The role of the national leader is dictated by the nature and character of the nation’s politics; he or she carries out no more tasks than the people’s level of political development or the maturity of their institutions allow. Countries whose people possess a fully developed political instinct give the national leader less to do than those countries whose people have yet to develop the proper political instincts. That is why dictatorships always require a formidable state apparatus and an extensive bureaucracy; the people cannot take care of the simplest tasks of administration, so, someone - government, has to do it for them.
That said, no place on earth can be thought of as exclusively possessing a politically conscious citizenry or a politically unconscious citizenry. It is normally the case, each nation’s citizen body is made of both parts, not necessarily in equal numbers. And it is important to point out the disparity between the number of politically inclined and politically disinclined citizens; numbers in politics do not mean as much as they do in mathematics; they mean more.
For example, two individuals representing two different constituencies of the same population size do not represent the same number of people unless both constituencies are at the same level of political development. Assume there are two groups of people A and B with differently developed political history. Assume the people in A lack the rudiments of political organization and, as a result, a majority of them have never taken any part in the administration of their own affairs. Assume B possesses basic institutions that allow a majority of its members to be politically active.
More often than not, the interests of group A are looked after by individuals who, regardless of consent by the majority and self-righteously we might add, make it incumbent on themselves to see to the burden of governance, whereas the majority in B are active in politics and are, therefore, predisposed to assigning someone to look after their interests and place some restrains on their charges, notwithstanding the occasional Julius Caesars and Adolf Hitlers – dictators who, given power by overwhelming majority consent, suspend the mechanism of rule by consent the moment they take office.
That means, less individuals take part in governance in A than in B; therefore, even with the same exact population size, fewer people are involved in deciding political matters in A than are in B. So, a representative of A represents less people than does a representative of B. Another way to look at this is: the less people participate in politics, the more they become susceptible to political pressure from various quarters; even a single clergyman can be a great determent to the sound judgment of an entire people, which is why one man – one vote can sometimes be a disaster.
We only need to point to those low-income families who let those charlatans in holy order, daylight robbers really, manipulate them to the extent that they spend more money on gilding the houses of imaginary entities than on books for their own children. Only a people in their political infancy would suffer themselves to be unduly influenced in such an abominable manner.
Suffice it to say, only a few people are placed or place themselves in leadership positions. Whether citizens will their deputies or representatives to rule over them or not, there seems no alternative to rule by delegation; direct democracy whereby entire bodies of citizens make political decisions had not been practical since Alexander of Macedon quashed the city-states of ancient Greece, something about which Demosthenes had warned his fellow Athenians. Such is now the size of nations that delegation is inevitable; and the highest delegation in the political system as it now prevails goes to the national leader.
Now, what do people look for in their national leaders? The commonplace suggestion is: heads of government should be smart; they should know what to do in times of crisis and they should know what they plan to do with the country. It seems then there is a premium on the intellectual abilities of the national leader.
This is normally determined by the level of political development: Those nations with longstanding traditions of popular governments require less from their national leader than do those without similar traditions. To put it slightly differently, the worth allocated to a national leader is inversely proportional to the people’s political maturity; as long as there is a working political system in place with sufficient checks and balances, the leader does not need to be a genius; he or she can in fact be a doofus or a simpleton.
It is never wise, however, to rule out anything in politics and as we stated in the beginning, nations are so composed that political instincts are manifested differently in different sections of the same society. Any government must accordingly balance the needs of the different elements under it, namely the elements that are self-reliant to the extent that the leader can be anything, including a simpleton, and the elements that are hopelessly incapable of any political action to the extent that only a genius can hold everything together for them. If the leader must be a genius, the people must be simpletons – is as simple as we can make it.
And as if to make our point, members of a Russian youth group, something akin to the obnoxious state-sponsored youth forums here in Ethiopia, published hagiographical accounts of Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin with a title “Words That Change the World.” This 400-page collection features some of the major speeches and diatribes Putin has subjected the world to since coming to power some fifteen years ago. They made careful selections lest the man comes off as anything other than a genius. Of course, by virtue of receiving state support, the autonomy of these youth groups, the Russian as well as the Ethiopian one, is suspect and, therefore, they cannot be said to represent themselves much less anybody else. But, unfortunately, they sometimes make the headlines and cannot be ignored.
In the late 1950s, his Democratic Party acolytes gave American President John F. Kennedy, Senator from Massachusetts at the time, a Pulitzer Prize for a book he never wrote. The book his good friend Ted Sorensen wrote, “Profiles in Courage”, was supposed to reveal the senator’s genius and maybe even assist his chances for the presidency. We cannot say it did not work. We can say, however, he could have done without it, and Putin too. It is true Putin’s lackeys published only those things he has actually said himself, but the import of what the errand boys for the two leaders have done is one and the same: they tried their darnedest to exalt what they considered to be the genius of the national leader.
We must needs point out, exalting any one person, national leader or otherwise, is always accomplished at the expense of everybody else. Billions of unfortunate souls live in regions where leaders have to be geniuses, or in the event that they are not, they have to at least make the effort to misrepresent themselves as one. Genius, or its scarcity rather, is best personified by “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal, Al Hadji, Doctor” Idi Amin Dada. But then, that cliché was exhausted long ago. So, we must content ourselves with the alternative “The Terror of International Imperialism, and The Doctor of Revolutionary Sciences” Ahmed Sékou Touré. By the way, however much they made claims to the contrary, a “grateful public” did not bestow the titles on Amin or Touré; they gave the titles to themselves.
Parenthetically, I understand, absolutely, why anyone would want to be named after the great revolutionary hero Samora Machel; it is beyond me, however, why anyone would want to be named after “The Doctor of Revolutionary Sciences”. Considering how the geniuses were dangerous to people’s liberties, the people may have been better off with dimwits for leaders. Then again, who is to say they weren’t led by those?
Intellectual ability is sought after in many fields, including politics. But the genius must be in the system, not in those who preside over it. A system that employs tried-and-true mechanisms of checks and balances ensures political stability better than does the brilliance of one leader. And if anyone should be vested with brilliance, it should the more be the branch of government which makes the laws than those that execute them.
Of course, we cannot say brilliant people must be excluded from the highest office completely. But one man’s alleged genius does us no good. In fact, it harms us when policies, especially the stupid ones, are revered simply because they are uttered by a genius. There is no reason anything should be right just because Putin, or anyone else on whose genius some people may insist, said it. What a relief we never have to worry about our leaders' genius as there is no danger of that.