There is a particular delight that comes from encountering a thinker whose ideas happen to echo your own: particularly when the thinker is an authority in his field. This happened to me in the wake of my Old Philippines and New Philippines, which appeared roundabout the time Randy David began discussing his idea that what the country was experiencing was a prolonged crisis of modernity. Although I don’t know if he’d take it as far as I have, in wondering if it isn’t part of a regional phenomenon. See Malaysia’s Prague Spring? in Asean Focus Group Asian Analysis:
In both these rallies, the key ingredient for their success in mobilising a large number of people was technology – SMS and the internet. SMS and the internet were used extensively to mobilise the people and provide an alternative viewpoint to officialdom. It allowed the organisers to effectively bypass the mainstream media and connect with the individual who are unhappy with the government and its policies.
Far more disturbing are credible reports by members of the Bar Council that police have used excessive force in both rallies. Eyewitness suggests that if the rallies were allowed, it would have been peaceful. The actions of the police reinforced the popular view that the police, like other institutions of the state, is not neutral. They appear to be serving the people in power.
Anyway, David further fleshes out his views in his Saturday column, The quest for the new:
Our expanded and multi-layered encounters with the outside world have made our society extremely porous and vulnerable. We experience this not only in the wide array of consumer goods and services available to us, but also in the sheer novelty and range of information that shapes our impressions of the world and our notions of the possible life. Our value systems are dramatically shifting, and we are often shocked by what we can now accept as permissible. This process is very unsettling, but we Filipinos adjust very quickly, often surprising ourselves by our uncommon resilience. The accumulation of these little adjustments produces a sea change in the internal structures of our society, as well as in our expectations of how we should conduct ourselves as a nation.
We realize that we can no longer follow those thoughtless ways we associate with the negative side of our culture without exposing ourselves to the dangers of societal dissolution and chaos. This lies at the core of our political crisis. In the beginning, the quest for reform takes the form of a call for a return to basic values. Thus we desperately scan the horizon for trustworthy individuals who embody them. Then we realize that these values themselves have become so general and so far removed from concrete situations that, even as they retain their rhetorical function, they provide little useful guidance on how to solve the moral puzzles of everyday life.
This is where we are today. We find ourselves grappling with the enormous complexity not only of the world but of ourselves as a society. The old practical rationalities and moral maxims embedded in our culture no longer work for us. Every attempt we make to patch up a little hole in one institution only seems to produce larger holes in another. We are torn between the call for moral revolution and the call for social revolution, and yet, strangely, whether we opt for one or the other, we fall back on the search for trustworthy leaders.
I tried to express similar but not identical thoughts when I observed that the “old obediences” are disappearing.
With the ideas I’ve been proposing and David’s authoritative analysis, something struck me when I was re-reading a book I happen to like very much: “The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power” (Garry Wills) (part of a genre, if you can call it that, I have a weakness for, which are meditations on power).
In it, Wills begins by referring to the father of modern Sociology, Max Weber (hence the link to Sociologist David, who quotes Weber a lot) and says,
Weber distinguished three kinds of authority -traditional, relying on the inertia of sacred custom; legal, based on contractual ties; and charismatic, based on the special gifts of a single ruler. Charismatic leadership is transitory -the “grace” is attached to one person, who must constantly revalidate it in action… It serves, amid the collapse of order or old ways, to bind together a new effort -the embodiment of a cause in George Washington or Mao Zedong. The founders of states, or of religious orders (a favorite Weber illustration) have to exert personal authority, since they have no preexisting majesty or office or sanction of law to draw upon…
He then begins to delve into comparing and contrasting the charismatic leaders who fostered institutions and those who viewed institutions as the enemy; and the ultimate dangers of those who view leadership in charismatic terms; this includes the corrosive effect charismatic leaders could have on successors who aspired to demonstrate similar characteristics of leadership:
[T]he last President who had been charismatic in Weber’s sense [was] Franklin D. Roosevelt, [who was] given special powers to deal with the crisis of the Depression, [and] who broke free of tradition, defied the two-term rule, took on himself the sacred mantle of war leader, and made policy by sheer personal fiat…
And so, Weber’s exploration of charismatic leadership as articulated by his intellectual biographer:
In Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, Bendix articulates the different aspects of charismatic authority.
