Old Man Yells at Mush-Mouth Verbiage

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

“All that is solid melts into air.” –Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

“Gentlemen, I as leader will use power like a drum and leadership like a violin.” –Firesign Theatre, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him

There’s some verbiage I keep hearing that makes my back teeth itch. “Influencer.” Of what? What for? “Creator.” Not sculptor, painter, opera singer, poet, novelist, comedian, vaudevilian, or anything where mastery of the particularities of a medium matters, and which is not digital, or “on” social media for any but the crassest of motives. But the worst of them all, the most vile, and the most dangerous–

“Leader.” An intellectual historian should really be teasing apart how “leader” grew like kudzu over all discussions of power relationships, and perhaps that happy day will come, if there are any history departments left, but for now this post will have to do.

Let’s start by looking at eleven more or less randomly selected headlines from the newsflow in the last week. After the source for each headline, I have given the precise office (or “place,” as Madison has it) held by the putative leader. You will notice that in most cases it would be easy to change the headline to be precise rather than vague (“President” for “leader,” in #1, for example). Our hypothetical intellectual historian might infer that there was some ideological process going on in the minds of the editors who write the headlines (rather than the typographic necessity of keeping the headline to a certain character count, which only has force in print, in any case). The headlines:

1) Micronesia leader accuses China of bribery, threats in Taiwan bid Al Jazeera. President.

2) Colorado GOP selects combative, election-denying new leader ABC. Party chair.

3) Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is being treated for a concussion after a fall NBC. Senate Minority Leader.

4) Why ChatGPT and AI are taking over the cold call, according to Salesforce leader CNBC CEO, Board Director, Entrepreneur.

5) Stephen Flynn backs Humza Yousaf in SNP leadership race. Party leader.

6) Another traditional leader shot dead in KwaZulu-Natal Independent Online. Of the KwaNobamba Traditional Council.

7) Reason why Kate’s handshake to community leader was awkwardly left hanging on royal visit The Mirror. Imam.

8) Biden and E.U. Leader Seek Common Ground on Trade and Ukraine New York Times. European Commission president.

9) Philippe Martinez, the union leader taking on Macron Financial Times. General secretary of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT). FT says “boss.”

10) Hong Kong leader John Lee pledges to gain more policy support from Beijing as he leads largest delegation to capital amid ‘two sessions’ South China Morning Post. Chief Executive.

11) North Korean leader Kim calls for intensified drills for ‘real war’ Straits Times. General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The precise offices for each “leader” differ radically from each other in terms of the power relationships they embody and leverage. It is at best sub-optimal and at worst outright agnotological to throw an Imam (context: worship), a CEO (context: profit), a party chair (context: balloting), a party leader (context: government) into the same bucket. Worshippers are not shareholders are not voters!

Ursula von der Leyen and Kim Il Sung are not usefully classified together (except possibly in airport bookstore business sections, where no doubt both of them have autobiographies). What kind of mentality produces such a result? I would suggest a mentality that thinks in simple, cartoonish icons:

As you can see, in icons, leaders are either heroic individuals, or heroic individuals with followers. That’s all very well, except with you consider what happens when you melt all the particularities of office — presidents, party chairs, minority leaders, CEOs, party chairs, party leaders, imams, “union bosses,” general secretaries — into the generic air of “leadership.” There is, in fact, a name for that, and it has a history.

The name is Fuhrerprinzip (WikiPedia, sorry[1]). Note the dissolution of the particularities of office:

When Hitler finally came to absolute power, after being appointed Chancellor and assuming the powers of the President when Paul von Hindenburg died, he changed his title to Führer und Reichskanzler (“Führer and Reich Chancellor”), and the Führerprinzip became an integral part of German society. Appointed mayors replaced elected local governments. Schools lost elected parents’ councils and faculty advisory boards, with all authority being put in the headmaster’s hands.[13] The Nazis suppressed associations and unions with elected leaders, putting in their place mandatory associations with appointed leaders. The authorities allowed private corporations to keep their internal organization, but with a simple renaming from hierarchy to Führerprinzip. Conflicting associations—e.g., sports associations responsible for the same sport—were coordinated into a single one under the leadership of a single Führer, who appointed the Führer of a regional association, who appointed the sports club Führer, often appointing the person whom the club had previously elected.[14] Shop stewards had their authority carefully circumscribed to prevent their infringing on that of the plant leader.[15] Eventually, virtually no activity or organization in Germany could exist that was completely independent of party or state leadership.

