King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership by Arnold M. Ludwig
Human Nature Review 2003 Volume 3: 273-277 ( 8 May )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/03/ludwig.html
King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership
by Arnold M. Ludwig
Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, (2002). ISBN 0813122333.
Reviewed by Bojan Todosijević, Department of Political Science, Central European University, Nador u. 9, 1051, Budapest, Hungary.
It is not accidental that political leaders occasionally remind us of chimpanzees, gorillas and baboons, and vice versa, argues Arnold Ludwig in his King of the Mountain. This is because both humans and non-human primates are motivated by the same evolutionarily-shaped desire to achieve a dominant status within their social entities: “the drive to be the alpha male provides the basic impetus for the dominance hierarchy, which […] seems to govern most social interactions among higher primates” (p. 8). Thus, the key to understanding political leadership is to be found within the evolutionary theory. By establishing a number of similarities between “the primate model of ruling” and characteristics of human political leaders on the basis of a detailed survey of the 20th century political leaders, Ludwig argues that “in essentially all of their major relationships with others – their relationship with their family, their relationship with society, and their relationship with God – most humans have been socially, psychologically, and biologically programmed with the need for a single dominant male figure to govern their communal lives. And this programming corresponds closely to how almost all anthropoid primate societies are run.” (p. 9).
Evidence provided in support of these claims shows that political leadership in many respects indeed resembles social hierarchy among primates. Thus, for example, political leaders are almost universally males, they tend to have greater access to sexual partners and have larger number of offspring, there are no special skills or abilities necessary for being a leader although demonstration of physical prowess, and readiness to fight helps achieving and maintaining the leaders position.
Although “ruling is a very dangerous activity” (p. 13), in a sense that rulers are disproportionally likely to die because of non-natural causes, i.e., by activities of their political challengers, the actual and would-be leaders tend to approach these risks in a rather irrational manner. “[T]he reason is once the hypothalamus of male primates becomes activated and stimulates their testicles to manufacture testosterone and other androgens, which increase their sexual libido, aggressiveness, and competitiveness, they are inducted into the struggle for dominance and lose all sense of perspective and rationality. […] they assume a role on behalf of their species that they are genetically programmed to play, regardless of the rationalizations they give for their decisions” (p. 16).
The principal theoretical claim is clear and simple: both human and other primate communities need a single leader, therefore a particular drive for social dominance evolved to ensure the survival of the community. In the author’s words, “Nature exploits this urge for dominance as a surefire way to ensure leadership within a community and, in the case of humans, sometimes over other communities as well.” (p. 364). The argumentation is based on finding plausible parallels between social hierarchy in non-human primates, and the characteristics of human political leadership.
The book is based on an impressive and unique data set. Namely, the author assembled biographical information about all 20th century rulers (1941 rulers from 199 countries), utilizing a wide variety of sources, including published biographies, magazine and newspaper articles, books, encyclopedia entries, and internet sources. More in-depth analysis is focused on 377 leaders with sufficiently detailed biographical information. In the author’s words, “this sample of rulers included virtually all the rulers in the world over the last century who had a major impact on their countries” (p. xi). Rulers are then classified into six categories in order “to show how certain kinds of people are drawn to certain kinds of rule and how these certain kinds of rule reciprocally shape their characters” (p. 32). Thus, in dictatorial group, there are monarchs (e.g., King Farouk, Leopold II), tyrants and despots (e.g., Bokassa, Duvailer, Saddam Hussein), authoritarian rulers (e.g., Peron, Admiral Horthy, Pinochet), and visionaries or social engineers (e.g., Mao, Ataturk, Mussolini), while democratic leaders belong either to established (e.g., Churchill, de Gaulle, J. F. Kennedy) or emerging/transitional democracies (e.g., Kenyatta, Adenauer). Besides statistical comparisons of these six types, a large portion of the book concerns the wealth of anecdotes about the rulers intended to illustrate and emphasize particular points. Details of the methodological procedure and statistical results are given in appendix.
