Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Myth of the Great Leader

Carlos Fierro:

"""""We don’t need another Lincoln, or an Obama; what we need is more Fredrick Douglasses and Harriet Beecher Stowes. We need more Martin Luther Kings, Big Bill Haywoods, and Helen Kellers. We don’t need more FDRs, we need more Eugene Debs. We don’t need more JFKs, we need more Philip Berrigans. We don’t need to look to great men to lead us to the promised land, we need to recognize the power that we, the nameless and “the powerless,” possess when we assert our power rather than make assertions of faith directed at the great leader myths.

There are two reasons why these myths are particularly dangerous. First, they are simply false. The legislature, the executive, and the judiciary have not pushed this nation forward. They have gone along with popular movements kicking and screaming. It was not any of the three branches of government that led to the advances in voting rights, labor rights, or the end of slavery, it was mass popular movements. It was not Cleveland, Harrison, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, or even FDR that had anything to do with advances in labor rights or suffrage. It wasn't Brandeis, Berger, Brennan, Holmes or Marshall that led to the advancement of this nation as a more equitable state. It wasn't JFK, Robert Kennedy or Johnson in the White House, or Mansfield and Dirksen in the Senate that lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was people on the street marching and fighting for a more equitable nation. It was many of those same people that brought about the end to the Vietnam War, not the mainstream media or any of those mentioned above. It is this very misperception, the creation of dubious hero leaders that leads to the second danger: disempowerment. We are left to petition our overseers and vote for leaders and wish a wish based on the most unfounded faith that they will make things better."""""

One could quibble with a few points here (MLK for one drew from Thoreau as much as he did from a Douglass), but Fierro hits fairly close to the mark. Politicians rarely advance the cause of authentic progressive politics: that's the responsibility of informed citizens (that doesn't necessarily mean proletarian heroes). Also to be noted are Fierro's rips of the three branches of the USA political system. Those siding with the winning party of an election typically praise Democracy and the popular vote--the People have spoken!--at least as long as the party remains in power; those with the losing party usually object, until gaining power again (unless they are outlawed, as the nazis or communists outlawed opposition parties).

At the same time, however cold, ugly, and oppressive Prospero seems (the Kingdom of Prospero), Caliban (the Peoples Republic of Caliban!) does not offer much of an alternative. Eugene Debs, or MLK are not exactly Calibans, perhaps--tho' the knave's counted in their ranks. Which is to say, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches. FN cared little for King Prospero or his outlaw subordinate Caliban, really; and for that matter NietzscheSpeak provides an effective antidote to anarchist dreams (so may Shakespeare, or whoever penned that interesting dystopia, The Tempest).

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