"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."
- Soren Kierkegaard
I've tended to write a great deal about autonomy. To me, it seems like a compelling motivation and I tend to forget that all of us subordinate it to other goals at times. Sometimes freedom of choice is simply overwhelming and we'd much prefer a prescription. "Take these classes and then pursue this exciting career as an airport kiosk tender. Trust us, it's the best you can do."
It's worth remembering that the peasants in Prussia ran to the defense of royalty - the very peasants whose lives were miserable and poor. A similar thing happened during the French Revolution. To this day, some people prefer strong leaders, even if their conditions under them are miserable.
I once heard management consultant Peter Block state, "Leadership is a collusion between control freaks and the irresponsible." The very notion of strong leadership may rest of the fact of a significant portion of the population having what we might, somewhat delicately, call psychological issues.
Sometime between the age of 15 and 30, we tell our children that there is no such thing as a free lunch - this after they've been eating them all their lives. Development transitions are tricky. I suspect that we're at a point in history where progress will depend on a critical mass of the population rejecting a model of leadership that we've been dependent upon for centuries.
One way to look at the Protestant Reformation is to see it as a rejection of the strong leader in the form of a pope. The idea at the heart of the Protestant Revolution is that the individual would, ultimately, be responsible for his or her own salvation and peace. The neurotic conditions such a burden can trigger would be itself worthy of its own thesis, but it is freedom.
It is easy to see the Enlightenment-era overthrow of monarchs as another chapter in the rejection of strong leaders.
Given that history never looks like history when you're living through it, many have missed the overthrow of the banker as the strong leader who determines whether you deserve credit and how long you have to pay back loans. The credit card is both symbol of, and means for, the individual freedom to decide whether or not to incur debt and how quickly to pay it back. As with freedom of religion and democracy, credit has been a promise and a threat. Those in poverty in the 19th century may have felt like victims of fate, whereas today's bankrupt may well feel like victims of their own choices (or the fine print of clever lawyers).
Freedom from strong leadership brings with it a particular accountability that all of us would like to shirk at times. But I do think that once a person gets past the existential void of "but what do I do if not what has been prescribed for me?" this freedom is empowering.
Rather than ask ourselves "Who will be president in 2008?" we might ask ourselves, "Who will I be in the game of politics in 2008?" We should continually remind ourselves to be our own leaders. Companies are desperate for our business. Politicians are desperate for our votes. If we lead, they will follow. Where else would they go?