Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers
Chapter 1 Introduction: Leadership in an Age of Catastrophe 1
CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Leadership in an Age of Catastrophe ‘Know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed’: these words, written in a letter in 1648 by the Swedish statesman, Oxenstierna,1 could just as easily apply to the most recent times. Similarly disillusioned and despairing was a character in a novel by C.P. Snow, published about 300 years after Oxenstierna: No one is fit to be trusted with power … No one … Any man who has lived at all knows the follies and wickedness he’s capable of. If he does not know it, he is not fit to govern others. And if he does know it, he knows also that neither he nor any man ought to be allowed to decide a single human fate.2 A glance back over the history of the twentieth century bears out the pithy pessimism of Oxenstierna and Snow. Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century had been thoroughly optimistic in their belief that the enhanced scientific understanding of the natural world could be matched by a corresponding advancement in human af fairs. The appli- cation of science to the study of human society would bring inevitable progress. At the beginning of the twentieth century, as Jonathan Glover has remarked, ‘ref lective Europeans were also able to believe in moral progress, and to see human viciousness and barbarism as in retreat’.3 Decades of peace in Europe following the Napoleonic wars had given rise to the hope that governments and leaders had for ever turned...
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