The book has a clear and transparent structure. The introductory chapter presents the basic theoretical argument in a nutshell, while the following chapters present supportive evidence assembled in several key themes. First, Ludwig shows that ruling is “a man’s world”, namely that out of nearly two thousand 20th century rulers only 1.4 percent were females, and among those few a significant portion gained power through their husbands or fathers. Moreover, the evidence shows that the character of even those very few women who gained political power on their own was rarely described in particularly feminine attributes. Next, the author finds parallels between various benefits rulers enjoy, both in human and primate societies. Thus, while dominant males among monkeys and apes enjoy greater access to and a larger number of females, have more offspring, have grater access to food and shelter, and receive deference by subordinate males, human rulers tend to have more extramarital affairs and indulge in polygamous relationships, have more offspring, have more opportunities for acquiring greater wealth, and command deference and respect from their subjects. Moreover, the greater power a leader enjoys, the greater advantages he acquires along all these dimensions. For example, sexual promiscuity is greatest among monarchs and tyrants, and lowest (but still above the population average) among democratic leaders.
The following chapter illustrates various dangers rulers face both before and after reaching the top position. Thus, “during their climb up the mountain, they are likely to risk torture, imprisonment, exile, and death when they try to displace the reigning leader”, while incumbent rulers have to face “crises such as public riots, uprisings, assassination attempts, mental breakdowns, coups, imprisonment, banishment, or execution” (p. 80). Tyrants and authoritarian rulers are especially likely to suffer various “bad outcomes” of their rules, such as coups (50 percent probability in case of tyrants), or executions/assassinations. While leaders of established democracies are most likely to leave their office by peaceful means, leading a transitional democracy is considerably more dangerous activity since 18 percent of them end up assassinated or executed, while additional 16 percent are deposed by a coup.
The reason why aspiring rulers are so willing to endure such hardships is allegedly the need to “prove their manhood and establish their dominance” (p. 81). Entering into competition for the “alpha male” status changes the usual standards of reasoning. i.e., “induces them to override their normal instincts for self-preservation to fulfil a broader social function” (p. 82)
According to Ludwig’s findings, two conclusions can be made about the childhood and the youth of the rulers in general. The first is that different types of leaders tend to come from different backgrounds and display different characteristics in their early age. Monarchs, for example, were the least likely to be rebellious, and among the most likely to have temper outbursts. They, together with tyrants, also tend to be below general average educational achievements, while authoritarians and democrats exhibit the best performance in school. Tyrants generally come from lower social strata, and their early experiences are often marked by traumatic events such as the loss of parents. Early signs of exceptional gifts in various areas, including leadership ability, are most often found among visionaries, but also among transitional and democratic rulers. However interesting these findings are, their connection with the evolutionary argument remained unclear. The second conclusion the author makes in this chapter, namely that “a large portion of these future leaders were relatively ordinary as youths” (p. 169), is given more theoretical weight through the claim that this shows that ruling is based on hidden evolution-shaped forces.
Examination of social-psychological features of the leaders in their adulthood corroborates differences between the types of leaders exhibited in their childhood. Monarchs, for example, tend to be much more religious than the other types of leaders. They also tend to be less sociable or show interest in any creative activities. Tyrants do not display much interest in creative outlets either, moreover, the lowest rate of any exceptional mental abilities is found in this category, yet they excel in moodiness and capriciousness. Visionaries are marked especially by their antagonism toward authorities (of course, before they themselves become the authority) and social-non-conformism, but also by their charismatic personality. This chapter also contains an important point concerning the tendency found in many leaders to identify their nations with themselves. According to the author, this expansion of the self “represents a marvelous way for the ruler to fulfil his sociobiological role-as head of the body politics. Just as the male monkeys, chimps, or apes automatically begin to assume more responsibility for their particular community once they attain the dominant status of alpha male, human rulers begin to do so as well” (p. 172).
