It’s interesting that there has been much talk in this presidential campaign about the qualifications for actually becoming President of the United States. In fact, it is quite easy to fall into that rhetoric when taken at face value. That so much emphasis is placed on the importance of the office as “the most powerful person in the world” is amazing upon further analysis.
Without belaboring what could become a far more extensive debate, let us just say this: it is useful to entertain the notion that the office of President of the United States actually means something. Even though the reality is that the office of President of the United States may be the most powerful figurehead in the world, there is a large percentage of the American public and, indeed, the world who actually believes this person can actually enact things beyond the occasional executive order. To be sure, no matter which person ends up in the Oval Office, they will have handlers. These handlers have been around for decades, creating a generation of new handlers to make sure all future Presidents do what they are told. So one really shouldn’t worry about experience. One should just worry.
But, for the moment, let’s work with the idea that the system actually works:
Clause Five in Article II of the United States Constitution provides us with the necessary qualifications to become President. As you will see, it is a rather concise statement:
“No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
In Section Two, Clause One, of Article II, the Presidential Powers with regards to the military are outlined:
“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
Lack of Requisites
You don’t need legal, management, military, political, social, or any other type of specialized experience to hold the highest elected office in the United States of America. You don’t have to take any formalized test. A college degree is not required, nor is there any foreign language requirement.
It’s also important to note that a background security investigation is also not a requirement; however, modern day candidates usually release personal financial and medical records. Interestingly, only the private medical records of John McCain made history for being the first Presidential candidate whose personal health history was read on live television and ridiculed. No media bias there
But let’s look at Plato himself, and let’s see what the background is for these whimsical ideas of qualification and experience.
The Republic of Plato
Plato was born in 427/428 B.C. in the city-state of Athens. As a young man, he was a student of Socrates, and later wrote a treatise called “The Republic of Plato.” He developed the first organized institute of learning, similar to a modern day University, called the “Academy," in Athens.
In Chapter VII of The Republic, “The Luxurious State,” and Chapter XVII, “Usages of War ,” he discussed the training of a soldier or military leader. As we select our next Commander in Chief, perhaps his perspectives would be helpful to review. Because even after two millennia, Plato’s understanding of human nature is intriguing. While some of Plato’s views might be controversial in today’s world, his examples and arguments, as they apply to war in this example, merit consideration.
The Art of War: Analogy of the Shoemaker
“We need not say whether war does good or harm, but only that we have discovered its origin in desires which are the most fruitful source of evils both to individuals and to states… We agreed that no one man can practice many trades or arts satisfactorily… Well, is not the conduct of war an art, quite as important as shoemaking?”
“But we would not allow our shoemaker to try to be also a farmer or weaver or builder, because we wanted our shoes well made. We gave each man on trade, for which he was naturally fitted; he would do good work, if he confined himself to that all his life, never letting the right moment slip by. Now in no form of work is efficiency so important as in war; and fighting is not so easy a business that man can follow another trade, such as farming or shoemaking, and also be an efficient soldier. Why, even a game like draughts or dice must be studied from childhood; no one can become a fine player in his spare moments. Just taking up a shield or other weapon will not make a man capable of fighting that very day in any sort of warfare, any more than taking up a tool or implement of some kind will make a man a craftsman or an athlete, if he does not understand its use and has never been properly trained to handle it.”
Source: Chapter VII, “The Luxurious State.”
The Trade of War
“Men and women will take the field together and moreover bring with them the children who are sturdy enough, to learn this trade, like any other, by watching what they will have to do themselves when they are grown up; and besides looking on, they will fetch and carry for their fathers and mothers and see to all their needs in time of war. You must have noticed, in the potter’s trade for example, the children watch their fathers and wait on them long before they may touch the wheel. Ought our Guardians to be less careful to train theirs by letting them look on and become familiar with their duties? And is it of no importance that men who are to be warriors should see something of war in childhood? Is that not worth some danger?”
Source: Chapter XVII, “Usages of War.”
Experience Versus Aptitude
Plato believed that hands-on experience from an early age, along with specific training, was the best teacher in the art of war. Should the Commander-in-Chief manage the military without actual experience? Would we expect him or her to make shoes or pottery without proper training? Is aptitude enough or do you need actual experience in military tactics?
Plato in the 21st Century
While it is fun to ponder what great men of the past would do, say or achieve in the modern day, there are certain realities relating to the hypocrisies and double standards of our day that would be comical if they weren’t so dangerous. It is always easier to deem someone a legend when they are not around, and too much time has passed. The so-called light of the modern day would eviscerate most of those we hold as great or even influential. And even then, that determination, in today’s world, would rely completely upon who has the most to gain from such a person’s fame or infamy.
How would men like Washington, Franklin, Jefferson or others be scrutinized in our modern times? Do you think they would survive? Do the qualifications (or lack thereof) need to change to accommodate (defend against) the circumstances and, indeed, the circus of modern times? Or should we just feel safe that men like these are gone, so that we can press their words between the pages of our lives, not having to actually live up to them? Is experience dependent upon a time period, or does it transcend all of that?
Or maybe one really shouldn’t worry about experience. One should just worry.
What do you think?
About the Authors
Steve Amoia has published articles, book reviews, and interviews about alternative health, art history, career-related themes, historical figures, Italian and international soccer, martial arts, psychology, and sports medicine topics. His writing portfolio and contact information can be found at www.sanstefano.com