The Leader and the Lonely

What is hell? Hell is oneself. Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from. And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

~ T.S. Eliot in The Cocktail Party

Leadership is built on relationships, the very foundation of human flourishing.  So there is an obvious correlation between the global leadership deficit and the relationship dysfunction that characterises western society today.  Social isolation, or loneliness, is the real pandemic in the Third Millennium, and it lies at the root of most of our social maladies.

Leadership is first learned in the family, where the virtues essential to all relationships – honesty, trust, faithfulness, compassion, forgiveness, and a natural sense of obligation to others – are best nurtured.  Where those virtues are sincerely held, there can be no loneliness, and relationships will flourish.  And that provides the ideal context and conditions for community and leadership.

Where those virtues are absent, family, friendship, and community break down, and social dysfunction ensues.  The reality is that our mental and physical health actually depend heavily on the quality of our relationships.  Studies around the globe have shown that:

  • Social isolation is a one of the most common causes of clinical depression
  • It impacts artery erosion, blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke risk
  • Chronic loneliness is a significant factor in many cases of alcoholism
  • It is closely linked with anti-social and self-destructive behaviour
  • It has a negative effect on learning and memory
  • It can affect sleep patterns, promoting a wide range of attendant problems
  • It actually increases an individual’s mortality risk more than smoking does
  • Up to 80% of people who fail at work do so because of poor relationship skills
  • Emotional support has been shown to be a significant factor in healing generally.

Why are there so many lonely people?  Why is it so hard to form real relationships when that is what everybody both needs and wants?  Well, if the family is where the virtues essential to all relationships are best developed, then dysfunctional families and the widespread loss of family life must inevitably give rise to a dysfunctional society in which relationships generally fail to flourish.

And this is, of course, precisely what has happened.  A psychiatrist friend recently told me that over the past 20 years, some 80 percent of her patients have come from families broken by divorce; the burgeoning mental health crisis didn’t spring from nowhere.  So if the loneliness pandemic is a result of family breakdown, what is the cause of the collapse of family life?

The root cause of this social cataclysm is, of course, the modern rejection of classical virtue ethics in favour of the personal choice of the autonomous individual, and the moral confusion that has accompanied it.  But the “Who are you to tell me what is right and wrong?” mindset has been puffed up to planetary proportions by the removal of restraints on humanity’s most unruly appetite.

Science and common sense agree that promiscuity, prostitution, and pornography are inevitably destructive of family life, and relationships generally.  Yet the Sexual Revolution of the past half-century continues to be driven relentlessly forward, not only by the many who profit so richly from it, but also by its many victims who refuse to admit their folly.  Hence the increasingly dysfunctional culture of lonely, wounded people, incapable of meaningful commitments and self-sacrifice, and the insidious and intensifying mental health crisis.

Social science clearly shows that children in fatherless families are more likely to suffer emotional and behavioral issues, physical and psychological abuse, poverty, health problems, academic failure, relationship dysfunction, and susceptibility to criminal activity.  Moreover, opinion polls over the past sixty years have recorded a steady decline in female happiness.  The reality is that the Sexual Revolution has been a disaster for women and children, exposing them to ever-greater social and economic insecurity and unrelenting loneliness.  More than sixty million abortions in the US since 1973 are a gruesome reminder of the horrifying tragedy visited upon women and children in the Western democracies under the influence of the Sexual Revolution.  And, of course, the debilitating loneliness sooner of later catches up with the men involved.

Proponents of the permissive society misguidedly argue that lust and promiscuity are natural urges, but while they might be natural urges in animals, they can be naturally directed by rational animals.  The power of reason enables human beings to know what is good for us and what is bad for us, so what is natural in us is the ability of the intellect to control the chaos of our carnal desires.

Most people associate the Sexual Revolution with a predictable loosening of moral standards that accompanied the decline of Christian belief in the 20th century, but the full story is somewhat more disturbing.  If we are sincere in seeking an end to the endemic social dysfunction assailing the Western democracies, we will take account of this story, which is very well documented.