Examination of the incidence rate of drug-abuse, alcoholism, and mental illness, shows that it is often higher among the rulers than in the general population. Tyrants are especially inclined towards alcoholism and drug abuse. Mental illnesses, however, show more varied distribution among the different types of leaders. For example, apart from tyrants all other ruler types show above average lifetime rate of depression. Lifetime rate of mania is even much higher among the leaders than in general population, but especially among tyrants and visionaries. The latter two categories are also likely to suffer from paranoid conditions. Moreover, mental impairment is not infrequent among the leaders, especially among visionaries. Authoritarian leaders appeared as the most mentally stable category. The author draws several conclusions from these findings. The most important are that “mental illness is no bar to ruling”, and that “different kinds of rulers seem more susceptible to particular kinds of mental disturbances than others” (p. 270). However, the exact relevance of the findings for the evolutionary theory of leadership is not fully spelled out here either, except that, for example, paranoia may be functional in keeping a leader alert for potential challengers.
The 8th chapter describes the author’s construction of the Political Greatness Scale. Indicators included in the scale are, for example, whether a ruler lost or gained new territory, how long he stayed in power, whether he lost or won wars, whether he engaged in social engineering, improved or worsened a countrys economy, created original ideology, or served as a moral exemplar to his subjects. Each of the 377 rulers from the focused subsample was assigned a particular score on this scale. The subsequent chapter examines which personal attributes predict rulers’ total scores on the Political Greatness Scale. The findings revealed “seven pillars of political greatness”, i.e., seven clusters of traits that separate the great from non-great rulers. These are: (1) an overwhelming desire for social dominance and leadership, (2) contrariness, rebellion against the existing authority, (3) personal charisma, (4) change agency, initiation of large scale social change, (5) vanity, self-confidence, (6) courage, risk-taking, and (7) a wary unease, a chronic psychological unease. This chapter also contains a small discussion on the “great-man versus historical necessity” debate in history, arguing that the debate can be avoided by conceptualizing the great leaders as catalysts of political change rather than as their causes.
The final tenth chapter recapitulates the similarities between leaders of human and simian societies, and provides a speculative discussion of the inevitability of war from the perspective of Ludwig’s theory of political leadership. On the one hand, war seems inevitable given the primate nature of humans. War is interpreted as a derivation of the instinctual striving to “became the alpha male and to preserve that status” (p. 363). The reason primates do not really wage wars is “not because they lack the temperament to respond like humans” (p. 356) but rather because they lack resources. Thus, war “serves the broader political function of extending the struggle for social dominance beyond the artificial confines of a single ethnic group, culture, or country to other groups, cultures, countries. A such, it represents a natural expression of the primate model of ruling” (p. 362). On the other hand, his findings show that wars bring various benefits to rulers. Rulers who waged wars tend to stay longer in office than their more peaceful counterparts, and are more likely to attain a legendary status. At the same time, when the war is over, the winning ruler transforms into an agent of social stability, i.e., “he becomes obliged to maintain peace and order over these defeated people” (p. 364). Thus, one may – insofar only hypothetically – conceive a situation where the global stability and order are the concern of the global alpha male – George W. Bush.
Although, according to Ludwig, such a solution would hardly lead to a lasting peace due to cultural and civilizational heterogeneity, there are some recommendations that could make the 21st century more peaceful than the previous one. We can, for example, disqualify potential leaders “with the disposition of a warmonger” (p. 368), or pursue a more “estrogenic approach to world peace”, i.e., elect more women into leading positions. However, democratic government seems to be still the most realistic way, according to Ludwig, since this form of government tends to “protect us against our own natural tendencies” (p. 370). Although many democratic leaders end up fighting wars, dictators are considerably more inclined in this direction. The reason is primarily that democratic system imposes “the greater number of constitutional constrains on them” (p. 373), but also in the fact that democratic leaders tend to differ in their socio-psychological characteristics which incline them towards more peaceful and accommodating solutions.
Even though the book is explicitly intended for general readership, the author suggests an important theoretical point as well. Thus the book should be evaluated in both respects. From the general perspective, then, the book is written well and in an accessible and engaging style. The author possesses a fine sense of humor, facilitated by a rich collection of entertaining and often bizarre anecdotes about world leaders, especially about characters such as Idi Amin, Bokassa, or Trujillo. Thus, Ludwig presents the non-expert public with both entertaining and informative reading.
