This discussion picks up a thread launched in the "Obama in world society" group. It attempts, however, to step back and consider how the media and, thus, we ourselves, talk about leaders. No, not just talk about leaders, how we imagine them and what we expect them to do. To frame the discussion, I offer the following paragraphs from Zygmunt Bauman (2000) Liquid Modernity, p. 70.

"What is currently happening is not just another regotiation of the notoriously mobile boundary between the private and the public. What seems to be at stake is a redefinition of the public sphere, as a scene on which private dramas are staged, put on public display and publicly watched. The current definition of 'public interest', promoted by the media yet widely accepted by all or almost all sections of society, is the duty to play out such dramas in public and the right of the public to watch the performance. The social conditions which make such a development unsurprising and even seem 'natural' ought to be evident in the light of the preceding argument; but the consequences of the development are far from having been explored in full. They might be further-reaching than generally understood or accepted. "The consequence arguably most seminal is the demise of 'politics as we know it'—Politics with a capital P, the activity charged with the task of translating private problems into public issues (and vice versa). It is the effort of such translation which is nowadays grinding to a halt. Private problems do not turn into public issues by dint of being vented in public; even under public gaze they do not cease to be private, and what they seem to be accomplishing by being transferred to the public stage is pushing all other, 'non-private' problems out of the public agenda. What are commonly and ever more often perceived as 'public issues' are private problems of public figures. The time-honoured question of democratic politics — how useful or detrimental is the way public figures exercise their public duties to the welfare and well-being of their subjects/electors?— has fallen by the board, beckoning to public interests in good society, public justice, or collective responsibility for individual welfare to follow them into oblivion....

I borrow another useful framing from presidential historian James MacGregor Burns, who asserts that political leaders fall into two categories: transactional and transformational. The former are good at the horse trading and quid-pro-quo of what we might call (adapting some language from Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions "normal" politics. The latter are the pattern breakers, the visionaries who launch new paradigms. As someone who has spend a bit over a decade heavily involved in Democratic Party politics, I observe that transactional leaders need not be transformational. The reverse, however, is not true. Transformational leaders must also have a strong streak of transactional leadership in them.

It is from these perspectives that I read the article from Open Democracy to which Keith Hart points us and the reply by Michelangelo Paganopoulos. The former suggests that Obama is doing pretty well in the face of large and intractable problems; the latter grumbles that the problems haven't gone away and America's wars continue. Both implicitly ask, "Why aren't these problems solved? Why aren't these wars over?" At the end of the day, however, both direct our attention to Obama's "leadership" or lack thereof; thus, from my perspective, falling into the type of magical thinking that, if Zygmunt Bauman is right, prevents us from probing more deeply into what are, in fact, extremely complex issues. Like the Constitution of the United States, as described in Federalist 1, they "affect too many particular interests, innovate upon too many local institutions, not to involve in their discussion a variety of objects foreign to their merits, and of views, passions, and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth." Which is not to say that progress is impossible. The Constitution is evidence of that. But rather to wonder why, trained as we are in social science and nuanced interpretation, anthropologists don't have more to say that goes beyond the mass-mediated fantasies that Bauman so elegantly describes?

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John,

What would be the point of a discussion about 'leadership' which did not take leadership to be the cause of other relationships and processes? The response that the issues are 'complex'; that they 'affect too many particular interests' simply shifts the discussion from a sharp key to a low foggy one. There is nothing magical about asking 'if leadership implies transformation then when and how will the transformations occur?'

I think Bauman may be right that Habermas' notion of the public sphere has become redundant, but largely because it relied on a model of the nation state that is no longer plausible.
Huon Wardle said:
John,
What would be the point of a discussion about 'leadership' which did not take leadership to be the cause of other relationships and processes?

No such discussion is intended. Leadership has effects. These, however, depend as much on the context in which the leadership is exercised as on the quality of the leader in question. The theoretical issue is how best to combine these perspectives. Does consideration of transformational versus transactional leadership offer a useful starting point? Does anyone know of any better place to begin?
Michelangelo Paganopoulos said:
What about the old notion of Charismatic Authority as a force of change (Weber)?

What about it? Please explain where you would go with it.
According to Wikipedia,

Charismatic authority is 'power legitimized on the basis of a leader's exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers'.

Intrigued, I did a Google search for "Lenin Charisma" and stumbled across the following.

