Are You Part Of The Leadership Crisis?

“We cannot look back with much pleasure on our foreign policy in the last five years. They certainly have been disastrous years. God forbid that I should lay on the government of my own country the charge of responsibility for the evils which have come upon the world in that period…But certainly we have seen the most depressing and alarming change in the outlook of mankind which has ever taken place in so short a period.”

–Winston Churchill, March 1936

When Churchill looked with dismay at the descent of the civilised world into the nightmare of tyranny that culminated in wholesale war, the Holocaust, and Hiroshima, he had good reason to regard that horrific crisis of western civilisation as some sort of final reckoning. But, of course, it was not. For when the guns fell silent in 1945, the war of ideas was far from over, and “the most depressing and alarming change in the outlook of mankind” still had many bewildering twists and turns to take.

Churchill’s predecessors had tried to negotiate with the Nazis, and their efforts had only emboldened the aggression. Was war inevitable given the incapacity of the two sides to communicate effectively as a result of the intellectual and moral chasm that divided them? The question is of more than mere academic interest, because in our world today we have equally impassable barriers to communication creating increasingly violent tensions.

Can the western democracies dialogue with Islamic extremists? Can Democrats and Republicans debate without demonising one another? Can capitalism and socialism find common ground for the good of humanity? Can technocrats come to terms with environmentalists? Can consumerism have a meaningful discussion with humanism? Can pro-life and pro-choice groups discuss their differences rationally? Can management and employees reach a consensus that would recognise the interdependence of the community and business?

And what happens to leadership when communication becomes impossible across all these toxic socio-political and cultural divides? If leadership is inspiring people to be the best they can be in working together for the good of all, then an inability to communicate must inevitably be fatal for leadership. And any person in a position of leadership who contributes to the collapse of communication is obviously an active participant in the leadership crisis.

The globalised world enables people from different races, cultures, and creeds to engage in schools, workplaces, communities, and in international political and economic interfaces. This presupposes the ability of people from different backgrounds to communicate effectively, and the assumption seems reasonable enough, given our common human nature. Yet mutual miscomprehension is ubiquitous.

How on earth has this happened in our interconnected high-tech world? In short, technology and information are not enough for effective communication. They cannot compensate for the suppression of truth, a lack of empathy and understanding, the erosion of trust, and the demise of good will. These are the elements of the ideological mindsets impeding rational communication in our world.

Ideological thinking, as exemplified in the prejudice and bigotry that repress rational thought today, grows out of the rejection of the reality of objective truth, and the consequent belief that we are all free to make our own truth. An ideology is a fictitious reality that excludes all knowledge that doesn’t support its claims. It is an attempt to justify might over right. So the cultural silos we know as ideologies, the pseudo-rational manifestos of power and self-justification, like laissez-faire liberalism, socialism, neo-fascism, neo-Marxism, libertarianism, technocracy, consumerism, racism, scientism, and the currently dominant model of globalisation, all arise from a widely held worldview, a metaphysical stance with no scientific grounding, that says that there is no such thing as truth, other than the reality we create for ourselves.

This self-serving mechanistic worldview emerged in the late Middle Ages from the rejection of the classical worldview that saw meaning and purpose in the world, based on the fixed natures of things like potatoes, pigs, and planets. William of Ockham and other nominalist philosophers said that no such natures really existed, and that terms like potatoes, pigs, planets – and human beings – were mere names we use for convenience. So nominalism denied the reality of everything that transcends sense experience, in effect, the very things that make us human: the intellect and the products of abstract reasoning, concepts, propositions, and numbers.

This left western civilisation facing a crucial question: Is there a source of truth that transcends the human mind? The answer one gives to that question determines one’s worldview. An affirmative answer embraces the classical worldview of inherent meaning and purpose in the world, and the reality of objective truth. A negative response, on the other hand, supports the nominalist position that says the only meaning, purpose, and truth in the world is that which humans make for themselves. Modern philosophy, by and large, took the second option.

The development of the mechanistic worldview since the nominalist revolution has been very well documented in books like Sources of the Self by the philosopher Charles Taylor, Passage to Modernity by the French scholar Louis Dupre, and The Unintended Reformation by Professor Brad Gregory. Scepticism, idealism, materialism, utilitarianism, nihilism, positivism, and existentialism, were just some of the blind alleys along the way as modern philosophy tried to escape the reality of objective truth knowable by rational minds.

Out of the morass of modern philosophy, ideologies were bound to arise. And they did: Jacobinism, anarchism, socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, and all the shrieking fanaticisms that have banished rational debate from every corner of our communal lives.