The theoretical contribution of the King of the Mountain is, however, more problematic as simply pointing out at the similarities in social hierarchy among humans and other primates is not a particularly novel argument. Ludwig’s systematization of the data about the 20th century leaders, which should definitely be appreciated in itself, powerfully documents the extraordinary strength and irrationality that drives rulers to reach and remain on top of their societies. Comparison of the six categories of leaders reveals a number of interesting similarities and differences between them, showing the importance of the interaction between the presumably universal drive to became the alpha male and the cultural and political context. The question, however, is to what extent the presented findings support the author’s theoretical claim, since interesting analogies are not a sufficiently convincing research approach. The issue is whether such analysis can in principle test the evolutionary explanations, rather than remaining on the level of “just so” theorizing.
It seems that the author himself had similar doubts: the theoretical discussion is kept at minimum throughout the book. The only references to evolutionary theory consist of quotes from classical primatological studies opening individual chapters, and brief, very general and vague attempts to connect the content of a chapter with evolutionary theory in concluding paragraphs. By way of an example, the sixth chapter ends with a conclusion that “some unknown socio-biological process also seems to have been at work to select individuals with certain distinctive traits that seem well-suited for their role as rulers within different societies with particular kinds of governments, histories, and expectations” (p. 219; see also p. 271).
The use of occasionally questionable data is an additional though minor problem. For example, one wonders about the reliability of the source which informed Ludwig that Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia was responsible for about 2 million deaths (p. 358).
This genuinely interesting and entertaining book provides support for the evolutionary explanation of the drive for climbing up the political hierarchy, but it does not advance the evolutionary theory of political leadership much further. An interesting but unexplored issue is to what extent generalizations about alpha male motivations are applicable to other social hierarchies, such as military, business or bureaucrats of higher rank. Although the book might not convince all readers into the explanatory power of the evolutionary approach to political leadership, it certainly reminds us of how strange and often frightening characters we elect to or tolerate at the positions from which they can make the greatest damage.
Interview with the author video
King of the Mountain presents the startling findings of Arnold M. Ludwig’s eighteen-year investigation into why people want to rule. The answer may seem obvious power, privilege, and perks but any adequate answer also needs to explain why so many rulers cling to power even when they are miserable, trust nobody, feel besieged, and face almost certain death. Ludwig’s results suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule.Profiling every ruler of a recognized country in the twentieth century over 1,900 people in all, Ludwig establishes how rulers came to power, how they lost power, the dangers they faced, and the odds of their being assassinated, committing suicide, or dying a natural death. Then, concentrating on a smaller sub-set of 377 rulers for whom more extensive personal information was available, he compares six different kinds of leaders, examining their characteristics, their childhoods, and their mental stability or instability to identify the main predictors of later political success.
Ludwig’s penetrating observations, though presented in a lighthearted and entertaining way, offer important insight into why humans have engaged in war throughout recorded history as well as suggesting how they might live together in peace.
King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership
September 15, 2002
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Arnold M. Ludwig, author of “King of the Mountain,” what is a professor of psychiatry doing writing about world leaders?
ARNOLD LUDWIG, AUTHOR, “KING OF THE MOUNTAIN: THE NATURE OF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP”: Well, actually, that’s a good question. The — even the more pertinent thing is why politics. I think in the book, I state that even though I take a general interest in politics, I’ve taken pride in never having been elected to any office in my life. And the few times that I have moved up the ladder, they’ve been more appointments rather than elections. So you’re right, why — why interested in it?
Actually, this book derives from a prior study that I did some years ago having to do with the most creative people in the 20th century. And that book eventually — well, was published and that was called “The Price of Greatness.” I dealt with 18 different professions in that book. Politics was one of them, but there were many other professions — science, art, musical composition, dance, and so forth.
And even though I looked at a very large number of people in that study, one of the professions that puzzled me the most was politics because there were a number of great leaders there. And after I completed that project, I got wondering more and more what is political greatness. In almost all the other professions, there’s something tangible you can go on. A scientist does research. He publishes his work. An artist performs. An athlete performs. A businessman makes money, products, and so forth. What is it that a politician actually does?
And you know, they — they — what is the product, the work product? And in many instances, some people will say this political leader is great, and in other instances, they’ll say he’s terrible. So how do you measure political achievement? What is political greatness? That’s how I started the study.
