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Home » Plato, Democracy and Me: Ken Taylor at TEDxStanford (Full Transcript)

Plato, Democracy and Me: Ken Taylor at TEDxStanford (Full Transcript)

Ken Taylor


I’m going to start with a quote from a dead white guy, Plato. This is a quote in which he says, “The world’s not going to be in good shape until,” get this, “Philosophers become kings, and kings become philosophers.”

Now you might think that as a philosopher I really like that statement, right, because I should be a king. But I’m a huge fan of democracy, huge fan of democracy. Plato, however, was not at all a fan of democracy. It’s not like he thought it was the worst form of government, but he did think it was the second worst form of government. The only thing worse is absolute tyranny where you are ruled by a despot.

But he compared democracy, the democratic state, to a ship at sea. It’s beset by a bunch of sailors. The sailors are fighting with each other, and the sailors each have one overriding goal: to somehow get the owner of the ship, that would be the people, to hand over the rudder of the ship to them. Not because they know anything about navigation, but because they want to plunder the ship. That’s what he thought of politicians in a democracy.

Now, you might think, well, the politicians, yeah who likes politicians? Plato also did not think much of the people. He compared the people to a beast, moved by appetite and passion rather than reason. And here’s what he said about the art of political persuasion in a democracy, “Trying to persuade the people in a democracy is trying to wrestle and sooth the savage beast.” And that’s not reason, that’s not reasoned discourse, that’s just manipulation and persuasion.

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