Leadership And Legitimacy

This morning, I was just taking a break from some meetings and finally catching up on the news; I look at the date and realize that it is November 22.

If you’re of my generation (born in ’53) or older, that date is a pretty powerful one; today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In a certain sense, his brief (and really not terribly effective) presidency marks the apogee of post-war American confidence. We may have been worried that the Russians might nuke us, but somehow we were filled with a kind of optimism that we could make it though, and not only make it through, but make it better.

I attribute no small part of that to the systemic collapse of leadership – both in the quality of being able to lead, and of being able to be led – in our society.neo-neocon sent me a link to her recent post on leadership, which was a good read. I’ve felt for a while that the old balance between erecting statues of leaders and pulling them down has been upset somehow in our day.

Personally, I blame celebrity (then again, I blame celebrity for everything). We balance out view of others with positive and negative opinions. My belief is that the positive – which once was held by a respect for or awe of leaders – has been replaced by the simple handwarming over the glow of celebrity, which is much more ephemeral and which we know means less.

Here I’ll also suggest that we go to Habermas’ ‘Legitimation Crisis‘ – Damn!! Now I need to go reread it! – to talk about how Western, Enlightenment society consumes the social structures which create and sustain legitimacy.

I’ll suggest that Kennedy was the last political ‘leader’ we’ve known in America. His legacy – realized and unrealized – is something we’re living with today. I believe that until Democrats can work through that legacy, we will be like Bill Clinton, emulating the form of his behavior without ever capturing the substance.

And more, I think that we need to revisit and think hard about why it is that we expect our society to function when we entrust the levers of power to people more worried about being torn down than about accomplishing anything.

6 thoughts on “Leadership And Legitimacy”

  1. Most times leaders are either made or unmade by events. Kennedy was made by the Russians, the space race, civil rights and the fact that he was assassinated.

    If he had not been killed would he be remembered as such a great president? I doubt it. I believe that his weakness for women would have done him in. The American public would have had a very different view of an American President and sex in those days.

    But we will never know, will we?

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
    USA

  2. Agree about Reagan, but note that you say that Kennedy was “the last political ‘leader’ we’ve known in America”, and “I attribute no small part of that to the systemic collapse of leadership – both in the quality of being able to lead, and of being able to be led – in our society.”

    And this happened when? In 1963? And then what? Why, the contemptible, nihilistic 60’s era, that’s what. That is when “deconstruction” of Western Civilization began in earnest. As Bill Bennett said, “ideas matter”… big time.

    So if I begin “deconstructing” my house, even if it’s just with a small tack hammer, and I do so relentlessly and remorselessly for four decades….. what can I expect my house to look like these days afer all that?

    Shall I reel in shock that many elements of our representative, i.e. free, society look similar?

    1964 onward was when totalitarian Cuba, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, were seen as morally superior to our own. Since then, Castro has dictated for approaching 50 years, Mao slaughtered 60 million right into and beyond the 60’s, Vietnam drove one million plus into exile, Cambodia slaughtered about one fourth of her own people, and the socialist Soviet Union collapsed into sociological rubble… and how many of those deconstruction workers have gone right on with their hammers, with nary a second thought? As they today hire and fire in academia, turn thumbs up or down cultural projects, and run or spike front page stories and magazine covers?

    Of course our leaders are worried about being torn down. Not only are there millions delighted to do the tearing, but those millions are quite capable of succeeding at doing so. And when the roof falls in, they shall blame ANYONE other than themselves. They will then moved on, with their hammers, to whatever might remain standing and leave such mundane concerns as the rubble to other, lower and less enlightened types.

    Ayn Rand was right.

  3. The argument can be made that what we now call “the 60’s” begin on November 22nd 1963 and they end on the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon in ’74 — whether that is an accurate assesment or not, they were interesting times.
    All things being equal, I’m glad I was in my salad days and could take maximum advantage of all the things the time offered — today a week of that kind of action would kill me :)

  4. The Kennedy presidency and the Democratic party were both in decline before the assassination. There never was a Camelot. LBJ was more typical of the corrupt party hacks that had taken over.

  5. I do believe that what you have spoken about is what has been niggling at me. The fact that so many in our own country would be willing to outright attempt to tear our government down during war, but that they literally are getting away with it. I get a sense that until Kennedy was killed, the citizens respected that he was making the decisions based on sound judgement. Even if the citizens did not totally agree with everything, they also realized that they were not privy to all information and that this was necessary for security. That they felt because this man (and the prior presidents) was elected, he could be trusted. What is going on today, in my mind is utterly insane. That no matter how many times the truth has been spelled out, these people still stand up and call the president a liar. It is in my opinion, very demeaning for the president to have to go to these extremes. Without any controls, this system in our country has become total chaos.

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