And what I did was to look at all of the world leaders in the 20th century of every single country in the world…
LAMB: That’s 1,941?
LUDWIG: Right. Good for you. Yes. And 199 countries.
LAMB: That’s 1,941 leaders in the 20th century.
LUDWIG: That’s correct.
LAMB: You looked at all of them.
LUDWIG: I looked at all of them, and I collected information on all of them. But what I did was to home in on a sub-group of them, as well, 377 about whom there was much more information available about their personal lives, about their achievements, about how they gained power, how they lost power, about their families, that type of thing. And from that information, the book evolved.
LAMB: Where did you do it from? What — what — where are you located?
LUDWIG: The University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky.
LAMB: And how long have you been there?
LUDWIG: Oh, my goodness. I can’t count that high. I’ve been there since 1970.
LAMB: And psychiatry — is that — are you a doctor of psychiatry?
LUDWIG: Yes. I’m a physician. I’m a professor of psychiatry.
LAMB: Why that field for you? When did you get interested in that?
LUDWIG: Oh, my goodness. I don’t know. I started off medical school thinking about surgery and thinking about general practice, and somewhere along the way, maybe in my third year of medical school…
LAMB: Where’d you go, by the way?
LUDWIG: The University of Pennsylvania. I sat in on a lecture, one of my first psychiatry lectures. And it’s like falling in love. You just see somebody, and something clicks. And I just knew the field was for me. So that’s — that’s how I ended up in psychiatry.
LAMB: What about the cover of this book?
LAMB: What’s this — what’s this saying?
LUDWIG: Well, it — it says that there is a relationship between political leaders and other primates. And this is a particularly whimsical portrait. It’s done by Donald Groller Wilson (ph), and it’s — it says, I believe, a lot of some of the conclusions that I came to in the book.
LAMB: Give us a couple.
LUDWIG: Well, before I give them to you, I really need to explain how I came to these conclusions. When I first started this study, I had no idea at all that I would be making a comparison between political leaders and other types of primates — chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys, so forth. But as I got into my work more and more, a number of questions began emerging that I could not answer, that puzzled me. For example, why was it that there were so few women rulers in the 20th century?
LAMB: How many have there been?
LUDWIG: There were a total of 27 out of 1,941, which the percentage was 1.4 percent. And of those, half of them — at least half — were either wives of some famous politician, they’d borrowed their husbands’ charisma, or daughters of him. And so that left — if you look at just women who have made it on their own, that was about .75 percent. So the chances of a woman becoming a ruler in the 20th century were less than 100-to-1 odds, over 100-to-1 odds against it.
That puzzled me. And the reason it puzzled me was there are very many very brilliant, competent women, and surely, many, many more should have been able to have maneuvered themselves into positions of power despite a lot of social constraints and cultural constraints and that type of thing. So that was one thing.
Another thing that puzzled me as I looked at many of the world leaders, and I — this was a surprising finding — was that one could become a leader, the most powerful position in the country, not being very bright. Many of them were illiterate. Many of them were frankly crazy. And even a number of them were demented. And by that, I mean brain-damaged.
So here is the most powerful position in the world, in a way, the most powerful position in the nation. How can people get there, and why?
Another interesting finding I came across had to do with how many political leaders prior to coming to power had demonstrated their physical prowess as a way of gaining power. They were involved in wars, coups, rebellions. Along the way, they were jailed for demonstrations, things along these lines. So part of the process of becoming a ruler for many, many countries had to do with demonstrating some type of physical prowess, some type of courage, some type of heroic behavior. Why? Why would that be necessary, rather than wisdom, accomplishments in — in certain areas, business, the arts?. Why did having military accomplishment — why was that so important?
Another puzzling finding had to do with — as I looked at many of the rulers, I was struck in many countries with how many women they consorted with. For example, how many wives they had compared to others, how many children they produced.
LAMB: Who had the most wives?
