Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The Stoic Path: Barack Obama, Philosopher King
What sort of characteristics should we observe in a Stoic individual? What kind of face would he or she present to the world? We need look no further than newly elected US President Barack Obama. I find it striking how many of President-elect Obama's qualities mirror those described by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These are qualities he admired in people who were influential in the development of his own Stoicism and which he practiced himself in his leadership as the world's first Philosopher King.
Try this on for yourself. Here are a few of those qualities Marcus found in a wise leader, which he refers to in his Meditations: a just mixture in the moral character of sweetness and dignity; the perception that he thinks carefully as he speaks; the belief that he never has had bad intention; to never show amazement or surprise; to seem never in a hurry; never to put off doing what must be done; to never be perplexed or dejected; and never to laugh to disguise aggravation. Each of these is a quality that mirrors the mind of the leader. In other words these qualities reflect the real nature of the leader's soul or psyche.
Here are a few others: to be beneficent, ready to forgive, free from falsehood; to never make you feel that he is a better person than you; to give the impression that no person feels that he or she is hated by him; to display undeviating steadiness of purpose, a steady gravity without affectation (gravitas), a compassionate intolerance of ignorance, mildness of temper, a love of work and perseverance, the giving to each and every person what is due, and a readiness to listen to any new ideas. These are but a few. But how many of those qualities do we see mirrored in Obama? And are these not those qualities that we admire and desire in a wise and transformational leader? Barack Obama might indeed become the first true Philosopher King the world has seen since Marcus Aurelius.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing.