Max Weber, a German sociologist and philosopher in the early 20th century, observed the truth about how difficult politics really is:
“Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It requires passion as well as perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms — that man would not have achieved the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible.
“But to do that, a man must be a leader, and more than a leader, he must be a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that resolve of heart which can brave even the failing of all hopes.
“This is necessary right now, otherwise we shall fail to attain that which it is possible to achieve today.
“Only he who is certain not to destroy himself in the process should hear the call of politics; he must endure even though he finds the world too stupid or too petty for that which he would offer. In the face of that he must have the resolve to say ‘and yet,’ — for only then does he hear the ‘call’ of politics.”
If only there was some way to make sure that every elected public official now in office has read Weber’s quote, memorized it and taken it to heart with them into work every single day. We might have a shot at solving real problems then instead of engaging in the kindergarten antics we see daily in Congress.
However, not every elected official has the capacity to be a great leader. True leadership is as rare as the most precious gemstone.
Weber says the true leader-hero “must endure even though he finds the world too stupid or too petty” which is very difficult for many successful people.
“Have you watched these clowns on the city council on local cable access? They are idiots!” I have heard many successful people say. “I have no intention of being in the same room with such people!”
“Yes, but those clown people are making laws that you successful people have to abide by and follow,” I tell them.
Blank stares ensue.
“And if you are as smart and successful as you think you are, don’t you think you can run circles around the idiots and cretins on any legislative body and outsmart them and craft legislation more to your liking than theirs?” I will usually follow up.
Blank stares again.
Successful people have no one to blame but themselves when it comes to electoral politics. They don’t run in the numbers they used to, even as recently as the 1980s. Once they ceded the battlefield of politics to less talented people, we as a nation got what we deserved: stalemate on every big issue we face, name-calling, finger-pointing and $21 trillion in national debt and counting.
“Man would not have achieved the possible unless time and again he had reached for the impossible.”
Weber correctly points out that leader-heroes have to have the vision to see where our nation can go together before the rest of us can get there.
Civil rights were not achieved by everyone accepting the status quo forever. Balancing the budget from 1998-2001 was not done by congressmen who promised not to cut spending or reform entitlements because they knew it was morally reprehensible to not succeed.
We need leader-heroes with vision and guts. The best leaders don’t care whether they get reelected or not.
“Only he who is certain not to destroy himself in the process should hear the call of politics.” Leader-heroes have the intelligence, the internal fortitude and the reasoned experience to avoid the pitfalls of politics and public service.
We just need more of them.