Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez and Charismatic Leadership

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead.  I mean the wicked witch or wizard of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

His passing is salutary, because he is a solid example of a charismatic leader.

People turn to charismatic leadership, according to Max Weber, when ordinary political leadership seems to be failing -- in "times of trouble", according to Reinhard Bendix in Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait.
Hence, in times of trouble the "natural leader" is neither the official nor the master whose authority is based on the sanctity of tradition, but the man who is believed to possess extraordinary gifts of body and mind.
We may disagree about whether Venezuela was really in a "time of trouble" when Hugo Chavez was elected president, but the lower orders certainly felt so.  In the AP's piece,
"Chavez masterfully exploits the disenchantment of people who feel excluded ... and he feeds on controversy whenever he can," Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka wrote in their book "Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela's Controversial President."
 This is the left-wing approach to politics that goes back to Marx and Engels and the Communist Manifesto.  Exploitation, "naked, shameless, direct, brutal", is the core of the Marxist message.  You are suffering because you are being exploited.

No doubt in many South American countries the poor are being exploited.  In The Other Path, Hernando De Soto explained how the exploitation works.  It was basically that everything in the formal economy was decided through politics, through negotiation between powerful special interests.  So if you were a campesino, coming to the city of Lima from the altiplano in the high Andes, you were outside the patronage/clientage system and its constellation of interests, an unwelcome disturbance to the status quo.

Let us admit that for the campesino, the outsider, a charismatic politics is the rational solution to his problem.  He wants a shakeup to the status quo, hoping that, in the fallout, he will get some crumbs.  He wants a leader who will fight for the people against the powerful.

In reality, of course, the charismatic leader is a monster that collapses the entire economy through his endless resort to government force.  Capitalism may be exploitative, but that is because it is inhuman.  It just matches supply and demand through the price system.  If you are a low-skilled campesino, then you don't get to charge a very high price for your labor in the city, particularly if you need to be a member of a union, or need to be worth more than the minimum wage before you can get a formal job. And that, you are likely to judge, is unjust.

But capitalism doesn't care.  Once you get some skills it will mindlessly include you in the system.  Because now you are worth more.  If you really apply yourself and acquire some unique skills in high demand, it will shower you with money.

The trouble is that the charismatic leader is worse than inhuman.  He is demonic.  He delights in upsetting all human relations and resorts to physical force and compulsion, gulags and extermination camps, on principle.  He is a war leader, not a negotiator or a builder.

Which brings us to Barack Obama.  Obviously, Obama is a charismatic leader, but not, perhaps, a great one.  He owes his presidency more to the eagerness of the mainstream media to waft him aloft and to ordinary Americans eager to elect our "first black president" than "extraordinary gifts of body and mind."

And Obama is not only an Affirmative Action charismatic leader; he is also not a nice guy.  Quin Hillyer:
Just the other day at lunch, a friend of mine, a businessman with good connections across the country, recounted a conversation he had with a Democratic insider while Obama was in the midst of his first presidential race. “It’ll take the American people five years,” said the insider, “to realize what Obama’s really about and what he’s really like.” Then, presumably, the public would catch on to his manifold defects.
Yeah.  Now they tell us.

In Venezuela they had a real charismatic leader.  In the US we only have a fake one.  That, if you are looking for it, is merely proof of American exceptionalism.

Because, after five years Americans are beginning "to realize what Obama's really about" and they don't like it.  At least that's what recent opinion polls are telling us.

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