At a time when women are being subjected to absurd and wholly unwarranted threats to their dignity, comfort, and safety, the establishment’s response to a growing number of men embracing a measure of sexual restraint is curious to say the least.  The men are accused of fascist tendencies.  In an illuminating article, Was the sexual revolution a government psy-op?, philosopher Matthew Crawford retraces the genealogy of the Left’s association of sexual self-regulation with fascism.  It is a tale of cynical social engineering that started long before the “sexual liberation” of the ‘60s.

Far from being a simple organic cultural development, the Sexual Revolution was the design of psychotherapists who emerged from the cataclysm of World War II with the aim of pre-empting a flowering of fascism in the US.  Government complicity in this program is a documented fact.  The movement started in the early1930s when the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich split with Freud, and, calling himself a Freudo-Marxist, set about using psychoanalysis for revolutionary purposes.  Society was not merely unjust, but also mentally ill as a result of the superego, that “sham social surface”, repressing natural instincts (read sexual desires) that the psychoanalysts considered wholesome and morally unproblematic.

Reich and other intellectuals saw fascism as a consequence of bourgeois society and sexual repression and called for the destruction of the family and fatherhood, as well as authority and morality itself.  The end of the war provided the opportunity.  In 1946, President Truman declared a mental health crisis in the US, indicating that the way Western governments viewed democracy and the people they governed was somewhat less than charitable.

A study commissioned by the War Department to investigate psychiatric disorders in returning soldiers was conducted by emigre psychoanalysts from central Europe who focussed on repressed anger and sexuality in family life instead of the traumatic wartime experiences.  They concluded that small-town America was a breeding ground for fascist attitudes, and their remedy was to “change the inner structure of the human being” to make people docile supporters of a particular political order.  The National Mental Health Act of 1946 deployed hundreds of psychiatrists across the US in “Psychological Guidance Centres” to reshape the way people thought and behaved.

In 1948 Alfred Kinsey published the first of his now-discredited reports on sexual practices in the US, and his bogus science claimed to link the “authoritarian personality” to people who adhered to traditional sexual morality.  Kinsey saw his work as furthering the “mass psychotherapeutic function” of eradicating the sense of shame in society. The manipulation of the moral judgment of ordinary people by psychology, which had been going on since the beginning of the century was set to shift into a higher gear with Playboy and Lady Chatterley just around the corner.

Crawford’s discourse echoes a shorter article by Italian academic, Carlo Lancellotti, who has provided excellent English translations of the works of Italian philosopher, Augusto Del Noce, an early critic of the Sexual Revolution.  Del Noce analysed Freudo-Marxism and the cultural links between political progressivism and the Sexual Revolution.  He pointed out that both regarded human reason as incapable of attaining metaphysical truths, a stance typical of the self-refuting scientistic mindset that views empirical science as the sole source of truth.  The facile reduction of reason to science is of a piece with reducing freedom to the satisfaction of desires, and such a mindset naturally regards politics as the means to eradicate not only “repression”, but virtue and tradition as well.  Del Noce stressed that scientism is inherently totalitarian, seeking to silence all other forms of knowledge.

Lancellotti sees Del Noce as original in studying the sexual revolution as a philosophical phenomenon that reflected a new worldview and not just new social circumstances. And he is convinced that, “…a failure to fully grasp this worldview is the reason why today many intelligent people seem genuinely surprised that movements putatively seeking tolerance for marginalized minorities should be so intolerant of dissent.”

Crawford’s essay also tallies with a well-researched three-part essay by Professor Patrick Deneen, “The Crisis of Democracy”, inspired by a 1973 book by Edward A. Purcell Jr. entitled: The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism and the Problem of Value.  Purcell traced the history of the social sciences – psychology, sociology, politics, economics, and anthropology – that have today become the blindly followed authorities on the human condition.  The tragic irony is, of course, that the allegedly indisputable claims of those disciplines are undergirded by hidden metaphysical assumptions that are suspect to say the least.

Deneen shows that the social sciences in the early 20th century boldly set about dismantling “democracy” in the name of efficiency and expertise.  Leading social scientists confidently, but unscientifically claimed to identify cognitive and moral inequalities in different ethnic groups, and their bogus “scientific naturalism” gave encouragement to class, race, and sex discrimination.  Many Western intellectuals at the time flirted with totalitarianism, either Marxist, Nazi, or Fascist.

