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A Leader’s Choice

To find a way forward, we must first know where we are.

Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it.  What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralized society, which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic.  The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats, and soldiers lumped together by Burnham under the name of ‘managers’.  These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands.  Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established.  The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America.

~George Orwell in his essay Second Thoughts on James Burnham (1946)

If you are a leader – a parent, a teacher, a business owner, a member of one of the professions, or an independently-minded politician – you have a choice.  The world as we know it is collapsing, and things we have taken for granted for so long – things like freedom of conscience, speech, and association, law and order, justice, civic responsibility, and the possibility, at least, of human flourishing – are being swept away.

Only leadership, in the true sense of the term, will be able to restore them and the civilised socio-political, economic, and cultural life that too many people naively presumed was a given, having forgotten the long centuries of struggle and sacrifice that brought it into being.

The vast majority of people in the West today have for most of their lives believed the Liberal order in western society to be the natural state of affairs. In reality, it actually grew out of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, developed through the 19th century, and overcame its ideological rivals, Nazism and Marxism, in the 20th century, leading to what many believed was the End of History.  Even the Chinese Communist Party adopted capitalist practices, encouraging a belief that Liberal Democracy was ushering in a golden age of global peace and prosperity.

That obviously never happened.  The bloody atrocities and upheavals of the 1990s and early 2000s, religious fanaticism and global terrorism, corporate malfeasance, and the great financial crisis of 2008, with their accompanying economic consequences, all resulted in severe socio-political crises across the western world in the 2010s.  An increasingly hostile confrontation between a panic-stricken establishment elite that straddles centrist parties of Left and Right, and populist protest movements, also of both Left and Right, revealed the revolutionary character of this perilous moment in history.  Whatever your socio-political beliefs, Brexit, Trump, the Yellow Vests, Hungary, Poland, and Austria, the pandemic, and the lockdowns, were earthquakes.  And the aftershocks continue.

However, the choice you must make is not confined to those two contenders, the establishment elites and the populists.  If it were, you would be taking a Liberal option whatever side you embraced, and Liberalism is in fact the problem, the very worldview that is in crisis.  Democrat or Republican, Tory or Labour, Libertarian or Statist, Left or Right, Socialist or Capitalist, Marxist or Fascist – all are socio-political dispensations that grew out of the Liberal worldview of Modernity.

Liberalism is much more than a political program for constitutional government and the protection of rights.  It is a worldview that aims to radically transform humanity and the world.  The defining ideas of this worldview are the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, free to choose how he or she will live, and the notion that nature is there to be manipulated and exploited for the gratification of human beings.

These ideas underpin Liberalism’s understanding of liberty as the uninhibited pursuit of self-gratification, unencumbered by family, community, history, and culture.  And, of course, individuals exercising such freedom have to enter into a ‘social contract’ with an all-powerful state to keep the peace and protect the rights of all the competing self-seeking individuals.

Liberalism rejected the classical understanding of liberty as a freedom for excellence, the reasoned capacity to control carnal urges like greed, lust, anger, envy, sloth, and selfishness, and to choose the life of virtue for the greater good of the community, as well as for personal fulfilment as a rational, relational animal.  Classical philosophers and Judaeo-Christian culture recognised that self-governing individuals make self-governing communities possible.

Ironically, the more extensive selfish individual autonomy becomes, the more pervasive and intrusive state control must become.

The pre-modern forms of social expectation and obligation – family, religion, tradition, and community standards – were informal and cultural as opposed to the legislated political control required when society is reduced to just one permanent relationship, that between the autonomous individual and the controlling state.  And as individuals become increasingly libertine, so the call for the state to sweep away all forms of moral constraint grows more aggressive.

So gratitude for the benefits of civilised community gave way to the selfish quest for instant gratification, which inevitably undermines all relationships.  The wisdom and experience of a culture passed from generation to generation over the centuries, is replaced by a non-culture enslaved by nihilism, narcissism, hedonism, and consumerism, in which the only imperative is self-gratification.  Supine, spiteful, and silly, no wonder it is in a state of advanced decrepitude.

In most state schools, standards of conduct, honesty, community spirit, and basic manners are alien.  Cheating, bullying, and manipulative behaviour are commonplace, and the promiscuous hook-up social scene breeds resentment, anger, alienation, self-loathing, loneliness, and confusion in young people searching for meaning and positive identity.  The ideals of marriage, family, and nation are mocked, as the narcissistic autonomous individual gives free rein to his or her carnal urges, stifling any possibility of psychological maturity and mutually-rewarding relationships.

Obviously, the unrestrained cravings of animal nature in the autonomous individual necessitates ever-increasing economic growth, which in turn requires the relentless consumption that has done such unconscionable harm to the environment.  Liberal society, in any of its forms, cannot survive the sustained reduction of economic growth, and the crises of the past two decades help explain why so many influential voices in the establishment elite are now flirting with the Chinese model of state capitalism or bare-faced totalitarianism.

Note how the Liberal ideal of the self-sufficient, autonomous individual is entirely at odds with the Christian imperatives to love God and neighbour, and to be compassionate, forgiving, kind, patient, and merciful, with particular reference to the poor, the needy, the sick, and sinners.  No wonder the assault on Christianity has characterised all the ideologies of Modernity.

And so we have this intense fear and anger in a society conditioned for presumption and despair.  The establishment elite presumes its status is based on merit and natural superiority over the masses but despairs about the growing resistance and the current socio-economic uncertainty; the populists presume that they too are entitled to a life of ease, pleasure, and material gratification, but despair over financial hardship, social dysfunction, and the lack of a political voice.  Moreover, the growing disparity between rich and poor is there for all to see.

So we are misled to believe that, for all the different political programs on Left and Right, the choice now seems to boil down to that between a post-liberal oligarchy that could easily become more cold-bloodedly ruthless than the Nazis or the Communists, and the disorganised populism with its extremist elements of Left and Right that threaten to usher in an anarchist dystopia.

But that is no choice at all, but simply the alternatives of the frying pan or the fire.  So what is the real choice we have to make?  It is between ideology and truth.

The Liberal ideology, like Nazism and Marxism, now lies exposed in its failure to promote human flourishing.  What it promotes is human degradation – broken lives, broken families, broken communities, drug addiction, promiscuity, pornography, sex trafficking, mental disorder, poverty, ignorance, unemployment, violence, crime-ridden streets, and a glut of mindless distraction.

And the so-called self-sufficient, autonomous individual is left alienated, lonely, fearful, despairing, and more often than not, mentally unstable.  Human potential wasted in epic proportions.

Andre van Heerden
Andre van Heerdenhttp://www.powerofintegrity.com/
ANDRE heads the corporate leadership program The Power of Integrity, and is the author of three books on leadership, Leaders and Misleaders, An Educational Bridge for Leaders, and Leading Like You Mean It. He has unique qualifications for addressing the leadership crisis. Since studying law at Rhodes University, he has been a history teacher, a deputy headmaster, a soldier, a refugee, an advertising writer, a creative director, an account director on multinational brands, a marketing consultant, and a leadership educator. He has worked in all business categories on blue-chip brands like Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, Canon, American Express, S C Johnson, Kimberley Clark, and John Deere, while leadership coaching has seen him help leaders and aspirant leaders in Real Estate, Retail, the Science Sector, Local Government, Education, Food Safety, Banking, and many other areas.

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