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Can PNG's political culture be reformed?

PNG is in need of a modern ‘philosopher king’

Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Emperor Marcus Aurelius


PORT MORESBY – The famous Greek’s political theorist, Plato, envisioned what he saw as the ideal political state.

In his tome on political philosophy, Republic, written around 375 BC, Plato said “the ideal state would be ruled over by a specially trained guardian class.”

Foremost in this class would be the ‘philosopher king’ - the only person who could be trusted to rule well.

“Philosophers are both morally and intellectually suited to rule,” Plato wrote.

“Morally because it is in their nature to love truth and learning so much that they are free from the greed and lust that tempts others to abuse power and intellectually because they alone can gain full knowledge of reality.”

Philosopher kings have an inclination to learn and continually seek new understandings that will deepen and enlarge their knowledge of the world and the enable them to rule effectively.

King Solomon was one such philosopher king. He became a naturalist and a poet, sought wisdom from God and conducted research to satisfy his thirst for knowledge.

With broad learning and knowledge, he became a fine orator and was sought after for his wisdom. He ruled effectively, his kingdom prospered and its boundaries were expanded.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius is considered a good king who ruled his empire well. He learned from the Stoic philosophers and was a philosopher himself.

“In his tent at the front near the Granua River in the distant territory of Germania, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius rose at dawn to write on his journal.

“And so he went about the rest of his morning journaling, writing little notes for himself on how to think, how to live, what to be grateful for, and then he proceeded on to meet the day, not simply as a philosopher, but as a true philosopher king”- The Daily Stoic Journal by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.

I turn now to Sir Winston Churchill, a combatant soldier, journalist, author, statesman and leader of the free world.

In addition to his celebrated leadership in World War II, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953 for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in Churchill wrote more than 30 books on politics, political history and biography.

A political leader in Papua New Guinea who can be rightly called a philosopher king is the late Sir Mekere Morauta.

As a child, he was raised on a diet of sago and fish, walked barefoot around Kukipi and seized the opportunity of a liberal education.

Morauta studied economics and was one of the first graduates of the University of Papua New Guinea.

He became a senior public servant, a visionary economic thought leader and author and, in time, the leader of his nation, in which role he championed and introduced some of the most far reaching financial and constitutional reforms designed to enhance the nation and create political stability.

The eulogy to Sir Mekere by Ross Garnaut and others rendered in December 2020 should be compulsory reading for all Papua New Guineans who love their country.

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers,” said the 33rd US president, Harry Truman. His aphorism reminds us that a true leader must have an eagerness to learn.

The colossal blunder that PNG’s gullible and illiterate voters always make is to elect illiterate, half-baked leaders who don’t have an inclination to learn but seem to be there to enjoy the perks of political office.

These people are bad representatives of their electorates and their country. They do not want to read and learn.

Our leaders must have love for wisdom. They must be people who love books, who love learning, who think, grow intellectually, become insightful and keep abreast of issues affecting country and world.

The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging and include the capacity to analyse, reason and innovate.

We can have out philosopher kings: effective leaders who govern well and take the nation and its people forward.


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Chris Overland

In discussing Plato's ideas about the supposed virtues of a Philosopher King, Simon is resurrecting a very old idea.

Plato was a philosopher of major importance in the development of what can be loosely described as 'Western' civilisation.

For example, his notion that there existed a 'world of forms', wherein were found the perfect models or templates for every creature and object that could be perceived in the world of humans, was transmogrified by early Christian theologians into the idea of 'heaven'.

His ideas about a Philosopher King have not stood the test of time nearly so well, mainly because he described an ideal from which all human rulers have fallen short, often woefully short.

Marcus Aurelius was perhaps the ruler who came closest to meeting Plato's ideal but even he was forced to do things that he privately felt were not consistent with what might be done by an ideal ruler.

Anyway, it seems to me vanishingly improbable that PNG or anywhere else for that matter will produce a Philosopher King who meets Plato's ideal.

Depressingly, history suggests that aspirants to this role tend to be more like Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping.

We seem mostly to produce 'Tin Gods' whose all too human foibles range from petty indulgences through to mass murder.

On a brighter note, from time to time an Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill appears whose personal peculiarities are balanced by a combination of mostly good judgement and a very fine sense of historic purpose.

If PNG can produce such a person, then the nation stands to benefit greatly but the current political system does not encourage the idea that this will be possible anytime soon.

Bernard Corden

"Men of power often claim they have no time to read but men who do not read are unfit for power" - Michael Foot

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