Human Nature and the Social Order

Chapter 9: Leadership or Personal Ascendancy

Charles Horton Cooley

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BUT how do we choose our heroes? What is it that gives leadership to some and denies it to others? Can we make out anything like a rationale of personal ascendancy? We can hardly hope for a complete answer to these questions, which probe the very heart of life and tendency, but at least the attempt to answer them, so far as possible, will bring us into an interesting line of thought.

It is plain that the theory of ascendancy involves the question of the mind's relative valuation of the suggestions coming to it from other minds; leadership depending upon the efficacy of a personal impression to awaken feeling, thought, action, and so to become a cause of life. While there are some men who seem but to add one to the population, there are others whom we cannot help thinking about; they lend arguments to their neighbors' creeds, so that the life of their contemporaries, and perhaps of following generations, is notably different because they have

(318) lived. The immediate reason for this difference is evidently that in the one case there is something seminal or generative in the relation between the personal impression a man makes and the mind that receives it, which is lacking in the other case. If we could go farther than this and discover what it is that makes certain suggestions seminal or generative, we should throw much light on leadership, and through that on all questions of social tendency.

We are born with a vaguely differentiated mass of mental tendency, vast and potent, but unformed and needing direction—informe, ingens, cui lumen ademplum. This instinctive material is believed to be the outcome of age-long social development in the race, and hence to be, in a general way, expressive of that development and functional in its continuance. The process of evolution has established a probability that a man will find himself at home in the world into which he comes, and prepared to share in its activities. Besides the tendency to various sorts of emotion, we have the thinking instinct, the intelligence, which seems to be fairly distinct from emotion and whose function includes the co-ordination and organization of other instinctive material with reference to the situations which life offers.

At any particular stage of individual existence, these elements, together with the suggestions from the world without, are found more or less perfectly organized into a living, growing whole, a person, a man. Obscurely locked within him, inscrutable to himself as to others, is the soul of the whole past, his

(319) portion of the energy, the passion, the tendency, of human life. Its existence creates a vague need to live, to feel, to act; but he cannot fulfil this need, at least not in a normal way, without incitement from outside to loosen and direct his instinctive aptitude. There is explosive material stored up in him, but it cannot go off unless the right spark reaches it, and that spark is usually some sort of a personal suggestion, some living trait that sets life free and turns restlessness into power.

It must be evident that we can look for no cut-and-dried theory of this life-imparting force, no algebraic formula for leadership. We know but little of the depths of human tendency; and those who know most are possibly the poets, whose knowledge is little available for precise uses. Moreover, the problem varies incalculably with sex, age, race, inherited idiosyncrasy, and previous personal development. The general notions of evolution, however, lead us to expect that what awakens life and so gives ascendancy will be something important or functional in the past life of the race, something appealing to instincts which have survived because they had a part to perform; and this, generally speaking, appears to be the case.

The prime condition of ascendancy is the presence of undirected energy in the person over whom it is to be exercised; it is not so much forced upon us from without as demanded from within. The mind, having energy, must work, and requires a guide, a form of thought, to facilitate its working. All views of


life are fallacious which do not recognize the fact that the primary need is the need to do. Every healthy organism evolves energy, and this must have an outlet. In the human mind, during its expanding period, the excess of life takes the form of a reaching out beyond all present and familiar things after an unknown good; no matter what the present and familiar may be, the fact that it is such is enough to make it inadequate. So we have a vague onward impulse, which is the unorganized material, the undifferentiated protoplasm, so to speak, of all progress; and this, as we have seen, makes the eagerness of hero worship in the young, imaginative, and aspiring. So long as our minds and hearts are open and capable of progress, there are persons that have a glamour for us, of whom we think with reverence and aspiration; and although the glamour may pass from them and leave them commonplace, it will have fixed itself somewhere else. In youth the mind, eager, searching, forward-looking, stands at what Professor Baldwin calls the alter pole of the socius, peering forth in search of new life. And the idealist at any age needs superiority in others and is always in quest of it. "Dear to us are those who love us, . . . but dearer are those who reject us as unworthy, for they add another life; they build a heaven before us whereof we had not dreamed, and thereby supply to us new powers out of the recesses of the spirit, and urge us to new and unattempted performances." [1] To cease to admire is a proof of deterioration.


Most people will be able to recall vague yet intensely vivid personal impressions that they have received from faces—perhaps from a single glance of a countenance that they have never seen before or since—or perhaps from a voice; and these impressions often remain and grow and become an important factor in life. The explanation is perhaps something like this: When we receive these mysterious influences we are usually in a peculiarly impressionable state, with nervous energy itching to be worked off. There is pressure in the obscure reservoirs of hereditary passion. In some way, which we can hardly expect to define, this energy is tapped, an instinct is disengaged, the personal suggestion conveyed in the glance is felt as the symbol, the master-key that can unlock hidden tendency. It is much the same as when electricity stored and inert in a jar is loosed by a chance contact of wires that completes the circuit; the mind holds fast the life-imparting suggestion; cannot, in fact, let go of it.

--- all night long his face before her lived,
Dark-splendid, speaking in the silence, full
Of noble things, and held her from her sleep."

It is true of races, as of individuals, that the more vitality and onwardness they have, the more they need ideals and a leadership that gives form to them. A strenuous people like the Anglo-Saxon must have something to look forward and up to, since without faith of some sort they must fall into dissipation or despair; they can never be content with that calm

(322) and symmetrical enjoyment of the present which is thought to have been characteristic of the ancient Greeks. To be sure it is said, and no doubt with truth, that the people of Northern Europe are less hero-worshippers than those of the South, in the sense that they are less given to blind enthusiasm for popular idols; but this, I take it, only means that the former, having more constructive power in building up ideals from various personal sources, and more persistence in adhering to them when thus built up, are more sober and independent in their judgment of particular persons, and less liable to extravagant admiration of the hero of the moment. But their idealism is all the more potent for this, and at bottom is just as dependent upon personal suggestion for its definition. Thus it is likely that all leadership will be found to be such by virtue of defining the possibilities of the mind. "If we survey the field of history," says Professor William James, "and ask what feature all great periods of revival, of expansion of the human mind, display in common, we shall find, I think, simply this; that each and all of them have said to the human being, 'the inmost nature of the reality is congenial to powers which you possess"'; [2] and the same principle evidently applies to personal leadership.

