Leadership and the common good

There are many ways of classifying leaders.  One way I find particular useful to our current situation in the Philippines is based on a scheme developed by the American sociologist Amitai Etzioni.  He differentiates leaders by the type of power they use and the kind of compliance they elicit from those they govern.

He says that leaders who rely mostly on coercive power to achieve their goals tend to develop alienative or resentful compliance among their followers.  Leaders who primarily depend on remunerative power encourage calculative compliance.  They do not get more than what they pay for.  In contrast, leaders who deploy moral power are rewarded by normative compliance.  A style of leadership breeds its own type of followers. The most enduring type of power, Etzioni says, is the moral one. These are insights we can use to understand the leadership problems of our society.

The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not a coercive regime, but neither does it thrive on the moral commitment of its citizens. President Arroyo herself is neither authoritarian nor charismatic.  Her style is that of a politician par excellence: she pays her way to power.  As a result, the kind of compliance she gets from those she deals with tends to be calculative – meaning, people stay with her only for as long as she is useful to them.  They neither fear nor respect her.  Her periodic resort to threatening talk, like her public display of religious piety, persuades no one.  It only breeds antipathy and distrust.

In his book The New Golden Rule (1996), Etzioni writes: “Clearly, no society can entirely rely on a single source of motivation to help sustain compliance with the dictates of the social order.  Thus, totalitarian societies rely to some extent on incentives and attempts at persuasion; and libertarian societies rely to some extent on force.

Similarly, communitarian societies cannot and do not rely only on normative means.  They still pay their civil servants, command police forces, and so on.  However, they rely on normative means much more extensively, and their members are much more committed to maintaining order and much less likely to seek to undermine it than members of other societies.  In short, the order of good societies relies significantly more on the moral voice than do other types of society.”

For the last couple of years, the anti-gun social activist Nandy Pacheco has had the same insight into the nature of power.  He saw the brittleness of the changes instituted under coercion, and the superficiality of the discipline bred and enforced by Martial Law. Filipinos could not wait to return to the old ways as soon as the regime was dismantled.  Edsa I could have been the start of a new moral order, but its communitarian message was pre-empted by the reactivation of the obsolete culture of dependence and patronage. Edsa II gave us another chance at national renewal; the moral voice against corruption and profligacy in government resounded loud and clear.  But again, the energy could not be sustained.  Today the country is back to where it was just before Martial Law.

It’s not anger or hope that fills the air however.  It’s exhaustion and indifference.  Less and less Filipinos care to do anything to alter the course of things; they just want to escape.  The Arroyo government survives not because of the active support of the citizens, but simply because the alternative is unthinkable.  People think the next upheaval may not be as tame as the two Edsas.

Nandy Pacheco himself says he would not be inveigled into joining another Edsa.  Not because he is tired, but because he thinks such political upheavals in our national life have been made to substitute for the steady and painstaking work for a better society.  The only way the country can avoid the violent cleansing that seems to loom ahead, he says, is by restoring the ethical dimension to our public life. And this cannot be done overnight.

Nandy’s preferred mode of intervention is the formation of a national political party founded on the ideology of the common good.  He calls it “Ang Kapatiran” or the Alliance for the Common Good.  Here are Kapatiran’s 10 ethical principles: Belief in God, Respect for life and human dignity, Strengthening of the family, Community participation, Basic rights and responsibilities, Preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable, Dignity of work and rights of workers, Care for nature as God’s creation, Peace and active nonviolence, Solidarity and commitment to the common good.

Kapatiran’s primer begins thus: “People need to be informed that the absence of responsible and accountable political parties with specific policy objectives, issues and concerns that promote the common good has been a major contributory factor to the problems that we now face.”   How true!  Our political life today is the way it is because it has failed to tap the single resource in which our society is rich – solidarity.  The “moral voice of the community” of which Etzioni speaks is strong in our tradition.  The kind of citizenship it forms is more enduring because it draws on existing value commitments.  The commitment it elicits is superior because “it is voluntary, rather than bought or forced.”

Up to now, our notion of political democracy has been modeled after the market, where loyalties are bought like commodities.  Etzioni, the scholar, and Pacheco, the social activist, are telling us that it is time to re-affirm democracy as a value commitment to pursue the common good.

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