Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action

By Alvin W. Gouldner | Go to book overview

Leadership and Social Crisis1

BY ROBERT A. NISBET

MORAL CRISES in civilization are less often the consequence of right against wrong or truth against error than they are of right against right and truth against truth. The present crisis of freedom and order in Western society--and all that is implied in the problem of leader- ship--would be easier to resolve were it plainly the outcome of an- tagonistic forces of good and evil. But who can doubt that the present premonitions of disaster and the whole tragic sense of life so evident in modern literature arise from a cultural condition in which we see the things we value destroyed or weakened by elements we also value. Thus on the one hand we prize equalitarian democracy, individualism, secularism, science, and the liberating impersonalities of modern in- dustrial life. On the other hand, however, we continue to venerate tradition, the corporate moralities of family, church, and community, close personal involvement in clear moral contexts, and secure social status. Conflicts between these values in the modern Western world symbolize our deepest social conflicts and make difficult the perspec- tive of leadership.

To regard all evil as a persistence of the past has been until recently a favorite conceit of the progress-nurtured liberal. But the contempo- rary intellectual, without wholly losing his faith in the future and his distrust of the past, is nevertheless coming to see a more and more enigmatic shape to those elements of the present that point most clearly to the future.

In the literature of moral revaluation that has spread so widely in recent years one theme stands above all others: the glaring discrepancy between morality and power. It is this which has disillusioned and

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1

This is a previously unpublished paper.

-702-

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