We are born to action; and whatever is capable of suggesting and guiding action has power over us from the first. The attention of the new-born child is fixed by whatever exercises the senses, through mo-

(323)-tion, noise, touch, or color. Persons and animals interest him primarily because they offer a greater amount and variety of sensible stimulus than other objects. They move, talk, laugh, coax, fondle, bring food, and so on. The prestige they thus acquire over the child's mind is shared with such other stimulating phenomena as cars, engines, windmills, patches of sunlight, and bright-colored garments. A little later, when he begins to acquire some control over his activities, he welcomes eagerly whatever can participate in and so stimulate and guide them. The play. things he cares for are those that go, or that he can do something with—carts, fire-engines, blocks, and the like. Persons, especially those that share his interests, maintain and increase their ascendancy, and other children, preferably a little older and of more varied resources than himself, are particularly welcome. Among grown-ups he admires most those who do something that he can understand, whom he can appreciate as actors and producers—such as the carpenter, the gardener, the maid in the kitchen. R. invented the happy word "thinger" to describe this sort of people, and while performing similar feats would proudly proclaim himself a thinger.

It will be observed that at this stage a child has learned to reflect upon action and to discriminate that which is purposeful and effective from mere motion; he has gained the notion of power. Himself constantly trying to do things, he learns to admire those who can do things better than himself, or who can suggest new things to do. His father sitting at

(324) his desk probably seems an inert and unattractive phenomenon, but the man who can make shavings or dig a deep hole is a hero; and the seemingly perverse admiration which children at a later a~e show {or circus men and for the pirates and desperadoes they read about, is to be explained in a similar manner. What they want is evident power. The scholar may possibly be as worthy of admiration as the acrobat or the policeman; but the boy of ten will seldom see the matter in that light.

Thus the idea of power and the types of personality which, as standing for that idea, have ascendancy over us, are a function of our own changing character. At one stage of their growth nearly all imaginative boys look upon some famous soldier as the ideal man. He holds this place as symbol and focus for the aggressive, contending, dominating impulses of vigorous boyhood; to admire and sympathize with him is to gratify, imaginatively, these impulses. In this country some notable speaker and party leader often succeeds the soldier as a boyish ideal; his career is almost equally dominating and splendid, and, in time of peace, not quite so remote from reasonable aspiration. In later life these simple ideals are likely to yield somewhat to others of a more special character, depending upon the particular pursuit into which one's energies are directed. Every occupation which is followed with enthusiasm has its heroes, men who stand for the idea of power or efficient action as understood by persons of a particular training and habit. The world of commerce and industry is full of hero-worship, and

(325) men who have made great fortunes are admired, not unjustly, for the personal prowess such success implies; while people of a finer intellectual development have their notion of power correspondingly refined, and to them the artist, the poet, the man of science, the philanthropist, may stand for the highest sort of successful action.

It should be observed, however, that the simpler and more dramatic or visually imaginable kinds of power have a permanent advantage as regards general ascendancy. Only a few can appreciate the power of Darwin, and those few only when the higher faculties of their minds are fully awake; there is nothing dramatic, nothing appealing to the visual imagination, in his secluded career. But we can all see Grant or Nelson or Moltke at the headquarters of their armies, or on the decks of their ships, and hear the roar of their cannons. They hold one by the eye and by the swelling of an emotion felt to be common to a vast multitude of people. There is always something of the intoxication of the crowd in the submission to this sort of ascendancy. However alone our bodies may be, our imaginations are in the throng; and for my part whenever I think of any occasion when a man played a great part before the eyes of mankind, I feel a thrill of irrational enthusiasm. I should imagine, for instance, that scarcely any one could read such a thing as "Sheridan's Ride" without strong feeling. He witnesses the disorder, uncertainty, and dismay of the losing battle, the anxious officers trying to stay the retreat, and longing for the commander who has

(326) always led to victory. Then he follows the ride from " Winchester twenty miles away," and shares the enthusiasm of the army when the valiant and beloved leader rides forth upon tile field at last, renewing every heart by his presence and making victory out of defeat. In comparison with this other kinds of power seem obscure and separate. It is the drama of visible courage, danger, and success, and the sense of being one of a throng to behold it, that makes the difference.

This need of a dramatic or visually imaginable presentation of power is no doubt more imperative in the childlike peoples of Southern Europe than it is in the sedater and more abstractly imaginative Teutons; but it is strong in every people, and is shared by the most intellectual classes in their emotional moods. Consequently these heroes of the popular imagination, especially those of war, are enabled to serve as the instigators of a common emotion in great masses of people, and thus to produce in large groups a sense of comradeship and solidarity. The admiration and worship of such heroes is possibly the chief feeling that people have in common in all early stages of civilization, and the main bond of social groups. Even in our own time this is more the case than is understood. It was easy to see, during the SpanishAmerican War, that the eager interest of the whole American people in the military operations, and the general and enthusiastic admiration of every trait of heroism, was bringing about a fresh sense of com-

(327)-munity throughout the country and so renewing and consolidating the collective life of the nation.

If we ask what are the mental traits that distinguish a leader, the only answer seems to be that he must, in one way or another, be a great deal of a man, or at least appear to be. He must stand for something to which men incline, and so take his place by right as a focus of their thought.

Evidently he must be the best of his kind available. It is impossible that he should stand forth as an archetype, unless he is conceived as superior, in some respect, to all others within range of the imagination. Nothing that is seen to be second-rate can be an ideal; if a character does not bound the horizon at some point we will look over it to what we can see beyond. The object of admiration may be Caesar Borgia, or Napoleon, or Jesse James the train-robber, but he must be typical, must stand for something. No matter how bad the leader may be, he will always be found to owe his leadership to something strong, affirmative, and superior, something that appeals to onward instinct.