In practice, the selection of unsuitable candidates often led to micromanagement and commonly to an inability to formulate coherent policy. Albert Speer noted that many Nazi officials dreaded making decisions in Hitler’s absence. Rules tended to become oral rather than written; leaders with initiative who flouted regulations and carved out their own spheres of influence might receive praise and promotion rather than censure.

Interestingly, Fuherprinzip is both extra-legal and fractal. From the Holocaust Encyclopedia:

Hitler stood outside the legal constraints of the state apparatus whenever he perceived the need to adopt policies and make decisions that he deemed necessary for the survival of the German race. This extra-legal line of authority, known as the “Führer Executive” (Führerexekutiv) or the “Führer principle” (Führerprinzip) extended down through the ranks of the Nazi party, the SS, the state bureaucracy, and the armed forces. It allowed for agencies of the party, state, and armed forces to operate outside the law when necessary to achieve the ideological goals of the regime, while maintaining the fiction of adhering to legal norms.

The notion of the “Führer principle” was often misunderstood by both internal and foreign observers as well as by some Nazis themselves to mean absolute obedience to one’s superiors. As the Nazi leadership understood it, the concept did embody obedience but it also involved the use of considerable imagination and initiative. This permitted an individual who was certain that he was “working towards the Führer” to go around his superior in certain circumstances where the measures he proposed or took demonstrated a better understanding of the long-term goals of the Nazi regime.

(One might regard the heirarchy of “predatory precarity” the PMC are so interested in maintaining as fertile ground for Fuherprinzip, even if symbolic capital were to be accumulated not necessarily with credentials but by “working towards the Führer.” After all, somebody has to make the hard choices.)

SIDEBAR: Lest I be misunderstood — and don’t @ me on Godwin’s Law — I am not making the claim that the United States is a fascist state. For example, we lack “a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants.” What I do say is that the ruling and governing classes of the United States have adopted a concept that is very like one aspect of fascism, and that this is dangerous. END SIDEBAR

We now ask ourselves where the mentalities that are propagating this “iconic,” cartoonish notion of “leadership”[2] reside. It’s not hard to find out:

Not just Harvard and the Gates Foundation; the Clinton Foundation:

Then Chelsea Clinton, who announced herself “completely awed” by the “incredible swell of people and partners” who had participated in some event the previous day, invited us to hearken to the “inspiring voices of leaders, of communities, of companies, of countries.”

Melinda Gates followed up the chocolatier’s presentation by heaping even more praise: “She is an amazing businesswoman, you can see why we all find her so inspiring.” Then, a little later on: “Entrepreneurship is really vital for women…. It’s also their ability to advance into leadership roles into corporations. And corporations play such a big role in the global economy.”

And, of course, the “incredible swell” of the World Economic Forum, where “leaders” are not only “young” but “global”:

The Young Global Leaders® Community is an accelerator for a dynamic community of exceptional people with the vision, courage, and influence to drive positive change in the world.

Our growing membership of more than 1,400 members and alumni of 120 nationalities includes civic and business innovators, entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, educators, activists, artists, journalists, and more.

Aligned with the World Economic Forum’s mission, we seek to drive public-private co-operation in the global public interest. We are united by the belief that today’s pressing problems present an opportunity to build a better future across sectors and boundaries.

There is, of course, an endless scroll of head shots of “Young” “Global” “Leaders,” all of them smiling. Here is the very top of the list, which tells you all you need to know:

I have blurred out two of the “young” “global” “leaders” — I trust their ascriptive identities, brown and pink, are sufficiently clear through the blur for you to make your diversity assessment — to focus on the third: A Deputy Chief Financial Officer of Blackrock. I think we can all agree that the particularities of their office far outweigh “leadership,” in terms of deciding whether The Young Global Leaders® Community is a club that would have us as a member?

I started writing this post inspired by this Tweet from Taibbi’s latest Twitter Files:

Here again we see the particularities of office being dissolved; that’s why Taibbi’s “incestuous” trope works; and that’s what makes it so easy for the “truth squad” to move from one venue to another, and to exercise power arbitrarily. Taibbi says the same thing in a different way:

There’s a word for “the absolute fusion of state, corporate, and civil society organizations,” too; I’m sure it’ll come to me (despite my sidebar above).

