Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Illusion of the Good Dictator

So if you believe or wish that it would be best to have a good and strong, independent political leader who, unchecked and uncontrolled by any third party, would rule over you, then let's got back to the years before the end of the second world war, when Hitler and Stalin ruled and Karl Popper was writing his The Open Society and it's Enemies“. He called this the theory of (uncontrolled) sovereignty and briefly stated it as follows: „that political power is practically unchecked, or for the demand that it ought to be so; together with the implication that the main question left is to get this power into the best hands.“ (chapter 7/I)

Before he put forward his main argument against the theory of (uncontrolled) sovereignty, he called in question how independent such a strong leader really could be, and that it may well be more of a naive illusion to think that even the strongest and most powerful leaders have ever been absolutely independent (see posting "The Illusion of the Independent Dictator" )
Then, for a second time, he asked the reader to be careful with the concept of the unchecked leader by one very simple hint: What if he is (or turns out to be) bad? Then he proceeds by assuming (as his personal opinion) that, in fact, most political leaders were bad:

"But since I have said something about historical facts, I think I should confess that I feel inclined to go a little beyond this assumption. I am inclined to think that rulers have rarely been above the average, either morally or intellectually, and often below it. And I think that it is reasonable to adopt, in politics, the principle of preparing for the worst, as well as we can, though we should, of course, at the same time try to obtain the best. It appears to me madness to base all our political efforts upon the faint hope that we shall be successful in obtaining excellent, or even competent, rulers. Strongly as I feel in these matters, I must insist, however, that my criticism of the theory of sovereignty does not depend on these more personal opinions." (Popper [1945], chapter 7/1)

"Aber da bereits von historischen Tatsachen die Rede war, so glaube ich gestehen zu müssen, daß ich geneigt bin, über diese Annahme ein wenig hinauszugehen. Ich neige zur Ansicht, daß Herrscher sich moralisch oder intellektuell selten über und oft unter dem Durchschnitt befanden. Und ich halte es in der Politik für ein kluges Prinzip, wenn wir uns, so gut wir können, für das Ärgste vorbereiten, obschon wir natürlich zur gleichen Zeit versuchen sollten, das Beste zu erreichen. Es scheint mir Wahsinn, alle unsere politischen Bemühungen auf die schwache Hoffnung zu gründen, daß die Auswahl hervorragender oder auch nur kompetenter Herrscher von Erfolg begleitet sein wird. Obgleich mir Dinge dieser Art sehr am Herzen liegen, muß ich doch hervorheben, daß meine Kritik der Theorie der Souveränität nicht von diesen mehr persönlichen Ansichten abhängt." (Popper [1945], chapter 7/1)


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