The loss of commitment to rational enquiry and discourse signalled the demise of Western culture. Today, the trained but uneducated people of the western democracies look with dismay on the breakdown of democracy, the erosion of the rule of law, the re-emergence of slavery, the tsunami of social dysfunction, and the ravages of power and greed in politics and business. Yet these were all predicted in the first half of the 20th century by prescient observers like Belloc, Romano, Simone Weil, Orwell, Huxley, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and many others, from all sides of the political spectrum.

In his 1981 book, Six Great Ideas, Mortimer Adler provided a brilliant exposition of the meaning of truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality, and justice. Today, his rational analysis of the concepts would be alien to most people, because the meanings have all been corrupted by ideology. Truth is now relative or unknowable; goodness is a matter of personal choice; beauty is entirely subjective; liberty is the anarchic freedom of the individual; equality is no longer about human dignity and the rule of law, but about social engineering and control; and justice rests on power rather than truth.



Andre van Heerden
Andre van Heerden
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. Subscribe to my Substack HERE.

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  1. Do not know where to start. But ket me mention to mr. heerden that his first quote of Churchill camouflaged his criminal act the samevyear when he ordered to drop chemical poison on the kurd villigers in the north of Iraq.

    Second, with all the nice words he cited to re-concile differences, his first example was “islamic extremism” this is how he looks to islam and muslims through the “extremism” lense. How we can reconcile then? if he himself distorts and contradicts his own statements. It is a hopeles case!

    Ps. Check the WWII history and who instigated it! Churchill !!!

    • Nazar, you take offence where there is none intended. But let me respond to your concerns. Quoting a historical figure, or even a contemporary, in no way implies solidarity with all their ideas and actions, but I’m afraid it is you who needs to check your history – you appear to have been reading postmodern propaganda. And that brings me to your accusing me of being anti-Islam (and you really should capitalise Muslim): when I refer to Islamic extremism, I am clearly making a distinction between peaceful Muslims (who I believe to be the vast majority) and those who choose Jihad and terrorism. If I had not referred specifically to the extremists, then your charge would have had a leg to stand on. And for the record, I had the pleasure of teaching many Muslims students some years back, and I found all of them to be young people of excellent character. Moreover, I have never had anything but admiration for the many Muslims who have participated and excelled on my leadership program.

    • Thank you for your response. I may have not authenticated (referenced) the claims about churchill, but i believe it were true.
      On the other hand, the word “extremism” or “terrorism” is a wide brush that is been used to paint all Muslim’s reactions to events that inflicted upon them by powers which has the ability to distort realities. My hometown, Mosul, is still under the rubbles (with bodies of women and children still unburried) of the western supported onslaught. This reminds me of the bombing of Dusseldorf after the end of WWII.

      My point, respectfully, is that you mimic the same script or narrative perpetrated by the mega media.

      Ps. I share with you the interest on leadership; i have few juxtaposed ideas about the practice of leadership.

    • Thank you Nazar. I weep for you and your home town, as I do for the whole of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and the other lands being torn apart by war. I am not anti-Islam, but I am strenuously anti-terrorism, and nothing I have written indicates anything different. But, as a matter of interest, do you think Saddam Hussein should have been left in power? Do you think Assad should remain in power? I come from a land that doesn’t exist anymore, and a similar type of dictator has brought only terror and bankruptcy where there was once prosperity and at least the hope of a better life for all. I too have been a refugee, albeit not on the scale of those suffering now in the Middle East and many other forgotten regions of the world. And fo the record, I am extremely critical of all western governments for both their domestic and foreign policies, and worry even more about the tyrannies that currently threaten to replace them.

  2. Having certainties allows us to be more solid and to feel able to judge others. Taking note that this is not so involves an imbalance in the construction of a life that is recognizable and identifiable by others. Nevertheless, I believe that everything can have an explanation that is also based on thousands of different points of view. There is the complexity of man, but not the possibility of absolute definition of things.
    One can decide to go in search of all possible truths. This theory also leads us to get out of habitual patterns a little and also risks bringing a great imbalance, which is good, because it leads to a regeneration of oneself that makes us question and invites us to not always look at our belly button.

  3. Ken, your point is precisely what the article deals with – there is a choice that determines your worldview, and choosing to believe that truth is subjective inevitably leads to the moral confusion and ideological thinking destroying our world today. I hope you don’t believe that the idea of subjective truth has been in some way proven, because that would be a classic example of ideological thinking.

  4. Andre: If Leadership rests on Communication, and communication rest on truth, and truth is subjective based on the idealism and opinions of the person then one could argue that leadership is a myth in that it can never have a solid and universal foundation.

    • Thanks Ken – fortunately, truth is not subjective; opinion is, but not truth. After all, is the statement that all truth is subjective true or false? Leadership is a real phenomenon, and unless we can define it, we have nothing to discuss. We have to get beyond the suffocating skepticism that is paralysing the West, and creating so many unnecessary problems.