Clearly, we have moved very far from the form of Constitutional government envisioned by the Framers. Here is Madison on the particularities of office in Federalist 51:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

(By “place,” Madison means sense 9, “a job, post, or office,” with “persons in high places” being the usage example.) For example, it should be not merely wrong, but not in any FBI agent’s interest to be censoring domestic communications on Twitter; but clearly that’s not happening. With the particularities of office dissolved, everybody can be on the same “team,” everybody can follow the same “leaders,” regardless of the “department” they belong to (“the absolute fusion of state, corporate, and civil society organizations”). Under Fuherprinzip, every place becomes the same place.

* * *

If I have convinced you to look askance at any use of the word “leader,” especiallly in a headline, I will consider that this post has done its job. However, I think an elite mentality — Harvard, the Gates Foundation, WEF — that dissolves the particularities of office into a single, blobby concept of “leadership” is also very dangerous. The Fuherprinzip being fractal, whose orders will these “leaders” follow? Watch the parking meters…


[1] My copy of Richard Evans’s Third Reich triology is not available. These are the books to read on this topic. IIRC, Evans gives the example of the leadership of a Hamburg philatelists society being subjected to fuhrerprinzip.

[2] I ran across this hilarious example of leadership entrepreneurialism in my travels:

Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior—an observable set of skills and abilities. When the co-authors of The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, first set out to discover what effective leaders do when they’re at their personal best, they collected thousands of stories from ordinary people—the moments they recalled when asked to think of a peak leadership experience. Despite differences in culture, gender, age, and other variables, these “personal best” stories revealed similar patterns of behavior. The authors discovered that when leaders experience their personal best, they display five core practices: they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. Jim and Barry called these behaviors The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. Together, these practices provide the basis for The Leadership Challenge®.

Hitler certainly employed all five practices, and to good effect. He also loved small children and dogs.


Here is the “Easter egg” buried in the post title:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Joe Well

    I think the “leader” obsession started in the 1990s. I remember in high school having to write an essay for some scholarship on why I was such a great leader, and I thought, wait, why does everyone have to be a leader? It’s like the joke meme about one man digging and four supervisors standing above the hole.

    But it was definitely a new buzzword in the mid/late-90s.

    1. Jason Boxman

      My business classes covered leadership as well, in a managerial sense, in the early 2010s. What is a leader? What characteristics do a “good” leader have? ect.

      1. Alex Cox

        The Zapatistas had a very simple concept: “lead by obeying.” You only got to be a sub-commandante if you consistently and reliably did what your “followers” told you to do.

  2. DMK

    I did an online search for “leadership” in Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary but could not find one, so I propose the following: The ability to convince others that through one’s dubious accomplishments, higher positions in organizational hierarchies are deserved.

    Describes Victoria Nuland perfectly.

    1. Mark Gisleson

      Here’s one of his definitions that might apply:

      PRESIDENT, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom—and of whom only—it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.

      1. Hayek's Heelbiter

        Both excellent and should be incorporated in to AB’s DD latest version [what became of him definitely worth of any number of conspiracies] Rewrite DNA surfacing here. Maybe slightly adjusted last sentence “did not want any of them to hold the office.”

  3. some guy

    In these times, we need a counter-reminder to the misuse and misapplication of “Godwin’s Law”.

    We could call it ” Niwdog’s Reminder”. It is not a violation of Godwin’s Law if the reference to “nazi” is due to the existence of actual nazis or nazism or true-real valid parallels in the thing being discussed.

    1. clarky90

      I had an epiphany……….

      The contradictory values of Davos Man trouble me…

      (1) On one hand, Davos Man is gentle, kind, equitable, fighting for a living wage, fighting for affordable universal healthcare,……………

      (2) And, concurrently, Davos Man is engineering war, abortion, euthanasia, big pharma, big chemicals, big ag………? How can this be? Is this a case of Neo-Mr Hyde and Neo-Dr Jekyll?

      I suddenly grasped that “Davos Man’s Program” is not designed to happen simultaneously….. but in episodes. ie…

      The eugenics plan #(2) will magikally disappear 90% of the World’s human population…. “Oh the great sadness!”

      Then the signature plan #(1) (kind, equitable, vast parklands, good wages…. “wellness Centres”, …. ) becomes easily achievable, …… in the glorious future. with a tiny select, but diverse, population of winners….

      1. some guy

        ” Your mission, 90%, should you choose to accept it, will be to survive all efforts to magikally kill you off, or even reduce your numbers.”

