Transforming values

Society is fundamentally ruled by the powerful, who maintain their power by offering others security. The powerful offer physical security, personal security, familial security, and quite often moral security that is based out of how that particular powerful group views the family and how they view the interplay between different members of the community. Opposing this “security” is more often viewed as a threat to the whole and put down immediately. The Pope was a shining example of how a leader could offer both moral authority and security, while at the same time stand out as a monstrous vehicle of power and dictatorship, “the leader of the world.” However, the United States was one of the first forces to truly challenge the papacy, and they did so through offering not only moral authority but intellectual authority through their espousal of freedom as a human right. During the beginning of the United States, scholars and thinkers were obsessed with the motivational forces that ruled over the human soul, and today, those motivational forces have evolved to values-based leadership. Leaders recognize today that people mobilize not only from the recognition of their own human rights, but from leaders who offer a living model of those values of human rights.

“Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, / but leech-like to their fainting country cling, / rise like Lions after slumber / in unvanquishable number — / shake your chains to earth like dew / which in sleep had fallen on you — / ye are many — they are few.” (Shelley, 1819) Even in the 19th century, popular culture had begun to embrace the idea that values could transform the world. Shelley’s criticism that leaders were so distanced from their followers that they were blind, unfeeling, and stupid, was a bold thing to say when rulers still felt they had divine authority on their side. The idea that followers of a divine authority actually had chains was less a statement that people needed freedom, and more a claim that people had a right to live their own lives without being chained in the dreams of a leader who was blind.

Are one set of values any better than another set? How can you make a differentiation, without making a judgment? For example, we look at modern-day Sharia bound cultures, where women are forced to wear headdresses and covers so that they are not seen in public, when in fact many of those women support that culture and when westerners criticize those cultures, the westerners are the ones who are in turn criticized for being immoral. Do leaders need to stand for the values of their followers, or do they need to reframe those values and transform those under them? Should the leaders in closed countries such as China and Saudi Arabia seek to transform their countries to become more like other countries and their values, or should they seek to solidify themselves in favor of their own people’s values?

I often struggle with knowing where my values lie in the country I live. I am an ex-patriot, and for many people I come into contact with I am the first ex-patriot (or foreigner) they have ever met. When they see me and watch me, everything I do becomes everything the other world is. If I cry or scream or smile, I begin to form their own minds about the actions of people who are not Chinese. If I cheat or steal or sin, that is added to the value system of other countries, at least in the eyes of those who are watching me, in the exact same way that I erroneously attached the ethics and values of China to Tracy, that tiny little Chinese girl in my second-grade class, or how I also erroneously attached a judgment of Iran by observing the parents of my friend whose family fled to the United States in the 80s. However, I am an image of the West, and there is nothing I can do about that. The values I espouse become the main line in inquiry for anyone I meet, unless that person is lucky enough to meet someone else and grow their judgment set. As a leader however, the values I espouse are even more important, not because it should matter to me whether or not someone has a favorable opinion of the values of people from other countries, but because that will affect my effectiveness in reaching that person and trying to help them grow.

Mao’s last poem: The dialectical journey from idealism to broken dreams, and the sorrow of the lone leader

Suffering from tuberculosis and schizophrenia, Feng Laiheng lay on his deathbed at the young age of 62, plagued with the nightmares of China’s Cultural Revolution and the persecution he received from Chairman Mao’s avenging angels, the Red Guards, because of a painting he completed almost 23 years before his death (Sullivan, 1996). In 1959, Feng Laiheng, known more popularly by his moniker Shi Lu, completed one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, Fighting in Northern Shaanxi. This “Chinese Van Gogh” (Jia, 2005) had created a bold landscape painting that hearkened back to Shi Lu’s admiration of the painter Shi Tao and his encapsulation of the lone daoist contemplating the vast emptiness of the universe in Waterfall on Mount Lu (17th century), except instead of the hero admiring everything and nothing, the hero in Shi Lu’s painting is standing in pyrrhic victory over the bones of his fallen comrades (Chang & Halliday, 2005), the sun filled with blood as a constant reminder to the Great Helmsman of the cost of change. Inspired by one of Mao’s personal poems (released in 1958 to the public), Fighting was a victory song of brutal and martial language (Appendix II:4-5), exclaiming both the tragedy of war and the power of a singular vision. Shi Lu encapsulated Mao Zedong’s mythic power as a leader in his painting: the utter loneliness of his character, contrasted with the roiling world beneath him, swirling in chaos, tragedy, and the lifeblood of people he had sworn himself (Chan, 2011).

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

In this paper, seven significant time periods of Mao Zedong’s life will be discussed, and in each time period I will discuss how, in my opinion, Mao saw himself change as a leader through the circumstances that impacted him (by discussing seven of his poems). Mao was an intensely personal but public man, his feelings both open to all for scrutiny and worship, but also closed even to himself. I will begin by discussing his coming into power as a Communist leader, and end with the events that eventually caused his downfall, with several significant events serving as descriptions of his leadership.

The lone hero. In 1925, Mao Zedong had left the honeymoon stage of his tenure as the representative of the Communist Party for the province of Hunan. After being criticized by Sergei Dalin (an envoy from Moscow shepherding many CCP activities in China), Mao was fired from his position and promptly joined the Nationalist Party (Chang & Halliday, 2005), fleeing from Shanghai back to his hometown for a brief respite, where he wrote the poem entitled Changsha, his first major poetic work and a startling clear account of his vision as a leader.

Mao’s poem Changsha introduces several core aspects of what would eventually define his unique model of leadership, the Lone Hero model. While he viewed companions as necessary to accomplish tasks (Appendix I:14), his particular dialectical materialistic point-of-view supposed that morality had less distinction with absolute principles of good and evil, but more distinction as a scale of transformation. “Who are our enemies, and who are our friends?” (Pye, 1976) For Mao, everything was mutually transformable, including enemies. For this reason, Mao states with vivacity that he “counted the mighty no more than muck” (Appendix I:22), showing a rare worldview that did not abide by the Confucian respect of authority in which the leader was a man of virtue, benevolence, and authoritarian sagacity (Chen & Lee, 2008), but instead was as malleable as “the waters” struck by Mao and his companions, in order to “stay the speeding boats” (Appendix I:24-25).

Another important attribute of Mao’s leadership philosophy was his loneliness (Tay, 1970). From the first line of the poem (“alone I stand”) to the end of the first stanza, Mao writes about his singular calling to save China from the calamity of the age (Tay, referencing the Huainanzi) and rule over the destiny of his country (Appendix I:13). Mao was very reticent in publishing his poems, whatever critics may accuse him of using his poetry to inspire his followers (there is no evidence of this), and agreed only when the aim would serve a political purpose (Li, 2010). Perhaps he saw in himself, the “man” referenced by the historian Ch’en Liang (Mao’s favorite author), who stated that “which heaven and earth and all the gods and spirits cannot change, is changed by man.” (Tay)

The philosopher. Mao was a trained classicist; from a young age to his elderly years, he was known to have slept on a “bed of books,” often sleeping on a custom-designed bed to make room for his library of Chinese classics next to his pillow (Chang & Halliday, 2005). One of the most well-read men of his age (at least in terms of Chinese classical education), Mao was also a prodigious philosopher and wrote a book on dialectical materialism called “On Contradiction” which claimed that the most basic law in the universe was the law of opposites (Chen & Lee, 2008). How did his philosophical discipline and his practice of writing poetry influence his practice of leadership?

One of Mao’s most famous poems was Snow (Appendix III), a verse he wrote after he had completed the Long March and effectively taken control of the Chinese Communist Party, or at least their military. In a moment of sublime meditation, Mao looked upon the lands north of the Great Wall, and imagined himself like the heroes of old: Qin Shihuang (who built the Great Wall), Han Wudi (founder of the Han Dynasty and the largest people group i China), Tang Taizong and Taizu of Song (the two kings of China’s “golden age”), and Genghis Khan (the only foreigner to conquer China).

However, his estimation of them, at least according to his poem, is quite low, stating quite plainly that both Qin Shihuang and Han Wudi were illiterate fools (Appendix III:17), Taizong and Taizu with shallow souls and petty appetites (19), and Genghis Khan as a man whose primary accomplishment was the fact he could shoot arrows better than any other man (22). Imagining himself as a conqueror, he planned to establish a base in Mongolia (Chang & Halliday, 2005), and perhaps much of his inspiration came from that feverish moment, looking upon the vastness of the Great Wall in the dead of winter, dreaming himself the prime hero of the ages, physical strength coupled with intellectual brilliance. The last line of his poem encapsulates perfectly his belief: “For truly great men look to this age alone” (Appendix III:24-25). In many ways Mao Zedong saw himself as one of the immortals, relating himself to the the intellectual hero of the Chinese classic Sanguo, Zhou Yu, through the art of alluding to another heroic poem, “Thoughts of the past at Red Cliff” (Tay, 1966).

The harbinger. 1961 was a tumultuous year for Mao Zedong. In the late 50s, Mao had attempted to force China into the position of a global superpower, through his policies of the Great Leap Forward. However, his policies backfired, and close to 30 million people died from famine, starvation, and disease. Mao’s own daughter grew sickly and diseased during the Great Leap, because she was forced to eat university rations and wasn’t allowed at her father’s table (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, in 1961 the CCP took action and ousted Mao as the president, electing Li Shaoqi in his place at a little place called Lushan, a retreat center for top government officials with a lake for swimming, nestled in the heart of the mountains. Two poems written in 1961 point to how Mao saw himself transforming as a leader, The Fairy Cave and Ode to the Plum Blossom, written four months apart from each other but showcasing a dangerous metamorphosis worthy of Kafka.

In August of 1961, the CCP met at the beautiful retreat of Lushan. As Mao and his comrades were swimming in the lake (even holding meetings in their swimsuits), there was a tense feeling in the air (Fenby, 2008). Mao was ignored by many of his former friends, and he began to form a dangerous liaison with his former enemy Lin Biao, a monstrous (but effective) man whose wife wrote of him that his greatest virtue was his ability to hate (Chang & Halliday, 2005). A few days after the retreat ended, Mao wrote a frightening poem, The Fairy Cave, in which he stated that beauty could only be found in danger: “On perilous peaks dwells beauty in her infinite variety” (Appendix V:4). Earlier in the poem, Mao wrote, “riotous clouds sweep past, swift and tranquil” alluding to his struggles at the Lushan Conference, but then he continued, “Nature has excelled herself in the Fairy Cave,” referring to the mythic cave of the Eight Immortals, buried deep within the mountains of Lushan.

Four months later during the harsh winter in which he daughter had returned home from school after having grown too sick to study, Mao wrote another poem, Ode to the Plum Blossoms (VI), in which he called himself the “harbinger of Spring” (VI:6). Calling upon the ancient forces of classical Chinese poetry, Mao related himself as the plum blossom, ushering in a rebirth of Nature (Tay, 1966).

