. When we read the voices and reasoning of the first republic leaders, like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, among others, it is not too hard to classify their people-driven politics beyond rhetoric. They were neither saints nor perfect, but we made history with a productive economy that produced the food we consumed, quality education with a significant increase in literacy rates resulting in the emergence of a more educated workforce, a sovereign state that was regionally and globally respected, and a leadership class that was defined by their ideological leaning towards the people as the source of political power.

At a time when politics is swiftly becoming comically lucrative, we must embrace Plato’s principles of platonic politics as a threshold to peg the conscience, humanness, performance, and legacies of our politics and political governance. If we consider the notion of wisdom beyond ‘certificates and degrees’, then we are persuaded by politics defined by ideologies and contestations of ideas. A political climate with leaders who are committed to evidence-based decision-making, visionary, truth-seeking, and disciplined in their pursuit of public purposes for the public good. Without knowledge, it is hard to sustainably solve any social problem. It is wisdom to account for your stewardship and to be open, transparent, and inclusive in your approach when exercising public office. It is further important to appreciate that in an age of digital media, wisdom is not the same thing as constructive rhetoric, video clips showcasing convoys with corresponding “likes, comments, and reposts on social media,” or impoverishing people through unsustainable palliatives.

Whether at the national, subnational, or local government levels in Nigeria, there is a widening cry for social justice, fairness, and inclusion in our politics and pursuits of progress. Leaders who meet Plato’s KPI of justice as fairness must be those who, above all sentimental expectations, are able to seek and achieve fair outcomes in their decisions and actions. Justice in leadership requires public officials to be considerate yet decisive in taking public decisions. In the face of uncertainty, leaders must show strength, courage, and resilience in driving visions that help restore certainty, stability, and shared social security. But this must be done within the ambit of the rule of law.

Perhaps the most important cardinal principle is the character of the leader, as reflected in the ability of leaders to moderate their approach and show restraint in their actions, particularly in this era of primitive self-aggrandisement in politics and public service. The triumph of profiteering politics over platonic politics remains the bane of politics delivering public good. Character matters in politics, as it is usually difficult to draw a line between a leader’s personality traits and how the traits affect policy implementation.

Since altruism may not be absolute, politicians can embrace enlightened self-interest in politics as a more pragmatic art of politicking. Furthering the interests of public good ultimately serves your interests in ways that money cannot buy, and every legacy-minded leader must be more focused on positive impact that outlives the brevity of an office or political title than primitive practices that have defined contemporary politics across the globe. Both in winning and working for the people while in office, emerging politicians must understand that public office is a trust for public good, and their powers must be exercised to further advance the good, safety, and happiness of their fellow human beings, irrespective of who they are, where they come from, or what religion they profess.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Ekpa, Stanley Ekpa a lawyer and leadership consultant wrote via [email protected]