Sunday, October 29, 2006


On Hubris, Political Leadership and the 'Messiah' Complex

Our esteemed former Foreign Secretary Lord (David) Owen, will shortly publish a book on health aspects of political leadership, revealing that Anthony Eden, for example, ran a temperature of 106 degrees at the height of the Suez crisis. But today he writes an interesting article in the Observer in which he discusses the dangers of 'hubris.. in heads of government'; more precisely he warns:

'The intoxication of power in heads of government can be as great a menace to the quality of their leadership as are conventional illnesses.'

Having posted on Richard D. North's Mr Blair's Messiah Politics only a couple of days ago I picked up on this comment from someone most critics accuse of the very thing, about which -wearing his doctorly hat we all thought he'd forgotten how put on- he warns us now. He also warns of the tendency for such hubris to invoke on its side the support of He who allegedly resides above; as Blair said on his decision to go into Iraq:

If you have faith about these things, then you realise that judgement is made by other people. If you believe in God, it's made by God as well.'

Owen's argument is that both leaders allowed that 'intoxication of power' to blind them to the dangers of their chosen course of action and to those necessary and particular details on which success or failure in such risky enterprise depend. I'm no a medical expert, of course, but I happen to think that a more persuasive explanation of the Bush-Blair reaction to 9-11 was not hubris but good old fashioned shock and fear. I think they were paralysed by the horrific, demonic brilliance of bin Laden's airborne torpedoes and struck out blindly, reacting with irrational lack of care; hence the ill-advised, lemming-like invasion of Iraq. But here's an odd irony. On rereading North's book on Blair's 'Messiah complex', I note that this hoary old rightwing journo concludes with:

'It is worth restating that without all Mr Blair's nonsense and worse, we would not have deployed in Iraq...future generations may yet say this action alone made Tony Blair a great leader. What's more, they may even judge that all the damage he did was nothing compared to this great good'

I don't have the power of foresight but somehow I feel that on this aspect of Blair at least, Dr Owen will prove a more reliable authority.

The idea of Dr Owen lecturing us about the Messiah Complex is interesting to say the least. I have related previously on my own blog the story of a Lobby lunch with him a few years back at which I asked him whether he thought he would have become Prime Minister had he not left the Labour Party. "Oh, there isn't any doubt about that," was his typically self-effacing response.
To be fair to Owen, he didn't use the concept of the 'messiah complex'(that wqas Richard North), he was talking merely about hubris- something, I'd agree, he knows a lot about...
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