The visionary. The last leadership element of Mao’s Lone Hero model would be his capacity for visionary leadership. In a strange way, Mao believed that he was fundamentally transformational in everything he did, if we understand his concept of transformation as being a social architect (as proposed by Bennis & Nanus, 1985) who designs and fashions a society through the demolition of the old. However, unlike Bennis & Nanus’s social architect, Mao saw trust as his reliability as “the desire to be worshiped” (Pye, 1976) rather than articulating consistency and straightforward direction. In Mao’s poem Swimming, he relates a Master stating, “Thus do things flow away!” (Appendix IV:9). In 1956, Mao had just obtained nuclear technology and told his inner circle, “we must control the earth!” (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, his aspirations for nuclear power went far beyond a simple arms race: being a superpower was a passion, a way for him to step beyond Soviet control (Fenby, 2008), a symbol of self-sufficiency. Much of Mao’s leadership decisions come with an attitude of risk, to where Mao even trivializes through arguments of dialectical logic (Pye).

Beyond turning China into a superpower, though, Mao sought to establish an immortal legacy for himself in his own country. Much of his poem, Swimming, relates his visionary dream to complete the project that Sun Yat-Sen (the first president of the Republic of China) began, but later was abandoned because of the rise of the warlords. Mao sees his dream of building the dam in mythic proportions, relating how even the mountain goddess will look in awe upon his creation (Appendix IV:18-19), foreshadowing the belief that he was equal to the gods and could alter the course of Nature as a chaotic harbinger of change, uniting a land that for thousands of years had been fractured.

Looking back on Mao Zedong’s leadership philosophy, much of what he believed was admirable: a man of vision to even rival the ancient mythic heroes, a force of change and transformation, a deeply educated mind with a passion for beauty, and a heroic nature which aims for the most basic of societal changes: elevating us to progress, so that we in turn can transform our world.

So what happened?

A refraction of logic: why talk about Mao’s leadership philosophy at all? Transformational leadership theory is most weak when viewed through examples of “heroic leadership” (Yukl, 1999), such as cases like Mao Zedong. Transformational leadership is easily abused, and the danger of transformational leaders is the lack of accountability; even today, scholars have not figured out acceptable ways to measure the factors and variables (Northouse, 2013). Even transformational leadership prophets (such as James MacGregor Burns) make the mistake of equating the best transformational leaders as an exercise of dictatorship in retrospect (2004), as evidenced by Burns’ two favorite transformational leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, presidents who are more or less equated as benevolent dictators or beloved princes.

Two final poems must be discussed, to find an answer to the enigma of Mao Zedong’s transformational leadership. In autumn of 1963, Mao and his inner circle finally made a move that would alter them forever: they broke away from Russia. For more than 50 years, the U.S.S.R. had infiltrated and controlled Chinese politics, from training the Nationalist army and supporting the Nationalist Assembly, to even writing checks for their Com-interns (such as Mao and his peers in the CCP) around China. But in 1963, Mao finally ideologically split from Russia, refusing to even speak with them any more about issues of political importance. To Mao, the day he split from Russia was a day of salvation. In the last poem Mao ever wrote, he proclaimed: “Don’t you know a triple pact was signed / under the bright autumn moon two years ago? / There’ll be plenty to eat, / potatoes piping hot, / beef-filled goulash” (Appendix VIII:14-20). But one line later, be bemoans, “Stop your windy nonsense! / Look, the world is being turned upside down” (21-22). Somehow, from the moment when he broke away from Russia, from that bright and beautiful autumn evening in 1963, to his last poem (1965), something went terribly wrong. Something had transformed Mao into the conquering hero he so despised; after he wrote that fateful final line, he never wrote another piece of poetry again. His lasting legacy would not be a poem, but the Cultural Revolution, the moment that took Shi Lu’s soul.

Guo Muoru: from friend to foe, to the end. Comrade Guo Muoru was one of a kind. An intellectual who fell in love with communism, he came from a long-line of scholars, was swept into revolutionary fervor, and became a close friend of Mao Zedong. Muoru went abroad to study in Japan (much like Sun Yat-Sen and Lu Xun, contemporaries of a generation before), married a Japanese Christian woman and had several children. When the war against Japan broke out, he returned to China while his wife stayed in Japan (she was not allowed to come with him), she discovered to her sadness that he had remarried and had several more children with his second wife. A fiery intellectual, Muoru wrote several treatises on the slave society of old China, and Mao became enamored of him, even going to far as to put Muoru’s diatribes into his own speeches as justification to rail against the old Confucian society.

However, in 1963, Guo Muoru wrote a poem criticizing Mao Zedong’s policies. Muoru’s son had just been sent to the countryside for re-education, and was upset enough to publicly humiliate Mao with a poem criticizing Mao’s divisive tactics in trying to destroy those who tried to take his power. Unlike other criticisms, Mao was incensed, relating Muoru like those “flies [that] dash themselves against the wall, humming without cease… shrilling… moaning… [trying to] topple the giant tree” (Appendix VII:1-7). At heart, Mao was an optimist, and he could not believe that people did not understand what he was trying to do; yet they did not. Not only did his peers not support him after the failure of the Great Leap, but his plans for turning China into a global superpower also failed, and his allies that he spent years nurturing and millions of currency supporting… most of them were toppled in revolutions much like his own. In his final poem, Mao (with a bit of sage-like wonder) writes, “Gunfire licks the heavens, / shells pit the earth… / a sparrow in his bush is scared stiff! / “This is one hell of a mess!” (VIII:6-9). In 1965, almost immediately after writing that poem, Mao Zedong began plans for the Cultural Revolution, setting up Cultural Revolution offices around the country, and preparing for the moment when he would unleash his “avenging angels” against his enemies.

A retrospective. The importance of maintaining healthy leadership philosophies is paramount, even equal with the work a leader does in his or her capacity. Mao Zedong transformed his country, but at great cost. Were he here today, he might even reply, “The cost was inevitable.” But was the cost for Mao’s soul worth it? In the end, he became like those leaders he laughed at in his poem, Snow. Violent dullards who only knew how to conquer and little else. By the end of Mao’s life, he was hanging on by a thread. Hundreds of mistresses later, four wives, and out of ten children, only three survived to adulthood. One of his sons died in the Korean War, two of his sons died or disappeared during the Chinese Civil War, and the rest of his children either died in infancy or were abandoned. Mao was a figure who was constantly in flux, never in one place for long, and obsessed with the idea that through dissolution could come re-imagination; even in his own life.

Mao Zedong was purity, if purity could be composed of the essence of change. Yet I have to question if the purity of philosophy as a leader is viable to long-lasting positive change, especially as a Christian who believes that God’s grace is immeasurable and Christ’s love can heal all wounds. Mao truly believed that he was above the par, and he longed for that spiritual connection that he absolved himself with every night, sleeping on his bed of books. He longed to be welcomed into the abodes of the gods, into the cave of the immortals, and into the annals of great men. There is nothing wrong with that by itself. All leaders desire legacy.

However, we do not live in a vacuum. Mao’s concept of the lone leader, while he was able to accomplish many things, in the end he could not save himself. None of us can. We are incapable of self-salvation, and we will always fail when we try. There is only one way of salvation, and that is to make peace with our Creator, and understand that while we may live in a world where destruction breeds life and life is destroyed, our path as living creatures lies along the road of love. As leaders, there is a humbling to that – we cannot live without community, and we cannot live without love. To go without one or the other lies the loneliness of lamentation. To go with – is beyond purity: the eternal.


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Yukl, G.A. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 10(2): 285-305.


I. Changsha (1925)

II. Loushan Pass (1935)

III. Snow (1936)

IV. Swimming (1956)

V. The Fairy Cave (1961)

VI. Ode to the Plum Blossom (1961)

VII. Reply to Comrade Guo Muoru (1963)

VIII. Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)

Conflict throughout history: Following the changing thread

From time immemorial, mankind has been in conflict with one another. And from time immemorial, mankind has desired to not be. Every loss of human life is a slight against us, and as death is the affliction of life, so life designates the necessity of death. Throughout history, philosophers have mused on the nature of conflict, and over time our basic understanding of conflict itself has evolved. Originally conflict for philosophy was a basic tenet of the physical and spiritual life, almost as if conflict was matter that had been woven into the universe. It was part of everything, plants, animals, rain, even the shadows cast from the sun. Today, our understanding of conflict is an intensely personal struggle, a struggle that many theorists are framing as a methodology for not only self-development, but a necessary requirement for a stronger society.

​        Heraclitus and Han Feizi claimed that conflict was woven into the universe and was part of everything, including all human relationships. However, much of the early theory of conflict states that it should be used by political or economic factions as a mechanism for development. Han Feizi, especially, believed that conflict was so prevalent between people that the only way to manage a society was to use conflict as an arbiter. Plato and Aristotle believed that conflict was a mechanism that should be used by the elite to either control followers (Plato) or as a defense mechanism to protect ones’ sovereign power from the masses (Aristotle). Augustine taught that conflict was endemic within each person as a mechanism of self-support, that with the acquisition of reason and knowledge self-conflict was tempered. Both Machiavelli and Hobbes believed that conflict was a mechanism for stability, although Machiavelli wrote that conflict should be used in order to generate social stability, while Hobbes believed that civil society was a passive effect of two forces in conflict.

​        Malthus stated that conflict was proportional to the population, and with an increase in population conflict would inevitably increase, being one of the first theorists to propose that science was related to social development rather than as mechanism for the securing of power. Smith continued this line of reasoning, by stating that within each person conflict was necessary as they drove themselves to self-interest. Finally, Darwin cemented the absolute nature of conflict by turning it from a mechanism of political machinations, to a science of observation in the eternal between between survival and growth. In general, discussions of conflict pre-Darwin characterized it primarily as a political or economic tool for stability, which kings, princes, lords, and intellectual leaders could use in order to establish themselves. However, after Darwin the study of conflict entered into a discussion of social and cultural scientific observation.

​        In the modern era of sociology, Gumplowicz expanded on the Darwinian concept of conflict by expanding the science to a study of not only natural and physical conflict but societal. Essentially, Gumplowicz transformed the study of conflict by tying the nature of his new science directly with context, claiming that conflict is the key force behind social and cultural evolution. Pareto, following the contextual relevance of Gumplowicz, stated that conflict (more particularly, revolutionary movements) was the key to national evolution, when one group of elites eventually replaced the old regime. Madison went into even more detail by cementing a system of checks and balances that not only utilized the conflict within political organizations, but fastened the conflict together, believing that the inherent conflict within the varying cultures of politics would create boundless progress and eventual stability.