To be a great deal of a man, and hence a leader, involves, on the one hand, a significant individuality, and, on the other, breadth of sympathy, the two being different phases of personal caliber, rather than separate traits.

It is because a man cannot stand for anything except as he has a significant individuality, that self-

(328)-reliance is so essential a trait in leadership: except as a person trusts and cherishes his own special tendency? different from that of other people and usually opposed by them in its inception, he can never develop anything of peculiar value. He has to free himself from the domination of purposes already defined and urged upon him by others, and bring up something fresh out of the vague underworld of subconsciousness; and this means an intense self, a militant, gloating "I." Emerson's essay on self-reliance only formulates what has always been the creed of significant persons.

On the other hand, success in unfolding a special tendency and giving vogue to it, depends upon being in touch, through sympathy, with the current of human life. All leadership takes place through the communication of ideas to the minds of others, and unless the ideas are so presented as to be congenial to those other minds, they will evidently be rejected. It is because the novelty is not alien to us, but is seen to be ourself in a fresh guise, that we welcome it.

It has frequently been noticed that personal ascendancy is not necessarily dependent upon any palpable deed in which power is manifested, but that there is often a conviction of power and an expectation of success that go before the deed and control the minds of men without apparent reason. There is something fascinating about this immediate and seemingly causeless personal efficacy, and many writers of insight lay great stress upon it. Emerson, for example, is fond of pointing out that the highest sort of greatness is self-

(329)-evident, without particular works. Most men of executive force possess something of this direct ascendancy, and some, like Napoleon, Cromwell, Bismarck, and Andrew Jackson, have had it in pre-eminent measure. It is not confined to any class, however, but exists in an infinite variety of kinds and degrees; and men of thought may have it as well as men of action. Dante, Milton, Goethe, and their like, bear the authority to dominate the minds of others like a visible mantle upon their shoulders, inspiring a sense of reverence and a tendency to believe and follow in all the impressionable people they meet. Such men are only striking examples of what we are all familiar with in daily life, most persons of decided character having something imposing about them at times. Indeed, there is hardly any one so insignificant that he does not seem imposing to some one at some time.

Notwithstanding the mystery that is often made of this, it appears to be simply a matter of impulsive personal judgment, an impression of power, and a sense of yielding due to interpretation of the visible or audible symbols of personality, discussed in a previous chapter. Another may impress us with his power, and so exercise ascendancy over us, either by grossly performing the act, or by exhibiting traits of personality which convince our imaginations that he can and will do the act if he wishes to. It is in this latter way, through imaginative inference, that people mostly work upon us in ordinary social intercourse. It would puzzle us, in many cases, to tell just how we know that a man is determined, daunt-

(330)-less, magnanimous, intrinsically powerful, or the reverse. Of course reputation and past record count for much; but we judge readily enough without them, and if, like Orlando in "As You Like It," he "looks successfully," we believe in him. The imagination is a sort of clearing-house through which great forces operate by convenient symbols and with a minimum of trouble.

The man of action who, like Napoleon, can dominate the minds of others in a crisis, must have the general traits of leadership developed with special reference to the promptness of their action. His individual significance must take the form of a palpable decision and self-confidence; and breadth of sympathy becomes a quick tact to grasp the mental state of those with whom he deals, so that he may know how to plant the dominating suggestion. Into the vagueness and confusion that most of us feel in the face of a strange situation, such a man injects a clearcut idea. There is a definiteness about him which makes us feel that he will not leave us drifting, but will set a course, will substitute action for doubt, and give our energies an outlet. Again, his aggressive confidence is transmitted by suggestion, and acts directly upon our minds as a sanction of his leader ship. And if he adds to this the tact to awaken no opposition, to make us feel that he is of our sort, that his suggestions are quite in our line, in a word that we are safe in his hands; he can hardly be resisted.

In face-to-face relations, then, the natural leader is one who always has the appearance of being master

(331) of the situation. He includes other people and extends beyond them, and so is in a position to point out what they must do next. Intellectually his suggestion seems to embrace what is best in the views of others, and to embody the inevitable conclusion; it is the timely, the fit, and so the prevalent. Emotionally his belief is the strongest force present, and so draws other beliefs into it. Yet, while he imposes himself upon others, he feels the other selves as part of the situation, and so adapts himself to them that no opposition is awakened; or possibly he may take the violent method, and browbeat and humiliate a weak mind: there are various ways of establishing superiority, but in one way or another the consummate leader always accomplishes it.

Take Bismarck as an example of almost irresistible personal ascendancy in face-to-face relations. He had the advantage, which, however, many men of equal power have done without, of an imposing bulk and stature; but much more than this were the mental and moral traits which made him appear the natural master in an assembly of the chief diplomats of Europe. "No idea can be formed," says M. de Blowitz,[3] "of the ascendancy exercised by the German Chancellor over the eminent diplomatists attending the Congress. Prince Gortchakoff alone, eclipsed by his rival's greatness, tried to struggle against him." His "great and scornful pride," the absolute, contemptuous assurance of superiority which was evident in every pose, tone, and gesture, accompanied, as is pos-

(332)-sible only to one perfectly sure of himself, by a frankness, good-humor, and cordial insight into others which seemed to make them one with himself, participators in his domination; together with a penetrating intelligence, a unique and striking way of expressing himself, and a perfect clearness of purpose at all times, were among the elements of the effect he produced. He conciliated those whom he thought it worth while to conciliate, and browbeat, ignored, or ridiculed the rest. There was nothing a rival could say or do but Bismarck, if he chose, would say or do something which made it appear a failure.

