The Case for Guardianship
APERENNIAL ALTERNATIVE to democracy is government by meritocratic rulers 1 or guardians.Most beautifully and enduringly presented by Plato in The Republic2 the idea of guardianship has exerted a powerful pull throughout human history.Although it is often used in its most vulgar form as a rationalization for corrupt, brutal, and inept authoritarian regimes of all kinds, the argument for it does not fall simply because it has been badly abused. If we were to apply the same harsh test to democratic ideas they too would be found wanting. We should confront the case for guardianship without employing guilt by association to undermine its appeal at the outset.
The idea of guardianship has appealed to a great variety of political thinkers and leaders in many different guises and in many different parts of the world over most of recorded history. If Plato provides perhaps the most familiar example, the practical ideal of Confucius, who was born more than a century before Plato, has had far more profound influence over many more people and persists to the present day, deeply embedded in the cultures of sev