        Mission Impossible? If there’s a will, is there a way?

  4. Stephen

    I think what you might be describing underneath this leadership fixation is an increasingly authoritarian and potentially totalitarian approach in which the state, industry and civil society are becoming fused. This is under the umbrella of certain ideologies that everyone is expected to buy into and not question. It is the antithesis of traditional pluralism that many of us were brought up on.”Leadership” is then needed to make these ideologies happen.

    The US / collective west elites seek to apply this both internally and also globally. This is in danger of creating civil war internally and world war internationally.

    Truth squads and all the paraphernalia associated with leadership being about common visions and so forth are associated with this monist ideological approach. True diversity in belief and different views as to how society should be organized are not to be tolerated.

    Of course, the ideology is also deeply convenient in obscuring issues of inequality and wealth dispersion. So self interest helps to perpetuate this.

    Ultimately though this approach to “leadership” is hollow. It misses the basic thing that causes people to follow some one else. What matters above all is whether the leader genuinely cares about you. Hitler did not care at all about the German people: in the end he saw them as unworthy of him. The elites who are driving this do not care about “the people” either. In the long run, it will not work. I hope.

    1. JBird4049

      Enforced groupthink with the population being put into smaller and smaller silos; the leadership class withdraws itself into an opaque bubble while being serviced by an increasingly scared and incompetent governing class ruled themselves by the need to stay in control with one of the tactics used is control of “the narrative.”

      One of the possible indications of truly authoritarian, even totalitarian, rule is if violence is used to suppress the inconvenient truth coming from unapproved educators, scholars, and opinion makers. Not the suppression or threats of suppression of individuals and censorship of unapproved ideas, which we have, but “trials” and imprisonment, people being disappeared “into the night and the fog,” or being just straight up murdered. The Soviet Union, China, Indonesia, most of the African countries, every country south of the Rio Grande under American direction, and of course the United States at different times. If you don’t believe Eugene Debs wasn’t railroaded…

      To be fair, it is was the activists and political leaders, and not others, who got the brunt of it in the United States. That did not mean that loyalty oaths had to be taken by many including teachers among others, or be fired and blackballed. But then, there is the South, which has often had its own peculiar ways of dealing with perceived troublemakers with bullets and nooses both being very popular, or with very strong suggestions to move, if they felt “nice.”

      Since they are taking the final steps in the process of convincing themselves of their supreme rectitude as well as the Evilness of the nonbelievers, which is the majority of the population, do not be surprised if soon the FBI starts arresting not only Black activists, politicians, and writers/commentators, but White ones as well from their homes for some made up baloney like supporting domestic terrorism, or being environmental terrorists, or child molesters using extremely convenient, suspect evidence.

      But there is the shot while escaping or some enthusiastic racists or anti-everything shoots an inconvenient person for some reason.

      People say that there is suppression and authoritarian government, but while the various factions of the Oligarchy, Security State, the corporations, and the PMC are past the big toe stage, they are only now putting their feet into the water. When we get to where everyone is scared of the modern equivalent of the Argentine Ford Falcons, whatever that might be, then we will truly be in it.

  5. Adam Eran

    Let’s not forget the Peter Principle: people are typically promoted to just beyond their competence. Warren Mosler remarks that what’s surprising is how incompetent people at the top (e.g. at the Fed) are. The staff know their stuff, but the political appointees are appallingly ignorant. Spoiler alert: this is a long interview, but pretty good.

    I had a friend who was about to be promoted, and I started kidding him, saying “Don’t be like that pointy-haired boss in the Dilbert comic, too stupid to grow a beard.” He said I had a point. Managers simply cannot get down in the weeds and know everything their workers know. The trick, he said, is in managing your ignorance.

    …words to live by, I say

    1. Questa Nota

      Play your cards right and you can hit the Daily Double, or witness it inaction ;p

      Peter Principle
      Parkinson’s Law

  6. GC54

    My other bugaboo phrase/term is “say authorities”, the enablers of “leaders” . Delegated how? On what basis: Expertise? Connections? Authority over whom and in what specific context? Accountable to whom?

  7. Carolinian

    “Necessary but outside the law” kind of sums up the Blobprinzip. As for “leader,” at least when one of us flyovers bites the farm we aren’t described as “followers.”

    One should also point out that in the old days headlines were often chosen to fit the page. It may not always be as subtle as Mr. Subliminal.

