Reconcilable Differences

–Leadership and the Political Animal

In his “Catechism of a Revolutionary,” the 19th-century terrorist Sergei Nechaev, who inspired Dostoevsky’s The Devils, claimed that the true revolutionary “has no interests, no habits, no property, not even a name.  Everything in him is wholly absorbed by a single, exclusive interest, a single thought, a single passion – the revolution.”  Lenin boiled this down to unswerving loyalty to the party as the embodiment of revolution.  Even ideology could not challenge the will of the party, which meant in effect the will of the party boss.

Lenin saw terror as a good thing, and in 1908 called for “real, nationwide terror, which reinvigorates the country”.  In 1929 nationwide terror was unleashed in Russia, first against the peasants, then the party, the army, and the population at large.  It set the tone, to be followed in China and elsewhere, of ideological lunacy inflicting savage suffering on millions of its own people.

Currently, we witness progressive politicians, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa employ Marxist tactics in an effort to overturn liberal democracy in the West.  They use identity politics, based on race, class, gender or anything else that can promote division and confusion in the society they seek to subvert, and their influence in academia, the media, corporations, especially the technology giants, and in the deep state, is cause for serious concern.  However, identifying a central command is almost impossible, and the spectre of oligarchy raises its head once more.

A century ago, the sociologist, Robert Michels, published his important political theory, the Iron Law of Oligarchy, and given the countless examples that have occurred since then, it seems strange that so few people are aware of either the hypothesis or its implications.  The law asserts that the emergence of control by an elite, or oligarchy, in democratic institutions is inevitable as a result of inescapable tactical and technical necessities, and unchanging human nature.

The organisational complexity of modern society makes direct democracy impossible, and power passes to certain individuals, whether by election, appointment, or appropriation.  In effect, the Iron Law says that organisation inexorably promotes oligarchy, and institutional safeguards against it never work.  Elite classes emerge and gradually expand their power and the façade of legitimacy by controlling information, culture, and the foundational narrative.  Ignorance and apathy among workers or citizens usually facilitates the growth of oligarchic control, and wherever dissent arises, it is readily repressed.  Moreover, since the elites possess the means to reward loyalty, attempts to curb their power tend to fail, provoking people to resort to more destructive measures.

Ryszard Legutko is a Polish professor who opposed the communist regime.  In his book, The Demon in Democracy, he explains how liberal democracy manifests the characteristics of communism – sweeping politicisation of institutions, ideological fanaticism, political correctness, repression of free speech, social engineering, family breakdown, sexual permissiveness, and propagation of the myth of progress as justification for the totalitarian activities of the state.

He recalls how communist students terrorised ‘bourgeois’ professors, who they accused of reactionary ideas and the corruption of young minds, and how they ridiculed the teaching of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas as ‘anti-scientific’.  Authors who contradicted the reigning ideology were stigmatised and ‘cancelled’.  This academic tyranny worked to intimidate all independent thinking as thought crimes.  Just consider the many thought crimes of which one might be accused today: racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, binarism, white supremacy, Eurocentrism, and more.

100 years ago, G K Chesterton saw the noxious nexus looming: “Bolshevism and Big Business are very much alike; they are both built on the truth that everything is easy and simple if once you eliminate liberty.  And the real irreconcilable enemy of both is what may be called Small Business.”

By the 1950s, the US economy had become increasingly corporatized through the unholy alliance of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Unions.  The managerial state grew out of this, saddling society with the inevitable insensitivity and incompetence of corporations and bureaucracy.  The Iron Law of Oligarchy suggests we are now threatened by an establishment elite, terrified that they are losing control, and an ideological minority, highly organized and powerfully funded, who are bent on violence as the means of creating a utopia in which they will call the shots.  And we cannot be sure just who is playing whom more successfully.

The vast majority of people, shocked by the maelstrom, and ranging from fearful and docile to angry and militant, and having no clearly thought out political allegiance, merely want a return to the stability and security that will let them get on with their lives.  In short, they want freedom, while the oligarchs of left and right want control.

How often we hear ordinary people today say that the world has gone mad.  Significantly, the loss of the ability to reason is known as insanity, and the power-hungry elites and thuggish ideologues are provoking once more the insanity of the last century that produced the Holocaust and the Gulags, and the barbaric violence that brutalises every part of the globe to this day.

Our future depends on the true politics that makes differences reconcilable.  Allegiance to truth, justice, law and order, human dignity, a freedom for excellence, the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity is the only meaningful alternative to the collapse of civilization.  Interestingly, such allegiance can be applied to any of the three good regimes of classical philosophy, but only if the regime stands firmly on the foundations laid by Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.


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.

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  1. Brilliant essay Andre.

    Thank you so much…
    In the beginning
    “ To refuse dialogue is to declare war.” Really stayed with me

    In all aspects.. why can’t we just remember to make it our business to know what a human is…

    Thank you… I do need to read again…it’s that kind of article
    Really appreciate this

  2. Andre, you remain one of my favorite writers, thinkers, and seers.

    At risk of shortchanging even so much of a word in your brilliantly insightful essay, two things in particular caught my attention:

    1. “Government of some sort is necessary in any group of people united in a common purpose.” For all of the reasons you described, abetted by the ubiquity and anonymity of electronic media, we have no common purpose other than the acquisition and retention of power and control. When the name — United States of America — had become a cruel and ironic joke (it has), hope becomes a fleeting and seemingly futile aspiration.

    2. “Conflict between oppressor and oppressed”. I imagine even Marx would be surprised to know he made the prospect of being oppressed so attractive it spawned cultures of victimhood. It bred a Grievance Industry. And it precipitated a pathological gullibility that allowed abject lies and empty promises be the keys to becoming an oppressor.

    I do believe in the cyclical nature of everything. But it seems The Big Wheel will have to squeak and grind for quite some time before it comes back around to unity, let alone sanity.

    Thank you for continuing to write what needs to be written.


    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Mark. You are exactly right about the loss of common purpose. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, which inspired both the Gettysburg Address and MLK’s “I have a dream” speech has either been lost or corrupted in the minds of the last several generations. And logically, Modernity’s exaltation of the detached, autonomous individual makes unity of purpose impossible to achieve, and opens the door to Leviathan, from either the Left or the Right. That’s why Marxist thought shapes so many minds in the West, often without them even realising it. But history shows that wheels can turn quickly, and it is the task of all of us who believe in truth, freedom, and justice to speak out boldly against the lies that are driving western society to dystopia. I am heartened to see the many articulate voices being raised in opposition to the would-be tyrants in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, and even little NZ.

  3. Profoundly humbled by your kind words, Yonason. Your point about the need for intellectual discipline and integrity is well taken, and underlines how gravely state schooling has impoverished the lives of several generations by focussing on skills training instead of education. In my workshops, I use classical art, literature, and music to help people see why our forbears were so much more capable than contemporary society when it came to thinking for themselves and formulating rational arguments in support of their beliefs and opinions.

  4. Another brilliant overview of history, political philosophy, and social dynamics, Andre. Every time I see your name in a byline, I steel myself for the doctoral dissertation that awaits.

    As I may have said before, my only disappointment is that those who most need to hear your message would not understand you, if they even made the effort to try. Nevertheless, you provide a priceless resource for those sincere seekers of knowledge, wisdom, and truth who recognize that intellectual discipline and integrity are the price of admission for genuine understanding and moral clarity.