Plato's Cave: a plea for good leadership

You learn things when you read original sources for yourself.

I recently picked up a copy of Plato’s allegory of “The Cave”. I had known some of the highlights of the story before, the shadows on the wall, prisoners thinking that the shadows were reality, since that’s all they ever knew, of one prisoner being taken out to see the sun and seeing the true light, coming back down and trying to, literally, enlighten his fellows, and being thought crazy.

Figure 1: Shadows on the wall

Figure 1: Shadows on the wall

But I had not known the context until reading the original. He was talking about the need for rulers of the state to have a higher vision, to have a view of truth, of the transcendent, to willingly leave the ivory tower, the “Isle of the blessed” if you will, where they desired to spend their whole life in contemplation of the truth, and to willingly go back into the cave to enlighten their brethren and lead with a knowldge of truth, not desiring the mundane (and false) trappings of the world of shadows (power, wealth, leisure, goods) for their own sake and for their own use. Rulers who do not have that vision, and who only focus on this life are bad rulers, and everyone (including the rulers) loose out.

Whereas the truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern [because they would rather be engaged in philosophical pursuits] is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst. …

Yes, my friend, I said; and there lies the point. You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler, and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this, will they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life. Whereas if they go to the administration of public affairs, poor and hungering after their own private advantage, thinking that hence they are to snatch the chief good, order there can never be; for they will be fighting about office, and the civil and domestic broils which thus arise will be the ruin of the rulers themselves and of the whole State. — Plato, Republic, 8.vii

Where there is no vision, the people perish — Proverbs 29:8, KJV