General Grant was a man whose personal presence had none of the splendor of Prince Bismarck, and who even appeared insignificant to the undiscerning. It is related that when he went to take command of his first regiment soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, the officer whom he was to succeed paid no attention to him at first, and would not believe that he was Grant until he showed his papers. An early acquaintance said of him, "He hadn't the push of a business man." "He was always a gentleman, and everybody loved him, for he was so gentle and considerate; but we didn't see what he could do in the world." [4] Yet over the finer sort of men he exercised a great ascendancy, and no commander was more willingly obeyed by his subordinates, or inspired more general confidence. In his way he manifested the essential traits of decision, self-confidence, and tact

(333) in great measure. He never appeared dubious, nervous, or unsettled; and, though he often talked over his plans with trusted officers, he only once, I believe, summoned a council of war, and then rejected its decision. He was nearly or quite alone in his faith in the plan by which Vicksburg was taken, and it is well known that General Sherman, convinced that it would fail, addressed him a formal remonstrance, which Grant quietly put in his pocket and later returned to its author. "His pride in his own mature opinion," says General Schofield, "was very great; in that he was as far as possible from being a modest man. This absolute confidence in his own judgment upon any subject he had mastered, and the moral courage to take upon himself alone the highest responsibility, and to demand full authority and freedom to act according to his own judgment, without interference from anybody, added to his accurate estimate of his own ability, and his clear perception of the necessity for undivided authority and responsibility in the conduct of military operations, and in all that concerns the efficiency of armies in time of war, constituted the foundation of that very great character." [5] He was also a man of great tact and insight. He always felt the personal situation; divining the character and aims of his antagonists, and making his own officers feel that he understood them and appreciated whatever in them was worthy.

In spite of the fact that a boastful spirit is attrib-

(334)-uted to Americans, the complete renunciation of external display so noticeable in General Grant is congenial to the American mind, and characteristic of a large proportion of our most successful and admired men. Undoubtedly our typical hero is the man who is capable of anything, but thinks it unbecoming to obtrude the fact. Possibly it is our self-reliant, democratic mode of life, which, since it offers a constant and varied test of the realities, as distinct from the appearances, gives rise to a contempt of the latter, and of those arts of pretense which impose upon a less sophisticated people. The truth about us is so accessible that cant becomes comparatively transparent and ridiculous. [6]

There is no better phenomenon in which to observe personal ascendancy than public speaking. When a man takes the floor in an assembly, all eyes are fixed upon him, all imaginations set to work to divine his personality and significance. If he looks like a true and steadfast man, of a spirit kindred with our own, we incline to him before he speaks, and believe that what he says will be congenial and right. We have all, probably, seen one arise in the midst of an audience strange to him, and by his mere attitude and expression of countenance create a subtle sense of community and expectation of consent. Another, on the contrary, will at once impress us as

(335) self-conceited, insincere, overexcited, cold, narrow, or in some other way out of touch with us, and not likely to say anything that will suit us. As our first speaker proceeds, he continues to create a sense that he feels the situation; we are at home and comfortable with him, because he seems to be of our sort, having similar views and not likely to lead us wrong; it is like the ease and relaxation that one feels among old friends. There can be no perfect eloquence that does not create this sense of personal congeniality. But this deference to our character and mood is only the basis for exerting power over us; he is what we are, but is much more; is decided where we were vacillating, clear where we were vague, warm where we were cold. He offers something affirmative and onward, and gives it the momentum of his own belief. A man may lack everything but tact and conviction and still be a forcible speaker; but without these nothing will avail. "Speak only what you do know and believe, and are personally in it, and are answerable for every word." In comparison with these traits of mind and character, fluency, grace, logical order, and the like, are merely the decorative surface of oratory, which is well enough in its subordinate place, but can easily be dispensed with. Bismarck was not the less a great orator because he spoke "with difficulty and an appearance of struggle," and Cromwell's rude eloquence would hardly have been improved by lessons in elocution.

Burke is an example of a man who appears to have had all the attributes of a great speaker except tact,

(336) and was conspicuously contrasted in this respect with Fox, whose genial nature never failed to keep touch with the situation. A man whose rising makes people think of going to dinner is not distinctively a great orator, even though his speeches are an immortal contribution to literature. The well-known anecdote of the dagger illustrates the unhappy results of losing touch with the situation. In the midst of one of his great discourses on the French Revolution, intending to impress upon his hearers the bloody character of that movement, Burke drew from his bosom a dagger and cast it on the floor. It so happened, however, that the Members of Parliament present were not just then in the mood to be duly impressed by this exhibition, which produced only astonishment and ridicule. Fox could never have done a thing of this sort. With all Burke's greatness, it would seem that there must have been something narrow, strenuous, and at times even repellent, in his personality and manner, some lack of ready fellow feeling, allowing him to lose that sense of the situation without which there can hardly be any face-to-face ascendancy.

The ascendancy which an author exercises over us by means of the written page is the same in essence as that of the man of action or the orator. The medium of communication is different; visible or audible traits give place to subtler indications. There is also more time for reflection, and reader or writer can choose the mood most fit to exert power or to feel it; so that there is no need for that constant prepared-

(337)-ness and aggressiveness of voice and manner which the man of action requires. But these are, after all, incidental differences; and the underlying traits of personality, the essential relationship between leaded; and follower, are much the same as in the other cases. The reader should feel that the author's mind and purpose are congenial with his own, though in the present direction they go farther, that the thought communicated is not at al; alien, but so truly his that it offers an opportunity to expand to a wider circle, and become a completer edition of himself. In short, if an author is to establish and maintain the power to interest us and, in his province, to lead our thought, he must exhibit personal significance and tact, in a form appropriate to this mode of expression. He must have a humanity so broad that, in certain of our moods at least, it gives a sense of congeniality and at-homeness. He must also make a novel and characteristic impression of some sort, a fresh and authentic contribution to our life; and must, moreover, be wholly himself, "stand united with his thought," have that "truth to its type of the given force" of which Walter Pater speaks. He must possess belief in something, and simplicity and boldness in expressing it.