​        Sumner, however, gave conflict a personal quality by claiming (in an eerily similar but non-sacred fashion as Aquinas) that only through the individual struggle against rivals, antagonists, and displacement, would people truly define themselves. Sumner personalized the nature of conflict. Whereas pre-Darwin conflict was seen as a mechanism or tool used by the powerful, post-Darwin conflict became a set of skills that people or factions could adopt in order to transform themselves, turning weaknesses into strengths. Ward built on Sumner’s ideas by claiming that the personal growth and stability of conflict was actually a function of social efficiency and relational stability (those being the end goals). Finally, Parsons entered into the debate and strongly stated that conflict had an ideal state which one could progress towards. While Parsons claimed that this ideal state was one free of deviance, other thinkers such as Mills and Dahrendorf criticized Parsons. Mills that that the equilibrium theory (conflict being counter-actions towards deviance) was actually self-destructive, as it served only as a defense of privilege rather than as an offense against oppression. Dahrendorf went so far as to state that the ideal state to work towards was actually deviance and abnormality, while equilibrium was the actual conflict of the age. Dahrendorf believed that change was a creative force which shattered the status quo (or equilibrium theory), and hence the true conflict of the age was the battle of progressing past old ideas into the new.

​        Perhaps it is oversimplification to arrange all of history within a few paragraphs. However, something has changed in the nature of conflict. There is truth to the adage that there is nothing new under the sun, but there is also truth in the capacity of self-improvement through constant reassessment and rebuilding. We are vessels of conflict: when we are born, we come bawling out of our mother’s womb; when we die we lay on our beds, gasping for that last breath of air. Our lives are defined by struggle, and our moments of glory are struggle in victory. Why should we seek to take that away? Why run away from conflict? Why not run toward it?

​        We are also creatures of sorrow and pain, and seek peace. While conflict may define who we are, we can never allow conflict to guide our hand, only understand it. Leaders who use conflict knowingly in order to create chaos where there is order are monsters, no matter their good intentions or selfish machinations. Love is the ultimate arbiter of conflict, because love is a concept that stands between two foes and offers warmth. Yet in our organizational models, where does love come into play? How can leaders truly love their followers without risking their own weaknesses? How can leaders show weakness for the purpose of gifting themselves without losing their organizations?

​        The evolution of conflict throughout history I have mentioned makes some starting claims. The first is that pre-Darwin, many thinkers believed that conflict existed as a tool or mechanism which was requisite in the field of politics and economics, which if used could propel people to change outwardly. The second is that post-Darwin, conflict became a set of skills that cultures, nations, governments, and eventually people could adopt into order to self-develop. Today, conflict continues to transform, and I foresee the future of conflict as being an intensely personal quest. Many thinkers teach conflict not as warring ideas between two parties, but as trainable skills for self-development. Scholars believe today that “conflict potential” is something that can be maximized for inter-personal growth. There are also many scholars today that teach about role specialization in organizations, not only as a way of complementing strengths but as a way of creating value networks that challenge one another. Conflict resolution and avoidance have been replaced by the science of conflict management, a way of looking at conflict that shows the ultimate potential of inter-cultural issues so that both cultures in the end can be maximized.

Two foxes and a hen: The mask of harmony and illusion of the masses

Imagine a dinner table. At the table sit two foxes and a hen, and all three are discussing what to have for dinner. The analogy of the two foxes and a hen is often used to describe the concept of “the tyranny of the majority,” a theory in political science that epitomizes the power of the masses over the elite and the power they wield over the existing regime in establishing change. While “the tyranny of the majority” has been hotly debated for hundreds of years (ever since John Adams coined the term in 1788), any discussion regarding the influence of mass movements and harmony in society cannot progress without acknowledging the power the masses have played in national movements throughout history. Some experiments in nation-building (such as the Weimar Republic and the Republic of China) have proven to be disastrous, with many blaming those failures on a dictator seizing the power of the masses to gain absolute power, while other experiments in nation-building (the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China) have like-wise proven wildly successful, resulting in the formation of two of the most powerful nations on this Earth. However, whereas in the United States a dictator did not seize the power of the masses, in China one did, and yet both have proven to be successful examples of statecraft and leadership.

​        It would be a mistake to simplify the past in terms of what we do not understand. Many have characterized the rise of Nazi Germany as the fault of a people who allowed a dictator to take control because they were tired and disenfranchised (which may have been true, given that a loaf of bread in 1919 cost 1 German mark, but by 1923 that same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks). However, the truth is that underneath the veil of a different time and culture, life was just as vibrant, with networks of various people in connection with each other (even in small villages), such as athletic clubs, religious organizations, charities, trade guilds and unions, and professional associations. In China before Mao Zedong, the country was perhaps even more vibrant, with a new literary era on the cusp of transforming word and art, modern technology and contemporary strategic theory introduced into the military, the establishment of universities and higher educational academies, a unified banking system, political and constitutional reform, as well as joining the international spectrum of athletes as a contender for the Olympics. The idea of a “mass society” composed of a “social void without attachments, alienated, rootless, and normless” is as fallacious as stating that dictators come to power because the people don’t want them to, but had no choice because the dictator seized this mysterious element in society and forced them to bend to his will. In most situations, the dictator is merely a sign of the culture, and the masses are an illusion used by political scientists to try and absolve the details of significance. While Hitler rose to power in Germany, similar movements inspired by race and despotism were taking place all over the world; Hitler may been at one side of the extremes, but he was not an outlier.

​        This discussion leads us to the question: if the masses are an illusion, then why did the 20th century see such an upswing of dictatorial governments and fascist tendencies? Societies are formed of complicated and amalgamated structures of inter-twining realities, and many of those realities influence one another like vines growing onto the trunk of a tree and branches joining with other trees to form multifarious organisms. It is not simple enough to say: the Great Depression allowed Roosevelt unprecedented power in changing the role of government, and neither is it simple enough to say that the struggle of China’s peasants empowered Mao Zedong in overcoming the Kuomintang elites. However, a more important question rises from this: how can we understand the complexities of culture, as well as train our leaders in the abilities to recognize and manage positive change in this hidden web of interests? As observers of other cultures and nations, how can we identify cultures of “false harmony” and prevent the volatility of violent revolution that inevitably will justify itself?

​        Many people see truth as an absolute concept, rooted in the interplay and consequences of moral quandaries as they unveil themselves in our chosen culture. When those consequences change, the subtle underpinnings of our morality may also shift, and if shifted too far in one direction may justify the radical movements we saw in the 20th century. The fallacious “cloaked outrage” that spurts out in revolutionary violence is a myth we used to absolve ourselves of the moral responsibility we have in guarding ourselves against own selfish desires for criminal justification or unethical ineptitude.

​        In China, one of the key political phrases of Hu Jintao was for his country to become a “harmonious society.” Overused, underestimated, and laughably hopeless, nevertheless it was the dream of the politiburo to wean China of inward tendencies towards social outbursts and contain the massive growth of a country heaving in an industrialized fervor from throwing itself off the mountain too quickly. The two foxes sit on the other side of the dinner table and have a staring contest with the hen, but who are the foxes and who is the hen? In political theory the foxes have often been considered as the masses, but in China logic defies and the masses are actually the hen, with the two clever foxes looking at the hen, knowing they could never withstand a full-frontal assault so they must play the angles.

​        We started this discussion trying to understand why the masses elected Hitler and Mao to be their defenders. However, what we have not recognized as yet is that Hitler and Mao understood exactly the play of the field and wielded the complexities brilliantly. Both men in their respective countries played people against one another, stole power from their contemporaries, and were intense intellectuals who understood and loved power. Leadership, as we can see, stands at the crossroads of the illusion of the masses. We believe that we live in a world that is free from the sins and madness of the 20th century, but we only delude ourselves. Napoleon believed that genius was the ability to recognize opportunity, but opportunity is more complicated than just random chance, but a nexus of circumstances sacrificing themselves on the same altar, under the shadow of the opportunist.

Genius out of time: Napoleon Bonaparte and his quest for the center of the universe

Napoleon died at the young age of 52. His contemporary and admirer, Thomas Jefferson, by comparison lived to the ripe age of 83 years old. While Napoleon died young for his time, during those brief 30 years when he served as an influential member of French leadership, he accomplished more than almost any other ruler did for any country, ever. He was a passionate fool, a discriminate student of strategy, and an indiscriminate follower of his own shadow. He was a genius, a man who remembered each incident in photographic clarity, who could recall numbers and statistics from newspapers, and take the whole and put them into rigorous use not only on the battlefield but in the bedroom. He recognized and embraced the trends of the time, and saw a vision no one on Earth could imagine: a people separated by nothing except the beauty of ideas. While he was a fervent disciple of nationalism, he could not separate the transformer from the transformation, and so in his vanity believed (as many a genius fall prey) he was France’s, and by proxy, the world’s savior. He believed, much like Alexander the Great, that all the lands from the Indies to the colonies would fall under his enormous intellect and unlock their vaults for his descendents. In return, he would give them everything he had. But at what price?

​        I find it impossible to relate the many aspects to which Napoleon enhanced and added to qualities of leadership we find indispensable in modern society. He empowered the bourgeoisie (the middle class) and thereby overruled the feudal system. He freed the serfs and in effect ended the feudal slavery that had existed for thousands of years (although he did not end slavery among the French colonies, a puzzle to this day). He established government schools that taught universal education, taught by teachers who were singularly schooled in the national ethic at a single university; in addition, schools required students wear uniforms, use the same textbooks, and attended classes that followed the same syllabus – all prerequisites for any successful school today. He not only centralized education, but he centralized law by introducing the Civil Code, a key aspect of law today and a descendent of the antiquated Roman law. He took these ideas and in each of his conquered territories (which stretched from Egypt to the border of Russia) he instituted them, forever changing the our paradigm of how government functions. He set his radical reforms into the fertile earth he himself had prepared, first by blasting the weeds out of the garden with his artillery, then by marrying his family into royalty, and finally by granting freedoms but requiring the use of the codes he himself had masterminded.

​        Napoleon famously claimed, while living his last years on the island of St. Helena, that he hoped in the future to spread the ideals of the American constitution to the rest of the world. Even to his death, he was a revolutionary and believed in the power of ideas to transform the world. However Napoleon was a transformational failure, for he failed to recognize that in transformation, not only the follower but also the leader must change through that fascinating interchange that occurs between the two agents. Napoleon also famously said that like Caesar, his last battle would be no different than the first. He was a genius, there is no doubt about that, but with that pride of intellect comes the vanity of invincibility. When he finally realized that it was the Russian army that was invincible and not himself, he lost heart and returned to Paris a broken man, only too happy to abdicate his honors to the next man in line.

