Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.”     Edmund Burke

July 1, 2008

Do we really need a leader?

by tarran

The always thought provoking J.D. Tucille of ‘The Disloyal Opposition’ answers this question with an emphatic , No!

Both major presidential candidates have made it quite clear that — policy differences aside — they’re running to be national leader and they want to be assessed on their readiness to take the nation’s helm.

That’s a shame, because if there’s anything this country does not need, it’s a leader.

In fact, the whole idea of national leadership in a republic of free, self-governing people was intensely distasteful to the founders. In his book, The Cult of the Presidency, Gene Healy points out:

Indeed, the term “leader,” which appears repeatedly in Madison, Hamilton, and Jay’s essays in defense of the Constitution, is nearly always used negatively, save for one positive reference to the leaders of the American Revolution. The Federalist is bookended by warnings about the perils of popular leadership: the first essay warns that “of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.” The last essay raises the specter of disunion and civil war, ending with the “military despotism of a victorious demagogue.” For the Framers, the ability to “move the masses” wasn’t a desirable quality in a president — it was a threat.

Free countries don’t need leaders because their citizens lead themselves. The inhabitants of free countries are disparate individuals with varying values and preferences, all wanting to go in a multitude of different directions. The role of the government in a free country is to protect the borders and prevent the citizens from getting too rough with one another, and otherwise let people find their own way as best they can.

Many of our problems are caused by leaders who insert themselves in the voluntary interactions between consenting adults. We would be far better off if they limited themselves or playing Simcity or Civilization and left us alone.

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5 Comments

  1. “Democracy” was also a pejorative term then, not a positive one as it is erroneously assumed to be today.

    Comment by Peter Orvetti — July 1, 2008 @ 3:28 pm
  2. One of the – many – points of genius our founders instituted for our government is the election of representatives, rather than a true democracy. Given that not just the US but the world at large is at a major turning point of history, we do indeed need someone who can not just see this but try with all that he or she is to preserve our republic.

    Consider: government is a direct reflection of the society it derives from. Our republic derived from colonists who fled England and Europe primarily because of religious persecution. Today, our society is changing dramatically due to immigration primarily from Mexico and South America.

    As the focus of our society shifts, so does government: simply because the representatives which form our government will, in a relatively short period, directly reflect the elected representatives of the new emigree’s. Largely, current immigrants are fleeing war, chaos and economic uncertainty. Much different than the original colonists, with very different views on what they want and how to get it.

    Comment by Harry Rossman — July 2, 2008 @ 10:33 am
  3. Excellent post and comments.

    I would add that another way in which our constitutional republic diverts from a democracy is that our constitution is designed to define what’s on the table for a vote and what is not.

    Every night 300 million people decide what to have for dinner. No “leader” or other governmental entity decides this for them (setting aside trivial diversions into USDA regulations). Every night, those 300 million people decide – for themselves. Is this chaos? Or is it simply not an issue that needs to be decided as one?

    Article 2 describes the very few issues that require such single-person oversight. Mostly, that person is the executive of the federal government, not America. He or she is the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States” not the Commander in Chief of Americans. We do not elect a king.

    History shows that the economic expression of that freedom is a large part of what has made America so successful.

    Comment by Akston — July 2, 2008 @ 1:32 pm
  4. Harry,

    Our Founders envisioned not a government of democracy, but a small government with severely limited powers, and democratic means as a method (in opposition to monarchy) to determine who is allowed to exercise those powers.

    The democratic aspects of our society were not implemented to determine ‘what we get and how’, rather they were a method by which citizens could rectify the mistake of putting the wrong people in positions of power without relying on armed rebellion.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — July 2, 2008 @ 1:36 pm
  5. Brad,

    Historically accurate, but not as accurate today. Given the rapid changes in our society, it may not be long before the very nature of our government changes. Consider the Supreme Court rulings concerning eminent domain and the second amendment. One ruling favors government over the individual, the other favors the individual.

    A roiling mix, but one indicative of the direction our society and government are heading in.

    Comment by Harry Rossman — July 2, 2008 @ 10:56 pm

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