Allan Powell: Kings of the mountain exposed, part II

May 17, 2012

As noted in last week’s column, psychiatrist turned historian Arnold Ludwig presented a theory about how rulers actually behave as leaders of their nation. He claims that all of his research has convinced him that the rulers of the world (kings of the mountain) are governed by the same impulses and habits as primates such as monkeys and apes. This thesis will go over like a lead pingpong ball, but Ludwig shows no signs of doubt.

As Ludwig states, the lower primates and Homo sapiens are very similar — “they masticate, defecate, masturbate, fornicate and procreate, while rulers agitate, debate, abdicate, placate and administrate.”

Further, Ludwig presents comparative studies of styles of rulers that show their capacity to behave much worse than the lower primates. The alpha male ruler can wreak considerably more havoc, brutality and treachery than any alpha male ape.

A more benign similarity — sexual conquest — puts alpha male monkeys and apes in charge of their harems. The record shows that monarchs have extra-marital affairs at the rate of 87 percent, while tyrants surpass them with a rate of 95 percent, authoritarian rulers register at 54 percent and democratic rulers show a 40 percent rate. When these categories of political leaders are ranked on their propensity toward graft and corruption, monarchs show 26 percent, tyrants 100 percent, authoritarians 19 percent and democratic rulers just 4 percent. All of the categories register much higher when it comes to frequencies in waging wars.


Ludwig provides a Political Greatness Scale as a means to judge would-be rulers before they achieve a position of power. There are seven criteria that he elevates to the level of “pillars” of judgment to be used to identify who will become successful rulers. First to be mentioned is the quality of “dominance” — the signs of leadership observed from youth to adulthood in sports and as a member of service and business organizations. The second essential trait is “contrariness” — the personal independence of thinking and acting according to conviction, regardless of other opinion. “Presence”— the possession of a natural power of charisma that compels others to follow — is third. The power and vision to be an “agent of change” was placed fourth. This calls also for the willingness to make bold and decisive actions, especially during a crisis.

While we expect “courage” (No. 5), it is a surprise to see “vanity” (No. 6) and “wary unease” (No. 7) on the list. Vanity (or pride) was regarded as a fatal flaw by ancient Greek dramatists. Ludwig contends that wary unease is “a crucial ingredient for great creative achievement.” In aggregate, whether we agree or disagree, Ludwig has provided a useful set of guidelines for the objective judgment of leadership.

Ludwig concludes his massive and competent study with some speculative insights about war and peace.

This is quite appropriate in view of the fact that war is a natural tool for alpha male rulers. The record shows that dictators resort to war at a rate of 74 percent, while democratic rulers are much more inclined to peace by a rate of 37 percent. Overall, the record is dismal. In 3,241 years of recorded history, only 268 years have been free of wars.

Absent from the author’s diagnosis of raw human nature and the propensity to conflict is any recognition of the ideas of the Rev. Thomas Malthus. His neglected ideas might come back to haunt us. Long ago, he made the observation that food production grows in arithmetic progression of 1-2-3-4-5-6, etc. At the same time, population grows in a geometric progression of 2-4-8-16-32, etc. Therefore, there is an increasing pressure of population on food supply. At the moment, the world population is doubling every 35.6 years. It follows that this immense accumulating pressure will eventuate in a massive struggle for each nation to provide for its people. Very few American politicians will publicly deal with this problem.

Alpha male rulers are more likely to contribute to this problem rather than solve it.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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