A friend and I are trying to trace the source of a quote. Unfortunately we only barely remember how it goes. Consider this as a rough bit of paraphrasing:

Any person who wants to govern should be disqualified from doing so.

We've both tried Google and philosophy.stackexchange, but haven't turned up what we are looking for.

To the best of our memories, the context went something like this: People only seek power for their own motives. A ruler ought not to decide based on their own benefit, but society's. So a person who wants to rule should be disqualified for doing so.

We have settled on two possible leads (both of which may be wrong): it may come from Plato's Republic, or possibly one of Bentham's works.

  • Apropos of nothing, really, but the same concept appears near the end of the Secondary Phase of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio show, which goes into a lengthy discussion on the topic and is summed up as, "Who can rule if nobody who wants to should be allowed to?"
    – Roger
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 14:18
  • It's also in an SF novel that Arthur C Clarke wrote - I forget which one though. Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 8:22

1 Answer 1


You are correct that the idea appears in Plato's Republic, though it may also appear elsewhere. I believe that section 521 is the reference you are looking for, though it may appear in other places in the text as well:

[521a]... For only in such a state will those rule who are really rich, not in gold, but in the wealth that makes happiness—a good and wise life. But if, being beggars and starvelings from lack of goods of their own, they turn to affairs of state thinking that it is thence that they should grasp their own good, then it is impossible. For when office and rule become the prizes of contention, such a civil and internecine strife destroys the office-seekers themselves and the city as well.”

[521b] “Most true,” he said.

“Can you name any other type or ideal of life that looks with scorn on political office except the life of true philosophers?” I asked.

“No, by Zeus,” he said. “But what we require,” I said, “is that those who take office should not be lovers of rule. Otherwise there will be a contest with rival lovers.”

Source: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D7%3Apage%3D521

  • Maybe this should be a different question, but neither of our editions of the Republic are organized into sections. Is there a resource online you are using? Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 14:13
  • 1
    @indigochild No, most editions of the Republic (at least the ones I've seen) use references on the side of the pages much like Shakespeare might have line numbers. For what it's worth, section 521 is at the very end of Part VII.
    – DTR
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 14:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .