Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,
Andrew
perspectivism

new virtues for changing times

The emphasis on authority has brought older leadership styles back to the fore. People who had seemed too confrontational, even obnoxious, suddenly came to be regarded as tough, no-nonsense leaders willing to bust heads to get things done. After watching a string of CEOs and corporate board members traipse into congressional hearings to claim that they didn't have a clue about what was going on in their own companies, suddenly we deem it important to have leaders who are aggressive, intrusive, and in control.

The philosopher Leo Strauss once noted that the word "virtue," which in classical times meant "manly courage," had by the nineteenth century come to mean something very different—"female chastity." Different times call for different virtues. The age of harmony called forth leaders on the model of Bill Clinton—leaders who were flexible, charming, empathic, cooperative, and tolerant, leaders who saw the complexity of things and who erred on the side of indulgence. The era of authority calls forth leaders who possess the vigorous virtues—leaders who are often more solitary than social, who are stern, combative, contemptuous of self-indulgence, fiercely loyal to friends, and persistently hostile to foes.

Although these traits used to be considered hallmarks of manliness, many of the people who conspicuously embody them today are women. Coleen Rowley, the whistle-blowing FBI agent in Minnesota, wrote a slashing letter to the Bureau's director that was filled with rage at the passive incompetence of her superiors. Sherron Watkins, the whistle-blower at Enron, wrote a cold, sharp letter to Kenneth Lay, puncturing the dishonest fantasies of the people around her. These women had the guts to be not team players but angry, uncooperative, difficult, and duty-bound employees.

If we circumscribe our own strength, we let terrorism, tyranny, fraud, and corruption fester. Republicans tend to be lions when combating terror but foxes when fighting corporate abuse; for many Democrats the pattern is reversed.

It's easy from the vantage point of our present difficulties to feel superior to the paradise mentality of the 1990s—in fact, too easy. The reality is that we need both hope and experience in the cycle.

(Lions and Foxes, David Brooks)
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