1. Charismatic leadership is “the product of crisis and enthusiasm”, it has an “emergency character.” The pressure of danger makes followers look to the single hero who is fearless and can save them…Sorensen admits that Kennedy was just trying to lend urgency to the Berlin crisis: “The President’s aim was to bestir a still slumbering public; and he succeded beyond his own expectations and desire.”… Kennedy meant to frighten people a little so they would flock toward him. Since the charismatic leader’s special powers grow from special dangers, the two feed on each other. For some crises to be overcome, they must first be created.
2. “The charismatic leader is always a radical who challenges established practice by going to ‘the root of the matter.’ He dominates men by virtue of qualities inaccessible to others and incompatible with the rules of thought and action that govern everyday life.”… Insofar as the charismatic leader asserts an entirely personal authority, he delegitimates the traditional and legal authorities…
Charismatic authority is constructive only when it builds order from chaos. When it tries to supersede continuing forms of authority, it destabilizes despite itself. The more insistent became Kennedy’s personal call to follow him, the less compelling was any order than did not issue directly from him. The nontransferability of such personal authority was evident in the refusal of many Kennedy followers to treat President Johnson as fully legitimate. Johnson’s authority came from procedures and legal precedent, not from the personal charisma of his predecessor.
3. Charismatic leadership works throigh “a loose organizational structure.”… When authority flows from a person, that authority cannot be delegated. The magic touch must be bestowed by the ruler himself. He must go out among the people, lead the action. Everything must be referred to him, decided by him, must bear his mark, embody his style. He must be in constant touch with everything that goes on… And when he cannot act personally, he must do so through a personal emissary created ad hoc, not through official, impersonal machinery.
4. Thus, though the organizational structure of charismatic leadership is loose, it calls up “disciples, chosen for their qualifications, who constitute a charismatic aristocracy within the wider group of followers.” The power of these aristocrats does not come from their office but from their proximity to the person of the ruler. Members of his family are especially valued carriers of the charisma… In order to speak for the “graced” ruler one must, in some measure, be the ruler, be merged in his auriole…
5. In economic as in other ways, charismatic leadership does not rest on settled modes, but prefers “risky financial transactions… Such economic activities are worlds apart from the methodical management of a large-scale corporation, in which success depends upon professional competence and in everyday steadiness in the conduct of affairs that is incompatible with the indispensability of any individual and the sporadic character of very risky transactions.”…
Wills goes on to return to Roosevelt as a charismatic leader who built institutions, but who then inspired a desire to dismantle those institutions among his succesors:
Theorists of “deadlock” in the Eisenhower fifties felt that the lethargy of the public, the obstructionism of Congress, the external menace of communism made it imperative for a President to seize every margin of power available to him: he was facing so many hostile power centers that only the glad embrace of every opportunity could promise him success. No internal check upon one’s appetite for power was needed; the external checks were sufficient -were overwhelming, in fact, unless the President became single-minded in his pursuit of power. But Roosevelt did not have this ambition of seizing power to be used against his own government. He sought power for the government,and set up the very agencies and departments that Neustadt and his followers resented. He created subordinate power centers, lending them his own authority. He began that process of “routinizing” crisis powers that is the long-range meaning of the New Deal…
According to Wills (referring to Weber), creative destruction, the essence of charismatic leadership, must inevitably give way to something more predictable, more permanent: one possibility being, the triumph of the bureaucracy.
For Max Weber, charismatic power must always yield in time, either gracefully or by violence, to the everyday order of kingship (traditional rule) or contractual “modern” government (legal rule). And if the course taken is toward legal rule, then it will tend, of necessity, toward bureaucracy, toward patterns of accountability, predictability, oversight, and record-keeping. By contrast with a swift and arbitrary charismatic rule, this kind of government will seem to many “inefficient.” In the same way, due process in criminal law is slower than arbitrary justice. But, outside crisis circumstances, the arbitrary soon becomes indefensible. Everyday conditions call for a regularization of procedures. Reinhard Bendix breaks down Weber’s concept of bureaucracy into five main notes.
