Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Strong Leaders"

I have come to realize that I have a distrust of people who are described as 'strong leaders'. We consider the democracy the most civilized of governments, and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel lays out why democracies with social mobility are some of the most successful governments in history. But humans are social creatures, and we have a social hierarchy. We instinctvely like strong leaders, our alphas.

The problem, of course is that we have ALWAYS had strong leaders. And being a strong leader does not qualify one to be a good democratic, or republican leader. Idi Amin Dada and Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, Francisco Franco, and Slobodan Milošević were certainly charismatic. They were leaders because they were strong, posessed of 'strong' personalities, and kept the underlings in line. But fanaticism has a charisma all it's own, and democracy does not need people who rule by strength. Further, the implied dichotomy is that anyone who is not strong is weak, a backhanded slap at anyone who does not crush their opposition.

Is this about Margaret Thatcher? Damn skippy.

David Weigel, the Thatcher apologist who got his article on Slate.com is typical when it comes to strong-leader apologism. I stopped reading when he wrote "Crass basically transformed into an all-Thatcher-bashing band, commemorating the war with "How Does It Feel to Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead" (British casualties were 255)." Because this contains the sort of irritating and self-serving parochialism that I find so distasteful in followers and excusers of strong leaders. British casualties were only 255, but Argentinian ones (according to Wikipedia were 650, leading us to, wait for it, 900 casualties. Which is not exactly the thousand from the song, but I'm allowing for artistic licence. Weigel chooses to ignore all the Argentine deaths, because they're not on his favored side of the war. But there can be little doubt, if we accept that Thatcher provoked the war (as Crass says) then she is responsible for all the deaths resulting from it. But Weigel doesn't see fit to acknowledge the humanity of the Argentine soldiers.

Which is about right for anyone who supported Margaret Thatcher. I'm not going to celebrate her death, the way many Scottish writers have. But I am going to say that we need a clear-sighted retrospect. She destroyed manufacturing in the UK. She enriched herself and her cronies by selling off the public utilities. She was a friend of aparthied, and considered mass murderer, torturer, and embezzler Augusto Pinochet a personal friend. Possibly because she considered him a 'strong leader.'

We no longer need these strong leaders. We have had charismatic dictators for thousands of years, and most people would not want to live under their rule. What we need now are leaders with ideas. Leaders who welcome all rational points of view to the table, and don't get their own way all the time. Because democracy is not many people following a strong leader. It's the people making the decision for themselves, of their own free will, without coersion or expectation of reward, and making compromises because they respect their neighbors.