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What Makes a Politician the "Real Thing"
by Ozymandias Brown  /  non-fiction  /  1 Jul 2007

The principal tools of any leader can be reduced to those of a shepherd:  a final point of destination; control of the staff which, other than himself, is the only external instrument at his disposal; and a relationship with his flock conducive to the nature of his undertaking.  The importance of these three things is so great, a thousand Machiavellian Princes could not cover the breath and minutiae of the subject; their substance and relation so simple, a child can perceive them without prompting or explanation.  Therefore, more than evaluating the leader's plainly necessary tactics, I shall propose his mysterious essential necessity. 

For all their enumeration of common tools—shared vision, common purpose, mutual give and take—no candidate ever mentions the vital piece of any leader's personal political inventory.  A blacksmith needs conception of the horseshoe in his mind, the skill of his trade, and a forge in which to work the iron; and yet if these were all, the blacksmith and the shepherd could, having read the books and learned the craft and been given the proper materials, swap occupations, and properly be called each other's names.  That each needs for his purposes analogous resources is self-evident, and so the general principles of any work done well might be outlined in self-help books only superficially tailored to the line.  What concerns me here is the nature of the job the leader of any flock performs, insofar as he himself, and not another man, is the sole actor. 

There are ways directing a group, in the broadest possible sense, is a collaborative activity.  In these respects, the practical business of leadership is a sociologically-motivated manipulation of heirarchical organizations, through the understanding of elite-mass relations.  However, even within such a framework, the fundamental assumption of any specialization for the sake of efficiency is that designated laborers individually execute particular tasks.  It can be said, therefore, that so far as only one can discharge a singular responsibility, so much provisional leadership over the collective is exercised, for no one else doing their work.  But by definition, a leader is he who directs the whole, insofar as the entire enterprise needs direction.  In the unique parameters of this activity he stands, by collective design, alone.

One famous fictional depiction of a king says of the man:  "He ne'er lift up his hand but conquered."  Were the leader's hand the only needed to be raised, his job description would be changed.  He would no longer be a leader, but the sole executor of his own will.  To lead is to advance, and then be followed:  without moving ahead, and then being supported from the rear, the shepherd becomes another member of a flock, or just someone who needs a stick to walk.  In practical terms a leader's skill is the ability to command a following.  Distance between himself and the sheep is the circumstance whereby the shepherd's craft is utilized, the essential material upon which he operates, and its ways and means are clear.  The same might be said for the smithy, who trades in the transition from raw metal to sharpened blade.  But the latter works within functionally absolute, clearly defined laws, whereas the former does not.  The blacksmith can heat, and pound, with indisputable deterministic certainty.  Could a leader do the same with his metier, men would be horseshoes.  Were discovered country the leader's province, he would be one to stand behind and push; not one to step beyond the crowd.  More to the point than Shakespeare here is Browning:  "A man's reach should exceed his grasp—or what's a heaven for?"

This is not to say a leader must tread the path to such a place:  where he makes advances toward concerns him only as the destination does affect his charges.  Lemmings and sheep both follow.  Lemmings, however, progress one after another in succession, regardless of who goes before them or falls off the cliff; sheep, on the other hand, have one leader and are rudderless until a substitute is found.

That the flock will indeed follow him in going anywhere is the essential need of a shepherd, and the only necessity pertaining to himself in his capacity as leader.  Without it he is not a leader; and yet if he is not a blacksmith, his self-projection cannot be his cause for being followed.  This central paradox is the very definition of his position:  no causal, or teleological, force can do his work.  Nor might any existing force—hands, staff, even his sheep—because the leader's requisite need is none but his own.

The ancient king who took his subjects to the sea, and bid the tide reverse, demonstrated not a tactical convenience in the face of immutable natural law; neither did he fail in his undertaking.  Rather than the precepts of Machiavelli he called into being, leading his charges in tow, the shore of Kierkegaard and that hopefully just temporarily held, possibly bridgeable gulf the shepherd creates between himself and his sheep so that they might walk across it:  faith.

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