  8. scott s.

    Having had a military career, leadership has been pounded into us since the beginning. I remember as a midshipman taking the Marine Corps correspondence course for “squad leader”. I think the idea is if you can lead a squad you can apply the principles everywhere. For Marines leadership is a mantra.

    1. Dandelion

      I’m old enough to remember when being a military leader was called “being in command” and what made a good commander was someone who wouldn’t eat until the last of the troops had eaten and wouldn’t sleep until the last of the troops had a bed of some kind. Being that kind of “leader” in command meant that troops trusted you wouldn’t recklessly get them killed.

      I’m also old enough to remember when “leaders” of whatever sort would, after making colossal mistake, apologize and resign.

      What’s missing with today’s “leaders” is any notion that being a leader also necessitates sacrifice, and not just the sacrifice of, say, having to sleep too often in a 5-star hotel instead of one’s own home. And that it involves building trust and not merely enforcing compliance.

      What’s missing is any sense of that old-fashioned word, “honor.”

    2. Cpl. Easy

      scott s.

      > Having had a military career, leadership has been pounded into us since the beginning.

      Having served one term of enlistment in the Marine Corps and — in the high-casualty, quick-promotion Vietnam era — having become an NCO barely half-way through that four-year period, I can report what ‘leadership’ means in the military. It’s quite simple. ‘Leadership’, for them, is how much you are able and willing to harass, intimidate, annoy and generally (in the vernacular) fuck with the people over whom you are placed. ‘Sacrifice’? ‘Honor’?

      > … wouldn’t eat until the last of the troops had eaten …

      Only in the movies.

  9. Bob White

    “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

    ― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  10. Tom Pfotzer

    A while back I was sitting in a room of young, fairly eligible wanna-bes, and the discussion subject was “leadership”.

    Naturally, everyone in the room wanted desperately to be perceived as a leader.

    I think that’s the moment I stepped off the leadership bus, because just for that one moment, it was clear that, as Bob White points out so clearly above, anyone that really wants to be a leader probably isn’t fit for the job.

    Some decades later, I wondered what a “leaderless” society would actually be like. On further reflection, I thought “many, maybe most people can figure out, in a given situation, what needs to be done”. If they would take it one step further – and _do_ what needs to be done – we’d have the leadership problem pretty well solved.

    And that was the well-spring of my definition of leadership:

    A leader is someone who figures out what needs to get done, and does it.

    1. c_heale

      My definition would be, a Leader, trusts others, has peers who are not afraid to disagree with them, and to whom he listens and follows their judgement too, and who delegates as much as possible to those as low down the hierarchy as possible.

      1. bulfinch

        Leadership of any kind, in as much as it’s even necessary (it may surprise you how often it isn’t) should be like community service. A short straw you draw or for which you’re voted into and grudgingly accept like jury duty. Eligibility might be based upon certain assessable qualities like aptitude, temperament, and the ability to perceive all matters with the mind of a poet. It really should not be a covetous role; if it is, then there’s been a conflation of the role of leadership with that of master or figurehead.

        The only reason anyone might aspire to leadership should be because they were awed by how effectively the role was satisfied by another. No glamour, no glory — just necessity.

  11. fresno dan

    For example, it should be not merely wrong, but not in any FBI agent’s interest to be censoring domestic communications on Twitter; but clearly that’s not happening.
    Why is it not happening now, assuming that it used to happen? Taking Russiagate as an example, were there no republican FBI agents to, if not supportive of Trump, appalled at the manipulation of the process? Well, one high ranking republican was….Robert Mueller. Now, perhaps there are many high ranking republicans who find Trump a true threat to the constitution.
    But I think that ignores the uniparty has reached consensus on any other number of matters. For example, puting China in the WTO, and now reducing China’s economic influence. And Globalization, ever expanding defense treaties, and a neoliberal agenda. And Obama’s support and expansion of the Patriot Act (among so many other things where he was indistinguishable from Bush). I think I would understand as either a dem or repub FBI agent, that ever more monitoring is the consensus policy of the US. And if ever more monitoring, does it not follow that when activities that are discovered that are judged to be detrimental to the government of the US, that actions should be taken to thwart these activities?

    1. Mark Gisleson

      I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing from those Republican FBI agents when Durham releases his report.

