Amour, Ethique et Leadership. Love, Ethics and Leadership. Discours à Belgrade

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Voici le texte (en anglais) lu à Belgrade, le 11 mai 2015, à l'Académie militaire serbe, lors de la séance inaugurale du 5ème congrès de la Société Internationale d'Ethique Militaire en Europe.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to address such a distinguished audience. I note it is composed out of my ISME and EURO-ISME colleagues and friends, and out of soldiers of this noble and heroic country who welcomes our congress.

During my second visit in Belgrade (these days, it’s the third one), I had time to visit your town. In the Kalemegdan Park I came across a high stone pillar. A short sentence was carved on it, in Serb and in French. You Serbs know probably which one I’m talking about. From then on, this sentence remained carved in the flesh of my heart. This sentence reads: “Volimo Francusku kao što je ona nas volela “; “Love France as she loved you.” For sure, in the course of events, France didn’t always love you as she once did. And yet I cannot help telling you allheartedly: “France still loves you and forever”. 

Why did I start in such a way? Just to capture your goodwill? No. I did so because love matters to the subject we have to study: ethics and leadership.

Love matters to ethics and love matters to leadership.

What is ethics? Ethics is character.  

And what is character? Character is virtue.

And what is virtue? We could try to define it, first, as “moral strength”. Of course, we cannot rule out all kind of stoicism and that definition could work, as an approximation[1]. But using it we would take technics as a model for ethics and such an approach would produce only poor outcomes. Why? Because when we use this model, we represent unconsciously virtue and will as strength, power and authority. This strength or power is supposed to modify, as if from outside, a physical reality characterized by inertia, (i.e., conservation of the status quo, be it movement or rest). This does not correspond to what human nature is and to how it works.

When we represent virtue and will as basically strength and power to self-coercion, virtue gets reduced in fact to mere social pressure, psychological dependence  to the group, fear of being punished or blamed, and basically the individual does not act by itself but rather reacts and undergoes pressure. His good habits tend to be reduced to useful reactions conditioned through a kind of dressage. He might feel to be strong, but in modern times this strength is exposed to the risk of sudden collapse.

With the spreading of technology, individuals feel more empowered, the weight of society decreases, the autonomy of the individual increases. Accordingly, a stoic virtue will fade; it will evaporate, if it was essentially a form of dependence of the individual, implying constraint and deprivation.  How can we hope that the individual will remain virtuous in a free and rich society? That is the question. Such hope cannot be reasonably kept, unless we adopt another form of culture and pedagogy of virtue – which, by the way, is probably more consistent with an accurate description of the facts of human nature. 

 Enduring virtue in modern ages is not stiffness of heart, tightness of rules, nor strength of will. Enduring and modern virtue is basically love. I would say: will is love and virtue is a stabilized, boosted and consolidated love. The Serb and the Italian[2] languages rightly use the same word for to will and to love. Which love are we talking about?

Love is one and love is many. Love does not mean always sex, or delicious feelings, but always means deep unity, alliance, union. As it is one, love is oriented toward the Good which is the One. This is basic platonic teaching, and this is true. As it is many, love is oriented toward many various goods. It is clear that each of our loves can clash with each other. So, ethics deals with an integration problem. An isolated passion can be strong, and usually is not right.

Ethics and character mean that some kind of stable and noble consistency has been achieved among all our loves, so that they are at peace in order. Each one of them has got, so to speak, its fair and due share, in the whole of our existence. And this equates to some kind of Pareto optimum, which also means a maximum possible both of liberty and happiness. 

In our imagination, liberty and happiness mean independence of any particular emotion which pro tempore (temporarily) happens to be dominant. But this is just living in a fantasy world. Such life is a short dream from which we wake up in misery.

Plato in his Republic rightly compares inner and social justice. He is right, again. Exactly as social justice produces peace and order and prosperity in the entire social fabric, in the same way this inner justice should bring unity, consistency, harmony, satisfaction and freedom to a personality. It is not yet bliss, or beatitude, but some kind of “dynamic installing” toward the good, as the Spanish philosopher Julian Marias defines ‘happiness’ in his book La felicidad humana.

Will is strength in itself, but strength of love and love is the genuine strength of the will. When separated from too romantic interpretations and pictures, love is less a passion, or an emotion, than the very essence of the will, something which is its nature, but becomes self-conscious and consciously self-assertive. This love is at the same time natural, vital and rational, through its spontaneous orientation toward the Good. And the Good is the principle of all thinking and interpretation. That’s why love is not unreasonable. Moreover, “the heart has its own reasons, which reason does not know[3]”.

The Good is also man’s goal. And when love is free, nothing can stop the will from doing what is his destiny. That’s why it has been rightly written, by our friend Martin Cook, that “character is destiny”.

