In a number of his writings a brilliant individual insisted that all persons innately pursue the perceived good. But this assertion, he acknowledged, gives rise to the difficulty of identifying what “the good” may be. In his most widely read work with political connotations, The Republic, he went on to identify three motivations that are present in the soul of every individual to greater and lesser extents: the love of money, the love of honor (inclusive of the notion of power), and the love of learning. That man was Plato, and he taught from within the cradle of democracy, namely, ancient Athens.

I cannot see where anything has changed in the past 2500 years. Human nature remains pretty much the same. If we accept, in agreement with this Greek philosopher, that such motivations are present in all, it is safe to conclude that all politicians are variously motivated by the perceived self-goods of money, honor/power and learning. But what of a motivation to pursue the perceived good of others and not just themselves? Contrary to widespread opinion, and while not denying the presence and perhaps dominance of one or more of the other three,  I am inclined to believe that most politicians in our society do have a concern for the common good. Where they usually differ is in their respective identifying of who, precisely, constitutes the “common,” what the “good” for that group consists of, and how it is to be pursued. It is a multifaceted difference that permeates and often, sadly, divides our society.

Perhaps Plato’s teacher, Socrates, was right when he insisted that governing in a democracy is “the hardest of all trades.” Why? Because not only should the politician subjugate her own self-goods to that of the common good, he must negotiate the labyrinth that is the perceived and often conflicting “goods” before him.