  12. ChrisPacific

    The Young Global Leaders thing is very WEF-ish. As far as I can tell they don’t actually do anything – just get together occasionally for conferences (they obviously like to believe that magic happens when they all get together and talk, and include anecdotes of same in their annual reports, but the evidence seems fairly thin that it actually happens to any great degree, or that the ones that do happen are of any particular value).

    It reads a little like a combination of aggressive self-promoters and well-known people who have been rounded up and collected like Pokemon. The nomination criteria are laughably vague, and there are no responsibilities and no tenure period. You can look at the list of all the people who have joined, but you can’t see why they were nominated or what they have done since. It just seems like a big echo chamber of resonating virtue. There are also a bunch of neoliberal tells, like “public-private cooperation”.

  13. skippy

    Lambert you recently read the Mars Trilogy and I think the “Leadership” noted reminds me of the Capitalist with a bunch of wiz-kids hanging out sorting out the world problems, at if memory serves, a camp fire in some retreat – far far away from the human static.

    Credentialed in narrow ways, competently ignorant outside it, no life experiences due to narrow experience/s in life to date, and the best bit is they totally believe they should right where they are and forcing everyone else to follow them blindly.

    reminds me of an old NC link I gave which had some AET sorts in the E.U. having conferences with the “Leaders” in public and private spheres in attendance. Where the over riding concept was all in attendance were proof of there success and as such never be introspective of it. They were by nature in their mind the people that should be running things and never in doubt …..

  14. paul

    Stephen Flynn backs Humza Yousaf in SNP leadership race. Party leader.

    I hardly think mr flynn can be viewed as a leader while the SNP is still being run along the lines of a family business.

    That he falls in with the quite extraordinary,shameless and unconstitutional drive by the party executive (mr and mrs murrell) to install a ‘leader’ who will keep the cupboard door locked on the ossiary accumulated under their leadership, signals his subordinate status.

  15. some guy

    ( because the last few Water Cooler bird song offerings have been different robins, here is a perhaps-interesting site discussing the different calls robins make and why they make them and giving sound clips of the calls. It is called : 7 Robin calls everyone should know. https://nature-mentor.com/robin-calls/ )

  16. das monde

    One difference between classical and modern leaderships is that the commended modern leadership tends to facilitation, stimulation rather than outright doing big things yourself like ancient patriarchs. Quite an enhancement of the bullying side of leadership.

  17. DJG, Reality Czar

    Influencer: It’s a marketing term in an era of market-babble.

    Creator: See creative, as a noun. The creatives….a social class of people who think that they have influence through their writing and such. Sometimes, these creatives hardly produce anything of note. See MFA as a degree. This set of terms is often paired with “activist” these days. “Writer and activist.” “Poet and activist.” (By the way, poets are oracles, not activists.) These are vogue words. I am also noting the many creatives are advertising their “queerness,” because turning “queerness” into money matters these days. It’s all about the benjamins.

    Leader: I am seeing the words leader and leadership used in Italian newspapers, too. Almost always, they are in italics–foreign words. Examining some of the cases above (Chelsea Clinton, the chocolatier), the word “leader” also seems to be part of the rubble of U.S. feminism. Hillary Clinton as the leader of the resistance. Constant use of the title “Leader Pelosi.”

    I’m not ready to give the Führerprinzip a go. I suspect that the use of these terms involves plain old neoliberalism and its worship of credentials and curriculum vitae. So much of U.S. life seems to consist now of padding one’s résumé: Heck, just imagine how many wars Leader Victoria “Frell the EU with Cookies” Nuland lists on her résumé.

    1. BillS

      Leader: I am seeing the words leader and leadership used in Italian newspapers, too. Almost always, they are in italics–foreign words. Examining some of the cases above (Chelsea Clinton, the chocolatier), the word “leader” also seems to be part of the rubble of U.S. feminism. Hillary Clinton as the leader of the resistance. Constant use of the title “Leader Pelosi.”

      The US political Newspeak is has really begun to infest Italian media in the last years. The culmination of this is that now the Partito Democratico has publicly completed its fusion with the US Democrat Party in the form of Elly Schlein (who holds US citizenship as well as Swiss and Italian – a true Flexian!) On top of that, she has Ukrainian ancestry and is LGBTQ+ friendly! How great is that!

      1. DJG, Reality Czar

        BillS: Pop over to the local edicola for today’s Fatto Quotidiano, which has a “ritratto” with a rather grotesque caricature of Shlein. Pino Corrias includes information that I wasn’t aware of: Father on the faculty of Johns Hopkins, mother who is the daughter of Agostino Viviani.