​        Leadership is at its hardest, work that is both admired by others but in need of constant self-assessment. But if the leader doubts himself, how can he be confident of the outcome? Wellington said of Napoleon that the emperor was worth 40,000 soldiers alone, for his sheer charisma and belief in victory. Yet on St. Helena, even in the throes of arsenic poisoning and a tumor in stomach, he still managed to maintain that optimistic hope that the world could be changed for the better, with only the application of intellect. By the end of his life, he still was not able to recognize his pride as the center of his fall.

​        Unlike Napoleon, my work does not hold me in commands of regiments filled with 30,000 young men seeking to make a name for themselves in battle and earn wealth and immortality for their families. But like Napoleon, my work as a leader is solitary. While Napoleon’s work was solitary, it did not have to be… he chose it to be. The unique circumstances of his life gave him the opportunities of leading armies of a country he was not even a citizen. Napoleon by birth was Italian, spoke Italian, and only learned French when he was ten years old. He spoke French with a harsh accent, believed in the independence of his home, and was an inconstant spouse of Christ, believing less in a vibrant faith and more in the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings of finding a way to centralize social custom, political action, religious attitudes, and economic regulations.

​        Napoleon would fit right at home in our modern world. While such a fantasy would be impossible (for the modern world would not be the same without him), with his calculating mathematician’s mind Google or Microsoft might find him better company, and he might very well enjoy the experience more than he enjoyed his experience as an immigrant soldier seeking to apply his philosophy across the spectrum of the world, even to the chagrin of people mired in the traditions of the past.

​        My work as a teacher often finds me in the same situations, battling philosophies and wills of a different culture to my own, living in a land where handshakes and dinners are of a different sort than I might have experienced back home in California. Yet Napoleon’s biggest mistake was believing that his solitary existence was per-ordained by fate. But I should state this for posterity: Napoleon was not a vain man, only a stubborn one who had accepted that in order for success, he would have to make certain sacrifices and those sacrifices entitled him to putting up gates at the borders of his mind. I find that much of what Napoleon worked for and lived as very inspirational: he saw the gaps in the system and by taking advantage of opportunity (what many would classify as ‘luck’) he opened up new avenues. He understood the system in its complexity, and on the battlefield he understood the value of a great general. But in the end, he did not believe he himself had anything to gain from them.

​        Perhaps he didn’t have anything to gain from them. Or perhaps he had everything to gain, if he only opened up his heart to hear their voices add harmony to his song. Beethoven saw this, when he struck Napoleon’s name in dedication to his 3rd Symphony when the commander forced the Pope to crown him emperor at Notre Dame. For leaders, being able to listen, learn, and change is key to transformational leadership. Napoleon transformed his society, but failed to be transformed himself.

Righteous anger ex nihilo: A portrait of Mao Zedong

Much of what we know about Mao Zedong lies in legend: an abusive father, a beaten son and mother, brothers loved more than himself, a poor laborer whose mother gave him all the benefits she believed she never had; a sworn nihilist, learned and angry, angry at a world that never offered him what was offered others and which he took by force. Mao is a complicated subject, but less able to be completed in the breadth of this short space. A man by whose hand millions perished, who believed that might ruled over light, except when the light when preparing for the darkness. Mao was a man who by his own pen, claimed that the only path to the future lay in the ruins of the past, no matter how many perished in that dream. A lover and a tyrant, a reformer and a dreamer, he was hated, scorned, mocked, feared, and loved madly during his life. He was a model of transformation, but perhaps not the transformation where the people who emerge from the pool are the same who entered.

        ​Mao ran away from his homeland nightmares to the metropolis of Beijing, where for his first job he took the lowly position of a librarian at Beijing University. He loved books. Mao was known to sleep on a literal bed of books, with such prodigious notes that even today scholars are riddling out his messages in the margins to discover the man beneath the monster. He was Plato’s Philosopher King, a man who believed that only through ideological purification and struggle could a classless society emerge from the madness of the battle between the capitalists and the proletariat. He was a conceptual demagogue who was not afraid of giving violence in order to reach a greater end. But above all, he loved power; the power over his colleagues, the power over his lovers, and the power over his people. His weakness, if we could choose one, was that he spoke two languages: the language of polity in which he used conflict as a vehicle to transform his society, and the language of narcissism in which he used conflict as a vehicle to secure personal power. He knowingly fashioned conflict to crush his rivals, to halt emergent opposition, and to maintain power until his last breath. Even at his death, many considered him to be a god. Yet by his hand, perhaps more than any other ruler in China’s history, a country was transformed and yanked through time by at least two or three hundred years, ripped through the portal of sacrifice until all she could do was lay on the side of the road, crying and bandaging her own wounds while the rest of the world looked down upon her, amazed but unmoved.

​        Mao was an inconstant lover of Marx. He believed that only by being refined in the fire could a better civilization emerge. He believed that by destroying the relics of the past, by killing the heroes in the hearts of his people, and by the annihilation of the old world could the new world be born anew. Many of us would look down upon his work, the lasting legacy of his politic, with scorn; yet how many of us would repeat what he did on a smaller scale were we to restructure an organization? The Hundred Flowers movement was a government sponsored catharsis of free thinking, in which intellectuals spoke out for the first time in years about their beliefs, yearnings, and hopes for China’s future; at the end of the Hundred Flowers movement, Mao took a pair of shears and cut the heads off the flowers. He organized raids, imprisoned people for what they had said, and brutalized the people he had sworn to protect. Were he to be asked why he did this, he might reply that only through struggle would the classless society, free from the landlords, free from the old thinking, emerge. While we as leaders may not take just drastic measures or go to such lengths, how many times have leaders taken power only to cut down the heads of the old regime? For Mao, the inconsequential held incredible weight and power, and every little petal had to be taken into account.

​        I write this short meditation from my relative’s home in the countryside of northern China. I am here solely because of Mao Zedong. After the Hundred Flowers movement and his horrifying experiment where he canceled all school, gave high-school students weapons and badges and told them to question, arrest, and beat any intellectual they could find, and then sent them on a government sponsored field trip to every village in China to cleanse wrong thinking, an entire generation changed. This wasn’t a subtle change, like what happened to American youth when the news was allowed to carry an opinion; the change in China rocked the world of an entire generation, uprooting them from their families, charging them with a sacred quest, and turning the streets of China into a bloody sponsored rampage the likes we have not seen since young striplings took up muskets during the American Civil War.

​        During that serendipitous time, my father-in-law, the son of an intellectual and landowner, was sent to the frozen wastes of China’s north to work in a mine, barely seventeen years old. He married the mine boss’s daughter, they had a daughter, and later he moved his family back to the city of Tianjin where my wife grew up. There is not one person in this entire village (where I am writing from) who does not have emotions about Mao Zedong. It was his ideals that established this village, and everyone from my grandmother, to my three uncles, to my many, many cousins, have been affected by the singular political philosophy of a man who desired to transform his country. Does China exist in a classless society today? Has the old world of Confucius, the Imperial Throne, and long queues braided behind silky and wind-blown robes been destroyed?

​        The answer is yes to some, and no to others. Such is transformation. Transformation is not perfect, and carries the struggle and sacrifice by those who were forced through it willingly (or unwillingly). The scars of the past remain on the faces of my loved ones, and their triumphs and failures remain etched into the hillsides and broken villas of Qidaogou. To claim that transformation is without refinement is to claim that a caterpillar can become a butterfly without being wrapped in a slimy cocoon for weeks at a time. To claim that transformation can occur without the blood of the innocent or the tears of the rejected is to hope that a country or organization can persuade the old regime to gently give up their livelihoods.

​        I am not defending Mao Zedong. He was a man who believed in terror to achieve his ends. He was a pirate, a lord of thieves, and a master of manipulation. He loved his country, and he also loved the power she could give him. He loved books, reading, and writing poetry, and he loved old churches. But he brought his country from a feudal state in which the king was the son of God, a country that even creeping into the 20th century made eunuchs of men who would enter into the imperial government, and a country where the Dowager Empress made a boat out of stone just so she could spite the poor. Perhaps there were other ways of transforming and carrying China into the future, but we shall never know.

​        My child plays in the next room, dancing on a bed heated by the fires that cooked our dinner. Trees comb the mountains outside the house like a military buzz-cut, and my grandmother is gazing at my son in the kind of love that tragedy has no power over, not even transformational tragedy.

Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed: An experiment into crowd-sourcing the heart through art

The theater has had a long history of challenging the status quo. Even back to the days of ancient Greece, playwrights could become national heroes or national scoundrels based on the plays they wrote. In Elizabethan England, the production of Richard II on the stage of the Globe became so contentious that the theater was burned and later rebuilt, once the fervor had been silenced. Theater is a combination of collaboration, conflict, and art, with people acting out the part of conflict on a stage with each other and exploring what it means to die by the blade or come to terms with the social issues glaring the audience in the face. The theater has always been a place to either challenge the status quo or praise it; in this way, playwrights and directors are as much leaders as are presidents and prime ministers, because they lead through ideas and practical expose of the hidden shadow people are afraid to show in public.

        Hallie Flanagan, an observer of the American theater scene, wrote about the power of the theater to evoke the most primal of emotions; Harry Hopkins, the leader of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, then hired Flanagan based on her careful and brilliant insights to bring demoralized people across America the joy of free theater, eventually helping to bring about an end to the social plague of slumlords and decrepit capitalistic housing projects.

        Most astounding of all, however, was Augusto Boal. A Brazilian director, he sought to not only infuse his beliefs into the theater in order to enact social change, but to transform the theater scene into a place where people could not only voice their grievances but help alter the story itself, creating a method for collaboration in culture where patriarchal attitudes and qualities of singular power dominated. He encouraged the audience to step in and enact their own stories on the stage, creating a second voice in a traditionally monologuist artform.

        Augusto Boal was jailed for his efforts to encourage the people to speak out their grievances in a public arena. He did not return to his family for 15 years, being forced to leave the country after his prison sentence. However, in 1992 he was asked to come back in a much calmer environment and was hired by the government to become a correspondent to the people about inequalities in the country by using theater. His story is one of victory, but only after years of isolation and sadness of being separated from his home.

        In countries where the inequalities are enforced by the politics, is it possible for artists to thrive as leaders? Boal’s approach was bold, but perhaps too bold. He was not jailed and imprisoned because of his plays; he was jailed and imprisoned because the people wanted him to lead a rebellion against the government. He did not go seeking for that, but art is powerful and causes normally sane people to question the foundations they built their lives on, and temporarily become insane, open to paradigms they never even knew were possible. Great art fastens those paradigms to our experience, while other art gives us moments and then fades away. How can artists thrive in closed countries and continue to make a difference? Is defiance to authority an absolute in regards to altering the fate of oppression?

