Leadership is an essential element of human existence. It has served as an indispensable factor in defining our civilization throughout the history. Our understanding of the past is greatly concerned with studies of leaders, who have shaped the course of history. Today people look at leaders and try to predict what lies ahead of their life. Our vision of contemporary leaders is believed to provide the hints about how our future will look like in years from now. From this perspective studies of ancient political thought and concept of leadership play a vital role for deep analysis of contemporary leaders.
An interesting perspective on leadership we find in works of Hobbes and Plato. Both philosophers approach concept of leader from rather different angles, providing their own background to it. Hobbes1, for example, emphasizes obedience and fear as great motivators that establish a power of a leader in society. Plato2, on contrary, suggests rather philosophical rulership, where leader uses his intellectual and moral power, rather than his military superiority.
In Hobbes’s view the primitive kind of rulership sustains peace and quiet more effectively than more human, democratic and caretaking approach proposed by Plato. Hobbes in his concept of a leader appeals to a more primitive social strategy. Perhaps, this can be explained by his timidity. Thus, if city-state is more civilized, the natural “fight-or-flight” reactions result in increased inner tensions.
In my opinion the best image of a modern leader is a mixture of two approaches. Plato’s leader will sustain dominance in a long-term perspective, while Hobbes’s leader will better respond to short-term necessities. The whip and the candy policy work best together. The best way to prove this is to look at the modern practice of leadership throughout the world. Systems that exploit different means to keep their people in constant fear inevitably collapse sooner or later, while those that promote democratic values and nurturing leadership keep prospering throughout the history.
Public leaders today should inspire people and mobilize resources in a way that gives a feeling of shared efforts. Leaders in government should be able to understand common needs of their community, whether they are national, local or international. It is essential for public leaders in the realm of political institutions, customs and laws. However, in times of crisis a strong, conservative approach is vital to conflict resolution. However, the extent to which this approach can be taken should always remain moral and never violate fundamental human rights.
We may say that Stalin and Hitler were leaders, but they were the kind of leaders that transgressed moral values and any permissible violation of human rights, including right for life. Slobodan Milosevic is more contemporary transgressor, who is currently charged for massive oppression and sanctioned killing of thousands of ethnic Albanians. His was the leadership advocated by Hobbes, but in practice it was taken to extreme.
Perhaps, in search for the best examples of leaders defined by Plato the first country to look for would have been the United States. However, today its presidential leadership rather falls under the concept defined by Hobbes instead. George W. Bush was claimed to have military power more potent than ever before in the history. Such claims should be a warning sign to our society for two reasons. First, even if we, as the citizens of the state, trust our leader’s unparalleled wisdom, it is nevertheless too dangerous to have one person granted unquestioned authority to start a war and send young American soldiers to die for some faint and degraded reasons. Second, the decision about assaults on other nations, particularly on Iraq, should be a debatable question in terms of America’s best interests, and should reflect an objective opinion of people’s elected representatives, rather than subjective opinion of one person, even if he is a President.
The war time of course requires some exceptions, which are not likely to be in demand during the civil period. Throughout the course of history the government attempted to draw the lines about when these exceptions should take place. Right now is one of those periods and the current government, especially the executive branch, should be able to justify that extraordinary power it is granted. The most difficult about this period is the exceptional character of war on terror that will most likely last forever, since terror will never cease to exist. Thus, both the “rule of exceptions” which states that in times of crisis the ends justify the means, and this exceptional period, create a fundamental philosophical basis for establishing a government with unlimited power, where the president is a sole representative of this power and society keeps granting him this power as long as it is being kept in fear by threats of terrorism.
This unprecedented situation represents a real danger to the entire concept of freedom and democracy, since exceptions are hard to define and the fear of terrorism, which is so skillfully supported among the citizens by mass media. Instead of exception to a general rule such situation may lead to a change of general rule and the forecast made by Michael Moore in his documental movie Fahrenheit 9/11 may come true in the nearest future.
There is an old saying, which says “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We may assume that it’s only natural if a leader, who is granted with power to manage the country and respond to threats against this country, is taking his responsibilities seriously and is driven to gain more power in order to accomplish these tasks most successfully. However, even the founding fathers recognized the need for human beings to be limited in their power over the country and other peoples’ lives, since only then the government could function in the best interest of its nation and would not allow tyranny to develop. Since our system of government was developed in a way that doesn’t tolerate tyranny, the imperial presidency therefore is not our way to defend long-term interests of democracy and therefore the current unlimited presidential powers should be reconsidered in the nearest future and be taken from Hobbes’ approach closer to Plato’s.
1. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Penguin Books, 1982.
2. Plato. The Republic. Dover Publications, 2000.
3. Moore, Michael. The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader. Simon & Schuster, October 5, 2004.
4. Fisher, Louis. Presidential War Power. University Press of Kansas, April 1, 2004.