Take Darwin again for example, all the better because it is sometimes imagined that personality is unimportant in scientific writing. Probably few thoughtful and open-minded persons can read the Origin of Species without becoming Darwinists, yielding willingly, for the time at least, to his ascendancy,

(338) and feeling him as a master. If we consider the traits that give him this authority, it will be found that they are of the same general nature as those already pointed out. As we read his chapters, and begin to build him up in our imaginations out of the subtle suggestions of style, we find ourselves thinking of him as, first of all, a true and simple man, a patient, sagacious seeker after the real. This makes us, so far as we are also simple seekers after the real, feel at home with him, forget suspicion, and incline to believe as he believes, even if we fail to understand his reasons—though no man leaves us less excuse for such failure. His aim is our aim—the truth, and as he is far more competent to achieve it in this field than we are, both because of natural aptitude and a lifetime of special research, we readily yield him the reins, the more so because he never for an instant demands it, but seems to appeal solely to facts.

How many writers are there, even of much ability, who fail, primarily and irretrievably, because they do not make this favorable personal impression; because we divine something insincere, something impatient, some private aim that is not truth, which keeps us uncomfortably on our guard and makes us reluctant to follow them even when they appear most incontrovertible! Mr. Huxley suggested that Darwin harmed his case by excessive and unnecessary deference to the suggestions of his opponents; but it may well be that in the long run, and with the highest tribunal, this trait has added to his power. Many men have been convinced by the character of Darwin, by

(339) his obvious disinterestedness and lack of all controversial bias, who would never have followed Huxley. I have had occasion to notice that there is no way of making converts to the idea of evolution so effectual as to set people reading the Origin of Species. Spencerism comes and goes, but Darwinism is an abiding condition.

Darwin's intellectual significance no one will question; and his self-confidence or faith was equally remarkable, and not at all inconsistent with his modesty. In his case it seems a faith in truth itself, so wholly is the self we find in his books identified with the striving after truth. As an act of faith his twenty years of collecting and brooding over the facts nearing upon the principle he had divined, was an exploit of the same nature as that of Columbus, sailing westward for months into an unknown ocean, to a goal which no one else could see. And with what simple confidence does he take his stand upon the truth thus won, and apply it to the geological history of the globe, or the rise of the human body and mind. A good illustration of his faith is his assertion, in the face of ridicule, that the existence of an orchid with a narrow neck eleven inches long proved the existence of a moth with a tongue of equal length. The moth, at that time unknown, was subsequently discovered.[7]

To illustrate the same principles in a wholly different phase of thought, we might take Charles Lamb. Lamb, too, attracts us first of all by a human and

(340) congenial personality. We feel that in the kinds of sentiment with which he deals he is at home and adequate, as ourselves and more than we, with a deeper pathos, a richer, more audacious tmrnot, a truer sensibility. He, too, enlarges life by access to novel and acceptable modes of being; and he is always boldly and simply himself. It is a poor notion of Lamb that does not recognize that he was, in his way, a man of character, conviction, and faith.

A similar analysis might be applied to great writers of other sorts—poets, historians, and moralists; also to painters, sculptors, actors, singers, to every potent personality after its kind. While there is infinite variety in leadership—according to the characters of the persons concerned, the points at which they come in contact, the means of communication between them, and so on—there is, nevertheless, a likeness of principle everywhere present. There is no such radical and complete divergence of the conditions of power in the various fields of activity as is sometimes imagined. While there are great differences, they may be looked upon as specific rather than generic. We may always expect to find a human nature sufficiently broad and sound—at least in those phases most apparent in the special means of expression chosen—to be felt as representative; also some timely contribution added to the range of thought or feeling, and faith in or loyalty to this peculiar contribution.

It is a very natural result of the principles already noted that the fame and power of a man often tran-

(341)-scend the man himself; that is to say, the personal idea associated by the world with a particular name and presence has often little basis in the mind behind that name and presence, as it appears to cool and impartial study. The reason is that the function of the great and famous man is to be a symbol, and the real question in other minds is not so much, What are you? as, What can I believe that you are? What can you help me to feel and be? How far can l use you as a symbol in the development of my instinctive tendency? The scientific historian may insist on asking, What are you? because the instinct he is trying to gratify is the need to make things consistent to the intelligence. But few persons have this need strongly developed, in comparison with those of a more emotional character; and so most will care more for the other questions. The scientific point of view can never be that of the most of mankind, and science, it seems to me, can hardly be more than the critic and chastener of popular faith, not its leader.

Thus we may say of all famous and admired characters that, as personal ideas, they partake of the nature of gods, in that the thought entertained of them is a constructive effort of the idealizing imagination seeking to create a personal symbol of its own tendency.

Perhaps there is no more striking illustration of this than that offered by the mediaeval history of the papacy. It is notorious that the idea of the pope, as it was entertained by the religious world, and the pope himself, as he appeared to his intimates, were things having for the most part no close relation to

(342) each other. The visible pope was often and for long periods at a time a depraved or insignificant man; but during these very periods the ideal pope, the pope of Europe's thought, might and often did flourish and grow in temporal and spiritual power. The former was only a symbol for the better definition of what the world needed to believe, a lay figure for garments woven by the co-operative imagination of religious men The world needed to believe in a spiritual authority as a young girl needs to be in love, and it took up with the papacy as the most available framework for that belief just as the young girl is likely to give her love to the least repugnant of those who solicit it. The same is true in a large measure of the other great mediaeval authority, the emperor, as Mr. Bryce so clearly shows in his history of the Holy Roman Empire; and it holds true in some degree of all those clothed with royalty or other great offices Fame may or may not represent what men were; but it always represent what humanity needs them to have been.

It is also true that when there is a real personal superiority, ascendancy is seldom confined to the traits in which this is manifested, but, once established in regard to these traits, it tends to envelop the leader as a whole and to produce allegiance to him as a concrete person. This comes, of course, from the difficulty of breaking up and sifting that which presents itself to the senses, and through them to the mind, as a single living whole. And as the faults and weaknesses of a great man are commonly much easier to imitate than his excellences, it often

(343) happens, as in the case of Michelangelo, that the former are much more conspicuous in his followers than the latter.

