Friday, April 30, 2010

Considering Totalitarian Leadership

thedistanceiskillingme ( has left a new comment on your post "Seeking truth -- responsibility and ambition":

To Lawrence,
It appears that you have taken my words differently to how I was hoping they were interpreted. (I firstly am speaking completely informally from a personal view, which leaves me terribly vulnerable to judgment) But I am in uniform with you (as much as you would appear to despise) I agree. People follow these "great leaders" far too blindly and with ignorance to a more open view of their direct world.
On the other-hand though, I (and again stressing "I") believe that people such as Chomsky are important people to 'use' as a basis of not so much leftist based thought but even links to people such as Apollinaire or at least bottom line more thought in general! haha It may be my current surroundings or perhaps its my nurturing that has led me to believe that the human race is doomed, unless a "great leader" comes along with totalitarianism approach, so humans can see the world as instead of "what can I buy that will make me happy" but more so "what can I do to make others happy."
My desire for truth is only equivalent to the time I have to acquire it. Some things seem too far out of my reach as an individual, hence why I research into the dealings of others (that may not have the same view, but just one snipit can help me understand more) that you classify as "the great leaders."
And your last statement of what YOU want the average human to do, but won't. So cynical, depressive statements like these is why, (I'm a hypocrite! because I am also just as cynical, but for the purpose of this train of thought, bare with me :) the average human does not want to learn, amongst the age of consumerism vs. laziness.
Times will change soon, people will be forced to learn.
Kind Regards Chris

RESPONSE:   Chris, I'm glad you are continuing the discussion.   I was using the term "Great Leader" to include both leaders of Totalitarian regimes like Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein and popular leaders in a democracy like Chomsky and Limbaugh.  Let's set aside the latter and consider the sort of leader that might form a totalitarian government.  If you are saying totalitarianism, led by such a leader would be a desirable thing in the West, I must disagree with you.  Such a leader would in rebellion against all that has gone before.  We can agree that there is much that could be improved upon but what we live in today, what we in the West call "Liberal Democracy" is the product of centuries and thousands of leaders and political thinkers.  What does a Totalitarian leader have to counter this?  Just his charismatic personality.  I know there are many who want to follow a charismatic leader but I am not one of them. 
            Perhaps I'll be telling you something you already know when I refer to the experiment years ago with howler monkeys.  Scientists built catwalks on an island so they could observe but not interfere with these monkeys.  One of the things they did was to assign each monkey a "dominance factor" based on who got to decide when to go to the water hole, to lead in a foray against a neighboring tribe of monkeys, etc.  And then they observed one tribe of monkeys that behaved uncharacteristically.  It was able to go any place on the island.  After some time they were able to determine that one of the monkeys had a dominance factor that was far higher than any of the other monkeys.  I can't recall what it was precisely but say that a typical monkey leader had a dominance factor of ten to one.  This "great leader" howler monkey had a dominance factor that was much higher -- say a hundred to one.  No other monkey would challenge him; so he could lead his tribe wherever he wanted to on the island.
            Let us assume now that humans are similar.  Thomas Carlyle, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger all thought that they were.  They didn't use the term "dominance factor," but they had a clear notion of what a "great leader" ought to be in terms of charismatic leadership.  But a modern leader is not simply choosing to go to a water hole or travel wherever he wants in the world.  He must manage a sophisticated nation and lead his nation in war and peace against or in cooperation with other nations.  How much is charisma going to help him do that?  It might help him convince others to do things his way, but is "his way" going to be better than anyone else's?  Charisma can be considered in terms of a dominance factor, but dominance factors do not guarantee competence.  In today's world a leader might have a very high dominance factor but he may be no smarter or competent than several others in his nation.  Maybe he can through force of will cause these others to follow him, but should he?   
            There are two major modern theories about the state of the world.  The first was created by Francis Fukuyama.  In 1992 he wrote The End of History and the Last Man.  He theorized that the Totalitarian systems, Fascism and Communism, had been defeated by Liberal Democracy and there were no other systems left in the world that could compete with Liberal Democracy.  He thought Liberal Democracy was destined to be the predominate form of government and society in the world.  But he was aware of Nietzsche's "last man," the "ordinary man' we have been discussing.  Fukuyama was tolerant of him but a "great leader" might not be.  If he has a dominance factor of 100 to 1 and only the "ordinary man" to contend with, the fact that the Liberal Democracy was running smoothly might not deter him from engaging in a Totalitarian adventure.
            The other theory was formed by Samuel P. Huntington.  In 1996 he wrote The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  He didn't foresee Liberal Democracy sweeping the world.  He saw ongoing clashes amongst the "civilizations," and here he uses the common sociological definitions of "civilizations."  A Totalitarian Leader might very well rise in the Islamic or African Civilizations, for example.  The pervasiveness of Liberal Democracy in the Western Civilization would make another Totalitarian Leader like Hitler arising there more problematic.  But if Huntington rather than Fukuyama is correct -- and you don't live in the West, you might very well be ruled by at some future time by another Totalitarian Leader. 

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