The people are the heroes now
Behemoth pulls the peasants’ plough
Thus begins the first act of John Adams’s opera Nixon in China, with a chorus declaiming the victory of socialism: the people rule, and Behemoth – a mythical monster associated by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan with the overweening power of the state – subservient and domesticated to the will of the people. It is the people who now lead.
It is all tosh, of course, with Adams and his lyricist Alice Goodman poking fun at the pretensions of the Maoist state; in reality, in Mao’s China, Behemoth was very much in control and the peasants did what they were told. The illusion of freedom and the reality of dictatorial rule were very much opposed.
But it is forty years since Mao died and the totalitarian edifice he created began to be dismantled, and the world has changed. After the political upheavals of 2016 we are entitled to ask: is it true? Have the people really taken charge of their own destiny, voting for the leadership they want rather than the leadership they are told they should want? And if so, what are the consequences for leadership? Do our old assumptions about what leadership is still stand up in this brave new world? Continue reading