Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Towards a theory of leadership on the left

For this bird, one of the most discouraging things about current US Presidential campaign, and indeed about current global politics, is the inability to unify, even against terrible enemies. I am recalled to Germany in 1932, where the Social Democrats and the Communists together had the votes to defeat the Nazis, but could not form a coalition, not even long enough to do that desperately necessary thing. So now we have the Democratic Party in the USA having difficulties coming together to defeat Trump, even though this is desperately necessary. It is a wider issue than that, however: Europe cannot agree how to deal with over a million Syrian refugees, and the whole world cannot agree to act on climate change, though that is a life-or-death crisis for global civilization.

I am left thinking that the conservatives are right in this: to act in politics it is necessary to come together behind some leader or group of leaders, and the left seems to have an exceptionally hard time of this. So we need a theory of leadership on the left, that does not leave us following the likes of Stalin. Marx perhaps swung the focus of philosophical debate on history towards systems rather than individuals: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living." This is surely a welcome correction from monarchism. But perhaps it is time to swing back, and ask ourselves what sort of individuals we want to focus power in, how that power is to be granted or taken away, and what sort of relations we may have with them. It takes no subtlety to know that a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Trump (the last, I suppose, repeating history as farce) ought be let nowhere near the levers of power. Yet we seem unable to keep them away from power, or conversely to reliably choose leaders who we might reasonably vest power in.

And, having posed the question, I am left with no obvious answer. There is a lot of political philosophy this bird has not read, so perhaps such work exists and I do not know of it, yet I can think of little leftist literature which addresses this issue. The right talks much about "character," but in practice they seem to focus on military virtues and zealous moral rigidity, neither of which make for good peacetime leaders. So what would be good character for the leaders of a social democratic state? What would their relations be like with other members of their political faction and the working government?


The Blog Fodder said...

Stalin forbade the Communists to cooperate with the Socialists. He WANTED Hitler in power. Of course it backfired on him to the tune of 27 million dead but what is that to Stalin. Moderates have always been unable to come together throughout history. Only extremists either left or right, manage that. Work gets done by those who show up and only extremists have what it takes to show up.

Raven Onthill said...

There was also the history of the two parties and a lot of bad blood between them; it would have been a hard deal to make, even without Stalin. The arguments that were heard then are not so very different than the ones I hear now: Trump won't be so bad, and the left will have a better chance after a Trump presidency. Communist leader Ernst Thällman, utterly underestimating the ferocity of the Nazis, famously said, “After Hitler, our turn.”

In any event, we need to guard against factionalism. "Leadership" is a basic principle for conservatives; not so for liberals, so we need to work hard at strengthening ours and at making sure we have competent, compassionate leaders.