Philosophy

Culpability of Kings (Part I)

symposium

Round about the time of Pericles there lived Archelaus, a man of learning and station with a sharp and lively mind, a leader of men and a orator of the highest order. One morning he took one of his walks in a lovely Athenian garden near his home. After wandering amongst the flowers and trees and honey bees he came to a bench looking out over a pool of cool clear water. On the bench was the teacher Kallikrates, a man of little wealth and even less tact, but nonetheless possessed of a great skill with rhetoric and political thought. Archelaus took a seat next to Kallikrates and struck up a conversation. This is what was said between the two men that day.

 

Archelaus: Good morning to you Kallikrates! It is a beautiful day and I have taken a break from my writing to come an enjoy what the gods have chosen to bestow upon us. I see you had the same idea.

 

Kallikrates: The day is good enough. It is not hot and it is not cold. I suppose that is enough to please any man. How goes your writing? What is the topic?

 

Archelaus: I have been asked by the great Pericles to write a dissertation on just leadership and execution of the law. I have been working on it now for the better part of a week and I have come to standstill. It is frustrating beyond measure!

 

Kallikrates: Leadership is a topic dear to many men but familiar to almost none.

 

Archelaus: Pericles is a good man and he wishes to be made familiar with the topic. He wants to be a good and just leader of men. I do not wish to lead him down a bad path though so I have found fault with nearly all I have written so far. I cannot seem to grasp onto the basic issue: what is the balance between power and responsibility? What pains are there to assure the just execution of powers? I cannot reconcile the prerogative of power with the power of prerogative.

 

Kallikrates: Prerogative is the right word my friend so you are on the right path at least. Each class of man will take hold of the power promised him by tradition and by what is perceived as a natural right. The gods have their hierarchy, it is said, and man has his. The poor will sit down at the foot of the table and each man who has stepped further up the ladder of influence, or was at least born onto the appropriate rung thereof, will take his seat as befits the height he has attained. Pericles has a foot upon the highest wrong and therefore he will be able to reach out for the greatest power, he can claim the greatest prerogative.

 

Archelaus: So then I am right to bestow upon him, with my words, an acclimation of his authority and his wisdom? He seems to me a wise man, or at least a level headed one, but if he is like you say, at the heights of the ladder of influence as you so ingeniously described it, then has he earned the acclaim by right of striving or by right of birth? He is a great man but is he a great name? Should the people love him?

 

Kallikrates: You ask the wrong question. The people will love him or they will not love him. That is of no account. Doubtless there were millions upon millions who loved Xerxes, or through their fear or ignorance mistook their awe for love, but what did this affection say regarding the balance of his authority or the content of his deeds? I declare that there is little or no meaning in the love of man for a leader. Men will love what they will love. My son loves a youth by the name of Dionysus, a creature as beautiful and charismatic as he is cruel and stupid. My son will be driven by his love to do many things for this creature; sing songs, climb heights, excuse the basest of follies and the crassest of jokes and tricks. The love my son has for this Dionysus will do nothing to change the nature of the man. He either will or will not be what he is. If he is not he will have chosen a different path, perhaps in order to greater please and enhance the love shown by my son or for some other reason. But this will not prove that love can change a man nor will this prove that love is based upon virtue. My son does not see some inner virtue of Dionysus. My son loves what he sees and sees what he loves. He is a man and men will love what they will. And Dionysus will love what he does, iniquity and folly. Each will decide for himself what he will or will not love, if we believe that man has control over such things. Even if he does not have control, even if the gods dictate what a man will love, who will tell the gods what their place is to decide? The gods have their place on the ladder as well. They have their prerogative. Love does not decide prerogative nor will it settle the question of merit.

 

Archelaus: So I ask the wrong question. What, then, is the question I should be asking?

 

Kallikrates: What is the culpability of kings?

 

Archelaus: Culpability? What do you mean?

 

Kallikrates: If there is error made or a violence done against the law or against the trust or bodies of the people, to whom does the king answer, and to what degree shall he suffer?

 

Archelaus: Well he shall answer to the gods.

 

Kallikrates: Surely, but the justice of the gods has nothing to do with the justice of men. The gods will do what the gods will do. Man will do different, or else he would be of the gods.

 

Archelaus: I suppose that is true. So a king will answer to the people? To the laws?


Kallikrates: The king must answer to the laws of the people. These are the laws that govern the movement and the happiness and the comfort of people. The people will either be happy or they will not. If they are happy it will be through the just administration of the laws, and the only laws that can be justly administered are just laws.

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