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‘But the truths discovered or worked out by political philosophers can be implemented. They lend themselves readily to legal embodiment. Are these the laws of nature? Enact them. Is this a just scheme of distribution? Establish it. Is this a basic human right? Enforce it. Why else would one want to know about such things? An ideal city is, I suppose, an entirely proper object of contemplation, and it may be the case that “whether it exists anywhere or ever will exist is no matter” – that is, does not affect the truth of the vision. But surely it would be better if the vision were realized. Plato’s claim that the ideal city is “the only commonwealth in whose politics [the philosopher] can ever take part” is belied by his own attempt to intervene in the politics of Syracuse when an opportunity arose, or so he thought, for philosophical reformation. Plato never intended, of course, to become a citizen of the city he hoped to reform.

The claim of the philosopher in such a case is that he knows “the pattern set up in the heavens.” He knows what ought to be done. He cannot just do it himself, however, and so he must look for a political instrument. A pliable prince is, for obvious practical reasons, the best possible instrument. But in principle any instrument will do – an aristocracy, a vanguard, a civil service, even the people will do, so long as its members are committed to philosophical truth and possessed of sovereign power. But clearly, the people raise the greatest difficulties. If they are not a many-headed monster, they are at least many-headed, difficult to educate and likely to disagree among themselves. Nor can the philosophical instrument be a majority among the people, for majorities in any genuine democracy are temporary, shifting, unstable. Truth is one, but the people have many opinions; truth is eternal, but the people continually change their minds. Here in its simplest form is the tension between philosophy and democracy.’

Philosophy and Democracy’ 9.3 – Political Theory – Michael Walzer – Excerpt from p. 363-4 Debates In Contemporary Political Philosophy – An Anthology – ed. by Derek Matravers and Jon Pike, 2003.