Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2011 / 25 Kislev, 5772
Small country, great leader
By Paul Greenberg
Power is no sure guide to greatness. Or even survival. Quite the contrary. Tyrants can be powerful, yet the powerless can make them tremble.
One writer from a little country put together after the First World War personified "the power of the powerless." That was
Playwright and president, in that order,
How did he summon the lifelong self-discipline to do all that? Maybe because he had a quality that eludes little men who find themselves at the head of great nations: simplicity. He was a hero who disdained any air of heroism, a playwright who loathed theatrics, an intellectual who thought there was something innately suspect about the very idea of a successful intellectual, and a politician who may never have given a pompous, self-centered speech in his life. A rare bird indeed.
The blowhards in politics are always explaining how terribly complicated the world is, and how they have to balance ends and means, for politics is the art of the possible. But that's true only if the politician's standards of what is possible are low enough and his rationalizations slick enough. It takes no art to compromise principle, just a certain moral slovenliness.
The playwright-president of a little country somehow defied
Leaders of great nations may leave behind biographies/memoirs/self-justifications as widely circulated as they are unread, as lengthy as they are unconvincing.
"When a person tries to act in accordance with his conscience, when he tries to speak the truth, when he tries to behave like a citizen, even in conditions where citizenship is degraded, it won't necessarily lead anywhere, but it might. There's one thing, however, that will never lead anywhere, and that is speculating that such behavior will have a specific outcome."
Weigh the odds against particular success before acting, and the cause may be lost before it is launched.
Politicians come and go. Great leaders have an afterlife that illumines the path of future generations. Great leaders like Gandhi and
Tyrants come and go, too, leaving only a sense of relief. Some manage to leave their wretched country even worse than they found it, hard as that may be to imagine in some cases. Like that of
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