The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Philosopher Kings and Krishna Conscious Political Theory

By: for on July 14, 2011
I've been reading The Republic in preparation for starting my philosophy studies, partly just for edification, but also because it is such a classic. Every time I read plato I am just amazed at how Vedic his philosophy is.

Right now I'm in the section of the books where Plato drops his revolutionary thesis on political life.

"Unless either philosophers become kings in their countries or those who are now called kings and rulers come to be sufficiently inspired with a genuine desire for wisdom; unless, that is to say, political power and philosophy meet together, while the many natures who now go their several ways in the one or the other direction are forcibly debarred from doing so, there can be no rest from trouble, for states, nor yet as I believe for all mankind."

Unless philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers there will be no peace!!!

Of course his idea of a philosopher is not just a philosophical speculator, his idea of philosopher is more akin to what might be described as a liberated soul in the Vedic context.

In his description of what a philosopher is he says, "The name philosopher, then, will be reserved for those whose affections are set, in every case, on the reality."

He will abandon "those pleasures of which the body is the instrument and be concerned only with the pleasure which the soul enjoys independently." He will "be temperate and no lover of money" and "will be the last person to care about the things for the sake of which money is eagerly sought and lavishly spent." And ultimately, "For such a man death will have no terrors."

This concept of a philosopher king would certainly not be foreign to anyone from traditional Vedic culture, they would probably recognized the term as a translation of the sanskrit word Rajarsi (king-sage). The Vedic literatures are full descriptions of lives of such great saintly kings.

At one point in the dialogue Socrates is questioned as to whether this ideal republic that he is describing is possible.

His response, "Is a theory any the worse, if we cannot prove it possible that a state so organized should be actually founded?"

Plato's political theory is based on his overall theory of the world of ideal forms, which means that the best we can hope to do is come closer to the ideal of justice, but not expect to create a perfectly just world.

He writes, "Suppose we do find out what justice is, are we going to to demand that a man who is just corresponds in every respect to the ideal of justice? Or shall we be satisfied if he comes as near to the ideal as possible and has in him a larger measure of that quality than the rest of the world? . . . When we set out to discover the essential nature of justice and injustice and what a perfectly just and perfectly unjust man would be like, supposing them to exist, our purpose was to use them as ideal patterns: we were to observe the degree of happiness or unhappiness that each exhibited, and to draw the necessary inference that our own destiny would be like that of the one we most resembled. We did not set out to show that these ideals could exist in fact."

From here Plato goes on to say the best way to realize this ideal, or to come closest to this ideal, is to have a philosopher king rule the country.

Krishna consciousness political theory is very similar to Platonic political theory, or really it is vice versa as many of Plato's ideas come directly or indirectly from the East.

I think Srila Prabhupada lays out the basics of a Krishna Conscious political theory pretty clearly in the his Back to God essay which served as his introduction to the back to godhead magazine, which was really his first serious attempt at preaching.

In that article Srila Prabhupada quotes many different Christians, here is just one that nicely summarizes the tenor of the entire article, and it is from this quote that Srila Prabhuapada took the inspiration for the name of his magazine.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury in his recent broadcast in London said, 'In every quarter of earth men long to be delivered from the curse of War and to find in a world which has regained its peace, respite from the harshness and bitterness of the world they have known till now. But so often they want the Kingdom of Heaven without its King. The kingdom of God without God. And they cannot have it. OUR RESOLVE MUST BE BACK TO GOD. We make plans for the future for peace amongst the nation and for civil security at home. That is quite right enough and it would be wrong to neglect it. But all our plans will come to ship-wreck on the rock of human selfishness unless we turn to God. BACK TO GOD, that is the chief need of England and of every nation.'"

The important thing to note about a "back to god" political theory is that it is a political theory that derives from a philosophical system of idealism, which means many things but in political philosophy it means that the ideal will never be realized and that the most we can hope for is to come closer to that ideal.

But just because the ideal can never be realized in this world it does not take anything away from the ideal.

As Socrates says, "Suppose a painter had drawn an ideally beautiful figure complete to the last touch, would you think any the worse of him if he could not show that a person as beautiful as that could exist?"
Given the nature of this world and how it is impossible for a philosopher/devotee to actually realize his ideals the philosopher retreats content simply to keep his own hands free of blood and to cultivate his own spiritual aspirations.

"One who has joined this small company and tasted the happiness that is their portion; who has watched the frenzy of the multitude and seen that there is no soundness in the conduct of public life, nowhere an ally at whose side a champion of justice could hope to escape destruction; but that, like a man fallen among wild beasts, if he should refuse to take part in their misdeeds and not hold out alone against the fury of all, he would be destined, before he could of any service to his country or his friends, to perish, having done no good to himself or anyone else - one who has weighed all this keeps quite and goes his own way, like the traveler who takes shelter under a wall from a driving storm of dust and hail and seeing lawlessness spreading on all sides, is content if he can keep his hands clean from iniquity while this life lasts and when the end comes take his departure with good hopes, in serenity and peace."
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