Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.
— Life of Galilio, Bertolt Brecht
The French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville, a great observer of man’s affairs, while witnessing the birth of democracy in America, thought that the age of democracy will be the age of mediocrity. There will be a dead level plane of achievement in almost every kind of activity. A democratic person, due to various reasons he explains lucidly, does everything in hurry. He is always satisfied with “pretty well” and does not pause for an instance to think what he is doing. “His curiosity is at once insatiable and cheaply satisfied; for he cares more to know a great deal quickly than to know anything well: he has no time and but little taste to search things to the bottom”. To make matter worse, “men of democracy worship chance, and are much less afraid of death than of difficulty”. Despite his strong attachment to democracy, Tocqueville took great pains to point out what he thought to be a negative side of democracy: it will be an unheroic age. Tocqueville maintained that there wont be heroes in democratic societies because democracies are inherently incapable of producing them. But modern democracies were not able to do without heroes and this was also foreseen by Tocqueville with much misgivings. He believed, rightly or wrongly, that unlike aristocracy, there will not be a proper place for heroes or hero-worshipers in democracies, and when they arose they would sooner or later turn into despots. Modern democracy may or may not do without heroes but they certainly can not do without leaders. And in this modern age, which breeds them in great profusion, the problem is to know what to do with them.
Democracies are no longer restricted to Europe or United States. They are now in many parts of this world in their own peculiar forms. They have acquired some distinct features of the societies in which they are able to grow. Human societies value heroes or charismatic personalities but some among are always more obsessed with them. These days, people seems to be somewhat tired of their politicians but it is not that people are tired for charisma; it only moves from politics to other area of public life. People reserve their praise and transfer their adulation for movie starts, sadhus and sants, sports-personalities and sometimes, for man of sciences.
The charismatic people from various fields have been using their charisma in politics. Some have been quite successful. NTR missed becoming the prime minister of India, Imran Khan is trying the same in Pakistan. The appeal of charisma, by which I mean the personal quality that secure instant and unquestioned devotions to the leader of his followers, is in decline everywhere. Not only there is no Nehru today, there is no de Gaulle and Winston Churchill. The consideration of this for the prospect of democracy and health of its institutions deserves some serious attention.
- Democracy and Despotism (ktipler.wordpress.com)
- Democracy’s Discontents (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- The trouble with democracy (theguardian.com)