ΙΣΤΟΛΟΓΙΟ ΜΕ ΟΜΙΛΙΕΣ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΛΕΤΕΣ ΤΟΥ JOHN P. ANTON

H Αρετή είναι «έξις προαιρετική» και επομένως η έφεση για την απόκτησή της είναι από τη φύση της ριζωμένη στο Ερωτικό Δαιμόνιο. Ο Πολιτικός Έρωτας απαιτεί την επίτευξη της Aρετής από τους πολίτες. -------------------------------

Τετάρτη, 17 Μαρτίου 2010

POLITICAL LEADERSHIP IN HELLENIC THOUGHT: Forgotten Lessons of Wisdom


Presented at the Colloquium on “Hellenic Concepts of Political Friendship and Enmity:
A Contribution to the Understanding of Conflict in the Modern World.” Organized jointly by the Institute of Classical Studies and the Hellenic Institute of Royal Holloway, University of London. Tuesday, June 24, 2008


1. Introduction
In my paper I intend to discuss how and why the classical Greek thinkers, the first in human history to pose the issue of competency in political leadership, raised the fundamental question of the political fulfillment of human existence. The concept of competency is used here in the broader sense of enlightened leadership whereby praxis affects the conditions that allow the citizens to attain their fulfillment, their entelecheia qua political animals, as with Aristotle.
Political developments in the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st have pushed to the foreground once again the rarity of political aretē in modern times. The unending social crises, the two world wars within one generation, the collapse of the Soviet system in the past century, the current forces pressing for globalization, the widespread pollution of the environment, while the religious conflicts increase in intensity and while the leading world powers compete for global hegemony, point to the same issue: the moot question of enlightened leadership and how its absence affects personal harmonia and international peace. Leaders abound in every walk of life, but that is not the problem. What we are short of, especially in the political arena, is leadership accountable and responsible, at once dedicated to the common cause of humanity: peace and human fulfillment of all citizens. What is hardly ever discussed is the urgent need to formulate explicit criteria for enlightened leadership.
The Greek thinkers correctly made the quest for aretē the basis for community life and personal development, especially for the citizens who aspire to serve the polis as leaders. It is precisely the need for political aretē in action as well as in theory that has been marginal in our discussions of political affairs in our times. In a similar way so has the required paideia for acquiring political aretē. Even worse, Such a paideia occupies no prominent place in the curricula of our humanistic studies or the political science courses that are being taught in the universities today. In other words, we do not educate future political leaders. Nevertheless we do provide such aspiring persons with skills to gain power. On the whole, leadership is left to chance, personal ambition, family connections, powerful groups, and the establishment in general. No room has been provided for requisite criteria, beyond connections and influence that qualify a person to assume high office in the political hierarchies. While this situation continues to prevail in the ways of all governments, we are conditioned not to raise the issue of the qualifications any person aspiring to political office must meet. As a result, we suffer what we must. Regrettably enough, Thucydides’ well phrased note continues to be true ever since antiquity: “The powerful do what they can, the week suffer what they must.” Δυνατά δε οι προύχοντες πράττουσιν, και οι ασθενείς ξυνχωρούσιν».
Hidden in the background of this quotation lurks the question of leadership, but at close inspection, it reveals how differently the ancient Greek thinkers as theorists of the political life understood the problem. Actually, they were the first to pose the fundamental question of competency in political leadership and the first to tie it to the highest values of human existence, beyond economic success or the promotion of national supremacy and military power. If leaders deserve respect and public trust they do so not because they acquired power through inherited rights, violent acts, conspiracy, persuasion, election procedures and other means. Worse, incompetent, yet powerful leaders became notorious on account of their inability to prevent future crises, for resorting to aggressive wars, and being unable to anticipate internal unrest or prevent the distortion of social values. Their actions persistently plagued the city states of Greece.
