Inert or crowded leaderships

Reformulating leaderships is urgent nowadays, amidst discredited policies and unsuspected volatility of votes and opinion impact. In the past we used to condemn the political apathy of citizens, now it is the opposite, the hyperpolitization, that could be a worrying matter
L

he issue of leadership often carries an implicit elegiac load of nostalgic myths from the Golden Age. “There no leaders now like the ones from the past”, we say, while comparing our inner image of a victorious Churchill with that of Cameron bottlefeeding a calf. Nevertheless, the nostalgia for leaderships can go beyond the simple regrets of the present or the need of a moral influence that gives some congruence to the complexity of our days. Certainly, in the praise to Robert Schuman and the promoters of the Treaty of Rome, we are providing it with an intelligibly, useful and epic legitimization for a world better than the one we have known: the very EU and the post-war consensus. And, despite the fact that leaderships are equally related to a given institutionalization and a correlation of forces of a political cycle, their benchmarks still prove useful to set archetypical examples: public virtues, gravitas, audacity, country pulse and outlook of historical circumstances, generating confidence, etc. In a word: without the existence of former leaders, we would know much less about our current leaders.

In today’s liquid modern world, it is worth recalling something important: that leadership is still important. Taking in refugees, resisting being “rescued” or calling a referendum were —eventually— decisions whose responsibility fell on Merkel, Rajoy and Cameron. Therefore, the issue of leadership is a quality questions. In fact, there is no shortage of new leaders: can we remember, a few years ago, in Spain, such politicians as Rivera, Iglesias or Colau? Even now we can appreciate some irony: after years of claiming for strong leaderships in Europe, some of its protagonists — from Mélenchon to Grillo or Le Pen— have managed to inspire more fear than trust. The case of the United States is paradoxical: Obama and Trump are two antithetical characters, but their development runs parallel to the humus of digital society, show-biz politics, permeability of a two-party system –democrats and republicans, fully aware of their ambivalences.

We are not living in a world more difficult than sixty years ago: that political generation resuscitated Europe from its ashes, literally. But there is no such thing as “the end of history” and now we may be on the verge of facing an even more complex world. This can be seen in the obstacles we bump into when trying to establish leaderships nowadays. The fragmentation of society —countryside/city, older/young people— impedes common stories and meeting points. The unrest originated by the crisis has been a political bonus for opportunists, globalization —even the European Union— knocks off the relevance of national leaderships. Public conversation, as seen in the social networks and exaggerated on televisions, intensifies our basic tendency to primal responses, e.g. striving for novelty, excessive emphasis on charisma, scrutiny into the personal life of politicians or decreased attention to complex argumentation. Above all, we are facing the loss of authority of institutions —e.g. the media or political parties— that were so far useful in politics and civil society.

If, for a long while, we have regretted the political apathy of citizenship, now the worrying matter could be their hyperpolitization. Today’s preferences for a leader show features of selfie, Narcissism or free hand: after leading French socialism to catastrophic consequences, Hamon announced a new political platform, just like Mélenchon had done before him. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is also acquainted for a number of years with dispersal close to fracture, and the same applies to Podemos, divided between the two leaders, Errejon vs. Iglesias. In this “self-service” politics, it could well be —e.g. the Macron case— that one chooses a leader without a party —and, therefore, less leadership—. This common trait typical of romanticism that, surprisingly, is still alive nowadays: the sympathy for the rebel, the outsider, the maverick. We cannot rule out entirely that this reveals an attitude of protest against one of the problems of traditional parties: the lack of meritocracy in selecting their leaders.

Hyperpolitization comes hand in hand with an unprecedented faith in politics. Nevertheless, there is also an implicit paradox. Certainly, despite the many “alpha” candidates and the many hyperleaderships, reality has awarded, let’s say, modest leaders. Merkel has never triggered, among European conservatives, the emotions that Cameron arose. It was Monti and Renzi —rather than Rajoy— who made it to the front pages of Time, and were subsequently swallowed and buried into the abyss of history. It can even be stated that such grey politics by Van Rompuy have been more effective in a Europe in crisis than the colourful Juncker post-crisis European policies. A British observer once showed his surprise at the gloominess of successful Primer Ministers, from Salisbury to Clement Atlee. However contradictory that may seem, it is not only the modest who will inherit the land but also they can be the ones who win the elections.

