are hardly known to their followers.
Next after them are the leaders
people know and admire;
after them, those they fear;
after them, those they despise.
To give no trust
is to get no trust.
When the work’s done right,
with no fuss or boasting,
ordinary people say,
Oh, we did it.
This complex and multilayered thought from Lao Tzu is often quoted – but it is still fresh and relevant.
If it is true it means that all our histories will tend to be distorted by the greater visibility of the worst sort of leader – for the best will be invisible to historians and increasingly so over time.
It can be seen as good management advice: delegate, empower, trust…
But its truth depends upon faith in the Tao, the way, Providence. Only if we believe that morality does reflect some deeper reality will it make sense to do the right thing quietly. However, in a moral vacuum, where there is no sense to things, we can have no such faith. So we will be impelled to force things – to try and shape reality as we see it, rather than let it unfold.
Noisy leaders lack faith,
They don’t trust you
They don’t trust God
And they struggle to trust themselves
Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only only no one were able to acquire material power over others. But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.
Of course the existence of the religious totalitarian seems to contradict Solzhenitsyn. We can certainly find plenty of religious people who are quite capable of believing that they know what God wants and that they are entitled to act out his wishes.
But even a religious maniac must – logically – recognise he could be wrong. He knows he is subject to another power – even if he has deceived himself that he is its agent.
Those who reject all moral authority outside themselves, the true existentialists, cannot be wrong. This is why the poison of power is so dangerous to them. Not because they are essentially any worse than the religious, but when you see no constraint other than what you are able to achieve with the power that you do have then the temptation to acquire more power, and to protect yourself with that power, can quickly become over-powering.
Logic impels each honest atheist to become a tin-pot dictator. What other choice can he have? Who else can he believe in than himself? When push comes to shove even ordinary standards of integrity and honesty must be sacrificed if they get in the way of success.