Eventually, the question of qualifications, especially after the development of democratic forms of government, became an urgent concern. It brought with it the need to define the meaning of the koinon agathon or common good, be it justice or the bios agathos, as a right to be made available to all citizens.
The main point of my paper is not whether classical Greece solved in practical life the puzzle of how to entrust the right individuals to lead, nor even what happened in the political developments of the various city-states, since as we know the Greeks failed the practical lesson of bringing political wisdom to bear on their everyday lives. My central concern is to show why and how the thinkers of Greece identified the problem of enlightened leadership and proposed the parameters for its solution, no matter how difficult, or even unattainable.
A number of early thinkers showed awareness of the problem, but so did the poets, epic and dramatic, including lyric poets. The same holds for the sophists, who often called themselves the educators of political leaders. But the ones who thoroughly and critically looked at the basic features of the problem and systematically proposed solutions were Plato and Aristotle. For this reason alone, it behooves us to return to the Greeks once again to recover the forgotten lessons of wisdom in public life.
Under different circumstances I would have probably written a different paper, one on Plutarch, and drawn lessons of wisdom from his Parallel Lives, mainly to detect in his portraits of great leaders the “missing” traits of good, rather than affective, leadership. He wrote in the opening paragraph of the life of Alexander the following: “It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men, sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battle whatsoever” (J. Dryden tr.). After re-reading this passage from the biography of Alexander, I decided that more was to be gained by returning to Plato and Aristotle to find in their works the metron of political of leadership.

2. The Classical approach in contrast to the Modern way.
My concern is to show how the quality of political leadership is significantly dependent on the character of the leaders. This in turn is almost invariably decided by the way human beings engage in self-love. To this self –love we must include one’s cherished beliefs and commitments. Here private and public concerns become fused into a peculiar attitude where, in the case of public leadership, the service to the people is confused with the promotion of personal convictions. Plato as well as Aristotle paid special attention to the formative factors that guide the direction in which self-love moves and the consequences it has as it functions, when the individual engages in political leadership, presumably to serve the common good. I will try to tie this approach to the conduct of leaders in antiquity, the limits of their political efficacy, especially when leaders promote their personal values by pretending that they are serving the general public. In my conclusion I will return to the abuses of self-love and the related distortions that affect seriously the exercise of leadership in modern political systems, especially the case of modern individualism as a case of ill-conceived self-love.
In modern times we usually do not press the question of “political excellence” or, to speak with the Greeks, πολιτική αρετή. Rather, we prefer to indulge in talking and instructing in the pursuit of means, επί τέχνη, to acquire proficiency in securing political power. Whether power is already possessed or is being pursued, the objectives remain the same and are heralded as political programs, promises and commitments. However, the issue of political excellence, its nature and ways of attaining it, is hardly the object of discussion and inquiry. In fact, it is buried in silence and conveniently assumed as a property or even as charisma of those already in power.
Why is political power (political realism?) treated as though political excellence must be assumed or taken for granted? Is it perhaps because of the conviction that aretē cannot be taught, as Socrates had argued? Is therefore no need for political paideia other than training in instrumentalities and special programs for public consumption? If so, instead of political paideia all we can do is talk about entechnos paideia, not political aretē. In sharp contrast, both Plato and Aristotle drew attention to the vital issues that go to the heart of political life: How do politicians come to power? How do certain citizens rise to leadership, especially when political power has not been inherited? Whether leadership is attained through violence, in whatever form, or popular trust and support, the ultimate issue lies not with the native ability of gifted individuals to pursue positions of power but the requisite qualifications a person must possess to serve the public and the common good, assuming that it can be articulated and defined. The ultimate problem, then, is a twofold one: (a) to define the nature of such qualifications, and (b) specify the conditions that are conducive to obtaining them. Presumably, citizens, who aim at positions of leadership, need to have certain native talents, but that is not enough. How such talent is to be transformed into a character trait for the pursuit of political justice is fundamental to preparing for the political mission. This is what is normally expected to be done by the office of political paideia, whether through the family, the institutions of the polis, or instruction by special individuals.
