In the Western philosophical tradition, the idea of a principled intellectual elite or a community of “philosopher kings” governing society stems from Plato’s “Republic.” Of the principles which govern or guide this intellectual elite or the community of “philosopher kings” more than any other principle is the principle of “justice.” In sum, the aim of politics and society is justice.
Thus, Plato suggested that it is justice which leads to happiness both on an individual and societal level, and in turn happiness is the ultimate good. At its core, justice consists of telling the truth and giving everyone what they “deserve.” Plato contests and disputes the argument that “might makes right” and that justice is affected and shaped by the will of the stronger forces in society, and Plato concludes that in fact, the just person is the one who is “clever and good,” whereas the unjust person ends up being the one who is “ignorant and bad.”
In turn, a just person is one who is not enslaved and governed by their appetites and passions, according to Plato. By virtue of not being enslaved and governed by their appetites and passions, a just person is happier and is able to sleep better at night, whereas the unjust person who is enslaved and governed by their appetites and passions is unhappy and loses sleep as a result of their actions and their psychological dispositions.
The aforementioned points reinforce the Platonic or Socratic argument that an “intellectual elite” or a community of “philosopher kings” are better equipped at governing than anyone else in society. On the other hand, the empirical or realist notion that “ambition checks ambition” and the suggestion that countervailing appetites and passions can lead to compromise and equilibrium end up being unfounded to a large extent. As René Guénon argued: “There can be only one way out of the chaos, in the social domain as in all others: the restoration of intellectuality, which would result in the formation once more of an elect.” After all, change and reform are required even in the most economically advanced societies such as the United States. The question is whether or not we have reached “the point of no return” as a society, and whether change and reform is even possible at this point. Nevertheless, one’s efforts at prompting change and reform never end up in vain. As René Guénon wrote:
“For our own part, we ask no more than to contribute, as far as our means permit, both to the [reform of the West] and to the [understanding with the East], if indeed there is still time, and if any such result can be attained before the arrival of the final catastrophe toward which modern civilization is heading. But even if it were already too late to avoid this catastrophe, the work done to this end would not be useless, for it would serve in any case to prepare, however distantly, the ‘discrimination’ of which we spoke at the beginning, and thereby to assure the preservation of those elements that must escape the shipwreck of the present world to become the germs of the future world.”