Another phase of the same truth is the ascendancy that persons of belief and hope always exercise as against those who may be superior in every other respect, but who lack these traits. The onward and aggressive portion of the world, the people who do things, the young and all having surplus energy, need to hope and strive for an imaginative object, and they will follow no one who does not encourage this tendency. The first requisite of a leader is, not to be right, but to lead, to show a way. The idealist's programme of political or economic reform may be impracticable, absurd, demonstrably ridiculous; but it can never be successfully opposed merely by pointing out that this is the case. A negative opposition cannot be wholly effectual: there must be a competing idealism; something must be offered that is not only less objectionable but more desirable, that affords occupation to progressive instinct. This holds true, for instance, in the case of teachers. One may sometimes observe two men of whom one has a sounder judgment, a clearer head, a more steadfast character, and is more a master of his subject, than the other; yet is hopelessly inferior in innuence, because the other has a streak of contagious idealism which he lacks. One has all the virtues except hope; the other has that. and all the power. It has been well said that when a man ceases to learn—to be open and forward-looking —he should also cease to teach.

(344) It would be easy to multiply illustrations of this simple but important truth. All vigorous minds, I think, love books and persons that are mentally enfranchizing and onward-looking that seem to overthrow the high board fences of conventional thought and show a distance with purple hills; while it would be possible to mention powerful minds that have quickly lost influence by giving too much the impression of finality, as if they thought their system was the last. They only build another board fence a little beyond the old one. Perhaps the most admirable and original thing about Emerson is the invincible openness and renewal that seem to be in him, and some of us find his best expression in that address on the "Method of Nature" in which, even more than elsewhere, he makes us feel that what is achieved is ever transitory, and that there is everything to expect from the future. In like manner, to take perhaps the most remarkable example of all, the early Christians found in their belief organized hope, in contrast to the organized ennui of the Roman system of thought, and this, it would seem, must have been its most direct and potent appeal to most minds.[8]

It is also because of this ideal and imaginative character in personal ascendancy that mystery enters so

(345) largely into it. Our allegiance is accompanied by a mental enlargement and renewal through generative suggestions; we are passing from the familiar to the strange, are being drawn we know not whither by forces never before experienced; the very essence of the matter is novelty, insecurity, and that excitement in the presence of dim possibilities that constitutes mystery.

It has often been remarked that to one in love the beloved person appears as a mystery, enveloped, as it were, in a sort of purple cloud. This is doubtless because the lover is undergoing strange alteration in his own mind; fresh vague passions are rising into consciousness out of the dark storehouse of hereditary instinct; he is cast loose from his old anchorage and does not know whither he is driven. The consequent feeling of a power and a strangeness upon him he associates, of course, with the person — commonplace enough, perhaps, to others — who is the symbol and occasion of the experience. Goethe seems to mean something of this sort when he uses the expression das ewig Weibliche to suggest the general mystery and allurement of new life.

And it is much the same no matter what sort of ascendancy is exercised over us: there is always excitement and a feeling of newness and uncertainty; imagination is awakened and busies itself with the fascinating personality; his slightest word or action is eagerly interpreted and works upon us. In short, mystery and idealism are so inseparable that a sense of power in others seems to involve a sense of their

(346) inscrutability; and, on the other hand, so soon as a person becomes plain, he ceases to stimulate the imagination; we have seen all around him, so that he no longer appears an open door to new life but has begun to be commonplace and stale.

It is even true that inscrutability in itself, having perhaps nothing important back of it, plays a considerable part in personal ascendancy. The hero is always a product of constructive imagination; and just as some imaginative painters find that the too detailed observation of sensible objects cumbers the inner vision and impedes production, so the hero-worshipper is likely at times to reject altogether the persons he knows in favor of some sort of mask or lay figure, whose very blankness or inertness insures the great advantage that it cannot actively repudiate the qualities attributed to it: it offers carte blanche to the imagination. As already suggested, the vital question in ascendancy is not, primarily, What are you? but, What do you enable me to be? What self-developing ideas do you enable me to form? and the power of mere inscrutability arises from the fact that it gives a vague stimulus to thought and then leaves it to work out the details to suit itself. To recur to the matter of falling in love: the young girl who, like Gwendolen in Daniel Deronda, or Isabel in the Portrait of a Lady, fixes her passion upon some self-contained and to her inscrutable person, in preference to others who are worthier but less mysterious, is a common character in life as well as in fiction.

Many other illustrations of the same principle might

(347) be given. Thus the fact, instances of which are collected by Mr. Tylor m his work on Primitive Culture, that the insane, the idiotic, and the epileptic are reverenced by primitive peoples, may be interpreted in a similar manner.[9] Those who are mentally abnormal present in a striking form the inscrutable in personality; they seem to be men, but are not such men as we; our imaginations are alarmed and baffled, so that it is not unnatural that before science has shown us definite relations between these persons and ourselves, they should serve as one of the points about which crystallize our imaginations of unknown power. In the same way a strange and somewhat impassive physiognomy is often, perhaps, an advantage to an orator, or leader of any sort, because it helps to fix the eye and fascinate the mind. Such a countenance as that of Savonarola may have counted for much toward the effect he produced. Another instance of the prestige of the inscrutable is the fascination of silence, when power is imagined to lie behind it. The very name of William the Silent gives one a sort of thrill, whether he knows anything of that distinguished character or not. One seems to see a man darkly potent, mysteriously dispensing with the ordinary channel of self-assertion, and attaining his ends without evident means. It is the same with Von Moltke, "silent in seven languages," whose genius humbled France and Austria in two brief campaigns. And General Grant's taciturnity undoubtedly fascinated the imagination of the people—after his earlier successes had shown that

(348) there was really something in him—and helped to secure to him a trust and authority much beyond that of any other of the Federal generals. It is the same with personal reserve in every form: one who always appears to be his own master and does not too readily reveal his deeper feelings, is so much the more likely to create an impression of power. He is formidable because incalculable. And accordingly we see that many people deliberately assume, or try to assume, an appearance of inscrutability,

"And do a wilful stillness entertain,
With purpose to be dressed in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit";

Disraeli, it is said, "was a mystery man by instinct and policy," and we all know others in our own circle of acquaintances.

