Column on (Mis)leadership

Leadership is a Pseudo Issue
Tibor R. Machan
Both pairs of current major candidates, Democrat and Republican, make much
noise about leadership. As if the point of national politics in a free
society were about who should lead the citizenry. Lead them where? For
what purpose? No mention is made of that. Somehow leadership is supposed
to be its own justification, a self-evidently desirable attribute in a
candidate. But that is a drastic misconception, an misunderstanding of the
job description of politicians in a genuine free society.
Yet this is easily seen to be a very bad mistake–never even mind that the
term "leader" is just what "Fuhrer" means in German, what Hitler was
supposed to be called by everyone! Yes, in the old regimes political
executives were supposed to leaders of sorts because countries were
assumed to be on the march to some goal, as if they were a corporation or
team or club. Yes, the Boy Scouts need leaders, as does General Motors and
the U. S. Olympic fencing team. There are all organizations with a
purpose, with a goal their members strive to attain and for which it is
useful to have leaders, guides, captains or such. And when a government is
conceived of along such lines, it makes sense to think a lot about getting
a good leader for it, someone who knows where the people–the subjects of
leadership–are supposed to be headed.
Free societies are different. Government, as John Locke and the American
Founders understood it, don’t exist so as to lead the citizenry anywhere.
Citizens have their own purposes, goals, directions in life. What they
need from government is protection from criminals and invaders, people who
would interfere with their pursuit of their own ends. As the Declaration
of Independence states so precisely, governments are instituted so as to
secure our rights. That doesn’t amount to leading citizens anywhere–not
even economic prosperity, nor cultural or scientific or artistic progress,
is something governments are supposed to pursue; it’s the task of citizens
to choose if they want to be solvent or serene or contemplative or
something else in their lives, with the government, the cop on the beat,
making sure no one gets in their way. Even when there are pressing issues,
such as medical emergencies, bad weather, whatever–these are problems the
citizenry is supposed to face on its own, by way of the innumerable
voluntary agencies they are free to establish.
Politics is something that comes from the ancient Greek understanding of
the value of organized human community life. But the point of organization
is not spelled out–it is a subject of much debate in political philosophy
or theory. What was so innovative, radically so, in the American idea of
politics is that government had been demoted from the role of leaders of
society to protectors, a professional group that’s supposed to take care
that their is peace in the country which then makes it possible for all
the citizens to pursue their own goals, to be their own leaders or to find
some specially skilled fellow citizens to lead them where they wanted to
go (so long as it was a peaceful pursuit).
In short, free men and women need no political leaders! John Locke
realized that what makes politics necessary is that there are violent
people among us who would intrude upon us, try to conscript us to their
purposes and prevent us from pursuing ours. To reduce this as much as
possible, governments may be established but only for this limited
purpose, not to be our saviors, not to lead us on various ventures the
candidates and their misguided supporters think up.
It is sad that among the major candidates, within the major political
parties, no one now understands politics in this properly limited way.
Instead they are all vying to be leaders, our Fuhrer! Sad indeed.

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