1. Continuity. Crisis-oriented government assembles itself for the moment; and, between crises, tends to dissolve. Its actions are sporadic, ad hoc, response to immediate challenge, following the leader’s “inspiration.” A bureaucracy, by contrast, assembles itself, nine to five, every working day. Its normal arena is the normal; it resists crisis-mobilization. This is a fatal reduction if, in fact, apocalypse is just around the corner. But the opposite error is to inflate every apparent crisis into the apocalypse, to think the continuing mandate of government is, as Kennedy said in his inauguration, “the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.”…
2. Regularity. The charismatic leader is not bound by precedent, informed by meetings, submissive to advisers. But the bureaucracy works on lines set by “what we have always done.” This blunts initiative, though it lets people know, whenever they enter a program, what lies down the road for them in future years. New Deal programs like Social Security gave much of the population an “entitlement” over society’s future resources, and that limits the society’s freedom to maneuver. The government is tied down by long-term commitments, which check the hand of those who want to refashion government from administration to administration. But the same bonds free the “entitled” from uncertainty about what is owed them… The truly “big government” spending is on entitled programs, passed by Congress, that are hard for Presidents to cancel or curtail… A society becomes unwieldy to the extent that it lays itself open to lasting claims from its subjects. In that sense, “big government” is not despotic, not Big Brother free to do what it likes with the populace. It is not “innovative” to the extent that it has ceased to be arbitrary. Mere size does not make for “inefficiency.” Accountability does.
3. Delegation of authority. Bureaucracy sets up many loci of authority relatively impervious to a single superintendent will. In a bureaucratic order, large government is by definition not centralized government. Thus when Kennedy sent his managers out to tame the bureaucracy, they often found the only way to assert their will was to create new programs responsive to new needs, programs that were superimposed on the old, and became a further obstruction to Kennedy’s successors…
4. Separation of office from the person of its holder. The charismatic ruler must act directly on all parts of his government -or act, at the least, through surrogates who have a close personal tie with him. In a bureaucracy, by contrast, job security is defined irrespective of the particular jobholders. This involves a loss of the personal touch, a loss regretted, for instance, in the contrast between bureaucratic social services and the ministration of personal “bosses” in the city machines. But this loss is balanced by a freedom from whimsical directives not subject to appeal. A bureaucracy carries to its logical extreme the principle of “a government of laws and not of men.” It would reduce even the highest officeholder to powers granted all Presidents. Its emphasis lies on the title: President Kennedy, not President Kennedy. The Neustadt school maintained that the presidency is only what each President makes it, that the office is defined by the man, not vice versa. This has led to the intense personalization of the institution. We talk of the Kennedy years, the Johnson era, the Nixon regime in a way that people did not think of the Coolidge era or the Wilson years. This personalization creates charismatic expectations in noncharismatic times. to be followed by inevitable disappointment.
5. Documentary record. the bureaucracy, in the accusatory phrase, “shuffles paper.” It leaves an inky trail. Bureaucrats, according to their critics, build a record “to protect their ass.” If they do not act with greater resourcefulness, it was because a regulation (proper number supplied here) did not admit personal initiative. This aspect of bureaucracy especially galls those who see attractive shortcuts toward an immediate goal. The awareness of always acting “on the record” limits the bargains that can be struck, the informal arrangements that breaks logjams…
He then returns to comparing and contrasting Roosevelt with his successors:
Both Kennedy and Reagan, from their different vantage points, won applause with their attacks on government obstructionism and bureaucracy. Both were praised as raiders against big and unresponsive governmental structures. There is a nostalgic streak in American history that makes its citizens want to run a large empire on the values of a small town. Even as its citizens ask for security, in the sense of guaranteed status, they hymn unconfined opportunity. The market myth makes us think that spontaneity will sort out things according to their merits, without the need for planning and regulation… Kennedy’s ideal was the raider style style of his freewheeling father’s rise. For Reagan, it is the corporate talk of opportunity within the confines of “big business.” This lends a different tone and style to the Kennedy Democrats and Reagan Republicans; but this should not hide from us how they both betray the hero they appeal to. They delegitimize government in different ways -but each way is far removed from Roosevelt’s gift for legitimating government by routinizing charisma.
