Business and Management INK

Ignorance of History is Not Strength

September 13, 2022 2047

Simon F. Oliai discusses the rise of populism in contemporary societies and answers questions on his book review, “The Road to Perdition: David Owen on Hubristic Mendacity in Contemporary Populisms,” published in Leadership.

Multicolor squares with posterized pictures of Donald Trump

The rise of Donald Trump to power in the United States was an unexpected shock. It was difficult to believe that a major American political party, however structurally “weak” to echo Jeffrey Sachs, had let itself be dominated by such an unfit and mendacious demagogue. Even more shocking is the fact that, despite the glaring incompetence which marked his chaotic term of office, Trump remains an influential political actor in the United States. Indeed, he is no less than an unrepentant liar who poses a serious threat to American democracy and world peace.

In the same period, I also watched with disbelief the unfolding of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom. One which ultimately led to the departure of this quintessentially European country from the European Union. A hitherto fringe nationalist idea on the euro-skeptic right of the British Tory party had suddenly become a rallying cry for “independence” to nearly half of the population of a country that had greatly benefited from its EU membership. It was clear that the success of Trump in the US and that of London’s notoriously buffoonish and dishonest former mayor, Boris Johnson, in the UK had less to do with what they advocated than with how they advocated “it.” I thus had to understand how two such shameless liars had become politically decisive in very different political contexts.

David Owen headshot
Lord David Owen

Lord David Owen (CH) is a former British foreign secretary with whom I had collaborated on a book. In it, David Owen had analyzed the impact of physical illness on important political leaders of the 20th and 21st Centuries. He also theorized the fundamental “sickness” of the powerful which he terms “hubris syndrome.” Powerful decision-makers display hubris when they arrogantly and fatefully ignore the normative limits within which socio-political reality is constituted.

Since classical antiquity, hubris has inflicted irreversible damage on those subjected to its consequences. Hubris is a noticeable change of behavior which continental European philosophy should phenomenologically conceptualize. Despite their obvious dissimilarities, both Trump and Johnson have displayed a similar sort of arrogance with which they uphold their damaging lies. To borrow David Owen’s expression, their common trait is their hubristic mendacity.

I believe this concept shall prove crucial in studying the evolution of advanced contemporary societies. Societies in which truth has lost its erstwhile simple connotation whilst those invested with the authority it once conferred have suffered irreversible loss of influence. As a phenomenologist, I also contend that one must resist the naïve scientism which would reduce this complex phenomenon to neuro-biological factors. I would encourage young researchers to draw upon the rich heritage of European philosophy in interpreting this phenomenon by reconstructing, to echo Merleau-Ponty, its historically complex “flesh.” For only a conceptually sophisticated conception of history could help our contemporary societies avoid the violence that hubristically mendacious “populist” leaders often stoke. Perhaps, that is equally how philosophy of history could illustrate that, to echo Orwell, ignorance of history is not strength.

Simon F. Oliai is a former UNESCO adviser on the worldwide promotion of the humanities, as well as a philosopher of history and former adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy.

View all posts by Simon Oliai

Related Articles

How AI-Integration is Changing the Workplace
Business and Management INK
May 28, 2024

How AI-Integration is Changing the Workplace

Read Now
Keeping Qualitative Research Weird!
Business and Management INK
May 23, 2024

Keeping Qualitative Research Weird!

Read Now
Sometimes, We Do Need a Narcissist
Business and Management INK
May 21, 2024

Sometimes, We Do Need a Narcissist

Read Now
From Collision to Collaboration: Bridging University and Industry Relationships
Business and Management INK
May 17, 2024

From Collision to Collaboration: Bridging University and Industry Relationships

Read Now
Motivation of Young Project Professionals: Their Needs for Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness, and Purpose

Motivation of Young Project Professionals: Their Needs for Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness, and Purpose

Young professionals born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s now constitute a majority of the project management workforce. Having grown up connected, collaborative, and mobile, they have specific motivations and needs, which are explored in this study.

Read Now
A Complexity Framework for Project Management Strategies

A Complexity Framework for Project Management Strategies

Contemporary projects frequently pose complexities that cannot be adequately tackled by the classical project management tradition. This article offers a diagnostic tool to help identify the type of complexity of a project and determine the most suitable strategy for addressing it.

Read Now
Bringing Theories into Conversation to Strategize for a Better World

Bringing Theories into Conversation to Strategize for a Better World

In this article, Ann Langley, Rikkie Albertsen, Shahzad (Shaz) Ansari, Katrin Heucher, Marc Krautzberger, Pauline Reinecke, Natalie Slawinski, and Eero Vaara reflect on the inspiration behind their research article, “Strategizing Together for a Better World: Institutional, Paradox and Practice Theories in Conversation,” found in the Journal of Management Inquiry.

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
zivancevic

since classical antiquity “Senat” consisted, alas! of the “senus” or the very old ones
can they really be responsible for the decisions that their physical bodies make? I don’t think so, thus it would be better to avoid “hubris” indeed. Trust the direction of the place to someone younger (i did not say “foolish”, alas!) , let them make a mistake or two, but they would learn gradually- the SENUS is very old and makes terrible mistakes either