Lenin's charisma [in contrast to Trotsky's] was more questionable, and Stalin had no such attributes (at least in the way Max Weber used the term). But in his new biography of Stalin, Edvard Radzinsky argues that both Lenin and Stalin "had devoted supporters and both possessed 'charisma' - the mysterious ability to dominate people by exerting a hypnotic influence over them" (p. 391). In Stalin's case, a cult replicating the attributes of a charismatic leader was created around him following his consolidation of power. It may be argued that he became charismatic as far as his perception among the masses was concerned owing to the cult's success in portraying him as an omnipotent, omniscient, superhuman being. If so, it may also be argued that "charisma" today may arise from political propaganda, manipulation, and mass receptivity, and that it need not require a truly dynamic or inspiring individual to move his followers by the force of his personality and his ability to project a sense of mission.

Now the anthropologist in me is intrigued. Charisma may be seen as a personal attribute. It may also be manufactured. One might note that there is, in fact, a whole industry, political consulting, devoted to this process. It may be, on the other hand, that someone genuinely charismatic may have that charisma amplified by careful political handling.

So, returning to Obama, to me the anthropological questions have to do with why does this man, this public personality, appear so charismatic at this particular moment in history, in this particular USA and global context? Or, assuming genuine charisma, what else does he require to achieve his own political goals as well as, we hope, those of his political supporters (of whom I freely admit I am one)?

Switching to my political voice, I note that during his campaign he didn't say "I can." He said "We can," and he meant it. He may be going overboard in trying to expand that "We" to which he refers beyond the bounds of particular political sects; but the prime directive behind his actions is to, as far as possible, unite a divided country behind some essential and worthwhile goals. One of the difficult problems he confronts is that he is constantly being bombarded by interest groups for whom a particular issue is the most important issue of all. He must, however, prioritize, leaving some groups disappointed when their particular cause goes to the end of the queue; they may, in fact, be furious if he seems to be paying more attention to those they regard as their enemies. Managing all that tension and anger and gradually building the consensuses needed to reunite the country as well as move in positive directions is, I believe, the greatest challenge of all.

Is anyone else thinking this way?
Well we now know from this thread that Obama may or may not be charismatic and that he has to deal with the difficult problem of interest groups. Perhaps this letter from a twelve year old Fidel Castro to Franklin Roosevelt will help re-focus the discussion on how we imagine leaders. In it Fidel asks for a ten dollar bill and tells Roosevelt that he can show him the biggest source of iron in Cuba.



It comes from this site
I agree that Charisma or Charis ( grace) is a religious almost extatic situation and to have it in the long term is not easy, so it's mostly probable to be ' manifactured' by the media. Of course Weber is not wrong to appky this term because in the PHENOMENOLOGICAL LEVEL the charismatic personality strictu sensu can be a religious person with religious attributions. But RELIGIOUS in the broader sense does not signify stereotypically the GOOD or the MORAL. It can also signify the DEMONIC that is also another stereotype for the EVIL or the NEGATIVE. In any case demonic means spiritual in greek and Socrates was accused and executed just for instroducing NEW DEMONS to the youth in the City of Athens.
That is extremely interesting. What kind of ontological status/form of abstraction does 'demon' have in Socratic Greece?

NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
I agree that Charisma or Charis ( grace) is a religious almost extatic situation and to have it in the long term is not easy, so it's mostly probable to be ' manifactured' by the media. Of course Weber is not wrong to appky this term because in the PHENOMENOLOGICAL LEVEL the charismatic personality strictu sensu can be a religious person with religious attributions. But RELIGIOUS in the broader sense does not signify stereotypically the GOOD or the MORAL. It can also signify the DEMONIC that is also another stereotype for the EVIL or the NEGATIVE. In any case demonic means spiritual in greek and Socrates was accused and executed just for instroducing NEW DEMONS to the youth in the City of Athens.
Demon means essencially Spirit and also Soul ( psyche).In the socratic-platonic ontology Demon is a kind of minor DEITY
that can be mainly good( benefique) It;s called AGATHO-DAIMON ( agathos = good). The man who is influenced or inspired by such a demon is ANTHROPOS KALOS KAI AGATHOS ( man handsome + good-mora-l).
So, we may usefully ask 'what kinds of new demons (if any) is Obama introducing to the polis?'

NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
Demon means essencially Spirit and also Soul ( psyche).In the socratic-platonic ontology Demon is a kind of minor DEITY
that can be mainly good( benefique) It;s called AGATHO-DAIMON ( agathos = good). The man who is influenced or inspired by such a demon is ANTHROPOS KALOS KAI AGATHOS ( man handsome + good-mora-l).

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