Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Strong Man. (A Study.) (1918)

From the February 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following study of the character of a personal friend (recently dead) of the writer is, in a way, rather outside the scope of strict Socialist propaganda. It does, however, open up the question as to how far a powerful personality—even though used beneficially—should be allowed to dominate its weaker brethren. In practically all men there is but one thing as great as, or greater than, the desire to live, and that is the desire to dominate; and this “Will to Power” is one of the greatest dangers that Socialism has to face. It is the progenitor of “leaders” and the forerunner of a cleavage between a few more richly endowed intellects and the rank and file, which must stifle free expression, and lead to a sullen acquiescence or a sheeplike docility on the part of the rank and file, either of which is calculated to wreck the whole organisation. Such is the writer’s apology for the following:

A dominating personality at all times, his influence over the immature and untrained mind was, perhaps, his greatest attribute for good or ill. For be it understood, any power—whether of wealth, position, character, or intellect matters very little—can be used in one of two ways. It can be—but seldom is—used in what the wielder of it considers is solely in the interests and for the benefit of those it dominates, or it can be used to their detriment. One thing assuredly can be said. In either case the exercise of such excessive power will be found on analysis and in the ultimate to be necessary to the maintenance and development of the master-mind whose function it is to wield such power. Disuse brings atrophy and power without the opportunity for its exercise very soon deteriorates, and eventually dies of innutrition or degenerates and, turning inwards, rends to pieces its possessor. A dangerous weapon at all times, whether held by saint or sinner, by king or peasant!

No one who knew him would dare assert that his influence over others was ever used for an ignoble or sordid purpose. He had erected for himself a noble and inspiring philosophy of life, had a clear conception of the ideal he wished to attain, and had the desire for others to reach his philosophy and his ideal. In other words, he saw life in a certain way, had hopes and ambitions of a certain kind, and, naturally, wished others to see life as he saw it and hold hopes and ambitions similar to his. Having a clear self-knowledge, knowing exactly what he wanted, and always convinced that his own way of life was the best way, he desired that others should hold the same view-point and considered himself justified in using his dominating and subtle personality to impose his opinions on on whomsoever he thought plastic enough for his purpose. He was able to inspire his intimates with a sense of the truth of what be held to he true, with a sense of the infallibility of his intellectual judgment. He gave all he possessed to these who were willing to receive, hut the acceptance of what he gave meant the elimination of whatever the mind of the accepter had hitherto held. To be of the elect, one had to think his thoughts, struggle toward his ideals, see with his eyes.

But now comes the crux of the problem, in the blank that bas been left in the lives of the young and ardent followers who were most under his influence. And this is the danger that goes inevitably with the excessive exercise of intellectual power. When such power is withdrawn, are the ideas that have previously been implanted and held in their place by the strength of a strong personality sufficiently strong in themselves to stand alone? Or when the stronger personality is withdrawn does the personality find itself at a loose end, vacillating, gradually deteriorating and dying ?

If the latter, it would seem that the intellectual domination of a weaker by a stronger personality is decidedly injurious. Better to allow the weaker intellect to blunder along into the mental life’s various cul-de-sacs and blunder out again. Or better still, to guide the immature and timid intellect towards the path that will lead to its own free expression and development. In the end it comes to this— no man is fit to be another man’s master intellectually, any more than he is fit to be another man’s master economically.
F. J. Webb

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