Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Measuring greatness

In his book, King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership, University of Kentucky emeritus professor Arnold M. Ludwig studied virtually all the rulers in the world during the previous century who had a major impact on their countries, as well as those who had not. Ludwig observed that whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship, people eventually want one person at the helm whom they can identify as their leader.
There is nothing fanciful in putting so much importance to a single leader. Ludwig, who is a psychiatrist by profession, asserts that this seems biologically and psychologically rooted in our being. “It is part of the genetic blueprint that governs our lives,” Ludwig writes.
Professor Arnold M. Ludwig in his book, King of the Mountain, writes that leaders
of nations tend to act like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern,
and rule.
We probably inherit the desire for a single ruler or leader from the apes who could be man’s closest relative in his evolution. In his classical study of mountain gorillas, G. B. Schaller has demonstrated the central role of the leader in the gorilla community, and the importance of a leader to mountain gorillas also applies to humans.
We have just gone through another election in the Philippines and, by the looks of it, people are already speculating who would possibly run for president in 2016 when President Noynoy Aquino steps down. At this early stage, a rematch is shaping up between the frontrunners, incumbent vice-president Jejomar “Jojo” Binay against President Aquino’s anointed heir apparent and losing running mate in the 2011 presidential elections, Mar Roxas.
But another big name from the past looms large in the horizon. Bongbong Marcos, now a senator of the Republic and the only son of the previous dictator and his namesake, has also been the subject of speculations on presidential wannabes. Whether Ferdinand Marcos, the son, also rises on the political chain has already aroused some serious and emotional debate on the legacy of his father’s presidency.
Ferdinand Marcos, the senior, was president of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986, when the first so-called EDSA People Power Revolution toppled him and forced him to go on exile in the United States. The older Marcos ruled with an iron fist, declared martial law when he could not legally run for a third term as president until he could install what he conveniently called a regime of “constitutional authoritarianism” under the auspices of a New Society.
It appeared to be the trend that had swept the region during his time that Ferdinand Marcos took advantage in establishing a government based on authoritarian rule. Other countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand were all being governed by one-man rule.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s prime minister for thirty-one years and whom many have considered a great leader and a paragon for others to emulate, had been successful in overseeing its separation from Malaysia in 1965. Lee was able to transform the new nation from an underdeveloped colonial outpost of the British Empire despite its lack of natural resources into a “First World” Asian Tiger. Compared with the older Marcos, Lee’s dictatorial methods appeared benign and less contemptible because of his ability and success in tending to the economic welfare of his subjects.
What others didn’t know, however, as Ludwig described in King of the Mountain, was Lee believed that governing a nation was too important to be left to the uninformed and ignorant populace. Lee didn’t buy into the conventional notion that too much powers corrupted leaders. Instead, he subscribed to the reverse notion that ordinary people could not be entrusted with powers because it corrupted their judgment as voters.
Despite ushering Singapore to prosperity in three decades, Lee’s legacy has been tainted by authoritarian rule and intolerance of dissent. He would sue political opponents and newspapers who expressed an unfavourable opinion of his government. One of Lee's abiding beliefs has been in the effectiveness of corporal punishment in the form of caning which he has utilized in a range of crimes. Lee also introduced caning in the Singapore Armed Forces, and Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where corporal punishment is an official penalty in military discipline.
While Lee succeeded as an authoritarian ruler, Ferdinand Marcos was a dismal failure, not due to his lack of stomach for dictatorship but because of runaway crony capitalism, wanton government corruption, and widespread human rights abuses that reached a tipping point in the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986. It’s true that Marcos built more infrastructure like highways, hospitals and schools than his predecessors and successors combined, but that is not a true measure of greatness. We cannot certainly ascribe the genuine greatness of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi to the number of construction projects or lack of it that they pursued and forget the lofty and noble ideals they fought for.
To finance his grandiose economic development projects, Marcos mortgaged the country for large amounts of loans from international lenders. The country’s external debt ballooned from $360 million (US) in 1962 to more than $28 billion in 1986, with a sizable amount going to the Marcos family and his business cronies. These loans were assumed by the government and are still being serviced by taxpayers up to today and several generations into the future.
Known as the conjugal dictatorship, Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda,
ruled over the Philippines from 1965 to 1986.
In the 2004 Global Transparency Report, Marcos appeared in the list of the World's Most Corrupt Leaders, ranking second behind the late President of Indonesia, Suharto. Marcos was said to have amassed between $5 billion to $10 billion in his 21 years as president of the Philippines.
In the face of an imminent candidacy of Ferdinand Marcos, the son, for the presidency of the Philippines in either 2016 or 2022, there are now attempts toward a revisionist interpretation of the Marcos years in power and the impact of his vision of a New Society. All this talk about how great the presidency of Ferdinand the elder is obviously aimed in rehabilitating the Marcos name and portraying him as a benevolent autocrat who made the country great again. This would pave the way for the popular election of Ferdinand the younger when his time comes up in 3 or 6 years.
There is still a legion of Marcos followers who are in awe and greatly impressed by the so-called achievements of the Marcos presidency, especially when they compare him to his mediocre and middling successors. These Marcos diehard loyalists, however, refuse to accept that the damage Marcos had inflicted on the country is still very much with us.
Ludwig wrote that the problem in judging the political genius of rulers is knowing what they should get credit for. It is very difficult to judge the merits of one’s presidency even if we can identify the achievements that bear their personal stamp – laws, construction projects, executive decisions, or economic policies, for example.
Unlike the creative works of artists, we can evaluate them by their originality, compositional structure, narrative quality, usefulness, beauty or universal appeal. The validity of scientific theories can be tested through experiments. Or we can measure the performance of athletes by their times, distances or scores, or the skill of surgeons in mortality rates.
There are no universally agreed-upon ways to assess the accomplishments of rulers. People of different political persuasions often interpret the results of these policies differently. Even if they agree at one point, they may disagree at another, which has been the crux of debate among intelligent members of a social and political forum that I know. Up till now they are still debating whether Ferdinand Marcos is the greatest president the Philippines has ever had. Edifices vs. democratic governance: which is a full measure of success?
According to Professor Ludwig, people may choose to ignore their animal heritage by believing their behaviour is rational and socially purposeful, all of which they would account to the fact of being human. But people also masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps do. Thus, there is no cause for people to get upset if “they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too,” says Ludwig.
If there’s any consolation, the results of Ludwig's eighteen-year study suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule. That perhaps would explain in full what the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos is all about.

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