LUDWIG: Oh, my goodness. Well, let me tell you this, that the Ashanti, because they did not want to distract their leader too much, put a limit, imposed a limit that the king could only have 3,333 wives. Now, that was supposed to — with just the — I mean, my goodness, sometimes with one wife or two wives, that is enough to distract most people. But when you put a limit of 3,300 on somebody, that says something.
Another king was King Motessa (ph), I believe, had supposedly 7,000 wives.
LAMB: But on — on the — the ones that most people have heard of.
LUDWIG: The ones that most heard of…
LUDWIG: Well, during the 20th century — well, let me — let me think. There — well, I’ll — during the 20th century, there’s King Sobhuza of Swaziland in the 20th century I believe had wives in the 60s, 70s, something of that nature. I know that he had over 500 children.
LAMB: How did you go about your research on this? And how long did it take you?
LUDWIG: I — well, I guess, simply put, I looked at every possible source I could. I looked at every bit of biographical information. I looked at — oh, I think along the way, I read over 1,200 biographies…
LAMB: Over what time? Over…
LUDWIG: Over about an 18-year span. So the study was done over about 18 years.
LAMB: And the University of Kentucky published this.
LUDWIG: The University Press of Kentucky.
LAMB: Yeah, that’s what I mean.
LAMB: And was that an agreement you had with them for years, or did you have to complete the study before they would…
LUDWIG: I had it completed before they did it, yes. I did not have any commitment for publication prior to having completed the study and the book.
LAMB: And what was your goal? What do you — what do you want people to do with this?
LUDWIG: I believe that this is the most comprehensive, complete study on human rulers that have ever — that’s ever been done. It has more information about political leaders than any other book I’ve encountered. And my hope with it all is, aside from the thesis that I developed to explain a lot of their behavior, that in my last chapter — my last chapter in the book is titled “Warmongers and Peacemakers.” It’s my deep hope that people can look at this and study it and look at alternative ways to stop war and stop aggression.
One of the things that struck me along the way was how much aggression, how much violence there’s been not only over time, in the 20th century. I’ve asked other people to make estimates about the numbers of dead. They don’t even come close. There have been, as the result of either wars started by these leaders or disastrous social policies initiated by these leaders, over 200 million deaths in the 20th century. That to me is shocking and frightening, and particularly as we develop even more powerful weapons of destruction.
LAMB: You say in your book that it was 1996, the first time in the 20th century or maybe first time, obviously, in history that there are more democratic countries in the world or more people under democratic rule than — than there are — that aren’t under democratic rule.
LUDWIG: That — that is correct.
LAMB: This a good sign?
LUDWIG: Yes. I say it’s a good sign. However, I do make the caution — I do in the book talk about different types of democracy. What certain people mean by democracy is not necessarily what you might mean or what I would mean by democracy. I believe it is a good sign. It’s a good sign for a number of reasons. What I found in my studies was that dictators, as compared to democratic leaders, were far more likely to be involved in war than democratic leaders. I believe 74 percent of all dictators had been involved in some type of war — civil rebellion, something — during their term in office. That’s compared to 37 percent of democratic leaders, twice as many. Still too much — 37 percent is an awful lot. But it’s half of — of what you might find among dictators.
LAMB: So you were there at Lexington, Kentucky, at the University of Kentucky, a doctor, medical doctor with an expertise in psychiatry.
LAMB: Have you retired, by the way, from the school?
LAMB: How long ago?
LUDWIG: About a year-and-a-half.
LAMB: But for 18 years…
LUDWIG: I’m part — part-time. I do go there occasionally.
LAMB: But for 18 years, you read 1,200 — during that time, 1,200 biographies.
LAMB: And you came up with the “Political Greatness Scale.”
LAMB: Which is in the book. And I may be wrong about this, but I found, in looking through it, that the number one — looking at all the numbers, the number one leader you found in the 20th century, from your political greatness scale, was Ataturk.
LAMB: Am I right about that?
LAMB: And after him, Mao. Right after him, FDR. They’re very close.
LAMB: I mean, on your point scale, Ataturk had 31, Mao 30, FDR 30, Stalin 29, Lenin 28, Ho Chi Minh 27, De Gaulle 27, Deng — Deng Xioping 27, Tito 25, Suharto 25. I can go on.
