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Saturday Morning Quote #8: A solution for our crisis in leadership

July 8, 2011

We are currently experiencing a crisis in leadership.  It’s plain that allowing JDs and MBAs to run the show was a grave error – they are simply the wrong sort of people. Why?  Because they are not musicians.

Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490 – 1546) was known as a diplomat in the court of Henry VIII.  He was also a  humanist and contemporary of St. Thomas More (1478 – 1535), sharing More’s enlightened views on such things as the education of women.  Elyot authored a handful of books on medicine and moral philosophy, including The Boke named the Governour (1531), a treatise outlining the proper education of a person of noble rank who was destined to rule.  Dedicated to Henry VIII, the book was, alas, published too late to affect that particular king’s leadership and morals, but certainly had an influence on the education of Henry’s children.

Elyot describes how and why it is necessary for a ruler to understand the the concept of harmony as a metaphor for the ideal state:

…[H]e shall commend the perfect understanding of music, declaring how necessary it is for the better attaining the knowledge of a public weal, which as I before said, is made of an order of estates and degrees, and by reason thereof containeth in it a perfect harmony: which he shall afterward more perfectly understand, when he shall happen to read the books of Plato and Aristotle of public weals: wherein be written diverse examples of music and geometry.  In this form may a wise and circumspect tutor adapt the pleasant science of music to a necessary and laudable purpose.

As our global economy daily deteriorates beyond the point of repair, it is time to take a long hard look at our leadership.  We have been fooled into allowing non-musicians become leaders of nations.

In the past, music was always considered a science, the study of which informed an educated person as to the balance of numbers, proportion and aesthetics.  Knowledge of music was essential, not only for recreation and pastime, but also to develop a sense of empathy and human understanding.

It seems our leaders today have bought into the misguided idea that music is something less than what history tells us.  And even the most patient and apologetic liberal pundits are coming around to see things as they are: The word ‘Hope’ was a great close to an electioneering slogan but it appears to have been abandoned in favor of hype.

  1. Two items to add to this post: 1) We modernized the spelling of Elyot’s (or Elliot’s) text because many readers of this blog are not accustomed to the curious inconsistency of 16th century orthography; and 2) Bill Clinton may have played (on) the saxophone but that doesn’t make him a musician.

  2. Dan Winheld permalink

    I don’t know- I’ll bet that the percentage of musicians who would make good leaders is no better than the rest of the population-

    Woody Allen: “Listening to Wagner makes me want to invade Poland”

    -and living under a Gesualdo presidency might be only somewhat better than Caligula (Thanks to separation of powers- so far, anyway). By the way, was Charlie Manson better on the guitar than Bill on sax? But then again, can any Republican (of the current crop of brain-eating zombies) play any instrument, or sing anything? (Who even plays Tea Party gigs?)

    -I would vote for Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington. Can’t think of any lute player, living or historical, who I would follow over a cliff. Maybe Pietrobono Bursellis, the Joe Pass of the 15th century.

    I await some more optimistic opinions.


  3. Dan Winheld permalink

    I am a brain dead sexist bastard. Queen Elizabeth I was an exceptional world class leader of any age, nation, a fine musician. Including our beloved lute.


  4. Thanks, Dan.

    The point I was making is that intelligent people with leadership qualities are more developed and balanced individuals with the ability to recognize and express nuance as the result of musical training. That’s sort of what Castiglione was getting at in Il Libro del Cortegiano, and the example of Elizabeth I is a good one.

    Sure, there are plenty of so-called ‘musicians’ today, and from any age, without a clue. I like to differentiate between people who actually get what music is about, and people who focus on performance and basking in the attention it delivers. It seems some of the examples you mentioned really fall into the category of entertainers and psychopaths (OK, Woody Allen is only a very public neurotic) rather than true statesmen and leaders.

    Richard Nixon played piano (check out, which may disprove my entire premise. But even John Dean considers Nixon a more developed individual than say W, who only played the fool, and played the rest of the world for saps.

    I should think that the best examples of leaders trained in the Liberal Arts (of which music was considered an essential science) are the ones you’ve not heard of, since their terms of office were quiet.


  5. Dan Winheld permalink

    Thank you so much for the Nixon Piano Concerto #1, (for solo piano & 15 Democrats on violins). I never knew! Better pianist than Truman. Of course, he would be regarded as a renegade commie traitor RINO by today’s Republicans & so-called conservatives, (along with the late W.F. Buckley & some others). Somewhat wooden touch, but if brought to trial he would no doubt have said “I am not a pianist!” And it’s only fair to ask, Are there fifteen Democrats today who can play the violin? Together? In time & in tune?

    Of course you’re right- entertaining psychopaths, even the musical ones, belong only on the stage or in prison. Or on television.

    Naturally we might look to the best conductors for proven leadership qualities.

    One interesting example of a leaderless group that functions without a “leader” is the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra- conductorless for over 40 years, without collapsing into anarchic chaos. A lesson to be learned here. It might well be that Homo Sapiens is simply ungovernable in groups larger than tribal or clan proportions. As well as I can remember, It was some of the Algonquian Native American groups that had the best governing systems; balancing individual freedom nicely with directed group survival functions, guided by rationally chosen & changeable leaders- “term limits” and all. The “Noble Savage” idealists could do worse than claim nostalgia for the good old hunter gatherer days. Some folks believe it was the development of the agriculturally based society that spelled the downfall of mankind- the true eviction from the garden of Eden, as it were.

    Now I’m reminded of Lord of the Flies. A very savage little fascist group created by a well-disciplined boy’s choir. But you have rightly pointed out that music training is but one important facet of the well-rounded liberal arts education & training necessary for any proper, serious, & mature would-be leader. And successful, peaceful periods quietly overseen by grown-up statesmen with their egos in check do not make headline news.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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