​        Art is held to the highest moral code in China. Artists like Ai Weiwei are held under house arrest, imprisoned, and never heard from again for 10 years. In a word: loudmouths don’t do well in China. They are cut down from top to bottom, and if they are not silenced, they only grow louder; at least that is the fear, and so the silencing grows more powerful with each new circumstance. I am keenly aware of the limits of art, and so are the artists. A visit to the Beijing 798 Art District showcases paintings and sculptures groaning in the excess of China’s grossly-expanding urbanization, in the starving capitalism that is consuming traditional culture, and the vast seas of people who don’t care. Art has become a contact point for the dispossessed spirit and a lost generation who find themselves without a compass, but that is as far as art can go. More creative leadership is needed, the kind of creative leadership that understands the dangerous context and knows how to both work within it as well as create change. Boal was imprisoned and exiled for 15 years; for a time, anyway, he shone.

Symbols of a stateless society: Satyagraha, swaraj, and Gandhi’s vision-casting of a society without limits

Mohandas Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (venerable) Gandhi, was a man of complexities and paradox. Born into the Brahmin caste and into a wealthy merchant family, he became an expatriate in South Africa where he lived for most of his adult life, finally returning to India and by the end of his life advocating economic and political freedom from Great Britain and the abolition of the Indian state, with self-sustaining villages replacing the state government in a political philosophy known as swaraj. He wielded a two-armed approach to reform: satyagraha, which was a practical methodology and school of political philosophy teaching the art of self-suffering, patience and compassion as a means to an end, and the elimination of antagonisms (not antagonists); the second arm was known as swaraj, a political reform discharging the state from duties of rulership and granting power directly to independent villages, free from any power be they colonial or national. While the latter was never fully implemented (and thrown out by India’s national government), the former was used as a vehicle for showcasing the Indian desire for freedom from the British Empire and was a key factor in the reformation of Indian political philosophy for self-rule, including the desire for Pakistani and Sri Lankan independence from the Indian sub-continent.

        Gandhi understood the power of symbols. While he stood above most Indians (from his caste), he continually surrounded himself in community, and wherever he lived he worked with other Indians in energizing local expatriates or learning with each other what it meant to be Indian. For Gandhi, living in London or living in South Africa, knowing who he was and where he came from was incredibly important, but taking the lessons of cultures that he lived in was equally as important. He understood the power of the Indian mindset of disciplines and over the course of his life, satyagraha became more than just a methodology for achieving political results, but a life-calling and school of philosophy. Satyagraha and swaraj were more than just concepts like democracy or representative rule. They were living embodiments of being; they were transformative vehicles for people to grow in and within; they were catalysts for not only personal change, but national and cultural change. While satyagraha was the ethos to follow, swaraj was the gleaming model of perfection at the end once satyagraha had been practiced, mastered, and weaved into the being of each and every Indian. Gandhi embedded these two concepts with cultural power, and through that connected each man, woman, and child with a common goal. However, when his concepts are deconstructed, they show far more similarities to enlightenment and modernist philosophies than the holistic and religious observances of traditional Indian philosophies. Gandhi took the trappings and heartstrings of Indian philosophy and used it as a cloak for reforming political standards, even if he was a bit ahead of his time.

        The Salt March was Gandhi’s practical offspring of satyagraha, and the experiment of Bihar Village was the model for swaraj. However, much of Gandhi’s vision for India never came into the public arena. His Indian National Congress was criticized by many as an exercise in communism, and India’s independence has often been more attributed to the lack of funds for Great Britain to maintain her colonies than any movement Gandhi may have organized or any national consciousness he may have stirred. Gandhi was first and foremost a community organizer, secondly a philosopher, and thirdly an Indian. While I marvel at his dreams of reforming not only the landscape but the soul of his country, I wonder how effective change is when so much philosophy but so little accountability has been infused into the principles. Gandhi was known as ‘Venerable’ Gandhi, and was considered by many to be a sage; there were many cults that sprang up in India following him, which he not only accepted but nurtured in his discipleship of satyagrahis, or followers of satyagraha who studied in specific schools and had to follow highly regimented rules, more like a martial training centers for pacifism than a traditional Indian school of philosophy.

​        The concepts of satyagrahi and swaraj, while in theory sound invigorating, leaves me wondering if Gandhi’s place as a cultural icon bedeviled him from the start without proper criticism and conceptual reformation. Gandhi said at one point that he believed the Jewish people in Germany should adopt the standards of satyagraha in their quest for relief from Germany, even during the Holocaust when they were being baked alive in giant ovens, their remains tossed into ditches, and the German elites stealing their jewels, properties, and bank notes. I’m not sure when Gandhi lost sight of the objective, or when his objective ran so far ahead of him that he could not catch up.

        Contextualization is the dangerous middle-ground between all-out syncretization and cultural conformity. The tenets of contextualization consider a cultural principle that is considered to be absolutely good, and then clothe that principle in different words, robes, and philosophies to match the target culture. Contextualization has primarily been used in the spread of the Gospel, particularly from the United Kingdom and the United States, in the goal of teaching Christian ideals and tenets to various cultures that are predominately not based on Judeo-Christian foundations. The primary use of contextualization is to transport and transform belief systems.

​        When I look at Gandhi’s contextualization of modern principles into Indian culture, the philosophy he espouses seems more like the applique on a fancy robe, whereas the robe itself is composed of Marxist principles; at the basic level, Gandhi’s primary villain in the subjection of the Indian people lies in his own Hind Swaraj, with the claim that Indians are suffering because Great Britain has impoverished India by taking away their money, important jobs, and subjecting the people to a form of economic slavery. In essence, Gandhi’s claim is that the material wealth of India has been taken away by the Imperialists (the final evolution of capitalism) and so freeing India of the ‘capitalists’ makes Gandhi a tantamount Marxist who believes that Great Britain has engineered India’s degradation by offering her the trinkets of security in exchange for her soul, the material wealth of the country. For me, recognizing the source of leadership philosophy is key to unraveling the source of discontent and desire for change. We must analyze leadership suppositions for not only cultural foundations, but the underlying incentive for change and the proposed end goal of such changes.

A paradox of nonsense: Karl Marx and his fight for Utopian Neverland

In a very sad letter, Eleanor Marx wrote to Frederick Demuth, her bastard brother through the family maidservant, “I do not believe that you and I have been particularly bad people, and yet, dear Freddy, it really seems that all we gain is punishment.” (January 13th, 1893) Five years later, at the suggestion of her common-law husband, Karl Marx’s daughter committed suicide. Out of the 8 children Marx fathered, only four survived to adulthood; out of the surviving children, Eleanor and Laura both killed themselves (as well as Laura’s husband), and ‘Jennychen’ (Marx’s eldest daughter) died from bladder cancer, most likely stemming from either the environmental pollution of 19th century London or a smoking habit passed down from her father. Marx’s bastard son lived the longest but was never publicly claimed; that honor fell upon Marx’s best friend, Frederick Engels.

​ Reconciling these facts with the knowledge of his upbringing, being the son of two God-fearing Jews who constantly urged their son to consider the divine’s place in his life, who were encouraging, hopeful, and supportive, who sacrificed their heritage so that their children might have better lives, and who suffered under the same conditions as Marx did himself but even to the end of their lives remained filled with a surging joy – these facts leave me questioning how the lives of Marx and his family transformed into such tragedy. Marrying the daughter of a baron and inheriting the baron’s wealth, and being the best friend of a capitalist mill owner (Frederick Engels, who constantly helped Marx with his financial troubles – in addition to masquerading as a socialist caped crusader), the tragedy of Karl Marx may lie chiefly in his philosophy rather than his economic circumstances, which in turn, might answer some important questions about the impact that philosophy has on the concepts of socialist leadership.

If leadership is the response to human needs, then where do human needs come from? For Marx, human needs must be separated into two categories: artificial and fixed needs. Fixed needs are compelled upon people through the act of social formation, while artificial needs are unfairly created by capitalists, taking advantage of the desire for pleasure in order to subject people to products which are entirely unnecessary; the capitalists’ attempt to fleece their consumers of their livelihoods. In turn, capitalism then creates anger when the consumer lacks those particular products, and that anger is transformed into violence and a plethora of other sins, as wealth becomes a barometer for fulfillment and the lack of wealth becomes a letter of shame and deprivation. For Marx, need is fundamentally fueled by the lack of material goods, while want is fed by people hungry for what they do not have.

The original question: if leadership is the response to human needs, then how do leaders operate in a society where need is fundamentally ruled by a lack of material goods? Leaders take needs and transform those needs into values, which they use in order to carry their organizations forward to specific outcome measures and authentications, thereby legitimizing those values as agents of change. Individual needs, institutional values, and societal structures may influence those values to some degree, but in the end, the outcome measures and authentications the leader reviews and receives serve as the key indicators of success, and through this process of evaluation the leader is transformed and begins the process of needs translation into values once again. However, the key question is: if needs are chiefly fueled by a lack of material goods, what kind of values can be interpreted from those kinds of needs? Marx denied the spirit early in his life, even to the consternation of his ever-supportive parents. Marx was so anti-God that he viewed the philosopher Hegel as overly spiritual. It is no surprise then, that in socialist systems, spiritual values cannot be generated by leaders (even if they desperately desire them, like many leaders in China), as they do not view issues of the spirit as fundamental generators of fixed needs.

The paradox of Marx’s life floods into my life every single day. Working in a strongly socialist institution in China where issues of the spirit are denied as mere fantasy and teaching students who believe that the material, scientific world contains their nation’s hope, nevertheless both parties express extraordinary doubt. The government and media raised the alarm, decrying the lack of goodness in people’s hearts, that they seek only to better themselves and not their neighbors. Certain Confucian values are accepted, namely that of protecting your family, but the values of other philosophers such as Mencius and Laozi have been laughably shoved into the garbage bin of history, unfit for a country that seeks to conquer heaven. There is a fascination with the Monkey King, the deistic and mythic hero of Journey to the West (one of the four famous classical novels of China), a blond-haired wizard-monkey who conquers heaven, is imprisoned by the Buddha for doing so, and seeks redemption by becoming the slave of a man who tortures him for his transgressions of thought by shackling a crown of pain around his head; eventually the demon is cleansed and becomes a good man.

​ For modern Chinese socialists, however, the Monkey King is their own paradox: a creature both primal and evolved, both fighting against and bowing to the indomitable spiritual forces of the outside world, while maintaining himself and his philosophy throughout the affair and coming out as a singular individual and force of nature. While the Monkey King uses cosmic forces at his whim, his true desire is not to find peace with God, but rather to conquer his own weaknesses and become a god through a eerily similar materialistic philosophy that seems far more prevalent to the 19th century Marx.

​While Marx remained a staunch atheist for his whole life, the impact that had on his family was tremendous; even his children knew something was wrong and could not stand to live with that lack of certainty in their lives. Marx loved his father to his end, and I believe he truly believed in his father’s words when he told his son that one day he would transform the world and live a happy, healthy life if only he would accept the fullness of God’s wisdom and goodness in his life. Marx did the former, but not the latter; his life is a testament to his self-reliance on the savagery that he believed ruled reality.

