Further reflections on the BHF

Mike Berger elaborates on that particular quality that great leaders, good and bad, possess

Towards a Radical Turnabout

I will start with a confession. I had asked the editor to pull my last post, The DA and the Bloody Horse Factor, on this site but was (unfortunately/fortunately?) too late. But this gives me an opportunity to respond to comments and expand further on selected themes.

Let me take a moment to clarify what I meant by the bloody horse factor (BHF) in the context of political leadership. It is hard to imagine a great leader without charisma which comes with a special kind of personal authenticity accompanied by great energy, fearlessness along with unlimited self-confidence, smarts and emotional dexterity. And, to add even more oomph to the fire, a healthy dose of narcissism to provide the ambition required to snatch the reins from lesser hands.

This is an explosive mix of qualities. Few leaders with the BHF come without flaws, some serious. Furthermore, one could argue that most of the great villains and bloody dictators of history also come with most of these qualities. So what separates a Churchill from a Hitler? A Ghandi from Lenin? A Mandela from a Zuma? They were all transformative with significant personal magnetism.

The most obvious answer I can think of is that the great leaders of history are committed to a deeply moral cause when it really counts whereas the disasters are often obsessive, paranoid or greedy opportunists, all the way to outright sociopaths. They lack the essential moral dimension which transmutes personal ambition into social transformation.

There are a few other points. Great leadership has to be earned over time usually. Van Zyl Slabbert, for example, is an interesting enigma. He had brains (not genius), presence, broke the stereotype of a rugby-playing white Afrikaner to become associated with liberal causes, rapidly rose to leadership within the Progressive Party, and was much loved by the English media of the time. But he faded quite quickly (for reasons I'm not privy to) and ended up as something of a damp squib given the early promise and the challenges of the times.

Two further somewhat theoretical points: the boundaries between great leaders and villains can occasionally be blurry and one's choice may reflect mainly the dominant culture of the time or oneself. Did Napoleon Bonaparte belong to the former or the latter group? Or Ghengis Khan? Is it meaningful to make such distinctions in pre-modern history? Who was the greater leader: Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan? One could start a nerdy bar fight with such questions.

Finally, of course, many worthwhile politicians lack the BHF. So what? The BHF is very useful at critical times but at other times may come with more disadvantages than advantages. Broadly speaking, I would opt for a society where the BHF in leadership is irrelevant or more of a hindrance than a help. I'll take a great society over a great leader 99% of the time.


To change the topic, in the previous post I used the term 'progressive' politics in a pejorative sense: "self-serving, pious politics which has resulted in the very inequalities the conference carefully documents." Yet my point was broadly in favour of what many call 'progressive' or even Utopian goals: a Universal basic income, distributive justice within a free enterprise system, urgent elimination of the massive economic and social gradients of our society...and so forth.

This requires governmental intervention and not reliance upon a questionable innate property of the market to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. Surely that is the hallmark of progressive even socialist, not conservative or rightwing perspectives.

However I specifically used 'progressive' in the current context to denote tribal ideology and identity-driven, stigmatisation politics driven by a transnational Clerisy drawn from academia, the media and entertainment industries and the state bureaucracies. The best introduction to this emergent phenomenon to my knowledge is by Joel Kotkin in his recent book "The New Class Conflict", but the full story is immensely complicated and entangled. The last word on this topic is a long way off.

One commentator was certain that under a non-discriminatory system we would land up with 'white rule'. That seems to be an opinion shared by white 'racists' and white 'progressives' as well as many black chauvinists. They all have little faith and I firmly disagree with their conclusions. This is an important topic which deserves care and extended consideration in future posts, but just one point for the present.

While I reject outcomes-based affirmative action (diversity targets, quotas and so forth) I fully support special programs to assist those lacking the social and economic capital to fulfil their potential. We need to rethink and restructure society radically and such a reconceptualised society will render many of the concerns expressed redundant.

What is certain is that runaway technology has changed the world faster than we can comprehend and adapt to. It is quite clear that automation and robotics (including AI) will have an enormous impact on our lives and we must start factoring this certainty into our future planning and social visions.

It is for this reason we all need to get to grips with the dynamics of the intricate, complex machinery of which we are ourselves a key component. That is what is called Politics. So as to keep grounded let's bear in mind what while sense we're all in this together, oligarchs, clerisy and serfs, it is also true we're not equally affected. It is clear that some parts (and individuals) of the world are doing better than others.

South Africa stands somewhere on the lower part of this gradient. Not at the bottom, but on a steep and unstable part of the slope. And even within South Africa, the existential realities of the 3 zones, the First World, the Borderlands and the Entrapped, are very different, deeply unfair and unsustainable. It follows that South Africa can and must turn the ratios around.

Ultimately we want all First World - which won't be achieved by destroying the FW component that already exists but by using its skills and resources to leverage the others into the same zone. This, ultimately, is what South Africa must stand for.

How precisely it will be accomplished is a matter for debate, creative expertise and trial and error -which was the focus of the broad brush strokes in the second half of my previous post. The only thing that I can say with certainty is that it can't be accomplished by divisive grievance and identity politics, political opportunism and inept cadres.

Should the vision exist South Africa can achieve a radical turnaround. We need both the popular will and a principled leader devoted to the notion of South Africa (not Party) with sufficient BHF to gain the necessary attention and support from the South African population despite the noise. I believe that the DA must be empowered to become part of that wave.

We really don't have a good alternative.

Mike Berger