As I proceed with my paper, I beg to admit that I make no pretensions about exhausting the topic. Rather, all I have planned to do is pose certain questions about what is good rather than what is successful or effective leadership. Evidently, effective leadership is the bread and butter of politics but where good leadership is concerned it is a rather rare human achievement. The ancients were fully cognizant of the difference, as I hope to show.
The issue of political leadership can be seen from two perspectives: (a) the rise of leaders in naturally formed associations and communities, from family-heads to powerful group chiefs, as in loosely organized tribes where natural strength, determination, ingenuity, and gained privileges play a definite role; (b) the rise of certain individuals to positions of power in established influential groups within the government. The literature on this subject is staggering. One has but to read the accounts of ancient as well as of modern historians of the political history of Greece to form a picture of the power politics in Athens and other cities.
Given the variety of ways to govern, it is was inevitable that at a certain point in the history of ancient Greece the emerging philosophical thinking would focus on examining systematically the problems of the political life and make it the most pressing object of attention. As a new subject matter it included more than the usual affairs of organized society. It was extended to include the nature and function of leadership in all walks of civil life, especially basic values and urgent decisions affecting matters of life and death. The vital issues were all connected with failures and destructions due to conflicts and the arbitrary use of power.
The awesome abuse of human resources throughout human history was and continues to plague of civilized humanity. Peculiarly enough, no society, no government, and no historical period, including all well-intended political reforms, have proved able to prevent the failures of power, in essence the abuses of justice. This verdict includes even the noble acts of legislation which, although meant to serve the public, had often unforeseen bitter consequences. Classical Greece was no exception to this phenomenon, despite the brilliant insights of many of her philosophers, scientists, poets and law-givers. Just the same, they deserve recognition for being the first to make the complexity of political life the subject of rational investigation. They actually created political science. The move was a landmark in human understanding. It signaled the transition from the struggle for power to the pursuit of the life of reason in society.
We may recall at this point the fact that the Greek world was a collection of a variety of city-states, independent of each other, often entering into coalitions, usually short-lived, and each polis having its own form of constitution or way of governing the practical affairs of its politai, its citizens, including their dependent members of the families. The issue I wish to emphasize is simple enough: regardless of form of government, the overt or covert prize of involvement was the power to rule and protect the interests of the rulers and, as the circumstances would allow, the welfare of the subjects, especially the favored ones.
It was this great variety of patterns related to the acquisition of leadership that looms largely in the background of public affairs in the fifth century. Socrates, as Plato shows, was fully aware of the inherent threats to the polis. The burning issue, aside from the form of government, was the arbitrary methods of rising to the top of political power. No explicit qualifications had been legislated for rising to political leadership, whatever the hidden or acknowledged motive, be it profit, power, fame, or serving the general interest in justice and what Socrates insisted should be the koinon agathon. The latter motive was easily professed but infrequently honored.


3. Plato’s view
In the background of Plato’ dialogues looms largely the entire history of the fifth century events.
His Republic as the first systematic study of political leadership has lost none of its age-old urgency. When Plato advised in the Republic and the Seventh Epistle that the salvation of the politeia can be done either by the statesmen who will philosophize or the philosophers who will take over the leadership, he identified a perennial problem in civilized life. The issue is plain enough: saving the politeia and how it must be done through wise leadership. But how is this wisdom to be learned, if in fact available, and what are the requirements for its acquisition? In a rough way, and ignoring for a moment Plato’s three classes of citizens, the members of the politeia are whether followers or leaders, constitute a division that holds for all societies and all forms of government. Political success and failure are best understood as outcomes of the actions of leaders rather than the followers, for they are the ones who are trusted with serving the common good. Presumably such is the purpose of their actions. Bad politics is due to the malfunctioning of institutions, from governing to the production of food. The question of leadership immediately brings up the concept of political ethos and political technē and both the pathos of correct self-love. These two must converge under the guidance of orthos logos, of aretē, both determining the state of habit that self-love will acquire.
