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Samuel Otto

Professor Roger Soder


Honors 230
9 November 2015
Paper 10
In The Language of Leadership, chapter four, The Political Context of Leadership,
Roger Soder asserts that leadership and persuasion have surrounding conditions that influence
leadership. The chapter compares the cultures surrounding despotism and democracy. It
explores the differences between a persuaded audience and a thoughtful public, and expands
on the importance of building a thoughtful public. The chapter closes with a list of eleven
conditions for democracy, followed by a statement of the importance of schools in applying
these measures.
The question is posed, Is there a difference between leadership in a democratic civil culture
and leadership a despotic culture? Also, Do those differences obtain just in public sectors, or is
the private sector also affected? In a civic culture, decisions are made through public
consensus. What separates civic cultures is that they are willing to, as a public, dialogue in
order to air grievances and ultimately correct problems. It is not inherently democratic, however,
it does offer the possibility of democracy. Soder uses a list of features of democracy put forth by
Robert Dahl in order to explain the key differences between a civic and despotic system. The list
highlights features such as elected officials, free and fair elections, universal suffrage, right to
run for office, freedom of expression without fear of government retribution, alternate information
sources, and associational autonomy.
Despotic regimes are the nearly opposite. They cultivate a culture of silence and
suppression of any thought contrary to that of the States. Order is kept through fear, and
citizens cannot rely upon their own justice system to provide them with justice. As a result of
this, societies develop with a disregard for laws, turning to themselves or illegal institutions for
retribution. Citizens in these despotic societies tend to be outwardly meek and obedient, yet
inwardly they lack true respect for authority. Civic cultures foster open exchange and reason.
Information exchange and the practice of the free sharing of such information is what has made
the United States a successful democracy. There is less of a focus on fear and suspicion, and
more focus on liberty.
Soder lays out three basic differences between leadership in these different cultures:
skepticism versus acceptance, silence versus criticism, and consent versus compliance.
However, the mere fact that an audience is persuaded is not indicative of good leadership. It is
important for a leader to not only create a persuaded audience, but also a more thoughtful
public. A thoughtful public is an aware, active, attentive, careful, and contemplative entity. A
thoughtful public thinks through decisions and actions before they are made, and tests ideas in
the free public forum of debate. Because the very definition of a thoughtful public contains the
ideals of openness and contemplativeness, it is nearly impossible for a despotic country to
maintain one.
Soder concludes with eleven other conditions that are necessary for the creation of a
successful democracy. These are as follows: trust, exchange, social capital, equal justice under
the law, civil discourse, a federalist view, free and open inquiry, knowledge of rights, freedom
(used responsibly), a recognition of tension between freedom and order, and the understanding
of how one action in an environment affects the culture of said society. These rules and
conditions are needed to counteract the natural disposition of man. Without them people would
act solely in self-interest. Soder asserts that it is the role of the school to instill knowledge of
these conditions, and how to achieve them, into the young.

Even before the direct mention of Russia, that state came to mind as an example of
despotism, particularly in the control of information. From the Bolshevik era, to the Soviet era,
and even continuing on until now, with their supposed democracy in which Vladimir Putin wins
elections with 101% of the vote, censorship has been a key component of Russian government.
It is fascinating to see how this desire for control is being combatted by the proliferation of the
internet. As mentioned in the reading, people of despotic countries tend to outwardly suppress
discontent while inwardly disagreeing with the powers at be. The internet now offers a place that
people, hidden in anonymity, feel comfortable expressing their true opinions while also being
heard by thousands of people. The idea that tyrannical regimes are obsessed with censorship
and control is exemplified in the fact that Russia already has an entire agency devoted to taking
down media on the internet that is essentially deemed anti-state. The power of the internet was
displayed in full during the Arab-Spring. Protesters utilized social media to share ideas and
coordinate, despite the best efforts of their dictators to try and cease this contact.
It seems to me that leadership in a despotic society can hardly be considered true
leadership. Leadership implies persuasion and charisma. The true despot needs neither.
Coercion is very different from persuasion; coercion pays no attention to the true leanings of the
subject whose actions are being forced. In this outcome based society, you dont need a person
who is capable of drawing others in, or who considers wise council, or who pays attention to the
needs of his or her constituents, you need a person who is strong and capable of doing
whatever is right for the state. This is not leadership, this is despotism.

Features of a persuaded audience:


passivity
obedience
ignorance

total agreement
lack of discussion
ideas come from authority
ignorance of government
considering ecology
obedience/compliance
Features of a more thoughtful public:
o criticism
o willingness to discuss
o understanding reasons behind policy
o govt must be open about policy
o follow specific ideas
o critical/question authority
o active listening
o time frame when making decisions
o consensus
o collaborative inquiry
o active community member
o exchange of info
o proactive in the sense of progress
o skeptic
o
o
o
o
o
o

o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o
o

autonomous
individualism
critical discussion
consent
several competing ideas or logical frameworks
new ideas are generated by the public
knowledge and understanding of the government
considering the ecology of ideas or policies
not overly afraid of the government or authority structure
outward skepticism with consideration of all sides
outspoken criticism
participation in the political process
open discussion that leads to joint decisions
sustained engagement

independent information seeking