Where Have All The Leaders Gone? (Podcast)

Does it sometimes seem as if there are no leaders of substance any more? That, as we look around the world, or around our nation, every so-called “leader” is a mediocrity who does nothing of consequence? Did leaders of previous eras have better character and overall fortitude? We ask whether this sweeping generalization has some elements of truth, and make some related observations.

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The Eight Qualities Of The Man Of Understanding

One of the first and greatest classics of Arabic prose is the Book of Kalila and Dimna.  It is a collection of fables told with an allegorical purpose, but it is presented with such wisdom, poetic eloquence, and engaging humor as to make it one of the treasures of world literature.  Its pedigree verifies its merit.  The stories it contains were originally derived from a Sanskrit classic called the Panchatantra, but a Persian scholar and translator named Ibn Muqaffa’ (ابن المقفع‎‎), writing around 740 A.D., reworked the stories into something that was entirely original.

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On The Remaking Of Character

One of the apparent corollaries of the maxim that “character determines fate” is that character is static and unchangeable.  In the majority of cases this is undoubtedly true; but this truth should not be used as a license for us to lie supinely on our backs and let the swerve of the atoms in the void determine our future.  As volitional beings, we must act.  Forward movement is one of the imperatives of masculine virtue.  The negative personality takes refuge in the apparent indifference of the universe; but the active man, the healthy man, is too busy with his own affairs to fret over such exculpatory abstractions.  Each of us is responsible for his own fate.  Having accepted this, we will now ask how character can be modified to suit the will.

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The Character Of Epaminondas

The great Theban general Epaminondas is most famous for his crushing victory over the Spartans in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 B.C.  With this battle the long military influence of Sparta on the Greek peninsula was brought to an end.  He was a man of few words; but when he did speak, his words were worth recording.  The historian Cornelius Nepos relates two anecdotes that are revealing of his character and temperament.

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An Epitaph For Fidel Castro: The Failure Of Self-Mastery

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He was from youth a strong-willed and charismatic man, certain of the correctness of his ideas and the importance of his mission. It is probably true that in the beginning he genuinely wanted the best for his country, and he was possessed of a burning desire to right the wrongs he saw all around him. Cuba under his predecessors was little more than a huge plantation, exploited at will by corrupt elites and foreign powers.  His certitude gave him a charisma which the credulity of the commons mistook for leadership.

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The Ways A Man Can Win A Good Name

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Every man starting out in life is concerned with gaining notoriety.  He wishes to win a name for himself, and thereby gain the respect of others.  We wish others to see us as we see ourselves; or perhaps we want to remake ourselves into something better than what we once were.

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Your Character Has Two Components

 

Every man’s character has a dual quality to it.  One quality is etched into every man’s consciousness from birth, more or less.  And this is the quality of reason that Nature herself has endowed us with; it is that which separates us from the unreasoning brutes.

It is a universal quality, in the sense that every man possesses it.  From this rational aspect we get our innate sense of justice and fairness.  It is also what gives man that special curiosity about the world:  it is that which impels him to make inquiries into everything, to investigate everything, and to try to find answers for the riddles of Nature.

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How Character Can Change According To Circumstances

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It may be asked how a man’s character changes according to his circumstances.  Without doubt it does change; there remains an unalterable core of our character, fashioned from our earliest years, but onto this trunk may be grafted or discarded a variety of traits and habits.

On this subject we should be mindful of the following:

1.  It is easier to add character traits than it is to remove them.  The learning of a new set of habits and traits can be accomplished if the incentives and motivations are there.  Far more difficult it is to try to remove some ingrained character feature that may have been with us for years.  It is not impossible, but it is difficult.

Adding is easier than removing.  Being mindful of this, we should endeavor to add character traits, rather than to try to remove ones that may already exist.  The removal of character traits should be reserved for those situations where the trait in question is directly harmful or a serious impediment to future growth.

2.  The true revelation of character comes at moments of difficulty or stress.  If we wish to know our own, or someone else’s character, we should seek out situations in which we can exert pressure on that individual.  The resulting observations will be useful.

3.  The ravages of disease or old age can corrode positive character traits.  It will not corrupt the most important ones, but it can have adverse effects.  As an example of this, Plutarch mentions an incident (Pericles 38) where Pericles, who had contracted the plague, permitted some visitors on his sickbed to lay amulets and charms on him. He had always derided superstition and would never have permitted such conduct had he been healthy.  Thus is it shown that disease may corrode the bulwarks of virtue.

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Somewhat conversely Plutarch in his Spartan Sayings also relates an anecdote about the Agiad king Cleomenes, the son of Anaxandridas.  The king had suffered greatly from a long bout of illness, and in desperation, had enlisted the aid of practitioners of the magical arts.  When his friends had expressed unease at this development, the king said, “There is no reason to be amazed.  I’m not the same person I was before, so of course what I believe and disbelieve isn’t the same either.”

It is also clear that with the advance of old age come the vices of greed, superstition, and timidity; for these vices flourish in a climate of fear, which old age does much to aggravate.  As a man advances in age, he will acutely feel the hound of fear biting his heels, as he becomes more and more worried about his security and health.

And it is for this reason that we must do all we can when young, so that the advance of old age or sickness will not expose us to these vices.

 

Read More:  Are Omens Real?