LAMB: But why Ataturk?
LUDWIG: Well, let — first let me put those numbers in context. Those numbers are not engraved in stone. I would say that probably — that if you wanted to group people, you’d take maybe a 5 to 7-point swing and include them kind of all together. It just so happened that Ataturk did come out first. Why Ataturk? The political greatness scale — I guess I need to say word about that, if I may, first.
LAMB: Your invention.
LUDWIG: Yes. Yes. I didn’t want to invent it. When I first started the study, I was looking for some type of measure to evaluate political greatness. As I mentioned before, I was puzzled about this phenomenon, and I looked to others. I looked to political scientists. I looked — searched the literature. I could not find any actual scale that measured political greatness cross-culturally. Of course, people rated the American presidents, this kind of thing, but nothing cross-cultural.
So then the question came to me, how do you go about evaluating political — what is political greatness? And then I had a kind of “Eureka” experience. Well, why not look at those people who are acknowledged by almost everyone as being great political leaders? Who are the famous names in history over time that come to mind when somebody says “Mention a great political leader”? People who come to mind are people like Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Alexander the Great, Bismarck…
LAMB: These are — the immortals.
LUDWIG: The immortals, the political immortals. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, people along those lines. And I came up with 26 of those people. OK, these — I think almost everybody would say these are the political immortals. And then I asked the question, “What do these immortals have in common?” Are there any common denominators? And lo and behold, I found a number of common denominators. Almost every single one of them had these characteristics.
And I then used these characteristics, 11 of them, in developing the political greatness scale and tested the scale in terms of its reliability, in terms of its validity. It was interesting that the scale correlated extremely highly — extremely highly — with the amount of words allotted to these individuals in the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Encyclopedia Americana. So it had a validity to it.
So this is the political greatness scale, 11 items on it.
LAMB: What are some of the items?
LUDWIG: One item — unfortunately, several of them have to do with conquests, unfortunately. But this is how people evaluate political greatness. Military victories, more territory, social engineering, changing the very nature of the society, economic prosperity, moral — being a moral exemplar, in a way — people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, for example.
LAMB: So it doesn’t have anything to do with whether you feel warm and fuzzy about somebody.
LUDWIG: No. It has to do with accomplishments, political achievement.
LAMB: Is there any comparison with what you’ve done with political greatness scale to the “Time” magazine “Person of the Year,” where people get outraged when they see Hitler on the — on the cover, and they think that they’re naming him a great person?
LUDWIG: Yes. I think that’s an excellent kind of comparison. By “greatness” I mean nothing about how you feel toward the — you know, do you admire this person? I mean, some of these people are despicable. They’re horrible people. However, their achievements, political achievements, are monumental.
LAMB: Let me just show — we’ll put this on the screen, and I’ll read down the American presidents, so people can see how you fit on the scale. If 31 was the top at Ataturk, and FDR was the top of all American presidents. You then have Truman at 23 points, Theodore Roosevelt 23, Ronald Reagan 22, William McKinley 20, Dwight Eisenhower 18, LBJ 18, George Bush the first 15, John F. Kennedy 15, Bill Clinton 15, Jimmy Carter 14, Calvin Coolidge 14, William Howard Taft 12, Gerald Ford 11, Herbert Hoover 10 and Warren Harding 9. Those are presidents in the 20th century.
I want to ask you quickly, though, about one of them. Why William McKinley so high?
LUDWIG: Why William McKinley? A lot of people don’t realize that William McKinley was quite an activist president. He was — he secured the Philippines for the Americans. He liberated — helped liberate Cuba. There were many things that he did that actually, on this political greatness scale, scored him — gave him higher points than some of the other kind of presidents.
I might mention, too, that as you rank them — if you were to look at those rankings compared to some of the rankings that have been given for presidents in the 20th century, you would find a very high correlation. It’s surprising how close that is to what others have independently come up with on I don’t know what kind of measures.
LAMB: But then on the other end of the scale, I mean, the one that got the least number of points is somebody — and I’m not sure I’m pronouncing it right — named Steyn, who was with the Orange Free State starting in power in 1899.
LAMB: You know who that was?
