Max Hastings: The West’s Crisis of Honest Leaders
Max Hastings is a British journalist, historian and author. He is currently an FT contributing editor.
Hardly a day passes without public lamentation about the paucity of leadership in the Western democracies. Where, cry a score of the nations’ pundits, is a Churchill, Kennedy, De Gaulle, Adenauer for our generation? As a biographer of Churchill, I answer that question partly by saying: be grateful that, however turbulent our times, they are not so dire as to demand his resurrection. Warriors are usually unsuited to addressing social and economic issues. Wellington, the great commander, was a disastrous prime minister, while Churchill’s response to Britain’s 1926 General Strike was histrionic and divisive.
Many contemporary leaders must suffer spasms of self-pity at being charge during an era when exposure of the limits of power makes high office seem unrewarding. Today’s economic problems are vast and intractable. Contrast the 1990s experience of John Major. Almost as inadequate a British premier as Gordon Brown, he faced many embarrassments and humiliations – recession, ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the Balkan wars and Tory strife over Europe. Yet with hindsight, none of these were remotely as dangerous to Britain as recent events. Mr Major’s shortcomings did not matter that much – on his watch, the country suffered no game-changing crisis on the scale of the 2008 banking collapse and what has followed.
The same might be said of Bill Clinton’s US presidency. Though there were plenty of dramas – some of his own priapic creation – nothing tested him as presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson were tested, and as President Barack Obama is being tested now. Some national leaders also enjoy luck: Margaret Thatcher generated much of her own weather, but her exchequer benefited from the North Sea oil boom too.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man“ is a foolish cliché: history is replete with dramas that caused nations to look expectantly at the door, only to see someone no larger than French president Nicolas Sarkozy walk in. But today’s western leaders face difficulties that cannot all be attributed to their own inadequacy....
comments powered by Disqus
- Moving Photographs of Japanese American Internees, Then and Now
- A One-of-a-Kind Trove Reveals What 19th-Century American Boyhood Was Really Like
- St. Louis University moves controversial statue after protests
- UNC Renames Building That Honored Ku Klux Klan Leader
- A Wartime Bomb, Unearthed in Germany, Recalls Darker Days
- NYT hosts debate including Eric Foner: How Americans should remember Reconstruction
- William Leuchtenburg says historians and the media have been too hard on Obama
- Hugh Ambrose, historian who helped develop WWII Museum, dead at 48
- Historian discounts claim that Churchill and other British PM's were gay
- Nick Bunker Wins $50,000 2015 George Washington Book Prize