Elite and Ethics: On Historical Materialism and Historical Idealism
The professional politician is the scourge of the 20th century.
– Paul Johnson
In the British army there are no good and bad soldiers or good and bad regiments, only good and bad officers.
– Sir Claude Auchinleck
As we in South Africa experience the beginning of a change in the composition of the political elite after the local government elections, it seems fit and proper to discuss the essential qualities of such a political elite.
Which professorship did Friedrich August von Hayek practice in Chicago in the 1930s? The professorship for moral philosophy. That should us tell something.
Both in politics and enterprises, I have the impression that the character and the ethics of the leading men have changed. But how, and why? Here are some of my theories.
‘Elite’ is defined by the Compact Oxford Dictionary as “a group of people regarded as the best in a particular society or organisation.” It derives from the French word for ‘election’, or ‘choice’. This term goes in hand with ‘elitism’, i.e. “the belief that a society or system should be run by a group of people regarded as superior to others,” be it as warriors or diplomats, or by education, knowledge, know-how, property, or other outstanding characteristics which at a given time are judged to be especially valuable.
Now, in all systems we possess methods to choose the members of the elite: birth, divine intervention, schooling, elections; and all kinds of other tests.
Since the advent of the ’68ers’, the term ‘elite’ evidently gained a bad reputation. Furthermore, often the term ‘elite’ is given to people who just happen to be in power which they had acquired by hook or by crook. The ethic, the ethos, and the character of the members of the elite, and the values which should guide their behaviour and activities, are no point of discussion.
We all know that power corrupts and that power, according to Nietzsche, makes stupid. And as observers of history we can often see that elites degenerate, become lazy, superficial, inefficient, and finally lose their will to rule. But at the beginning they are always outstanding men, far above the average initiate. A strong will and energy also goes with a certain ruthlessness against outdated systems and methods, but even the destruction of the old had constructive elements in it and after some time you could see the blossoming of positive developments.
But why do today’s so-called ‘elites’ display such mediocrity, the will to destroy others by intrigue, petty mindedness, lust for revenge, and megalomania? They are even more often than not representatives of egalitarian or anti-elitist ideologies. It’s quite appropriate for us to call them pseudos.
Theodore Dalrymple in Takimag analysed a typical representative of these men: the petty tyrant of Albania, Enver Hoxha. The question remains how such a mediocrity, a nil, a nothing from every standard of quality and seriousness, was able to attain power and keep it, ruthlessly destroying rivals, living off of the moral, spiritual, and material substance of his people, and forcing his mad views on the whole country. All these men must be big – I avoid the word ‘great’ – in one thing: Their smell for power, of weakness and corruption in others, their fanatic will to rule without any scruples and to destroy and dominate any opponent. Of course, they find their servants and executors. But their success is based on the scruples and good manners of others who stick to the rules.
In the middle of the 1990s two prominent Austrian head hunters wrote a book about the cartel of mediocrity and the conspiracy of the narrow-minded.
They analyzed the attitude of success at any cost, ambitious but inflexible power play figures in higher management, a curious mix out of egocentric brutality, and well-adapted cowardice, empty energy and hot steam producers and underlings. But in effective solidarity, failed members and failures are covered up. Schooling is problematic as teachers are not selected according to their personality, and insecure, perverted, and asocial people, can also become teachers. The system produces well-adapted conformists who are emotionally-crippled, physically-suppressed, and intellectually-limited. General and specific fears dominate those personalities.
In addition, by law, conformity and an egalitarian way of life is introduced under the banner of ‘equal opportunity’. Quotas are more important than quality, which produces inferior mentalities and inferior quality. A profound testing of personalities is opposed with the argument of ‘human dignity’, but it is overlooked that in all spheres of life we ask for tried and tested quality. A proper human resources management degenerates into power plays and inimicality towards people with backbone. General equality before the law is confused with identical appearance and behaviour. Differences between humans and groups of humans are not seen positively, but the ‘other’ is despised. In that sense, democracy becomes the rule of the uniform and synchronized cancer cells.
It is similar in the military hierarchy: Officers who keep order and whose troops toe the line will be advanced. If not, they are conspicuously easily set aside as Von Manstein was with his revolutionary ‘Sichelschnitt plan’, which was discovered by accident.
Today, the dominant reproach on men unfitting by self-appointed psychologists or graduates from the swindle-studies (Max Weber on sociology, political science, and so on) is to be “conspicuous or disturbed in behaviour,” that someone who is remarkable, flamboyant, and spectacular in his devotion, is overlooked. A socially-unobtrusive, fully-adapted, and manageable subservient person is demanded. The term ‘person’ means a human being endowed by the Creator with a free will, intelligence, and a conscious being; therefore able to bear both rights and duties. Individuality may then express itself not by intelligence, knowledge, industry, creativity, wit, or charm, but in colouring your hair green or orange or following the newest sexual deviation being a la mode until the next silliness rides in.
