December 16, 2016

Beastly Powers, Delusions and Ethics

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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For the last several posts on I have used Kuronen, T. and Huhtinen, A. (2016). Un-willing is un-leading: Leadership as beastly desire. Leadership and the Humanities, 4(2), 92-107  to illustrate how servant leaders like Daniel operated in the midst of beastly powers and how other servant leaders can operate differently than the prevailing approach of beastly leadership.

I also looked at how individuals can flourish in beastly leadership times by selecting Christ’s way instead of Barabbas’s approach to  leadership. I also argue that the only way to stay in that servant leadership mode and break the blindness of confusion about God’s leadership is to be shaken by the pathos and tremendous gift of Christ on Calvary for sinners. Meditating on the cross alone takes away the attractiveness of beastly powers.

In this post, I apply this article to ideas of delusions about leadership and ethics.

This article explains this rise of a desire for “immoral” leaders and the growing view some followers have that the best way for leaders to help us is to live unrestrained by political processes or social and moral requirements.

As one who specializes in ethical leadership and teaches a course called LEAD645: Ethical Leadership and Organizational Integrity, I have grown concerned about a growing “lust” for leaders who avoid due process and are decisive in the name of good or God but do not practice the natural laws or social order he often brings to our communities as safeguards against abuse.

The want leaders to be liberated to operate “beyond” moral expectations. I see my calling as one of helping leaders better understand morality not so they can skirt “moral codes” but use them to better serve others.

Why should we admire individuals who misuse moral codes like some rich misuse tax codes to get out of social obligations to share and support the communities and nations that have been blessed by?

Kuronen and Huhtinen have helped me see how this distortion might be working. Followers are re- conceptualizing leaders as unanchored to them, distant media representations, that 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 talk “desire or ‘desirefulness’” as they main coinage of relational glue and don’t see morality as necessarily factored into that social glue. This approach “makes leadership a business of gathering and displaying excess.” And then they 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).

Please read the article if you are interested in either ethics or leadership. It make points worth cogitating about.

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. Do we want our President, Supreme Court Justices, and Congress operating apart from the U.S. Constitution? 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 is needed.

Otherwise, we fall back into the “divine right of kings” that the West has spent a half a millenium systematically dismantling to the benefit of religious and personal freedoms.

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:

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. 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. God does NOT seem reluctant to share status with us as we are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27). Again, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor 6:3).

What seems additionally clear is he has engaged in a major work to salvage that status since The Fall.

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

What is more pointed for me is that he also holds us ALL accountable for that status.

Godlike status comes with expectations. 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 final judgment is healthy for leaders. For some, it might be the only way to wake them up to their accountability to others.

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

I believe even God holds himself accountable to his fundamental character of love and patience and to something more complex, wisdom. In Proverbs 8 he is portrayed as creating wisdom first and then seems to reference wisdom as he creates the social and natural order.

23  “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,[c][d]
before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
30     Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.

32 “Now then, my children, listen to me;
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
do not disregard it.
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
35 For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”

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

As Trump takes the U.S. presidency, I hope he is not mesmerized by his power but by the power of constitutional rule and faithfulness to moral and social order. I am more concerned about his obedience to Psalms 82. If he doesn’t comply, if I don’t comply, and if you don’t comply, there is a God who does and he will hold us accountable for the status he has freely granted us.

Yes, that moralism invites the leader back into the herd. We call it incarnational leadership.

I wouldn’t want it any other way, for myself, for Trump 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.

One Comment

  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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