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Enlightened Rule

Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers

Paul Maylam

The twentieth century has been called an ‘age of catastrophe’, characterized by devastating wars and a general poverty of leadership at government level. This book, written in a more optimistic vein, offers biographical essays on six twentieth century heads of government – three from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe – who were exceptions to the norm. During their terms of office each displayed admirable qualities: moral authority, integrity, an egalitarian spirit, and a firm commitment to democracy, human rights, social justice and international peace. They shunned personality cults, grandiosity and conspicuous consumption. Their governance was shaped by high ideals, in the tradition of democratic socialism or social democracy, but also marked by pragmatism and an awareness that the realization of these ideals was not always practicable. Although some of the six became iconic, venerated figures, none of them are presented here as ‘heroes’ or ‘great leaders’. Each had failings and flaws, and each has been subject to critique. They are rather presented as government heads whose leadership has been worthy of deep respect and admiration. Had other premiers emulated their style of governance, twentieth century history would have taken a very different course.


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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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