If you have ever studied ancient Chinese philosophy, the centrality of virtue and wisdom to sound governance is a repeated theme. In this context, the entire social order of society is merely a reflection of the leader’s personal virtue and the wisdom of the leader’s policy. All of the greatest philosophers of China, from Lao Tzu to Confucious, dedicated much of their work to teaching the necessity of morality and wisdom to society.
Surviving volumes of these ancient works demonstrating both the benefits of such a leader and the high costs to a society without such a leader fill many shelves around the world, and there are still important lessons to be gained from them in their granular details. In American parlance, however, the gist of all great Chinese works is neatly, if bluntly, summarized with the English truism: The tone is set from the top.
With that in mind, let’s talk about four kinds of leaders that result on the dimensions of virtue (morality) and wisdom (intelligence) and, specifically, how they relate to political leadership and, to no small amount, the recent trend in America. While reading this, please also consider how this discussion would have been received by members of both political parties just five years ago, when the respective leadership situation was reversed.
First there is the moral and intelligent leader, whose decisions you can trust, not simply because he is intelligent, but, more importantly, because he’s moral and will seek to do the right thing whenever he can. He will choose paths based not on their popularity, but their rightness. He will gather around him men and women of good counsel. If he discovers that he is on the wrong path, he will do whatever he can to correct that. This leader will be thoughtful, listen to his counselors, and make policy based on knowledge and the public good.
Then you have the moral but unintelligent leader. His decisions you can still trust, because, though he isn’t intelligent, he’s moral. And he will seek to do the right thing whenever he can. He will also choose paths based on necessity not on his own popularity. He will gather people who he knows to be wiser and smarter than him. If he can be convinced that he is on the wrong path, he will take the counsel of others and adjust his path accordingly. This leader will ultimately depend on the advice of his counselors and his moral compass.
Then you have the immoral but intelligent leader. Such a man, because he is both intelligent and immoral, will seek to do what seems to benefit him the most. He will choose paths that will sway the public to his causes, while he secretly works in his own interest. He will choose counsel that is weak and corrupt, manipulating them as he wishes. If the counselors will not bend to his will, he will remove them before they get in the way. He will use popularity to rule like a thief.
Finally, there is the immoral and foolish leader. He cannot be trusted at all. Not only will he be openly self serving, he is sure to pick the wrong path, because he will behave in a way he thinks to be intelligent but is actually foolish. He will baffle friends and embolden enemies, as he makes a fool of himself domestically and abroad. He will seek the support of people who are as stupid as he is and only take counsel that confirms his actions, getting rid of counsel that opposes his wants. He will respond to popularity and rule like a child.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Liberty is For The Win!