In the 1960s the Austrian philosopher and guru of modern management, Peter F. Drucker, called for transnational enterprises which are the best tool to activate entrepreneurial, technical and organisational knowledge in the developing nations. He emphasised the value and input of techniques and technical methods to overcome material poverty, and make the poor wealthy. He stated clearly that the traditional state is sick, fat, and overgrown.
He clearly warned of the flight from freedom, the opposition to responsibility and decision. States can do basically two things: wage war and devalue their own currency. A welfare state leads to – at best – competent mediocrity. Filling out forms becomes the overwhelming activity of the ‘social professions’. States have become incapable of fulfilling their most important duty: protection and defence from outside dangers. As soon as the state manages something, it becomes entrenched and protected forever. All institutions find it difficult to give up the tasks of yesterday and to refrain from doing the unproductive. Social welfare increases helplessness, dependence and desperation. The state is a bad manager. For politicians, loyalty is more important than quality and results. Doing the same which was always done according to plan, is the rule of the day. What is needed is a clear definition of ‘results’ and a resolute comparison of results with expectations. The high value of a private enterprise is that it is generally accepted that it may disappear. Efficiency is asked for, and its efficiency tested.
The horrifying impression is that since about 50 years ago, well-educated, intelligent, and learned thinkers gave us challenges and answers which leadership in politics, academia, and enterprises ignored.
Which kind of leadership personnel is wanted by these kinds of failed states and enterprises, and which kind of leadership is produced by these systems? I assume that both elements are interlinked: failed, outdated, ineffective organisations produce failed, outdated, ineffective leaders, which then produce the same again, and so on, and so on!
Paul Watzlawick stated clearly that welfare states want to make the life of their citizens secure and happy “from cradle to grave”, but this is only possible if the citizens are made incompetent in social matters. The willingness to unhappiness leads to passivity. The active one is supported by destiny; the passive one just swims. My observation is that happiness seems to disappear with wealth purely defined materialistically. Poor people often have much more wonderful celebrations, festivities, and events than wealthy people who are for some reason no longer able to enjoy life. Even if under stress and pressure, the poor tend to be more optimistic and gay than materially-wealthy people. “Tristesse de richesse”? Is it according to Watzlawick a ‘puritan command’ (“You may do as you like as soon as it does not make fun”)?. This attitude ultimately leads to disrespect of the self, and respect only for those who disrespect the self.
There are a lot of different strings of philosophical, political, and psychological developments which interwove themselves and have to be interwoven in order to get results. The pseudos dislike themselves and dislike the world as it is. A certain combination of autism and solipsism takes root and seems to command their conduct.
The classic libertarian-communist thinker, Heleno Sana, expressly calls morality a universal and constitutive value. Without the idea of ‘the good’, there is no knowledge. The decline, the decay of virtues characterizes the present world in which, for him, infamy and destruction rules. Fascism, communism and consumerism betray nobility, and the search for fulfillment and happiness.
Let us go back to the metaphysical. We know of the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, arrogance, avarice, envy, and anger; and of four cardinal virtues: Justice, moderation, wisdom, and strength. So the balance is 7:4 against us? Now we have – and even agnostics should recognize that – to call in the 3 virtues of God: Faith, love, and hope. Now we have a balance.
In a great American Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which a six year old communicates with his toy tiger they say the following: “Some people have principles and live according to them; others are pragmatic; others live their whims. And you? I pragmatically turn my whims into principles.”
That seems to me a perfect description of the state of mind of many leaders in politics and enterprises today. There seems to be a certain degree of being de-located and disconnected from the real world.
Otto von Habsburg said long ago that whoever does not know from where he comes, cannot know in which direction he will proceed, because he does not know where he actually stands. An unhistorical thinking seems to be part of the mindset of the pseudos who substitute it with a view on the past as seen in George Orwell’s 1984 – rewriting history as it fits them.
Principles are important. Moral standards are important. Ester Kruger pointed out that without a structure, anarchism – nihilism, in fact – and chaos prevail. What are the enduring, and in my humble opinion, at present disregarded, even despised, principles that govern or should govern whose who govern? Kruger points out: integrity, courage, discipline, loyalty, diligence, humility, optimism, and conviction. Principle-based people possess eight characteristics: they are continually learning, service-orientated, positive-minded, believe in other people and avoid destructive criticism, have a balanced life, and see life as an adventure. They are synergistic and exercise self-renewal in all dimensions of a human personality. Surely Superman does not exist, but it should be part of an elitist thinking to know about those principles and mental properties, and to try to fulfill them. These are also a fine yardstick for the ruled ones to judge the rulers. “Almost every significant breakthrough is the result of a courageous break with traditional ways of thinking.” In Schumpeter’s view, then, a productive and innovative destruction of outdated things aiming at something of higher quality – not a destruction for its own purpose.
The teaching of virtue had been substituted with the wisdom of the social justice warriors and with deterministic thinking. Less and less “walk the talk”, and more and more “talk the talk”, can be observed. Then, at a given time, the critical mass of pseudos in the middle level is reached so that they achieve to enter the highest ranks. From then on their ‘values’ prevail and they make themselves a mass of underlings, sycophants and brownnosers. It is an old saying: “The fish always smells from the head.” Or, as we in Vienna say: “As the master, so the servants.”
