However we might feel about the inegalitarian view of justice Plato develops in the Republic, he raises an important problem that every political system faces. Specifically, how do we reliably fill positions of power with people who are competent and will conduct themselves in the interest of the public. Plato’s answer to the competence issue was to select leaders through a rigorous meritocratic education system. To discourage leaders from abusing their power to serve personal ends rather than the good of the state, Plato also would have his philosopher kings be wards of the state for life, owning no personal property and even severing all family ties to avoid the corrupting tendencies of self-interest. We should not here that the inegalitarian aspects of Plato’s system don’t address the problems of incompetence and corruption, though. The inegalitarian aspects of Plato’s political thought helped to legitimize a long tradition of top-down governance by kings, religious authority, and military might in the Europe and this history includes ample and often colorful stories of incompetence and corruption. It’s only in the last few centuries that ideals of equal individual rights and freedoms begin to gain traction. We’ll turn to these now.
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