Thursday, April 9, 2009

Should a Leader Want to Be Loved or Feared?

The question in the title of this post comes from Machiavelli. Yesterday, pseudonymous blogger Neo-neocon brought it to our attention in a thoughtful and incisive post about leadership. Link here.

Her reflections were occasioned by the adulation heaped on our president during his latest European excursion.

Machiavelli answered that if a leader cannot be both loved and feared, it is better to be feared. The reason, as Neo noted, is that it is dangerous to be loved and not feared.

Fear saves lives. If a leader can strike fear in the hearts of a nation's enemies, they will be less likely to attack.

The problem is not so much that Europeans love Obama. Or that European leaders fawn over him. The danger is that Obama believes the hype and succumbs to the charm.

Leaders should know better than to trust the adoring love of their fellow leaders.

How did European leaders show their love for Obama? By giving him nothing of substance to return home with.

Obama seems to be easily flattered. He does not seem to know that leaders should be wary of sycophants. While the leader is basking in the glow of adoration, someone is picking his pocket. The more the leader loves his popularity, the more often his pocket will be picked.

To shift the metaphor, it reminds me of La Fontaine's fable of the fox and the crow. The crow is sitting in a tree holding a piece of cheese in its beak. The fox flatters the crow by telling him how wonderfully he sings. When the crow falls for the ruse and starts singing, and drops the cheese.

Victor Davis Hanson noted that Obama's attitude manifests: "a form of narcissism that focuses applause on self, at the expense of the reputation of one's country."

A president who went around Europe apologizing for his country and puffing himself up at the expense of his predecessor, must fall in this category.

To enhance his personal popularity, Obama diminished national pride, prestige, and respect. Europeans were happy to hear it. They have no stake in American national pride, and gain prestige when America loses status.

As Neo points out perceptively, leaders should not be liked in the same way that you like your friends, your family, or your lovers.

A leader's person symbolizes the group he represents. If he talks down the group's achievements in order to talk up himself, he has failed the most basic test of leadership.

If the leader maintains a dignified demeanor he will enhance the self-respect of all members of the group.

Obama seems to be waving in this direction when he keeps saying that he wants to lead by example. But you cannot do it when you are apologizing all the time.

Setting a dignified example does not involve suggesting that nothing good happened before you were elected. It does not involve acting as though you are now, for the first time, proud of your country.

A leader must take pride in his nation's achievements. That way, he will be telling people that they are capable and competent, that they have achieved successes that can be build upon. The alternative, the Obama approach, merely undermines the nation's confidence.

When it comes to being liked, Obama is king of the world. When it comes to enhancing American prestige in the world, he has just been rolled.

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