LUDWIG: Well, he just simply accomplished nothing.
LAMB: He got a 2. And Arias of Panama got 3. And Joseph Cook of Australia in 1941 got 5. Samuel Doe of Liberia got — 1980 — got 5. And then you have somebody named Quisling, I believe…
LAMB: … got 5. Somoza — you got the Somoza father and son.
LAMB: Juan Bosch. Kim Campbell, Canadian…
LAMB: … above us there — only got a 6 from 1993.
LAMB: Does it mean, basically, that nothing happened on their watch?
LUDWIG: It means not only did nothing happen, it means that there was corruption. They often ended their time in disgrace.
LAMB: Could they be there for a short time? Like, Kim Campbell was there a very short time.
LUDWIG: A very short while. Yes. Yes. And that’s another criterion. How long are they in office, in terms of — as to whether or not they will achieve greatness — how — how they’ll score on this political greatness scale.
LAMB: Go back to why Ataturk on top of all these people.
LUDWIG: OK. Let’s look at what Ataturk did. And again, mind you, take this in the context of some of the other great leaders that — some of the immortals I’ve mentioned. Ataturk created — started Turkey. He dismantled the Ottoman empire, which was in existence at the time. He not only was the founder of the country, creating a country, but he caused a profound social change in Turkey. He introduced democracy into Turkey, somewhat a militant type of democracy, but a democracy nonetheless. He separated — he was one of the — first time in history to kind of separate church and state. In fact, even though it is predominantly a Muslim country, it’s one of the few ones where certain types of freedoms are permitted. And in fact, the military is obliged to intervene if there’s any threat to the democracy in any way.
So at every single level, Ataturk had an incredible effect, and his achievements were remarkable.
LAMB: You seem to enjoy writing about this man right here. We’ll get a close-up of him, King Farouk of Egypt. When was he king?
LUDWIG: Oh, about 1950 — up till about 1950, something like that.
LAMB: What do you see in this picture? He’s 330 pounds, you say.
LUDWIG: Well, I introduce it — I — I do try to introduce a bit of humor throughout the book to make the facts a lot more palatable. I said that people are supposed to grow in office, and certainly, King Farouk did, in every way. And…
LAMB: You call him “Little Farouky.”
LUDWIG: I called him — I — “Little Farouky.” He was a brat and pampered. And I might say here is a leader of a country, and he is supposed to uphold the faith in the country. From my information, he never really read the Quran. He never read a newspaper. He never read a book. He almost had people go to school for him to digest the information beforehand. And I guess I introduced him for the reason — I am not overall too fond of the kings that I have encountered in the 20th century, and…
LAMB: Who served the longest of all your leaders? And you — you feature him in the book.
LUDWIG: Yes. The — oh, gosh! Austria, Hapsburg…
LAMB: Franz Joseph.
LUDWIG: Franz Joseph, 68 years. Thank you — 68 years.
LAMB: How did he stay in power for 68 years?
LUDWIG: That is an excellent question. Persistence. He was a very unimaginative person. I do mention that he had a rather unique political and military strategy to — when he went to war, and he went to war a number of times. He would usually concede or give up before his country lost, and then once he gave up, he would then try to start rebellions. It just — I mean, it — there are all kinds of weird things with him.
LAMB: You break folks down into categories, the leaders, of monarchs, tyrants, visionaries, authoritarians, transitionals and democrats. Are those your categories?
LAMB: What would a — what would a tyrant have been?
LUDWIG: A tyrant was somebody who went into office and essentially ruled the country for power and perks predominantly, usually military rule, oppression.
LAMB: Can you name one?
LUDWIG: Oh, gosh. I can name a number. Duvalier in Haiti, Papa Doc Duvalier. I think we have one now in the Middle East in Iraq.
LAMB: Saddam Hussein?
LAMB: What a — what’s a visionary?
LUDWIG: A visionary is someone who — whose ostensible reason in office or in being a leader is to transform the country according to his vision. And I say “his” because they’re all men here. And for example, Mao transformed an entire nation into this communist image and his own notion of communism. Stalin did that. He was a visionary.
LAMB: What about an authoritarian?