Lies, Insanity, and Misleadership

The Italian Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), laid the foundations of the effort to transfer the Marxist revolution from the streets and factories into academia and the world of high culture.  He redirected the program of the Left as a cultural revolution that was to spread silently, without violence, through a society intoxicated by consumerism and concupiscence.

Cultural Marxism is a label applied to Critical Theory, the teaching of the Frankfurt School in interwar Germany that sought to eradicate discrimination against women, Jews, and homosexuals, which they identified with Fascism.  Though members of the Frankfurt School, thinkers like Adorno, Marcuse, and Horkheimer, favoured the economic program of state control of the sources of production, they saw socialism primarily as a means of achieving their cultural objectives.

Identity politics, another Marxist tactic, give the ideas of the Frankfurt School an ugly twist.  It sets a limit in any debate beyond which further questions, comments, or analysis are branded as racism, sexism, or fascism.  So reason is again shut down and condemned as a construct concealing the Will to Power.  Words and ideas lose their ability to bring people together in dialogue and are reduced to instruments for manipulating reality and oppressing one’s enemies.  This is why politics has ceased to be a quest for consensus and compromise, and become instead an effort to discredit opponents and impose one’s will on them through intimidation and subterfuge.

The sad reality is that the social program of the Frankfurt School has become a feature of the secular, welfare states of the West, as Liberal Democracy succumbs to the anti-democratic forces it has unleashed upon itself.  As Ernst Böckenforde pointed out some 40 years ago, the survival of Liberal Democracy requires certain moral standards and self-regulation in its citizens that cannot be enforced without violating the liberal principle of radical individual freedom.

And then came Foucault, the perfect oracle for a nihilistic, narcissistic, naïve society of autonomous individuals shackled to the all-powerful state.  A Romanian friend, who combines his engineering acumen with a remarkable reservoir of high culture, once told me that a program of corporate workshops at the multinational that employed him were heavily laced with the ideas of Foucault.  Of course, anyone who browses the philosophy sections in bookstores or libraries knows that the shelves have been dominated by Foucault’s oeuvre for several decades.  By the beginning of the third millennium, he was the most cited author in humanities departments in western universities.

The central focus of Foucault’s philosophy is power, building on Nietzsche’s nihilist assertion that “This world is the Will to Power – and nothing else!”  Foucault saw power as being operative everywhere, in politics, business, communities, families, and all interpersonal relationships.  He insisted that power shapes individuals by directing the way they think, emphasising that human behaviour is always culturally conditioned, and not in any way the product of nature.  This means that human nature is irrelevant; we are made by power that is external to us.  But – and this was and is the kicker for the feckless egos of the consumer society – the Will to Power frees us to throw off our cultural conditioning and to remake ourselves according to personal desires.

But Foucault’s freedom is a snare because, as has been demonstrated again and again throughout history, when freedom becomes licence, it lets Leviathan loose, and the all-powerful state is always a threat to human flourishing.  The fact that swathes of people are infected with the ideas of Foucault predisposes western societies to the anti-democratic, repressive policies increasingly imposed on once free peoples.

People living in a socio-political atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, in which once trusted mechanisms of law and order are perverted and used as instruments of oppression, will struggle to make sense of their lives, more especially without a rational religious worldview to guide them.  The radical freedom to define reality for oneself, except when political correctness decrees otherwise, has ushered in a pandemic of social dysfunction and the ever-increasing power of the managerial state, with its bloated bureaucracy intruding on every aspect of life.

The suppression of truth is destructive of the psychological well-being of both individuals and society.

Many years ago, I was deeply shocked to hear that a good friend and ex-colleague had committed suicide in the United Kingdom.  It seemed incomprehensible that a man of such remarkable character should be driven to the ultimate act of despair, leaving behind his wife and child.  We had taught together at a high school in Rhodesia, where he had been Head of Science and probably the best teacher it had been my good fortune to know.  I know many men, now in their sixties, who still passionately testify to the ineradicably principled impact this great man had on their lives.  Brilliant, dedicated, compassionate, and creative, he was everything a teacher needs to be.  How on earth had such a tragedy come to pass?  A mutual friend provided the answers.

As teachers, we also did military service during the Rhodesian War.  On one stint in the bush, our friend had witnessed the interrogation of a terrorist, who was taken several hundred feet up in a helicopter to strike fear into him in order to make him give up his knowledge.  The young man was then hurled out of the chopper, and fell screaming to his death.  Our friend was naturally traumatised, but the Official Secrets Act and an atmosphere in which criticism of the armed forces was treated with suspicion, prevented him from saying anything about the ugly incident.  Not long afterwards, he and his family emigrated to the UK, where he was appointed to teach at a famous public school.  There he was subjected to relentless pressure and bullying by senior staff who were well-aware of the employment insecurity of new immigrants, and the unlikelihood of any pushback.