In 2003 I was a guest in the Octagon – a discussion room of the then-biggest Austrian bank listening to a lecture given by the official liquidator of Enron. He was asked what finally caused that disaster? The big shots of management had not been listening when he provided the answer. He said that our education system has created narrow-minded experts and classic philosophical schooling had been neglected. Of course, his advice had been neglected, or not even been understood. Not one CEO of a big corporation, or a leading politician, was present!
Jesus said remorselessly “By their fruits you will know them”. A good tree bears good fruits and a bad tree bad fruits. And a bad tree is hacked down and thrown into the fire. This is not sweet-little-soft-Jesus; it is a clear advice to look at results, both ethically and materially.
I conclude: These pseudos seek power for its own sake, do not possess one creative or forming idea, are eager to destroy any creative idea if discovered, hunt for quick money, suppress others, humiliate others just to please their power instinct, possess no classic education, no sense for the realm of metaphysics, often are materialists of the poorest standard, many are experts with blinkers on, unable to think in the long-term, and are unable to accept a higher authority above them, be it a spiritual or a formal one, such as the rule of law. They act arbitrarily, do not understand what the rule of law is, and accept rules only if they suit them. If not, they are ignored or arbitrarily changed.
Our challenges are evident:
– information and the free flow of information is necessary for a stable and productive system,
– in a classic system we can find ‘objective information’ and ‘propaganda’,
– in these classic systems, these two of streams can be identified as such.
In times of modern totalitarian propaganda starting with the 1st Word War we are confronted with ‘public relations’ which intends to make the things to look friendlier than they are:
– ‘disinformation’ is a deliberate and very professionally-produced mixture of truth, half-truth and lies; information tit-bits deliberately aimed at causing emotional, especially angry reactions,
– an overwhelming data mass of chit-chat and chatter in the social media, partly produced by innocent babblers and partly by those who professionally want to get public discourse hysterical,
– and finally ‘maskirowka’ – sailing under a wrong flag – is exercised.
Only a strict skeptic, who thinks logically and calmly, can protect us from falling into all these traps of systematic deceit.
A further challenge is that our information-receiving system is at present deeply disturbed and manipulated. Our ‘radar system’ does not show us the reality, but a lot of manipulations. That is part of the game. That is part of the character of the present pseudos and the way they rule.
We have to realize that there is a tendency to ignore the real world. It comes about as follows:
– The first, innocent step, is to start to dream. That might be good for creative thinking as long as you know that you are dreaming.
– The second one is the tendency to live more and more in the dreamed realm, to try to escape reality.
– The third comes by establishing yourself in the dream world, the parallel universe, and forgetting the real world.
– Number four is declaring for yourself the parallel universe as the real one.
– The last, but definitely the most poisonous step is wanting the dream world to dominate and crush the real world.
I assume that a lot of pseudos live in stages 3 to 5.
So what is the remedy?
We have to demand, in a most elitist way, that elites or wannabee elites must be educated in a classic way, including the classic languages Latin and ancient Greek, to undergo military training as officers of the reserve – I do not advocate a militarization of thinking, but as Roy Anderson pointed out, both civil and military commanders can get leadership lessons from the other realm – to learn for themselves to serve and obey, to stick to the rules, to ‘play the game’, and to think realistically. We must ourselves be able to accept hard, even unpleasant facts and to refrain from autistic, narcissist and solipsistic behaviour. And if we see or recognize this negative behaviour, we as active citizens have to step in and invite them to leave. No self-deception can be tolerated anymore, neither by rulers or by the citizens. We must be as strict to ourselves as we are to our leaders. Is that possible ? It is!
“Omnis homines, qui sese student praestare …. in animo et corpora sita est; animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimor”
In short: All learning men have to accept that the spirit shall be used to govern and the body to serve. (Sallust, Bellum Catilinae, 1,1-2)
Foeldy-Hill: Das Mittelmaessigkeitskartell. Die Verschwoerung der Kleinkarierten/The cartel of mediocrity. The conspiracy of the petty minded. Vienna 1994.
Peter F. Drucker: Die Zukunft Bewaeltigen/The age of discontinuity. Duesseldorf 1969.
Takimag.com Theodore Dalrymple: “A ruthless ambitious mediocrity”. May 2016.
Heleno Sano: Die Libertaere Revolution. Die Anarchisten im Spanischen Buergerkrieg/The libertarian revolution. Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. Hamburg 2000.
Samuel Lewis: “Albert Kesselring. Der Soldat als Manager”/The soldier as manager. Published in: The Military Elite of the Third Reich. Berlin 1995.
Paul Watzlawick, Anleitung zum Ungluecklichsein/The guide to becoming unhappy. Piper Verlag, Muenchen 1988.
Sallustius Crispus, Bellum Catilinae. OEBV. Wien 1966.
Ester Kruger: “Ethics and Character Development” in SA Soldier. October 2005.
Roy Andersen: Commanding Heights. Penguin, Johannesburg, 2006.