Leadership

December 16, 2016

Beastly Powers, Delusions and Ethics

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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For the several posts I have been using  Kuronen, T. and Huhtinen, A. (2016). Un-willing is un-leading: Leadership as beastly desire. Leadership and the Humanities, 4(2), 92-107. I have used their work to explain the difference between good (lamb) and bad (beastly) leadership. Beastly leadership–appealing to our animal natures–sees leaders as operating best when driven by passion and not necessarily principles. This I have contrasted with Servant leadership like Daniel demonstrated in the midst of beastly powers and other servant leaders  have manifest. 

Beastly leaders doesn’t let morality bother them. Lamb leadership upholds the best of morality by servant and moral leadership.

I also looked at how individuals can flourish despite beastly leadership by selecting Christ’s way instead of Barabbas’s approach when living in the midst of unethical behavior. Barabbas tried to make reform and change happen through “killing” and “deceiving.” This “beastly” approach to leadership works only temporarily and even backfires from the start with dangerous side effects for both leaders and followers. Only when leaders are deeply shaped or even shaken by the pathos and tremendous gift of Christ on Calvary for sinners do they welcome a new type of leadership that is gentle but firm, truthful but redemptive. 

In this post, I apply this article to concern about unrestrained political power that resists due-processes and social and moral order.

As one who specializes in ethical leadership, I have grown concerned about a growing “lust” of leaders to work unrestrained and to reject due process. They often believe they are being decisive in the name of good or God but do not use the insights and sympathies of others and resist natural laws that act as safeguards against abuse.

Some even hope their leaders are liberated to operate “beyond” moral expectations. They think that frees them up to get things done. I see my calling as one to help leaders find joy in restraints and see due process not as a curse but as a blessing.

Some are tempted to admire individuals who misuse moral codes like some admire the rich who misuse tax codes to get out of social obligations.

Morality calls us to share and support the communities and nations that we have been blessed by.

Kuronen and Huhtinen have helped me see how this distortion takes root and then grows and can even be promoted by followers. Followers are re- conceptualizing leaders and putting them on pedestals instead of within accountability networks. These leaders are supported by naive followers and leaders are formed unanchored to the “herd” and created by distancing media representations. Then they become beyond human community and then we think they need to operate outside social and moral expectations to get things done. They conclude that from a “social perspective, the society that elevates someone to be at the helm of things makes its call for sovereignty precisely because it wants that someone to be beyond good and evil – above the vice of morality – and the herd instinct in man” (p. 104).

They see the “desire or ‘desirefulness’” of a leader as the main criteria in this new matrix of successful leadership. These leaders are relational but without moral principles. I admit that some emotional and relational processes help make leaders worth following. But throwing out shared morality as a necessary function of healthy community is dangerous…for leaders and followers.

This non-moral approach “makes leadership a business of gathering and displaying excess.”

Kuronen and Huhtinen then use “two micro-biographies of contemporary charismatic leaders, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and Vladimir Putin of Russia….to highlight the aspect of leadership that is charismatic, effective and unethical” (p. 93).

They make their point. Many want and even celebrate unethical leaders.

I don’t buy into the deception that leaders are, by their title and position, better able to lead when placed beyond the law, ethics and social norms. I am not saying that leaders should never challenge the status quo. I am just concerned when we want leaders to operate unrestrained by moral and social expectations, we actually want abuse, slavery, and to “drink to our own death.”

Do we want our President, Supreme Court Justices, and Congress operating apart from the U.S. Constitution and moral norms? They should be informed by these guidelines even as they work to improve them. But all along, their is a process, a moral and social order that leaders and followers must be responsive to.

Otherwise, we fall back into the “divine right of kings” OR THE RICH PERSON has the only claim to RULE or the most powerful earns the right to lead.  The West has spent 500 YEARS systematically dismantling such a bad view of leadership and political self-determination.

The article  is more nuanced than I have time here to unpack here. But one long quote is worth my space:

“Leaders are not only ‘gods’ to their followers (Gabriel 1997), but the more elevated their social status, the more symbolised, uncontested and taken-for-granted they appear to be” Thus, the extent of their detachment from the ethical register enhances the veneer of their charisma. In effect, leaders are symbols for their followers (and quite often nothing else) – when their seats are vacated, they have to be filled, as Gilles Deleuze (1983, p. 151, quoting from Heidegger 1977, p. 69) suggests:

or another one:

Why would man have killed God, if not to take his still warm seat? Heidegger remarks, commenting on Nietzsche, ‘if God … has disappeared from his authoritative position in the suprasensory world, then this authoritative place itself is still always preserved … the emptyplace demands to be occupied anew and to have the god now vanished from it replaced by something else.’ (Kuronen and Huhtinen 2016, citing p. 93)

This idea of leaders as gods is not new nor necessarily troubling to me. It is biblical as the bible seems open to the connection and several times refer to humans or leaders as gods (Ps 82; John 10 are two I use here).

Jesus tried to cool the hot temper of the Jewish leaders who wanted to stone him for blasphemy when talking about his divinity so he cited Psalms 82: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”‘? (John10:34).

The dignity and high standing scripture gives to humans is encouraging. But it is not an invitation to debauchery but to holiness and morality. We are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27) and should judge as such. Again, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor 6:3).

He designed us with a high status and now works to reinstate us.

The work of education, redemption and ethics are all one: to restore in man the Image of His maker (see Ellen White’s book Education)

Because he supports us in this work of restoration, he can hold all accountable, especially leaders, who fail to foster such redemptive living.

In Psalms 82:

“God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”:

“How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

(for those who want a great discussion on Psalms 82 as a passage of accountability see Martin Buber’s Good and Evil’s chapter on “judgment of the Judges”  or read it online at a number of downloadable places).

Having a view of God’s work to restore, and his plan to hold all accountable, creates a culture of judgment that allows us to critique our leaders.

Holding leaders accountable now and later is good for them and us.

All leaders who want to operate outside a social and moral order promise to plunge themselves and their followers into anarchy and chaos. I resist such a view of leadership and ethics.

Yes, my moralism invites the leader back into the “herd.” We call it shared leadership.

I wouldn’t want it any other way, for myself, for my leaders or for my God.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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  1. […] Beastly Powers, Delusions and Ethics I review Kuronen and Huhtinen (2016) Unwilling is Un-Leading: Leadership as Beastly Desire.  They […]



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