Sunday, June 22, 2008

Obama: Seen Through the Eyes of an Old Man

The Sacred Bloodlines Providing American Leadership
Egalitarianism: A Law We Can Live With? 33

Ashoka, an ancient King in Northern India, inherited a military where all the officers were Brahmins. Since all the opposing armies followed the same guidelines, his army’s fortunes after many campaigns was pretty much what one would have expected.

Then, under the tutelage of a rather pragmatic holy man, Ashoka began to seek leadership for his army based on talent rather than caste. The results were astounding. Of course, the Brahmins in this new army would, on occasion, express their preference for the old way, but the sudden increase of military victories served to deflate their gloomy predictions. Over time, Ashoka became one of the few ancient rulers to actually repulse the invasion of the White Mongols.

Now, to American egalitarianism. We pride ourselves in claiming that “In America, the sky is the limit!” We insinuate that talent, perseverance and honor, when coupled with ambition, can make any dream into a reasonable future. “This,” we claim, “is truly the land of opportunity. Why, any boy or girl can become President!”

This line of thinking implies something interestingly American. It presents the (rather Ashokan) idea that merit will make the final selection when it comes to who will succeed. Naturally, we ask, “Exactly what kind of merit?” Of course, the answer to such a question may depend on exactly which kind of “success” makes up the dream.

One of our favorite interpretations of “merit” derives from the lasting benefits of the family life our subject experienced. We can say things such as “He comes from a great family.” When we say that, we comfortably assume that his upbringing was of a superior quality, one extraordinarily suited to prepare him for a leadership role. That is, the training he received as a child in this remarkable family formed an unquestionably good foundation for these leadership qualities in him as an adult.

Another of our favorites, although possibly even less convincing than the first, is that this new leader comes from the “right blood.” This means that the genetic traits of his family of origin were superior in precisely the right areas to make him, almost inevitably, a “natural born leader.” Such genetic traits, we convince ourselves, can be detected in such a family by examining its historic accomplishments in the Civil War, in the struggle against malaria or otherwise.

Still, there is that lingering issue of traditional Americana that our leadership selection processes really must reflect merit. By this, we mean merit in the here and now. Not merit effortlessly accomplished by heroic ancestors in the Civil War or the campaign against malaria. This idea further requires that our potential leader must have done something with himself during his life, something more, perhaps, than sharing a few DNA clusters with, of course, some heroic Civil War ancestor or famous malaria doctor.

As we pursue this American idea of ours, we can expect a certain demography of leaders. We can reasonably assume that this group of leaders will all exhibit some impressive merit. We can assume that these meritorious individuals will have arisen from all sorts of different backgrounds, each optimizing his individual strengths to reach a position of prominence. We might even assume that, once such a selection on merit alone has been made, these leaders we have chosen by this means will be quite a scattered lot, made unique mostly, once more, by their merit.

After we dismiss the “good family” and the “right blood line” type concepts, we should see a uniquely American variety of people in these folks. When that is the case, we can be reassured that our American “merit” process has been working in full swing. What a relief!

Now, we must still glimpse a bit more at what we have. How likely is it that an Admiral’s son will also turn out to be the very best possible selection for the next Admiral? Does this look like selection based on merit? Even more unlikely, how much should we expect this first Admiral’s grandson and this second Admiral’s son to be not only a Senator, but a Presidential candidate? Does that seem to be a series of leadership selections based on merit?

Maybe it’s just coincidence. Maybe, it’s just more of that old “bloodline” idea.

So, let’s start again. This time, instead of an Admiral, we have a “checkered banker” for the grandfather, one who had no reservations about traffic with the Nazis. His son, ostensibly selected by merit, becomes the President. Continuing along, his grandson, that is, the old President’s son, becomes President. His other son becomes the Governor of Florida. What a coincidence that so many leaders might arise from the same family!

Perhaps this time it was a case of such healthy family traditions that the production of this string of remarkable leaders was to be expected. Expected, that is, under just exactly that same American tradition, promotion by merit.

This exaltation need not be limited to “good families” and “superior bloodlines.” It can proceed through the advantage of marriage, another excellent case of coincidence as we continue to select leaders based on merit.

The ancient Romans were much more honest about this sort of thing. In that culture immense wealth, power and influence was expected to flow to the next generation of the same family. However, those old Romans were entirely willing to accept such matters without any of the confusing deceptions of the new Emperor’s success being the result of his merit. As New Emperor, he was, likewise, not confused about the good fortune of his promotion. He could, once ordained, act quite decisively to reinforce not any perception of his merits, but certainly his wealth, power and influence in ways which were, well, quite Imperial.

So, now we see the arrival of a man apparently bereft of what has been previously considered the influence of a “good family.” Additionally, there is no shortage of bigots absolutely certain that he could not even possibly be the benefactor of a “good bloodline.”

I suppose that only leaves merit.

No comments:

Post a Comment