The Bonds of Friendship

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with several universal themes, although the most important of these themes are of the mystery of death and the conflict of friendship. As I sit here and write out my thoughts, I am barraged with a sense of a message beyond an ordinary story – a message that reaches out and connects with even my own life. The Epic of Gilgamesh deals with some concepts that are prevalent even today, in our modern society. Our modern world, just like the ancient world, deals with suffering, death, love, and friendship – these universalities that create what we call humanity. And the Epic of Gilgamesh contains some valuable lessons for us, even in an age where the past seems like an idyllic barbarism.

I remember an argument with one of my best friends when I was growing up in San Francisco. We were part of a choir, and the time of the year came when all of the choir members needed to raise money for a summer, international singing tour. The competition was fierce – and most of the tension was between my friend David and myself. At the end of the competition, I had made the most money, and David did something peculiar. He did not speak to me for six months, quiet as stone. I remember feeling betrayed. I was continually haunted by his silence, and I thirsted to understand why something like competition could drive a person to abandon something as great as what we had.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods create Enkidu the savage man, to compete with the monumental and harsh King Gilgamesh. Within this tale of friendship and conflict, we see the beauty of competition and of the forgiving and bridging of friendship. Enkidu was created because the people were afraid of Gilgamesh, and requested to the gods that they be given some relief from his magnificent personality. Enkidu provided exactly that – an outlet for Gilgamesh and his energy. Enkidu approached Gilgamesh and challenged him on his brutal and insensitive activities, and the two of them began to fight. They fought so hard that buildings shook like an earthquake moving through the land, and they fought throughout the entire city. The Epic states, “the doorposts trembled and the wall shook.” Eventually, Gilgamesh won the fight, and Enkidu lowered his anger and the two embraced and became friends. This perhaps, was Gilgamesh’s only friend, for Enkidu was the only one who had the power to challenge Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh knew this.

David and I eventually made up, and admitted to each other how silly our silence had been. I had been afraid to speak to him because I believed him angry with me, and he was afraid to speak to me because he was afraid that I was afraid of him being angry. Our competition brought us farther apart, but when we were willing to sit down with each other and work out the details of the problem, we realized how silly our conflict had truly been. Gilgamesh reveals a true secret of life: most conflict is rather silly, and problems can be amended with a simple embrace and a courtesy of friendship. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought, they held a respect and awe for each other than transcended the deepest hate they could have had. David and I continued our friendship, and we overcame many obstacles in our path of friendship through the simple embrace of love.

David’s parents were strict, and his father perhaps the strictest and most stubborn father I ever knew. David and I used to square off with him, especially when his father would tell David he was not allowed to participate in certain activities or act in a certain way because of a challenge of superiority with the father position. David and I used to wrestle his father, until he laughed so hard that he eventually gave up his claim.

In the same way, Gilgamesh and Enkidu overcame many obstacles. Both of these men were children of the gods, more than mere mortals. Gilgamesh was a demigod, born from the union of an immortal and a mortal, and Enkidu was sculpted directly into being without a mother or father. They constantly struggled with the gods and the superior attitude of the gods. Humbaba, the guardian of Cedar Mountain, symbolized a victory for Gilgamesh and Enkidu against their parents, the gods. Humbaba was the form of the strength of the gods, and the two friends, through many trials, overcame the great beast and cut off its head. The gods were angered, but the two friends relished in their victory, and became well known in the land for the victory. They stood for independent thought and freedom from the oppressive gods.

David overcame his father at times, and seemed to rise above the small being that he was often cast as being. Although we both knew that his father still cared deeply, just as the gods did in the Epic, we also knew that a victory for David meant that he could step up to his father and look him in the eyes and tell him he was strong and he was not weak. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, perhaps, strove for the same thing – recognition from their parents for their strength. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu had cut down the tallest tree, Enkidu said, “My friend, we have cut down the towering Cedar whose top scrapes the sky… let them carry it to Nippur, the Euphrates will carry it down, Nippur will rejoice.” They searched for meaning in their lives – and they found it by revealing their true strength, that of independence.

Before I left for college in the summer of 1999, David was diagnosed with lymphatic nodal cancer. He felt alone. His friends didn’t visit him anymore, and everyday he listened to the voices in his head that told him he was dying. I visited David anytime I possibly could. Instead of going home like I normally would, and watching television or reading a book or going out, I visited David and tried to be the best friend that I could be. I could tell that inside he was very confused, but didn’t release that anxiety, especially around me. I was going through something similar – how could a friend of mine be dying, so early, so young, and so innocent? The answer wasn’t logical, or even acceptable. Therefore, I contained myself to visiting him anytime I could, so that I could understand and perhaps by my presence, soothe his pain. Questions blazed through my mind – what was death, and what happened after death, and what kind of being had the authority to prescribe something like this death? I couldn’t answer any of these questions. The only comfort I had was visiting David, taking him out to lunch, and having the kind of conversation we had before this happened. Sometimes I would ask him how the treatments were going. I was sympathetic, and confused.

In the Epic, Enkidu becomes very sick, for the gods curse him. Gilgamesh goes through similar trials as I faced – confusion, misunderstanding, and silence. Gilgamesh tried to be a friend to Enkidu during this time, although he found the process very hard. Enkidu is also confused and angry – he curses even the door, and he curses every friend he ever had in the world, from his lover, to his parents, to his best friend. Gilgamesh is beside him most of the time (for awhile he disappears because he is unable to approach Enkidu), and tries to be a comfort. And when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh mourns his death deeply, so deeply that he prescribes a vast, new life to live – the quest for immortality.

David survived his cancer. He is still going through the fading stages of the sickness now, and must maintain his diet and visit the doctors every now and then to receive a new statement. My story was different. I was changed, because my best friend almost died. This left a gap within me – an understanding of not understanding. I became almost obsessed with understanding death and the purpose of death. A few years later, I took a job at a local funeral home, where my work was the gathering of dead bodies and the transportation of bodies to morgues. This was my journey, and perhaps where I learned my finest lesson about death. Everyday I was forced to view the face of someone who had lived, and now has died, and I was forced to touch them and bind them in a ceremonial outfit, noble enough for the afterlife.

Gilgamesh searched the world for immortality. He traveled to the other side of the world, to the world of the dead, beyond the River of the Dead, to find the one man granted immortality by the gods. He traveled through mountains that contained no light, he traveled through the realms of the scorpion kings, he traveled through the gardens of the divine winemaker, and he traveled to the ferryman who ferried souls across the River of the Dead to meet the immortal Utnapishtim. And when he met this immortal, Gilgamesh learned that immortality was not something that could be gained by human effort, but only by the will of the gods. Gilgamesh went through several trials, and failed every trial before him. Utterly, at the end, Gilgamesh was left with the singular lesson of the mystery of death.

Life is a beautiful and glorious thing. Friendship offers a person a sort of enhanced life, like a drug that is so strong that when it leaves, the bond is broken and death seems almost too inevitable. Gilgamesh felt this with Enkidu – he learned to love his life. He was still King Gilgamesh, but his energies were not devoted to ruining the lives of his people, but rather were funneled into a friendship that he believed would last forever. But that friendship dissolved, and he became distressed by the concept of death. He received a different kind of death – that of separation, and felt the inevitable of such things coming to him. So he searched for immortality, perhaps to alleviate his worries about Enkidu, or perhaps to prove that he still could be above the gods and stand equal with his parents. But in the end, Gilgamesh realized that death is not anything that can be controlled by a work of man. Death comes when death comes, and is not for the decision of the mortal who awaits it. Gilgamesh’s final thoughts rested on his mortal accomplishments. “Go up Urshanabi (the ferryman), onto the wall of Uruk and walk around. Examine its foundation, inspect its brickwork thoroughly – is not even the core of the brick structure of kiln-fired brick, and did not the seven sages themselves lay out its plan!”

I came to the same realization during my own discovery and travels. That death is inevitable, and is not something we can control. My older brother died when he was two years old, as a baby in his sleep. My grandmother lived until she was 95 years old, in perfect health. However, when she was sent to the hospital because of a cold, she died because of too much lactose and sugar consumption. The Epic of Gilgamesh brings out some of the most important questions in life – the vast importance of friendship, the inevitability of death, and the acceptance of life as being beautiful and treasured.

Katheder Socialismus

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The title of this essay is a German phrase meaning “socialism of the chair.” In 1872, a group of German economists argued for the use of state funds for the bettering of the working classes, and were labeled as the Katheder Socialismus in satire. I mean, in this essay, to speak of the national socialistic movements in Italy and Germany after World War I, but first you, the reader, must understand some very basic concepts of this present world that I speak.

After the period of time historians call the Reformation, the Church was no longer the Church, but now the church, in lower case letters. A central authority was broken across the landmass of Europe, and secular governments began to advertise nationalism in the stead of the church. Nationalism became a cry across the shattered fragments of Europe, a cultural unification of people with the same history, the same family, and the same blood. Nationalism replaced religion in many countries, and although the church was still supported, the power of God became less and the power of a supreme leader of the country became the ruling construct.

Nationalism began a breakdown of divine rule slowly, first by a gentle subjugation into the population of thought, and finally with violent revolution and war. After the Napoleonic wars and the Council of Vienna, it became obvious that with the breaking of the church, monarchy as a statement of rule was impossible. Even in monarchies, nationalism arose and threatened to topple the governmental regimes. Such regimes as the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II were a common occurrence in the post Napoleonic world – a monarchy under the control of a nationalistic ideal. Just because the national government is destroyed does not mean that nationalism was going to die – nationalism was not only a governmental institution, but primarily nationalism began as a philosophy and still continues to this day as a policy – a unifying and centralized philosophy of borderland importance.

The Council of Vienna was a disaster because the leaders were afraid of a new world. They were afraid of a world without the monarchy and the aristocracy and the church – but already the Catholic church had been broken, the various denominations had formed beneath the Reformation, and people viewed themselves not as Christians but now as French, English, Italians, Germans, and other nationalistic creations.

So what does any of this have to do with national socialism? One of the principal causes of World War I, in my opinion, was the separatist movement of nations. Countries needed to discover their limits of power, and therefore war was inevitable. Countries took the philosophy of mannerism to an extreme, and created national mannerisms, not only in social realms but also economic, political, and religious realms. Countries began to hold grudges against each other – but this time, on a massive, nationalistic scale. Philosophy and political ideology differed from the country to country, and the sparks began to grow from a single grain of ancient ash until a firestorm engulfed all of Europe when the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. A leader had been maliciously murdered, and countries felt threatened. The nationalists gathered their arms, and prepared to lay down all those grudges they had kept hidden in their hearts for years.