The search for correct leadership and its basic qualifications has begun. But if the followers are neglected and left without guidance, the consequences are equally severe, given that the followers will not develop the correct form of self-love. Being unable to resist the power of the appetites and of the thymos, they will destroy and disobey, moved as they are by the unexamined force of their pathos. There is only one way to prevent the malfunction of character and the decline of institutions: education, ethismos through paideia, with proper adjustments for the future leaders and the preparation of the general public to promote the common good. Given these requirement, the critique of the various types of deviant government follows with inexorable logic.
Plato’s Republic not only focuses on the problem of political leadership but argues steadily why the high-level complexities and vital survival interests must not be left to chance, caprice, fortune, and other forms of power grabbing. The problem of political competence and responsibility as a fundamental practical and theoretical concern was too serious to be left in the hands of the Sophists. Here Socrates and his friends show keen awareness and sensitivity about the great problem how to establish justice in the life of the polis as well as improve the conduct of the individual citizens. The use and abuse of justice at some point became more than a matter of enforcing decisions about efficient ruling through enlightened legislation. The neglected and obscure issues regarding the meaning of justice were finally shown to cause the policies that could lead to the decline of actual social orders, including the life of the polis itself.
Plato, who had lived the horrors of the 30 year Peloponnesian war, turned philosophy into a systematic study of human conduct in the actual political scene. The same, in a serious sense, holds for Aristotle, who as Plato’s pupil defined the human being as being by nature a “political animal.” Thus, for these Greek thinkers the goal of philosophy now is to understand what this political animal is capable of doing to itself as well as to the fellow human beings. It was clear to the Greeks that the rise and fall of any city-state could eventually lead to a crisis in leadership. Plato, like other before him, including his contemporaries, had witnessed what painful events result from the lack of cooperation of those acting in positions of leadership, how destructive the inter-state wars can be, how the civil wars bring bloody catastrophes, how social upheavals succeed mainly in establishing tyrannical regimes and loss of social tranquility.
For Plato, in writing the Republic, it was not the only the form of government that really mattered but also the confusing and dark role of leadership. The crucial issue for philosophy was not just the study of nature but the urgent need to understand the nature of human nature. It alone holds the key to understanding the political way of life. Without this key, all the other issues in human affairs would remain in the region of ignorance and exploitation by the dark forces of the human passions, the wrong-headed eros, the distorted self-love. Callicles’ doctrine that “might makes right,” in the Gorgias dramatically summarized the consequences. The doctrine demanded that one owes it to himself to grab power and keep it by any means possible, especially through control of the legislating process. Plato made it abundantly clear in the Republic and in other dialogues that political constitutions are only as good and beneficial as the leaders make them to be. Corrupt constitutions are so because the leaders are corrupt and self-serving. Upright citizens in such faulty environments are apt to suffer, even die, unless they obey and submit to the ignorance of the masses or to the powerful ways of the despotic rulers. Democracy is no exception. The ultimate cause of human political failure and social misery is rooted in the bad trophē for the thymos, as Dr. Kalimtgis so aptly discussed, causing the distortion of the faculties with which human beings perform in political situations.
In Republic VI, Socrates discusses the characteristics of those who may qualify to become philosophoi and how such persons can be corrupted by pleasures, flattery, riches, and by a kind of education that the sophists were said to provide. The Republic is more than a treatise on the metaphysics of politics, as is fashionable to say these days. Rather, it should be read as a remarkably rich and in-depth analysis of the requisite qualifications for responsible leadership. The inquiry into these issues leads to the nature of human nature and the formulation of the common good. To ignore either theme is tantamount to remaining in political ignorance and courting failure. He clearly saw that at the root of the malaise lies the blind and relentless drive for power in ambitious citizens craving for leadership. I think this is the way to study Plato’s political thought rather than subjecting his writings mainly to the analysis of arguments in the quest for the ideal polis.
