He seemed an unlikely political leader, puny, odd looking and a foreigner by birth in the country he aspired to lead but somehow The Leader formed an emotional connection with enough of his people to persuade them to relinquish civil liberties and support policies that were not only doomed to failure but that in other times those same people would have found morally repugnant. Though not a charismatic man but one who in early life had been something of a loser, a self confessed heavy drug user, nihilistic dissident and an active supporter of seditionist groups. In spite of all this, and having arrived from nowhere on the political scene with only a series of menial jobs on a thin CV his campaigns generated a level of mass adulation that was almost without parallel.
At its heart the story of The Leader hinges on one gigantic, mysterious question: how was it possible that a character as strange and personally inadequate as he ever gained power in a wealthy, sophisticated and technologically advanced country and became an object of worship for millions of people?
The answer to this vital question is to be found not just in the historical circumstances of the time, the deep humiliation still felt by many of the people following a catastrophic event that had plunged the nation into a deep sense of shock, the anger and resentment among a many people at the way their country had been governed in the time after that event, but also in the nature of his leadership.
Its this aspect of the story that makes for a particularly interesting study.
Cast by the propaganda machine that propelled him to power as a messianic figure, an archetypal charismatic leader who combined the qualities of politician, preacher and humanist, he was further helped by the undeserved praise lavished on him by sycophantic supporters in broadcast and print media; his rambling, cliché ridden speeches were acclaimed as great oratory, his policies, borrowed from socialist leaders of an earlier era were acclaimed as original thinking offering radical solutions to social and economic problems. Criticism of his personal shortcomings or inconsistencies in his back story and hints at involvement in scandals that would have ended the careers of other politicians were brushed aside, the rules that governed ordinary people did not apply to The Leader.
#This was not a normal politician, someone who promises things like lower taxes, full employment and better health care, but a quasi-religious leader who offered almost spiritual goals of redemption and salvation and a Utopian vision of a future in which the poor would be made rich thanks to the munificence of the wealthy elite and the redistribution of wealth through the medium of taxation and social benefits. The Leader also claimed he was driven by a sense of personal destiny, a conceit eagerly taken up by his mesmerised followers.
It was strange that his followers, mostly people who were mostly quite casual in their religious observance if they acknowledged having any religion at all, in a nation that had no official state religion, were so readily drawn to his messianic style of campaigning.
Even when other world leaders described him as irritating, arrogant, ego-maniacal and inexperienced the media and voters in his own country refused to look at him in a more objective and critical way.
Before a pivotal event in history The Leader was a nobody, an oddball who was obsessed with race, violent revolution his own sense of victimhood, unable to debate intellectually and filled with irrational resentments and prejudice. He was also identified as a weak, self indulgent, and by some an effeminate man.
But when The Leader emerged in national politics and spoke of his vision for the nation, telling his audiences in words carefully crafted by skilled speech writers, the things they most wanted to hear suddenly his weaknesses were perceived as strengths. The inability to debate was presented as strength of character and evidence of an advanced intellect that mere mortals could not hope to challenge and his aloofness was considered the mark of a great man who lived apart from the crowd
The Leader’s alienation and resentment chimed with the feelings of millions of voters who felt humiliated by the great catastrophe and angry efforts that efforts to rebuild the national community after that humiliation had failed ignominiously. They sought and found one in a large but loosely organised community within their nation.
In a nation ravaged by inflation, unemployment and industrial decline The Leader promised to kick the wealthy, close their tax loopholes and tax them until it hurt. Although he showed no sign of ever intending to fulfil these promises beyond a few token gestures directed at European bankers his failure combined with the trick of blaming his opponents for that failure made him more beloved by his fanatical supporters and the millions of people benefiting from an unaffordably generous social welfare system. Organisations that should have known better heaped awards on him, Man of the Year etc.
Who is The Leader? The clue is in the title, throughout this article I am paraphrasing from a review of the book The Dark Charisma Of Adolf Hitler by Laurence Rees. In the German language the word for leader is Führer. Shame on you if you thought my article was about a current world leader.