The triumph of virtue is less the victory of one love over another one, than the genuine common victory of all and of their common interest. So, ethical education looks like the art of sculpture, according to Michelangelo. He used to say: “I just keep in mind the form I am aiming at, and I eliminate the superfluous.” As a result, Beauty.

This should make sense for all of us, since we are educating leaders. As Zradko Planinc writes in his fine book on Plato’s Political Philosophy, we are “educating the guardians toward the Good”.      

Obviously, love cannot last without justice, because injustice breeds clash and war. Justice and respect are, at it were, the body of love.

When in love, the will becomes an overwhelming stream which rides out any difficulty, drives away every opposition, and cuts short any resistance.

This love we are talking about is self-love without selfishness. It is not love of the ego by the ego, but love of us and love of me and love of you by me as one of us with you. Noble friendship overcomes the opposition between egoism and altruism.

The good we love is a common good. The first form of such common good is the compelling and reasonable love of the fatherland. This love is deep. It cherishes the sweetness of the mother tongue – ma-terni jezik -. It includes the remembrance of so many great deeds we did together, and the common shame of big follies: for instance, what a crazy recklessness it was for the French in 1812 to turn Moscow into ashes. This love is also the common understanding of a nicely human, and partly divine, tradition.

The Good which is the One is a philosophical conception, too abstract to be effectively loved, except by a tiny number of smart and well born individuals. But everybody can love the Good we see face to face in the flesh. That is not reason, of course, but faith. 

An individual who rejects all tradition and claims to be no more than an individual is probably no more than an insignificant nobody. The individual draws identity and nobleness from his body politic and from its common memory.

An individual is also a whole, a person, and this is the other part of his or her nobleness; but it would be mere àmnesia for the strand to forget its ground and its sod.

Moreover, the truth “Man is a person” is part of our common spirit, part of our noble tradition, and part of any free judgment we hold or of any responsible decision we make.

The orthodox tradition, according to the French theologian Paul Evdokimov, describes Man as “a genuine small god, ‘microtheos’. He is to himself the image and the place where he contemplates God’s wisdom and the beauty of the divine ‘logoi’ (thoughts) which shape the universe[4].”

If decently educated in our noble traditions, we also love other countries, and we can feel as one family on the Earth, and respect and love every person as a fellow creature.

This is why we may and must say, with an old Bohemian poet: “As long as the national spirit (French, or Serb, or any other) – as long as such a soul is yearning deep in the heart, then our hope will not be lost: to be and to remain a free people in our land[5].”

Without love it is impossible to lead people effectively, and even more if we happen to lead them in war. It will become always more and more difficult to understand without love what wrote long ago another poet, the famous Roman Horace: “sladak i ple-menit um-reti u zemlja”. “It is sweet, beautiful and noble to die for the country”. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

There is no “bliss of solitude[6]”. What is a mere individual? Somebody who “wanders lonely as a cloud”; somebody who feels distressed and powerless. Nobody can remain alone. That’s why, “when all at once he sees a crowd, a host of” fellow citizens, he rejoices. “And then his heart with pleasure fills”. 

If so we love, we are happy. The very life becomes for us a pure pleasure. A pure pleasure is one which drags no sadness behind it, and no remorse, and no pain. 

Without such love, without this pleasure and this life, it will be increasingly difficult to lead effectively in modern ages, especially if war ceases to be military promenades, and if we face real hardships with severe casualties. Without love, it makes no sense to serve the country, it makes no sense to obey a chief, it makes no sense to command, and it makes no sense to be killed or to kill. Nothing makes any sense at all.  

How bizarre is human existence! War is the contrary of love and yet without love, it’s impossible to make war. 

So what is leadership? Leadership is not about punishing subordinates, complying with political correctness and flattering superiors. It is first of all grounded on friendship, comradery, and on the simple sharing of such a deep and simple love of that which we have in common. Such love is at the same time the key for a good communication, for influence and authority, for projecting image and influencing, for improving and developing oneself and others, even for problem solving, decision making, and facing conflict.

Thank you very much.

[1] Nancy Sherman, The Stoic Warrior.

[2] « Ti voglio bene », « je te veux bien », « I want you good », is a gorgeously meaningful expression.

[3] Blaise Pascal, Pensées.

[4] Saint Basile, Hom.21 ; P.G. 31, 549-A ; 216-A. Cité dans Paul Evdokimov, L’art de l’icône. Théologie de la beauté, p.19.

[5] Written by Naftali Herz Imber. This old poem (1878) was later used as the Israeli national anthem, with a music inspired by Smetana’s ‘Moldau’.  

[6] William Wordsworth, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’.

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