Plato founded his Academy mainly to serve as a school of political education. Regrettably, the main discoveries in political wisdom found no fertile way to blossom. After his visits to Syracuse, following in Socrates’ footsteps, he decided against direct involvement in the politics of Athens. None of his contemporaries was ever prepared to adopt the principles of justice Plato proposed.

4. The way of Aristotle
Plato’s student, Aristotle, was hardly successful as the teacher of young Alexander. The ambitious prince burned Thebes and subdued Athens to the Macedonian rule. His famous expedition to the banks of Hindus River laid the conditions for the springing of the Hellenistic empires. No political leader, despot, satrap, king, or emperor, stopped to listen to the voice of reason in political life. The distorted self-love in leadership remained the canon and defined the character of political rule throughout the history of governments of both West and East. The contemporary political thinkers are no exception.
In a way, one can read Aristotle’s Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics, as special treatises on the subject of leadership, what it is, how citizens rise to it and either succeed or fail, especially in the diverse types of constitutions. But the central practical issue again is "what is good leadership," a theme that keeps ethics and politics together. Leadership, in fact, is recognized as a natural pursuit, found among animals as well as humans, but in the case of the latter it is expected to be performed as a function of the special nature of human beings, which when perfected, acquires a special public significance in the service of technē, the architectonic art trenched in logos.
Aristotle’s views on leadership are clear enough. His study and critique of the various types of government and the sorting them as either healthy or deviant, directly engaged him in criticism of the causes of both decline and political stability. In either case, the key factor is the role of leadership and how it functions in the diverse forms of government, be it by one, few and many leaders, as in the three pairs, of kingship vs. tyranny, aristocracy vs. oligarchy, and democracy vs. politeia.
A key to successful and balanced cultural life is how to maintain the continuity between ethics and politics, a principle that led Aristotle to consider ethics as a part of political conduct. I should add here another Aristotelian principle: “Happiness (eudaimonia) is activity in accordance with virtue.” How, then, we may ask, does this principle pertain to citizens who decide or are called upon to serve as leaders? Are they expected to demonstrate in their conduct that they in fact possess the requisite virtues that ensure eudaimonia and therefore the correct exercise of leadership? Are we to conclude that any compromise of the life in accordance with virtue not only prevents the attainment of happiness but, equally bad, leads inevitably to constitutional deviancy? These considerations bring up the fundamental quest for correct leadership.
The inquiry is not only about leadership, how and why it occurs, i.e. which powers of the soul are energized in the pursuit of this public activity, but also about how one succeeds in performing this role. These two are distinct questions about interlocking pursuits. The issue of correct leadership calls for the examination of the conditions that must be met next to specifying the goals of each type of government. Given the complexity of the functions of human nature and the interlacing of the powers of the psyche, the orektikon, the thymoeides and the noetikon, their specific ends need to be fully understood and articulated. Once structured through trophē and habit and activated the ones that become dominant, also determine the direction of the social institutions, especially the overarching one of government. If we accept Aristotle’s psychology, in conjunction with the relevant parts of Plato’s psychology, any power of the soul can gain the upper hand and become powerful in the formation of character and how citizens perform in the public domain. Once this happens, or rather when the thymoeides is allowed to prevail, for instance, leadership will be conducted according to its demands. The orektikon follows suit.
Ostensibly, leaders rise in accordance with promises, expectations and needs. At some point a leader comes to believe that his/hers pursuits and ends are also those of the constituent group. Such an outlook may range from the immediate party members, the special demos, the class, or the entire community. How a leader comes to understand and envisage his own ends and ultimate goals, is itself a troublesome item. Tyrants, more readily than other types of leaders, have no difficulty believing that their personal ends are also politically beneficial to all subjects, including those who disagree but who must be punished, presumably “for their own good.”
