Better leadership, better leaders


(Wikicommons, in public domain;

Last week, the idea that non-technocrats, non-lawyers, and ‘regular people’ might make better leaders was put forward, with one particular candidate, Amanda Palmer, although many other folks might also fill these roles as well.  The idea that an artist (or randomly selected individual) might be our next representative, senator, or president may seem a bit odd, but given the strong dislike for the current crop of presidential candidates, and the incredibly low approval ratings for Congress, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch.

A few weeks ago, the concept of a ‘feudal democracy’ was floated; a democracy where all rights that we enjoy in our modern world were balanced with very, very explicit responsibilities.

The big question behind these small essays is this – how can society work and be governed, when its population is significantly larger than Dunbar’s number (where everyone knows everyone else)?  How do we get better leadership, and better leaders, especially when the resources for a democratic republic are limited (and falling) with large populations?

Again, science fiction gives us a few ideas; artificial intelligences running things (like in many an Asimov short story), a hyper-connected virtual congress (like the Althing in the book Hyperion), many kinds of dystopia (1984, Brave New World) or, in some cases, a reversion to hereditary rule (like in the Dune universe).    Sometimes, even democracy can limp along.   Of these scenarios, which is the most likely?  If we think that technology will continue its long trajectory upwards, then any one of the techno-fantasies or horror shows mentioned above might come true.   But as noted in a post here almost a year ago (On Revolution, Again), the technologies for even dystopias may not exist, simply due to resource constraints.   Of all the future leadership possibilities, it may be that hereditary rule of some sort might make a comeback.

What, you say?   We will get kings and queens and dukes and earls and knights and so on?   Well, in our modern world, there are plenty of examples where political families (Kennedy, Bush, Clinton, Roosevelt, etc.) have entrenched themselves in the body politic.   They may not have the titles of baron, count, and so on, but they do have political power, and their families have been influencing government in one way or another for years.

So, political families exist; might they be breeding better leaders?   Some scoff at the idea of breeding humans for character traits, but humans are no different than any other animal.  Is there a gene for good leadership (without sociopathy)?  Or are their dynasties merely a product of having money and connections; politics being only a tool to ensure that their families prosper?

The probability of a techno-future appears to be relatively low, given the projections on resources, pollution, and environment.  Democracy can only seem to work with excess energy available (and it became more widespread as the industrial revolution ramped up).  When excess energy becomes less available, perhaps democracy’s fortunes will fall as well, and the most common form of governance (when excess available energy is low) of large bodies of people, hereditary rule, might return.


  • Could we breed for leadership without sociopathy?
  • Would you want to live in society where hereditary rule by humans who actually good at ruling is a fact?   For some, the answer will always be no, like Lucifer’s comment in Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
  • Do democracies/republics do a better job of governing, in the long run?   Of course, we have to define what ‘better’ means!
  • Great Britain has a constitutional monarchy; the Queen (or King) represents the ideal of the country, and even though their power is mostly ceremonial, the figure of the Queen (or King) is generally well respected.   If things get a bit ‘rough around the edges’ in modern life, could these figureheads step up and rule?
  • It is said democracies last until people can vote themselves money from the public treasury.  Perhaps hereditary rule short circuits this?   For those of you who think hereditary rule, or clan rule is a step backwards, check out Poul Anderson’s classic “No Truce With Kings.”




One thought on “Better leadership, better leaders

  1. Pingback: Long term planners, Part 3 | peakfuture

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