Opposed to “scientific naturalism” were proponents of the classical natural law tradition, significantly including many Catholic intellectuals, who affirmed the equal dignity of all human beings, objective moral standards regardless of culture, and democratic societies committed to the Common Good.

After World War II, when social scientists found their flirtation with totalitarianism an embarrassment because of gas chambers, gulags, and other barbarous violations of human dignity, they deflected attention from their inhumanity by switching the narrative.  They loudly proclaimed that the totalitarian mindset was linked to a belief in objective morality, traditional family virtues, and sexual restraint, all of which were labelled as impediments to the self-fulfilment of the individual.  So the social engineers disguised themselves as defenders of democracy and accused the real defenders of human dignity of totalitarian repression.  And great swathes of Westerners, seduced by the Sexual Revolution, have unthinkingly bought the lie.  The loneliness pandemic currently exploited by an oligarchic establishment is the result.

It is dismaying for people in a civilisation built on the foundation of reason, who naturally take it for granted that dissent, dialogue, and disagreement are healthy and necessary to civil society, to be confronted by angry zealots who present themselves as defenders of absolute human rights that may not be called into question.  The radicals smear opponents as bigots and haters and stop at nothing to silence their dissent.

Acceptance of the insidious philosophical fraud of the Sexual Revolution means most people do not want to address the root cause of the culture of loneliness.  They simply assume that since “science” insists that humanity can achieve “happiness” by eliminating all forms of “repression,” religion and traditional ethical standards must not be permitted to stand in the way.

When our appetites are not controlled by our rational minds, they enslave us, sex being the most tyrannical of all.  And with individuals rejecting moral restraints, egalitarian societies slide into Hobbes’ “war of everyone against everyone”, which opens the door to the abuse of power.  Tyranny and sexual profligacy go hand in hand, and the egalitarian attitude typically ushers in totalitarianism.

Some two decades ago, I recall reading about a woman who was deeply saddened by the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal and then discovered that her own husband was having an affair.  Her psychotherapist counselled her to accept the break-up of her marriage, and her pastor echoed the advice.  In the space of a week, she lost her husband, her president, her psychotherapist, and her pastor, and was consigned to the ranks of the socially isolated.  The story is emblematic of a society engineered to self-destruct.

What is a leader to do?  Leadership means service, not status.  It is about promoting the common good and not self-aggrandisement, in the home, school, workplace, or community.  That demands honesty, trust, faithfulness, compassion, forgiveness, and a natural sense of obligation to others, all of which entail the eradication of sexual profligacy as the first step to restoring healthy culture, relationships, and community, the criteria by which leadership is measured.

A big ask?  Of course, it is, but as Solzhenitsyn told us, “Let the lie come into the world, but not through me.”  And it is the lie that unleashed the deluge of lust, and the desolation of loneliness that followed.  Tragically, many people in positions of leadership will dismiss the call to action as too idealistic, too difficult, or simply contrary to their own concupiscence.  Yet many others are increasingly aghast at the ugly absurdities defiling contemporary Western society, and new leaders are emerging far more rapidly than the complicit mainstream media would have us know.

The Latin phrase “divide et impera”, divide and rule, expresses a political ruse as old as civilisation itself.  So where a leader unites and inspires for the common good, a misleader divides and rules for self-interest.  The lonely society serves the misleaders.  Solzhenitsyn saw it: “People have learned from their own misfortunes that revolutions demolish the organic structures of society, disrupt the natural flow of life, destroy the best elements of the population, and give free rein to the worst.”


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. Very interesting article.
    There is no doubt that to truly define oneself as a “leader” one should learn from parents the best practices to carry out this role in the best way. Indeed, a mother or father is able to direct their children towards positive values such as honesty, responsibility, respect for others and fairness. In addition, the parent has all those soft skills to give children the right keys to understanding reality, which will allow them to increase self-esteem and increase the motivation to overcome daily challenges, stimulating strategic and positive thinking.
    Moral degradation involves an inevitable decline of society and usually precedes or is concomitant with cultural and social decay. History teaches us that this process begins slowly with seemingly harmless individual choices that extend their effects to the entire social fabric, affecting the single individual, the family, governments and nations. The decline begins when transcendent moral values are set aside to make way for vice and material greed. Thus also fragility and loneliness arise that are not easy to overcome.