Inert or crowded leaderships

Reformulating leaderships is urgent nowadays, amidst discredited policies and unsuspected volatility of votes and opinion impact. In the past we used to condemn the political apathy of citizens, now it is the opposite, the hyperpolitization, that could be a worrying matter
L

he issue of leadership often carries an implicit elegiac load of nostalgic myths from the Golden Age. “There no leaders now like the ones from the past”, we say, while comparing our inner image of a victorious Churchill with that of Cameron bottlefeeding a calf. Nevertheless, the nostalgia for leaderships can go beyond the simple regrets of the present or the need of a moral influence that gives some congruence to the complexity of our days. Certainly, in the praise to Robert Schuman and the promoters of the Treaty of Rome, we are providing it with an intelligibly, useful and epic legitimization for a world better than the one we have known: the very EU and the post-war consensus. And, despite the fact that leaderships are equally related to a given institutionalization and a correlation of forces of a political cycle, their benchmarks still prove useful to set archetypical examples: public virtues, gravitas, audacity, country pulse and outlook of historical circumstances, generating confidence, etc. In a word: without the existence of former leaders, we would know much less about our current leaders.

In today’s liquid modern world, it is worth recalling something important: that leadership is still important. Taking in refugees, resisting being “rescued” or calling a referendum were —eventually— decisions whose responsibility fell on Merkel, Rajoy and Cameron. Therefore, the issue of leadership is a quality questions. In fact, there is no shortage of new leaders: can we remember, a few years ago, in Spain, such politicians as Rivera, Iglesias or Colau? Even now we can appreciate some irony: after years of claiming for strong leaderships in Europe, some of its protagonists — from Mélenchon to Grillo or Le Pen— have managed to inspire more fear than trust. The case of the United States is paradoxical: Obama and Trump are two antithetical characters, but their development runs parallel to the humus of digital society, show-biz politics, permeability of a two-party system –democrats and republicans, fully aware of their ambivalences.

We are not living in a world more difficult than sixty years ago: that political generation resuscitated Europe from its ashes, literally. But there is no such thing as “the end of history” and now we may be on the verge of facing an even more complex world. This can be seen in the obstacles we bump into when trying to establish leaderships nowadays. The fragmentation of society —countryside/city, older/young people— impedes common stories and meeting points. The unrest originated by the crisis has been a political bonus for opportunists, globalization —even the European Union— knocks off the relevance of national leaderships. Public conversation, as seen in the social networks and exaggerated on televisions, intensifies our basic tendency to primal responses, e.g. striving for novelty, excessive emphasis on charisma, scrutiny into the personal life of politicians or decreased attention to complex argumentation. Above all, we are facing the loss of authority of institutions —e.g. the media or political parties— that were so far useful in politics and civil society.

If, for a long while, we have regretted the political apathy of citizenship, now the worrying matter could be their hyperpolitization. Today’s preferences for a leader show features of selfie, Narcissism or free hand: after leading French socialism to catastrophic consequences, Hamon announced a new political platform, just like Mélenchon had done before him. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) is also acquainted for a number of years with dispersal close to fracture, and the same applies to Podemos, divided between the two leaders, Errejon vs. Iglesias. In this “self-service” politics, it could well be —e.g. the Macron case— that one chooses a leader without a party —and, therefore, less leadership—. This common trait typical of romanticism that, surprisingly, is still alive nowadays: the sympathy for the rebel, the outsider, the maverick. We cannot rule out entirely that this reveals an attitude of protest against one of the problems of traditional parties: the lack of meritocracy in selecting their leaders.

Hyperpolitization comes hand in hand with an unprecedented faith in politics. Nevertheless, there is also an implicit paradox. Certainly, despite the many “alpha” candidates and the many hyperleaderships, reality has awarded, let’s say, modest leaders. Merkel has never triggered, among European conservatives, the emotions that Cameron arose. It was Monti and Renzi —rather than Rajoy— who made it to the front pages of Time, and were subsequently swallowed and buried into the abyss of history. It can even be stated that such grey politics by Van Rompuy have been more effective in a Europe in crisis than the colourful Juncker post-crisis European policies. A British observer once showed his surprise at the gloominess of successful Primer Ministers, from Salisbury to Clement Atlee. However contradictory that may seem, it is not only the modest who will inherit the land but also they can be the ones who win the elections.