by Siryako Akda
The Philippine Elections recently concluded here in "Flipland," and the new President-Elect is a guy named Rodrigo “The Punisher” Duterte, a political outsider who skyrocketed to fame partly due to widespread public dissatisfaction with establishment politics (which in the Philippines’ context is synonymous with oligarchical politics) and partly due to his assertive, no-nonsense, alpha-as-fuck charisma.
Duterte originally never wanted to run for president. He only entered the election after he was forced to do so by his many supporters. Thus, his rise to national fame is the result of push factors (he was pushed into office) instead of the usual pull factors (i.e. trying to attract as much political capital from as many different directions as possible). Like Trump, Duterte represents something relatively new to Philippine politics, because he invalidated the assumptions of the ruling political class and exposed the weakness of the political establishment.
And speaking of Trump, it’s worth mentioning that aside from his own fame (and infamy), Duterte is also renowned as “The Trump of the East,” a title that was given to him due to numerous politically incorrect comments he made over the course of his political career, including calling the Pope a son of a bitch, joking about a raped Australian missionary, and trolling establishment politicians. Also, like the Golden Haired One, the Dute also has his fair share of detractors, many of whom believe that he will probably destroy the country during his term.
However, the purpose of this essay is not to talk about Duterte, but rather the archetype that he, and other Dark Horse candidates like him, represents. Trump, Putin, Duterte, and even Assad represent, or at least could be perceived to represent, a return to historical human norms of leadership and governance, which emphasize strength, violence, and, most importantly, tribal interests.
In contrast to the bureaucratic and managerial nature of modern governance, leadership in the pre-modern world was defined by violence. Leaders were primarily warriors in order to keep their people alive in a world that was and still is primarily solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. They also appealed to organic tribal hierarchies, which are essentially extended, scaled up versions of their people’s norms and clan structure.
To better appreciate the distinction between modern and pre-modern standards of leadership, let’s say that you find yourself in a brawl or in a life-or-death situation. Who would you rather have leading your tribe? Putin and Trump, or Sanders, Obama, and Jeb?
|Left: what the establishment thinks the voters want. |
Right: what they actually want.
A nation that is faced by dangers does not think about tax policies or welfare reform, but rather survival, and this is the norm throughout most of human history. Leaders were chosen for their abilities to keep their tribe alive. It is only in the modern world, which provides people with a false sense of safety, that this historical norm of survival and tribal interests is replaced by current yearism.
|Trump mocking current yearism.|
The return of strongmen figures, and more importantly, the populist demand for them, hints that the low cost of tribal survival is no longer as cheap as it once was. “Strongman” figures, like Trump and Duterte, destroy the managerial model of inclusive government by pushing the narrative, or at least certain parts of the narrative, out of the center and into more relatively extreme spheres, where tribal instincts exist.
Like markets, politics is ruled by trends. This is implicit in the traditional conservative worldview, which acknowledges the inevitability of change (usually destructive, degenerative change), and which in turn gives rise to the desire to conserve. This view is in direct contrast with the liberal progressive mindset, which assumes that the specific historical conditions which allowed progress – however it is defined – will go on and on, until some vague, progressive singularity has been reached.
To the progressive mindset, everything that they care about cannot be lost, since their dominant experience is one of acquiring as opposed to losing, and the social, political, technological and economic forces which allow them to acquire can never be changed. However, this is largely an illusion based upon the continuation of existing trends, namely of low-cost survival. When (not if) those trends break, the whole system upon which their worldview is based will also most likely collapse, and with it, the leaders which represent their values.
The advent of “Strongmen” is one symptom that new trends are emerging, partly because these figures are pushed into power by newly emerged socio-political forces, and partly because they function as figureheads and emotional engines for the very same forces that catapult them to power.
In this sense, Leaders are products of society and historical forces. They are swept into power because they fill up niches which their societies desperately want them to fill. Duterte represents a populist response to Filipino oligarchy, but he isn’t the only one. History, as well as contemporary history, offer plenty of other examples:
- Genghiz Khan of the rising Mongol Power
- Caesar of Post-Republican Rome
- Napoleon of the French Revolution
- Oda Nobunaga of the Sengoku Jidai
- Putin of a Post-Communist Nationalist Russia
- Obama of Multicultural America
- Trump of White identitarian America.
And so and so forth.
Such leaders are – regardless of their actual skill or intelligence – totems, and you can tell a lot about a society by the kind of totems they worship, but that’s not why they are important. They are important because they are expressions of historical forces that sweep away the past or the false future.