Flat White

Of course our leaders won’t measure up if we demand too much of them

10 January 2020

2:00 PM

10 January 2020

2:00 PM

Having watched the disgusting spectacle of Scott Morrison parading around devastated areas trying to shake people’s hands against their will, trying to show that he is here now to be the leader that was apparently expected of him, I am left with an uninspired shrug of frustration expressed in the following words: what could one expect? The victims of this horror and all Australians are perfectly right to want inspiration in the form of a leader. But to be a leader in such circumstances requires something we have not found. 

Observe a common feature of great leaders in literature and in history: they act willingly and with conviction. A reluctant leader cannot make a great leader. One reason why someone might be reluctant to lead would be a sense of constant and overwhelming responsibility. 

In a free society—one based on laissez-faire capitalism—the government’s role would be restricted to the protection of individual rights. A government, properly understood, is an agency that sets the terms on which force is used in society, and uses retaliatory force to stop the initiation of force against innocent individuals. The government’s proper role consists almost entirely of just the roles of police, law courts and the military (there are some outlying issues such as quarantine which involve potential rights violations). I cannot give a full account of this political theory here. In short, however, the role of government would be vastly reduced. 


In our current society, government is expected to govern every aspect of our lives. They have control (through present law or a vote of maybe just the cabinet, not even the parliament) over every aspect of our lives. They control the economy, our resources, our industries, everything down to the content on TV. The leader of our system of government is, effectively, a leader of everything. The confused mush which is the current predominant political philosophy sinks into a murky sediment of making things “good” (and proceed to trample on the rights of anybody and everybody in order to do so). At the top of our system of government (in a functional, if not a constitutional sense) is the Prime Minister. The federal government cannot shirk responsibility through reference to our federal system. The federal government exerts immense influence over the states and can assume state powers through referral and vote. In any event, I am not talking about what is legally expected from government, but what is philosophically expected. 

I certainly do not suggest that the current government should do nothing about bushfires. That is its present duty. But I reiterate that, in essence, the leader of our current government is the leader of everything. If this seems to you like an excruciatingly difficult task to do consistently and effectively (if not an impossible one), I would agree with you. 

There are certainly some people who can take on tremendous burdens and do so with unwavering heroism. But this cannot be expected of everybody, nor even a majority. Everybody has the free will to be a hero, but it is precisely because people have free will that we cannot expect heroism from everybody. 

I do not mean to morally excuse the Prime Minister in his hideous performance as a leader. He chose the role. I mean simply to ask what I asked earlier: what could one expect? If this seems pessimistic, remember it is the tangled nightmare of statism, with its colossal demands of an ever-ready, ever-present, ever-diligent government that makes this so. 

Who then is to be our leader? That’s simple. You are. 

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