        Corrias claims that she went to Chicago to work on the Obama presidential campaign.

        Her background doesn’t bother me, given Enrico Letta’s heady and useless credentials.

        But the recent sloppy statements about arms to Ukraine from a supposed pacifist are unacceptable in my book. I guess that she wants to be pals with Ursula von der Wars.

        1. BillS

          Thanks for the tip DJG. Found the Fatto Quotidiano article and it seems well suffused with that Italian fatalism that comes out a lot these days when politics is discussed. My take is that given the dismal showing of the PD in the last elections, they wanted to find a new young leader that ticked all the woke boxes that might win the younger vote. However, given the economic stagnation that has afflicted Italy for well on 30 years, young people are thinking more about leaving for greener pastures. The PD will do nothing to turn the crisis in Italian industry around. Their policy in Ukraine is part of that.

          The last paragraph sums it up, and the last sentence highlights the fatalism. Per noi, vale l’intersezione tra una speranza e un vedremo.

  18. Robert Hahl

    These leadership conferences are indoctrination sessions. They get to chat with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Larry Summers for name-dropping purposes, they develop a taste for glamour, and unaccountably beautiful women chat them up and take them to bed, where, of course, there are no recording devices. Some people are guaranteed to become addicted by this treatment. These are ones who receive the most support if they happen to get anywhere in politics or business.

  19. Sgt Oddball

    One of the more notable Madisonian ‘places’ wherein the term “leader” has historically been regarded as lexically and semantically accurate is that particular one in which that term is invariably prefaced by the qualifier “cult”…

    1. Stephen V.

      I’ve never been the same since my 6th Grade teacher friend told me her kids want to be “influencers” when they grow up.

  20. Samuel Conner

    I think the “5 core practices” are useful for “bottom-up” organizing. What to do after things get rolling, though? Perhaps David Graeber’s ideas on group consensus, as we saw instantiated in the “Occupy” movement (I confess to being only dimly aware of both), are a more wholesome possibility.

  21. GramSci

    «For example, we lack “a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants.” »

    Only if one considers Democrats and Republicans to be distinct parties.

  22. JustAnotherVolunteer

    “ You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
    As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir.
    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d;
    Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
    Be not disturb’d with my infirmity:
    If you be pleased, retire into my cell
    And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
    To still my beating mind.”

    Lambert as Prospero

  23. mrsyk

    Thank you Lambert. I’ve been trying to distill some thoughts on “influencers” and “creators” since our micro exchange on the subject a few days ago. “Influencer” has a specific definition in the digital world and conveys value on a person’s success in accumulating a following. It’s a marketing term and the contractual structure can be compared to classic celebrity endorsement models only scaled down, allowing for participation and economic gain among a much broader portion of the public. Being an influencer doesn’t make one a “leader”, but gains one a bit of agency, and I believe agency or lack thereof plays a part in this discussion.
    “Creators” has become a word so opaque that it’s almost meaningless. In the digital/social/economic world it is often used to convey legitimacy.
    “Leaders” by the most general definition are persons who carry agency for others. As shown in the headlines you’ve provided, lazy use and broad meanings are rampant. Unassailable authority (for good or for bad) seems to be the only consistent theme.

  24. LY

    I always felt leadership conveys a sense of “authenticity” (an even mushier word). It’s like nicknames or being “cool”; there’s always an informal and bottom-up aspect to it.

    In my professional experience, the professional electrical and software engineering world, they draw heavily on the military for informing and developing leaders. One of the modern management dilemmas is resolving the whole Agile movement with the military-industrial roots.

  25. Louiedog14

    Just a couple of days ago I was having a conversation with a PMC type about feeding a dog – long story short she kept referring to chicken as “protein”. My wife, who is a repository of endless Simpson’s quotes, waited until we were out of earshot, and until I had muttered “FFS lady, IT’S CHICKEN!!!!” to drop the Old Man Shakes Fist at Cloud line. It comes up a lot, especially with regard to the desecration of my language.

    Anyway Lambert, I’m with you: Abe Simpson is my mentor, and clouds are my nemesis.

  26. Sub-Boreal

    Thank you for this splendid dissection.

