We had the pleasure last Tuesday to welcome to Kathimerini Constantinos Despotopoulos, a wise and learned man, for an event marking the launch of the publishing group’s new “Igetes” (Leaders) series. I think this is the perfect moment for those who did not hear him speak to read something of his words – words that help us, at least momentarily, to escape the misery that we see around us:
“The great philosopher Plato has dealt with the issue of the political leader and it would be contemptuous to ignore his teachings. As it goes, Plato says that a political leader must possess the following virtues: the gift of a good memory, be quick to learn, noble and gracious, and be the friend of truth, justice, courage and temperance. Training in mathematics and philosophy is necessary. Also he needs some practical experience, acquired by taking part in the exercise of political power, under the guidance of senior political leaders.
“Furthermore, Plato expects a political leader to be conscious of the fact that he is serving a necessary duty, and must not be motivated by personal ambition. Above all, he says, the exercise of political power is not an individual but a collective task which should be exercised by rotation. This is because, as Plato believes, ‘human nature is not at all capable of regulating the human things, when it possesses autocratic authority over everything, without becoming swollen with hybris and injustice.’
“Plato’s description of the ideal political leader gives us criteria to assess the leaders of today. The political leader must be a fast learner, he must be far-sighted… On top of intellectual vigor, a political leader also must possess courage and wisdom so that he can brave critical and challenging events and restrain himself from transgressing the limits of the possible. Above all, he must be fair, an impartial and honest administrator of public goods. But he must also be graceful, which will allow him to reinforce his status among the people and facilitate the implementation of his policy. He acknowledges that it is hard to possess all these qualities at once.
“If we were to ask the question of which Greek political leaders possessed the qualities of a political leader as defined by Plato, it would be fair to answer as follows: Ioannis Kapodistrias possessed all of these to a good degree. Alexandros Koumoundouros deserves to be praised for his courage and wisdom as he was fearless and remained uninfluenced by the events of 1881 and stuck with the peace policy. He was dedicated to justice and was an impartial administrator of public goods. Harilaos Trikoupis was gifted with most of the qualities defined by Plato. Eleftherios Venizelos was a fast learner, far-sighted, brave and wise, but also graceful, inspiring dedication among followers. Of course, he was also honest and impartial.”
All that, from a man with a lively brain who carries 102 years of experience and knowledge.