So they fought. Bravo, you nationalistic pigs. At the end of the war, these pigs had grown so weak and so limp from the wounds of each other’s bullets that they slumped down into the mud and almost gave up. And the countries of Italy and Germany were in the lead – fallen, aged, and weak. The cost of arms for the war, and the cost of the lives of the men who had died in the war shook these two countries to the core. Their governments struggled with the economy, but could not even protect their own streets from vandals and bandits. This is where the story begins, first on the balmy shores of Italy, and then into the wooden plains of the shattered, Germanic tribes.

Italy was still a monarchy at the end of the war. Rome was the political capital of Italy, ruled by a King. The Pope still ruled the church from the Vatican after World War I, and had significant power over the activities of the church throughout Europe. However, the country was in shambles. After the war, the Italian treasury was depleted, and could not support even the most menial of protection. Jobs could not be properly compensated for; so many people did not work. The veterans of the war were left without help, thrown back into Italy with only their shirt and a pair of slummy shoes. Capitalism began to rise as a source of money, and the aristocracy still clung wildly to their land.

With the creation of the industrial state (a state relying on industry as a source of income), capitalism rose like a flood. The mass marketing of material became commonplace, and required a need for general workers. One could say that industrialism replaced serfdom, in a sense, because the workers were generally given low wages and were not compensated for their families, often forced to work 12 to 18 hour work days without a break, at extremely poor rates of pay. Out of this environment rose Marxism and communism – or a form of government in which the workers (or majority) rule instead of a noble aristocracy. Marxism was a common threat to nationalistic governments and especially to nationalistic philosophy, and as most countries were nationalistic, communism was not an idle threat. With the expansion of industrialism and the increase of workers, Marxism became a popular ideology among the common man. Workers joined together in Socialist (or Marxist) organizations, often political but also revolutionary, and rebelled against the industrial, capitalist system.

With the additional lack of Italy’s treasuring, and the common occurrence of a worker’s strike (refusal to work), Italy was in the slumps. A young man, a political activist by blood, gathered together bored and agitated veterans from the surrounding Italian countryside and formed a brute squad to put down these worker strikes. This man’s name was Benito Mussolini, and his specialized task force of ex-soldiers was known as the Fascists. The term fascism is derived from the fasces, an ancient roman symbol of authority and power – a bundle of rods strapped around an axe-head. Mussolini and his group were extreme nationalists, and enemies of communism. Eventually, his group grew to such strength that he marched into Rome and in a seizure of fear or perhaps enlightenment, the weak King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini as a Premier in the government, ruling over much of the government.

During Mussolini’s rule as a premier, he began to drastically alter the Italian governmental influence over the people. He held a strict policy of discipline and control over the government, and increased governmental power to include power over economic, social, and eventually religious (he made a treaty with the Pope). He created what is called, the corporate state, or a government that controls everything economic and political. He controlled wages of the factories. He controlled the import and export of goods. He silenced all opposition to the Fascist party. He controlled and aided the capitalistic classes of Italy, and moved forward in modernization and production. His ideology was focused on the national symbol of Italy, strung together with a militant organization and a disciplined philosophy.

The rise of Fascist Italy is of no surprise. Just as Napoleon was able to wrest power away from France into a single dictatorship, Italy has copied the idea. When a country is weak and the government cannot protect nor aid its people, the people seek a new government. And in times of weakness people will always cling to strength, such as Mussolini’s Fascist brute squads. In addition, Italy’s surviving soldiers, the veterans, prowled the countryside trying to gain back what they once had. Unable to find a job, they landed themselves on plots of unused or rarely used land, and started to build a life for themselves, but they were not accepted. The landowners and the capitalists vied to throw them off the land and turn them to beggars. Mussolini offered these veterans a way out of the slums of Italy and into the big picture, where they believed they belonged (after all, they had given their lives for Italy). Hundreds of thousands of veterans prowled the Italian countryside, and eagerly embraced Mussolini’s cure. In addition, the economy was being hurt – in the winter of 1920 several hundred factories went on strike. Production halted dramatically, and the people felt it. So Mussolini began to put down these rebellions against the industrial state, and he was not only accepted by the capitalists and the aristocracy, but by the common people who were not in the factories, but rather needed the products that the factories put out. He was a hero. He was Italy’s hero, and they embraced him like a father.

Germany followed in suit, although they traveled on a much more difficult path. Since Germany had been a leader in World War I, and was defeated by the Allies, Germany was harshly treated after the war. Large chunks of Germany were handed off to different member countries of the Allies, and severe restrictions on the German economy were enacted to prevent any future threats of battle. Germany was surrounded by raving dogs that bit and clawed at Germany, just to itch the wounds more. And Germany was also affected by nationalism; just as every other country was affected.

Germany was humble in the face of the rest of the European nations that hated her. Leaders like Gustav Stresemann and Friedrich Ebert were calm, and tried to reconcile with the surrounding nations of France, Russia, England, and the League of Nations. Eventually, Germany was even admitted into the League of Nations, and was also a major economic supporter of this new world after the major world war.

However, the internal Germany was not doing well – the economic loss after the war coupled with the impositions of the League of Nations upon Germany as war repercussions led Germany down a bad road with money. Many veterans were unemployed, like in Italy, and much of Germany had been cut off, such as the Ruhr Valley, one of Germany’s most prosperous economic fields. People were disenchanted with life, and communism was a major threat in the political spectrum. As I said before, when countries are weak, the people search for a new government. Germany was divided into a number of prevalent governmental powers vying for control: a communist party, a Roman Catholic party, a socialist party (different from the communist party, mostly composed of small business and professional workers), the nationalist party, and the national socialist party (the Nazi party).

In the elections after Hitler had become Chancellor of the Parliament, his Nazi party gained 17 million votes – more than half of the proper votes for political power. Thus, the Nazi party came into power – the national socialists, to be more exact.

Hitler is complicated. He was a sign of his culture – he was an ardent nationalist, a believer in the superiority of his blood and his country. He understood the problems of his country and sought to remedy them by making Germany strong and economically independent. Like much of Europe at the time, he was also an advocate for the superiority of his own kind and the people who supported him – his country. He sought to destroy any person who stood in his way. Hitler is infamous for the destruction of almost half of the population of the Jews during World War II – noted solemnly today as the Holocaust. The Nazi Party is demonized and Hitler is set in the same room as the Devil himself.

Adolf Hitler began his political life much like Mussolini. He was a political activist, a rebellious thinker, and an artist. He frequented taverns and beer halls, where the veterans, the ex-soldiers of Germany would drown themselves into a cup of mead, and tell them that their lives were not lost. Hitler would frequent the universities and would speak with the always disenchanted university students, and tell them he had a solution for Germany’s problems. He eventually, with this cast of veterans and students, formed a popular political party, and some of his closest friends became power players such as propagandists, managers, and idea gurus. He advocated extreme nationalism, and sought to unify people under a common banner, as well as playing the superiority tactics of the contemporary world.

It is interesting to me how modern historians still view an age only fifty years ago with such twisted notions of the truth. I’ve read books over my life on the Fascist and Nazi parties, and of the characters of Mussolini and Hitler. These books have utterly demonized these two men and their ideas for what they believed to be truth – and never have the historians questioned their own ideas of truth and their own countries. I view Mussolini and Hitler as pieces of their culture – not demons, but rather advents and examples of the world they lived in. When Hitler was placing Jews in concentration camps, Russia was doing the same thing to their own Jews and the Gypsies in their special, unique way. They were also staunchly against writers, musicians, and artists, who had a different opinion of the world than they themselves held. France placed foreigners and Jews in concentration camps. The United States placed their own citizens in concentration camps, and also sent atomic bombs over cities of thousands, and perhaps even millions, and decimated an entire culture. Turkey slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Arabs, and Italy even sent their own citizens and Jews to concentration camps.

I will continue to be amazed, I think. Italy and Germany were united of out nothing extraordinary. They were united because of a shambling population, and an unused soldiery. Their militant governments happened because the soldiers of the first war were left without anything, much like the Vietnam War in the recent decades of the United States. They were united out of nationalism, and a spreading ideal of a population placed within segmented borders trying to discover who they were and why they were. Perhaps today, after the two major world wars, we have discovered that our nationalistic dreams were nothing but the beginning of the world trying to discover who they truly are.

The Phoenix Blossom

The following essay was written as part of a series of historical analyses attempting to understand lesser known impact mechanisms of what is considered today as “popular history.” The essay was written in 2001, at North Park University, for a course in World History taught by Professor Theodora Ayot.

The Renaissance is a period in history that boggles us. The Renaissance is perhaps, the quintessential period of time before the Reformation, which eventually led to the Enlightenment. The Renaissance is a period of time re-instituting an ancient belief in the human spirit, “the spirit of the Renaissance,” drawn from the days of the olden city-states of the Grecian world. But historians are left perplexed why the Renaissance came about, and how. To many scholars, the Renaissance burgeoned because of a total acknowledgment of the human spirit as a more divine force than of the divine forces in the church. Many scholars agree that the Renaissance came about because of a group of brilliant individuals inspired by some general trend – the artists and poets and musicians of the Italian and Germanic states. I wish to delve even further than these scholars, and attack what I believe was the central nexus of thoughts for the inspiration of the Renaissance: Florence.

But first, I must shed some background light on the city-state, and the apparatus of which this “Flower of Italy” sprang into so much of an inspiration to the figures of the artistic Renaissance. Perhaps, the major cause of Florence’s power rested in the fall of the Byzantine Empire, when the Turks invaded and conquered the fragile and politically torn city. Actually, we should move farther back, before the Christian Crusades, in the tenth century when Byzantine was disheveled because of a conspiracy over an iconoclastic ideal. During this time, many of the artists of Byzantium emigrated from the city onto the lands of Italy, where they took residence. They moved throughout the countryside, to Rome, and father up to Florence, Venice, and Milan. Many took residence in the countryside, where they could practice their art without resistance from the church.

It was during this time that the Byzantium style of art – that of gold, fresco, and extraordinary color, invaded the mainland of not only Italy, but the Holy Roman Empire. In Italy, this style of art became well-known and accepted. These immigrated artists began to teach others about the Byzantine style. The Church, as well, was beginning to grow past the signatories of the Holy Roman Empire, and the fallen Byzantium. The Church began to utilize the Byzantium style to adorn their churches, and artists became a high price and a worthy profession.

Also in Italy, the Romanesque style of art became a common staple among artists. The Romanesque style was a combination of native Italian and Byzant art, a coalescing of art from Nordic, Celtic, Byzant, and Turkish styles of art. The Romanesque style emphasized ornamental and decorative patterns, spirals, ribbons, and expressive lines.

