Might is right

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

In times when modern societies face problems that can bring out their collapse, citizens will look towards iron-fisted leaders for succor – even if it means restructuring the law. This has always been an almost unavoidable fact in the progress of history. Chaos and crises resulted in the ascendance of charismatic personalities who fashion themselves as saviors.

Sociological perspectives place emphasis on how societies are organized based on the kind of leadership they adopt. The German social theorist Max Weber made the distinction between charismatic figures who exhibit a primitive will to lead and bureaucrats who have the technical expertise for managing complex social structures composed of a diverse range of personalities and biases.

Much of Weber’s work has been derided for being reductive, in that he had made the case that leadership could be explained in categories. He did not necessarily explore the complexity of the concept of leadership, especially within materialist terms.

What is lost in Weber’s analysis are the material factors legitimizing power in the first place. Expressions of power are contained in the concept of thymos or a person’s need for recognition. Francis Fukuyama, in an attempt to explain the wave of populism that has swept the globe and resulted in bolstering far-right nutjobs like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, considers how this concept attaches itself to collective identity.

People in the United States, Brazil, and elsewhere wanted none of the promises that liberal systems peddled and instead, settle for personalities they can readily connect with. Validation can be brought out when one supports leaders who stay outside the boundaries of political convention and use the unbridled power they have earned to fix the most serious problems.

Thymos, therefore, does not place importance on the skills and capacity of individuals who stand in as leaders. Instead, it is only a measure of a person’s yearning to achieve personal recognition for himself, and collective recognition of the group to which he belongs. Surely, this involves obtaining material necessities which suppose to measure a person’s value. For Fukuyama, nationalist sentiments consist of a need to secure a larger share of resources, forming as well the rationale behind the “us versus them” logic peddled by the far-right.

This should go on to explain how people would prefer someone relatable to someone who plays by the rules and who exercises restraint when addressing the issues that cost the lives of many.

On that note, whatever Vice President Leni Robredo does as the co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs will be fruitless in satisfying the thirst for bodies and blood that many of Mr. Duterte’s supporters have.

Of course, this administration has achieved next to nothing in curbing the proliferation of illegal drugs, yet its supporters chide Robredo for her request to reveal the names of identified drug personalities while ignoring the odious drug matrixes that Duterte had disclosed during the first few months of his term. It doesn’t take a genius to point out that both instances could jeopardize law enforcement operations.

The war on drugs, therefore, is not concerned with addressing those material factors (that is, income equality, disenfranchisement of society’s lower strata) that help perpetuate the problem of illegal drugs. It is reduced into aere political contest determining who has the bigger balls to face the problem head on.

It is not sufficient, even correct, to assume that self-recognition is the main source of conflict among those who think they have a better grasp of the problems that require more rational means of solving. What is lost, indeed, is the recognition of the power structure itself and how it sustains itself through the support that citizens lend.

What is needed, instead, is to criticize the system itself to the point that people start to lose faith in charismatic figures in favor of a system resting in absolute conceptions of justice and dignity outside the self.