Ever since the Platonic period, philosophers have sought to determine the nature and meaning of a "good society and a good state" giving their own interpretations of what an ideal society and an ideal state ought to be. Their interpretations have been formulated in western political thought as diverse concepts of state and methods of government. In both eastern and western societies, political theorists have also addressed different forms and styles of leadership, including the complicated amalgam of personality required for an ideal leader. Their concepts represent both idealistic and pragmatic approaches to the structure of society, the role of leadership, the rights of individuals and the basis of justice. No discussion on contemporary democratic systems, including those that we in Pakistan have been experimenting since our independence, or on endemic tensions between the theory and practice of democratic principles would be complete without a layman's exposure to the concepts and ideas of some of the well-known thinkers. The foremost in this philosophical chain is Plato's ideal of the city-state and his concept of the philosopher king. In his Republic, he addresses justice as the central question and as a "concomitant virtue" that results from harmonious cooperation among "virtuous individuals" participating in the affairs of the state. Plato's preferred ruler was "the philosopher king" provided we could find such a "superior person who could rule with perfect wisdom and justice." In the absence of a "philosopher king," Plato's Republic would be administered by best qualified persons (morally and intellectually) as the most wholesome government. Aristotle's greatest contributions to political theories are his differentiation between the lawful monarch and the wilful tyrant, his argument that people have the right, by virtue of their natural collective judgement, to elect their leaders and to hold them accountable, and his concept that the state and society are man's vital necessity. For him, good governance was a relative matter and "there was no best form available for all peoples at all times." A good government is one whose rulers seek the welfare of the people, whereas a corrupt government is one whose rulers are primarily interested in their own wellbeing. A good government degenerates into a corrupt one when the rulers begin to devote themselves to private gain instead of public welfare. Thus each good form of government has its corresponding corrupt form. Aristotle also applied the principle of "moderation in all things" to the problem of evaluating any state: for example, was it too large or too small for its population and location, or for the character and skills of its people? He concluded that the good state is one in which the middle class constitutes a majority. The lesson of history is that the basic nature of man requires peace, not war, and a state, in order to survive and prosper, must be organised for peace, not war. In Aristotle's view, extremes must always be avoided, for too many individuals in a given occupation will disturb the equilibrium of the state. "Too many soldiers, too many public officials, or too many of any other group except the great middle class will harm or even destroy the state." He cited the example of Sparta which was destroyed by over-emphasis on the "military way" of life. There may be no ideal state but in his "Social Contract," Rousseau presents his own ideal of a state, simple and small enough for the individual to take an active part in its government, thus ensuring that a citizen's needs are answered by the state. He favoured a republic ruled by laws, in which the government run by popularly elected officials would implement the "general will." Rousseau's passion for democracy was evident in his belief that if "there existed a people of gods, it would govern itself democratically." Among those philosophers who devoted their thought to the issues of leadership and power, Machiavelli stands out for his universally known "doctrine of necessity" (sounds familiar) and for his radical views on what a ruler whom he describes as "prince" needs to do to maintain his full personal power. To him, "the end justifies the means, even though that end may be for the sole benefit of the tyrant." Machiavelli's philosophy of government is premised on his assumption that in the absence of virtuous citizens, there are only "corrupt masses" and since the end justifies the means, they can be controlled only by a "prince" through his "deceitful and vicious" behaviour. He has to be a "hypocritical and vacillating" personality wearing the face of "mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion" to create a public image, but often acting contrary to those very ideals. In Machiavelli's view, to gain political power, it is necessary either to be "the child of fortune and be born into power" or to "acquire power through deceit and conquest." Similarly, in order to retain power, the "prince" must eliminate enemies within the state, and in destroying his enemies, he must use every means necessary, fair or foul to get rid of them decisively, lest some individual suffering from minor injuries return to seek revenge. With these thoughts and concepts influencing human minds since the emergence of "nation state," the world has experienced all forms of political systems ranging from monarchies to republics; from aristocracies to oligarchies and from tyranny to democracy. After centuries of trial and error, democracy emerged as the universally preferred choice. It is now considered a universally applicable and acceptable norm and is also the most "prevalent" model of our era. Viewed from a philosophical perspective, the evolution of political system in our own country appears to be without any parallel in contemporary history. We have been experimenting with different systems at different times and some time two different systems at the same time. At the time of our independence, we inherited, like India, a parliamentary tradition but soon lost track, groping aberrantly in political chaos and confusion. For decades, we have had a parliamentary system without our parliament ever functioning as a "sovereign body" or playing any role in the country's decision-making. It has never made laws nor has it ever undone the wrongs done to the constitution by successive "wilful" rulers. This regretfully has been the case even when our politicians are "masters" of their own destiny as they are now. Today again, it is our president, not the prime minister who embodies power. We only wear a parliamentary face. We have also been experimenting with our own version of presidential system, at times under chief martial law administrators, including a civilian one, with no precedent in the world's history and also with no relevance to the established models of world's known republics. In every instance, whether under military rule or a civilian government, our "wilful" ruler always found readily available wizard attorneys to serve as devil's advocates and pliant judges to 'sanctify' their military coups and acts of constitutional usurpation. As a result of this long tradition, the cursed "doctrine of necessity" has become an integral part of our body politic, and democracy was never allowed to flourish in our country. Consistency has never been our virtue as amply reflected in our history of frequent governmental breakdowns and military take-overs. The only constant in our state has been the "state of institutional paralysis." We opted for systemic aberrations with endless political "merry-go-rounds" and "power jockeying feuds." Pakistan today is a laughing stock of the world. Ours is the only Parliament in the world which is at the beck and call of one individual. Legislating is a business beyond its capacity and alien to the temperament of its members, whose priority attention is focused elsewhere, never losing sight of the real "sources" of power and bounty. Democracy, pluralism, good governance, rule of law, separation of powers, institutional integrity, and normative standards are of no value to them. We now have a new class of politicians commonly known as lotaas and lotees who are perennially on "sale" as our brand of human commodity. They remain "possessed" by praetorian power and keep fighting among themselves, changing loyalties and scheming against each other. They may be benefiting momentarily from the privilege and profit inherent in this equivalent of political "prostitution" but institutionally and in real terms, they are always the end losers. In our country, we have tried both military-driven and politician-led systems and both have failed. Until our politicians become "philosophers" and our "philosophers" become "kings," our republic perhaps needs a "wholesome" government of the "best qualified" (morally and intellectually) persons who would be judged for their performance and integrity. It is time now for an "alternative" leadership. Or is it too utopian a thought? The writer is a former foreign secretary