Farther north, in the Holy Roman Empire, in central France, the great cathedrals were being built, or already were built. Many of these cathedrals, such as Chartres and Notre Dame, used Roman figurine-sculpture (the Holy Roman Empire) to adorn the walls and the high ceilings. These sculptures were humanistic in every sense – inspired by the architects and sculptors of Rome; they emphasized the natural body and the divine sense of being of the saints. Eventually, as the Byzantine art spread up into France, the Gothic style, as it was called, came down, partly due to intrigue, and partly due to a political upheaval in France that dismounted Louis VII from the throne of France, and began the unstable period of the Angevin Empire. The Gothic artists moved down to Italy to learn the Byzantine and Romanesque styles of art, and the Byzantine and Romanesque artists moved up to learn the Gothic style.

In this coalition of artists and art, especially the converging of Byzant and Gothic art, a new realization was formed. Artists who were native to the Byzant art began to experiment in the humanistic Gothic style, merging the two. When Byzantium finally fell, by this time the interest and artistic endeavors had moved beyond the golden city. For years, the cities of Florence, Venice, and Milan, had been re-routing the trade routes to Byzantium. Because of the political strife in Byzantium, traders wanted less to do with the fallen city, and instead, began to trade with these emerging Italian city-states. One cannot say a certain city was any faster than any other in regards to recognizing the stream of artistic thought. One can say that it was in central and northern Italy that this new thought began to emerge – the precise place where the Gothic artists and the Byzant/Romanesque artists were sure to meet.

Venice and Milan were both very important cities in the world of the Renaissance, although they did not hold more importance that the politically unstable city-state of Florence, the “flower of Italy.” Florence is located between the two cities, a natural trade route between Venice, Milan, and Rome. During the political unrest of a fallen Byzantium, and of a reforming Empire to the north, the Italian cities broke away and formed their own governments and lands. They formed militias and took surrounding lands in their control. They stayed out of each other’s pockets, generally. Most of the strife in these cities was inner – other people vying for power among the city governments.

For a majority of her Renaissance life, Florence was ruled by the family Medici. The Medici family refused to actually take a significant title in the ruling of Florence when they came into power, and instead, began to branch out as bankers, artisans, and patrons to the arts. In the years 1270 through 1280, Florence had an economic boom. The population increased, new buildings and structures were designed and implemented, and an influx of Angevin (Gothic) artists moved into the city because of the prosperity. The merchant guilds grew to such power, that in the ten years of the economic boom, they gained power over the government and formed the arti maggiori and the arti minori.

The arti maggiori was composed of seven guilds: lawyers, notaries, clothiers, wool-crafters, silk merchants, money dealers, and furriers. The arti minori was composed of twenty-five less important shopkeeping and artisan guilds. Five of these guilds were asked to take part in governance of the city, known as the arti medie. Guilds were often formed out of families. The father would apprentice his son and daughter in the craft, whatever that certain craft may be. And the knowledge would pass onto the next generation, and so forth.

The most well-known figure of the Renaissance was Petrarch. In our contemporary society, we know Petrarch mostly for his love poetry, but more importantly, Petrarch was a teacher. He believed in the revitalization of the Greek Classical culture, and taught his pupils an enthusiasm on Classical learning. He would often bring in people from Byzantium to teach his pupils the importance of classical learning. However, he was not the only one interested in humanism and the classical studies. Because of the influx of Gothic art (what remained of the humanistic studies of the Roman Empire), others began to take interest as well.

The Church had begun to take an interest in classical studies, and began to adorn the Byzantine styled sanctuaries with Gothic art. The artists Cimabue and his pupil Giotto were major benefactors and inspirations to this new influx of art. The artist Gentile de Fabriano, a man who specialized in Romanesque and Byzantine art, trained a man named Jacopo Bellini, who later with the artist Antonio Vivarini, was to create an artist academy in Venice to train young pupils. Some of the pupils of this Venetian academy were no less than Giovanni Bellini and Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and Giorgione Barbarelli. Giovanni Bellini, the son of Jacopo Bellini, trained Titian Vecelli and Tintoretto. These are names that will forever be remembered in the archives of Renaissance art. Their work can be found across all of Italy, from Rome all the way into the northern tip of Milan.

Perhaps the most important person, in the entire Renaissance, was a man named Cosimo de Medici. He was a man of his time, a banker who loved the classical studies more than anything. He was a wealthy man and the leader of Florence during the classical revival and humanism period. He bought many classical manuscripts and brought Greek and Roman sculptures to his city, for the education of his citizens and those in his surrounding countryside. He founded the first public library in the convent of San Marco, where the Renaissance artists Fra Angelico, his pupil Fra Filippi Lippi, and his son Filippino Lippi, had painted art that was soon to sweep the entire citizenry of Florence. Their artwork was one of a combination of Byzantine, Romanesque, and the progressive and controversial Gothic art.

Cosimo was also a worthy patron of the arts. Perhaps one reason why Florence was the leader in the Renaissance is not because of some divine happening or miracle of the mind, but because of money. Because of the trade increase in Florence and the fall of Byzantium, Florence now traded much in that classical trade which flourished prior in Byzantium – mainly, gold, silk, and stone. Merchant guilds sprang from the dust around Florence that specialized in goldsmithing, clothing, and stonework. Many of these families that specialized in the art of goldsmithing, especially, were adequate and able artists, who wished to move beyond mere Romanesque decoration, and move into a more lively and volatile field: painting and sculpture. Cosimo de Medici was a patron to many of these up-and-coming artists. The architect Brunelleschi, the painters Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi and the sculptors Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia were among his most brilliant of artists that he acted as patron. And he was not the only patron of the arts – but he did act as a sufficient role-model for the rest of the city. Many other wealthy men and women in Florence became patrons, because of Cosimo’s influence.

These men, especially Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Ghiberti, became teachers in Florence, and took in many pupils. They taught this art of classical studies and classical art, with the infusion of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic art. They created workshops for young students to come and study with them. Sandro Botticelli was the work of one of these workshops. His teacher was Fra Filippo Lippi. Botticelli then trained Fra Filippo Lippi’s son, Filippino Lippi, in the art. And these three were not the only teachers. Their forming of workshops within the urbanized Florence became commonplace. Some of the most important teachers of the Renaissance were Domenico Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Veracchio, and Pietro Perugrino (a pupil of Veracchio).

It can be argued that Lorenzo de Medici, otherwise known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, was the most important influence of the Renaissance, besides his father, Cosimo. However, in my respective opinion, Lorenzo could never have become the great man that he was if not for his father. It’s really a matter of opinion, in that sense. Lorenzo de Medici was perhaps the greatest patron of the arts in Florence. He not only supported ventures within his own city, but he also had ventures as far as Milan, and had formed artistic workshops and artistic communities in these two respective cities. Beneath Lorenzo’s guidance and money, the most well-known and crafted of artists emerged: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Andrea del Sarto. These four were not the only artists that Lorenzo supported, but were perhaps the most well-known in their time. During this time of the Medici patronage, the Church was also acting in full, scouring Florence, Milan, and Venice for artists, architects, and sculptors to help build the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and flourish the church with art.

Leonardo da Vinci was trained by Andrea del Verocchio and the scientist Toscanelli. He was a versatile man, and stood for a true Renaissance man: not only a man of the arts, but of science, philosophy, and theology. Leonardo was also a politician, and a resourceful teacher. He established a school for his particular brand of art – combination of biology, mathematics, and artistic aesthetics, named after his respective self. He also was an architect and an engineer, who helped create siege engines and towers for Florence during the brief exile of Lorenzo de Medici. He was a man who loved his city more than anything, beyond petty politics and empirical disagreements.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was twenty years younger than Leonardo da Vinci, and through most of his life, strove to meet his awesome figure. He was trained by Ghirlandaio, and received the support of Lorenzo as a patron. He was a brilliant sculptor, and completed miracle after miracle, what other sculptors dare not do. His most inspiring work, the Pieta, was carved out of a single block of marble. This was a block of marble that no other sculptor in the entire city of Venice was willing to touch, because of its beauty, danger, and impossibility. Michelangelo was also a spiritual man who loved the Church. Although he was not the only artist who painted in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, he was the first, and the inspiration for many more following him. Michelangelo’s wife, Vittoria Colonna, was also a brilliant painter.

Raphael Sanzio, many consider to be the greatest painter of his time. He was trained under the auspices of Pietro Perugrino, otherwise known as Pietro Venucci. Raphael was a genius, who died young at the age of thirty-seven. His most ambitious works were done in Rome, under the work of the Pope.

By the time that Raphael dominated the artistic scene, the Medici of Florence was dying away. When Lorenzo the Magnificent died, the patronage of Florence fell apart, and the artists and sculptors and scientists left Florence to head to more amiable places. Florence was not a very nice place to live anyways – the corruption and familial practice of constant exilement was not something than most Florentines enjoyed. Even the Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri was exiled from Florence for his political views.

However, in Rome, the Medici family still reigned. In fact, during the Medici control over Florence, many of the Medici had succeeded as Pope and other important positions such as Cardinals and Bishops. So, when Lorenzo died, and the patronage of Florence fell, the arms of Rome welcomed the artists. Venice and Milan continued to thrive for many more years. The Renaissance, by this time, had solidified in the north, where it had been expanding its influence in the French and Germanic areas. When the Gothic artists moved south, the Byzantine and Romanesque artists moved north, to establish what would be the next Renaissance in the northern areas.

In addition to the artists of the Renaissance, advancements in humanistic music, theology, and science were advocated. Music began to expand into more territories, besides the monastical and troubadour tunes of the pre-Renaissance. Palestrina and Monteverdi were main figures of the musical rise in the Renaissance, writing sensual and more complicated themes. Politics also rose, especially in the form of Machiavelli and his book, The Prince. A secular humanism had invaded Italy, and expanded itself in the attitude of the people of Italy.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the Renaissance was the patronage of certain powerful men, and the shifting of ideas and trade routes. The urbanization of Florence, Venice, and Milan was also very key in the expansion of thought. When people gather together in meeting, ideas become communal, and science, technology, art, and religion grow and evolve. People are no longer alone; farming on isolated terraces, but instead are face-to-face with each other everyday. They walk on the same streets, drink the same water, and feel the same pain that their next-door neighbor feels.

Florence was the center of activity for the Renaissance world. Within Florence came a rebirth of ideas from a past world forgotten because of war, hate, and culturalization. And with the culmination and coalescing of ideas, Florence became the leader in the grafting of the humanistic qualities to the modern world. To this day, Florence remains the capture of a period of time when men were not afraid to dream. To this day, we call Florence, the “Flower of Italy,” and make pilgrimages to the ancient city in unabashed wonder at the works completed. For walking through Florence, is like walking through a field of knowledge, so unadulterated, that it shines.



DeWald, Ernest, Italian Painting, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1961

Gilbert, Creighton, Michelangelo, McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1967

Steedman, Amy, Knights of Art, T.C. & E.C. Jack 1907