It is a more enlightened age. Perhaps a future, or a past long forgotten, when rulers are noble and just, and rule for their people, not for themselves. Perhaps it is an Age of Reason, in which older, barbaric measures of manhood such as war and business have been phased out, and replaced solely with pure, unclouded Thought. Only those who have the capacity to Think have the right to Rule. In this realm, the Philosopher King is found.
Originally conceived by Plato
in The Republic,
which was his vision of an ideal society, the Philosopher King is someone who, since he Loves Wisdom, (that is what the word "philosopher" means, after all) is more likely to seek out wisdom for its own sake, and thus more likely to rule wisely than one who, say, Loves War (or Jenga or Fellatio). The fact that Plato was himself a philosopher
probably had a lot to do with his choice as well.
In science fiction, a Philosopher King can be a scientist
, or even an entire class of scientist-rulers. In fantasy, a Philosopher King can be a wizard or some other hyper-endowed magic user
, with the caveat that he has to learn
the craft, not just be born to it. The trope often goes hand-in-hand with Crystal Spires and Togas
Tyrants with an ideology - a philosophical agenda- such as Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler
, or Vladimir Lenin
are not true Philosopher Kings, but rather subversions of the concept, since the Philosopher King was envisioned as purely good.
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- Things To Come: The H. G. Wells -scripted 1936 film ended with a society run entirely on the principle of scientific progress, in which humanity has cured the common cold before heading to the Moon(!)
- The Jedi from Star Wars, while not technically rulers, certainly exert enough power over the Old Republic to fulfil this trope to some extent.
- Played uber-straight in the 1979 Superman film, in which the scientist Jor-El acts as judge and juror in the banishment of Zod.
- 1984: Subverted. The philosophy embraced by the ruling party is one of utter and complete self-interest.
- The Republic: The Trope Namer.
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: The novel by Douglas Adams, features the Ruler of the Universe; a man who has so utterly embraced solipsism that he views both memory and future events as unreal, and anything outside the closed door of his shack as purely hypothetical. Thus he is completely surprised by his surroundings every day, and continuously makes discoveries, such as the ability to put pencil to paper, that most people would assume you only need to make once. This makes him the perfect person to exercise power, since he has absolutely no preconceptions about anything, and the six people who ultimately control the Universe first come to him for advice before enacting anything.
- In the original radio scripts, after the Vogons take over the Galactic Civil Service, the philosophers who had previously managed the Galaxy were sent to the Tax Return Office to lick stamps.
Live Action TV
- The Time Lords of Doctor Who were a perfect example of this trope; their society was divided into Colleges or Chapters, and every Time Lord is sorted into one or the other by the age of eight. The Doctor, The Master and The Rani all belonged to the same college, the Prydonians, known for producing manipulators and renegades.
- Dexter's Laboratory: In the TV Movie Ego Trip, we see a future in which Dexter's technology has created a utopia, with himself as a kind of benevolent dictator.
- Equestria in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is ruled by Princesses who must undergo rigorous academic training before assuming the title, attaining a level of understanding in magic far beyond what is expected for the lower orders.
- Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time also fits this trope, as she divides her time between scientific experimentation and ruling her kingdom.
- The closest thing the Gummi Bears have to a leader, Zummi, is also the keeper of their lore and magic (although to be fair he didn't know about any of it until the start of the series)
- Marcus Aurelius probably fits this trope best, as he was considered one of the five "Good Emperors" of Rome by Niccolò Machiavelli and was also a highly respected Stoic philosopher.
- At first, Ashoka was no where near this trope; but then he got sick of war and became a great ruler, particularly noted for religious tolerance and the promotion of learning and trade.
- Ideally, the Emperors of China were expected to follow the teachings of Confucius; whether they did or not largely determined how the (Confucian) historians would later treat them.
- Tyrants with ideology, such as Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot fit also under The Philosopher King.