19 December 2011

Dear Leaders

Kim Jong Il was the reductio ad absurdam of Bolshevism, the realization of the monarchic principle at the heart of vanguard partyism. If the people need an enlightened clique to guide them to communism, after all, why wouldn't it follow that a super-enlightened genius would be necessary to guide the clique? Concede that point and you may as well concede that the genius's gifts are hereditary, and that blood is the best qualification for ruling a People's Democratic Republic. To be fair, the Kims remain exceptional among Bolshevik leaders. Neither Mao nor Stalin reserved power for his children, nor is there a second generation of Castros waiting to take over Cuba once Fidel and Raul are finally gone. For that reason, some write off the Kims' eccentricity as some aspect of Korean culture, but there's a constant counter-example to the south to debunk the notion that Koreans somehow did this to themselves. At the same time, we might give Marxism in general some credit for inhibiting the Kims' ambitions. If not for Marx, I imagine, Kim Il Sung might have crowned himself king or emperor long ago -- and then, I imagine, fewer people would deplore the present transfer of power from the second Kim to his "Great Successor."

In more liberal quarters around the globe, the mourning for Vaclav Havel is supposed to be more sincere than the official outpourings of grief for the Dear Leader. Havel was a liberal's wet dream: a playwright and poet who rose to power pretty much through popular acclamation during Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution," the ideal champion of "civil society" against totalitarianism. He has died a hero, if not an inspiration to many during this so-called year of the protester. On the global left, however, he is remembered somewhat less warmly -- not because he helped overthrow a Warsaw Pact puppet, but because with the Velvet Revolution came neoliberalism -- civil society hardened into an ideology --  and an oh-so-principled commitment to humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. Havel was never the obnoxious polemicist Christopher Hitchens was, but both authors were arguably warped by their moral conviction that there was nothing else worth fighting against besides political tyranny, so that Havel, too, could encourage and applaud the invasion of Iraq. In their world, the choice was between electing a Havel and being enslaved by a Kim -- eliminate the Kims of the world and the Havels will rise inevitably. The real choices weren't quite as stark, and it remains unclear whether the people win with the Havels (or Obamas) of the world, or whenever they trust in the character of a leader rather than setting an agenda themselves. It certainly makes a difference whether you're governed by a Havel or a Kim, but reverence for leaders -- even for liberal saints -- is no substitute for a principled commitment to true rule by the people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As long as there are "leaders", there is inequality. When there is inequality, the people do not win.