The portions I’ve quoted at length point to a debate going on since the 1950s here, too, on whether we continue to have old-fashioned notions of leadership incompatible with the needs of the modern era. I can’t remember right now where I wrote about it before, but I think I’ve pointed out that we have expectations of the presidency, for example, that date back to when the institution was tasked with the fate of 16 million Filipinos when such expectations are neither reasonable nor practicable in a country with 90 million people and a tenth of them outside the country. The debate about bureaucracy has also been framed as liberalism versus progressivism; see BlueOregon on the question of entitlements, for example.
In another portion, Wills reflects on another aspect of power:
It is not mystical or perverse to say that good luck is bad luck; Machievelli offered that as the very essence of his realism. Arguing that fortuna could undo even the man of greatest virtuosity (virtu), he gave Valentino (Cesare Borgia) as his example. Valentino was the type of virtu at its highest reach, a model for all who want, at once, “immunity from foes and attractiveness to friends, victory by force or stratagem, the love and fear of one’s people, the obedience and respect of one’s soldiers, the destruction of those who can or might oppose one, innovative measures within an ancient system, harshness joined with charm, the disbanding of old armies to reassemble better ones, the perpetuation of friendly relations with other kings or princes, so that they welcome alliances and shy from opposition.”
That sounds like a description of the Neustadt President, of the Roosevelt whom Burns called lion and fox. Such a range of skills, joined with favoring chance, would seem unbeatable. But Machiavelli lists all these skills to emphasize the fact that good luck made Valentino fail -it made his virtu the means of his undoing. Introduced to a spacious area of action by his papal father, Valentino both commanded and enlarged that sphere -in fact, enlarged it in order to command it. Only his skills could keep so many opponents off balance, and he could do that only by introducing so many new aspects to the game that his opponents were befuddled. Only by reaching for three other things could he grasp the first thing given him. But because everything depended on his superintending intelligence and will, any lapse in either of those qualities would bring the whole enterprise crashing down around him. The attempt at total control led to total collapse if one thing went wrong -in Valentino’s case, an illness that immobilized him at a crucial moment. For this kind of juggler, so deftly keeping dozens of balls in the air, if one drops they all fall. Luck worked his destruction by giving him so many in the first place.
…And no President can aspire to the everyday powers of a Renaissance prince (though the modern powers of destruction far outreach anything dreamed of in the Renaissance)….
Wills then describes Walter Rostow’s observations concerning Kennedy’s limitations as commander-in-chief, as shown during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy, Rostow said, had a “small unit commander’s attitude toward these people” and Wills says Rostow was “chagrined” that Kennedy “really didn’t have a very good visual picture of the whole thing.” At which point, Wills resumes,
The student of Neustadt [that is, Kennedy himself] had come to acquire power, not question it; to enjoy it, not fear it. The possibility that the very reach for power might, with luck, take one into a situation beyond the measure of one’s skill would not occur to a reader of Neustadt’s book. James Reston rather fatuously called [Neustadt’s] book America’s version of The Prince. But Machiavelli warns against the mindless reach for power -the victory that drains one’s resources, the conquered people that are more dangerous under one’s dominion than outside it, the mercenaries added to one’s troops while crippling them, the added fortresses that delude a ruler with a sense of false security. For him fortune was a tricky friend when not a beguiling enemy -better held at arm’s length in either case. When dealing with subject of power he did not say, “Enjoy! Enjoy!” but “Suspect! Suspect!” These are the real lessons to be learned from Machiavelli…
And on a more polemical note, a recent video editorial from good old Obermann: