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Hullabaloo


Monday, December 09, 2013

 
Leaders do matter

by digby

I have often disagreed with Andrew Sullivan, but on this we certainly see eye to eye.  He's talking about leadership, specifically in light of the death of Mandela and his greater meaning to the cause of freedom. He first talks about the popular notion in current political science that pooh-pooh's the the idea that leadership a matters very much, for good or ill.  He quotes Stephen Dyson:
Tucker draws our attention to the dangers of the “great leader” view of politics: it promotes apathy and resignation as we wait for superheroes to appear and fix all of our problems. Yet there are also dangers in minimizing the role of leaders, and they go beyond missing important causes of major events, although this is a clear risk. In the explanations of historians, the reporting of journalists, and the political decisions of citizens, leaders often play the role of personifying abstract trends, ideas, and forces, and offering a human connection between politics and life. People learn, understand, and are motivated to take action by compelling narratives, and compelling narratives involve individual human beings. A worthy goal of science is to provide systematic, rigorous knowledge about issues of social importance. But science should also engage with the moral and empathetic possibilities that come from taking leaders seriously.
Sullivan adds:
Alas, political science – a misnomer from the get-go (and I say that with a PhD in it) – is terrified of human nature, individual character, the unknowable biographical and psychological factors that bear down on any leader’s decisions, and anything that, effectively, cannot be quantified. But a huge amount of human behavior cannot be quantified. Which is why I often thought, as I sat through another stats class, that we’d do better to study Shakespeare than mere regressions to the mean.
I have no idea if political science is terrified of human nature but I do believe absolutely that human behavior cannot be quantified. Political science is a very useful addition to our store of knowledge but it hasn't even come close to the subtle, sophisticated understanding of humanity of say, the Bible or Shakespeare or Plato or Kant or even Stephen King.

And while it's true that waiting around for the man on the proverbial white horse can bredd apathy and allow way too much celebrity cultism in politics. But having expectations of leadership and demanding accountability from them is hugely important. It's fundamental to how human beings understand how the world works.

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