Politics of the Lesser Evil
Leadership, Democracy, and Jaruzelski's Poland
In his pathbreaking book, Leadership, James MacGregor Burns defines a kind of leadership with an indistinguishable personal impact on society. He calls this "transformal" leadership, and sees it as more than routine and calculable responses to demands. In fact, he argues, the more stable a liberal democracy, the less freedom of action for transformal leadership. Anton Pelinka uses a wellspring of historical fact to argue that politics always means having to choose between the lesser of two evils and that democracy reduces any possibility of personal leadership.
According to Pelinka, Jaruzelski's politics of democratization in Poland in the 1980s (which led to the first free and competitive elections in a communist system) illustrate personal leadership hampered by democracy. Jaruzelski initiated the roundtable process that transformed Poland into a democracy; yet, this process ultimately ended with his abdication. Pelinka further emphasizes contradictions between transformal leadership and democracy by comparing the leadership styles of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. He de-.scribes collaboration, resistance, and tensions between domestic and international leadership, using the American examples of Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon and the European examples of Petain and Churchill. Pelinka then turns to the tragic fate of the Judenrate under the Nazi regime to illustrate the "lesser-evil" approach. He closes with a discussion of "moral leadership" and how abstaining from office, just as Gandhi and King did, may be particularly suited to stable democracies.
Pelinka's unique use of rich empirical evidence from twentieth-century history is this volume's hallmark. He is critical of mainstream political theory and its neglect of deviant examples of democracies—such as Switzerland, Italy, and Japan, where there is traditionally much less emphasis placed on leadership. Pelinka's noteworthy study will be essential reading for political scientists and theorists, political philosophers and political sociologists with special interest in political ethics, and contemporary historians.
“Pelinka proposes "that political leadership always means having to choose the lesser of several identifiable evils," and "that the inner logic of democracy leads to the narrowing and, ultimately, to the destruction of the playing field of political leadership." Generally well written and readable, the book will appeal mostly to specialists in European affairs, democratic theory, and the behavior of political elites.”
—A. Magid, Choice