Leadership: The Fundamental Problem Bedeviling Us

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Leadership: The Fundamental Problem Bedeviling Us

by Manuel L. Quezon III

It seems the Filipino poor are Machiavellian. A startling observation, but let me explain. Last year, the Institute of Philippine Culture of the Ateneo de Manila University published an important book. The title of the book is, “The Vote of the Poor: Modernity and Tradition in People’s Views of Leadership and Elections.”

And in that book, there is much to tie the Filipinos of today to the ideas of a frustrated Republican Florentine writing in the Renaissance.

In his treatise, the Prince, Machiavelli, who has been used — and abused — by politicians and columnists alike, famously advised that leaders must “be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived…Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them…For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious.”

Conclusion No. 6 of the book “The Vote of the Poor,”, says the following: “Corruption is widely seen as making a bad leader. To be good, a leader must have the following attributes: (a) God-fearing, (b) helpful, (c) loyal, (d) responsible, (e) intelligent, (f) hardworking, (g) faithful to one’s word, (h) principled, and (i) trustworthy. Rural and female participants look for intelligence, while urban participants value religiosity. Older participants give priority to helpfulness, while youth and male groups emphasize a leader’s sense of responsibility. Participants tend to cast their sight on local officials for examples of good leaders and on national officials for examples of bad leaders.”

In other words, the observations made by Machiavelli of leaders and those they rule in Renaissance Italy are similar to what social scientists have discovered about our poor countrymen in 21st century poverty-stricken Philippines.

This parallel, incongruous as it might be, since Machiavelli was giving cynical advise to ruthless rulers, and the writers and researchers of today’s book are describing the realities of the values and thought processes of our marginalized sectors, points to an essential fact overlooked in the treatment of the poor in our political life. For the politician, the poor are an amorphous mass to be pandered to in rhetorical terms, but to be exploited in marketing, that is, vote-getting, terms.

The industrial aspect to political exploitation of the past — treating the poor as forces to be marshaled by subordinates in order to deliver votes to their superiors, has been replaced by a mass-marketing based attitude that is even more alienating and I submit, even more exploitative than in the past. Those who have read studies of the origins of agrarian revolt in the 20th century will recall that one cause was the inability of a more modern attitude toward agricultural production to supplant the former ties that bound peasants to their landlords.

Feudalism in its earlier manifestations emphasized, at its best, at least, mutual dependence and obligations between the landed and the landless; when replaced with a system based purely on finding the most efficient means to extract wealth from those tilling the land, revolution and rebellion was the result.

In my writings, in examining the behavior of the electorate, I have always maintained that regardless of how illogical or offensive the results of electoral exercises may be, if the exercises are conducted in an atmosphere of transparency and as little manipulation of the results as possible, then those results can be understood, and should be understood. By this I mean that there is an inherent logic to the voting behavior of our countrymen, the majority of whom happen to be poor.

The problem, for pundits, reporters, and political analysts, is that the inner logic of voters, as demonstrated by their voting behavior, can lead to some very uncomfortable conclusions. The most uncomfortable conclusion, at least for many in our political class, is that the voting poor have a pretty clear idea of what they want, and that what they want, at least when voting on a national basis, isn’t what the traditional political class has offered or can provide.

The corollary to this is that there is an emerging new political class, whose success is based on a more relevant, or at least, accessible ability to communicate, but their ability to deliver on what they can communicate ends, where their lack of training or aptitude for the nuts and bolts of a political system crafted by the old political class begins.

In the eighth conclusion of the book “The Vote of the Poor”, the following has been written: a “leader’s legitimacy is widely seen as emanating from the people, specifically, in the exercise of the constitutional right to vote. But the youth stress that an elected official must be followed to be truly legitimate. A leader can lose legitimacy in two senses. First, acts of corruption, illegal activities, misdeeds, or undesirable traits make the people lose their confidence in, loyalty to, and affection for a leader, regardless of whether or not the leader is removed from office. Second, such events as ‘impeachment,’ ‘expiration of term,’ and ‘people power’ result in the leader’s loss of legitimacy.”

I have dedicated myself to studying leadership, both past and present in our country, and the fundamental problem bedeviling us today, which is: how leadership has been virtually impossible to maintain, extremely difficult to keep, almost guaranteed to be lost, and yet always replaced with hopes for a kind of restoration of leadership in a traditional mold. Reestablishing — for those who believe, as I do, that this connection once existed — or establishing — for those who assert that there has always been a glaring lack of connection between leaders and the led — is the fundamental political challenge facing us today.

The solution, whatever it may be, begins with understanding the majority. I believe there remains more that can unite the poor with those who are not poor, than the things that currently divide them. This book offers that hope; for to read is to see that, unlike so instinctively felt by the wealthy, the influential, and even the learned, the poor are not the threat.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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