It was famously said of the politicians of the French Radical Party under the Third Republic that they had no political platform except “to be in power”. That’s probably truer of more politicians, in more political systems, than we might like to think, but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that, here and there and from time to time, there have been political leaders with a bit of vision and determination who have, you know, led.
Leadership now seems horribly old fashioned, when most politicians today aspire to followership, if they have any aspirations at all. Yet there are political figures – Lloyd George, Roosevelt, De Gaulle – who were prepared to take on enemies and beat them in order to achieve things they believed were important. I was reminded just today that Neville Chamberlain – vilified for trying to prevent the Second World War – introduced some important social legislation during his time as Prime Minister, and not without having to fight for it.
Just as listening to the people and trying to meet their needs has been rebranded as “populism” (if not Fascism or even Nazism), so decisive government has been rebranded as “authoritarian.” We’ve reached the point where Hilary Clinton’s main qualification for being President is apparently that she’s not actually going to do anything, for example about America’s health care crisis, because it’s all too difficult.
But of course you’d have to be hopelessly naive to think that just because government is sitting on its hands, nobody else is in charge. The current hysteria about “authoritarian” political leaders is just a way of saying that the rich and powerful should be allowed to continue to make the rules for their own convenience, without any interruption from the likes of you and me. No words of condemnation are too strong for leaders like Vladimir Putin who actually are decisive, and have tried to exert the power of government.
Whether western elites like it or not, I fear we are in for a period of authoritarian rule, although in quite what form we don’t yet know. Certainly just asking banks to be kind enough to obey the law hasn’t been very successful. When the need comes to send the police in to close the banks down and arrest the senior managers, I’d rather a democratic government gave the order. But the longer the political class displays nothing but followership, the less likely that is.