Nov 25, 2009

A Knight's Birthday

Earlier this year the actor Ricardo Montalban passed away. While he is often best known as an actor, he was also a Knight in the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great. A true humanitarian, devout Catholic, and terrific actor, let us remember Ricardo Montalban on what would have been his 89th birthday.

Nov 23, 2009

An article from the Distributist Review...

On the loss of access to leaders and power in democracy can be found here. It is related to this and this.

Nov 6, 2009

Democracy, Monarchy, Management, and Leadership

One common question that we face is ‘why do you support monarchy?’ in one of its various forms. After all, in the current world some variation of representative democracy seems to be the only way to govern. The fall of the Soviet Union led to an assumption that corporate capitalist democracy, socialist democracy, or some other flavor of representative democracy is the path the world is on.

Of course, the last 10 years have shown the faults of this assumption. From the balkanization of former Soviet territories into new nations to the repeated economic shocks which the most mature democracies of the West have only made worse the evidence shows that representative democracy will, to paraphrase John Adams, always destroy itself.

But why is that? From Greece to dozens of modern examples democracy fails. Some argue that Pareto was correct in arguing that democracy is a fa├žade; others that Friedman was correct when he argued that voters are irrational in their voting choices; others argue that the ephemeral nature of a government that changes every few years makes it too unstable to survive; and, perhaps, Machiavelli was correct when he argued that, in the end, democracy breaks down when people realize they can vote themselves anything – and do.

When we speak of the failure of democracies we often hear the counter-argument that ‘monarchies were no better! There were many examples of terrible kings’. This is true. But it always makes us wonder – why do advocates of democracy excuse bad presidents and prime ministers while praising democracy but hold monarchy doomed by bad kings? Either a badly chosen person dooms the entire system, or it does not.

However, this does point out that both of these failures, the collapse of democracy and the danger of a bad king, both spring from the dichotomy that separates democracy from monarchy. This dichotomy has always existed but in the modern world it seems almost invisible. Indeed, some argue it doesn’t exist. In general this dichotomy is skills versus character. Or, as we call it, management versus leadership.

Management is a set of skills; planning your time; prioritizing tasks; communicating with and among subordinates, peers, and superiors; the documentation of procedures; etc. In the modern world many people, especially people who teach management skills. Include leadership as a skill. We posit that this concept, that leadership Is a skill on par with prioritizing tasks and that leadership can be learned in the classroom by anyone willing to do the homework, is one of the root causes of the recent economic difficulties. Time after time in the dot com burst and in the current recession there were stories of a major company, investment firm, venture capital group, Fortune 100 company, etc. where the people at the top had made catastrophic decisions which lead to the firm being in great peril. And time and again we learned that the response of these managers was to evade responsibility, hide the risks, and do their utmost to continue to gain great wealth for themselves at the expense of investors, shareholders, employees, even their own families.

Most, if not almost all, of these top business managers were, we are told, our ‘best and brightest’; graduates of Ivy League schools with MBAs from the top universities. Of course, ‘MBA’ stands for ‘Master of Business Administration’ and means that, as we stated, all of these managers responsible for costing millions of people trillions of dollars due to their own terrible management were trained that leadership is a skill that you can write down in your planner.

If leadership isn’t a skill, though, what is it? Leadership is the combination of traits and behaviors that cause you to be effective in giving purpose, direction, and motivation to others. The core traits of a leader are justice, courage, prudence, and temperance. These are called the Cardinal Virtues because you cannot have any unless you have all. To the best of our knowledge the only academic institutions that still strive to instill these virtues are the various military academies of the world, and they have varying degrees of emphasis on them (and, of course, varied results). The examples of business managers show the woeful lack of these traits in the financial world of corporate capitalism. Indeed, if anything the various crises of the last few decades show that the men and women from the ‘best’ schools are trained to embrace corruption, cowardice, foolishness, and gluttony.

History shows us that over time democracies slowly reject leadership in favor of management. Leaders come and go as elections pass by, meaning that it is difficult to judge the character of potential leaders – only skills can be assessed. Eventually the people elevate skills above character in the public sphere. Over time this elevation of skills over character becomes common in private life, as well. This erosion of admiration of virtuous character eventually leads to moral decline in society and leaders until Pareto, Friedman, and Machiavelli are shown to be correct.
This also explains the strength and weakness of monarchy. Monarchs and nobles are raised from birth to be leaders – if all goes well. The great monarchs and nobles of the past (as opposed to, perhaps, the great conquerors) displayed excellent character while the examples that discredit monarchies in the eyes of its foes were as flawed in character as any politician in a democracy.
At the same time the reliance of a kingdom upon the good character of its leaders encourages the elevation of those virtues throughout the citizenry. This is especially true when it is possible for a citizen to be elevated to the nobility by virtue and for a noble to lose their position through turpitude. When leadership is based upon and dependent upon moral, upright character then morality and virtues are esteemed and rewarded while immorality and baseness are despised and rejected. The reason that morality is rejected and baseness embraced in the modern West is because, inevitably, democracy rejects virtue and good character.