    My data point: the School of Education at a small university that I know well has had several recent years of internal turmoil with plenty of bad behaviour in evidence. Its Masters degree program has a specialization called “Multidisciplinary Leadership”:

    Our graduates will develop skills in collaboration and communication, as well as specific leadership practices that enable the creation of positive and innovative organizational environments. The focus on leadership will provide the pedagogical knowledge necessary to ground effective practice in the diverse and rich scholarship of leadership.

  27. Kouros

    Far from being expected to demonstrate personal charisma or the ability to outdo rivals, those who aspired to a role on the Council of Tlaxcala did so in a spirit of self-deprecation—even shame—and were required to subordinate themselves to the people of the city. To ensure this was no mere show, each was subject to trials, starting with mandatory exposure to public abuse, regarded as the proper reward of ambition, and then—with one’s ego in tatters—a long period of seclusion, where the incumbent politician suffered ordeals of fasting, sleep deprivation, bloodletting, and a strict regime of moral instruction. The initiation ended with a “coming out” of the newly constituted public servant amid feasting and celebration. Clearly, taking up office in this indigenous democracy required personality traits very different from those we take for granted in modern electoral politics.


    Basically is an excerpt from “The Dawn of Everything A New History of Humanity” by David Wengrow and David Graeber

  28. Verifyfirst

    “….personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.” Government and media are effectively wholly owned by corporations, so to the average careerist, there is really no difference between them, they all provide employment opportunities, the “skill” sets are roughly the same, and advancement often is accelerated by hopping back and forth among them. So there is no personal motive today, to resist encroachment, quite the opposite.

  29. Copeland

    I’m going to butcher this old parable but here goes:

    While walking on a trail in the wilderness a man sees a throng of people moving quickly up the trail. They all rush past him and disappear into the distance. A few minutes later an old man appears on the trail, running in the same direction. When he nears, he asks, “did you see a large group of people heading this way?” — “why yes I did, why do you ask?” — “I must catch them at once, for I am their leader!”

  30. Dick Swenson

    I seem to remember a short comment. “There go my people. I must join the parade for I am their leader!” Can anyone remember where this might have come from?

    My apologies to Copeland.

  31. LawnDart

    USA may not be fascist, but it sure is displaying authoritarian practices.

    I was a midwest boy who became intimately acquainted with East Coast PMC/lieutenants of the .01%– a total culture-shock to me. Over the years I got to know them, began to understand how they think, and began to learn their fears. One of the things that most scared them seemed to be a fear that others would find out or think that they were actually phonies and frauds, so this may be why they put great weight on credentialism, and on titles or positions.

    Most (not all) of those who I became acquainted with were very hard workers and quite disciplined, but behind an appearance of confidence they seemed a fearful people, governed by worry if you will. It was amongst these people that I became acutely aware of class in America, that class became a concrete fact to me rather than an abstraction, and proof that we do indeed have a ruling class.

    This “leadership” stuff seems to be an extension of their authoritarianism, as followers and as rulers; “leadership” is an assertation of control over others– the antitheses of freedom: while these people are afforded a great deal of liberty and privilege due to wealth and class/status, they truly are some of the most unfree people I’ve encountered– so many unwritten rules to abide by! Failure to comply risks social rejection and a loss of privilege– appearance is reality to them.

    Me, when I did the military-thing I really didn’t have much exposure to overt leadership-stuff, except for a few jag-offs here and there, but then I was enlisted aircrew for MAC/AMC and our zeros (officers) knew better than to f with us, so there’s that (CIA may know 100 ways of getting back at you, but we had our ways too). Most of the zeros were pretty chill in temperment anyway, being pilots and navs, and things are/were a bit different in a lot of operations units than they are/were on the support side of things.

    But this “leadership” as commonly expressed does seem like some fuzzy-buzzy parasitical bullshit that has robbed yet another word of meaning, just like “teamwork” (RIP)– another victim of like affliction. As ex-aircrew, believe me when I say that I know what teamwork is, and it’s nothing like the mumbo-jumbo pushed in corporate-world– if it were, my charred remains would be scattered around a smoking hole.

    As far as the founders of this country go, I think that their intentions are moot at this point: was it only 20-years ago that a sitting president described the constitution as “nothing more than a god-damn piece of paper”?

    This is where the leaders of the ruling class have led us. Their dishonesty and fears have spread like a contagion throughout our society, making us an anxious and angry people. They live by lies, and expect us to do the same.

    Anyway, thanks for showing that to some of us words still have meaning, that they are things to be respected, if not treasured.

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