So with the expression of personality in literature. A book which is perfectly clear at the first cursory reading is by that fact condemned as commonplace. If there were anything vital in it, it would appear at least a little strange, and would not be fully understood until it had been for some time inwardly digested. At the end of that time it would have done its best service for us and its ascendancy would have waned. It is always thus, I imagine, with writers who strongly move us; there is first mystery and a sense of unexplored life, then a period of assimilative excitement, and after that chastened affection, or perhaps revulsion or distrust. A person of mature years and ripe development, who is expecting nothing from litera-

(349)-ture but the corroboration and renewal of past ideas, may find satisfaction in a lucidity so complete as to occasion no imaginative excitement, but young and ambitious students are not content with it. They seek the excitement because they are capable of the growth that it accompanies. It was a maxim of Goethe that where there is no mystery there is no power; and something of the perennial vitality of his writings may be attributed to the fact that he did not trouble himself too much with the question whether people would understand him, but set down his inmost experiences as adequately as he could, and left the rest to time. The same may be said of Browning, and of many other great writers.

Something similar holds true of power in plastic art. The sort of mystery most proper and legitimate in art, however, is not an intellectual mystery—though some artists have had a great deal of that, like Leonardo, who "conquered by the magnetism of an incalculable personality" *—but rather a sensuous mystery, that is to say a vague and subtle appeal to recondite sources of sensuous impression, an awakening of hitherto unconscious capacity for harmonious sensuous life, like the feeling we get from the first mild weather in the spring. In this way, it seems to me, there is an effect of mystery, of congenial strangeness, in all powerful art. Probably every one would recog-

(350)-nize this as true of music, even if all do not feel its applicability to painting, sculpture, and architecture.

The well-known fact that mystery is inseparable from higher religious idealism may be regarded as a larger expression of this same necessity of associating inscrutability with personal power. If the imagination cannot be content with the definite in lesser instances, it evidently cannot when it comes to form the completest image of personality that it can embrace.

Although ascendancy depends upon what we think about a man rather than what he is, it is nevertheless true that an impression of his reality and good faith is of the first importance, and this impression can hardly outlast close scrutiny unless it corresponds to the fact. Hence, as a rule, the man who is to exercise enduring power over others must believe in that for which he stands. Such belief operates as a potent suggestion upon the minds of others.

"While thus he spake, his eye, dwelling on mine,
Drew me, with power upon me, till I grew
One with him, to believe as he believed." [11]

If we divine a discrepancy between a man's words and his character, the whole impression of him becomes broken and painful; he revolts the imagination by his lack of unity, and even the good in him is hardly accepted. Nothing, therefore, is more fatal to ascendancy than perceived insincerity or doubt, and in immediate intercourse it is hard to conceal them.

(351) When Luther came to Rome and saw what kind of a man the Pope was, the papacy was shake .

How far it is possible for a man to work upon others through a false idea of himself depends upon a variety of circumstances. As already pointed out, the man himself may be a mere incident with no definite relation to the idea of him, the latter being a separate product of the imagination. This can hardly be except where there is no immediate contact between leader and follower, and partly explains why authority, especially if it covers intrinsic personal weakness, has always a tendency to surround itself with forms and artificial mystery, whose object is to prevent familiar contact and so give the imagination a chance to idealize. Among a self-reliant, practical people like ours, with much shrewdness and little traditional reverence, the power of forms is diminished; but it is always great. The discipline of armies and navies, for instance, very distinctly recognizes the necessity of those forms which separate superior from inferior, and so help to establish an unscrutinized ascendancy in the former. In the same way manners, as Professor Ross remarks in his work on Social Control,[12] are largely used by men of the world as a means of self-concealment, and this self-concealment serves, among other purposes, that of preserving a sort of ascendancy over the unsophisticated.

As regards intentional imposture, it may be said in general that all men are subject to be duped in matters of which they have no working knowledge and

(352) which appeal strongly to the emotions. The application of this principle to quack medicine, to commercial swindles, and to the ever-reappearing impostures relating to supposed communication with spirits, is too plain to be enlarged upon. While it is an advantage, even to a charlatan, to believe in himself, the susceptibility of a large part of us to be duped by quacks of one sort or another is obvious enough, and shows that the work of free institutions in developing shrewdness is by no means complete.

Probably a close and candid consideration of the matter would lead to the conclusion that every one is something of an impostor, that we all pose more or less, under the impulse to produce a desired impression upon others. As social and imaginative beings we must set store by our appearance; and it is hardly possible to do so without in some degree adapting that appearance to the impression we wish to make. It is only when this adaptation takes the form of deliberate and injurious deceit that much fault can be found with it. "We all," says Stevenson in his essay on Pepys, "whether we write or speak, must somewhat drape ourselves when we address our fellows; at a given moment we apprehend our character and acts by some particular side; we are merry with one, grave with another, as befits the nature and demands of the relation." If we never tried to seem a little better than we are, how could we improve or "train ourselves from the outside inward " ? And the same impulse to show the world a better or idealized aspect of ourselves finds an organized expression in the various pro-

(353)-fessions and classes, each of which has to some extent a cant or pose, which its members assume unconsciously, for the most part, but which has the effect of a conspiracy to work upon the credulity of the rest of the world. There is a cant not only of theology and of philanthropy, but also of law, medicine, teaching, even of science—perhaps especially of science, just now, since the more a particular kind of merit is recognized and admired, the more it is likely to be assumed by the unworthy. As theology goes down and science comes up, the affectation of disinterestedness and of exactness in method tends to supplant the affectation of piety.

In general it may be said that imposture is of considerable but always secondary importance; it is a sort of parasite upon human idealism and thrives only by the impulse to believe. A correct intuition on the part of mankind in the choice of their leaders is the only guaranty of the effectual organization of life in any or every sphere; and in the long run and on a large scale this correctness seems to exist. On the whole, the great men of history were real men, not shams, their characters were genuinely representative of the deeper needs and tendencies of human nature, so that in following them men were truly expressing themselves.

