July 16, 2005
I read the latest Harry Potter book this weekend. And I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that the big theme of this volume is leadership.
I also just read a book called “The Crazed” by Ha Jin, which is not about leadership so explicitly, but is certainly about moral courage and guidance. (It takes place in China in the lead-up to the massacre at Tiananmen Square, if that’s any indication.)
So I have been thinking a bit about moral leadership today. And, to my distress, as I look around the world, around the public sphere, I can’t find any.
At least not the kind I want.
(Note: A cut-and-pasted line from Harry Potter in the extended entry. It doesn’t give anything away, but fair warning all the same!)
I’m talking about Dumbledore-class leaders, here. Not idealogues, scolds, or tacticians, but wise, experienced adults.
What brought this machine to such swift triumph over the notables was the fascination of Gladstone’s ‘grand’ demagogy, the firm belief of the masses in the ethical substance of his policy, and, above all, their belief in the ethical character of his personality.
Now, George W. Bush engages in very effective grand demogogy, for sure. But do “the masses” believe in the ethical substance of his policy? I don’t think half a mass counts. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask for somebody — not necessarily a politician, but somebody — who can muster more than that.
There’s a scene in “The Half-Blood Prince” that ends like this:
There was a long pause.
“Well, it is clear to me that he has done a very good job on you,” said Scrimgeour, his eyes cold and hard behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “Dumbledore’s man through and through, aren’t you, Potter?”
“Yeah, I am,” said Harry. “Glad we straightened that out.”
Jeez, I can’t even tell you how much I want that: Somebody great of heart, full of flinty phronesis and maturity, who deserves some allegiance.
So, two questions for the Snarkmatrix:
1. Am I overlooking somebody? A public figure anywhere in the world with some moral gravity?
2. Absent that: Have you read any good writing on this subject? Contemporary or not — I think I’d enjoy reading some smart people’s reactions to the wisdom vacuum.