True leaders and demagogues

When I saw the title of this piece, If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists? I instantly thought of Moshe Rabbeinu, the paradigmatic leader of a people who was the humblest of men. The Torah also provides contrasts to him. We have the demagogue figure in Korach, whose attempted coup was self-serving rather than a true struggle for fairness. Another foil for Moshe is the greatest prophet ever for the world-at-large, namely Bilam, whose attributes include not humility but an egotistical desire for honor and riches.

The “romance of leadership” hypothesis suggests that we generally have a biased tendency to understand social events in terms of leadership and people tend to romanticize the figure of the leader.
My own research shows that our psychological states can also bias our perceptions of charismatic leaders. High levels of anxiety make us hungry for charisma. As a result, crises increase not only the search for charismatic leaders, but also our tendency to perceive charisma in the leaders we already follow.
Though people can be and are swayed by those endowed with charisma and the ability to make moving speeches, the Torah makes it clear that these were not Moshe's attributes, Far from the standard candidate who boasts of his superior communication skills, Moshe identified himself as being kvad pe. His humility also made him hesitate to take up the mantle of leadership. However,  unlike Shaul the first annointed king of Israel, Moshe was able to retain humility even while taking up his post. That is because he was aware that all that he did was to serve G-d and His people.

One other observation made in the article has become a kind of truism, "Essentially, we have the leaders we deserve." But the author here takes a somewhat limited view in terms of saying if we choose for charisma rather than the quality of humility, But the real truth of the matter is much more profound. 

Moshe was the fitting leader of the generation that wandered in the desert for 40 years, and he remained with them ever after --having been buried outside Eretz Yisrael.  They merited the greatest Torah leader ever, but that doesn't mean that the generations with lesser leaders should look down on them. Quite the contrary, Chazal tell us Yiftach bedoror keShmuel bedoro. The least learned of the judges is tantamount to the most learned one in his generation. Within the context of Jewish leadership, that we get the leader we deserve is not a reflection of people's voting tendencies. It is an affirmation that the person who really is the most fit to lead that particular generation will do so. One caveat: that  is because the applies to true leaders only. Demagogues like Korach who instigate divisiveness are never the leaders that fit the generation.







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Comments

I think that there are nations that are not capable of or deserving of self determination. Example- the Arab people in general, and especially in Gaza. A good example of the positive effect of a charismatic leader is Attaturk. I would add Mao if not for the millions of deaths he is responsible for, and Castro if not for his foreign adventures.

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