OPINION

Leaderless

The ghosts of the great political leaders who sealed the fate of modern nations have begun to haunt our Western democracies. In the United States, the September 11 shock, an event reminiscent of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, urged many to seek out a new Franklin D. Roosevelt to lead the sole superpower out of the ivory tower of narcissistic isolationism. In Russia, which is still trying to heal its wounds from the collapse of real socialism, people are looking for a new Peter the Great to carry out the much-sought modernization. In France, the seismic tremors caused by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s success in the French presidential elections have touched off a debate over the need for a new Charles de Gaulle to restructure France’s Fifth Republic. This widespread nostalgia is not unjustified as today’s political leaders find themselves facing huge dilemmas: Globalization, with its unprecedented opportunities but also explosive inequalities; the migration tide that has upset the planet; the new issues raised by the ecological crisis and the revolution in biotechnology; the great venture of European integration; and, finally, the asymmetric threats posed by a new type of terrorism. In short, a world that treads on the fence between a new cosmogony and a devastating Revelation has loaded huge responsibilities onto politicians’ shoulders. However, the gap between historic demands and political reality is dishearteningly wide. People on both sides of the Atlantic feel that even the strongest democracies are governed by politicians who have no historical memory, no idea of social planning and no geostrategic view; politicians who are held ransom by powerful economic interests; politicians who were promoted by the communication tricks of TV democracy; politicians who follow rather than lead; politicians who are mere managers. What we are faced with is no less than the degeneration of democracy, particularly in countries with unresolved national issues – such as Greece. Democracies, of course, need no deus ex machina. And democracy does not mean the rule of the mediocrity. At their best moments, democracies were fortunate to be led by leaders with a sense of historical necessity, with a vision of the future, and with the ability to convince people of the need to make sacrifices in order to materialize that vision. Politicians may indeed be the offspring of their times. True leaders, however, are the parents of the future.