Who can fathom the depths of human anguish even when the victim is allowed to openly express his or her feelings?  Our friend was not, and a great soul finally broke down.

The current climate of political correctess, cancel culture, calumny, corporate censorship, fear-mongering, fake news, and almost universal employment insecurity is doing precisely this to millions of people, who are daily subjected to the elevation of untruth as truth, injustice as justice, treason as patriotism, and quackery as science.  Vaclav Havel and all those brave men and women who have opposed tyranny would be aghast at the docility with which we have allowed this cancer to come upon us so soon after the tragedies of the 20th century.

Reality or ideology, truth or lies, sanity or insanity, leadership or misleadership – the right choice is clear, but who will have the courage to make it?

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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.


  1. Sublime article. What more can we say !!
    We are witnessing in these times a curious and contradictory phenomenon: on the one hand, unfortunately, there is an almost daily violation of human dignity with wars, massacres, violence of all kinds and, on the other, almost to defend against this widespread pathology a flowering of debates on the dignity of the human person is developing, in order to make re-emerge, almost as a self-defense, a central problem, to which it is necessary to return frequently in order not to lose sight of a founding value of human civilization, precisely, human dignity.
    The dignity of the human person means that the person deserves absolute respect for himself. The dignity of the human being is a cultural value that underpins all other values, including ethical ones, as well as all the rights recognized to it, because human dignity is born with the birth of the human being.
    It follows the moral obligation to respect every human being as a person and this respect was once the criterion for judging the degree of civilization of a society: it was all the more civil the greater was the respect towards every single individual, that is towards every person.
    Human dignity is an intrinsic characteristic and a prerogative of every human being: it must be recognized, but also protected. To the dignity received as a gift must be associated the dignity acquired through the free and responsible cooperation of individuals as well as communities and institutions.
    Helping that the life of every person reflects the universal image of human dignity every day and in every respect is an essential task, indeed, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service that institutions and individual citizens are called to render. to the human family.
    When we talk about the dignity of the person as a supreme and universal value and consider what happens in the contemporary world, comes back to mind the famous opening words of the Social Contract by J.J. Rousseau (“Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains”) and we are tempting to adapt it to our theme, saying: “Human dignity is, by nature, inviolable and inalienable, but everywhere it is trampled on”.
    We have experienced in a devastating way the insufficiency of state perspectives alone for the protection of human rights: an insufficiency dramatically demonstrated by the degeneration of the totalitarian state and its absolutizing ideology, which found confirmation in the weakening of state sovereignties in the face of logic – also all-encompassing – of the market and profit, and its shortcomings for the respect of the human person.
    The global recognition that all human beings are born free and enjoy inalienable and equal rights today represents a principle that should precede the same state systems.
    Respect for the dignity of the person is not, in fact, the exclusive duty of States, but rather an obligation that challenges the conscience of each one. Everyone is called to give daily and concrete witness to it.
    Unfortunately, the abuses, violence and discrimination affecting individuals and entire communities are still widespread around the world, often affecting the most vulnerable.
    From a mature and civilized society, such as the one in which we live today, one would expect that the fundamental rights of everyone, which are also the basis of associated life, namely the right to life, freedom, expression of opinions and property private, were always recognized, and given the importance they deserve. Unfortunately, this is not always the case: the same right to life is denied every time a death sentence is issued.
    It is therefore necessary that the international community intensifies its efforts in all directions to promote effective protection of fundamental freedoms, in compliance with the principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.
    But everyone, especially those in a position of responsibility, must remember that the promotion of human rights in the world is not only an ethical and moral imperative, but it is a necessary tool to prevent conflict, build stable and inclusive societies and, therefore, sustainably promote peace, security and development.
    Ethics cannot be recognized in an act or choice where there is an attack on the dignity, even in that of an unborn child or a discriminated or rejected migrant

    • Many thanks Aldo, for your wise and compassionate reflection. As always you articulate your view with great insight and rhetorical finesse. I feel your comment deserves to be published as an article all on its own, because the points you make are essential for people to think about in our troubled world.

