Theory Thursdays: Man and Leadership – Part 1

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The concept of a leader, and more particularly a “social contract”, has been floated in political philosophy for a long, long time. The most prominent thinkers of social contract theory are Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau – each with their own versions and ideas of how a social contract should be entered, and what it would entail.

For Hobbes, the social contract is one between man and a sovereign, whereby man surrenders his right to all things to a sovereign, so as to ensure his self-preservation (which has been constantly under threat in the state of nature).

Locke makes a subtle change to this, and instead believes in a two-stage social contract. The first being the creation of civil society – a contract between man and man. This would ensure peace, but would not bring about the full constitutional government or law that we know of today.

The second would see the creation of such a government, and laws to defend man’s natural rights.

Rousseau’s book, The Social Contract, argues that man does not need to give up any of his freedom’s to government, and would be as free as he would be before. A nice analogy of Rousseau’s theory is to imagine you, and everyone else, have three apples, and government required everyone to give up those apples to everyone – you would still have three apples.

These are obviously extremely summarised versions of their theories, but will be useful for this week’s discussion.

The problem with each theory is they are difficult to put into practice. None of these theorists give a truly practical solution to how man would “enter” a social contract with government. Therefore, it is important to look to history, and see if it provides answers as to why man created civil society and government.

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Throughout human existence, man has always had a leader. As evolution took place, leadership also developed; becoming increasingly sophisticated to represent what we may describe as constitutional, democratic government. It is, thus, a matter of utility.

Our ancestors (hitherto generally referred to as “man”) have evidently seen some benefit in having a form of leadership. Indeed, all areas of nature have some form of leadership: kings, queens, chieftains, alpha males, are common in animal groups, or communities.

Ironically, despite my argument that we need a form of leadership, our leaders are under constant criticism from their citizens, or subjects. In liberal democracies we see our politicians in very negative terms (generally). “Out-of-touch”, “crooks”, “privileged”, “egoistic”, are all common descriptions used in countries such as the United Kingdom or the United States of America to describe leaders.

Yet, we do not revolt against them, unless they have lost their utility. Which begs the question: where do they come from, and why do we need them? Basically, leaders are in the interest of man.

When man lived primitively his life was one of insecurity – what Hobbes would describe as a state of war. To argue, as Hobbes did, that man is generally equal in physical and mental strength, is foolish.

Men are born with different talents. This is a result of evolution; where nature has allowed for new strengths to pass on down generations. For instance, not all men began to walk on two legs on the same day. The reason we all walk on two legs today is because our ancestors, with the same quality, survived, while those who did not stand on two legs did not.

It is the simple concept of “survival of the fittest”. Thus, we are all results of certain genetic strengths, passed on down the generations. If my ancestors had not been fast enough, strong enough, or smart enough to outrun or outsmart hunters, I would not be here.

Soon, though, man transitioned from this state of nature to one of communities. Though still existing in a world filled with hunters and insecurities, communities allowed for a form of protection, and mutual benefit.

The first communities available to man would have been the family. Such a community would allow for several things: more hands to hunt with; a range of different genetic talents to employ; more eyes to watch our from hunters.

Such a community would both require a leader, but also create one by simply existing.

In primitive days, leaders of groups would have been naturally man. This is due to a series of threats where the male would prove his worth. Males are, genetically, generally stronger than women, and more aggressive.

This is not a sexist claim. The reason such a concept , or stereotype, of the strong man; weak woman exists, is down to scientific facts from history. This strength would be an asset to a family, or group, as the female was likely preoccupied by childcare, and the male was expected to hunt and protect.

Yet, we do not revolt against them, unless they have lost their utility. Which begs the question: where do they come from, and why do we need them? Basically, leaders are in the interest of man.

Thus, he proved his utility; fighting off hunters, and retrieving food.

Thus, he became the leader. Those under him saw the benefits of his rule, and the power he held, because humanity is interested in its own survival, above all else.

We can find evidence of this in our involuntary actions, where we cannot control our body. For example, we may look at unconsciousness.

When there is a lack of blood to the brain, it initiates a series of actions so as to make the body go to the ground. Thus, allowing for greater flow of blood back to the brain. This, as I say, is involuntary, but harkens to actions we may take consciously to defend ourselves.

For instance, if I were attacked, I have three options: flee, fight, compromise.

In primitive times, man would only have the two former options, as communication between rival males would be limited. It is likely each group had its own communications, and so when rival families came into conflict, compromise would be difficult. Yet, perhaps as groups interacted more, it became beneficial to all that an exchange were made.

If two groups met, each with a male leader, the males would fight if they both felt they had the upper hand. If Male A (for sake of understanding) emerged victorious, it is likely Male B’s group would merge with Male A’s, seeing their preservation being better secured under him.

Getting back to my point, though, no being willingly gives up himself to another. His notion of self-preservation would not allow it. And so, he would either have to flee conflict, or confront it – depending on his judgement of the opponent’s strength.

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