Aristotle solves the problem of correct leadership by appealing to the common good as the ultimate value and in line with the fulfillment of human entelecheia. Accordingly, we can appreciate his definition of human beings as political by nature. He offers the well known definition that a citizen is the individual “who knows how to govern and be governed.” On this basis, then, the fundamental role of education is to provide the individual with the appropriate habits and knowledge to become a citizen, politēs, and thus employ the use of metron in all types of conduct. Since due to the aberrations of the thymoeides and the pressures of the orektikon governments either fail to introduce isonomia, equality before the law, or refuse to entitle the persons living under that regime as qualified to participate in the government, leadership inevitably becomes available to the privileged few or the ones already in place.
Deviation from correct citizenship sustains the corrupt types of government. Even democracy, as a type of constitution that ab initio recognizes participatory rights in public affairs, is not immune to distortions and manipulations. Hence it becomes a deviant constitution allowing corruption to penetrate all forms of conduct. Democracy, although meant to serve all citizens by instituting isonomia as equality before the law and the right to participate in the domain of public service, to govern and be governed, at the end becomes corrupt. So the political metron is indeed knowledge of how to govern and be governed, and loss the metron means compromising the meaning of citizenship. The deviation occurs either through amatheia, lack of learning on the part of the citizens, or through the clever manipulation of power on the part of those citizens who again through amatheia are motivated to attain and manipulate power. The victim turns out to be the koinon agathon, and more precisely, both leaders and followers. Once again, leadership has failed to perform according to logos and metron. Self-love has taken the wrong turn by replacing aretē with akrasia and greed.
It is difficult to expound on the political significance of philia, either as self-love or love for the good of others, without repeating what Dr. Kalimtgis has already so carefully stated in his paper. The part that also needs to be underscored at this point is the ensuing opposite of philia, the rise and destructive effects of enmity. One of the basic features of correct leadership is whether it reduces enmity and promotes philia. The latter leads the citizens beyond the pursuit of prosperity and above the constant threat of antagonisms. In agreement with the conduct that secures the full development of human entelecheia, philia as the correct form of self-love effects the harmony of the attained aretai as well as the cooperation of the citizens in the pursuit of the common good. This way of understanding the pursuit of eudaimonia, is the perfect antidote to what has happened in modern times, namely the fostering of split-personalities hopelessly devoid of harmonia, where the self falls in a state of enmity with itself.

5. Conclusion
Being a leader, as I have tried to show, is a special kind of community role, always tied to the conduct of individuals. The kind of leadership a citizen will exercise will be a function of character, and this in turn can be best understood with reference to the habits of the distinct powers of the soul, how they are structured, how as formed dynameis function together, and how their ends are coordinated and which particular end dominates over the others. Thus, each individual behaves as a leader or as a subordinate and follower, depending on what the special role calls for. Normally, in the case of a leader, the conduct is expected to be that of a just person, generally virtuous in the performance of specific or limited tasks or totally in every performable role: to enhance philia and eliminate enmity. When a leader fails to respond to these requirements, confusions begin to burden the political role. They let failure set in through the distorted function of the pathē, as the tragedians taught with dramatic eloquence.
As in the case of Cosmic order, where Dike oversees the balance of the natural elements, so it was expected that civic actions would conform to Dike as well. Here the human systems of laws, the nomos, are expected to keep in check the diverse human interests, ambitions, and drives. What happens in history, however, shows that the conforming of human dike to cosmic Dike rarely happens; the result is disharmony between the cosmos of nature and the cosmos of humankind. This is still the gravest of all problems. We are still left with the question: Why do humans, endowed though as they are with the faculty of logos, fail to conduct their political lives in accord with the Cosmic order of nature? Once again, for what may be the best Hellenic answer to this perennial puzzle, we may want to go back and study more carefully Aristotle’s De Anima, perhaps with Heraclitus’ help, as the best introduction to political life.

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