  2. Thanks Andre for real content and insights, where to start? Maybe Aristotle provides a reasonable outset:
    “For our aim is not to know what courage is but to be courageous …”
    [Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, I,18, Loeb classical library, Harvard University Press, 1952 (1935).]
    Systemic changes are needed, maybe even a Kuhn like radical change? Looking at the state of the world as you vividly contributes it is clear that the concept of truth have been exported out of its birthplace and homeland – Ethics. It has become a relative and functional tool that is omitted if it fits a given “telos” of personal, corporate or government gain, and as you eloquently show it becomes untruth. With the fine humans mentioned we should both know “courage” and hence have the grounds for being “courageous” in the face of today. Looking towards the harm that our current system has created the past decades, even centuries it is obvious that neo-capitalism needs upgrading and radical change and just maybe we are facing untruth in the uncovering of its core dogma.
    The encouraging thing is that change has been emerging for a long time R. Edward Freeman “Strategic Management – A stakeholder approach”; Raj Sisodia & John Mckay “Conscious Capitalism – Liberating the heroic spirit of business” ; Bob Chapman & Raj Sisodia “Everybody Matters – The extraordinary power of caring for you people like family”; and the my most recent addition to the library Klaus Schwab “Stakeholder Capitalism – A global economy that works for progress, people and planet” and probably many more suggesting that I update my Radar :-).
    The truth about our (current) system is being uncovered and we need that to fix it for the future where we can maintain the free enterprise (part of the core: Freedom) and create equality. Courageous contributors like Nuria Chinchilla and her work (social pollution, purpose, women) and Jefferey Pfeffer (Dying for a paycheck or Why the assholes are winning: Money trumps all) teach us about courage in our time. At anytime we need to know where we come from, where we are and where we are going (potentially) – you help us all see more clearly, Thanks Andre

    • Thank you so much, Per, for reaching out like this, and for your very kind words. Thanks also for the information on the efforts of others to help provide guidance and encouragement in this dangerous yet potentially fruitful moment in the history of western civilisation (and civilisation as a whole, of course). I will make a point of getting to know the ideas of the people you have mentioned, and since you are obviously someone who reads a lot, recommend that you read Patrick Deneen’s excellent book “Why Liberalism Failed”, and “The New Class War” by Michael Lind. I would appreciate it if you would also have a look at my website at http://www.powerofintegrity.com and perhaps encourage others to check it out. Aristotle is one of my foremost teachers.

  3. Andre — As I was reading your exceptional piece, I couldn’t help but think of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow as a potential way to understand everything you describe in the last paragraph.

    System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

    When it comes to understanding the “big lie” that defines much of our current untruth – the election was stolen – could it be as simple as our lazy emotional brain elbowing our slower, more analytical brain out of the way? The big lie told over and over is simply easier to digest than the truth. How else can you explain 74 million people voting for a vengeful narcissist who has no issues platform other than to do what increases his own influence and power?

    It is, as Jim says, “willful ignorance” of the forces that are at work on them and how they are being manipulated. I don’t know what the answer is other than a whole lot of education.

    • Many thanks, Jeff. Kahneman’s work is justifiably regarded as essential for understanding why human beings so often make poor decisions, but of course, it is not the whole story. The effects of inadequate state schooling over several decades, the pervasive ideological bent of both academia and the media, and the inevitably deleterious effects of consumerism on a society “distracted from distraction by distraction”, have all undermined the virtue of prudence, or practical wisdom, in the West. If I may quote from my essay on prudence, published some time back by Bizcatalyst 360, and included in my book, ‘Is Leadership History?’, “Prudence transforms knowledge into wisdom. It encourages us to be unbiased in perception, accurate in memory, and open to the ideas of others. It instills vigilance, keeping us primed for the unexpected, providing not just finely honed intuitive and deliberative powers, but also the courage for decisive action. Prudence stands on principle, rising above the cold calculation of utilitarian expediency.” I think a lot of the ignorance out there, on both sides of the political divide, has been engineered. When I come across university lecturers who know nothing about the French Revolution or the Enlightenment, or hear the uninformed prejudices people today have regarding Medieval Europe, I have to acknowledge that the road back to sanity will be long and hard.

  4. Interesting summary of what is going in in Western culture today. Anyone would be a fool to disagree with it. But I am more interested in what can be done to start correcting a lot of these wrongs, especially when you have so many people whose willful ignorance allows them to tolerate it and who are too intellectually lazy to speak out against it.

    • Thanks Jim – happily there is a real surge of activity from concerned people – in articles, books, education circles, grass roots start-up organisations, the work of professionals and academics, and of course, among those politicians that refuse to be bound by ideology and self-interest. All of us can play a part in speaking out against the lie, because we are sure to encounter it on a daily basis. Keeping ourselves informed has never been more important.

  5. Thank you for this superb article Andre and for sharing the “truth” via those pesky “facts.” You may know this, but in case you do not, Dr. Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia, is most unhappy with direction of his creation and all of its selective information. He is starting a new organization, Encyclospere. My husband and I just subscribed. It should be a bulwark against disinformation and a purveyor of the truth. Let us hope. Thank you again!