Critical and Philosophical Reflections
Edited by Leah Tomkins
Chapter 6: The shepherd king and his flock: paradoxes of leadership and care in classical Greek philosophy
This chapter draws on Plato and Xenophon to explore the analogy of the shepherd king and his flock – a relationship depicted explicitly as one of caring, but potentially exploitative, leadership. The shepherd king provided a useful device for the ancient Greeks in considering the ethical obligations of leaders in both political and military contexts, and paradoxes arising from the conflict between the advantages of clear leadership and the loss of individual agency and autonomy in submitting to such rule. This chapter considers how and why there might be a question of care in the leader/follower relationship, and on what basis such power relations might be justified. While it originated in a context of rulers with special access to the divine, the possession of skill and intelligence emerged as prime justification for granting a ruler the status of shepherd king, enabling leaders to extricate the led from difficult military and political situations.
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