Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue
to be released in December of 2013
|By Ashley Cecil (www.AshleyCecil.com)|
When I looked to theories of leadership, very little work addressed basic philosophical questions about how to understand the concept. We all know and have heard about some great leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so much scholarship on the subject of leadership tends to start there — with great leaders. Doing so, however, does little for an understanding of leadership in general. Instead, it offers insight about a great leader, or about some special leaders of note. Famous leaders might teach us all lessons about leadership, to be sure, but they might also bear characteristics that do not make sense to apply to others. Consider by analogy the idea that a small liberal arts or community college might try to do as Harvard University does. In a few matters, it may be a good idea to mimic Harvard's practices. In countless other contexts, however, it makes no sense to imitate a university that is very different and remarkably unique.
When I reviewed the literature on leadership, I was astonished at the lack of contemporary philosophical study of the concept. To say that there are a handful of philosophers studying leadership would almost be an exaggeration. At first I could not make sense of this. When you look to the tradition of philosophy, there are rich resources for thinking about leadership. Among the most influential and oldest is Plato's Republic. The Republic considers what kind of society is virtuous and what kind of social system Plato thought would be necessary for it, including a special leadership class of rulers. Returning to Plato for initial considerations about leadership, I stumbled on one possible reason why philosophers have avoided the study of leadership, for the most part. Plato thought that democracy is the absence of rulers. According to Plato's view, democracy lacks leadership.
Today, people proclaim democratic values and also the need for leadership. Therefore the public at least thinks that the ideas are consistent. They could be wrong, one might argue, but I think that they are not. The aim of Democracy and Leadership is to look to Plato for insights on leadership, while disagreeing with him about his views on democracy. The classic virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice need not be authoritarian in the way that he takes them. Instead, I draw from John Dewey's democratic theory to show how these virtues can be rendered democratic. In this way, I advance a general and then a particularly democratic theory of leadership rooted in these four classical virtues. Perhaps the most important change I make from Plato's outlook, however, is the abandonment of the idea that leadership refers to a special class of persons. That view is a lingering authoritarian assumption and value which infuses and plagues leadership theory today. People speak of democratic values in theories like "servant leadership" or "catalytic leadership," but the radical change I advance demands that we think of leadership as a process, not as a person.
When we abandon the class outlook on leadership in favor of a process and virtue centered model, and then frame the latter with democratic values, a theory of democratic leadership emerges which offers valuable insights for the public sphere. I am very happy to say that the beloved former Mississippi governor William Winter believes that the democratic theory of leadership developed in this book has a lot to offer for addressing today's challenges.*
If you are interested in learning more about Democracy and Leadership, such as in reading reviews from scholars and former Mississippi governor William Winter, visit the Rowman and Littlefield site for the book. The book will be released in hardback in December of 2013. The initial target market is academic libraries and scholars who might review the book, though a discount code will be available for individuals soon. Contact me (email@example.com) if you are interested in that.
The painting hereabove, "Politician on a Podium," is used courtesy of Ashley Cecil. Visit www.AshleyCecil.com. You can also see a larger version of the painting here.
The Rowman and Littlefield page for the book:
* The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi is named in his honor and funded by the Kellogg Foundation. In addition, their Director, Dr. Susan Glisson, whom I'm honored to have as a colleague, was recently named one of the "new Civil Rights heroes."