We have seen that all leadership has an aspect of sympathy and conformity, as well as one of individuality and self-will, so that every leader must also be a follower, in the sense that he shares the general cur-

(354)-rent of life. He leads by appealing to our own tendency, not by imposing something external upon us. Great men are therefore the symbols or expressions, in a sense, of the social conditions under which they work, and if these conditions were not favorable the career of the great man would be impossible.

Does the leader, then, really lead, in the sense that the course of history would have been essentially different if he had not lived? Is the individual a true cause, or would things have gone on about the same if the famous men had been cut off in infancy? Is not general tendency the great thing, and is it not bound to find expression independently of particular persons? Certainly many people have the impression that in an evolutionary view of life single individuals become insignificant, and that all great movements must be regarded as the outcome of vast, impersonal tendencies.

If one accepts the view of the relation between particular individuals and society as a whole already stated in various connections, the answer to these questions must be that the individual is a cause, as independent as a cause can be which is part of a living whole, that the leader does lead, and that the course of history must have been notably different if a few great men had been withdrawn from it.

As to general tendency, it is false to set it over against individuals, as if it were a separate thing; it is only through individuals that general tendency begins or persists. "Impersonal tendency" in society is a mere abstraction; there is no such thing. Whether

(355) idiosyncrasy is such as we all have in some measure, or whether it takes the form of conspicuous originality or genius, it is a variant element in life having always some tendency to innovation. Of course, if we believe in the prevalence of continuity and law, we cannot regard it as a new creation out of nothing; it must be a reorganization of hereditary and social forces. But however this may be, the person as a whole is always more or less novel or innovating. Not one of us floats quite inert upon the general stream of tendency; we leave the world somewhat different from what it would have been if we had been carried off by the croup.

Now in the case of a man of genius, this variant tendency may be so potent as to reorganize a large part of the general life in its image, and give it a form and direction which it could not have had otherwise. How any one can look at the facts and doubt the truth of this it is hard to see. Would the life we receive from the last century have been the same if, say, Darwin, Lincoln, and Bismarck had not lived? Take the case of Darwin. No doubt his greatness depended upon his representing and fulfilling an existing tendency, and this tendency entered into him from his environment, that is from other individuals. But it came out of him no longer the vague drift toward evolutionary theory and experiment that it was before, but concrete, common sense, matter-of-fact knowledge, thoroughly Darwinized, and so accredited by his character and labors that the world accepts it as it could not have done if he had not lived. We may apply the

(356) same idea to the author of Christianity. Whatever we may or may not believe regarding the nature of Christ's spiritual leadership, there is, I take it, nothing necessarily at variance with a sound social science in the Christian theory that the course of history has been transformed by his life.

The vague instincts which it is the function of the leader to define, stimulate, and organize, might have remained latent and ineffectual, or might have developed in a totally different manner, if he had not lived. No one can guess what the period following the French Revolution, or any period of French history since then, might have been without Napoleon; but it is apparent that all would have been very different. It is true that the leader is always a symbol, and can work only by using existing elements of life; but in the peculiar way in which he uses those elements is causation, is creation, in the only sense, perhaps, in which creation is definitely conceivable. To deny its importance is as absurd as to say that the marble as it comes from the quarry and the marble after Michelangelo is through with it are one and the same thing.

Most, if not all, of our confusion regarding such points as these arises from the almost invincible habit of thinking of "society," or "historical tendency," as a distinct entity from "individuals," instead of remembering that these general and particular terms merely express different aspects of the same concrete fact—human life. In studying leadership we may examine the human army one by one, and inquire why certain persons stand out from the rest as captains,

(357) colonels, or generals, and what, in particular, it is that they have to do; or, in studying social tendency, we may disregard individuality and look at the movements of thc army, or of its divisions and regiments, as if they were impersonal wholes. But there is no separation in fact: the leader is always the nucleus of a tendency, and, on the other hand, all social movement, closely examined, will be found to consist of tendencies having such nuclei. It is never the case that mankind move in any direction with an even front, but there are always those who go before and show the way.

I need hardly add that leadership is not a final explanation of anything; but is simply one of many aspects in which human life, always inscrutable, may be studied. In these days we no longer look for final explanations, but are well content if we can get a glimpse of things in process, not expecting to know how they began or where they are to end. The leader is a cause, but, like all causes we know of, he is also an effect. His being, however original, is rooted in the past of the race, and doubtless as susceptible of explanation as anything else, if we could only get at the facts.


  1. Emerson, New England Reformer 8.
  2. Psychology, vol. ii, p. 314.
  3. In Harper's Magazine, vol. 78, p. 870.
  4. Reminiscences quoted by Garland in McClure's Magazine, April, 1897.
  5. From a letter published in the newspapers at the time of the dedication of the Grant Monument, in April, 1897.
  6. Mr. Howells remarks that "in Europe life is histrionic and dramatized, and that in America, except when it is trying to be European, it is direct and sincere."—" Their Silver Wedding Journey," Harper's Magazine, September, 1899.
  7. Related by W. H. Gibson, in Harper's Magazine for May, 1897.
  8. The fact that the Roman system meant organized ennui in thought, the impossibility of entertaining large and hopeful views of life, is strikingly brought out, by the aid of contemporary documents, in Dill's Roman Society. Prisoners of a shrinking system, the later Romans had no outlook except toward the past. Anything onward and open in thought was inconceivable by them.
  9. See Primitive Culture, by E. B. Tylor, chap. xiv.
  10. J. A. Symonds, History of the Renaissance in Italy, The Fine Arts, p. 329. Hamerton has some interesting observations on mystery in art in his life of Turner, p. 352; also Ruskin in Modern Painters, part V, chaps. 4 and 5.
  11. Tennyson, The Holy Grail.
  12. See p. 248.

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