The idea behind the “Philosopher King” is really quite simple. It calls for a system that is effective, efficient, and has no other better alternative. By raising a ruler from birth, there is quite literally no other better option. It is a system that ensures only the most qualified will lead, and with them leading, their state has the best odds for survival. By nature, guardians are to be taught things such as military strategy, economics, and (you guessed it) philosophy. They are the most well versed, most educated, and most cultured group there could ever be. It ensures that the unfit or unqualified will never come to power, simply because it is understood that each person in society knows their place (as opposed to democracy). In a way, each has their own destiny predetermined, and really can’t alter it (as the gods have already planned it). With such poor opinions of the common folk, its apparent to see why Socrates classified democracy as only one level above complete anarchy.
However, it is also important to note that there are many points in which Plato (and we can assume Socrates), fail to acknowledge the useful aspects within democracies. Socrates argues that the philosopher king is chosen by a benevolent force, and that by wanting to serve and lead, they are wanting to provide for the overall good of society rather than personal gain. Looking back at history there are many examples of kingdoms being overtaken by greed and corruption. At least with democracy there is a transparency in place to provide for accountability. Without that in a kingdom, there is nothing in place to allow for the removal for those in power. All Plato argues is that such a situation with his system is impossible. Popper coins the situation as a “theory of unchecked sovereignty” (1945, pg. 129). Should we be advocating for a situation that allows the least misrule, or a situation with a ruler to trust with unchecked sovereignty? How easy would it be for a philosopher king to enact a policy saying there is no longer a compelling reason for him not to own private property? The flaws deeply rooted in democracy are apparent in Plato’s argument, however, it is a symbol for accountability, and responsiveness. As Popper argues, the theory behind a philosopher king is sound that they could potentially be the best rulers, but democracy guarantees the system of the “least worst.”